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Rolleston, QLD

Small rural town which is the southern access point to the Carnarvon National Park

Rolleston is a quiet rural service centre located on the Comet River. The area around Rolleston is characterised by a rich black clay soil which produces a range of crops including sorghum, wheat and chickpeas. The area is also known for its excellent cattle and for the Rolleston open cut coal mine which is located 16 km west of the town.


Rolleston is located 695 km north-west of Brisbane via Toowoomba, Miles and the Dawson Highway. It lies at the junction of the Carnarvon, Gregory and Dawson Highways.


Origin of Name

The town was named after Christopher Rolleston, the NSW Register General and a part owner of Springsure Pastoral Station.


Things to See and Do

Boundary Rider's Hut
Located in Beazley Park is an historic boundary rider's hut (a slab hut which was moved into town) from the Purbook property. It is a memorial to the pioneers in the area. The hut deteriorated during the prickly pear plague which decimated the area in the 1920s and it was subsequently used by hunters and contractors.


Other Attractions in the Area

Lake Nuga Nuga National Park
Located 75 km south-west of Rolleston, Lake Nuga Nuga National Park can be accessed from Rolleston by driving 28 km south on the Dawson Highway and turning onto the Arcadia Valley Access Road and driving for 58 km. The park is famed for its remnant of endangered bonewood Macropteranthes leichhardtii scrub and the vulnerable ooline Cadellia pentastylis and, as the Nuga Nuga National Park Notes (see https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/nuga-nuga/about.html) explain: "Lake Nuga Nuga is the largest natural water body within the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt and provides valuable habitat for water birds in an otherwise arid sandstone landscape. Water lillies on the lake flower at certain times of the year and the lake is dappled with colour providing visitors with photographic opportunities. The lake completely dries up at certain times." More than 150 bird species have been observed in the park, notably pelicans, black swans, magpie geese, brolgas and grey teal. The Park is important to the local indigenous people who believe the lake to "be the home of the mythological male and female Rainbow Serpents (Mundagarri) living under the two peaks dominating the lake's northern shoreline." The park has no visitor facilities. There is a bush camping facility.

Carnarvon Gorge National Park
Located 103 km south of Rolleston is the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Area. One of the wonders of Australia, with its cabbage tree palms and ancient cycads, Carnarvon Gorge is the eternal Cinderella of Queensland’s National Parks. It offers one of the easiest 21 km walks imaginable which winds along the valley floor and criss-crosses the Carnarvon Creek on stepping stones which are so stable and well-placed you could dance across the water and never fall in.
This is unique countryside where the highlight is the huge Aboriginal art gallery which lies 5.5 km from the Information Centre, and which is notable for its large number of female vulva carved into the rock walls (no prizes for guessing that it was a sacred site) and the 2000 hand stencils, including tiny ones from children, and ochre images of boomerangs, white goannas, coolamons and fishing nets.
But it is not the Art Gallery that is the only impressive aspect of Carnarvon Gorge. The gorge contains ancient remnants of flora which, in the drier zones above the gorge, died out millions of years ago. Its hidden gorges include the Amphitheatre, a glorious hidden grotto with walls covered in moss, and the Moss Garden, a fairytale gorge where water constantly drips and mosses, tree ferns and liverworts provide a cool retreat on the hottest of central Queensland days.

Carnarvon National Park and a Rewarding Walk
Visitors wanting to explore the full complexity of Carnarvon National Park should go to https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/carnarvon-gorge which has detailed information about all aspects of the park.
This is not intended to be definitive. It is an account of a very pleasant day I spent walking up the gorge. It is unforgettable - as the photographs indicate - and definitely worth the effort because, for sheer distance from any major town, Carnarvon National Park is a labour of love but one which is rewarding for those who are interested in the beauty of the Australian bush, unique rainforest and flora, and some of the finest Aboriginal art in the country.
The Queensland Department of National Parks has described the area as a "tangle of peaks, gorges, and sandstone cliffs, it is one of the wildest regions of the central western section of Queensland." It is also one of the most unspoilt.
The gorge contains ancient remnants of flora which, in the drier zones above the gorge, died out millions of years ago. Its hidden gorges include the Amphitheatre, a glorious hidden grotto with walls covered in moss, and the Moss Garden, a fairytale gorge where water constantly drips and mosses, tree ferns and liverworts provide a cool retreat on the hottest of central Queensland days.
The main attraction in the park is the gorge itself. Extending for over 30 km it varies in width from 40-400 metres. The gorge has vast stands of spotted gum, cabbage palm and cycads as well as ferns, elkhorns, and lichens near the waterfalls.
The caves and cliff walls were a popular place for Aboriginal art and contain some of the finest examples of hands, axes, emu tracks and boomerangs to be seen anywhere in Australia. Using the technique of blowing pigment over a stencil the Aborigines painted on the walls in red ochre and white, black and yellow pigments.
It is possible (as I did) to walk up the gorge on the main gorge walking track.
It crosses Carnarvon Creek over and over again as it winds the 9.1 km from the visitor centre to Cathedral Cave. There are a number of tracks which lead away from the main gorge track to places of special interest. The track is mostly flat and genuinely pleasant because it is often shaded by the palms and edged by ferns and cycads.
The ideal walk includes side tracks to the Moss Garden, Amphitheatre, Ward's Canyon and the Art Gallery sites.
So this is the walk that I would recommend. It includes most of the key attractions in the park, is a pleasant walk along the floor of the gorge, and the crossings of the creek are easy because there are carefully placed stepping stones. (see the photos).

