Road trip to Thargomindah
September 21, 2020 • Kevin Smith
5 min read
Thargomindah, or Thargo to locals, is a pretty little town tucked right down in the bottom of western Queensland. After you’ve spent a few days getting there from Brisbane, some 1000km away on plenty of long straight roads, you'll be pleasantly surprised by what’s around. Between nature, local history and the vastness of the surrounding areas, it's all too easy to become immersed and wanting more.
These days Thargo offers plenty of services and attractions to travellers, from walking and birdwatching trails to interactive history displays, but it hasn’t always been like this. Just imagine Burke and Wills trekking through the area back in the 1860s, opening the way for the usual pastoralists that were always looking for new rich land to start large stations on. The town prospered until 1890 but hit a standstill when the promised rail line was scrapped and ended up going to Quilpie some 150km to the north instead.
Water is always an issue in the outback and even though the Bulloo River had some flow during the year, a deep bore was sunk to tap into the Great Artesian Basin in 1893. It took a depth of 2650 feet and two years of drilling to strike a reliable supply of water. The only trouble was it was coming out at nearly 86 degrees, so the water had to pass through cooling ponds before being sent to houses.
In 1898 Edward Barton realised he could harness the immense pressure of the groundwater to turn a generator (remember the ones we had on pushbikes?) thus creating hydro-electricity. Thargomindah became one of the first places in Australia, and amazingly, the world, to generate electricity in this way. There were street lights, lights for the hospital and for hall dances and hydropower continued until 1951 when a steam took over followed by diesel in 1988.
Around town there’s the 2km artesian walk to the old and new bore, machinery of the past dating back to the late 1880s which has been donated back to the town from outlying stations, and if you get a ticket from the information centre, you can do a wonderful self-guided tour inside the original shed where the old turbines can be seen.
Up town on the heritage walk, visit the old and relocated police cells where two mannequins come to life to share an in-depth story of being locked up trying to defend their innocence. The old gaol was made with cypress pine with an iron roof, and I can only imagine how hot the summers would be locked up here.
The hospital that dates back to 1888 was made from mud bricks with the mud sourced from the nearby river. But what sets this building apart are the animals that allegedly kept walking on the bricks when they were set aside to dry. Dogs, cats and emus were among the culprits, or so the story the goes. In the main street the museum house was once owned by legend Sir Sydney Kidman who bought it for his station manager in 1912. Lived in until 30 years ago, it has since been restored and houses plenty of memorabilia from the era from near and far.
If you're into nature, the Thargomindah Shire will leave you breathless. Most nights you can have a billion star campsite plus stunning outback sunrises and sunsets. Sealed footpaths beside the magnificent Bulloo River are illuminated with lights when nights are balmy, guiding you to areas of river gums, view points and benches to sit quietly and observe an array of outback birds. Pelican Point is along the river walk and most days you’ll see plenty of these graceful birds gliding on the river looking for their next feed.
Perched in a hot semi-arid area where rainfall is a blessing, Thargomindah has many local water holes where an array of birds congregate during the warmer times. Mountain ranges surrounding the town allow for plenty of exploring, too. It's especially appealing for photographers when the sun lights up different colours on the weathering mesa rocks.
Take the time to explore the many offshoot dirt roads to see layered colours in the mesa platforms, exposed through the wear and tear of prevailing winds. It has been said that nobody really knows the true meaning of the name Thargomindah, but local Aboriginal People say either "echidna" or "clouds of dust". I can certainly verify that in summer months there’s plenty of the latter.
This little town may not be on many people's wish lists, but for me that's all part of the appeal. I can assure you that after taking the time on the long roads west, one night will not be enough exploring the area around Thargo.