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The country west of the Darling River is considered by many to be the beginning of the real outback. On this immense sweep of saltbush, sand dunes and gibber plains which stretches toward the famous Corner Post where the boundaries of Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales meet, a few remote homesteads and small bush settlements are the only signs of human habitation in an otherwise harsh and intimidating landscape. Here, the red kangaroo, emu and wedge-tailed eagle reign supreme, the heat shimmers almost continuously off the burnt red rock, and the mulga bushes whistle in the steady breeze. In most respects, this country remains just as it was when the first European explorers arrived more than 150 years ago.

Although visitor facilities in the Corner Country are limited, two important national parks, Sturt and Mutawintji, offer a wide range of activities as well as fascinating insights into the region's history and ecology. Furthermore, well-prepared and experienced off-road travellers can enjoy a wide range of exciting 4WD tours through some of the most spectacular outback scenery on the continent.

The Corner is an especially remote and hostile environment. Travel in summer is best avoided as the flies are intolerable, the heat unbearable, and the risk of dehydration very real. Autumn through to spring is much more appropriate, but travellers arriving in winter should be prepared for cold nights.

Although many of the area's roads are dirt tracks, most can, with care, be travelled in a normal family car. However, a 4WD vehicle is safer and will allow wider exploration. On all trips, travellers should carry extra water, food supplies and basic vehicle spares.

Sturt National Park

Covering 310,000 ha (766,000 acres) along the Queensland and South Australia borders, Sturt National Park protects the Corner itself and some of the most desolate but impressive country in the region. Although the parkÕs major attraction is the vastness of its outback scenery, it offers much else besides. Visitors will encounter some of the continent's most impressive concentrations of wildlife, including huge kangaroo and emu populations, and come across historical sites including the remnants of the explorers' camps at Depot Glen and Fort Grey and pastoralists' stations such as Olive Downs and Mount Wood.

 

 

 

Information on the park is available locally from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) office in Tibooburra. Make sure you pick up a leaflet on the excellent self-guided drive tour, which loops for 110 km (68 miles) via Mount Wood and Olive Downs, and provides a fine introduction to the park's landscapes and wildlife. In particular, it takes in magnificent examples of Sturt's most distinctive landforms -long, flat-topped hills known as 'jump-ups'.

Near the park entrance, a short trail leads from Dead Horse Gully camp site through granite boulders and beefwood trees, and offers fine views of nearby abandoned goldfields. At Mount Wood and Olive Downs, short tracks lead to the tops of jump-ups, providing panoramic vistas.

Sturt National Park lies 330 km (205 miles) north of Broken Hill along the Silver City Highway, which is partially sealed. There is also an unsealed road from Bourke and Wanaaring. Both routes are impassable after rain, so check conditions locally before you set off.

Despite its isolation, the park caters well for visitors, with three excellent camp sites, all providing water, toilets and barbecues. These are located at Dead Horse Gully, 1 km (0.6 miles) from Tibooburra; just outside the old homestead of Olive Downs; and near Fort Grey on the western fringe of the park. A small camping fee applies and should be deposited in the honesty tins provided at all sites.

Mutawintji National Park

Located 130 km (85 miles) north-east of Broken Hill, Mutawintji National Park also protects splendid outback scenery, here dominated by imposing sandstone outcrops, but is best known for its magnificent Aboriginal rock art. Paintings, stencils and engravings scattered throughout the Byngnano Range constitute a fascinating record of the rich culture that thrived here prior to European settlement.

The most important assemblage of rock art is located at Mutawintji Historic Site in the west of the park, which was placed under permanent protection in 1967, before the surrounding area became a national park in the 1970s. Visitors to the historic site must be accompanied by an accredited guide. To get the best out of a visit to Mutawintji, join one of the regular tours run by the NPWS and usually led by an Aboriginal guide. Contact the NPWS office in Broken Hill for more information.

Visitors can explore other parts of the park at their leisure. At Homestead Creek, a number of excellent walking trails offer insights into local Aboriginal history. The Thaakaltjika Mingkana Walk, which leads to a cave decorated by Aboriginal paintings, is only 20 minutes return and wheelchair accessible. The 30-minute Rockholes Loop takes in Aboriginal engravings and views of the Rockholes, Homestead Gorge and the Byngnano Range.

