Many of Queensland’s National Parks were formerly grazing properties that were bought by the state government, often after they had faltered and were abandoned by the owners. Thrushton is one such example having been gazetted in 1990 to preserve the area’s unique mulga scrub and its position on transition from the eastern brigalow country to the more western red sand deserts. The property was established by a returned WW1 soldier who took up a rural block offered by the government under a scheme established to help open up the country while providing opportunity to ex/ servicemen. It sits on sandy plains that hold very little moisture, in fact Thrushton had no permanent water until artesian bores were sunk in the 1920s, requiring water to be carted in for many years from a natural water hole on an adjacent stock route.
I was particularly keen to visit Thrushton after stumbling across excerpts from a book Under the mulga written by Jim Gasteen, whose parents founded the original property and who grew up on the place until it was no longer viable. Its a fascinating read that describes pioneer life in a tough and unforgiving part of the country, and the brilliant detail set out by the author had me wanting to see it for myself to add life to his tales.
Thrushton is about 520km west of Brisbane, sitting between Bollon and Mitchell in western Queensland. To get there I took a meandering route via Warwick, Inglewood and Goondiwindi, that also took me close to a couple of other places on the ‘must visit list’; the Nindigully Pub and the Yelarbon silo art site.
It was approaching sunset when I finally pulled in beside the old woolshed, so I set up camp with a view to exploring the ruins the following morning.
It was an incredibly quiet place once darkness fell without a single bird, insect or other animal call and certainly no human made sounds due to the remoteness of the place. Despite beautiful clear skies I didn’t take any astrophotographs aso I’d forgotten my tripod, instead settling for an early night once dinner was done and cleaned up, though I did take time to call home using the Thuyara satphone to let Suzzanne know I was safe n sound.
An early bed meant an early rise, with the pinky mauve hues of dawn in the eastern sky as I climbed out of the TVAN’s bed about 5am. It was a very serene setting, still and quiet other than the choral like calls of currawongs as they awoke high in the scrubby trees. Breakfast was next part of the plan before the flies got out of bed and it didn’t take much to stoke last night’s fire back into action thanks to the dense mulga wood logs holding their coals through to the morning.
I set out on foot to explore the homestead and woolshed ruins. Compared to photographs I had seen in the book the scrub had closed in around the buildings with no signs of the original cleared fence lines, paddocks or bore drains.
Story says that the Thrushton homestead building was part of the Dunkeld Hotel some 150km to the south, which was dismantled and dragged here by a 40-horse team before being re-erected. Now it is a sad site, with termites having gnawed through much of the timber structure causing it to sag and start collapsing. It is fenced off for visitor safety so I didn’t have opportunity to explore inside the building, but did poke around outside including the old home dump with its foot deep pile of old glass bottles, tins and paraphernalia.
Next was the woolshed, the area I was most interested in and about a kilometre from the house.
On southern side of the woolshed stood the original yards into which woolly sheep were driven and sheared sheep would be released. The yards were once a labyrinth of solid timber fences, made of hand cut and split timber slabs standing on end and laced together with single strand wire. Making and standing the fence would have been quite a feat with nothing but hand tools. The yards included a dip tank and various gates for cutting and sorting the sheep while they were yarded for shearing.
Once inside the wool shed I was amazed to find much of the original machinery still in place, including the belt drive shear pulleys and the single cylinder engine that drove them. Even more impressive is the original timber wool press, used to stuff the wool fleeces into bales for transport, its timber construction standing there termite free and in great shape. North of the wool shed is a cluster of outbuildings for shearers’ quarters, the mess hall and a meat safe but all in a bad state of disrepair from termites, goats and vandals.
It was great to walk around the old farm infrastructure and recount the many stories told by Jim Gasteen in his book. From Thrushton my plan was to head north to Mitchell for fuel, then wander back home via a couple of camp sites I wanted to check out for future reference in case we needed to pull over on a trip back from further afield.
I hadn’t got too far along the track when I noticed a pair of shingle back lizards inching their way across, nose to tail. Its amazing how evolution has left them with a thick coat of armouring scales to compensate for their undersized legs and slow moving gait. The leader turned around to hiss and let me know he wasn’t happy to see me before toddling off to his destination.
Thrushton National Park is a great little side trip if you are heading along the Adventure Way and offers a fading glimpse of early twentieth century pioneering life. This era saw the transition to rural mechanisation and Thrushton has many artefacts of the period when most tasks were still undertaken by skilled men swinging an axe or an adze. Unfortunately it is also a period when ignorance led to over clearing, over grazing and destruction of many sensitive ecosystems that are unlikely to ever return to their former state.