QLD Inland & Outback

Welcome to the Queensland Inland & Outback…

Now, the top part of this section devotes a fair bit of space to Toowoomba – there are a couple of reasons – one, it is a large regional centre on the Darling Downs with a number of things to see and do and, two, I live there so I know the place pretty well.

In fact, I’m always up for a coffee and a chat if you’re in the area!

People with mild disabilities (e.g. cane assisted) are able to get around most places, but having a wheelchair for museums, art galleries, wildlife enclosures etc can provide freedom, less fatigue and more reward. Some attractions provide chairs but if visitors would like to hire their own, the Scott Street Pharmacy in the Medici Centre charges $25 per week for a lightweight manual collapsible ($100 refundable deposit).

TOOWOOMBA is a gracious, green city with wide, tree-lined streets and colonial architecture.

Because of the population (around 100,000), there’s plenty of infrastructure and services. The medical services are excellent, there are a number of cinemas and the shopping offers pretty much the same as any city.

The local Aboriginal people pronounced the name ‘T’wamp-bah’, meaning ‘swamp’ and it became ‘Toowoomba’ – which reminds me of the two men, arguing over the pronunciation of ‘Toowoomba’, whether it be ‘TooWOOMba’ or ‘TOOwoomBAH’ when a nearby clergyman sitting stepped in and took a side. Both men were surprised that the man of the cloth had heard a hippopotamus break wind under water.

Carnival of Flowers – 2015 is the 66th year of the Carnival of Flowers and the town becomes a sea of orderly colour – apart from the flowers, there’s food, wine, entertainment and a spring in the air as well as the season.

The carnival probably started with a community leader scratching his/her head and asking the question, what can an inland city offer in the way of tourism? There you go… it is a good time to visit, it’s only 90 minutes from Brisbane and there are heaps of accommodation properties that cater for disabled visitors.

Shakespeare in the Park – This has become in an institution in Toowoomba – exciting productions with innovative direction this is an excellent night under the stars. Take a blanket or some folding chairs, a picnic and a bottle of wine and enjoy the Bard in a similar fashion to the way the peasants did in 1600. In 2013, for the tenth anniversary, it was A Winter’s Tale, as opposed to the 2011 production of Richard III, which had a winter of discontent… “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” he cried.  He might have found one at…

Cobb & Co – This is a good museum and an important one as the Cobb & Co coaches are pivotal part of the country’s history and expansion. Introduced mainly because of the Gold Rush (1854) this was the only way to move people efficiently over distance until rail came along. It also gave Toowoomba a reason for being. Cobb & Co used to change horses every 30km or so and travel at around 12km an hour but after climbing up the Great Dividing Range, they really needed water, food and rest.

The museum opened in 1987 and is now part of the Queensland Heritage Trails Network. It has the largest collection of coaches in Australia (50) and also has other interesting exhibits.

All entrances and areas in Cobb & Co are wheelchair accessible with ramp access and there are disabled facility toilets. A wheelchair is available for use, free of charge, but subject to availability of course. Seating is provided around the Museum, including in Cobb’s Coffee Shop.

Japanese Gardens ToowoombaJapanese Gardens – The gardens have a Japanese name: Ju Raku En … roughly translated it means, “enjoy peace and longevity in a public place”. It is one of the most peaceful and beautiful parks in Toowoomba – nice place to read, meditate, contemplate or paint. The Garden is open daily from 7:00 am to 7:00pm and admission is free.

Empire Theatre – This is my favourite theatre in Australia – even beats the State in Sydney (just). Built in 1911, it was almost destroyed by fire in 1933. Rebuilt in glorious art-deco Hollywood style theme, it closed during WW2 and again closed (for good) in 1971 when people preferred television to cinema/theatre.

An actor mate, Shane Withington, grew up in Toowoomba (123 Bridge St) and he used to break in through a hole in the hoardings to sit and imagine what it would have been like to experience it in its glory, rather than sharing the space with thousands of pigeons.

In 1997 the theatre was restored in 1933 art-deco glory and in 1998 was awarded “The Best Theatre in Australia”. It seats over 1500 people and I have been ‘on stage’ a few times – everyone in the audience seems close. And, in the audience, the stage is a treat. I have enjoyed many concerts, plays, musicals and son’s speech days there.

