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Barcaldine, QLD

Iconic town in the history of the Australian labour movement.

Barcaldine is a hugely important and symbolic destination for visitors and travellers interested in the history of working people in Australia. It was here in 1891 that shearers, confronted with lower pay, went on strike, joined together in a camp outside the town and held meeting under "The Tree of Knowledge" - all events which played an important role in the formation of the Australian Labor Party. Today the town celebrates its historic radicalism with a Workers Heritage Centre, a Heritage Listed Shearers' Strike Camp Site and a beautifully re-created 'Tree of Knowledge'. The town is central to the Barcaldine Regional Council which covers 53,677 square kilometres and includes the towns of Alpha, Jericho, Aramac, and Muttaburra.


Barcaldine is located 1071 km from Brisbane via Toowoomba, Roma and Blackall and 1224 km from Brisbane via Rockhampton and Emerald on the Capricorn Highway. It is 580 km due west of Rockhampton and 273 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

The town was named by an early settler Donald Charles Cameron who, having overlanded sheep from New South Wales, took up land in the district and named his property after Barcaldine in Argyllshire, Scotland.


Things to See and Do

Australian Workers' Heritage Centre
Created to complement the Longreach Stockman's Hall of Fame (thus making this part of Queensland an attractive destination for tourists interested in Australian history) and opened in 1991, this interesting and award-winning museum at 94 Ash Street celebrates "the lives and proud heritage of ordinary working people – telling the stories of the railway workers and blacksmiths, the farmers, nurses and teachers who shaped the nation." It is the only museum of its type in the country.
It is located on two hectares of the former grounds of the old Barcaldine State School, with old school structures renovated and incorporated into the exhibition space. Other historic workplaces, including the AWU Shearer's Hall from Longreach, a one-teacher school from Torrens Creek, the Kunwarara railway station (1915) and a police watch-house from Toogoolawah, have been relocated on the site. Artefacts, artworks and multimedia presentations help to tell the story with displays including displays on the shearers' strike of 1891; the history of postal workers; the role of women in war and in Australia's working history; and the importance of Aboriginal stockmen - an exhibit which is contained in the Celebration Tent. 
The Heritage Centre features landscaped gardens and shady trees around an artesian bore and billabong. There are picnic shelters, barbecue facilities and a modern children's playground. It is open from 9.00 am. to 5.00 pm Monday to Saturday, and from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm on Sunday, tel: (07) 4651 2422. For more detailed information check out http://www.australianworkersheritagecentre.com.au. There is a downloadable map of the Centre at http://www.australianworkersheritagecentre.com.au/02_virtual_tour/documents/AWHC-CentreMap-May2014-PDF.pdf.

The Wanpa-rda Matilda Outback Education Centre
This education centre is located in the grounds of  the Heritage Centre. It is a residential learning facility with air-conditioned dormitories, a fully-equipped kitchen, outdoor barbecues and a recreation area. 

Tree of Knowledge
In October 2006 the Heritage-listed 'Tree of Knowledge", a ten metre tall ghost gum (Corymbia Aparrerinja), was poisoned with Roundup by persons unknown. It had been a meeting place for shearers during the strike of 1891 and was deemed to be of such importance to Australian industrial and labour history that an architect-designed Tree of Knowledge memorial was constructed using the original site in Oak Street and using the dead trunk of the original tree. It was opened in May 2009 by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. The sculpture, standing outside the town's railway station, features a striking 18 metre high cube in which 4000 suspended timbers of varying length form the tree canopy. It now includes interpretative panels which tell the story of the Shearer's Strike and the men who led it. For more detailed information check out http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national/tree.

Lagoon Creek Shearers' Strike Camp
A short distance out of town, on the bank of Lagoon Creek, is the site of the Shearers' Strike Camp where literally hundreds of shearers camped during the industrial action. Although there is currently nothing to see at the site, it is protected by the National Trust. The Queensland Heritage Register records: "The campsite is approximately 3 km north east of Barcaldine and situated on the south side of Lagoon Creek. It is lightly treed, mainly with gidgee, and the only visible evidence of its use during the Shearers' Strike is the remains of a camp oven made of ant bed, a blazed tree and a light artefact scatter, some of which is subsequent to the strike ... The blazed tree, a coolabah, is on the north-eastern margin of the camp site."
It is hugely important because, as the Register explains: "The Shearers' Strike Camp Site was the focus of the 1891 Shearers' Strike, a confrontation between capital and labour that was a major event in Queensland's history. The strike was a watershed in the development of organised representation of labour in Australia and the formation of the Australian Labor Party." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600019. 

