The remote town of Cloncurry on the Overlanders Way is, in many ways, typical of the mining communities of north-west Queensland … and yet it is also completely unique.
For both reasons, grey nomads tend to find a trip to ‘the Curry’, 120 kilometres east of Mount Isa, memorable. Situated on the Cloncurry River, the town with a population of around 3,000 is most famous in grey nomad circles as being the birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) back in the 1920s.
However, its history goes back much further. It was named by explorers Burke and Wills in 1861 but, it was not until the discovery of copper in 1867, that the settlement really developed. It was given another huge economic boost when uranium was discovered at Mary Kathleen in the 1950s. It has just been announced that a massive new copper gold mine will be established near Cloncurry, courtesy of a joint venture between Altona Mining and a Chinese company, creating 280 full-time jobs.
As well as copper, the area is rich in gold, garnets, amethyst, and crystals, and is popular with gem-hunters. Fossicking licences can be collected at the Cloncurry Unearthed Visitor Information Centre and Museum, which also houses a massive collection of gems and minerals, and fascinating displays on Burke and Wills, the Mary Kathleen Mine, and the town’s founder, Ernest Henry.
The museum is located in the Cloncurry/Mary Kathleen Memorial Park and, as well as being a great place to enjoy a picnic, the park also houses an outdoors display of historic mining, rail and farm equipment.
A brisk 10-minute walk from here will take you up to a lookout offering glorious panoramic views of the entire area. Another favourite picnicking spot is Chinaman Creek Dam just west of town. As mentioned earlier, it was Cloncurry where the Reverend John Flynn first realised the potential of the emerging pedal radio technology to launch his iconic flying medical service, and the story of the RFDS is told in style at the three-storey John Flynn Place Museum and Art Gallery.
Many grey nomads also enjoy visiting the original Qantas hangar where the airline’s very first passenger flew from Longreach to Cloncurry in 1922. Another place to get a sense of the town’s history is at the Cloncurry Cemetery, with graves dating back to the 1880s.
There are a number of heritage buildings in the town, including the court house, built in 1898, and the single-storey timber post office, built in 1906. Mining notwithstanding, this is cattle country and visitors here in the middle of next month will be treated to an impressive demonstration of cowboy skills at the iconic Cloncurry Stockman’s Challenge and Campdraft.
Other well-loved local events include the Rockhana Gem and Mineral Festival on July 1, and the ‘Curry Merry Muster’ complete with rodeo, street parade and bush poets in early August.
Cloncurry may be a proud mining town … but there is so much more to it than that.