Home on the range
This former sTaTion-Turned-naTionalpark is home To a rich slice of aussie ouTback hisTory.
Against a backdrop of rosy sandstone mesas, great mobs of kangaroos graze on golden grasslands and campers converge on rock holes nestled beneath rugged scarps and towering river gums.
Showcasing the kind of dreamy outback scenes that lure travellers into the bush, Bladensburg National Park (NP), Qld, is stark and stunning at sunset, alive with bewitching wildlife, while the roads that get you there are just rugged enough to make the sense of adventure real.
Its borders protect wonderfully preserved pastoral relics, including a homestead museum that revives a rich 100-year-old heritage while, on the wild side, it boasts the largest known population of rare Julia Creek dunnarts.
Two scenic drives lead across rolling
Mitchell grasslands and spinifex-covered jump-ups to sandstone cliffs, shady waterholes and lofty lookouts, while gravesites and outstation ruins en-route provide insight into the rigours of life on isolated Bladensburg Station a century ago.
Located an easy half-hour drive south of Winton in central Queensland, the park’s dusty trails and compact, low-cost campsites are ideally suited to travellers towing high-clearance camper trailers. The national park and its historical homestead are accessible to daytrippers, and free to enter, but the best sights are reserved for those who delve deeper, tackling the rugged 4WD track to Scrammy Lookout and stalking the undercut edge of Logan Falls and Skull Hole.
Down at the ringer’s quarters, jackaroos saddle up for the muster, while station hands milk cows and the cook hustles to get food into hungry bellies. From his hermit hut, old Scrammy Jack sets out to ride the boundary line of Bladensburg Station’s 85,000ha.
A hundred years on, snapshots of pioneering life on Bladensburg’s black soil plains stir the imagination thanks to the excellent restoration of the station’s homestead complex and nearby shearing sheds.
Converted to a visitor centre, jam-packed with photographic displays and all kinds of memorabilia, the homestead is the grandest building on the block. Constructed in the early 1900s, it’s surrounded by jackaroo quarters, a kitchen, store, meat house, cold room and chicken pens. There’s also a blacksmith shop and stables, a bookkeeper’s office, and at one time there were flourishing gardens and even a tennis court.
Relics include Aboriginal grinding stones and axe heads, and the informative displays reveal much about the park’s natural inhabitants and its unusual landscape too.
Bladensburg’s 50-year-old woolshed is just a short drive away. During the station’s 1920s heyday around 600,000 sheep were shorn in a single year here, and the restored shearing hub is surrounded by falling down yards and the ruins of staff quarters.
From the woolshed you can loop southwest to join the Route of the Rivergum and spend a night camped at Bough Shed Hole, or take the 4WD-only route beyond the homestead to discover the gorge, rock hole and lookout that all bear the Scrammy name.
OFF WITH SCRAMMY JACK
A boundary rider, hermit and ‘hatter’ (his entire family under one hat), Scrammy Jack worked on neighbouring Vindex Station around 1900. His grave and a few relics of his hut and horse yards survive him, but it’s the spectacular landscape that bears his name that’ll truly impress you.
Beyond Bladensburg Station and across the blacksoil plains where roos graze in the cooler hours, Scrammy Drive leads real offroaders 20km to a dramatic and worthwhile lookout.
Setting out from the station’s old racecourse, past the grave of baby Delia Dalrymple, this route climbs the spinifex-clad slopes of colourful jump-ups and crosses fragile claypans, reaching rocky scarps and Scrammy Gorge at the
The circular sandstone rockface is carved by turbulent floodwaters, and small pools deep in the gorge sustain river red gums and fig trees and lure wallaroos, birds and yellow-spotted
monitors. Nearby, the 2m-deep pools at Scrammy Rock Hole rarely dry out.
Continuing on, Scrammy Drive becomes more rugged, following a boundary fence over rocky slabs and boulders, crossing Scrammy Creek and delivering you to a breezy lookout high on the mesa’s edge. If your vehicle lacks clearance, you can walk the final 900m to the lookout where an expansive vista meets the far horizon.
Pick up a drive guide from the homestead before setting out and allow two to three hours to explore the highlights along the 20km (each way) drive.
ROUTE OF THE RIVERGUM
This half-day scenic drive out of Winton
(72km return) loops along the western edge of Bladensburg NP, enabling travellers with conventional high-clearance vehicles to reach swimming holes, picnic spots and the campground at Bough Shed Hole.
To join the drive, follow the Winton-Jundah Road from town and continue past the turn-off to Long Waterhole, a man-made lake with excellent free camping that hosts the World Crayfish Derby every second September and attracts spoonbills, pelicans, egrets and herons.
Beyond Mistake Creek, the road turns off towards Bladensburg NP and veers west across vast claypans that divert water into swimming spots like Engine Hole, 17km south of town. Throw down a blanket in the shade of the white gums on this bend in the river or brave the chilly wintertime temperatures for a swim.
Continuing south, a small jump-up elevates you above spinifex slopes for views east to the distant Vindex Range. Nearby, a detour off the track leads to Skull Hole. The site of a massacre of Aboriginal people in the 1870s, and a place of significance to the Koa People today, Skull Hole is particularly impressive at first light as you peer over the undercut rock face that flows with wet season rains.
Back on the main track, after 3.5km you can turn off to Bough Shed Hole and set up camp beside a deep permanent waterhole on Surprise Creek. The murky waters obviously don’t deter all swimmers, judging by the number of knotted swing ropes.
For me, it was a camp chair beneath the river gums, a cold drink and the gregarious flocks of apostle birds that made this camp memorable. Other birds to watch out for are honeyeaters and painted finches along Surprise Creek, as well as spinifex pigeons and spinifexbirds on the plains.
The park is famous for its large population of Julia Creek dunnarts – tiny endangered creatures that measure 10-12cm and weigh less than 60g. Deep cracks in the Mitchell grasslands’ dry clay soils provide daytime shelter for these nocturnal creatures. You might spot them by torchlight after dark, but emus and emu-wrens, babblers, bustards and bowerbirds more commonly show themselves at Bladensburg.
As the only campground within the national park, Bough Shed Hole attracts a crowd of camper trailers and compact 4WD vans in the popular winter months. Generators and open fires are prohibited so you can expect plenty of peace and quiet to enjoy the birdlife drawn to the water’s edge. Facilities are limited to a pit toilet, so bring plenty of drinking water and a fuel stove – and take away all your rubbish.
Beyond Bough Shed Hole, the Route of the River Gum loops back north to Winton via some swimming holes that gather on the bedrock at Top Crossing. If you’re overnighting in the park, you can explore south towards Opalton to reach Logan Falls, another undercut rock face with a cave and a murky pool below awaiting the next big rains.
It’s been more than 20 years since Bladensburg’s vast mobs of cattle and sheep were removed, leaving the Mitchell grass plains to the big reds and eastern greys, and providing refuge for the Julia Creek dunnarts. Happily, the pastoral presence on this landscape remains at Bladensburg Homestead.
CloCkwise From top leFt: Rocky scarps elevate walkers at sunset; Rosy sandstone mesas rise above the plains; Touring the meat house at Bladensburg Station; Bladensburg Station, 100 years on.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Colourful mesas and rocky jump-ups aglow at sunset; Skull Hole is significant to the Koa People; Bough Shed Hole campground.