Barcaldine & District Folk Museum
Located on the corner of Beech and Gidyea Streets, the town's folk museum, which is located in the old National Bank Building, is full of memorabilia collected from locals, including a rare Edison gramophone dating from 1900, some barbed wire from the 1870s and a 1923 ticket issued by Qantas. It is a fascinating collection of over 8,000 items which includes everything from old pots and pans to antiquated newspaper articles. The grounds around the museum have historic farm machinery as well as the town's first motorised fire engine and a Southern Cross windmill. There are also goat buggy rides and miniature train rides on the last Sunday of every month, Tel: (07) 4651 2211. Open from 7.00 am - 5.00 pm daily.

Barcaldine's Historic Buildings
Barcaldine has six interesting buildings and locations listed on the Queensland Heritage Register. They are all worth viewing.

Barcaldine Shire Hall
Located in Ash Street (note: all streets in the town are named after trees), designed by Alfred Mowbray Hutton and built in 1912-1913. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the original building as "built of timber with a corrugated iron roof, with the official rooms of the council at the front section, and the hall behind. The offices were designed as a separate but linked pavilion, with a single skin wall. They were surrounded by verandahs at the front and sides, with a 6-foot (1.8 m) wide passage separating them from the hall. The main entrance to the building was identified by a large triangular pediment which capped an archway. The clock tower rose above the entrance in the centre of the building. Pediments were installed each end of the front verandah. Between these and the entrance, the verandah was divided into four bays with a lattice valance forming complimentary arches across the face of the building. Side verandahs to the office section were also treated similarly.
"The council rooms opened out to the verandah on all sides with the French doors and casement windows. The Council Chambers and Shire Chairman's office were to the right of the central passage, and the offices for the Shire Clerk and a solicitor to the left. The floors of these rooms were generally covered in linoleum, with green or grey walls and white pressed metal ceilings. At the end of the central passage through two sets of double doors was located the hall. The hall featured a flat floor with a raised stage, and an upstairs gallery. The hall opened sideways onto the subsidiary verandah spaces. On the eastern verandah was a supper room, on the western were smoking rooms and toilets. The hall was of large proportions, measuring 80 by 40 feet (24 by 12 m), and was well ventilated with vents and louvres, and fanlights which acted as a clerestory providing light and ventilation over the adjoining verandah roofs ... The building is significant as a rare surviving example of a late nineteenth/early twentieth century timber shire hall, many of which were constructed but few of which survive." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601274 for more details.

Barcaldine Masonic Lodge
Located at 39 Beech Street, the Masonic Lodge is one of the most remarkable buildings in Queensland. It is a simple, two storey timber framed building set on low stumps with a corrugated iron room. Yet it is unique. The front of the building is “clad with horizontal timber boards painted to mimic ashlar masonry. The gable facing the front has scalloped barge boards and finials. The facade is divided into three bays by fluted timber pilasters supporting a scalloped entablature below the eave. It has a central entrance sheltered by a pediment porch and flanked by sash windows. The upper storey has high round arched windows to each bay. The sides of the building have large windows on the ground floor and small high openings on the floor above.”
It is a timber and corrugated iron building masquerading, courtesy of mock stonework, as a Classical facade from the ancient days of Greece and Rome.
The history of the building is even stranger. The Queensland Heritage Register points out (https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600020 provides greater details) that the building was transported more than 500 km across Queensland by a group of masons who were working on the railways.
“In 1876 Robert Ballard, Chief Engineer with the Central Western Railway pushing westwards from Rockhampton and a handful of other Masons, established the Comet Lodge No 1680 at Dingo Creek. 
"The lodge is possibly unique in that it holds its warrant almost 300 miles (480 km) away from the town for which it was granted. 
"The railway workers who were members carried their building with them, dismantling it and moving it in railway trucks to be bolted together again in a new settlement as work progressed. In this manner it moved to the new railway camp at Cometville in 1878, Emerald in 1879, Bogantungan in 1881, Pine Hill in 1883, Jericho in 1885 and finally came to rest in Barcaldine in 1886. It was then refurbished in 1900. This eccentric Masonic Temple was built and rebuilt six times as the railway moved across Queensland.

