Learn more about the Aboriginal peoples who lived in Australia for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Their story is both inspirational and tragic. Follow in the steps of the early European explorers and the squatters who followed them. Understand more about the industries that shaped Australia.
As you travel through Queensland’s Southern Outback, you will be passing through the country of the Bigambul, Mandandanji, Gunggari, Kamilaroi, Imam, Bidjara, Mardigan, Kunja, Wongkumara, Boonthamurra, Budgiti, and Kullilli peoples.
On his fourth journey of exploration, Sir Thomas Mitchell was more reflective about the impacts of opening the country up for the pastoral industry on the Aboriginal Peoples.
We had encamped near those very springs mentioned as seen on my former journey, but instead of being limpid and surrounded by verdant grass, as they had been then, they were now trodden by cattle into muddy holes, where the poor natives had been endeavouring to protect a small portion from the cattle’s feet, and keep it pure, by laying over it trees they had cut down for the purpose. The change produced in the aspect of this formerly happy secluded valley, by the intrusion of cattle and the white man, was by no means favourable, and I could easily conceive how I, had I been an aboriginal native, should have felt and regretted that change. (Journal 20 December 1845)
Mitchell had come to understand that the lush pastures, so sought after by Europeans for their cattle, had been created and maintained by Aboriginal people for thousands of years by their use of fire to create grazing land for kangaroos. This conflict over water and land led to what became known as the Frontier Wars.
You can get an insight into the lives of Aboriginal people before and after European settlement at numerous sites throughout the region such as:
- Aboriginal native wells at Yuleba
- Traditional Aboriginal Campsite (Combarngo Brothers’ original humpy) – Aboriginal Interpretative Shelter at Surat
- Indigenous rock art at the Mt Moffatt National Park and the Yumba Indigenous Knowledge Sharing Centre at Mitchell
- Aboriginal Rock Art at Injune
- The Aboriginal dreamtime artwork on the Riverwalk in Bollon
- The Aboriginal Achievers plaque in the Hebel Historical Circle celebrating Hebel residents who made significant contributions in the areas of education and sports.
- The Gully Walk at Nindigully where you can read about local Aboriginal people and reflections from Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Journal
The Surveyors Trail
The story of the surveying of the border between Queensland and New South wales is an epic tale of state rivalry, professional rivalry, and endurance. The eastern edge of the border is marked largely by the course of rivers. From Mungindi, it diverges from the Barwon River and surveyors set out to mark the 29th parallel of southern latitude – ‘the straight bit of the border’ – until it reached the meridian of 141º East (the border with South Australia).
The official survey of the 29ºS parallel was conducted by John Cameron (NSW) and George Watson (Qld) between 1879 and 1881. Astronomical observations were taken at the Barringun telegraph station to determine the latitude and longitude. Following these observations, the zero obelisk was erected on the banks of the Warrego River, just north of the town.
Cameron and Watson set off west, but Watson turned back at the 100 mile post when they were confronted by floodwaters and then drought conditions. Cameron continued on alone and Cameron Corner in the Bulloo Shire marks the end of the western survey.
Following the completion of the survey from Barringun to Cameron Corner, JB Cameron then set out to survey the 199.5 miles east from Barringun to the Barwon River. To commemorate such a difficult undertaking, when Cameron completed the survey of the border, he erected the One Ton Post (a giant surveyor’s peg) on the west bank of the Barwon River near Mungindi in October 1881.
Sir Thomas Mitchell
Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was Surveyor-General of New South Wales from 1828 to his death in 1855. In December 1845, he commenced his fourth expedition with Edmund Kennedy as his second in command; he discovered the Warrego, Belyando, and Barcoo Rivers. His mission was to find a river running into the Gulf of Carpentaria, and, although he was unsuccessful, his exploration led to the opening up of the rich pastoral areas of Central Queensland.
Take a look at the Map of Exploration
On 12 April 1846 he came to a natural bridge of rocks on the main branch of the Balonne which he called St.George Bridge, now the site of the town of St George. Mitchell followed the Balonne to the Maranoa, and the Cogoon (now called Muckadilla Creek, near Roma). This rivulet led him to a magnificent pastoral district in the midst of which stood a solitary hill that he named Mount Abundance.
