It’s the little Outback Queensland town with a gutsy big past, but for most Australians Cloncurry is about to go on record as the mightiest backdrop of any Survivor series when the 2021 production goes to air starting this Sunday 18 July.
Thanks to its spectacular sunsets, rugged rocky outcrops and a population of a few thousand residents, who helped the town take out “Queensland’s friendliest” in 2013, the ‘Curry’ (as it’s affectionately dubbed) is about to explode onto our road trip radar.
So, what do you do in a destination, previously known for big copper loads and even bigger bulls? Here’s everything you ever needed to know about Cloncurry.
Earn your Outback Queensland stripes over a crisp Great Northern ale at Crocodile Dundee‘s Walkabout Creek Hotel in the neighbouring town of McKinlay. The backdrop for the famous bar brawl scene from the blockbuster movie, the pub is an Insta-worthy stop for travellers. Aside from its real-meets-rustic and rather kitsch setting, it’s also a good place for a counter lunch and a comfy overnight stay.
Holy uranium, go underground. The Old Mary Kathleen Mine is an adventurer’s dream on a North West Tours’ outing to the open-cut uranium mine. Once a bustling home to 1000 residents, today Mary Kathleen is a spooky ghost town. The four-hour tour departs from Mount Isa and costs $119 per person including morning tea.
Make a beeline for John Flynn Place, a tiny museum that celebrates an era when aviation and radio united the Outback, and the Royal Flying Doctors Service provided a welcome health service for its residents. Here you’ll learn how Arthur Affleck, the first flying doctor pilot, hired a single engine timber and material plane from Qantas for the very first Royal Doctors flight. Aviation lovers should also keep their eyes peeled for the original Qantas hangar, which welcomed the first Qantas passenger plane 100 years ago. And it is still operational.
Fish, boat, or just chill at Chinaman Creek Dam. Located 3km west of Cloncurry, the surprisingly pretty waterhole is the focal point for Survivor water challenges. For travellers, it’s the best point to cast off for sooty grunter, barramundi, red claw and yabbies, and to take in sunset views of the township and the Cloncurry River. The dam was built in 1994, to take advantage of water flowing from Chinaman Creek and the Cloncurry River.
Got a 4WD? Then take the 23km Ballara Mining Heritage Trail and track the remarkable natural beauty of the land. The start of the trail is on the southside of the Overlanders Way, about 60km from Cloncurry. The trail journeys through spinifex landscapes and rocky outcrops, millions of years in the making, and travels past the site of three former townships that are remnants of a boom-and-bust story of the mining industry. The reward at the end of the trail is a dip in Fountain Springs. Movie buffs will recognise this naturally fed waterhole as the location where Sue Charlton, Croc Dundee’s love interest, was almost taken by a giant saltwater crocodile.
Proof that not every alliance leads to survival, early pioneers Burke and Wills passed through Cloncurry on their ill-fated expedition before perishing in the Australian bush. Today Burke’s prized water bottle can be seen at the Cloncurry Unearthed Museum. Rockheads will also love the extensive gem and mineral collection and the fact that they can obtain fossickers licences and maps here.
Need another reason to hit the hottest town in the outback? This year the Curry Merry Muster Festival returns from 6-8 August with two days of rodeo action, live music, bush poets’ breakfast and the Brophy’s Boxing tent.
Fun facts about Cloncurry
Like its topography, Cloncurry is never down and out. The town is built 200m above sea level and is surrounded by a series of hills, spectacular rocky outcrops and a rich river flowing by.
With summer temperatures flogging the 40s and winter days hovering the mid 20s, the town is hot. It is appropriately dubbed ‘The Curry’.
Burke and Wills passed nearby on their fatal expedition in 1861 and a memorial for the explorers can be seen 43km west of town on the bank of the Corella River.
In 1867, Earnest Henry discovered copper and set up camp, paving a way for the copper and gold industry that still exists today.
In the late 1800s, Cloncurry was Queensland’s largest ‘Ghan town’ with more than 2000 camels for transport.
On 3 November 1922, Qantas flew its first passenger (Alexander Kennedy) from Longreach to Cloncurry (landing in the very first Qantas hangar) and sparking a fun outback feud over which town can claim the globally recognised brand.
The first flight of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia place took place on 15 May 1928.
In 2006, acclaimed Waanyi woman Alexis Wright was awarded the Miles Franklin prize for her novel Carpentaria. She was born in Cloncurry in 1950 and wrote a fierce epic that honours Indigenous culture and the impact of colonisation.
Cloncurry was voted as Queensland’s friendliest town in 2013.
In 2017, a two-year-old Brahman bull, bred 100km west of Rockhampton, was sold to Cloncurry beef breeders for $325,000, nine times the price of the average sales at the auction.
Dame Mary Gilmore OBE, who is featured on the $10 note, rests in the Cloncurry cemetery.
So, there you have it; a whole host of things that prove you don’t just survive, you thrive, in Queensland’s outback communities.
Have you visited Cloncurry? What did you think? Why not share your favourite rural Queensland location in the comments section below?
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