The Empire Theatre has wheelchair access and a lift.

The ushers are volunteers who love their work. My daughter has performed there in Jesus Christ Superstar (the best production I have seen, and I saw the original with Trevor White, Jon English, Marcia Hines, Reg Livermore, John Paul Young and Stevie Wright), in a marvellous production of The Music Man and in 2013 she trod the boards in South Pacific. The theatre’s Patron is Toowoomba lad, Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush. It is just one of those places that takes you to another ‘place’. The photo doesn’t do it justice as you can’t photograph atmosphere.

Toowoomba Grammar – The school’s not really a tourist attraction, but it is a fine looking school – you can’t miss it coming into or going out of town on Margaret St. There is a museum detailing the history of the school (Mon/Wed 10:00am to 2:00pm) but that would probably only interest those connected with TGS. My connection is as a past parent (the lad had an excellent education) and in 2012 I took a group of greography students to Vanuatu.  The school dates back to 1875 and you can ‘feel’ the history in buildings like The Old Hall.  Because of its age, not particularly wheelchair-friendly.

Jondaryan Woolshed – At the heart of the Jondaryan Woolshed is the museum. Everything that is standing on the site is authentic from the original Jondaryan station. The Woolshed itself is an original sheep-shearing shed with a rich history. The Woolshed is half way between Toowoomba and Dalby, approximately 30 minutes from Toowoomba.

Preston Peak Winery – This is a family-owned boutique winery. Established in 1994 it now produces 3500 cases of wine a year and has more than 20,000 people visit the cellar door. The winery was awarded four-and-a-half stars in James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion (2010) and at the Winestate Magazine’s Wine of the Year Awards (also 2010) the 2008 Reserve Shiraz was placed in the top five Australian & New Zealand Shiraz. It’s only about five minutes out of town and has a nice little cafe.

There’s a designated parking spot for visitors with a disability and wheelchair access to the cellar door and upper level of the cafe.

Toowoomba Art Gallery – located beside City Hall in Ruthven St, the gallery was established in 1938, making it the oldest regional gallery in the state. Admission is free.

Access for the disabled is from street level, with a lift leading to the upper floor. Toilet facilities cater for visitors using wheelchairs.

Restaurants – There are many, many dining options in and around Toowoomba – Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Italian, Chinese… here are a few of my favourites…

For great Chinese at an excellent price, the not so easy to pronounce Qi’lin in The Hooper Centre is terrific.

Qi Lin was a mystical and powerful feng shui creature that warded off negativity and brought good omens, protection, prosperity and success. However it was probably more the food and service that saw the restaurant recently win Best Chinese Restaurant (Queensland State Winner), Best Chinese Restaurant (Brisbane & Darling downs Region) and Lifestyle Food Channel ‘I Love Food’ (Queensland) for Best Chinese Restaurant.  They are running out of room on the wall for the awards.

The owner is lovely and she’s always on hand for a chat – and this is the only restaurant in Toowoomba that has Peking Duck on the menu (and a ‘duck’ oven). The photo is a Peking Duck, not specifically theirs, but it is served in the two traditional courses – the pancake, shallot and crispy skin duck first and then the meat with crispy lettuce, sang choy bow style.

It is wheelchair friendly both inside and on the deck to the side (where the bathrooms are) and there is designated parking in the Hooper Centre.

Toowoomba Inbound (was Platform 9) is in the Heritage Listed Railway Station – the ambience is just lovely with the pressed metal, original timbers, cutlery etc – and, luckily, the food is good as well.

The place opens for breakfast and lunch during the week (8:30am to 4:30pm) and after work on Fridays until 10:00pm serving shared plated. They make fabulous home-made pies, pasties and sausage rolls (e.g. beef brisket, mushroom, red wine, roasted garlic, desirée potato pie). This recent incarnation is the brainchild of the Encores folk (below).

There is a designated parking spot for diners with a disability and the restaurant is accessible. The bathroom is a bit of a distance along the platform but on the flat, as platforms are prone to be.  

