TRAVEL: LOCHERN NATIONAL PARK
The pastoral life is gone but not forgotten in Lochern National Park, in central Queensland.
Lochern National Park is one of several former grazing properties to have been gazetted as a national park by the Qld Government. Each has been chosen for its encapsulation of unique geography, flora and fauna, and its pastoral historical value.
Lochern NP makes an interesting overnight or two-day stay on a route that takes in the dinosaur footprints at Lark Quarry, south of Winton, and Idalia National Park, near Blackall. Lochern is somewhat out of the way, but the access roads are normally well maintained. Nearby towns with fuel and supplies include Stonehenge and beautiful Isisford.
Lochern was officially declared a national park back in in 1994. The property was chosen as a site of significance due to its 20km of water frontage on the Thomson River, and the great number of plants, birds and animals typical of the undisturbed Channel Country, including four species of Mitchell grass - bull, curly, barley and hoop. The park was enlarged in 2004, and again in 2008.
The original homestead has been restored as the ranger's quarters and an information centre that bristles with relics of the sheep-grazing days, including 'Lochern' stencils for branding wool bales. One of the more surprising exhibits on display is the beautifully-made iron boat, crafted many years ago by the Harvey & Son Foundry, of Margaret Street, Brisbane.
EVIDENCE OF LIFE
For those who enjoy a waterfront view, Lochern NP offers up the banks of Broadwater Waterhole for bare-bones camping, and it is surely one of the most beautiful campgrounds you're likely to find.
The marked track to the waterhole ends at the edge of a steep bank that runs down to a long tree-fringed billabong. This mini-lake fills from a tributary of the Thomson River and is home to thousands of birds. It's possible to camp right near the water's edge, under the shade of coolabah trees, although there are no facilities and campfires are not allowed, so you need to be self-sufficient.
Camping permits are required and fees apply. A camping tag with your booking number must be displayed at your camp.
The noisiest birds are the red-tailed black cockatoos and Major Mitchell's, but in the woodland sections you may hear the crested bellbird's ringing sound. If you have an eye for detail, you can try spotting the difference between the fork-tailed black kite and the (aptly-named) whistling kite.
In the grasslands we came across emus and brolgas, and an Australian bustard even performed a low-flying demo for us.
If you have a small row boat or canoe you can tour the length of the Broadwater Waterhole and fish in the Lochern waterways. Fishing is permitted, but fish-size and bag limits apply.
Lochern Habitat Drive is a two to four-hour scenic drive that is only accessible by 4WD vehicles in good weather - we missed out because the track was damaged by recent flooding and closed to vehicles. There is a self-guided tour leaflet available from the information centre.
The track runs through stands of gidgee, bloodwood and mulga before heading onto the Mitchell grass plains and floodplains of the Thomson River.
The most comfortable time of the year to visit Lochern NP is between April and September, before the searing heat of summer. You'll also need to consider wet weather conditions when planning your trip because the dirt roads through and around the park will be closed or impassable following heavy rain. Its these very extremes, however, that make Lochern NP such an oasis. Next year, we vow toreturn.
Look out for a touching memorial near the Thomson River, dedicated to Norman Anthony Quinlan, who survived WWI as a private in the AIF's 42nd Battalion. In 1924 he was manager of the nearby Florida Station.
Norman had just drafted a mob of cattle to Goon Goon and was returning home to his pregnant wife, Gwen, and their two small children when the Thomson was in flood and he was tragically caught in the torrent and swept away.
Queensland National Parks celebrates outback Australia's pastoral history by turning old pastoral lease lands over to the community.
Lochern NP is one of several resumed leases in the state - others include Idalia, Moorrinya, Welford and Blackbraes national parks.
Heavy rains in outback Qld may have set expansion plans back for now, but seasonal extremes, alternating between withering drought and drowning floods, were part of the pioneering graziers' lot and these people just had to cope.
The iron boat at Lochern NP (left) proves that when the roads were impassable, the pastoralists always found an alternative.
Qld's resumed pastoral lands provide a glimpse into our pastoral heritage and are worth visiting.
> Lochern NP is about 150km south-west of Longreach and 45km north of Stonehenge.
> Camper trailer camping is available on the banks of the Broadwater Waterhole. Camping fees are $5.45 per person/per night. For more information, call 13 74 68 or visit www.derm.qld.gov.au
> Detailed road maps show the connecting roads from Winton and Blackall to Lochern.
> For road conditions, call 13 19 40 or visit www.131940.qld.gov.au