In October 2019, as part of a western Queensland road trip, my husband and I took the Kennedy Development Road from Boulia to Winton, a distance of 362 kilometres. The road traverses a vast, lonely and seemingly desolate part of Queensland’s central west. There are quite a few large cattle properties along the way, but from the highway you won’t see much evidence of habitation. You may meet a car or truck every 50 kilometres or so. The only place you are likely to come across other folk is Middleton, situated roughly halfway between Boulia and Winton.

Winton-Boulia road map. Source: Boulia Shire Council. Adapted.
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Winton-Boulia road map. Source: Boulia Shire Council. Adapted.

It was a long drive, but not at all boring. With stoppages (we stopped quite a few times to view the sights and take photographs), the trip took 6½ hours. Six-and-a-half full, exciting hours! Indeed, the drive from Boulia to Winton was one of the highlights of our visit to western Queensland. We were constantly amazed by the variety and magnificence of the ever-changing terrain and vegetation along the route. Our biggest surprise, though, was reserved for Middleton, where we stopped for an extended lunch break.

NOTE: A list of references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of the post. References are numbered and noted throughout the text by brackets: [X].

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The day of our journey dawned clear and bright. At Boulia, the red haze of the previous day’s dust storm had dissipated. By the time Tony and I ventured out of our motel room, the sun was already high in the sky. Despite the season (Spring), it promised to be another hot day. We’d had a good rest at Boulia’s well-appointed Desert Sands Motel (an appropriate name, we decided), so we were keen to begin the next leg of our road trip: Boulia to Winton.

My husband Tony had visited Winton before, during the 1980s, but this would be my first visit. Over the years Tony often recalled his memories of Winton – the long drive from Longreach across largely treeless Mitchell grass plains, Winton’s hot, smelly artesian water, the town’s exceptionally wide streets. Like Boulia, Winton is a long way from anywhere. It’s located 177 kilometres northwest of Longreach, 866 kilometres west northwest of Rockhampton and over 1300 kilometres northwest of Brisbane.

Today, this small inland town of 875 residents (2016 Australian census) [1], administrative centre of the huge Winton Shire, thrives on tourism. Winton promotes itself as the place where Banjo Paterson’s “Waltzing Matilda” was first performed, the birthplace of QANTAS, and “Dinosaur Capital of Australia”.

Tony and I planned to stay at Winton for several days, as we wanted to properly explore the town and learn more of its fascinating history. I had booked our accommodation at the historic North Gregory Hotel. The hotel’s fascinating history is the subject of an earlier story on my blog: The many lives of Winton’s North Gregory Hotel (February 7, 2020).

Before leaving for Winton, Tony and I spent a couple more hours exploring Boulia. (If you have a Facebook account, you may like to take a look at my BOULIA, Queensland photo album, which I posted on my Love in a little black diary Facebook page.)  

Boulia

The tiny, remote central western Queensland town of Boulia has just 301 residents (2016 Australian census) [2]. It’s located close to the Queensland-Northern Territory border, more than 1700 kilometres west northwest of Brisbane. By road it’s about 300 kilometres south of Mount Isa and about 380 kilometres north of Birdsville.

Boulia was established in 1876 as a goods and service centre for the early European settlers of the district. The Queensland government gazetted Boulia as a town on 2 August 1879. [3] Today, Boulia is the administrative centre of the Boulia Shire, a vast area of 61,635 square kilometres, whose total population in 2016 was just 426! [4]

2019. Welcome to Boulia sign. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Welcome to Boulia sign. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
2019. Boulia Shire Council Office. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Boulia Shire Council Office. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The settlement’s first mail service appears to have been a once-a-fortnight packhorse service between Cloncurry and Boulia (“Boolya”). [5] A post office opened at Boulia on 1 July 1879. Mr Stuart M F Manners was the town’s first postmaster. A joint post and telegraph office opened five years later, on 11 August 1884. [6]

The original post office building burned down in 1887. A new building was erected on the site using exactly the same plans as the original one. It still stands today and houses the (now) unofficial post office. The building has been extended, however, and includes the registered office of the Pitta Pitta people, the traditional owners of the land on which Boulia is located. [7]

2019. Boulia Post Office. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Boulia Post Office. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Today, Boulia is best known for its annual camel races and sightings of the mysterious Min Min lights. The town is also known for its red desert sands (it’s not far from the Simpson Desert), marine fossils, birdlife and ancient Wadi (Acacia peuce) trees. At the edge of town, behind the Boulia State School, we found a Wadi tree, recognised as the last Corroboree Tree of the district’s Pitta Pitta people. These trees can survive for 200 years.

2019. Corroboree tree (a Wadi tree), Boulia. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Corroboree tree (an ancient Wadi tree), Boulia. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

As we left Boulia to begin our drive to Winton, we crossed the Burke River. The river (a series of waterholes at the time) was named after Robert O’Hara Burke, of the Burke and Wills expedition. The name “Boulia” is apparently derived from the Pitta Pitta people’s word for waterhole. The river flows only when there is rain. It empties into Eyre Creek, a tributary of the Georgina River, one of the main rivers of Queensland’s Channel Country (dubbed “a desert that floods”).

2019. Burke River, Boulia. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Burke River, Boulia. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Off to Winton

We left Boulia at 10:30 am, well informed (so we thought) about the trip ahead of us. Tony and I had studied the tourist information about what to expect on the drive between Boulia and Winton. There was just one town, Middleton, along the way. At the Middleton Hotel, according to the latest information, you could buy petrol. Tony and I agreed we’d call in to the Middleton Hotel for lunch, but I insisted we leave Boulia with a full tank (of petrol) “just in case”.