St Peter's Anglican Church
Located at 85 Elm Street, St Peter's Church is a superb example of the use of timber in outback Queensland. The church was built in 1899 to a design by Edwin Hockings and its elaborate tongue-and-groove boards and its craftsmanship make it a worthy example of Queensland's distinctive timber architecture. It was built for the modest sum of £520. It is listed in the Queensland Heritage Register which explains that it is a rare example of an Australian church built with great assistance from a church in England, St Peter's in Jarrow-on-Tyne.
"It is a timber building, rectangular in plan with an apsidal sanctuary at the eastern end. To the western end is a baptistery flanked by small porches. It has a steeply pitched gable roof clad with corrugated iron which extends to cover the vestry on the southern side. The roof is crowned with an octagonal louvred turret and spire and the eaves are supported by curved timber brackets. The external walls are clad in narrow weatherboards. There is a bell tower at the south east corner between vestry and sanctuary. The internal walls of the church are lined with painted tongue and groove boards and the roof is ceiled with "caneite". The flooring is 1.5 inches wide tongue and groove hardwood. Separating chancel and nave is an open timber rood screen composed of six timber posts supporting the rail and rood and linked by Gothic tracery. The posts are decorated with shields bearing heraldic devices.
Windows to the side walls are narrow and rectangular. There are a number of stained glass memorial windows including five above the altar depicting the Ascension and scenes from the life of St Peter installed in 1918, a Resurrection from 1918 and that in the baptistery donated in 1913. The fittings are original and include a stone font inscribed " An offering to the Glory of God from the children of the church of St Peter, Jarrow to the church of St Peter, Barcaldine". The lectern is a copy of that in Exeter Cathedral and was carved and donated by Mr G. Lloyd-Jones of Ilfracombe in England. The richly embroidered altar frontal dating from the 1900s was also an English gift." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600022.

Barcaldine War Memorial Clock
Located on Ash Street, and unveiled in 1924, the War Memorial Clock, like so many monuments to the fallen of World War I, records that of the 292 local men who went off to fight over 10%, 38 men, were killed. It is a reminder of the deep patriotism, and trauma, that resulted from the war and, being aesthetically unusual, it is, as the Queensland Heritage Register notes, "one of the few clock type war memorials and the only one of this style in Queensland." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600018 for more details.

Art Works - Murals and Musical Instruments
In recent times Barcaldine has enriched the town's streets with unusual art works. On the Landsborough Highway, just west of the Tree of Knowledge memorial, there is a mural of a sand goanna painted by noted artist, D'Arcy Doyle and in Oak Street there is an amusing Thong-A-Phone and Marimba which was constructed as a Public Art Works programme. It can be played.


Other Attractions in the Area

Solar Farm
Located 5 km east of Barcaldine on the Capricorn Highway, and spread across a 93 ha site, is the Barcaldine Solar Farm. It has 79,000 solar modules (they are 3 metres wide and stand 2 metres above the ground) which generate around 53,500 megawatts of clean, renewable power. That is equivalent to the reduction of 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions. The solar modules are designed to tilt in the direction of the sun thereby maximising the energy generated. The area was chosen because Barcaldine enjoys extended periods of sunshine. For more information check out http://barcaldinesolarfarmproject.com.au.

The Shearer's Strike of 1891
The shearers' strike of 1891 was an essential event in the formation of the Australian Labor Party. The shearers' strike, together with the maritime strike of 1890, were powerful labour disturbances which profoundly affected the Australian populations. The unions, to increase their effectiveness, had begun to amalgamate and centralise, as workers began to see the importance of acting in a coordinated way. Strikes starting in one industry began to spread to other industries. However, both the maritime and shearers' strikes were defeated when the Queensland and New South Wales governments sided with business interests. 
The Shearer's strike was sparked in January, 1891 when shearers at Logan Downs Station, near Clermont, were told they had to sign the Pastoralists' "contract of free labour" before commencing work - a move intended to reduce the influence of the unions in the sheds. 
By February the centre of the strike had shifted to Barcaldine, which was the terminus of the rail line from Rockhampton and the commercial centre of the wealthy Mitchell district, where 30 stations were affected by the strike. 
In March the pastoralists imported non-union strike-breakers, who were protected by the police and troopers. Retaliation took the form of crops and woolsheds being set alight. Strikers marched in strength at Barcaldine but the colonial secretary then ordered the arrest of the union leaders. 120 mounted infantry surrounded the union office at Barcaldine and arrested the strike committee while infantrymen with fixed bayonets guarded the police station. In a move intended to break the back of the strike, the union leaders were charged with conspiracy and sedition and gaoled for three years, fined £200, and issued with twelve-month good behaviour bonds upon release.
The arrests and dwindling funds caused the 1891 strike, like that of 1890, to fold. The failure of militancy to achieve the desired outcome prompted the labour movement to turn its attention to the pursuit of political power as a means of advancing the interests of working people. 
Labour Electoral Leagues were formed and one of the strike committee members, T. J. (Tommy) Ryan, from Barcaldine Shire, became the first genuine representative of Australian labouring people when he was elected to the Queensland parliament in 1892. In fact he was the first labour representative to be elected to a parliament anywhere in the world. 
When a Labour League was formed in New South Wales, it won 37 of the 141 seats in the NSW Legislative Assembly. This success sparked similar 'Leagues' in other states, culminating in the formation of the Australian Labor Party, which was Australia's first political party, and one of the first such parties in the world. 
The symbol of the strike was the 'Tree of Knowledge', located in Oak Street in front of the railway station, where the workers would meet and speeches were organised. The tree was vandalised and poisoned in November, 2006. The dead tree was removed in July, 2007 and replaced by a monument/sculpture celebrating its significance in Australian political history.
Striking shearers held their meetings under the 150-year-old ghost gum. It was here that they sang Henry Lawson's great poem 'Freedom on the Wallaby' with its stirring final verse:
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
Of those that they would throttle; 
They needn't say the fault is ours 
If blood should stain the wattle.
When the tree was still standing there was a monument in the shape of a pair of shears beside it which claimed that the tree was revered to "Honour the men and women of the Labour movement who congregated in this area and, through their courage, determination and dedication to the principles, ideals and objectives of the labour movement, played a leading role in the formation of the Labor Party and further spearheaded the many reforms that resulted in the vastly improved way of life for the Australian people generally."



