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Cunnamulla, QLD

Administrative heart of the Paroo Shire

Cunnamulla is a rural service centre which is the administrative seat of the Paroo Shire - a vast shire which covers 47,617 sq. km of South-West Queensland. With a population of over 1600 in 2011, Cunnamulla is significantly larger than the other towns in the shire - Eulo, Yowah and Wyandra. While the town offers little to tempt the curious traveller, it does have a distinct old world charm. The hotels in the main street have remained unchanged for over half a century, the shops still have a pre-supermarket feel to them, and the tree-lined streets evoke the world of the country town long past.


Cunnamulla is located 787 km west of Brisbane via Toowoomba and St George. It is 120 km north of the New South Wales border and 188 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

The word 'Cunnamulla' is widely accepted to be an Aboriginal term, probably from the Kunja language, meaning either 'big waterhole' or 'long stretch of water'. The town was named by Cobb & Co when they established a base at the local waterhole.


Things to See and Do

The Cunnamulla Town Map, which is available at the Cunnamulla Fella Centre, lists 14 places of interest around the town. Of particular interest are:

1. Cunnamulla Fella Centre, Art Gallery and Museum
Located in Jane Street the building is not only the Visitor Centre but also houses the Artesian Time Tunnel, a local art gallery, the museum and the Cultural Theatre. Of particular interest is the museum which has an extensive collection of local artefacts. It offers visitors an opportunity to see how the locals lived last century. 

2. Artesian Time Tunnel
The Artesian Time Tunnel, as the Paroo Shire Council website explains: "transports visitors back 100 million years in time to the beginning of the Artesian Basin when dinosaurs roamed the planet. The beginnings of the Artesian Basin preceded opal formation and the Age of Mammals. The first Queensland flow from the Great Artesian Basin was near Cunnamulla in 1887. When you visit Cunnamulla you will be standing on the world's largest underground river and your visit to the Cunnamulla Fella Centre will transport you back in time." Check out https://www.paroo.info/LocalInfo/CunnamullaFellaCentre.aspx for more information.

3. Post Office
Located in Stockyard Street, the Post Office was built in 1890 on the site where Cobb & Co used to maintain their stock. It has not been changed and looks as it did when it was first built.

4. The Cunnamulla Fella Sculpture
The song, "The Cunnamulla Fella", was written by Stan Coster and recorded by Slim Dusty. In 2005 a statue which was twice life size was created by sculptor Archie St Clair. The statue sits outside the Paroo Shire Hall in Jane Street and depicts a Cunnamulla Fella (ie a typical Aussie bushman) with a wide-brimmed hat and a mug of tea.

5. Railway Station
Located in Railway Street, the Cunnamulla Railway Station operated between 1898 (when the railway arrived in the town) until it was closed to passenger trains in 1994.

6. Cunnamulla War Memorial Fountain
Located in John Street, at a five way intersection, this impressive memorial, dedicated to those who died during World War I, was builit in Brisbane in 1924. If you look carefully you will note that the "concrete memorial comprises a shallow trough, with a tall and elaborate centrepiece. The trough measures 7 metres (23 ft) in diameter and is painted blue internally. A small leaded marble plaque on the north face bears the inscription: Erected by the citizens of Paroo Shire in memory of those gallant Australians who fell in the Great War 1914 - 1918. The centrepiece comprises four basins, decreasing in scale as they reach the peak. The lower basin has scalloped edges which incorporates heads of gargoyles. It is supported by four large winged griffins holding shields bearing emus and kangaroos. They sit on a base with foliated designs at the centre and corner of each face." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600760.

7. Cunnamulla Coach Stop Mural
Located on a wall at the Five Ways corner (it can be seen from the Memorial Fountain) the mural is a celebration of the importance of Cobb & Co to the town.

8. St Alban's Anglican Church
Located on Emma Street, this interesting modern church was built in the early 1960s after the original church became the church hall. It is built in the shape of a cross and was specifically designed to modify the extremes of temperature which are common in the area.

