Darling Downs Part 1 - Don’t Sass Billy Hughes

06 February 2018

Warwick on the Darling Downs has a few claims to fame but by far the best is being responsible for the formation of what is now the Australian Federal Police.

In November 1917, then PM Billy Hughes arrived at Warwick on a train and set about addressing a large crowd at the station on the issue of conscription. A couple of eggs were quickly thrown at him, one knocking off his hat. There was immediate ‘tumult, excitement and confusion’ and Hughes himself waded into the brawl. 

One bloke got arrested but when the local Senior Sergeant suggested to Hughes that he was wrong in pushing for the chucker to be charged with a Commonwealth rather than a State offence, the PM told the copper that he’d be dealt with as well. Offended by such insolence, Hughes returned to the refined confines of Canberra and authorised the establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force, the precursor to the AFP.  


Large hub town with pretty much all the facilities. Top Two Motorcycles have recently moved to Betta Place on the eastern edge of town and they’ll be able to fix pretty much any problem you may have with your ride. The Historic Criterion Hotel on the main street with its fabulous long wooden bar has been refurbed without any sensitivity to history and is best avoided in favour of the more deserving O’Mahoneys over near the railway station. Good Tourist Info on the main drag, a block on the Brisbane side of the Coffee Club, it’s a bit hard to get to the carpark so best to prop on the street and walk over. 


The Commercial Hotel, which booted out a group of fundraising social riders has met its karma and been closed down. There’s a very nice park on the eastern edge of town opposite the museum and fuel is at the western exit whilst there’s a decent bakery in the middle of the main drag. 


The best fuel stop is the BP Truck Stop (with showers) on Cunningham Hwy south of the bypass. They sell all grades, have clean and soapy visor wash, and are friendly and knowledgeable about road conditions and other local stuff: almost anachronistic! I like the Royal Hotel on the south side of the main street… they have a café attached and an outdoor non-smoking area.  


Just the Coronation Hotel here nowadays. Run by Michael and Stacy; you can get a friendly welcome and food from 10am til 9pm. The huge beer garden has a non-smoking area and there’s a basic general store in the front for any essentials you may’ve forgotten. For a review of this pub go to www.motorbikenation.com  


This has been bypassed by highway and so you have to drive into it, making it quieter at night if you want to stay (the pub has accommodation). There’s 91 standard fuel available at General Store hours for anyone who forgot to fill back at Gundy. 


A truly iconic pub despite winding back some of its celebrations due to ratbag behaviour. There’s free camping beside the river and across from the pub and free showers (use the water sparingly) in the pub so in return play fair and buy a drink or two and have a meal. Breakfasts by arrangement. Best to book ahead if you plan to stay in one of their rooms. T: 07 4625 9637 There is no fuel at Nindi. 


Don’t stay here. The prices and the attitude are, well, special. A room at the Australian Hotel (shared facilities) will cost you $105 whilst Steve down at the Caravan Park had no issue with explaining that the $27 rate for an unpowered single bike rider site is the same as that for a 4WD with caravan and two people because some of the vans will take up to 600 litres of his water and the cost has to be shared! However, Halpin Motors at 41 Grey St is a very good bike shop if your ride is in any trouble, and there’s a café that’s really trying on Henry St and a relaxing park along the side of the Balonne River. The Emu Egg Gallery at 108 Victoria St is unique and very much worth a visit.  


No fuel at Bollon anymore and you won’t get a smile out of the people in the general store but the locals here seem very friendly and up for a chat. Across the road is a wonderful new riverside walk under the gums. A good leg stretch stop! 


Very helpful folks in the Visitor Info Centre behind the Cunnamulla Fella statue. They don’t have detailed road condition info but they have a pile of maps and background tourism goodies. Due to the pubs up ahead, if you drink spirits you may want to buy a bottle to stick in your side bag. 


On the way in, you’ll see the statue of some kind of dinosaur but he’s nothing compared to the Neanderthal who ‘served’ me at the pub in March. The other six riders I met outside all had jokes about the ‘service’ they’d just had at the bar and my experience only added to the mirth. In the following days everyone I met who’d been here had stories about bad treatment. I hear he’s bound for another country pub very soon so things might improve. The ‘mud baths’ are not like say, Rotorua in EnZed. Rather the mud is brought in and mixed with artesian water in elegant ‘normal’ baths. Very relaxing if you have time. 


