Travelling Australia - Journal 2009
3-5 August 2009 - Quilpie
Quilpie is laid out as a rectangle with streets at right angles. Streets are very wide and usually bitumen from gutter to gutter. A few streets have central plantations complete with green grass and healthy well-watered plants. The streets are so wide that I had no difficulty passing a couple of 4WDs stopped in the middle of the road for a chat. Most streets are named after birds (three are not); some are after well-known birds (brolga and galah) but other names are unusual and one of the challenges for visitors is to identify the three streets not named after birds.

Houses are mostly well-verandahed and single-story built of weather board, fibro or similar material. Blocks are large. There are a few Queenslander style houses, many with the bottom enclosed. Light colours are popular for houses.
Quilpie main street Quilpie main street. The recreational vehicles parked along the kerb are typical of the passing Recreational Vehicle trade. Many of these motor-homes use free-camping areas near Quilpie.
Quilpi draws on artesian water which comes out of the ground at about 54 degrees C and is piped to houses directly for hot water taps; water for the cold (cool?) tap is passed into concrete cooling tanks before being reticulated. Water from hot taps in the caravan park is noticeably sulphurous but cold water delivered to the van site has very little taste. Our drinking water filter removes what little taste there is. There are no water restrictions and much of the grass is well-watered.

The Shire of Quilpie relies on beef cattle, wool, oil and opals. The region was formerly heavily into sheep but has followed the national trend into cattle. But there are still 20,000 bales of wool a year sent from Quilpie according to the information blurb (and 60,000 head of cattle despatched from Quilpie each year).

Population of the township is listed as 630 and population of the shire is a bit over 1000. The change from sheep to cattle has led to lower population. We were told that when sheep were widespread there were five shearing contractors based in Quilpie, each employing five shearers living in town with their families. As well, managers and staff of sheep properties were couples living on the station with their families. These people and families often came into town for social events and relied on Quilpie for business support. But the change to cattle has led to properties being combined and fewer people living on these larger properties, many of them owned by large, absentee corporations. The interesting point of view was expressed by a couple of residents that the area west of Quilpie is suitable for cattle but around the town is best suited to sheep or mixed sheep and cattle and that running cattle is not best use of that land.

Production oil wells in the western part of Quilpie Shire, towards Eromanga, don't contribute to the population; oil workers operate on a fly-in, fly-out basis.
Opal front of Altar The front of the altar in the Catholic Church has been decorated with boulder opal; the church remains open as a tourist attraction.

Boulder opal Part of the altar front showing individual pieces of boulder opal with the coloured opal section enclosed by stone.

Opals are an obvious product in the town of Quilpie which produces a form of opal known as 'boulder opal' found inside ironstone boulders and stones; during processing the ironstone is often incorporated in the gemstone as backing. The Catholic Church (St Finbarr's) has the altar and lectern fronted with opal and the baptismal font decorated on three sides with opal. The church remains open during the day and is listed as a tourist attraction because of this opal. There are three opal shops in Quilpie, and two small food supermarkets, but there is no pharmacy. The chemist who ran the pharmacy developed an interest in opals and closed his pharmacy to concentrate on the gemstones.

The Council maintains a public opal fossicking area on the edge of town where rocks transported from an opal lease are available for visitors to try their luck searching for opal. I tried my hand at opal fossicking to see what was involved. Boulder opal can be found by grabbing a stone at random and breaking it open with a hammer or geological pick in the hope there is opal inside; but breaking it open in one blow may also break apart any opal in the stone so an alternative is to chip away the stone piece by piece. The other way of searching is to look carefully for signs of opal on the surface of each stone then chip away the surface exposing the interior. I tried the brute force approach and broke open a few stones finding a couple of pieces of coloured rock but no opal before deciding (after about four minutes) I didn't have the patience for this form of fossicking and gave up.

Quilpie has developed aspects of the local environment to encourage tourism. One is a self-guided nature walk along the Bulloo River and floodplain past labelled native trees. The other is a rock outcrop called Baldy Top about 5 kilometres out of town with views over the mulga. These sites emphasis the two main environments around Quilpie; rivers and floodplains with grey clay soil on one hand and red loam with rock outcrops dominated by mulga on the other.