'Quaint' and perhaps mildly 'eccentric' are two words that come to mind as you drive through McKinlay, the last town east on the Landsborough Highway, Queensland. Touring around the handful of streets (with about the same number of houses) reveals buildings that seem slightly askew or out of level. It's a neat little place but some unusual garden ornaments or a collection of hanging bric-a-brac from occasional verandahs lends a sense of surrealism.
The 'outback' is definitely part of McKinlay's DNA. The landscape in every direction is of flat grassland plains, the endless colour of straw, topped by some distant red rock range.
If you need to buy supplies then you can visit the roadhouse. Looking for something to eat - try the roadhouse. Newspaper? - the roadhouse. Yep the roadhouse is the only business in town and it does a roaring trade with truck drivers radioing in their hamburger orders 20km from town and picking them up on the way through.
Oh, there's one more business in McKinlay. It's the famous 'Walkabout Creek Hotel'. Built in 1900 as the Shire Hall it converted to become the Federal Hotel. When the movie Crocodile Dundee needed an outback pub, it chose McKinlay. If you remember Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) wrestling a crocodile through the swinging saloon doors, then this is the place.
It seems that most of north and west Queensland was discovered and settled by parties searching for the missing Burke and Wills expedition and McKinlay is no exception. The South Australian contingent was led by explorer John McKinlay who passed through the region in 1861 and named the local river. The promise of good grazing country and then the discovery of gold on the Cloncurry - McKinlay Road brought pastoralists and miners to the district. McKinlay was established as a letter recieval office and then a Cobb & Co changing post, used to swap out teams of fresh horses. Local Hotels such as the one at McKinlay served to refresh passengers or even as overnight accommodation. Coach drivers would signal ahead by sounding a horn or making a similar noise. The groom at the waiting township, recognising a particular driver's call, would prepare the correct team of horses for that particular coach. Time was crucial and teams were driven at a cracking pace to meet deadlines. The ride was uncomfortable for passengers who could expect delays that ranged into days.
One of the world's largest silver and lead mines is located on McKinlays's doorstep. It's BHP Billiton's Cannington mine, 87km south. The presence of the mine has no effect on the fortunes of McKinlay at all, except perhaps for a passing employee looking for a hamburger. The workforce at Cannington is flown in and accommodated at the mine site on rostered shifts.
McKinlay never really had a future as a bustling regional centre. The Shire Offices and administrative centre for the McKinlay Shire were relocated to the nearby town of Julia Creek in 1930 leaving McKinlay to act as a waypoint on the Landsborough Highway.
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