1970s. Kennedy Development Road, between Winton and Boulia. Photo source: Queensland State Archives. Public domain.
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1970s. Kennedy Development Road, between Winton and Boulia. Photo source: Queensland State Archives. Public domain.

Today the Winton-Boulia road is fully bitumen-sealed. The last section of bitumen was laid in 1996.  Thus travellers (like us) have the benefit of a comfortable dust-free ride in air-conditioned comfort. And, if it is wet, we will not get bogged! With just one or two stops, the 362-kilometre trip takes between four and five hours.  

But it was not always so.

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The Winton-Boulia road

In the early days of European settlement in the district, stock and bullock wagons cut out the first roads between pastoral runs, camps and fledgling townships. The road that now connects Winton and Boulia began as a series of rough dirt tracks. [8] By 1883, a “new and direct road” had been surveyed from Winton to Boulia (via Elderslie, Caddell Creek, Saville Creek, Middleton Creek, Pollygammon and Warenda), a total distance of 232 miles. [9] Carriers, packhorse mailmen and private coach operators began to use this route. By the time Cobb and Co provided its passenger and mail service on the Winton-Boulia route, a distance of approximately 240 miles (384 kilometres), the journey took four days! [10]

c. 1905. Cobb & Co coach in front of the Boulia Post Office. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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c. 1905. Cobb & Co coach in front of the Boulia Post Office. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

Much has been written about coach travel in Queensland during the days of Cobb and Co. Some of these accounts romanticise this form of transport, but coach travel on dirt tracks like those between Winton and Boulia was neither comfortable nor glamorous.

To maintain their tight schedules, coach drivers had to cover long distances each day, which meant starting before dawn and stopping well after dark. For passengers, each day was just as long, with little chance of getting a rest on a coach that had leather braces instead of steel springs. It was a rough ride. One former coach driver said, “With mails, parcels and passengers aboard, the coach swayed like a ship on a choppy sea.” [11]

For passenger comfort, coaches had window flaps that could be dropped to keep out the dust. But in dry weather, the flaps did little to stop passengers and their belongings being covered with a thick layer of dust by the time the coach reached its destination. [12]

When it rained, there was no longer any dust, just mud. During wet weather, coach drivers had to traverse muddy black soil roads and cross swollen creeks and rivers. Former Cobb and Co coach driver Clarry “Lou” Sheraton recalled that it rained on his first trip. “As the coach chugged along, the wheels collected heaps of black soil”, he recounted, “and [I] had to stop from time to time to scrape the mud from the wheels.” [13]

In the days of Cobb and Co, the journey between Winton and Boulia was considered one of the loneliest of Queensland’s western routes. [14] For the coach drivers, passengers were a godsend, providing much-needed company during the four-day trip.

The coach route between Winton and Boulia was divided into stages, each one about 15 miles (24 kilometres) long. [15]  At the end of each stage, drivers took on fresh horses. Staging posts were established at local stations or hotels. Here, passengers could have a meal or stay overnight. They included the 20-Mile Hotel, Elderslie Station, Woodstock Hotel, Middleton Hotel, Mackunda Hotel, Thompson’s Tank (Lucknow Station) and Hamilton Hotel. 

In 1901, one commentator wrote the following account of the four-day coach trip between Winton and Boulia. [16] It is most revealing.

Cobb and Co are again running this line with grass-fed horses, and the pace is better maintained than when corn feeding was in vogue, the nags being fresher, and on all stages sleek and fat.

The accommodation on the Winton-Boulia road could be improved upon. Leaving Winton in the “… wee hours”, you reach Harry Adams’ 20-mile hotel for breakfast, and here you strike things up-to-date, and get a meal equal in quality and style of serving to the “Crown” or “Queens”. Onward to Elderslie [Station], and whilst the horses are changed travellers are hospitably entertained at early lunch. At night the weary one is well fed and comfortably put up by Mrs Coleman for the night and sent off next morning with a good breakfast at 5:00 am.

Then follows “the winter of our discontent” for four and twenty hours, but happily made “glorious summer” next day. At Middleton Hotel, where lunch is partaken of, the accommodation might be improved; still worse awaits you as the day dies for Mackunda is reached, and although here the up and down coaches meet, and stay the night, the meals and general surroundings are a long way short of metropolitan form. Still, what a change next day, for at an early hour one strikes Thompson’s Tank, and here gets entertained by Mrs George Hasted [senior] at a meal of a nature and served in a style to suit the most critical. At night the pull up is at J B Darge’s Hamilton Hotel, a place built well, kept well, and appointed well, and here the weary one, after three days of hard travelling, spends a comfortable and pleasant time.

Next day, after an excellent breakfast at Host Darge’s, an early start is made for Boulia. But before one is off, a nice lunch is handed out, of which the traveller partakes at the 15-mile well, where the last change of horses is made. Boulia at 4:30 pm, and after a welcome showerbath and general removal of travel stains and a good dinner at Host Howard’s, the evening is spent in real city style.

