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Blackall, QLD

Town famous for its rich sheep history and claims of being the true 'Black Stump'

Blackall is a small western Queensland service centre which has been celebrated in poetry since it came into existence in the 1860s. There was an innocently ribald:

A popular girl of Blackall
Wore a newspaper dress to a ball
Her rig-out caught fire
And burned her entire
Front page, sporting section and all.

And 'Banjo' Paterson in the amusing A Bush Christening made much of the town's river, the Barcoo, with:

On the outer Barcoo, where churches are few
and men of religion are scanty,
On a road seldom crossed save by folk who are lost
One Michael Magee had a shanty.

Today this town, still the centre of a huge sheep industry, celebrates its connections with the wool and sheep industry with a modest "Big Ram", a sculpture of Jackie Howe (the greatest shearer of them all), an historic wool scour and a proud announcement as the visitor enters the town "Welcome to Blackall ... The Home of Jackie Howe & the Black Stump." Blackall is an attractive country town with palm trees down the centre of the main street, lots of veranda-ed shops and old-style pubs, and a relaxed air of outback friendliness and good humour.

Location

Blackall is located 284 m above sea-level and 964 km north-west of Brisbane. 

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Origin of Name

European settlers moved into the area in 1864 and four years later, in 1868, a township was surveyed and named after Samuel Wensley Blackall, Governor of Queensland from 1868-1871. 

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Things to See and Do

Welcome to Blackall
The Visitor Information Centre has a useful A3 sheet which lists 30 places of interest around Blackall and provides an excellent map of the town. The map identifies all the places of historic interest and locates the 16 historic plaques (it is called the Shamrock Stroll and details are provided in the town brochure) which are strategically positioned around the town. The following are the essential attractions of the district:

1. Ram Park
Located on the Landsborough Highway (145 Shamrock Street) at the edge of town, Ram Park is notable for its modestly large (it is not a "big thing") Ram which is surrounded by historic machinery and buildings including a bullock dray and the Blackall Railway station with rail equipment which is now the Visitor Information Centre.

2. The Wishing Well and Bushmans Hotel
The single storey Bushmans Hotel, located at 166 Shamrock Street, was constructed from mud bricks in 1891. In 2018 it became the Bushman's Gallery with displays of photographs of the history and people of Blackall. The water reservoir for the hotel was started in 1891 and completed in 1893. In 2004 it was cleaned out (over 60 tonnes of rubbish was removed) and it became the town's wishing well.

3. Major Mitchell Memorial
Located as a town clock in the middle of Shamrock Street, the Major Mitchell Memorial was unveiled on 19 September, 1946. It was constructed, as the inscription states: "To commemorate the centenary of the discovery on 19 September 1846 of the site whereon the township of Blackall now stands by Lt. Col. Sir Thomas Mitchell D.C.L. (Oxon), Surveyor General, savant and explorer with Graham, Douglas and Yuranigh an Aborigine. Their work opened up the pastoral lands of Central Queensland for general settlement." For more information check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/landscape/exploration/display/90568-major-thomas-mitchell-expedition.

4. Fossilised Tree Stump
Located opposite the Major Mitchell Memorial in the median strip on Shamrock Street, the Fossilised Tree Stump was found on a local property. It is a conifer and is related to the modern day hoop pine. No one is sure how old it is with estimates ranging from one million to 225 million years old.

5. Australian Federation Memorial
This simple triangular structure in the main street commemorates the first meeting which led to the establishment of the Shearer's Union in 1889. The plaque on the structure explains: "Upon an invitation by Blackall residents Jack Howe and Paddy Sheehan to run for the seat of Barcoo, Thomas Joseph (T.J.) Ryan (1876-1921) was elected as the state member for that seat in 1909. He was to become Premier of the first effective Labour Government in Queensland from 1915-1919. He and his government were both innovative and effective, especially in the area of industrial reform. In 1919 he resigned as Premier of Queensland to enter Federal Parliament. He gained popularity because of his concern for the rights of the worker, small business operators and landholders of the time." 

