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Quilpie, QLD

Small service centre on the Bulloo River known for its boulder opals

Quilpie is the administrative centre of a shire which covers 67,663 sq. km on western Queensland.  In the 21st century the shire's population fell below 1,000 people with approximately half of those living in the town. Beyond the town and the tiny settlements of  Toompine and Eromanga lie the deserts and marginal lands of western Queensland with their endless sand dunes, scrubby mulga and gidgee vegetation, dirt roads heavy with bulldust, annual rainfall of less than 350 mm and summer temperatures which have been known to reach 47°C (116.8°F). The primary attraction of the area is fossicking for the beautiful boulder opals. A bonus is that the altar in the loval church has, uniquely, been made from these valuable stones.

Location

Quilpie is located 953 km west of Brisbane via Toowoomba, Roma and Charleville. It is 210 km west of Charleville.

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Origin of Name

The town's name is taken from a Margany Aboriginal word for the largely nocturnal bird, the "stone curlew".

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Things to See and Do

The Church Altar
Quilpie's major claim to fame is the altar in St Finbarr's, the Roman Catholic Church on Buln Buln Street. In keeping with the mining background of the area the altar has been made out of opal rocks. It is unique and well worth a visit. The story, as told on the town's website, is that  "In 1976, the Priest at the time, Father John Ryan, decided to compliment the opal mining background of the area by commissioning local miner, Des Burton, to install a border of opal around the carving of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Instead, Des offered the Priest ‘a bit on the wall’. This turned out to be almost an entire wall, which is now installed on St Finbarr’s altar, lectern and baptismal font.
"Des Burton, the father of the boulder opal industry, is largely responsible for putting Queensland boulder opals on the world stage. He was a chemist with a pharmacy in Quilpie and spent many years mining opal and opening up the market worldwide. By the 1980s, Des had opened several retailing outlets including Quilpie Opals in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall.
"Bill Durack was part of a Toowoomba Architectural firm who designed Quilpie’s St Finbarr’s Church.  Bill and his sister Mary Durack, author of Kings in Grass Castles, donated the beautiful coloured glass windows in the western side of the church, in memory of their famous ancestors."

Visitor Information Centre, Museum and Gallery
The local Visitor Information Centre incorporates an interactive museum which displays the early history of the district as well as displays on opal mining and information about native flora and fauna. Next to the centre is a park which features wrought iron tables and chairs hand crafted by a local artist using the rims of old wagon wheels.  The table tops are boulder opal mosaics inlaid with glass tile images and there is a 45 metre mural painted by a local artist which depicts sections of the Shire's proud history. There is also a Guided Town Tour which runs twice a week from April – September. For more information check out http://visitquilpieshire.com/?page_id=200.

Opal Fossicking
The Quilpie district is known for its opals and is one of the world's leading providers of boulder opals. Boulder opals are recognised as being particularly beautiful as they are backed by ironstone. There are two major fossicking sites near the town:

(a) two kilometres west of the town the local Shire Council has established a fossicking area where visitors are permitted to fossick without a permit

(b) 60 km south east of Toompine is a designated fossicking area known as Duck Creek and Sheep Station Creek. You need a mining licence which can be obtained from the Quilpie Mining Register. The area has been successfully mined since the 1880s.

Bulloo River Walk
There is a pleasant walk - the Bulloo River Walk - where it is possible to inspect many of the district's native bird and plant species. Information signs are provided along the walk. The Bulloo River is an ideal spot to birdwatch and enjoy the natural sounds of the bush. There is a Quilpie Shire Bird Diary at the Information Centre. The Bulloo River is known for its fishing with keen anglers catching Yellowbelly (Golden Perch) and snaring Yabbies (fresh water Crayfish).

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Other Attractions in the Area

Outback Mail Run
A unique tourist experience can be had by joining the local mailman as he delivers Australia Post letters and parcels as well as local freight to people who live off the beaten track.  The Outback Mail Run has stops at 10 remote Channel Country properties and covers nearly 400 km, twice a week.  It is possible to book a spot on the Outback Mail Run, meet a few locals and get in touch with your outback neighbours! Check out http://www.outbackmailrun.com/Price--Tour-Info-and-Bookings.html or tel: 1300 858 867.

Baldy Top Lookout
Located 7.4 km from Quilpie on the Toompine Road, Baldy Top Lookout offers excellent panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. The top can be reached by ten minutes of walking across uneven rocky surfaces.

Toompine
Toompine lies 74 km to the south. It was once a stopping point for Cobb & Co and the centre of a thriving mining community. Today it is now nothing more than a solitary pub, the Toompine Hotel, which was built in 1898 to meet the demands of the area. 60 km south east of Toompine is a designated fossicking area known as Duck Creek and Sheep Station Creek. You need a mining licence which can be obtained from the Quilpie Mining Register. The area has been successfully mined since the 1880s.

Eromanga
Eromanga is located 103 km to the west of Quilpie. It is now little more than a pub (the Old Royal Hotel built in 1885 and used as a Cobb & Co staging post) and a police station but, in recent times, it has become a significant oil producer and the location of some particularly important dinosaur finds. The town claims to be one of the oldest opal mining areas in Queensland and wears as a badge of honour the fact that it is "the town furthest from the sea in Australia". In recent times Eromanga has been producing 1.5 million barrels of oil per year. A property near the town has been the site of palaeontological discoveries of Australia’s largest dinosaurs. Several dinosaurs have been unearthed including one named George, another named Cooper (the largest dinosaur found in Australia), Zac (one of the most complete dinosaurs unearthed in Australia) and Sid which was named after the famous pastoralist, Sir Sidney Kidman. There are plans to display the bones in the Eromanga Natural History Museum which is currently being designed.

Ray Station
About 75 minutes north of the town, on a predominantly dirt road, is the historic 'Ray' station which offers accommodation for tour groups. Originally owned by the pioneers of the district - the Tully and Durack (as in the famous Patsy Durack of Kimberley fame) families - it is a working sheep station run by Mark and Sandra Tully. The Tullys offer shearing shed accommodation and trips around the property to groups who are treated to their unique brand of western Queensland hospitality. For more infomation tel: (07) 4656 4737.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europe and the area around Quilpie was occupied by the Margany Aboriginal people.

* Graziers began taking up land in the area in the 1860s.

* By the 1880s fossickers were in the area extracting the rich and beautiful boulder opals.

* Quilpie was gazetted as a town in 1917 with the arrival of the railway.

* In 1918 the town's Primary School was opened.

* The first Post Office was opened in 1921.

* Fire destroyed much of the town in 1926.

* In 1927 a Court House was built.

* In 1933 the town started to received water from the Great Artesian Basin.

* By 1952 the hot water from the town bore was being used to generate electricity.

* In 1966 a secondary school was opened in the town.

* In 1976 St Finbarr's Church commissioned Des Burton to install boulder opal decorations which became the famous opal-encrusted altar.

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Visitor Information

Quilpie Shire Visitor Information Centre, 51 Brolga Street, tel: (07) 4656 0540. Open 8.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday. Closed on weekends from October to March and open 9.00 am - 2.00 pm on Saturday and Sunday from April to September.

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Useful Websites

There is an outstanding and useful local website - http://visitquilpieshire.com - which has information about where to stay and where to eat.

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