The Hamilton Hotel, one of the staging posts, was located about 40 miles from Boulia. In the days of Cobb and Co, it was the second last staging post on the trip from Winton to Boulia, and an overnight stop for the coach driver and passengers. Today, the Hamilton Hotel is but a memory.

c. 1920. Hamilton Hotel, Winton-Boulia Road. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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c. 1920. Hamilton Hotel, Winton-Boulia Road. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

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Hamilton Hotel ruins

At 11:25 am, Tony and I arrived at the site of the former Hamilton Hotel, about 70 kilometres from Boulia. The site is named the George and Gladys Hasted Rest Area, in honour of the couple who ran the Hamilton Hotel for many years. Gladys Hasted (nee Beauchamp) and her mother-in-law Agnes Eveline Gardiner (formerly Hasted, nee Springthorpe) took over the licence of the Hamilton Hotel in 1939. [17]

Interestingly, George’s mother, Mrs A E Hasted, was licensee of the Min Min Hotel for many years and in 1918 her second son George William married Gladys Frances Beauchamp at the Min Min Hotel. [18]

John Bridges Darge opened the Hamilton Hotel in 1897. [19] The hotel quickly gained a good reputation. In contrast to some of the other hotels on the Winton-Boulia road, the Hamilton Hotel offered meals and accommodation of a high standard. George and Gladys Hasted, and later their daughter, Mrs Muriel Britton, maintained the hotel’s high standard when they ran the hotel. “This hotel has long enjoyed the name of being the best conducted countryside hotel in Queensland”, wrote a commentator in 1948. [20]

Hamilton Hotel advertisement, 1944.
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Hamilton Hotel advertisement, 1944. Source: The Longreach Leader, December 13, 1944.

After the Hamilton Hotel closed (in the 1980s?), the building and its fittings were sold and removed from the site. Truly, it was the end of an era. Today, all that remains is the brick fireplace.

2019. Hamilton Hotel ruins. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Hamilton Hotel ruins. All that remains is the fireplace. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

During our stopover, after morning tea, we explored the site and I took photographs. Apart from the hotel ruins, there is a shelter shed, picnic table, toilet block, windmill, bore and water storage tanks. Nearby, there’s a cattle drinking trough. By the roadside, there’s a cairn marking the official opening in 1996 of the final sealing of the Winton-Boulia road.

2019. Former Hamilton Hotel site. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Site of the former Hamilton Hotel, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Hamilton Channels

Back on the road, we crossed the Hamilton Channels – undulating terrain, not unlike bumps on a BMX track. When it rains, these dry furrowed watercourses form the Hamilton River. I’m sure this section of the road would be impassable when the Hamilton River is flowing. The Hamilton is one of the rivers of Queensland’s Channel Country.

2019. Hamilton Channels, Winton-Boulia road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Hamilton Channels, Kennedy Development Road (Winton-Boulia). Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Min Min Hotel site

The site of the former Min Min Hotel is located about 105 kilometres from Boulia, about 500 metres off the road, to the north. Here the Kennedy Development Road is straight and the terrain flat and treeless.

Today, there’s nothing left of the Min Min Hotel, apart from its legendary graveyard. The hotel burned down in February 1924. Its licensee at the time was Mrs Agnes Eveline Hasted (Mrs George Hasted, senior). [21]

In its early days, the Min Min Hotel had quite a reputation – but it wasn’t a good one, so it seems. I’ve read various accounts about the hotel. These accounts were written more than 20 years after the hotel’s demise, so I’m not sure about their veracity. Each one tells a sorry tale, of a “notorious shanty” where the publican sold adulterated spirits and liquors to unsuspecting patrons. But that was not all [22]:

In the old rough days, Min Min Hotel was famed for its bawdiness and its gut-rotting drinks. Many a shearer with a big cheque drank himself to death at the infamous hotel or was killed in a drunken brawl or was murdered for his money. The corpses were tossed into the backyard, where mine host had to provide a private cemetery for the many of his customers who received “preferential treatment”.

The Min Min Hotel has long gone. But its name and infamy remain, the hotel graveyard reported to be the site of the first sighting of the mysterious “Min Min lights”.

2019. Signage to former Min Min Hotel site, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Signage to former Min Min Hotel site, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Roadworks

A little further on, about 110 kilometres from Boulia near Pollygammon Creek, we came across roadworks. There were road construction vehicles, workmen, water trucks and red dust everywhere! The work, which commenced in June 2019, involved widening of more than 17 kilometres of the Kennedy Developmental Road, and installation and upgrading of guideposts, signs and indicators at floodways. [23]

2019. Pollygammon Creek roadworks, Boulia Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Pollygammon Creek roadworks, Boulia Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Pollygammon Creek roadworks, Boulia Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Pollygammon Creek roadworks, Boulia Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The project, part of upgrading The Outback Way, was jointly funded by the Australian Government ($3.1 million) and Queensland Government ($775,000). [24] The Kennedy Development Road forms part of The Outback Way, a 2800-kilometre route between Winton in Queensland and Laverton in Western Australia via Alice Springs and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory.

As we navigated around the roadworks, we caught up with a cement truck (one of the few vehicles we encountered on the road that day). As we followed the truck, we gained our first view of the spectacular Lilleyvale Hills that border the Boulia and Winton shires. 

Following a cement truck, near Pollygammon Creek, Kennedy Development Road.
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Following a cement truck, near Pollygammon Creek, Kennedy Development Road. We could see the Lilleyvale Hills in the distance. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Lilleyvale Hills

Not far from the roadworks, we left the Boulia Shire and entered the Winton Shire. From there, the Kennedy Development Road winds its way through the stunningly beautiful and rugged landscape of the Lilleyvale Hills. At the Cawnpore Lookout, the highest point along the route, one can gain a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. 