6.Jackie Howe Statue
Located on the Landsborough Highway (Shamrock Street) on the footpath in front of the Universal Garden Centre, is an excellent statue of the legendary Jackie Howe. In October 1892 Jackie Howe became one of Australia's authentic sporting heroes. His achievement is a celebration of outback life and of the extreme fitness of the shearers. The inscription on the plaque explains why Howe is still so admired in western Queensland: 'World Champion Blade Shearer Jackie Howe (John Robert Howe) 1861-1920. Blade shore 321 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes at 'Alice Downs' Blackall on Monday 10 October 1892'. It was a world record which was not beaten until 1950 when electric shears were introduced. In other words, it was never really beaten.  According to local mythology Howe's remarkable abilities came from his huge hands and the fact that he trained by squeezing a rubber ball. In later life he became a publican and was much liked by his fellow shearers. The statue was designed by sculptor Bodo Muche and officially dedicated on 10 October, 1988. See http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/industry/display/90567-jackie-howe-/photo/2 for more details. Inside the building is a gallery, with an historic display relating to Jackie Howe, and information about local history.

7. Memorial Park and Edgar Towner Statue
Located on Shamrock Street between Hawthorn Street and Hart Lane, the town's Memorial Park includes a cenotaph, memorial gun, stone seat and a statue of Major Edgar Towner V.C. by William Eicholtz. The statue is titled Towner's Call and Monuments Australia records: "The statue was the result of an essay by schoolboy Ronan Robinson who asked the question why a local hero who had won the Victoria Cross and Military Cross for bravery was not honoured in his home town and did not feature on the town's war memorial. When Ronan's school essay was published in the local newspaper, the people of Blackall rallied around the cause and raised $80,000 with help from Towner's nephews Geoffrey and John for the statue to be realised. 
Edgar Thomas Towner VC, MC (19 April 1890 – 18 August 1972) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces. A lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, Towner was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918 for his actions during an attack on Mont St. Quentin on the Western Front. Towner remains the most decorated Queensland-born soldier." For more information check out https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/military/display/95472-major-edgar-towner-v.c.-.

8. Masonic Lodge
Located on the corner of Hawthorn Street and Garden Street, this impressive Masonic Lodge, built in 1908 and operating until 2016, has been tastefully converted into a cafe, antique shop and art gallery. For more information check out https://www.thelodgeonhawthorn.com/info. It is listed in the Queensland Heritage Register which notes "The Blackall temple is important as a characteristic and intact example of a regional timber Masonic temple, a category of building prominent in the streetscape and important in the social life of many country towns." There is a detailed description and lengthy history of the building at https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600032.

10. Pioneer Bore
There is a detailed sign at the Pioneer Bore (which is located on the corner of Garden Street and Aqua Street) which explains: "Drilling commenced on Queensland's first artesian bore at this site in 1885 because the town dam constructed in 1878 and a well sunk in the Barcoo River were unable to provide adequate water. Owing to difficulties - suspected to be financial as well as technical - drilling was suspended for a time. Finally the bore was completed in 1888 ... the water was brackish and a second bore was commissioned. The water from the Pioneer Bore continued to be used for domestic purposes (including drinking until the drought broke in 1902) and was used by W.H. Banks for wool scouring.
"This display highlights the importance of artesian water in the story of Blackall's development as a viable township and celebrates the contribution of the early drillers and other workers to this Pioneer bore.
"A detailed mural by local artist Bob Wilson depicts drilling operations in the early 1900s and sets the scene for the now capped borehead and information plaque and for two pieces of restored machinery."

