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Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS Cather­ine Law­son PICS DaViD Bris­tow

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.

TELLING TALES

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

17km mark.

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.

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