1. The Moss Garden - 3.5 km from the Visitor Centre - 7 km return (2–3 hours)
One of the magical places in the gorge. Water drips from the sandstone walls and consequently the Moss Garden has a dense carpet of mosses, ferns and liverworts. In a tiny crevice on the side of the gorge where tree ferns reach for sunlight and a small waterfall falls over a small rock ledge into a cool, dark pool.

2. Amphitheatre - 4.3 km from the Visitor Centre - 8.6 km return (3-4 hours)
An unusual and awe inspiring natural formation. Part of the walls of the gorge open into a 60m deep chamber which has been cut from the gorge face by constantly running water. It is dark and cool. The acoustics are remarkable and the echoes are otherworldly.

3. Ward's Canyon - 4.6 km from the Visitor Centre - 9.2 km return (3-4 1/2 hours)
Ward's Canyon is home to the world's largest fern: the King Fern or Giant Fern (Angiopteris evecta). These impressive ferns have strong links with the ancient flora which dates from the time when Australia was part of the larger continent of Gondwana. The fronds, as can be seen in the photograph, are unforgettable and beautiful.
One expert report on the King Fern observed: "The eight-metre long fronds of Angiopteris evecta are the largest produced by any fern in the world and the King Fern (also known as Giant Fern or Mule's Foot Fern) can also have a trunk up to three metres high and one metre across ... Fossilised fronds very similar to those of the King Fern have been found in rocks about 300 million years old while ferns and their relatives, such as giant club mosses, were the dominant vegetation before flowering plants evolved and ferns like the King Fern were among the earliest large plants to colonise the land.
This is before the great southern land of Gondwana split away from other parts of Pangea, so what was to become Australia was still connected to Europe and North America." There is a brisk walk up the canyon through spotted gums. This leads to the lower falls and further on into the shaded canyon.

4. Art Gallery - 5.4 km from the Visitor Centre - 10.8 km return (4 hours)
It is amazing and well worth the walk. It is 600 metres off the main track and here are over 2,000 engravings, ochre stencils and freehand paintings spread along a 62 m-long sandstone wall. It has been estimated that many of the works date back 3-4,000 years and some may date from 19,000 years ago. The Art Gallery, with its excellent boardwalk, contains some of the finest examples of stencil art in Australia. The National Parks website notes: "The fragile art on the gorge's sandstone walls reflects a rich culture. Ochre stencils of tools, weapons, ornaments and ceremonial objects provide an insight into the lives of the gorge's first people. The gorge is often described by today's Traditional Custodians as a place of learning - an area of great spirituality. This land still teaches, with many visitors to the park gaining a new understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal culture and history." In recent times many websites have been coy about the very obvious carved images of vaginas but the sign at the gallery points out "The most common engraving found here is of the human vulva. The significance of this motif is not known. Engravings of vulvas are common along the cliffs of the Great Dividing Range in this region. Nowhere else in Australia is this motif engraved in this way with such regularity." There is an excellent and detailed website. Check out http://donsmaps.com/carnarvon.html for descriptions of most of the styles of art in the Art Gallery.

5. Cathedral Cave - 9.1 km - 18.2 km return (5 hours)
The Cathedral Cave is a massive overhang sheltered Aboriginal people for thousands of years. While the local Aborigines sheltered from the weather they used the caves as an ideal place for their rock art which includes vast numbers of hand stencils, boomerangs, fishing nets, a wooden war club, an axe, some forearms, coolamons, stencils of shell pendants, kangaroo and emu prints - all of which reflect the rich cultural life of the people who sheltered in the cave.

Organised Tours
There are organised tours of the gorge for those who want to do more than walk up and down the valley. Check out https://www.carnarvongorge.info. The tours include a Lower Gorge Explorer (basically the same as I have described above); an "off the beaten track" tour; and a Carnarvon Night Safari Tour.



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

* The area around Rolleston was first explored by Ludwig Leichhardt during his 1844-45 journey through central Queensland.

* In 1846 Sir Thomas Mitchell passed through the area.

* The explorer, Willliam Landsborough, passed through the area in 1854.

* The Springsure Pastoral Station was established in 1860.

* The Rolleston State School was opened in 1871.

* Queensland's last bushrangers, the Kenniff brothers, Patrick and James, overlanded cattle to the district in 1891 after being convicted of stock stealing in northern New South Wales.

* A primary school was built in 1964.

* In 2005 operations began at the Rolleston Open Cut Mine

* In 2018 Ross Smith, a local, purchased the local hotel.


Visitor Information

There is Visitor Information at the Rolleston Transaction Centre. There is also information at the Springsure Federation Woolshed Information Centre, Dawson Highway, tel: (07) 4984 1961. Open 9.00 am - 1.00 pm from March to October.


Useful Websites

There is a brief official entry at https://www.queensland.com/destination-information/Rolleston.

Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • The Rolleston Transaction Centre (RTC) is our information centre

    Katherine Blackwood
  • Hello,
    I am part of a group of 26 who are on a tour to Emerald and Carnarvon Gorge from Brisbane. We passed through your lovely town this afternoon and stopped at a small park for a toilet visit. It is the little park with the cute white flower painted coffee van.
    I lost my reading glasses ( brand new) either on the grass or left in the toilet. I feel that they’re gone forever however if some wonderful person has found them and handed them in, how grateful would I be! My phone number is 0407751686 and we will be coming back through Rolleston in a couple of days. Thank you. Kind regards- Sandra Hillery

    Sandra HILLERY