Lilleyvale Hills and approach to Cawnpore Lookout, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Lilleyvale Hills and approach to Cawnpore Lookout, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Rugged yet beautiful terrain, Lilleyvale Hills, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Rugged yet beautiful terrain, Lilleyvale Hills, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The broad flat-topped hills (mesas) and rocky mounds that comprise the Lilleyvale Hills are remnants of the Cretaceous period when a large inland sea covered large parts of Queensland and inland Australia. The mesas or “jump-ups” (as they are colloquially called) are capped with unusually hard sedimentary rock that has resisted erosion and protected the softer rock beneath. [25]

Mesas, or "jump-ups", Lilleyvale Hills, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Mesas, or “jump-ups”, Lilleyvale Hills, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The geological formations in these parts may be amazing, but so is the vegetation.

We pulled off the road several times to photograph and take a closer look at the native plants and wildflowers. One special find were stands of Sturt’s Desert Rose (Gossypium sturtianum). These scraggly erect shrubs grow naturally in sandy or gravelly soils and produce beautiful five petalled pale mauve-pink flowers with a dark red spot at the base. Sturt’s Desert Rose is the floral emblem of the Northern Territory.

Sturt's Desert Rose, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Sturt’s Desert Rose, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Sturt's Desert Rose, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Sturt’s Desert Rose, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

A little further on, in a gully by the roadside, we spied another flowering plant that is native to the Winton area: Pink Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus). Its beautiful mauve-pink flower spikes are feathery, conical to cylindrical, and about 15 centimetres long.  

Pink Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus), Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Pink Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus), Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The landscape changed once again as we drew nearer to Middleton. The Lilleyvale Hills faded into the distance and the road entered mostly treeless, ever so slightly rising Mitchell Grass Downs. At one point, we spotted a number of brolgas foraging amidst the Mitchell grass. A little further on, the contrasting colours of the blue sky, yellow grassed paddocks and purple road gave us yet another reason to say “Wow!”

Brolgas on the Mitchell Grass Downs, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Brolgas on the Mitchell Grass Downs, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Colours of the Mitchell Grass Downs, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road.
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Colours of the Mitchell Grass Downs, Winton Shire, Kennedy Development Road. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Within about a kilometre of Middleton, we passed over a series of channels. The road narrowed, became sharply undulating, and traversed a number of one-lane culverts. Middleton was in sight, straight ahead, at the top of the rise.

Approach to Middleton via the Middleton Creek channels.
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Approach to Middleton via the Middleton Creek channels. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Welcome to Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
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Welcome to Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Middleton

By the time we reached Middleton, both Tony and I were tired and hungry. It was 1:30 pm. The Boulia to Winton trip was taking much longer and proving much more eventful than we expected. Not that we minded. We were quite overwhelmed with what we had seen and learnt so far.

By road, Middleton is 192 kilometres east northeast of Boulia and 170 kilometres west of Winton. The town reserve was proclaimed on 7 May 1908. [26] In its heyday, Middleton boasted a police station, store, hotel, post office, hall, school, market garden and several carrying and droving camps. [27]

Today, all that remains of Middleton is the Middleton Hotel, a hall and the “Hilton Hotel” camping area. There’s no petrol station and the petrol bowsers at the hotel are no longer in use. (I was so glad we filled our tank before leaving Boulia!) While the town (or should I say the hotel) welcomes countless passers-by each week, Middleton’s permanent resident count is just two. They are the licensees of the Middleton Hotel, Lester and Valerie (“Val”) Cain.

2019. Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Middleton, Queensland: Hilton Hotel camping area.
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Middleton, Queensland: Hilton Hotel camping area. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Middleton, Queensland: The Outback Way sign and welcome from the hosts of the Middleton Hotel.
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Middleton, Queensland: The Outback Way sign and welcome from the hosts of the Middleton Hotel. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

During our visit, Tony and I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Lester and Val. They are an easy-going, hospitable couple, with lots of interesting stories to tell. After spending time with Lester and Val, you are left in no doubt that they love what they do and where they live. Even though they are getting on in years, they are not thinking of retiring or leaving Middleton anytime soon. (At least, that was what they told us in 2019.)

The Middleton Hotel was built about a decade before private coach operators and Cobb and Co provided passenger and mail services between Winton and Boulia. In 1876 an enterprising carrier named Wiggins built a hotel near the junction of the Middleton and Saville creeks and called it the Middleton. [28]

Explorer John McKinlay named Middleton Creek after his second-in-charge, Thomas Middleton, when his party passed through the area in 1862 in search of the lost expedition of Burke and Wills. [29] A cairn and plaque near Middleton’s old hall honours McKinlay and his party, particularly Thomas Middleton who rendered McKinlay “most material services”. The plaque bears the names of the nine men who comprised McKinlay’s search party.

Middleton, Queensland: The old hall and the cairn in honour of McKinlay and his party.
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Middleton, Queensland: The old hall and the cairn in honour of McKinlay and his party. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The Middleton Hotel’s first recorded licensee was Frederick Henderson, in 1889. [26] I’m not sure what transpired in the intervening years (1876-1889) but by the time Mr Henderson took over, the Middleton Hotel had established itself as one of the staging posts and horse changing stations on the coach route between Winton and Boulia.

