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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 centrewhich 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

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.

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 theodolite 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."

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 between May and August when the machinery is operational 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.

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 - of a local swimming pool and spa.

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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 although the road to the site is dirt and far from perfect. 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. For detailed information and access check out Blackall Visitor Information Centre, Ram Park, 145a Shamrock Street, tel: (07) 4657 4637 or the Tambo Visitor Information Centre, Historic Court House, tel: (07) 4654 6408.

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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 1988 a sculpture of Jackie Howe was unveiled in 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 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.

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Visitor Information

Blackall Visitor Information Centre, 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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