The Outback Town of Thargomindah
Thargomindah the Ultimate Outback Destination
For a town with a history so influenced by either lack or oversupply of water, Thargomindah‘s setting in the far south-western Queensland desert is archetypal Aussie Outback.
With the Bulloo River’s headwaters and catchment areas quite a distance upstream, the rain doesn’t actually have to fall in Thargomindah for the town to be cut off. But … at least there’s some warning – if the Bulloo is in flood in Quilpie to the north, it’ll take about a week for floodwaters to reach Thargo.
Just as well. The only way across the river is via a ‘Flood Truck‘ – high above the water to prevent stalling. Then from the other side, it’s still a 200km drive east to Cunnamulla, the closest major town. But only if you’ve had the foresight to leave your car on the eastern side of the bridge.
However, if the flood’s big enough to cut off the town completely, you won’t be going anywhere. As in early 2011, when all supplies were flown in for several months, it took the river to subside. Happily though, apart from high watermarks on the trees, no sign of either floodwater or the insects that flourished in the waterlogged surroundings remained in June 2011.
But Thargo can’t rely on erratic floodwaters to keep it going during the inevitable droughts, and long hot summers where temperatures can top 48º C. Town water supply is therefore sourced from the Great Artesian Basin via bores that bring the near-boiling water to the surface – more than enough to keep the town an unexpected oasis in the desert.
And it’s Thargo’s historical and visionary use of this source of water that once made this tiny Outback town of ~250 people competitive on the world stage. The United Kingdom, French and Australian flags highlight the town’s contribution as 3rd place in the world (behind London and Paris) and first in Australia for hydroelectric powered street lights, and also the first town in Australia to provide reticulated water.
To further commemorate Thargomindah‘s dependence on bore water – first found at 808 metres – a recent sculpture catches the eye en route along the Nature Walk past the water cooling ponds to the daily demonstration (April-Oct) of the oldest working hydropower plant in Australia.
Don’t panic if old machinery makes your eyes glaze over – it’s also a fascinating look at Thargo’s heritage. And … it’s possible the sun setting behind the steam rising from the 85º C water in the bore drain, and the ubiquitous outback windmill will give you the best photo of your trip.
You can also check the bore for the pigs sometimes left overnight to cook – although none were there on our visit.
Experience more of Thargo’s well-preserved history on the Heritage Walk – taking in the excellent Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in the original hospital, Leahy Historic House (once owned by the legendary Sir Sidney Kidman, Australia’s ‘cattle king’), and (I’ve saved the best ’til last) – the Thargo Thunderbox, a genuine Outback Dunny.
While at the VIC, ask to see the hilarious Cobb & Co Coach passenger instructions from the 1800s. And get a feel for the rigours of travel at the old Cobb & Co river crossing, part of the River Walk continuing along its banks and down to the weir. Return along the main street, that despite its isolation, Thargo offers travellers a full range of services and accommodation options.
Further afield, Thargo’s natural attractions include Lake Bindegolly to the east, now full of water – AND nesting Great Crested Grebe; west to historic Noccundra; north to Toompine – the pub with no town; or south to Kilcowera Station. Or use the town like a modern-day staging post en route to or from historic Hungerford – another Cobb & Co staging post; Currawinya National Park, Innamincka and Coopers Creek.
While the quickest way to Thargo is by air, self-driving is an unparalleled opportunity to experience the Outback’s vastness and appreciate both the geographic (1000+ km) and ideological (immeasurable!) distance from the relative civilisation of any of Australia’s urban centres.
It’ll also be easier to explore the region with your own vehicle – after following remote area travel guidelines, of course.
Two visits down, and I’ve yet to see it rain in Thargo, although I’ve crossed the Bulloo in flood. I’ve seen Lake Bindegolly both bone dry and full and walked the town’s trails in dust and mud. The sculpture wasn’t there on my first visit, but it now underpins water’s importance to the region.
And bathing in bore water isn’t that bad! No, really. Want more information? Check out www.thargotourism.com.au
About this guest author: Marion is the author of RedzAustralia. Read about her amazing Australian Adventures.