Undated. Middleton Hotel in its early days.
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Undated. Middleton Hotel in its early days. Photo source: Middleton Hotel. Public domain.

That same year, on 15 October 1889, Middleton gained a postal receiving office, and Mr Henderson was appointed Middleton’s first receiving office keeper. [30]

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The establishment of mail services

As new settlements like Winton, Boulia and Middleton formed, one of the first services residents wanted from the government was a mail service. Before the advent of the telegraph, the mails were people’s only form of communication and their chief source of information, as newspapers were largely delivered by the mails. [31]

Throughout inland Queensland, in the early days of European settlement, packhorse mailmen delivered and collected the mails. It was because of these intrepid mailmen that mail routes spread so rapidly throughout Queensland and receiving offices and post offices opened in remote parts of the state. [32]

As a general rule, a receiving office preceded a post office. For a receiving office to be established, residents had to show the Postal Department that six or more people in the district would use the service and the yearly total of letters, newspapers and so on would exceed 600. If the service grew sufficiently, the receiving office would be elevated to a post office. Typically, the receiving office keeper or postmaster was a local station owner, farmer, public servant, publican or storekeeper. [33]

At Winton

In 1876, Robert Allen, a former police officer at Aramac, set up an unofficial receiving office in his hotel-cum-store at Winton. [34] Mail deliveries, it seems, came fortnightly (by horse) from Aramac. [35] At the time, Winton was known as Wallace’s Camp or Pelican Waterhole, after the site by the Western River where, in 1875, Allen first built his hotel and store. After being flooded out in early 1876, Allen relocated his hotel and store to Winton’s present site, becoming the town’s first resident. [36]

Monument marking Winton's original site, Wallace's Camp or Pelican Waterhole.
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Monument marking Winton’s original site, Wallace’s Camp or Pelican Waterhole. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

In 1878, the new settlement gained an official receiving office. [37] Allen considered the names “Wallace’s Camp” and “Pelican Waterhole” too long to write, so he came up with “Winton”, the name of a suburb of Bournemouth, England (his birthplace). [38]

The Queensland government gazetted Winton as a town on 5 July 1879. [39]

Earlier that year, on 15 April 1879, the Winton receiving office had been elevated to a post office, with local publican and storekeeper Thomas Lynett appointed Winton’s first postmaster. It is likely that Mr Lynett operated the post office from his store. By 1880, the mail service between Aramac and Winton had increased to a weekly service. The telegraph office opened on 4 July 1882 and a combined post and telegraph office formed a couple of weeks later. [40]

1898. Thomas Lynett's general store at Winton, Queensland. State Library of Queensland.
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1898. Thomas Lynett’s general store at Winton, Queensland. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

In 1883, the Queensland Postal Department erected a timber building to serve as Winton’s combined post and telegraph office. The building site cost $400 and the building $4,378. [41] Additions were made in 1895 and again in 1899. [42, 43] This building still stands today.

Early 1900s. General Post Office, Winton. Photo source: Flickr. Public domain.
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Early 1900s. General Post Office, Winton. Photo source: Flickr. Public domain.
Winton Post Office today.
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Winton Post Office today. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Winton-Boulia mail service

A mail service between Winton and Boulia via the “new” road commenced in 1887. It ran once a week, with the mail carried by a packhorse mailman between the two townships. [44] From 1 January 1889, a private coach operator gained the mail contract for Mail Service 216 between Winton and Boulia. [45] This is the same year a receiving office opened at Middleton. [46]

In December 1892, Cobb and Co secured its first contract for the weekly Winton-Boulia mail service, worth £500 per annum for mails and £400 for parcels.[47] Over time, Cobb and Co obtained the contracts for the mail services on all the routes the company ran a passenger service in Queensland. [48]

c. 1890-1900. Tom Garner driving a Cobb & Co. coach at Winton, Queensland. Photo source: State Library of Queensland on Flickr. Public domain.
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c. 1890-1900. Tom Garner driving a Cobb & Co. coach at Winton, Queensland. Photo source: State Library of Queensland on Flickr. Public domain.

Cobb and Co continued to provide the Winton-Boulia passenger and mail service until December 1912. From January 1913, when the mail service between Middleton and Boulia ceased (the Postmaster General’s Department considered it unprofitable), Cobb and Co coaches no longer travelled to Boulia. [49] However, Cobb and Co’s passenger and mail service between Winton and Middleton continued for a few more years.

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Middleton Hotel

As a reminder of the part the Middleton Hotel played in the days of Cobb and Co, a former Cobb and Co coach is on show in front of the hotel. Clearly, Lester and Val are very proud of this showpiece, despite the coach’s dilapidated condition. Lester and Co used this coach during their 2001 trek from Winton to Boulia, a re-enactment of the Cobb and Co Winton to Boulia stage run. [50]

Former Cobb and Co coach, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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Former Cobb and Co coach, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

From the outside, the Middleton Hotel looks its age. It’s a rare surviving example of a late nineteenth century outback Queensland pub. The timber building is single-storey, close to the ground, with an open verandah at the front and one side. Its roof is clad in corrugated iron and the separate verandah awnings are also of corrugated iron supported on timber posts. Three sets of double timber and glass panelled doors open onto the front verandah, the middle set the main entrance. There are several sets of sash windows. The sign on the front awning above the entrance reads: MIDDLETON HOTEL – BEER * FOOD * FUEL * CAMP – “CALL IN AND RELAX”.

