Charleville: a true outback character

Damien Condon
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Charleville (Photo: Tourism Qld)
In the heart of the mulga scrub, its foundations set in soil that is cracked and weathered like an old ringer's face, 750km west of Brisbane, is Charleville. History, characters and a charm all of its own make this Outback Queensland town a truly magical destination.

And, much like any Outback character worth their salt, Charleville has a few stories to tell … mostly with a dry smile and a twinkle in the eye. The history in the place is palpable and strongly echoes the era when the country rode on the sheep's back.

Make your first stop the Charleville Visitor Information Centre at the Graham Andrews Parklands, along with the famous Steiger Vortex Rainmaking Guns. Here you can grab a map and have the attractions of the town pointed out to you by a local.

Once you've found a place to stay, the grandeur of many of the town's old buildings is self-evident. Along the main street is the headquarters of the Charleville and District Historical Society … Historic House. Step up onto the front veranda and you will more than likely be greeted by society president George Balasillie and his vice president Ken Read.

Their stories are punctuated by George playing his auto harp and singing on the front veranda of the house (which is actually a museum) while Ken recites bush ballads by the score. There is so much memorabilia packed in Historic House the list could go on forever. Typewriters, telephones, switchboards, sideboards, it's all there to see.

Out the back there is a Cobb & Co Coach. Other historic buildings around town include the Commonwealth Bank, Charleville Courthouse and the School of Arts.

Grandest of all however is the faded splendour that is the Hotel Corones — with a colourful history to match! Built by Greek immigrant Harry Corones in 1929, the giant watering hole saw some heady times. Harry built himself up from working in his uncle's milk bar, to buying his own in Charleville for the sum of 120 pounds.

Through hard work and great business acumen Harry and his cousin Jimmy made their fortune. The Corones' upstairs rooms were ensuite (entirely unheard of in those days); electricity was brought to the town via the Corones family's endeavours, as was the first cinema.

Harry was one of the original shareholders in Qantas and was also the fledgling airline's first caterer. Truly extraordinary feats achieved through hard work in the outback!

Mr Corones was not the only colourful character to come out of the tales of Charleville's past.

In 1902, Queensland meteorologist, Clement Wragge thought he would break what was later known as the 'Great Drought' (lasting from 1896 to 1902).

He proposed to produce rain from the cloudless skies by sending massive blasts of air into the atmosphere. Clement ordered six guns to be manufactured in Brisbane. When completed the guns resembled old-fashion conical candle snuffers, with a height of about 5.4 metres.

The guns were erected in various locations around Charleville and gunpowder was then detonated. The result was a cacophony of sound which reverberated throughout the town. It is reported that the only thing which fell on the day was the hopes of the would-be rainmakers. Two guns are still on display in Charleville at the Graham Andrews Parklands.

Due to the fact that there is very little light pollution in the Australian Outback, Charleville is also in a prime position for stargazing.

The dream of the Cosmos Centre and Observatory in Charleville began with an enthusiast setting up a scope in a cow paddock. Today there is a purpose-built facility, next to the Charleville Airport, offering guests of all ages the opportunity to learn more about the universe through interactive displays and some impressive outdoor telescopes.

Necks crane upwards as the staff explain the sparkling web of the Milky Way to their audience. City dwellers will have their breath taken away by the light show that is, quite simply, the night sky.

The area has a charm, an easygoing ambience and grace quite often lost in this fast-paced world of instant communication and 'labour-saving' devices. The Outback is here, right in Queensland's backyard.

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