I’ve done a heap of outback travels in my time and consider myself an avid outback tourer. So I’m fairly confident in saying that Hungerford Qld is up there among the most “outback” towns that you will ever come across.
Hungerford has a population ‘around 20 or so’ and is located pretty much in the middle of everywhere. Travelling from NSW (border zones permitting) it’s 215km northwest of Bourke, along the Dowling Track that runs all the way north through Thargomindah to Quilpie.
This is isolation 101 out here. The place shuts down in summer due to the stifling heat, and gets cut off when the nearby Paroo River floods, but in saying that the townfolk are very welcoming to any tourist that stops in for a visit.
Let’s set the scene first. For Queenslanders coming from the north, it’s a two hour drive south along the red dirt road of the Dowling Track. If you’re coming from Bourke (as I did, pre-lockdown), it’s a good three hours of dirt road to get to Hungerford and when you do, you’ll need to open the world famous Wild Dog Fence, aka Dingo or Dog fence, to enter Queensland and Hungerford itself.
The weight of the massive lock on the gate is pretty cool, then to unlock it and swing the whole gate open, touching something known around the world while entering another state, is quite momentous. Looking along the fence is a marvel too. This 12 foot high chain wire fence is an achievement of the early pioneers who erected all 5614 kilometres of it, passing through several states of Australia, to create the longest fence in the world.
Now getting a parking spot in the main street really isn’t a problem. Needless to say it’s a quiet town with a pub, police station, about four houses, a tennis court, and a local medical centre that’s open once a month when the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) attends town.
It’s also got it’s fair share of quirks, with manmade steel welded-up statues near the pub, dressed-up figurines in the old bus stop, and some some pretty cool history about the area. The Royal Mail Hotel was built in 1874 some 25 years after pastoralists arrived in the area and it soon became the stopover for the old Cobb & Co coaches passing through to central Queensland. The pub was made up of old iron and timber to let travellers have a break from the flies, heat and rain. Soon it became the local Post Office and several pubs and churches, a school and even shops marked the town’s growth. It’s all but gone now except for the Royal Mail pub. Lining the walls inside, there’s a myriad of memorabilia, photos of what it once was, and relics from the past.
Funnily enough it was a few years later in 1892 that Henry Lawson spent three weeks walking from Bourke to Hungerford in the height of summer looking for work. Getting to Hungerford and finding none, he simply turned around and walked back. Some of his bush poetry has come from his time walking alone and experiencing the hardship of this area.
Nowadays most travellers that ‘come’ to Hungerford are only passing through, either to drive the full length of the iconic 560 km Dowling Track that highlights the beauty and diversity of the areas that it passes through, or to explore the nearby stunning Currawinya National Park.
The 600km-long Paroo River passes through the park and periodically floods the basin surrounding the town – even if there has been no rain directly in the area – such is the vastness of the catchment area. Around Hungerford there are plenty of waterholes to explore and birdwatch, with dozens of species being recorded.
When the river stops flowing it leaves an array of deep waterholes where the local animals and birds gather. Often you’ll see all the iconic Aussie animals within the area like roos, echidnas, emus, feral pigs and dogs right down to sand lizards and, if you’re unlucky, Mulga snakes. The bird list here is nothing short of spectacular with pelicans, both black and golden spoonbills, beautiful red-breasted robins to the ever-cheeky myna birds.
The town has several people that rescue local wildlife and if you’re lucky, like we were, you might be able to hold and feed a joey. Within the police station yard it was pretty amazing to see red and grey roos hopping around together, both adults and little ones, in what serves double duty as a rehab area for the injured and sick animals that the local police officer rescues. Across the road from police station is the community hall where local Lee Macken displays a huge range of her photographic work to raise money to buy food and formula for the animals.
Near the pub there’s a walk down along the Wild Dog Fence which loops down to the local cemetery and back. I can guarantee that within a few minutes you’ll feel the outback heat beating down on you, little beads of sweat may appear then the onslaught of little black sticky flies will have you waving the Aussie salute over and over.
The area is renowned for the fine red sand and no matter how thick your socks are or how new your fancy hiking boots, it’ll find a way between your toes, reminding you that this is true outback country. Getting back to the Royal Hotel for a deserved beer in the comfort of air-con, it’s hard to fathom how Henry Lawson felt as he trudged the 215km in the heart of summer from Bourke.
While Hungerford might not be on anyone’s destination list, I think its a pretty good place to stop at for a few hours and to explore the once bubbling town. It’s sad to imagine it might not be here forever, because between the historical Cobb & Co pub, the heritage-listed Wild Dog Fence and the array of local wildlife, there’s nowhere else quite like it.