Going country: A Nashville-lover’s guide to Queensland
If the names Rayna James and Deacon Claybourne (aka #couplegoals) mean nothing to you, then you’re probably in the wrong spot. But for those who’ve also caught the country music bug, lemme just say you’re in for quite a treat.
Queensland may be famed for its beautiful beaches and tropical islands, but behind our coastline, there’s an unknown side to the sunshine state that would have any Nashville fan weak at the knees.
Friends, welcome to Australia’s home of country music – where thousands make the pilgrimage every year to dance under a sky full of stars to the sweets sounds of the best in the biz.
But the country-lovin’ doesn’t end there – from outback races and rodeos to cattle drives and horse-drawn wagon tours, we’ve got a year-round guide to going country in Queensland that’ll knock the socks right outta your cowboy boots, ya’ll.
Where to party like a
rock country music star
It’s Australia’s largest international country music festival, so it comes as a no-brainer that CMC Rocks QLD should be numero uno on any Nashville-lovers bucket list. Mark it in your calendars, people, because this three-day jam-fest in Ipswich continues to get bigger and better, with this year’s event – headlined by country superstars the Dixie Chicks, no less – selling out for the first time in its nine-year history.
Another must on the festival circuit is the Gympie Music Muster, when the normally peaceful Amamoor State Forest comes alive with thousands of revellers pitching their tents and celebrating the best of blue, roots and country over four glorious days.
On the Gold Coast, the fashion scene gets a shake up as bikinis and boardies are swapped for boots and Akubras during the free Broadbeach Country Music Festival, while Birdsville’s Big Red Bash invites music lovers to dance under a star-studded sky in Queensland’s remote Simpson Desert next to a massive red sand dune (perfect for sand-surfing on Esky lids just FYI).
If you missed out on your favourite festy, don’t fret. In Brisbane catch sweet tunes of the south all-year round at Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall and Johnny Ringo’s Country Rock Saloon.
For more country music events in Queensland check out this list.
Where to get the 101 on Australia’s country heart
It’s hard to imagine a time when Netflix and chill meant sleeping under a sky full of stars next to your faithful horse. Luckily, the following destinations have kept these country memories alive.
The Australian Stockmans Hall of Fame in Longreach is the ultimate tribute to the people of outback Australia, highlighting the history behind some of the country’s greatest and bravest explorers, stock workers, pastoralist, and Indigenous Australians.
Afterwards, mosey on down to the Qantas Founders Museum and learn the humble rural beginnings of Australia’s most iconic airline with a wing walk tour of their Boeing 747.
If you’re visiting Longreach between April and October, make sure you catch the live Outback Stockman’s Show as they tell the tale of real-life stockmen and women in an entertaining display of horsemanship and traditional Australian Stockman skills.
Those who learn better by getting hands on can pick up a traditional skill or two at the Cobb+Co. Museum, back a little closer to the coast in Toowoomba, with workshops covering vintage trades like blacksmithing and leather plaiting held throughout the year.
The museum is also home to the National Carriage Collection of horse-drawn vehicles, and if you can make it for one of the two daily guided tours at 10:30am or 2:30pm, do it, because you’ll learn some awesome facts along the way, like why a car’s glove compartment is named so. (Hint: if you can’t wait, find the answer over in this 48-hour guide to Toowoomba).
Even better, live the bygone era of transport aboard the last operating Cobb & Co stagecoach in Australia tracing the original mail route between Longreach and Windorah. Your tour with Outback Pioneers also includes a traditional smoko followed by an Australian classic bush movie.
For a further demonstration of what horsepower really looks like, head to Mick Bradford’s Heavy Horse Day in Yangan, as they showcase what farming was like in the olden days (hint: bloody tough) using equipment from the 1800’s and 1900’s.
Can’t squeeze in enough time for a country escape? You can still school up on our history at the Australian Outback Spectacular. In true Gold Coast-style it’s got a lot more bedazzle than a traditional show, but nevertheless, they tell the tale of our country’s characters and legends magnificently thanks to a star-studded team of stuntmen and women, and of course, amazing animal stars.
