When COVID-19 foiled a south-east Queensland school’s annual year 6 trip to Canberra, they took a last-minute switch to the outback.

Key points:

  • New demographics of tourists are visiting outback Queensland
  • Before the pandemic, outback tourism relied heavily on grey nomads
  • The outback is a “new and different” experience, one primary school student says

There are more flies in the western Queensland town of Longreach, more than 1,000km north-west of Brisbane, but the kids were not complaining about the switch. 

“It’s really fun, it’s new and different, and there’s a lot to see.”

A man in a big hat sit's a top of a cattle yarn as some school kids watch on

Outback Dan shows the students how to separate the cattle in the yards at Camden Park Station outside Longreach.(

ABC Western Qld: Ellie Grounds

)

Camden Park Station’s Dan Walker — better known as ‘Outback Dan’ — taught children about life on the land as well as the outback essentials of swag constructing, whip cracking, damper making, and bonfire building before a night camping out under the stars.

A group of boys learn how to put up a swag

An outback stay would not be complete without learning how to roll out a swag.(

ABC Western Qld: Ellie Grounds

)

“You can really resonate with those kids, their eyes are opened up, there’s a bit of saying of disconnect to reconnect,” he said.  

South-east school groups are just one of the new demographics for the tourism market previously dominated by grey nomads prior to the pandemic.

A man standing in front of cattle yards on an outback station

Dan Walker has noticed the change in the type of tourists visiting the outback.(

ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal

)

Mr Walker said families, travel groups, and couples who would normally travel overseas were travelling out west for the first time. 

“Definitely there’s been a big change in the visitors to Longreach and the outback, and what they are experiencing here is world-class … the grey nomads are still coming, which is lovely to see, but we’ve got a wider market now,” he said. 

More than 700,000 tourists came to the outback between September 2020 and July 2021, a 37 per cent increase on the target set by the region’s tourism association.

The sunsets on a glamping tent while a couple unwind on their balcony

Upmarket accommodation options are popping up across the outback to cater for a new type of outback tourist.(

ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal

)

Longreach and the neighbouring town of Winton now offer glamping to cater to higher-end tourists. 

Operators are also reporting an increasing number of fly-in visitors.

Brisbane local Rebecca Georgiou and her brother, Bill, flew into Longreach to explore the outback and retrace family links to the bush.

Rebecka

Rebecca Georgiou and her brother Bill Malandris on a family history visit to Longreach.(

ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons 

)

“The other thing my brother and I had in mind was to try and find some material on a family connection we had here from when we were little, from the time when our older sister had married a man from here who came looking for a wife in Brisbane.”

A bright orange sun sets over a long reach of a river with two boats cruising along it.

The sun sets over the Thomson River outside Longreach.(

ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

Tourism operators hope the new breed of visitors will keep coming back, even after borders reopen. 

Pacific Lutheran College teacher Kim Wood said, if it were up to her, the kids would be returning to the bush over Canberra.

“Canberra is a wonderful experience for students but the outback is definitely winning my heart,” she said. 

Aerial image of a bus on a dirt road in the desert

Outback Queensland is winning hearts with a new breed of tourist heading that way.(

ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

Posted , updated 

Outback ‘wins hearts’ as school groups, glampers and jetsetters usher in new era of tourism
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