A more challenging walking track, the three-hour Homestead Walk wends past craggy cliffs around Homestead Creek then heads into enchanting Homestead Gorge. The three-hour Byngnano Walk affords spectacular views of the gorges along the range, but should be attempted by fit walkers only.

Look for euros and rock-wallabies among the boulders and red and western grey kangaroos in open areas. Shinglebacks and bearded dragons often bask on rocks, while birds, including emus and fairy martins, frequent the park's many waterholes.

It takes about two hours to drive to the park from Broken Hill along a dry gravel road. This route frequently becomes impassable to all vehicles after rain. Roads also connect Mutawintji with White Cliffs and Tibooburra. Within the park, a dirt road leads to the walking tracks and to Mutawintji Historic Site.

There is a pleasant camping ground at Homestead Creek which sits amid shady river red gums and has firewood, toilets and bore water (but no drinking water). The site operates on a first-come, first-served basis and a small fee applies.

This challenging 1171-km (727-mile) 4WD expedition from Broken Hill takes in all the major sights of the Corner. The starting point is the Silver City's main thoroughfare, Argent Street. Head east here and follow the signs for Tibooburra and Mutawintji. About 3 km (1.9 miles) from the town centre, turn onto the Silver City Highway.

After 55 km (34 miles), you'll see the turn-off to Mutawintji National Park and White Cliffs on the right. Another 61 km (38 miles) further on, you'll come to the side road to Mutawintji, which is 9 km (5.6 miles) away. Try to plan your visit to the park to coincide with one of the excellent NPWS guided tours of its superb rock art.

When you are ready to move on from Mutawintji, return to the White Cliffs road and head north. Drive 26 km (16 miles), turn right, then turn right again after another 48 km (30 miles). At a major junction 23 km (14 miles) further on, or 213 km (132 miles) from Broken Hill, you join the main White Cliffs - Tibooburra road. Turn right here and after 42 km (26 miles) you reach White Cliffs. At the second crossroads, turn right to reach the town centre.

Founded in 1890, White Cliffs was the first commercially viable opal field in Australia and by 1899 its population had grown to 4500. To avoid the heat, miners built dwellings underground. Eventually, there were also underground hotels and eating houses, as well as dozens of underground grog shanties. By all accounts, it was a wild place.

Although more tranquil today, White Cliffs still has the feel of a pioneer town. Its permanent population of 100 or so swells in the winter months when hopeful prospectors return to continue their search for the stones that may make their fortune.

There are two hotels in the town as well as a camping ground at the Opal Pioneer Reserve. The pub can also supply fuel, while the general store opposite has fuel and supplies.
 

Return the way you entered the town and at the road junction 42 km (26 miles) from White Cliffs drive straight ahead. When you meet the main Broken Hill -Tibooburra road, or Silver City Highway, at a T-junction 134 km (83 miles) from White Cliffs, turn right. Soon afterward, the scenery begins to change. Sand ridges become prominent and about 12 km (8 miles) from the road junction lakes are visible both sides of the road, Cobham and Green Lakes to the left, Salt Lake to the right. Cobham and Green are freshwater lakes and when they have water in them the birdlife can be superb.

You reach the Wanaaring road junction 67 km (42 miles) north of the White Cliffs road junction; 5 km (3.1 miles) beyond this point a turn-off to the left leads to Milparinka. Staying on the main road, you reach the town of Tibooburra after 42 km (26 miles), having travelled 461 km (286 miles).

Tibooburra is a delightful bush town, situated amid low, rocky hills -its name actually comes from an Aboriginal term thought to mean 'heap of boulders', and the early gold prospectors knew it as 'the Granites'. The town has two notable hotels, the Family and, almost directly opposite, the Tibooburra, both of which have cold beers and basic but comfortable accommodation. The Family is famous for the colourful murals on its wall, which were painted by some well-known bush artists, including Clifton Pugh. Tibooburra also has a caravan park and a couple of stores and service stations.

It's a good idea to stop in at the NPWS headquarters in the main street to check road conditions and collect information on Sturt National Park.

Head north out of town on the Silver City Highway and take the turn-off 19 km (12 miles) north of the town to the Jump-up Loop Road. The loop heads 12 km (8 miles) west to the ruins of Mount King Homestead and then north along the edge of Connia Creek for 25 km (16 miles) to Olive Downs Homestead, passing through rolling, stony hill country cut by red-gum-lined creeks. Along the way, a few jump-ups provide fine vantage points offering impressive views of the surrounding country.