Entrance, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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Entrance, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

On entering the hotel, we met Lester and Val. Lester was busy having a chin-wag with another couple, but he interrupted the conversation to introduce himself. He described himself as drover, grazier, camel driver, bush poet and publican. Then he handed us over to Val, his life partner and mother of his children, to chat with us and tend to our needs. We were not disappointed. Val happily gave us an outline of her life story, told us about her son (a “chopper” pilot, droving cattle), and showed us around the hotel interior, explaining things as she went.

Val Cain, mine host, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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Val Cain, mine host, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

In the lounge room, adjacent to the bar, Val pointed out the “Frequently Asked?” board. She said it was very popular with visitors. In the dining room, Val showed us her rock collection (of which she was very proud) and, on the wall, the framed photographs of the hotel in its earlier days.

Dining room, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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Dining room, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Next, Val drew our attention to the old telephone on the wall in the hallway and proceeded to tell us its story. In 1914, a syndicate of eight station owners in the district formed the Middleton Telephone Company, what was probably the only private telephone company anywhere in Australia. The company erected a telephone line from Middleton to Winton and for each subscriber a private telephone line to the switchboard at Middleton. In turn the Middleton exchange was connected via a trunk line to the Winton manual telephone exchange as subscriber line 101. The Middleton Hotel was one of the subscribers. Technicians employed by the Postmaster General’s Department (PMG) maintained the exchange for the company. [51]

Early telephone, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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Early telephone, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The service ceased, and the Middleton Telephone Company folded, after the building in which the telephone exchange was located, Mrs J Hintz’s store, burnt down in 1968. [52] 

Now, while Val was showing us around, and telling her stories, our lunch was being prepared in the kitchen “out the back”. We had ordered meat pies. When we asked what food was on the menu, Val offered to make sandwiches or cook us something like bacon and egg, but we thought a meat pie was the most appropriate food to eat while “dining” at an historic Aussie pub. Val told us she had to heat up the pies. “Okay”, we said. So, what did Val do? She took two pies out of the freezer and heated them in the microwave. The result? A soggy, just warm “Outback Prime Beef Pie”, a plate and knife and fork each. Not quite what we expected. But, out of respect for our host, we “dined” without complaint.

"Dining" at the Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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“Dining” at the Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Val’s cordiality made up for her (apparent) want of culinary skills. After lunch, she sat with us on the verandah and chatted some more. She brought out an intact 1914 German newspaper and told us how it came to be left at the hotel. Then she took us on a tour of the grounds. She showed me where to find the “Ladies” and told me to beware of what I might find inside the little room. (I did come across a huge lizard, but it was harmless). Last, but not least, Val showed us her pride and joy: the fossil of a crocodile. She said it was as big as any others she’d seen in these parts.

With Val and two other hotel guests on the front verandah, Middleton Hotel, Queensland.
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With Val and two other hotel guests on the front verandah, Middleton Hotel, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
The way to the Ladies' room, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland.
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The way to the Ladies’ room, Middleton Hotel, Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Val Cain's prized crocodile fossil, Middleton Hotel, Queensland.
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Val Cain’s prized crocodile fossil, Middleton Hotel, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

As we were preparing to leave, Val told us about an old prospector’s hut, situated “just up the road”, in the direction of Winton. Clearly, she wanted us to stop and take a look at the hut. She took great pains to tell us how to access the site (it was a little way off the main road).

On to Winton

We left Middleton at about 2:45 pm. With 170 kilometres left to travel, we expected to reach Winton around 4:30 pm. (That is, with no more stops!)

With Val’s instructions ringing in our ears, we easily found the turnoff and the track to the old prospector’s hut. The building stands alone on a treeless plain, with several mesas (jump-ups) forming a spectacular backdrop both near and far into the distance. As we surveyed the scene, we felt like we had stepped back in time, and were on the set of a 1960s American wild west movie!

Abandoned hut, near Middleton, Queensland.
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Abandoned hut, near Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
Interior, abandoned hut, near Middleton, Queensland.
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Interior, abandoned hut, near Middleton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

The rusting corrugated iron and timber slab hut was uninhabited. Clearly, it had been abandoned. But when? By whom? What happened here? Val must have known the story of the hut and its owner, but she didn’t tell us. We had to discover it for ourselves.

Despite its appearance, the hut is not old, nor was it ever someone’s home. But it is abandoned and no longer in use. A film crew erected it in 2015 as part of the set of the Australian crime thriller “Goldstone”. The film, a sequel to “Mystery Road” (2013), was shot entirely in this part of central western Queensland, around Middleton. Ivan Sen directed “Goldstone”, which starred Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham and David Gulpilil. The film was released in Australia on 7 July 2016. [53]

When we made this discovery, we realised that Val had played a little joke on us, but in a nice kind of way. Thanks, Val!

●   ●   ●

Middleton to Winton

The countryside on the Middleton to Winton section of the drive was no less spectacular than that of the previous section (Boulia to Middleton). At first, the road took us past more mesa-like hillocks, the slopes of which were covered in clumps of pale green spinifex grass (Triodia sp.), with dark green wattles (Acacia sp.) at the top of the scarp slopes. The colours – the contrasting greens of the vegetation alongside the red-brown of the rocky terrain – were just magnificent.