Chef and owner Mark Rawlings and his wife Meredith opened Encores restaurant in conjunction with the redevelopment of the historic Empire Theatre in 1997. In 2005, the Empire Theatre Precinct underwent major redevelopment which lead to a purpose built restaurant facility being built adjacent to the theatre. Have never had a bad meal there.  It is a family ‘occasion’ favourite and our preferred option when entertaining out-of-town guests.  I’m usually an entrée and main person but I go main and dessert at Encores.  For the main I had perfectly cooked salmon with seared scallops and soy & ginger glaze (topped with three wee tasty tempura-style broccoli fleurettes) and dessert was an individual chocolate raspberry pudding with warm chocolate ganache and salted peanut ice cream.  If you are going to see a show, there is a pre-theatre menu so you won’t be stressed about rushing.

Disabled access here is perfect – a purpose built ramp at the front entrance and a level run to the Empire Theatre’s bathrooms through the rear door.  There is also ramp access for the rear entrance and they are used to diners with mobility issues.

Gip’s Restaurant is located in one of Toowoomba’s most historical buildings, Clifford House, in what used to be the grand old home’s billiard room. Owners, Jon & Julianne McCorley have preserved a slice of the city’s past by naming the restaurant after the much-loved pet dog of the historical owner, James Taylor. A rock commemorating Gip’s passing can still be found in the grounds today. Now, the staff use a soft ‘g’ for the restaurant’s name (as in ‘gourmet’) but I use a ‘g’ as in ‘giraffe’ because someone once told me that Mr Taylor’s dog was originally called ‘Gypsy’ and the name was abbreviated (yes, yes, I know, therefore it should be spelt ‘Gyp’s’ but then people would pronounce it ‘Gype’. Sigh. Why didn’t he call the wee dog ‘Rover’?

Wheelchair access is fine – while there are steps to the main part of the restaurant interior, they just roll up the cover to the other side of the terrace (left looking at the restaurant) for w/c access and there is an accessible bathroom.

Fitzy’s (Fibber McGees) and The Spotted Cow are two fine pubs for good dining, good service, good booze and good atmosphere. Both offer live entertainment and both are worth a visit. Fitzy’s offers good value Sunday lunches and has themed days/nights (e.g. Barra-Monday) and the Cow has an amazing range of beers.

A tip for disabled parking for Fitzy’s – if entering from Margaret St, there’s handicapped parking in front of the cinema and access is easy from there.  There is one prime position right in front of the rear lane access. There is a flight stairs but also a wheelchair lift – you need to ring or seek out one of the staff to get the key to operate it.

Accommodation…

As mentioned, there are lots of accommodation properties that cater for disabled visitors. There are hotels, motels, apartments, farm-stays, cabins and pet-friendly properties.

Toowoomba Central Plaza Apartment Hotel is a 4.5 Star property in the CBD with a BBQ,, spa, pool, gymnasium and Day Spa for pampering.  There are 1, 2 3 bedroom and penthouse apartments, all air-conditioned with free undercover parking.

The assisted rooms are wheelchair accessible and have rails in the bathrooms and walk-in shower with safety bars.  There is disabled parking and lift access.

Another nice option is Eastgate on the Range. This fairly new motel property (2005) has three ground-floor units with disabled facilities and wheelchair access. Located on the edge of the Great Dividing Range it is a walk or wheel away from bush trails, restaurants, tourist attractions, shopping and the medical centre that rents out wheelchairs. There’s a la carte dining with an award-winning chef and the restaurant is wheelchair-friendly with access and special bathroom.

Shopping – there are lots of boutique shops in Margaret and Ruthven Streets and many suburban shopping malls/centres.

The main shopping hub is Grand Central where there is a Myer, Coles and Target along with 140 specialty stores and food outlets.  There’s a medical centre and lots of parking with designated disabled parking and both lift and escalator access to all floors.  There’s free hire of wheelchairs and motorised scooters.

Toowoomba Garden Town, just down the road (opposite the Coffee Club), is a poor second cousin but has some specialty stores, a food court, post office (there isn’t one at Grand Central), IGA and St George Bank.  Best to park on the rooftop in a designated space and there is lift access to the Margaret Street level.

Cinemas – Toowoomba is well catered for with cinemas.  Event Cinemas (Birch Carrol & Coyle) have two complexes, both disabled friendly.  One is at Grand Central on the top floor of Grand Central with easy parking on the roof level or lift and escalator access from lower floors.