You can visit the Mt Abundance Homestead, built in 1860, and the site of the first settlement in the Maranoa region. Tours of the Homestead are available on weekends from 1:00pm. To make an appointment, please call Helen - 0428223183.
Mitchell traversed the country at the head of the Maranoa and discovered the Warrego River. On the return journey he trekked along the Maranoa River to St.George Bridge, and down along the Moonie River through Nindigully and back to Sydney. The town of Mitchell is named after him.
You can learn more about Mitchell’s travels and writings through the interpretive signage along the Gully Walk at Nindigully.
In 1848 Leichhardt set out from the Condamine River to reach the Swan River. The expedition consisted of Leichhardt, four Europeans, two Aboriginal guides, seven horses, 20 mules and 50 bullocks. He was last seen on 3 April 1848 at McPherson's Station, on the Darling Downs. His disappearance after moving inland, although investigated by many, remains a mystery.
In 2006 Australian historians and scientists authenticated a tiny brass plate (15 cm x 2 cm) marked "LUDWIG LEICHHARDT 1848", discovered around 1900 by an Aboriginal stockman near Sturt Creek, between the Tanami and Great Sandy deserts. The location of the plate indicated that he made it at least two thirds of the way across the continent during his east-west crossing attempt.
However, Aboriginal oral history tells a different story. In 2003, a librarian found a letter in the NSW State Library, dated 2 April 1874. The letter was written by W.P. Gordon, a station owner from the Darling Downs who had met Leichhardt in the days before his party vanished. The letter relates how Gordon moved to Wallumbilla and how, after living there for more than 10 years, he had befriended the Wallumbilla tribe who now openly shared their stories and folklore with him. One detailed story referred to the death of a white man who was leading a party of mules and bullocks along the Maranoa River many years earlier. According to the Wallumbilla, a large group of Aboriginals had encircled the party and murdered everyone in it. It has been speculated that if the story was true, the expedition's belongings were likely traded widely after the massacre, explaining how items that could only have come from Leichhardt's expedition were found in the Gibson Desert and why the rifle butt with the brass plate was found some 4,000 kilometres west of the Maranoa River.
Did Ludwig Leichhardt and his expedition actually die on the Maranoa River? If you want to try and solve the mystery of the disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt, you can buy the book by Darrell Lewis, Where is Dr Leichhardt?: the greatest mystery in Australian history.
Burke and Wills
In August 1880, the Victorian Government sponsored an expedition to make the first south-north crossing of the continent to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Robert O'Hara Burke and WIlliam John Wills led the ill-fated trip from Melbourne, reaching Cooper Creek by December. Burke and Wills started north with Grey and King, while four men remained. Only hours before Burke and Wills's return, the Stockade Depot Camp party left, after carving instructions into the trunk of a tree to dig for buried provisions. The exhausted party dug up the provisions and tried to travel south without leaving a message that they had returned. The base camp team turned around and returned one final time to check the camp. They found it just as they had left it and headed for Menindee.
Burke and Wills both died, while a third surviving party member, King, was rescued by local Aboriginal people until a European rescue team found him. The tree emblazoned with the message to dig for provisions became known as the Dig Tree. If you decide to take the 180km detour between
Eromanga and Thargomindah to the Dig Tree, you will visit the site of one of European exploration’s most tragic stories. The blazes on the Dig Tree are a memorial to the Burke and WIlls expedition.
Cobb & Co
Queensland’s Southern Outback was the heartland of Cobb & Co horse coaches, and the very last run was between Surat and Yuleba. You can relive the days of horse travel at many sites across the region including:
Regional Art Galleries
Explore the many regional art galleries through the area:
The Living History Centre – Eromanga
At the Eromanga Living History Centre which incorporates a Museum and Object Theatre, browse through hundreds of historic photos and stories of the surrounding area, on computer. View a self-operated film in the theatre room. Some of the many topics covered are the oil exploration, early pastoral pioneers, opal mining and information regarding the discovery of Dinosaur bones near Eromanga. The centre also has a photo display that automatically shows pictures from the 1860s to present day. The Living History Centre is next to a public park, covered picnic tables and chairs, playground equipment and BBQ facilities. Gracing the entrance to the park is a stunning monument inlaid with opal in memory to the Opal days of Eromanga