Travelling Australia - Journal 2011
13-15 May 2011 - at Quilpie
We spent a while refreshing our memories of Quilpie. The shopping area has a definite group of shops along the main road through town but the butcher and both food supermarkets (Foodworks) are a couple of blocks away and need local knowledge to find. Since our last visit Quilpie has acquired a pharmacy which was not available on our previous visit.

Quilpie has a population of about 600 but is a service centre for a large part of south-west Queensland including places as far away as Birdsville which draw supplies from Quilpie where the railway line from Brisbane ends. It is the administrative centre for Quilpie Shire as well as service centre for Windorah, Birdsville and Bedourie.

There are a number of pastoral properties around Quilpie, many dating back to initial settlement by the Duracks, Costellos and Tullys in the second half of the 1800s. For decades this area prospered as a sheep grazing area but most properties have converted to cattle which are more profitable and less labour intensive; as well, markets for wool have been poor and remain unpredictable. There is also the problem of dingoes and wild dogs which cause more damage to sheep flocks than to cattle herds; the Wild Dog Fence runs through the area north of Quilpie but is generally considered not particularly effective in keeping dingoes out.

Oil and gas fields have been developed and work continues on production facilities and on pipelines around Quilpie and neighbouring shires. Oil and gas workers operate on a fly-in fly-out basis with camps set up away from existing towns so they are rarely seen around the town and there is a feeling that local service industry may be missing out on valuable business. An obvious sign of the oil and gas industry is the road trains carrying fuel (mainly diesel), large pieces of machinery, or pipe sections. These very big rigs dominate the main street as they pass through and take up the full width of the single lane development roads serving Quilpie and surrounding townships. Other traffic gets off the road when a road train comes along.

Quilpie Shire is also a centre for boulder opal; there are several opal shops in the main street and numerous opportunities to go opal fossicking. The caravan park has a section set a side where caravanners can try their luck and there is a public opal fossicking area just outside the town. There seems to be an opal mine in just about every hill in the shire; judging by the expensive machinery imported to work on some claims there are some very optimistic, or successful, opal miners around. But opal miners are secretive and there is no firm information on how much opal is being extracted. Although opal mining is a major component of Quilpie's economy there has not been the tourist-oriented exploitation of mining such as has taken place at Coober Pedy which exists solely to dig opal. Tourism is considered important in Quilpie but the interest is mainly in servicing caravanners, motor-homers and campers with food, fuel and accommodation.

Weather on Friday and Saturday was reasonable during the day with some sunshine but the nights, especially Saturday night, were cold. Sunday (15 May) was an unpleasant day with a cold and biting wind all day. After a morning excursion for coffee we stayed in the van all day. Caravan parks become strangely quiet when the weather is unpleasant. When the sun is shining and the weather is good, caravan occupants are out and about. They may be working on their caravan or towing vehicle, strolling to and from the laundry, chatting with neighbours, or just sitting under awnings reading; whatever they are doing there are people to be seen everywhere. But when the weather turns nasty with rain, wind or low temperature everybody stays inside; anybody who does have to be outside makes a quick dash then disappears indoors. That process was quite obvious on this Sunday afternoon; this caravan park had about thirty caravans in it, most with two occupants, but the roads were deserted as everybody avoided the cold.