Stop, stay and explore Windorah on your next outback Queensland road trip.
Cast your mind back to the 1880s when much of Australia was still being explored and settled, this little community 1200km west of Brisbane was a stop over for the Cobb & Co stage coach, and pastoralists following the stock route further west towards Adavale.
Once called Stoney Point by early settlers for its high, rocky location, it was then renamed Windorah, meaning ‘place of big fish’ to the local Kulumali People. These days it’s a stop over for tourists heading somewhere else, but after a few days exploring the area I know we will be back.
Windorah is surrounded by black soil floodplains with the Cooper Creek cutting a path nearby. It was back in 1845 When explorer Charles Sturt came across the creek and named it after a judge in South Australia, Mr Cooper. It wasn’t flowing at the time so he could not name it as a river, only a measly creek. Little did he know how significant the creek and plains would become when in flood.
Cooper Creek is very important for the array of waterbirds that flock here during good times. It has been identified by Birdlife International who protect waterways to prevent extinction of birdlife and to safeguard areas for the future. In some years the river can flood multiple times, covering the land for as far as you can see and filling low spots that will become isolated pools once the river near dries up.
At times the Cooper can be up to 10 metres deep. Back in 1949 Windorah was totally isolated for weeks and had to have food and supplies airdropped in by RAAF until the water eventually receded. In the dry times the whole system is made up of lonely waterholes, sometimes miles apart, leaving only the tough to survive. For nature lovers there’s a 12km loop along the river featuring tree identification and plenty of great views over the waterway.
Windorah’s economy not only comes from the travelling tourist but also from sheep and cattle graziers. For those not in a hurry to race through, there’s about a week’s worth of exploring to be done in the area. A few miles east of town you’ll be surprised to see huge, rich red sand dunes across the floodplain, like something out of the Simpson Desert some 500km away. The fine red sand dune holds stunning colours against the dusty plains and is a great place to climb and feel the smooth sand between your toes.
Using the Campermate app, we found free camping at the Cooper Creek bridge, just 12km from town. Totally supported by the local council who have installed toilets and rubbish bins around the camps, it’s a top spot. With over 1km of designated camping sites along the river, there’s plenty of room for all. You’ll also find Windorah Caravan Park in the app, your go-to spot for powered sites and extra facilities located right in town.
Near the main bridge you can walk the low, level stone crossing named Mcphellamy’s which is heritage listed. Sitting by the water you can watch pelicans glide gracefully on the water, watch and hear whistling kites hunting from high above, scouring the ground below. Then there’s the spoonbills (both black and golden billed), shags and the ever cute willy wag tails darting around. If you’re a keen fisher person the creek is home to yellow bellow, cod and yabbies although I didn’t have much luck. Speaking of yabbies, every year the town holds an annual yabbie racing event to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Windorah is an inventive place too. Five mirrored dishes catch the outback’s sunshine to generate power for the town. On warm sun-filled days they produce enough power for the whole town, then diesel generators kick in for a top up. At a cost of nearly 4.5 million dollars, this project saves the town over 100,000 litres of diesel a year.
Around town there’s a handful of shops, beautiful green traffic islands and parklands. At the local info centre you can grab a free coffee and spend an hour or two looking at its museum displays. The museum highlights local folklore, Aboriginal relics and has some quirky gifts too.
Outside there’s the bigger stuff like the 1906 slab hut that was moved from the banks of Whitula Creek. Inside the hut is a step back in time and illustrates just how tough the pioneers had it raising their families in the harsh conditions of the Australian outback. There’s iron boats that were pop-riveted together by hand, old machinery plus interesting rocks from the outer regions of Windorah on display, too.
The information centre will also provide you with a history walk around town, exploring the old court house which is now a private residence and was moved from the original police station a few miles away. You’ll see the unique and beautifully-kept cemetery, walk around the narrow leafed bottle trees, and when you get to the world sign you can nail on your own home town.
If you’ve made the effort to head deep into the Queensland outback and your travels put you within cooee of Windorah, stop for a few days, you’ll be pleasantly surprised just like we were.