The other is The Strand in Margaret Street.  There is a three hour designated parking spot right outside (where the car in the photo is parked)with easy access to ticket purchase, popcorn and the cinemas once inside.

Let’s have a quick look at other parts of the state that don’t get a mention in the desitnation sections…

Goondiwindi is at the junction of six highways on the Macintyre River and New South Wales border. It’s a prosperous and pretty town with a Spring Fair (October) full of flowering jacarandas and silky oaks. There’s a statue of Gunsynd in Apex Park (named, of course, after the ‘Gundy’ syndicate owners). In the Sentimental Stakes, Gunsynd comes in second to Phar Lap in Australian racing history.

Gunsynd won the hearts of all Australians in the early 1970s. It was his personality more than his impressive 29 wins and 15 places from 54 starts, including the Cox Plate, Doncaster, Epsom, Sandown Cup and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He was big, friendly, and inquisitive with a powerful winning burst. He seemed to love the thrill of a win and the applause, nodding his head to the crowd in appreciation. In 1972, on a sweltering November Tuesday, he carried the top weight of 60.5 kilograms for a gallant third place in the Melbourne Cup and the cheers from the Flemington crowd as his number went into the frame were far greater than those for the winner.

Birdsville is really not on the way to anywhere and is a boomerang’s toss from the South Australian border (they don’t come back for me). When the population of 100 swells to 5000 for the Birdsville Races (September), the Birdsville Hotel (1883) really gets a work out. My mate, Dave Prior, performed at the races in 2011. He grew up in Alice Springs and when he was a kid he asked an Aboriginal mate whether a boomerang would come back if a whitefella threw it… and his mate replied, ‘It will if it bloody hits me!”

Speaking of which, Dave also performs at the annual Gympie Muster in August. Gympie is north of Brisbane at the top end of the Sunshine Coast (inland). A gold rush town, it was fortunate to have fertile soil so it could continue to thrive on farming when the gold petered out. It’s an attractive provincial city where you can still try your luck panning for gold, and it is home to the Gold Rush Festival in October.

Kingarot Peanut VanA little further inland is Kingaroy, a town that has given itself the titles ‘Peanut Capital of Australia’ and ‘Baked Bean Capital of Australia’. It’s a prosperous agricultural town and famous for being home to former State Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen (renowned for his ‘Don’t you worry about that’ response to most questions), and his Senator and pumpkin scone-baking wife, Florence.

Bundaberg is the southernmost access point to the Great Barrier Reef. The town, famous for its sugar and Bundaberg Rum, has lots of parks and gardens, and it’s a good spot for whale-watching (August to October).

GANGgajang (the band’s name comes from a creative group, ‘GANG’ and the sound of a guitar, ‘gajang’) comes to mind:

Out on the patio we’d sit, And the humidity we’d breathe, We’d watch the lightning crack over canefields Laugh and think, this is Australia.

Gladstone is a prosperous, busy harbour city and is close to the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef and is famous for its Queensland ‘muddies’ (mud crabs). Theodore is inland, between Miles and Gladstone and tourism is not one of its main sources of income. It’s more a grain and cotton place but, if you are passing through, note that the town was designed by Canberra’s architect, Walter Burley Griffin.

Yeppoon is a popular resort on the Capricorn Coast near Rockhampton. There are lots of good beaches nearby and Great Keppel Island is 13km offshore. Rockhampton is called the beef capital of Australia and has Australia’s longest National Trust-classified street (over 20 classified buildings). From here you can head into the real outback on the Capricorn Highway. Emerald is a pretty town with shady Moreton Bay figs and large sapphire fields nearby. You can get a licence to fossick for gems and there are farm stays on cattle stations.

Longreach is a friendly, modern town, slap dab in the middle of the State. Famous for its development of Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service), there is a Qantas Founders Museum at the airport and Qantas Park in Eagle Street has a replica of the original Qantas booking office as the Visitor Information Centre. The person behind the counter will be sure to mention the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre on Matilda Highway.