Acacia sp. low open woodland with Triodia sp. on scarp slopes, Winton Shire, east of Middleton.
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Acacia sp. low open woodland with Triodia sp. on scarp slopes, Winton Shire, east of Middleton. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Next, the road passed through sections of gidgee (Acacia cambagei) and brigalow (Acacia harpophilla) woodlands, interspersed by Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.) plains. The colour of the soil was now a dark red-brown and the foliage of the acacia trees that lined the road a dark grey-green colour. The paddocks of mature Mitchell grass, pale yellow in colour, extended as far as the eye could see. Once again, the palette of colours was breathtaking.

Kennedy Development Road, last leg to Winton.
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Kennedy Development Road, last leg to Winton. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

Then there were the wildflowers we spotted by the roadside just outside Winton. I had to stop to take a closer look at them…

Winton

At 5:00 pm, finally, we reached Winton. Considering the number of unplanned stops we made along the way, we were happy to arrive at our destination before sunset.

It had taken us 6½ hours to complete the road trip between Boulia and Winton. Six-and-a-half full, exciting hours!

What a day! What a journey!

Welcome sign, Kennedy Development Road, Winton, Queensland.
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Welcome sign, Kennedy Development Road, Winton, Queensland. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.
North Gregory Hotel, Winton, Queensland.
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The North Gregory Hotel, where we stayed for the next few days. Photo source: Salecich collection 2019.

EPILOGUE

If you haven’t yet travelled the 362 kilometres between Winton and Boulia (either way), I strongly recommend you add this drive to your **BUCKET LIST**.

The journey will take you from one small remote Queensland town to another, across an isolated, sparsely populated part of the state. Dull? Most certainly not! Enlightening? Absolutely.

As you travel this section of The Outback Way, you will be constantly amazed by the stunning sights and sounds (or silence) that confront you. And, hopefully, this experience will challenge you to consider what this journey would have been like for the district’s early European settlers … in the days of Cobb and Co.  

REFERENCES

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 2016 Census QuickStats. Winton (State suburbs). Retrieved July 18, 2021.  
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 2016 Census QuickStats. Boulia (State suburbs). Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  3. Queensland Government. (1879). Queensland government gazette. Volume 25. Text Queensland. Online: Retrieved July 30, 2021, from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/872b300df23ebda8213cf3b29afcec3f
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 2016 Census QuickStats. Boulia (S) (Local Government Area).  Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  5. Pugh, Theophills P. (1879). Pugh’s Queensland Almanac, Law Calendar, Directory, Coast Guide, and Gazetteer.  Text Queensland. Online: Retrieved July 23, 2021, from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/50f607336929ae9a279e5520bad4cee1
  6. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  7. Boulia Shire Council. Tourist information at post office site.
  8. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  9. Pugh, Theophills P. (1883). Pugh’s Queensland Almanac, Law Calendar, Directory, Coast Guide, and Gazetteer. Text Queensland. Online: Retrieved July 23, 2021, from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/dd0132d97deeab0b71edbb554c30aff9
  10. MAIL CONTRACTS. (1892, December 14). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved July 19, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52438430
  11. REMINISCENCES OF COACHING DAYS (1950, March 23). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved April 6, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56937415
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Lees, W. (1920). Coaching in Australia: A History of the Coaching Firm of Cobb & Co. with Guide to the Present Coaching Routes in Queensland / by Wm. Lees.
  15. Gledhill, D., & Foot, Bruce. (2002). The Nine Pillars of Cobb & Co. : A Journey across Queensland by Camel, Horse and Cart from Winton to Boulia / Dick Gledhill ; Evan Morgan, Photographer ; Graham and Louise Dean, Poems ; Bruce Foot, Editor.
  16. IN THE NORTH-WEST. (1901, September 2). The North Queensland Register (Townsville, Qld. : 1892 – 1905), p. 43. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85555026
  17. The Townsville Daily Bulletin SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 1939. (1939, November 18). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62825099
  18. Family Notices (1918, May 18). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59882893
  19. Close, Jeff. (Undated). 9 Pillars of Cobb & Co: Winton to Boulia 2-3 day loop drive. Tourist brochure. Online: Retrieved July 23, 2021, from https://www.experiencewinton.com.au/downloads/file/6/206055-wsc-cobbandco-4pppdf
  20. FUN ON THE HAMILTON. (1948, May 28). Cloncurry Advocate (Qld. : 1931 – 1953), p. 3. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170148440
  21. HOTEL DESTROYED. (1924, February 15). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20703365
  22. Shrieks in the Night!! (1948, January 9). The Dowerin Guardian and Amery Line Advocate (Wyalkatchem, WA : 1927 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article240221789
  23. Queensland Government. Department of Transport and Main Roads. Kennedy Developmental Road (Winton – Boulia) widening project: Package 1.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Forrest, P., Forrest, Sheila, Winton Council, & Winton District Historical Society Museum. (2005). Vision Splendid: A History of the Winton District, Western Queensland / Peter and Sheila Forrest.
  26. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  27. Close, Jeff. (Undated). 9 Pillars of Cobb & Co: Winton to Boulia 2-3 day loop drive. Tourist brochure. Online: Retrieved July 23, 2021, from https://www.experiencewinton.com.au/downloads/file/6/206055-wsc-cobbandco-4pppdf
  28. Ibid.
  29. Forrest, P., Forrest, Sheila, Winton Council, & Winton District Historical Society Museum. (2005). Vision Splendid: A History of the Winton District, Western Queensland / Peter and Sheila Forrest.
  30. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Forrest, P., Forrest, Sheila, Winton Council, & Winton District Historical Society Museum. (2005). Vision Splendid: A History of the Winton District, Western Queensland / Peter and Sheila Forrest.
  35. Pugh, Theophills P. (1878). Pugh’s Queensland Almanac, Law Calendar, Directory, Coast Guide, and Gazetteer.  Text Queensland. Online: Retrieved July 23, 2021, from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/4091bcebebd972aec4ae3062dd62f8bf
  36. Forrest, P., Forrest, Sheila, Winton Council, & Winton District Historical Society Museum. (2005). Vision Splendid: A History of the Winton District, Western Queensland / Peter and Sheila Forrest.
  37. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  38. Museum. (2005). Vision Splendid: A History of the Winton District, Western Queensland / Peter and Sheila Forrest.
  39. Queensland Government. (1879). Queensland government gazette. Volume 25. Text Queensland. Online: Retrieved July 30, 2021, from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/872b300df23ebda8213cf3b29afcec3f
  40. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  41. Country News. (1883, December 15). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 950. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19795224
  42. LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY. (1895, August 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 4. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3608114
  43. WINTON. (1899, December 23). The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 – 1929), p. 29. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68199100
  44. Corbin, V., Holmes, W. P. H, & Winton Council. (1975). Winton, Queensland (originally Pelican Water Hole): One Hundred Years of Settlement, 1875-1975 / [editor: Vincent T. Corbin].
  45. Ibid.
  46. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew.
  47. MAIL CONTRACTS. (1892, December 14). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved July 19, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52438430
  48. Lees, W. (1920). Coaching in Australia: A History of the Coaching Firm of Cobb & Co with Guide to the Present Coaching Routes in Queensland / by Wm Lees.
  49. Middleton-Boulia Mail Contract. (1913, January 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 6. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19876063
  50. Gledhill, D., & Foot, Bruce. (2002). The Nine Pillars of Cobb & Co. : A Journey across Queensland by Camel, Horse and Cart from Winton to Boulia / Dick Gledhill ; Evan Morgan, Photographer ; Graham and Louise Dean, Poems ; Bruce Foot, Editor.
  51. Corbin, V., Holmes, W. P. H, & Winton Council. (1975). Winton, Queensland (originally Pelican Water Hole): One Hundred Years of Settlement, 1875-1975 / [editor: Vincent T. Corbin].
  52. Ibid.
  53. Screen Australia. Goldstone: 2016. Online: Retrieved November 15, 2019, from https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/goldstone-2016/33586/
  54. Cobb and Co. [FOR THE BULLETIN.] (23 March 1895). (1895-03-23). In The bulletin. 16 (788), 5.
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Author

Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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8 thoughts on “In the tracks of Cobb and Co: The Winton-Boulia route”

  1. Hi Judy You have done it again. What a trip. I didn’t know there was such a place called Middleton. These folk who live there are in a class of their own don’t you
    think. ? I don’t know how they put up with the heat, dust and all the nasties which
    lurk about. That beautiful flower the desert rose is unreal being able to produce
    something so lovely in the climate. We went through Winton on our way to Darwin
    when Stephanie was working at the hospital. That Gregory Hotel has always been
    a bit of a highlight for Winton. I must say that was a nice photo of Tony!!
    Thank you for the opportunity to see these places. Love Margaret and Neville

    Reply
    • Dear Margaret and Neville. I’m so pleased to read you enjoyed reading about our trip between Boulia and Winton…along with the history of the route. Yes, living in a hot, arid and remote part of Australia must be tough. But I’m sure those folk who chose to live in these parts love where they live. It’s different strokes for different folks! Aren’t we so blessed to be able to visit these parts? I’ll tell Tony you like his photo. He was feeling a little tired that day! Love, Judy.

    • Dear Barbara. I’m glad the photograph of the old telephone on the wall at the Middleton Hotel reminded you of your first telephone. Thanks for sharing. Kind regards, Judy.

  2. Hi. Thank you for your great description of your travels out West.
    We look forward to exploring these places on our next visit to SW Qld.
    Maree and Marty Myhill

    Reply
    • Dear Maree and Marty. My pleasure! I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my account and are inspired to explore Boulia and Winton (and other places I’m sure) when you next visit western Queensland. Best wishes, Judy.

  3. Hi Judy, You have done it again!! What a good read Boulia to Winton. You mention Tony in Winton in the 80’s I first past through Winton in May 1969. I was on promotion from Longreach to Mt Isa. I left Longreach on the Inlander train for Winton then caught a mixed goods to Hughenden. I spent about 6 hours in Winton.The closest that I have been to Boulia was Dajarra in about 1972.I like that sign on outskirts of Boulia “Welcome to Boulia land of the mim min light.” You must not have seen one as that would have been headlines in your story. You are not alone there I have not seen one either. It pays to leave with a full tank of petrol you would not want to be stuck in that country with no fuel, and Middleton not having a bowser.Just imagine the hard work that the people had to do back in the days with Stock and Bullock teams and mail delivered by packhorsesetc.A nice welcome sign outside the Hamilton hotel quench your thirst and fill your belly!!I guess a frozen pie and microwaved fills the gap but not my cup of tea.The Brogla’s by the side of road would have been a welcome sight along with the desert rose and others.The North GregoryHotel was once owned by the local council.We have been through Winton a few times and stopped there.We hope to go to Winton 14th September for a look at the new Waltzing Matilda.We are going out to Longreach on the Spirit of the Outback on the 11th september all depending on COVID..

    Reply

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