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Waltz Down The Matilda Highway
matilda highwayAustralia's Outback is an unforgiving place that will drag you in and may never spit you back out. When planning a journey in the outback, careful preparation is needed so that you come out alive and you have a good time while doing it. One particular stretch of highway that is equally as challenging as it is spectacular, is the Matilda Highway. The road runs up the length of West Queensland and is often referred to as the 'Backbone of the Outback'. The landscapes here enjoy a unique diversity and the friendly country towns that are dispersed throughout it are full of unique characters and larrikins, who like to frequent the local pubs and hotels that sit just beside the road. Natural highlights will constantly catch your eye in the form of billabongs, rocky gorges, and miles and miles of wide open space, and show you what the true outback is really all about.

The Matilda Highway spans 1700 kilometres, beginning in Barringun, and coming to an end in to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria, way up in the north of Queensland. The best place to start your journey of the Matilda is in Cunnamulla, which is the first major town on the highway. This town was originally established to service the large livestock ranches nearby and through this, it still retains its old world feel and quaint charm. One of the historical highlights here would have to be the Robbers Tree, a large tree at the end of the street where a bank robber called Joseph Wells once hid after fleecing the town of its cash. The Warrego River is another of the town's attractions, as it runs past the town and is extremely popular amongst fishermen and boating enthusiasts. The cattle stations surrounding the town are also worth exploring, and some of these, such as Aldville Station and Charlotte Plains, will let you camp for the night, giving you a great taste of the outback farming lifestyle.

Continuing north in your car rental you will arrive in Charleville, the largest town in the south west of the outback region. This drive will take you through the 'Mulga Country' that is typified by the sparse mulga vegetation that will survive all but the worst drought. Charleville is a particualrly hardy place that enjoys a long and in-depth history. The history and heritage of this town can best be experienced on the Charleville Heritage Trail which offers a fascinating insight into all the local history. Charleville is amongst the best places in the world for star gazing, and at the Cosmos Centre and Observatory it is almost like you can reach out and touch them! While in the area you should also take some time to check out the Corones Hotel, which has provided elegant period style accommodation since the prosperous wool era.

As you continue your adventure along the Matilda Highway, make sure you drop by the teddy bear workshop at Tambo, whose teddies have achieved something of a cult status worldwide. The teddies are made from local sheep leather and wool, and demonstrate a true outback success story. They are also excellent souvenirs to remember your trip by. Continue onto Blackall, where you will be greeted by a statue of Jackie Howe. He is famous for his world record sheep shearing skills, and you are bound to hear many tales of that night in 1892 when he blade shore 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes.

Longreach is the perfect location for your next stop as it is undoubtedly the biggest town you will pass through. Named because of the 'Long Reach' of the Thompson River on which it is nestled, Longreach is home to such landmarks as the Stockman's Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Outback Museum. This museum pays tribute to the efforts of those who overcame the problems of long distance travel in the outback, and is a great way to discover the local aviation history.

Discovery of the Matilda Highway will simply not be complete without calling in at Winton. This is the spot where Banjo Patterson conceived his infamous 'Waltzing Matilda' song, hence the name of the highway. At the Waltzing Matilda Centre you can explore the life of the famous poet and the legend of the song for which he became famous for. The Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackway is also worth a look and will only set you back an hour or so. It is believed to be the world's only preserved dinosaur stampede, and that reason alone makes the extra distance seem not so bad!

Cloncurry was once one of the earliest bastions of wealth in the outback, having profited from the rich copper deposits that were found under the earth here many years ago. Regarded as 'The Friendly Heart of the North West', you are guaranteed to be entertained by some colourful local characters and welcomed with open arms. The town is situated at the crossroads of your journey because you can either continue north along the Matilda Highway into the Far Reaches of Queensland and the towns of Normanton and Karumba, where the highway ends, or you can head east or west along the Overlanders Way. Whichever way you decide to travel, you will be met with further wonders and attractions of Australia's most prized possession; the Outback.

Christine Barton

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