In 1870 Captain Starlight (Harry Redford) and four mates rounded up 1000 head of cattle and drove them 2400 kilometres to South Australia over unmapped country that had claimed the lives of Burke and Wills. He sold the cattle, which weren’t his, and pocketed the money. He was arrested and taken back to Roma for the trial where the jury ignored the evidence and found him not guilty, simply because he’d been daring enough to pull off the near impossible.

From Longreach you can head north to Muttaburra (population 92). The town is most famous for lending its name to a dinosaur, previously unknown until 1961 when Muttaburrasaurus bones were discovered in a cattle-holding yard. The area was once part of an inland sea and has many fossil remains.

Winton is a major sheep area and a trucking centre for giant road trains transporting cattle. Its main claim to fame is that Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda near here in 1895. I guess anything that has been written, had to be written somewhere. The town’s water supply comes from an artesian bores at a temperature of 83°C.

Cloncurry is an important mining town and was home to the first Royal Flying Doctor Service Base.  Cloncurry became the country’s largest source of copper simply because Burke and Wills got lost. A search party reported distinctive traces of copper in the area.

Mount Isa is a company town (Mount Isa Mines operates one of the largest silver-lead mines in the world). It’s an oasis in the middle of hot, unforgiving cattle country.

Every August, Australia’s largest rodeo sees the population of 21 000 almost double.

Back to the coast…

Mackay is a large, sugar-producing coastal city.

Tourism is a growth industry because it’s handy to Brampton, Lindeman, Hayman and Hamilton islands in the Whitsundays. There’s some delightful architecture and the seafood is terrific.

Airlie Beach is the centre of the Whitsunday Coast, overlooking the passage and islands, and is a lovely resort town in itself.

Shute Harbour is second only to Sydney’s Circular Quay as a marine passenger terminal and is the best place to start exploring the Whitsunday waters and islands.

Townsville is Australia’s largest tropical city and is an attractive place with historic buildings, a fine waterfront and tropical parks and gardens. You can pick up a cruise on the Coral Princess and take reef trips to Magnetic, Orpheus, Hinchinbrook and Dunk islands. There are outback, rainforest and white-water rafting tours as well as wildlife sanctuaries and marine research centres.

Mission Beach is simply lovely. Quiet, with a 14-kilometre long sandy beach, coconut trees and a tropical rainforest fringing the island, it is a magnet to creative types, and art and craft galleries abound.

Innisfail is another prosperous town, full of colour and lush, tropical produce (sugarcane, pawpaw, bananas and some rarer fruits) along with beef cattle, prawn and fishing industries. A good base for hopping out to some of the quieter Barrier Reef islands, including Dunk.

Hmm.. what is this attraction I seem to have for country town pubs?

Inland, (135km from Townsville) is Charters Towers, a town that typifies a part of Australia with its wide verandahs and lacework. Once a gold-rush boomtown there are still profitable mines as well as old ones to tour. Up north, Cooktown was once a rowdy gold-rush port with 37 pubs. There are now only three but that may grow (that’s one in the photo). Plenty of people are predicting this will be the ‘next Port Douglas’ for tourism. It’s a fishing and prawning town, and is also a gateway to the Outer Barrier Reef.

Karumba is also a prawning town at the mouth of a river but on the other side of the Cape.

It’s the gateway to the Gulf and is surrounded by flat wetlands full of brolgas, cranes and saltwater crocodiles. Barramundi fishing is big in both Karumba and Weipa.

Weipa, on the west coast of Cape York, is a centre for travellers needing access to services and facilities.

It’s a mining town (with a pub that is there to quench thirsts, not look ornamental) and is home to the world’s largest bauxite mine, which means it’s also the largest bauxite mine in the Southern Hemisphere!

Sorry, that’s just an Australian boast that pops up a lot. I grew up in Gundagai, a town that boasts having the ‘longest wooden bridge in the Southern Hemisphere’ – Um, hello? Just how many long wooden bridges are there in the Southern Hemisphere?

And because bauxite, photo-wise, looks as boring as bauxite, let’s end this section with a typical Queensland photograph – this one taken at Longreach…

What could be more Australian than a sunset, a windmill, a dam… with a stockman on horseback, wearing an Akubra hat and R.M. Williams boots, on a mission to get to the pub before closing so he can brag to his mates, just because he got lucky last night…

Moving right along…