Eat my Dirt n Dust: En route to Julia Creek in Outback Queensland
I wouldn’t call myself a perv, but ‘Wrangler butts’ drive me just as nuts as they do the next girl.
So the Julia Creek Dirt n Dust festival (DND) in Outback Queensland seemed like the perfect place for this single gal to check out the entrants in ‘Australia’s Best Bum’ comp and potentially snag an outback hubby whilst on holidays.
BUT FIRST, ROAD TRIPPIN’ OUTBACK QUEENSLAND
It’s no secret the distances between outback towns are pretty vast, so time-poor city slickers often opt to fly-drive. This region of Queensland’s north-west is also accessible by rail, but if you’re coming by road, there are a couple of golden rules to follow to ensure your trip is as memorable as the towns you visit.
• Check your car is mechanically sound and don’t overload it like a Griswold on a National Lampoon vacation.
• Road trains are kings of the road, so move to the far left (or off the road if you can) to make sure your car doesn’t get showered with rocks or something nastier from the cattle.
• If your vehicle breaks down, stay put! It could just save your life.
• Watch out for stock on the road, wildlife at sun-up and sun-down and always drive to the conditions.
• Create an epic playlist of driving songs, but avoid anything from the Frozen movie soundtrack if you want to retain your sanity.
DAY ONE: FLY ME TO THE MOUNT
There’s something rather wonderful about seeing the outback from above, so flying the Brisbane-to-Mount-Isa first leg was the best option for this trip.
The land is sunburnt and vast; creeks look like silver serpents and those aboard certainly know we’re out back when they see Mount Isa’s famous smokestack.
AM: Arrival in ‘The Isa’
En route from the airport, Jac and Shaz – TV reality stars from My Kitchen Rules – wave a cheery hello from a sign that officially welcomes visitors to Gulf Country (or ‘The Isa’ as locals call it).
PM: Setting our sights on the sites
In town, the Hard Times Mine Underground Tour is definitely worth a visit as is the Outback At Isa multimedia gallery – both pay homage to the town’s mining history with some pretty wonderful displays and guides.
There’s a quick pit-stop at the town’s lookout, which offers 360-degree panoramic views. Then, we’re onwards to Lake Moondarra – an artificial lake on the Leichardt River – which is home to a chorus of birds and pelicans lazily roosting by the water’s edge. In my humble opinion, this is the spot of choice to take your obligatory outback sunset snap.
Overnight: Ibis Styles Mount Isa Hotel
The Ibis Styles is on Rodeo Drive – eat your heart out Julia Roberts – and is just 10 minutes’ walk from Outback At Isa. Why not get into the groove of this mining town and ask for a ‘Mine View’ room.
DAY TWO: MOUNT ISA TO BOODJAMULLA (LAWN HILL NATIONAL PARK)
With seven hours’ driving ahead – or more given the group’s penchant to stop and take pics every two seconds – an early-morning departure is on the cards. The day is spent in easy camaraderie as the group negotiates big sky country and country roads peppered with windmills and cattle.
All too soon, the Adels Grove Creek Crossing looms like an oasis in the desert. It’s a shock, but a very good one, splashing through gin-coloured water to tonight’s base camp at Adels Grove.
The thing that strikes me from the first, is there’s a real sense of community here. Everyone is so down-to-earth and so damn obliging, and it’s infectious. After some lively discussions (and libations) with fellow travellers, several in the group even manage to jag a sunrise flight above Lawn Hill Gorge. #winning.
Overnight: Hello Adels Grove
Our resting place, Adels Grove, was originally gazetted as a Miner’s Homestead Lease. In 1920, Albert de Lestang used the property as an experimental Botanical Garden (that’s where the name Adel comes from).
These days, travellers can check into air-conditioned rooms (with and without loos), safari tents by the river or campsites.
DAY THREE: LAWN HILL TO JULIA CREEK
Lawn Hill, in the Boodjamulla National Park, lives up to its reputation and then some. The rugged red stone cliffs contrast beautifully against green vegetation and the blue spring water beckons.
We send up a silent prayer to the technology gods, thanking them for our digital cameras as the shutters whirr non-stop. Without boring you with superlatives, it’s Eden-like and we bask in it, under it and over it until all-to-soon it’s time to go.
The Main Event
Julia Creek is tucked well and truly out back – check it out on a map – but it’s easily accessible by road and rail, just 660 kilometres from Townsville along Overlander’s Way or five hours drive from Lawn Hill.
It’s a typical outback town – tiny, laid out in a grid with a couple of great pubs and ye-olde-world shoppes like Coleman’s Drapery and Godier’s Friendly Grocer that hark back to a bygone era.
But, if you think you’ve been outback and ‘dunnart’ (forgive the pun, the dunnart is a small, endangered marsupial that’s native to this region), well you ain’t seen nothing until Julia Creek rolls out the red dirt for the festival. There’s a real vibe and sense of celebration in the warm night air.
We don our Sunday best (I’m husband hunting you know) and head to the pub for a well-earned drink or two. En route, one of the gang stumbles across the gob-smackingly splendid Fred – indomitable character, loving husband and 80-year-old uber triathlete – dressed in Tony Abbott-esque red budgie smugglers.
Fred oozes outback charm and takes the cake as the fittest senior citizen in town. He runs the Julia Creek triathlon course three times a week in the lead up to DND… that is, when he isn’t swimming or riding or checking on his wife in between all that athletic stuff.
Note to self: Fill canteen with local water and drink it.
Overnight: Bunking down in Tent City
Home for the next few nights is a comfy two-man tent, with stretcher bed, mattress and freshly-laundered linen adding homey touches. There’s a cacophony of sounds at night, some from the wildlife and others from snoring Aussie fellas who flock to these here parts at festival time.
Embrace it, it’s all part of the fun.
Day Four: Dawn to dusk at the Dirt n Dust
Early risers, armed with cameras, roust themselves pre-the-crack-of-dawn to capture the tequila-sunrise-coloured… erm… sunrise over town. Then it’s time for a hearty brekkie and we’re off to search out some good-looking butts, all in the name of work of course!
Over an action-packed day, Wrangler-clad cowboys and bucking bulls strut their stuff in the rodeo arena; mini cowboys and gals crack mini whips; there’s crayfish aplenty at the Red Claw Luncheon and novelty events (like bog snorkelling) draw snort-laughs from enthusiastic crowds.
I didn’t know the Artesian Express Horse Race was the richest horse race in the north-west nor that the Julia Creek Tri is Australia’s wealthiest triathlon. Both are bloody good spectator sports – triathletes are so darn nice – and there’s plenty more to amuse.
Overnight: Tent City
Beds in town and in tents go like hotcakes. If you’re headed this way at festival time, it’s a good idea to book well in advance. It’s back to tent city for us weary travellers.
DAY FIVE: JULIA CREEK, WHAT ELSE YA GOT TO OFFER?
The DND has stamped Julia Creek on the proverbial map – it’s dirty, it’s dusty and it’s utterly fab. If you’re heading this way, be sure to stop by the Julia Creek Opera House, which opened the same day as another rather famous opera joint located in some harbour in Sydney, for a pic.
For us, alas, the carnival is over. And while I didn’t get to wrangle a great-looking butt* (read: husband) and I didn’t snorkel in a bog, the outback delivered technicolour dawns and dusks, outrageous characters, enormous meals – remind me to tell you a yarn about the famous Quilpie salad – and down-to-earth hospitality.
One thing’s for sure… Julia Creek, I’ll be back!
*Editor’s Note: It’s not the size of your butt that counts, it’s how you work it!