Where to see the
fruit stock of our labour
The flurry of excitement that goes down by the hammer during this live auction is electric even for spectators, with beasts worth as much as luxury cars. (In 2016, a record-breaking bull was bought for a whopping $96,000!)
Speaking of records, the area is also home to a Guinness World Record holder named JR, a Texas Longhorn steer who was certified in 2013 to have the longest horns of all cattle in the world.
Although his title may have been snatched up by another contender, he and the remaining herd of purebred Texas Longhorn cattle at Leahton Park (which are the largest in Australia) are still a mighty sight onboard the property’s horse-drawn wagon tours.
In Southern Queensland Country, discover one of the oldest and largest operating sheep stations in the country at The Woolshed at Jondaryan, which remains a monument to shearers and the old pioneering days. Learn about the region’s rich farming history on a self-guided tour of the museum’s grounds, in between cooing over the oh so cute lambs, sheep and alpacas.
(Digging the country life? Stretch your stay with a few nights in the original Shearer’s Quarters that housed the station’s workers back in the 1800s.)
Where to rake in the winnings
What better excuse is there for a road trip and new fancy frock than a country race?
Dubbed the ‘Melbourne Cup of the Outback’, the Birdsville Races are the crème de la crème of the country racing calendar, with over 7000 patrons making the 2000km pilgrimage each year to see the 13-race program in Queensland’s far-west (quite a big jump from the town’s usual population of 100). Even if you’re not into horse racing, the event is an experience itself for the quirky fashions on the field, buzzing atmosphere, and legendary camel pies.
Speaking of camels, those who’d rather admire than eat our humped-back friends can head to the country towns of Boulia and Bedourie to watch them race, along with a few more quirky additions like pigs, donkeys, and even wheelie bins!
If your pick at the Artesian Express Outback Horse Races during the annual Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival flops, you could always try backing a winner in one of the festival’s remaining country events, which include bull riding, bog snorkelling (yep, swimming through mud is a thing) and a competition to find Australia’s best butt.
Bringing the boot-scootin’ action to the city is Brisbane’s Country Music Raceday, where the usual glam wear is swapped for denim and checked shirts for a day of racing and entertainment, including the infamous Dunny Derby where the outhouse becomes a chariot in its own dash down the track.
Follow this link for more country races in Queensland.
Where to watch the pros (aka, it’s rodeo time)
More than just a hot spot to find yourself a rugged country beau, rodeos are a live display of the skills and hardihood it takes to be a fair-dinkum cowboy (or gal).
The Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo is the biggest and baddest in the Southern Hemisphere, with three days of non-stop rodeo thrills from bull riding and bareback bronc to barrel racing and steer wrestling. But the action isn’t limited to the ring, with the mining town pulling out all the stops for this long weekend with a pre-rodeo street party plus rock concerts, markets, and their very own Mardi Gras Parade.
If you want to experience the bucking bronco adrenaline for yourself, they also hold an annual one-day ‘rodeo school’ just before the event kicks off, where you’ll learn fundamentals and techniques from a rodeo champion.
Happy to continue spectating? See Australia’s top cowboys verse Australia’s best bucking livestock – combined with fairy floss and sideshow alley rides – during the Warwick Show and Rodeo. In Charters Towers, the whole family can get in on the action with a Kids Rock Junior competition making up their three-part rodeo celebrations.
For more country rodeos in Queensland head on over to this list.
Where to buy your boots
Online shopping? Fa-getta-bout-it. If you really wanna look the cowboy/gal part, you gotta go straight to the local pros.
Drive 476kms west from Brisbane to the ‘gateway of the outback’, aka Roma, where Brenorrs on McDowall St can fit your tootsies with classic R.M. Williams and Ariat. For a little extra flair, try the colourful and creative designs of Twisted X.
Down the road, Golders also stock top boot brands along with country’s biggest fashion names, including the denim-gods Wrangler and Levis.
Expect the same quality get up at Toowoomba’s Golders on the corner of Bridge St and Hume St but with a tad more variety: we’re talkin’ Timberlands and Mexican Sombrero boots, plus pink and lilac cowgirl hats and oilskin bomber-style jackets.
