7 days in Bladensburg
Bladensburg typifies what Outback Queensland is all about: Remote and harsh yet stunning and colourful with plenty to see and do.
Located a few kays out of Winton in Central West Queensland, there’s a place that was once a sprawling sheep station owned by a multinational company… but Bladensburg is now a stunning National Park with remote camping, historic buildings, amazing stories and landscapes that will have you clicking away on your camera like an overseas tourist. To access the Park there is only one named road – the Route of the River Gums – however you can access it from either end. If coming from Winton it is 8km to the turn-off along the Winton-Jundah Road; or if you are coming from Lark Quarry you can access it 12km along Opalton Road.
The bush campground is at Bough Shed Hole on Surprise Creek. Located at the southern section of the Park it has dispersed spots with most people camping where a fire pit is located. The water levels of the permanent waterhole were the highest I have seen in the seven years I’ve been exploring this Park. This was also the first time I’d had the opportunity to enjoy a campfire, as during the drought years they weren’t allowed. Rain this year has regenerated the flora and fauna in the Park. Multiple follow-up rains have allowed fresh green growth to prosper instead of being burnt off by the sun as it usually is. The red and eastern grey kangaroos are plentiful, so care should be taken when driving at dawn and dusk.
The Old Homestead section is also the Ranger Station. Enjoy wandering around the old buildings that are full of information boards that tell you the story of Bladensburg. Moved to Bladensburg in the early 1900s, the main house replaced an old hut that was converted to a blacksmith shop. Gradually the homestead swelled to its current multi-building complex before the grazing property was dedicated as a National Park in 1994. Prior to 1925 when the first shearing shed was built, the sheep were driven to Winton for shearing. Even then it would take days to muster and walk the sheep to the shed. The place was buzzing during the 1920s with 600,000 sheep free-ranging in the large paddocks. However in 1947 this number had dropped to only 9,950 sheep due to the war and drought.
In 1961, the original shed was accidentally burnt down when the manager’s son was smoking with his mates – I wonder how his dad took it. The current shed has been standing since. It is fine to wander through the shearing shed, but the yards are still contaminated with arsenic so it is advisable to steer clear. The sleeping quarters, cookhouse, meat house and laundry have disappeared… with only the cement flooring remaining.
Scrammy Drive is a 40km 4WD-only track that begins at the homestead. The drive takes you along the black clay soil plains past the Old Racecourse and the lonely gravesite of eight-month-old Delia Dalrymple. After passing the old bore, the challenging track climbs up onto a jump-up. A good stop for a spot of lunch is at Scrammy Gorge. The weathered sandstone erodes, causing the harder caprock to fall in large blocks into the gorge below. With so much water about I could view Scrammy Waterhole for the first time. In places, it is around two metres deep. This is where boundary rider John Toon, better known as ‘Scrammy Jack’, met his maker when he drowned in 1893.
The views across the black soil plains from Scrammy Lookout are what await you at the end of the track. Situated on the edge of the mesa, the panorama is spectacular so take some time to stop and relax. Watch the wedge-tailed eagles soar on the thermal currents as miniscule road trains snake along the distant highway, before returning to the homestead the same way you came. Skull Hole is reached by taking a track off the River Gum Drive. Skull Hole isn’t named because of its shape, but because of a violent occurrence in the past. In the late 1800s, a bullock wagon was attacked by Aboriginals and one man was murdered. Retribution was savage with over 200 Aboriginals herded to the hole like sheep and massacred by black troopers, their bodies falling over the cliff and left to rot… hence Skull Hole.
Lark Quarry is just over an hour’s drive from the campground via the Winton-Jundah road. With bitumen for the first 80-odd kilometres from Winton as well as sections up the jump-up and for passing along the way, there isn’t much gravel these days. You will however find that it tends to be a convoy of vehicles on the way down and back. Lark Quarry was named after Malcolm Lark, a local volunteer who removed more rock and dirt than anyone else – uncovering the 95,000,000-year-old secret. The 3,300 dinosaur footprints are unlike any in the world. It is thought that some of the tracks show an attack on the chicken-sized Coelurosaurs and emu-sized Ornithopods by a large Theropod. There are some who dispute this and say that they are old footprints beside an ancient waterhole. The dinosaur stampede would have been a much more explosive action event, so I will stick with that theory. The tour begins with an animated introduction, loud roars and a wonderful spiel by the tour guide before the curtains are opened to allow us to view the unique tracks up close and personal. The tours are busy and you can buy a pass that also gains entry to the Winton Museum and Australian Dinosaur Park.
After you’ve enjoyed a hot shower at the BP Roadhouse in Winton, follow the dinosaur trail 13km out of town towards Longreach and take a tour of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs complex. This is Australia’s biggest fossil preparation facility and home to the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils. The operators currently have enough fossils to keep them busy for the next 20 years and are in the process of digging up more. Sadly, in the early hours of 18 June 2015, fire tore through the Waltzing Matilda Centre, destroying it. A new centre has now been designed and building will commence soon. A number of volunteers have saved some of the objects that suffered fire damage, with many being lovingly restored ready to be rehoused in the new building. Qantilda Museum is open on the site with a number of displays that survived the fire, and these help to showcase the history of the Winton region.
So there you have it: A week will give you enough time to tackle all these sites at an enjoyable pace. It is remote and you will need to ensure you are well prepared. Most of all, make sure the camera batteries are charged and the SD cards are plentiful because you will be using your camera a lot.
NEAREST TOWN: Winton, 8km north.
WHEN TO GO: The cooler months when the temps are more bearable.
ACCOMMODATION: Bush camping with fire pits and a drop toilet.
DIFFICULTY: Medium due to the remoteness and high clearances needed. If it rains, conditions change quickly. Check Park alerts and current road conditions before your trip.
CONTACTS: Queensland Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing
Winton Visitor Information Centre
GPS Route Details:
Bough Shed Hole, Bladensburg National Park – 22°33’35S 142°57’38”E
Winton – 22°23’13”S 143°02’18”E
Lark Quarry – 23°00’59”S 142°24’34”E
Australian Age of Dinosaurs – 22°28’44”S 143°11’05”E