January 14, 2020 • Kevin Smith
6 min read
I find central Queensland is a lot like the wild west. It’s rugged, harsh, you certainly don’t know what you’ll find, and of course it's remote. But it's here where you’ll often find unbelievable little towns with great people and plenty of history to boot. Just recently I was exploring the Longreach area when a so-called short cut led me to a unique place called Yaraka, located smack-bang in the middle of Queensland about three hours south of Longreach.
Last stop Yaraka
This tiny town with a population of just 20 people was once a thriving area. Explorer Ed Kennedy passed through the area seeking new pastoral land around 1850, and in just 10 years farmers had moved in and established huge sheep and cattle stations. Just after the turn of the century the government decided to build a rail line out into central Queensland to support the industry, however due to political and war unrest at the time, the line stopped at Yaraka, which became known as the ‘town at the end of the line’. The Queensland rail department named the town with respect to the local Aboriginal people, with Yaraka being the indigenous word for the white spear grass that grows in the region.
The end of the line didn’t deter people from Yaraka as the town boomed for the next 50 years, with a train coming once a week to deliver goods and passengers, but more importantly to take livestock back to Brisbane for export. The locals used the rail shed for dances and parties after the freight was moved to one side. This building still stands, although the floor boards are a bit iffy. Reports say that in 1953 over 5400 cattle were moved away which was a huge feat back in the day. Unfortunately the line was eventually closed in 2005.
Today the town is alive and well. Yaraka is open to travellers and the few remaining residents embrace the constant flow of visitors. The roads surrounding Yaraka are typically outback ones that cut through the flat sparse landscape and occasionally gain elevation to give stunning views across the Mitchell grass plains and towards Grey Range. Silver leaf acacia and dense hardened Mulga trees suggest that this area is thick with scrub, but in fact it's not. While the Mulga is a hardy native tree whose roots tap deep into the ground searching for water, the acacia takes away the surface water and hampers the growth of the native grasses.
Magic in the mesa hills
Approaching Yaraka from any direction, Mount Slocombe is the town's iconic landmark and at over 200 metres high it's not easy to miss. This massive sandstone flat top mesa has been wearing away over millions of years from when the inland sea once covered central Australia. A trip to the top of the mountain is a must, and though it is bitumen all the way, towing a trailer to the top isn't recommended due to the narrow and winding road. Once at the top the views are stunning in every direction and with free gas BBQs and new toilets, it's a nice spot to spend a few hours.
The town itself is a short 10 minutes away, where you can camp behind the pub for a few dollars. The main street has stunning bougainvilleas cascading over fences, colouring the otherwise harsh landscape. Along the street there are relics like old mining equipment and railway memorabilia, and you can walk the old rail track to the end of the line and check out the fully restored train station that’s packed full to the brim with Yaraka’s history. (It's free to enter too).
A funny sight around Yaraka are its three ‘wildish’ emus. I say wildish because while they are wild, most days they wander around camp looking for snacks and will even oblige a pat or two. They often pop into the pub itself, too, if the back gate isn’t shut.
Backing the bush
The pub's camping fees are bloody cheap as chips, so a good way to support the little community is to eat or have a beer inhouse, and I can tell you that the meals are large and well worth it. The pub has sitting room where you can read local books and admire the town's history up on the walls, as well as meet other travellers and locals.
We were approached by a local named Chris who is the unofficial mayor of the town and, having bought a mini bus out of his own pocket, takes tourists to the top of Mount Slocombe most nights for a free sunset tour. Chris grew up in the area and is a walking, talking encyclopedia of knowledge. As the sun goes down he'll chat away giving you an insight to the area, the people and delve in a little history too. Oh, and because he is the driver he encourages you to bring a beverage along to really top the evening off.
Stay and play
If you're spending a few days here there's plenty more to be discovered; you can get permission to head out to the local opal fields around the Macedon Range, explore a couple of remote national parks such as Idalia and Welford, visit Magee's Shanty made famous in Banjo Patterson's poem "A Bush Christening", or head bush and explore the ruins of the old Cobb & Co pub and grave site of goldminer Richard Magoffin dating back to 1885.
Yaraka is close to the Barcoo River and its web of tributaries, where for most parts of the year you can go fishing for yellowbelly and cod. Behind the pub you can play golf, use the tennis court or cool off in the pool during the hot days. It’s a harsh place yet the locals bend over backwards to make you feel welcome. If you're in central Queensland for a longer trip, check out the remote Hell Hole Gorge accessed via Adavale.