A ribbon of road unfolds, shimmering, across a magnificent vista of rolling plains into the distance; heading west. An ever-changing patchwork of crops offers a different surprise on every such drive.
Half an hour west of Toowoomba is the Woolshed at Jondaryan, a wonderful old slab still in working order. It was central to the sheep operations of Jondaryan Station, at one time the largest freehold landholding in the Southern Hemisphere. It is now part of a Historical Museum and Park, where rural skills are on display in a sophisticated tourism centre which also offers experiences and many dining options. To the right are the Bunya Mountains, themselves a world apart. Home of one of the oldest species of living tree, the ancient bunya pine, its many walks amid massive fig trees and tangles of rainforest scrub are breathtaking — as is the myriad wildlife. Wallabies thrive there. Birds abound.
Jimbour House, that fine old sandstone mansion, stands sentinel above the rich black soil Jimbour Plain. Beautifully restored by generations of incumbents, a visit to its huge garden is an enriching experience; a tour inside the house, more so. The adorable small town of Bell, its streets lined with bottle trees, sits in the foothills of the Bunya Mountains. Bell’s Catholic Church on the hill, painted bold yellow against a superb azure sky, houses a awe-inspiring Michaelangelo-esque series of bible story paintings by talented local artist Megg Cullen. The Australian Garden Scheme sponsored the fabulous biblical garden which sits adjacent to the church. It depicts the Stations of the Cross through a selection of colourful biblical plants and local artworks.
The tiny town of Kogan is set amongst sandy, cypress pine country. Less fertile, it is a productive timber town nonetheless and central to several power stations and many, many gas wells. But its claim to fame is that it houses the pub once frequented by the famous Australian bush artist Hugh Sawrey. Lifesize bronze statues of Hughie and publican Darkie Dwyer are at a picnic table in a small park opposite the Kogan pub and general store. This is a significant Australian artwork by artist Bodo Muche.
These landmarks and many others all have one thing in common. They are within a cooee of the flourishing country town of Dalby, centre of commerce on the Western Downs. Dalby is close enough to the coast to be easily accessible to city people, for whom its treasures are as alien as the moon; and far enough west of the Great Divide to be considered “outback” by those same city people.
At any rate, it’s another world; the world of the bush. Australian Country Tours, based in Dalby, offers inside access to these sights and country experiences — such as dinner in a paddock or in a farmer’s house; a tour inside Jimbour House; morning tea in gorgeous private gardens. They personalise group tours to incorporate the interests of each group. Farm visits, garden tours, golf, bowls, even (especially) weekend escapes from the city.
Anything is possible for Australian Country Tours.
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