Outback History

Western Queensland Road Trip #7 Charleville

The small town of Charleville, established when the first hotel was built in 1865, now has a population of around 3,500 people. Despite its isolated location in outback Queensland, Charleville has a rich history full of intriguing personalities and interesting places.

The building now known as the Charleville Historic House Museum has stood on Alfred Street since 1887. Originally the town’s first bank, it was also a boarding house before being purchased by the local Historical Society in the 1970s.

In the main room, the vault once used by the bank to store money now holds precious documents and records. The museum is full to the brim with dozens of items once used in everyday life, while outside is a collection of vehicles and machines from bygone times.

Two more relics of the past stand proudly at the Graham Andrews Parklands on the Mitchell Highway.

The Steiger Vortex Guns are two of six built in 1902 in Brisbane on the orders of the Government Meteorologist Clement Wragge. He’d heard about the guns being used in Austria to prevent hailstorms in wine growing areas. By firing ammunition into clouds, storms were dispersed. Vibrations in the clouds also caused rain to fall and Clement hoped similar guns might be used to break a long running drought in outback Queensland. He brought his guns to Charleville and, on 26 September 1902, ten shots from each cannon were fired into the sky. Sadly the experiment was a failure – no rain fell in Charleville that day.

The Charleville base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service is located further along the Mitchell Highway at the airport. Founded by the Reverend John Flynn, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has provided medical care to those living in outback Australia since 1928.

At the Visitor Centre, videos explain the history of the service and dramatic recordings bring to life the first hand experiences of patients and their families. Displays of historic medical equipment and radio technology are compared with 21st century methods of health care in the outback.

The hangar used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service dates from 1943. It was built as part of the occupation of Charleville Airport by the United States 45th Air Base Group, 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd and 65th Bomb Squadrons and the 8th Material Squadron during the Second World War. From 1942 to 1943 more than 3,500 US servicemen lived at the top secret site, which was used to store and maintain American B-17 Bombers. Most of the structures built to cater for the servicemen are long gone, but the foundations of mess halls and shower blocks remain as evidence of the war time activities in this remote posting.

Many of those American servicemen would have enjoyed themselves at the Saturday night dances at the Hotel Corones. Built by Greek migrant Harry Corones in the 1920s, the hotel was famous for its luxurious interiors – marble floors, beautiful furniture and a grand staircase leading to the first floor where the accommodation included ensuite bathrooms, a rare luxury otherwise not seen outside of Brisbane.

An afternoon tour of the hotel tells the story of Harry’s rise from penniless immigrant to successful business man and visionary. Visitors can order a drink at the bar, once the biggest in the southern hemisphere, and climb the silky oak staircase to the rooms where dignitaries including Princess Alexandra, performer Gracie Fields and Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam have stayed. The tour ends in the dining room with an afternoon tea of scones, jam and cream.

A stroll along the Wadyanana Pathway on the banks of the Warrego River soon works off that delicious afternoon tea. Charleville is located on traditional Bidjara lands and the pathway, designed by local Bidjara residents, tells the story of Mundagudda, the Rainbow Serpent.

It’s also a timely reminder that this land was occupied long before that first hotel was built in 1865.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

53 thoughts on “Outback History

  1. A most interesting historical tour Carol – it’s amazing what survives and what doesn’t and I was especially intrigued by the hotel. You just never know what people might think of doing in the middle of nowhere. I remember avidly watching a series about the Flying Doctor service some (yikes) 40 or 50 years ago…….. It was a lifestyle that appealed to me at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great trip this must have been. Hotel Corones sounds my kinda place! Loved the photos of the old wheelbarrows and sewing machines…and of your walk. At one point I fancied becoming a Flying Doctor – shame I was far too squeamish!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Ferragudo | restlessjo

  4. I loved the Flying Doctors series! One of my Australian dreams πŸ™‚ And we have stayed in a hotel like that with the lovely balconies. Beautiful buildings. But I do think you can have too many flat irons…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great history lesson. The folks who came before us were focused, tough, had a wealth of common sense, and certainly paved the way for the rest of us to have it a lot easier. It is wonderful that they were able to repurpose the bank, and I truly love those white metal ceilings. It’s funny to think that the small farm I live on dates back to 1840. πŸ™‚

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    • Tough is the right word for it. When I see photos of pioneer women of the outback wearing those full length dresses in the extreme heat of summer I wonder how they survived. Perhaps they only wore those dresses for photos. I hope so. I wouldn’t have been a happy pioneer. πŸ™‚

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  6. How beautiful and wonderful place. It is full of old artifacts. To me one interesting object was radio transmitter / receiver! In my youth, my hobby was DXing. DXing means listening and reporting distant radio stations. Many times, I listened from Australia radio stations which were in the future. Was it possible? On new eve I listened when old year changed to new year and I lived in previous year! Easy! LOL. I enjoyed this post very much, because I love museums. Thank you.

    Have a nice day!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really like places like this – I actually worked in a similar hotel in the “outback” (not quite as far out as this one, so more “bush” than outback lol) and absolutely loved it. In fact if I’m not mistaken, I’m sure a friend of mine worked in Charleville, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the place she worked!

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  8. There are so many interesting stories here, Carol. I love the one about government meteorologist Clement Wragge shooting the guns into the clouds in hopes of inducing rain. Also, about the U.S. servicemen living at that base during WWII. The Hotel Corones looks like so many hotels in our Western towns, many of which I encountered on my last two road trips out West.

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