About 2 km (1.2 miles) south of Olive Downs Homestead, now a ranger base, you'll find a camping area. At the T-junction further on, near the old shearers' quarters, turn left. Head toward the homestead, turn right through the gate and then head north, away from the buildings. This track heads north toward the border, then swings south-west past some tanks and yards to meet with the main track from Tibooburra at Binerah Well, 33 km (21 miles) from Olive Downs.

Turn right at this T-junction and head north again for 15 km (9 miles) toward Binerah Downs, just south of Toona House Gate on the New South Wales - Queensland border fence. Keep a lookout for a track on the left-hand side, just south of the airstrip on your right, which is marked with a sign, 'MW 162'. Turn left here (but not hard left).

The track heads almost due west and traverses some spectacular sand-ridge country before joining the main Cameron Corner -Tibooburra road just north of Fort Grey Homestead. Turn right here, then after 8 km (5 miles) turn left and continue westward for 18 km (11 miles) to the Dog Fence.

Drive through the large gate, close it and turn right. The Corner Post, where the three states meet, is about 150 m (165 yards) north of the gate. The boundaries were originally surveyed and marked by James Cameron in 1880, and their intersection is also known as Cameron's Corner. The present post, however, dates from 1969. Nearby is the Corner Store, where you can get a cold beer, snacks and fuel, and a camping area. You have now travelled about 169 km (105 miles) from Tibooburra.

Retrace your steps through the gate, then drive 29 km (18 miles) to Fort Grey, where you'll find a small, pleasant camp site to the east of the homestead, close to the lake where Sturt and his men camped during their 1844-45 ordeal. The tree the explorer blazed still stands to the south-east of the normally dry lake bed.

Continue south-east on the main road, which crosses the usually dry bed of Frome Swamp before exiting the park north of Waka Homestead. About 64 km (40 miles) from Waka, turn right at the junction. About 7 km (4.4 miles) south, this station track enters Gum Vale Gorge and follows the creek bed for a short distance. About 1 km (0.6 miles) into the gorge, a track on the left heads along another dry creek bed for 7.5 km (4.7 miles) to an old gold mining and battery site. This is an interesting spot to explore and a picturesque place to have lunch.

Backtrack to Gum Vale Gorge, turn left and head west to exit the gorge. Veer left at the Y-junction 4 km (2.5 miles) from the gorge and head south, sticking to the main station track which initially follows the headwaters of Evelyn Creek. At the T-junction 8 km (5 miles) further on, turn left toward Milparinka. Less than 7 km (4.4 miles) along the road, turn left toward Mount Poole Homestead and Depot Glen. All the land from here on is privately owned, so visitors should stick to the tracks and historic sites.

Less than 2 km (1.2 miles) further north, as you approach Preservation Creek, a track on the right leads 1 km (0.6 miles) through a gate to the edge of the creek and a small cemetery. Here you'll find the grave of James Poole, Sturt's second-in-command, who died as he set off for Adelaide. A tree blazed by Sturt's men stands nearby; the adjacent monument was placed here by Sir Sidney Kidman, who owned this property at the turn of the century. The other graves are those of station owners and workers.

Just past the turn-off to the cemetery, a track leads upstream to Depot Glen. Here, gums line the creek and corellas career overhead -it's a scene that has changed little since Sturt's day and a tranquil spot at which to contemplate the heroism of those early explorers.

The summit of Mount Poole can be reached via a track that turns left off the cemetery track. It heads across the creek and through a gate, then meets with a station track that comes from the homestead; here you need to turn right. A short distance further on, the track veers left and heads across lightly rolling gibber country to a small parking area. A short walk takes you to the top of the hill with its fine views and a cairn built by Sturt's men.

Backtrack to the main road and turn left. At the road junction 12 km (7.5 miles) further on, head to the right. After less than 1 km (0.6 miles) you reach the Albert Hotel, the heart and soul of modern-day Milparinka. The town was founded following the discovery of gold in 1881 at Mount Brown, and before long was catering for over 2000 prospectors. Although several buildings still stand, only the hotel is inhabited. It offers cold beer, good meals and basic accommodation as well as fuel.

Return to the main road junction, turn right and cross Evelyn Creek. About 1 km (0.6 miles) further on, turn right onto the Silver City Highway. From here, it's an easy four-hour drive back to Broken Hill, by which time you will have driven 1171 km (727 miles).

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