Across town on Taylor Street, Rhonda’s Refits has a goldmine of country attire spanning brand new to pre-worn western boots, shirts and jeans straight from the U S of A, along with a heap of quirky accessories and knick-knacks (racoon hat or red hide bullwhip, anyone?).
In Mount Isa, get rodeo-ready at the aptly named Worn Out West on West St, who can kit the whole family out from top to toe with feather-adorned Akubras, sherpa-lined jackets and boots.
If you’re itching for a serious dose of retail therapy, point your GPS towards West’ N Colour in Kenilworth, where you’ll not only find your perfect pair of Texan boots, but all the country paraphernalia you could ever dream of. They stock everything from belt buckles and cactus lamps to vintage Harley Davidson leather jackets and Mexican hand-painted platters.
Where to get in the saddle
Yee-ha! Now that you’ve got your boots sorted, it’s time to put ‘em to practice with a horse ride in Queensland country.
First time in the saddle? Cowboy Up in Toowoomba have over 30 years experience in the horse training industry, so safe to say the know their shiz (so much so, actually, that their skills were called on to train A-listers Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman for the blockbuster movie, Australia.)
After matching you with your perfect horse, you’ll go on a relaxing ride through their Darling Downs cattle property, with postcard-perfect views of rolling hills and farmlands.
In Cairns, Blazing Saddles Adventures offer half-day trail rides for beginners through to more experienced riders in Tropical North Queensland bush, swapping red dirt for lush rainforest pockets, billabongs, mangrove wetland and sugarcane fields.
At Susan River Homestead Resort in Hervey Bay, you’re spoilt for choice with over 60 gentle horses and 1600 acres-worth of tracks to choose from during their morning, afternoon and moonlight trail rides. When you’re saddle sore, opt for tubing and water skiing on Lake McLean or a whale watching tour of the Fraser Coast.
For something a little different, combine your love for vino and horses on a scenic winery trail with Slickers Horse Riding in Ocean View, north of Brisbane, trekking through valleys and mountaintops before arriving at a local winery for lunch and a tipple.
Where to become a bonafide jackaroo/jillaroo
So, you’ve had your go in the saddle and want more? Sounds like you need to up your country status, cowboy.
Join some of Australia’s most experienced drovers this month as they guide 600 head of cattle by horseback through the twists of the ragged Redford Trail in Outback Queensland during the Harry Redford Cattle Drive. Choose between four experience packages, ranging from 4 to 5-day rides, where you’ll cover between 10 and 18kms per day before camping out by a fire under a sky-studded star. #countrybliss
On the Sunshine Coast, Equathon’s 7-day beach and bush horse riding tours ticks off a slideshow of landscapes along their varied hinterland trails, which have been hand-picked by your hosts, Australian triple Olympian, Alex Watson and his wife, Rebecca.
Winding through the Mary Valley first, you’ll get the chance to muster cattle on their 640-acre cattle and horse property Edenview, before journeying back to Noosa for your last day-ride along Laguna Bay and Teewah Beach.
Where to whet your whistle
More than just a spot for a hearty meal and ice-cold bevvy, country pubs are hands-down the best way to meet the locals and get to know a town’s history.
And what better way to start your *ahem* history trail than with this great Aussie pub bucket list?
Done? Next on the pub crawl are the local haunts of Southern Queensland Country.
Don’t want the country mania to end??
Here are some more sights that can’t be missed:
- You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy but you are in Oz. Texas, Australia to be precise. While this tiny town is mostly dedicated to the farming industry, it’s a lovely drive worth doing, if only to see how Australia interprets the word.
- In Barcaldine, gain a little country wisdom from the Tree of Knowledge, where shearers first went on strike for better working conditions and sparked the Labor Movement.
- Come a-Waltzing Matilda at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton where the song was first performed.
- Have a beer in what might be the smallest bar in Australia. Vying for the coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, The Lynd Junction Oasis Roadhouse on the outback highway between Cairns and Townsville is so teeny it only just fits two people at the bar at any one time.