Middleton

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Middleton attracts grey nomad visitors
Visitors can stay at the luxurious ‘Hilton Hotel’ free camp PIC: Tourism Queensland

It’s often said that grey nomads don’t need much to keep them happy and the popularity of Middleton in Outback Queensland as a destination is proof of just how true that is.

Located on the Kennedy Development Road some 1,500 kilometres north west of Brisbane, there really isn’t a lot in this dusty corner of Winton Shire that would seem to justify its status as a traveller magnet.

Indeed, even the two lone permanent residents of the town, publicans Lester and Val Cain, are a little taken aback by the settlement’s fame. When travellers tell them that stopping at the Middleton Hotel is the highlight of their journey, Lester apparently replies: “Gee, if this was the highlight, you must have had a pretty boring trip!”

This is the real Australia though.

The Middleton Hotel was built 143 years ago during the Cobb & Co. era, and was a changing station where tired horses were replaced with fresh horses on the route between Winton and Boulia. The pub – one of the most isolated in Queensland – and a now disused dance hall are all the physical evidence left of what could loosely be termed Middleton’s ‘glory days’.

For grey nomads and other travellers though, that appears to be more than enough … along with the free campground, cheekily nicknamed the Middleton Hilton. While the area around Middleton had a population of 121 according to the 2006 Census, that number has been falling steadily as cattle properties expand and stations need fewer staff.

With locals now few and far between, it has been the steady stream of adventurous tourists that has kept Lester and Val Cain busy at their pub for the past 14 years.

Besides simply being ‘out here’, enjoying a drink at the pub, and perhaps hearing a ghost story or two, travellers also love to learn of the history of the town. From a European perspective, Middleton’s history began with the exploration of the area in 1862, when John McKinlay passed through in search of the lost expedition of Burke and Wills. He left Adelaide in 1961 with a party of nine and they then became the first white men to enter the Winton District.

On April 10, 1862, the creek was named in honour of W. Middleton, McKinlay’s second in charge. The group passed by the present site of Middleton township and continued on towards the Gulf.

The memorial cairn in front of the old hall lists the men who were part of the exploration party. Like the original explorers, many grey nomads love the area largely because of the sheer adventure of getting there. However, perhaps that could one day change … and it could be good news for the Middleton Hotel.

“It won’t be long until the road will be bitumened right across to Alice Springs,” said Lester. “And when that happens, the trucks will come this way and there ought to be more passing trade.”

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