11. The Black Stump
There are a number of places around Australia which insist that they are the true location of the black stump. If you want to follow this amusing history check out Coolah (http://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/coolah-nsw) and Merriwagga (http://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/merriwagga-nsw). The case for Blackall is explained in great detail on the sign which can be accessed by turning into Hawthorn Street from the Landsborough Highway and going around to the back of the local school. The sign reads: "This historic site permanently marks the original Astro station established in 1887 by the Surveyor-General for the purpose of survey, based on the principal meridional circuit traversed around the town of Blackall. The circuit around Blackall was 27 miles square and contained an area of 729 square miles. The surveyors placed their theodolites on the stump for latitude and longitude observations. The stump was used rather than a set of legs because the theodolites used on such observations were of a large size. This Astro station was used as part of the principal survey to fix the position of principal towns extending from Brisbane to Boulia via Roma, Charleville and Blackall. It was designed to establish the points of important centres with which the survey work of the whole colony could be connected, and enable the mapping of Queensland on a more accurate basis. It was considered at the time that the country to the west of Blackall was 'beyond the black stump'. This piece of petrified wood replaces the original stump which was burnt out."

12. Aquatic Centre
As early as 1885 Blackall was relying on bore water from the Great Artesian Basin. Not surprisingly the local swimming pool takes advantage of these health giving waters which reach the earth's surface at 58°C. The Blackall Aquatic Centre, which is located at 1 Salvia Street, offers a spa which uses the artesian waters. It also has an Olympic swimming pool and the usual facilities - change rooms, hot showers, toilets.

14. The Blackall Wool Scour
Located 3.4 km north of town (follow Clemantis Street), the Blackall Wool Scour was built in 1908 and operated continuously until 1978. It is the last remaining steam operated wool washing plant. Historically the process of wool scouring, which had once been done by hand, involved putting the greasy wool through a special scouring solution, drying the cleaned wool, then pressing it into bales. When the wool scour was built it was considered a miracle of modern technology. In 2002 the Blackall community restored the wool scour which comprises "the wool washing and drying tanks, a 20-stand shearing shed, large sheep yards, shearer's quarters, cook house, toilet and shower blocks." It is well worth visiting as it offers a superb insight into historic wool processing. Between May and August the machinery is driven by steam and at other times it operates by electricity. The site is open all year round and guided tours occur every hour starting at 9.00 am and finishing with the last tour at 4.00 pm. Tel: (07) 4657 6042 or check out http://www.blackalltambotourism.com.au/blackall-woolscour.

22-30. Sculptures Around Town
Listed in the Blackall brochure are the nine interesting works of public art which are located around the town. Obviously two highlights are the Jackie Howe and Edgar Towner sculptures in Shamrock Street but there are also exceptional works which can be easily accessed.
3. The Eagle and Nest
Located just beyond the town on Coronation Street, the Eagle and Nest was designed and built by local sculptor, Richard Moffat. Moffat has said of the sculpture, which is made from railway dog spikes on a pieces of timber which were part of the old bridge, that the eagle's nest is a place to raise a family, just like Blackall and consequently the sculpture is about community and its connection to the Barcoo River.
4. Wood, Water and Wool
Located in Garden Street just along from the Pioneer Bore, the Wood, Water and Wool artwork was created by Robert Bridgewater to celebrate the centenary of Blackall's Woolscour in 2008.
5. LifeSpan
Located across the Barcoo River and accessed off Coronation Street, this sculpture was created by Frederick White out of recycled bore casings. The commentary on the sculpture notes that "this piece of artwork represents life in general; paths that sometimes converge or momentarily cross over, then towards the end of life, like the beginning, level out to a new time for experiencing."
6. Circle of Friendship
Located in the median strip on Shamrock Street in front of the Bushmans Hotel, the Circle of Friendship was created by Richard Moffat. It is a symbol of friendship and community.
7. Cutting Out 
Located in Salvia Street, and utilising wire, copper wire, cement, driftwood and fabric, this sculpture by Jennie Scott was officially unveiled in 2010 during the Australian Campdraft Association National Finals and "depicts a mounted horse cutting out a beast". 
8. Roly Poly
Located on the edge of town near the airport, Roly Poly is another sculpture by Richard Moffat.
9. Bottle Tree
Located outside the Living Arts Centre in Hawthorn Street, the Bottle Tree was created by Adriaan Vanderlugt. It stands over 3 metres high and is a celebration of the clever use of recycled material.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Black's Palace now known as 'The Palace'
The Black's Palace sites, located on Marston Station (it became part of Tumbar in 2016) some 60 km south of Jericho, are the largest complex of art sites known to exist in Central Queensland. The paintings are set on the sandstone cliff faces of a gorge which is about 500-600 metres long and about 200 metres wide. Anthropologists have recorded some 9,471 figures in the area ranging from stencils of hands, feet, boomerangs and axes as well as drawings of spears, clubs, shields, snakes and lizards. There are a large number of abstract patterns as well. It is well worth a visit. Tragically the site is now closed to the public. It is sad that such an important site is not open to those who wish to inspect this remarkable piece of Australian culture. 
In 2014 the ABC reported: "Traditional owners in Queensland's west say they have got widespread support to open up an internationally significant site for tourists. The Bidjara people say the site, known as Black's Palace, dates back around 4,000 years and contains about 10,000 rock art stencils. It is located on private property between Jericho and Tambo, south-east of Longreach. Elder Leann Thompson says "the Palace" is also a burial and a women's site. She says traditional owners are eager to see it open for tourists within a few years.
"I would like to think in about two years," she said. "One of the challenges and an opportunity that we have to get over is ownership of the site, because at the moment the state owns the site. It is a significant international site - it is a burial site and it is also a women's site."
She said at one time there were about 40 burials.
"The site is also about birthing and it has about 10,000 stencils at the site as well, or artwork," she said. "It is only a reasonably young site, so it only goes back about 4,000 years." The Bidjara people have met local councils and other authorities as part of ongoing negotiations. In 2019 the site was not open to the general public. There is detailed information available and photographs of the site at the Universal Garden Centre in Shamrock Street. The man who runs the Museum has extensive knowledge