9. Robbers Tree
At the southern end of Stockyard Street is a solitary tree on a sand dune where the bank robber Joseph Wells hid after making an armed withdrawal from the local bank. It is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register which records the event as: "In 1880 an incident occurred that provided the township of Cunnamulla with considerable publicity. On 16 January 1880 Joseph Wells, a station hand, robbed the Queensland National Bank at Cunnamulla at gunpoint. The alarm was raised and as Wells was about to leave the bank, storekeeper William Murphy from next door attempted to restrain him and in the scuffle, was shot accidentally in the shoulder. This allowed Wells to escape from the bank, only to find that a crowd of onlookers was gathering outside.
"As he tried to leave the scene on horseback, the horse's bridle broke and, in desperation, the robber ran toward the outskirts of the town. Amongst the crowd of onlookers were two men with unloaded guns, who gave chase. Turning on them and threatening to shoot if they didn't retreat, Wells ran into the bush.
The police were alerted and organised an intensive search for the robber, who may have escaped detection but for the persistence of a sheep dog which had followed Wells' scent and sat barking under a tree. On investigating, the local police sergeant discovered that Wells had taken refuge in the branches of the tree, where he was well camouflaged.
"Wells was arrested and stood trial in Toowoomba, charged with armed robbery with wounding. He was found guilty and received the maximum penalty, death. Because of the accidental nature of Murphy's wounding and the fact that Wells had not had legal representation during his trial, opponents of capital punishment, including several members of Parliament, appealed to the Full Court on Wells' behalf. Despite these appeals and much debate about capital punishment in the Queensland press, Wells was executed on 22 March 1880. However, the saga had its legacy, with Wells becoming the last man to be executed for armed robbery with wounding in Queensland. 
"One of his supporters, Arthur Rutledge MLA, on becoming Attorney General (November 1883 to June 1888), legislated to have armed robbery removed from the list of capital offences in Queensland." For more information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600762.

11. Cunnamulla Heritage Trail
There is a booklet which is available at the Cunnamulla Fella Centre, and the map of the town has stars indicating the places of interest, it records the historic nature of the town.

12. River Walk
Located off the Bulloo Development Road across the bridge from the centre of town, this is a pleasant walk beside the river to a lookout which offers views over the town.

13. Sandhills Walking Tracks
Accessed beyond the Robber's Tree these tracks through the sandhills are an excellent opportunity to explore the fauna and flora of the desert around the town. There is also a lookout and it is possible to go sandboarding.

14. Cunnamulla Bushlands
Located off the Mitchell Highway, and clearly marked, this is a pleasant, flat 1.5 km walk which traverses Mulgalands, Gidgee and Wetlands. Each area has its unique flora and signage which explains the distinctive features.
"Mulgalands - Mulga is a dominating plant which grows mainly on infertile red and skeletal soils in very arid conditions with unpredictable climate and unreliable rainfall. Topographically this plant can grow in areas ranging from sandplains and dunefields to rocky hillsides. Mulga is a deeply rooted plant that can access nutrients and moisture from well below the surface ... Mulga country covers 20% of the arid Australian continent and 12% of Western Queensland."
"Gidgee - Gidgee grows quite densely on gentle sloping plains with brown, grey and red browns cracking clay soils and more sparsely on lighter soils. These trees are often found on flat to gently undulating plains intermixed with and surrounded by Mtichell grass plains ... Other associated trees are brigalow, belah, leopardwood, mulga and old man saltbush. The gidgee trees are known as stinking wattle because of their pungent aroma which intensifies before rain."
"Wetlands - Wetland areas act as flood control mechanisms and drought refuges for birds and wildlife. These areas are made up of three zones, the riparian zone which is the water tolerant trees and vegetation on the edge of the wetland area. Next is the emergent zone which is usually made up of reeds, rushes and sedges that can tolerate wet and dry cycles this is an important area of the wetlands for both land and water animals. Then the aquatic zone which can tolerate some dry times but requires water most of the time. These wetland areas provide a healthy habitat, shelter and a source of food for many of our native animals and birdlife."


