Although Tambo is western Queensland’s oldest town (1863), its leading attraction dates to the 1990s, when slumping wool prices gave three local women a great idea to boost the district’s growers – quality hand-crafted sheepskin teddy bears. A quarter-century and 59,000-plus bears later, Tambo Teddies are Aussie icons, reflecting the outback’s can-do community spirit. Visit the shop (17 Arthur Street) to catch some bear-making action. Can you bear to leave without one?
At 9 Arthur Street, Tambo Courthouse (1888) retains original fittings but is now the library and tourist information centre. Nearby, the Heritage Precinct features local history displays in Tambo’s original post and telegraph offices – have a go at sending a Morse code message.
Refuelled? Check out free Grassland Art Gallery (30 Arthur Street), then set out to the Dam and along The Coolibah Walk along both shady banks of the Barcoo River. This birdlife haven (especially early mornings and evenings) makes an ideal picnic spot.
Be back in Arthur Street by 5pm for the Royal Carrangarra Hotel’s madcap Chicken Racing. At 5.30pm daily (May-October), publican Ben’s racing hens chase a feed-filled buggy around a track, with half the prize pool – bid to back a chook from 5pm – going to the Flying Doctor Service. After the madcap fun, toast the clucky winner with a glass of ale and enjoy dinner at this friendly old-style country pub.
Blackall Woolscour (4km outside town) is a must-do – a visit to the cave of a clanking mechanical dragon, a symphony of wood, metal, shadows and steam. Australia’s last intact steam-powered wool-washing plant, it closed in 1978 after 70 years of processing bales – but the machinery still runs, making a tour an evocative experience.
Back in town, turn left onto Shamrock Street to find Jack Howe’s statue by a small museum. The Bradman of shearers, local legend Howe shore 321 sheep in seven hours 40 minutes in 1892 – still the world record for blade shears (basically scissors). You can also visit his grave in Blackall Cemetery.
Jack is one of nine artworks making up Blackall Sculpture Trail, including the 3m metal Bottle Tree and the spherical Roly Poly just outside town. But you might want lunch, so wander down Shamrock Street for several choices, including counter meals at atmospheric old pubs like the Prince of Wales, Union or head to the Lodge on Hawthorne to dine in style!
Finally, you might recall the Aussie phrase ‘beyond the black stump’, meaning anywhere remote. Originally it meant the unsettled country west of Blackall, where colonial surveyors steadied their transits on a tree stump. Make sure you get the story at the Black Stump Memorial (Thistle Street) before you venture beyond Blackall.