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Kuungkari Aboriginal people.

* The area was explored by Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1846. He reached the Barcoo River, which he called the 'Victoria', believing that it flowed north into the Gulf of Carpentaria.

* Later in 1846 Edmund Kennedy returned to the area and proved Mitchell incorrect by following the Barcoo until it became part of Cooper Creek.

* The explorer, Augustus Gregory, passed through the area in 1858.

* The town was first settled in 1864. That year saw the opening of the first Post Office in the town.

* In 1868 it was surveyed, gazetted and named after Samuel Wensley Blackall, then-governor of Queensland. 

* The area around the town was taken up by huge pastoral leases and over the next forty years the town became an important centre for transportation. 

* By 1877 the town had seven hotels. A school was opened that year.

* In 1879 the town became the centre for local government.

* The town experienced a devastating flood in 1881.

* In 1885 a bore into the Artesian Basin was successfully sunk.

* Prior to the arrival of the rail service in Barcaldine in 1886 it was the main town in the region.

* In 1889 the Barcoo Independent published its first edition.

* In October, 1892 Jackie Howe managed to shear 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes on Alice Downs Station near Blackall.

* The Barcoo River flooded in 1906 causing damage to the town.

* In 1906 a wool scour was opened on the edge of town.

* In 1908 a branch line from Jericho brought the railway to the town. That year saw the opening of a local Masonic Temple.

* A Catholic primary school was opened in 1917.

* A State High School was opened in 1957.

* The town got its first motel in 1962.

* In 1964 the local school was destroyed by fire.

* In 1988 a sculpture of Jackie Howe was unveiled in the town.

* In 2008 the expanded Blackall and Tambo Regional Council was established.

* In 2012 the Seymour Department Store closed. That year the Barcoo River flooded and damaged houses in the town.

* On 3 January, 2014 the town achieved a new record temperature when it reached 45.7°C (114°F).

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Visitor Information

Blackall Visitor Information Centre, Ram Park, 145a Shamrock Street, tel: (07) 4657 4637, Open Monday to Friday 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, Saturday 9.00 am - noon.

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Useful Websites

The local council website - http://www.blackalltambotourism.com.au - has useful information as does https://www.outbackqueensland.com.au/town/blackall.

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