Other Attractions in the Area

Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary
Located 18 km north-west of Cunnamulla, Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary is known as an ideal birdwatching location. The sanctuary covers 14,036 ha of mulga scrub which includes 15 definable bioregions with 264 plants, 29 mammals, 218 birds and 62 reptiles. Known as a mixture of woodlands, shrublands, grasslands and riparian vegetation it is a breeding habitat for a variety of birds and mammals. The website notes: "Bowra supports over 300 species of native vertebrate animals including a number of species near their eastern or western range limits, such as the Striated Grasswren, Blue-Winged Parrot, Desert Spadefoot Toad, Striped Skink, Pebble Dragon and Little Red Flying-Fox. The diversity of species is a consequence of the sanctuary’s location, straddling both the Warrego River Plains and the West Warrego ecological provinces, and the associated suite of habitats. 29 native mammal species have been positively identified in recent surveys of Bowra. Populations of small native mammals like the Gile’s Planigale, Stripe-faced Dunnart and Central Short Tailed Mouse, fluctuate in response to the irregular rainfall, but populations of the larger wallabies and kangaroos are more consistent. The bird fauna at Bowra is prolific (>200 species) and includes nine threatened species. All four species of Australian babblers are present and the rare Grey Falcon breeds on the sanctuary. Reptiles are well represented with over 60 species, from the large and obvious Gould’s Goanna to the scarce and secretive Yakka Skink and a range of tree dwelling gekkos." For more information check out http://www.australianwildlife.org/sanctuaries/bowra-sanctuary.aspx.



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

* In 1846 Sir Thomas Mitchell passed through the area while searching for a route to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

* In 1847 Edmund Kennedy, who had been Mitchell's second-in-command, revisited the area and found that the Victoria River was actually the Barcoo which flowed into Cooper Creek. 

* The area was first settled by Europeans in the late 1840s. 

* In 1862 William Landsborough explored the area and provided positive reports of the richness of the land.

* Cunnamulla Post Office opened in 1868.

* The townsite was surveyed in 1869. That same year a Court House was built.

* The local primary school was opened in 1877.

* On 3 September 1879, Cobb & Co. drove the first coach through from Bourke. Cunnamulla was one of many settlements which grew up in South-West Queensland as a result of the activities of Cobb & Co. It is the only one to have survived. 

* The Paroo Shire Offices opened in 1879.

* By 1880 the town had a population of around 200. That year saw a bank robber caught at the Robber Tree.

* In the 1880s farmers moved into the area and found the open plains to be perfect for sheep grazing.

* By 1884 the Cunnamulla Express was being published.

* An artesian bore was sunk in 1889. 

* The Anglican Church was consecrated in 1896.

* The first mass at the Catholic Church was held in 1898.

* The railway from Charleville reached the town in 1899. 

* By 1903 the town had reticulated water courtesy of the artesian bore.

* A Catholic primary school was opened in 1915.

* A new Civic Centre was opened in 1960.

* In 1967 the first Cunnamulla-Eulo Festival of Opals was held.

* In 1990 the town was devastated by a flood which saw the Warrego River reach 10.15 metres.

* In 2000 Dennis O'Rourke made a controversial documentary film titled Cunnamulla about the town.

* In the summer of 2012/2013, dubbed The Angry Summer by the Climate Commission, the temperature in Cunnamulla reached a new recorded high of 47°C.


Visitor Information

Cunnamulla Fella Visitor Information Centre, Jane Street, tel: (07) 4655 8470, Open 9.00 am - 4.30 pm Monday to Friday, 10.00 am - 2.00 pm Saturday and Sunday.


Useful Websites

The Paroo Shire has a useful, local website. Check out https://www.paroo.info/Cunnamulla.aspx.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

4 suggestions
  • You missed the Cunnamulla Hotel. Wonderful history. Still worth a meal, particularly in winter. Also the shopping produces some real treasures for both men and women. The shopping should be promoted to leave some money in the town.And those beautiful colored glass in the shop windows. But do need a clean!

    Yvonne Webb
  • When was the state school built? My brother and I were pupils there from 1945 to 1951. As I recall, there were 200 pupils at the time. We had a school magazine called ‘The Pelican’. I would love to see a copy of one of those today so I may have to take another trip. I understand that Cunnamulla had sewerage installed in 1939, the first in Qld. I know that when we were married in 1959 that Brisbane was still using the backyard dunnies.

    Marion Georgina Millar nee Cox
  • My husband’s grandfather was born at “Owanyowan Station” in 1885. We are planning a visit that way soon and wonder if it still exists and if so can we visit. His name was Sydney Carl Watknis, father James, mother Mary.

    Noele Watkins
  • You forgot to include Club Boutique Hotel Cunnamulla, the outdoor dining and entertainment is something you won’t get anywhere else. We always stay whenever we are passing through.