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Iningai First Nations people. It was estimated that over 700 were living in the area at the time.

* In 1846 Sir Thomas Mitchell became the first European to pass through the Barcaldine area. He arrived after good rains and described the region as 'the finest region I have seen in Australia'.

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

* In 1863 Donald Cameron overlanded sheep from the New England area and settled on a 64 km frontage along the Alice River which he named Barcaldine Station after his family's property in Scotland.

* There were violent frontier wars in the district and by 1886 only 136 Iningai people remained.

* Barcaldine Station was partially resumed for closer settlement in the 1880s.

* Town lots were sold in 1885.

* The town was gazetted until 1886 when it became the western terminus for the railway line from Rockhampton. A bank, Masonic Hall, and the Methodist and Catholic churches were moved to Barcaldine from Jericho. The Post office opened that year.

* In 1887 a Progress Association was formed. Bore water was discovered close to the town and a local State School opened.

* In 1889 the Pastoral Employers' Association was formed in the town. They immediately reduced pay for shearers.

* In 1891 a shearers' strike, which played an important role in the formation of the Australian Labor Party, centred around the town. Meetings were held under the Tree of Knowledge which became the symbolic starting place of the Australian Labour movement.

* In March, 1891 thirteen leaders of the shearer's union were gaoled at Moreton Bay.

* In 1892 the Barcaldine local government division was proclaimed.

* T. J. (Tommy) Ryan, from Barcaldine Shire, became the first genuine representative of Australian labouring people when he was elected to the Queensland parliament in 1892. 

* By the late 1890s a meat processing factory, piggery, wool scouring works and School of Arts were operating in the town.

* The Aboriginal Protection Act of 1897 resulted in many of the Iningai people being forcibly removed to Durundur, Baranbah and Palm Island.

* A Shire Hall was built in 1898.

* From 1899-1902 the town was hit with a devastating drought.

* In 1900 the Masonic Lodge was refurbished.

* In 1903 the local government became known as the Barcaldine Shire Council.

* A swimming pool was opened in 1907. It used the health giving artesian waters.

* In 1912 a new Shire Hall was built.

* In 1913 a private tramway was opened between Barcaldine and Aramac.

* The town's first Agricultural Show was held in 1914.

* Barcaldine Grammar School was opened in 1915.

* A War Memorial was dedicated in 1924.

* A new hospital was opened in 1953.

* A new swimming pool was built in 1980.

* By 1993 the district was home to over 610,000 sheep and lambs.

* The symbol of the Shearer's strike, the 'Tree of Knowledge', was vandalised and poisoned in November, 2006. 

* The dead tree was removed in July, 2007 and replaced by a monument celebrating the tree's significance in Australian political history.

* In 2008 the Barcaldine Regional Council was formed.

* In 2009 a sculpture of the Tree of Knowledge was opened.

* In 2016 the Barcaldine Public Library opened.


Visitor Information

Barcaldine Tourist Information Centre, 149 Oak Street, tel: (07) 4651 1724. Open 8.15 am - 4.30 pm seven days a week.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local council website. Check out http://www.barcaldinerc.qld.gov.au. The best, and most detailed, site is https://www.outbackqueensland.com.au/town/barcaldine.

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3 suggestions
  • Is western Queensland still in a bad drought?

  • I love my hometown Barcaldine. It healed me in 1988 to 1990 when I left and regretted leaving and got addicted to my hometown and moved back to Barcy as us proud locals call it in 2023 the 8/8/2023. I started renting a house in first of Barcy very very happy ???? I have started renting and living back in my hometown I love you Barcy????

    Trace lee kehl
  • I am a descendant of Donald Charles Cameron. The story in our family is that one of our ancestors was promised Barcaldine Castle in Scotland by his uncle, a confirmed bachelor. But later in life the bachelor married and fathered 6 children. Our ancestor, who by now lived in Australia, bought land in Queensland and called it Barcaldine after the castle he had waited for, for so long.
    I have a photo of the first house built there, slab walls, bark roof and then pea plants growing all over it. The peas gave a layer of insulation and a ready feed!

    Jennifer Bergersen