Only two places to stay: the motel and the caravan park. The pub prides itself on the surliness of the owner whilst the van park at the end of town and the motel opposite the pub are run by extremely friendly couples. The van park has special rates for riders including discounts for groups and those swagging. Tharg was the first town in the world to have street lights powered by artesian water and the old bore is about a mile north of the town: well worth a visit despite it no longer flowing. There’s also a couple of interesting mud-brick buildings in town including the post office. You can swim down in the river at the fishing hole. Fuel can be iffy here. The ‘roadhouse’ was dry when I was there last but the rural traders on the main street had 91. 


Just the old pub here but not the warmest of greetings although you can camp nearby. Don’t go raising your expectations too high and you won’t be disappointed! 


Yep! There’s fuel here. And it’s reliable. The BP sells 91 and 95. The pub is next to the Living History Centre but I reckon on a good night there’s more living history actually IN the pub. This pub is supposedly the furthest pub from a coastline in Australia so you leave your boogie board at home! 


Not much to say about Toompine ‘cept you should go there and experience it! No fuel no general store, just the pub, but what a pub!  There’s a plaque at the Warwick Station commemorating the ‘Warwick Egg Incident’ and, with the old refurbed O’Mahoneys Pub across the road, it makes a good start for this ride. From the Station make your way west on Grafton St then take a left onto the Cunningham Hwy followed by a right at the first lights signposted Goondiwindi. Ten blocks down on the left you’ll see the Warwick Pie shop which is one of the better bakeries around, and once you’ve left town you have around 110km until you get to Inglewood where you can get fuel before a further 40kms to Yelarbon. Here you have your first real chance to get off the highway. 



When you head west out of town, just as the highway bends right follow the brown tourist sign straight ahead onto the Yelarbon Keetah Rd. This soon swings left and leads down to join the river and shadow it for a sweet ride into Goondiwindi. You’ll see the turn to your left to the Keetah Bridge over the Dumaresq River… a great swimming hole if you could do with a dip. If you’ve kept on the highway I reckon it’s better not to take the bypass (signposted ‘St George’) but to continue south to the two main servos and then right at the big roundabout and head down the main street of Goondiwindi which is a very nice rural hub town but without any truly motorcycle friendly hotel. The first one of these you’ll find is out at Toobeah, a further 48kms to the west on the highway. From here it’s 140 kms further west to the end of the Barwon Hwy where you turn left onto the Carnarvon and then just 1.5km later take the right into the Nindigully Pub with its free camping, free showers and a great and responsive manager in Lynn. Once you are done at the Nindi, get back to the Carnarvon, head north and into St George where you turn left onto Adventure Way (signposted Cunnamulla) and then over the bridge for the 288km to Cunnamulla. You are now officially in the Outback! This is the longest dry stretch of the ride as there is no longer fuel at Bollon or Nebine. From here it’s just under 198kms to Thargomindah and the first town you’ll pass through is Eulo with its interesting mud baths and, until he leaves in a couple of months to take over the pub at Dirranbandi, one of the ruder pub hosts it’ll be your misfortune to experience. Maybe take a bath but a stop at the pub won’t refresh you a bit! Eulo is where you’ll have to make decisions about your routes. 


If you want to go to Tharg (which is worth a visit) but are chiefly headed to Toompine, the most direct route between the two includes around 40km of unsealed dirt and gravel (though no sand). 

Once you’ve finished in Thargomindah, head back east for 8km til you see the left turn for Toompine and Quilpie. You have 20km of good sealed road until the first of 2 sections of dirt with a few kms of tar in the middle for a total of about 40km of gravel. You then have 50km of empty outback sealed road to savour for the ride into Toompine. 


If you prefer to give Tharg a miss and head directly to Toompine (and have a range of over 340km) then you’ll turn north 18km west of Eulo signposted Yowah and it’s sealed all the way. Simple! 


But if time is no problem then you might want to go the full loop and head west from Tharg out through Noccundra with its mud-brick pub and Eromanga (the most inland town in Oz) and then join us back at Quilpie. (Toompine is 75 km off the Diamantina Dev Rd).) Head west out of Tharg on Adventure Way for 122kms until you see the left turn sign for the Noccundra Hotel which is 20km from the intersection, all sealed. Done here, retrace your path to Adventure Way and then take a left for Eromanga. The road changes name a few times but just keep following your front wheel for 160km until you reach Australia’s most inland town. 

From Eromanga head 100km east (blending onto the Diamantina Development road until you turn right onto the Quilpie-Thargomindah Rd for the 75km down to Toompine. Hint: You probably should go into Quilpie, just 6km from the turn to fill up with juice before heading back down to Toompine. (Part 2 next month!)