Words Tania Ketteringham Photos Dale Ketteringham
If it’s adventure and solitude you crave, then join us on this iconic outback drive through dusty Diamantina National Park, in the heart of channel country.
When planning our trip through outback Queensland, the Diamantina National Park was a bucket list item, largely due to our love of John Williamson’s version of Diamantina Drover. So we left the remote but surprisingly busy town of Birdsville and headed to somewhere even closer to the middle of nowhere singing our hearts out in preparation to see the dusty Diamantina and Old Cork Station.
Just up the road from Birdsville, and by up the road I mean 165km, is the turnoff to Diamantina National Park. Camping permits are required to enter the park. With poor internet connection, we struggled to make the booking via our phones, so before leaving Birdsville we booked via the visitor information centre. Camping is permitted at Hunters Gorge and Gum Hole camping areas, and we were told that there would be few travellers in the park, and this we were pleased to hear.
As we drove along the Eyre Development Road towards Bedourie, we noticed that the dry red desert sand extends out as far as the eye can see and we are but a speck in this immense outback country. There are a few stops to amuse travellers along the way. The Carcory Homestead is a historical ruin recognised by the National Trust. Built of local limestone in 1877, the home was abandoned in 1906 after Sidney Kidman lost 4000 bullocks during years of drought. Surrounded by little but dust, you can imagine the conditions and hardship faced by the early settlers in the area.
We had heard about the water bores located along the way, so when we noticed a sign on the side of the road, we stopped to take a look. The bores have been drilled into the Great Artesian Basin allowing water, that is likely to be millions of years old, to flow to the surface. The sign above the bore reads ‘very hot bore water’, the water bubbles to the surface, and even in the heat of the desert, you can see the steam hover over the watercourse.
There are no services within the 507,000 hectare Diamantina National Park, so preparation is crucial. Having already travelled through parts of remote Queensland we were prepared, carrying all the essential items for safe travel in these remote areas including a satellite phone, GPS, water, recovery kit, emergency kit and extra fuel. Before taking the turn onto the Diamantina Development Road, we decided on a 40km detour into Bedourie where we refilled the fuel tanks and stocked up on supplies.
Diamantina National Park was once a pastoral property known as Diamantina Lakes, and throughout the park, there are remnants of settler history. The area also has a rich indigenous history, and the Maiawali and Karuwali people have a strong spiritual connection with the land.
The treeless clay pans into the park create difficulties for even the most experienced four-wheel drivers on the rare occasions when rain falls. For us, the drive on the dry dusty plains was a little bumpy but relatively easy.
Our first stop was Gum Hole camping area with campsites set beside Whistling Duck Creek. Unbeknown to us the campsite was crammed with bird watchers. As always, we had our cameras in hand hoping to get a few shots, and obviously mistaken for bird watching kin we were approached by a dozen khaki-clad individuals excitingly asking what birds we had seen.
I assumed all bird-watching folk were just spotting birds for their list, the holy grail for twitchers, like Steve Martin and Owen Wilson in The Big Year hoping to be the best birder in the world. It didn’t take long for our perception of bird watchers to change, and we quickly gained a grasp of the important work this group was doing as contractors to the Queensland government to survey local bird populations for species preservation. Although interesting, I could not dismiss The Big Year visions of grown men hiding behind trees chirping, so rather than take the last camp spot we decided to head to Hunters Gorge.
As we drove towards Hunters Gorge camping area, we were a little less hopeful that the next few days would bring the peace and tranquillity we were hoping for. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at an isolated camping area where the only residents were the array of birds around the deep caramel waterhole, and we got thinking that maybe it would be ok to be a bird nerd. The facilities are simple; the pit toilet is accompanied by the mandatory billion flies, lovely flat ground for camper set up, fire pits (bring your own wood) and unspoiled water views. The solitude is welcoming; we set up camp along the Diamantina Rivers Mundawerra Waterhole.
Over the next few days, we explored the area from Hunters Gorge towards Winton, including stops at the Mayne Hotel Ruins and Old Cork Station. Built in the 1870s the Old Cork Homestead was constructed to generate the notion of progress and prosperity in the hope of attracting visitors and investors. Small by today’s standards it was, in its time, considered to be an impressive structure. Now dilapidated, the building gives visitors a perspective of the isolation felt by its now absent occupants and the opportunity to pay homage to drovers long gone.
Back at our campsite, we sat under the shade of the coolabah trees, the sense of pride and freedom evoked by Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda a reflection of the incredible setting which inspired the ballad. As the sun sank below the horizon, the scene became even more spectacular; the landscape softened to a soft orange glow and birdsong soothed the senses. And as it darkened, the most phenomenal night sky appeared. This is the Australian outback at its best, and what better way to end a day than dreaming under an endless starry sky.
Essentials for travel in the Diamantina
Adequate water and emergency food supplies are essential. Carry at least 7L of water per person per day and it’s best to have at least seven days’ worth of supplies.
Campfires are permitted, but you will need to supply your own wood.
Complete first aid kit is always an essential item for any remote area travel.
UHF, satellite phone or emergency tracking beacon as mobile phone coverage is poor.
Extra fuel, recovery kit and vehicle repair kit.
Destination details: Birdsville > Bedourie >Diamantina NP > Winton
Accommodation: Camping only in the Diamantina NP
Fuel & Supplies: No services available in the Diamantina NP
Permits: Camping permit required from Queensland National Parks
Facilities: Pit toilets, no showers
When to travel: Best time to travel is in the cooler months April to September
More information: Diamantina National Park DES website