For art connoisseurs visiting Queensland, there’s a well-worn track from the hinterlands of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, to the big galleries of Brisbane, right up to the artistic communities of Cairns and Kuranda.
But for anyone with a passion for painting, now might be the time to venture west - way out west - because, 980 kilometres from the "Big Smoke" of Brisbane, creativity is flourishing.
The town of Quilpie boasts fewer than 800 residents. It’s the main service centre for outlying sheep and cattle stations, oil and opal fields. It’s also home to three art galleries and they’re thriving.
Exhibitions are well attended, and local residents are snapping up pieces to hang on their walls.
Lyn Barnes is the artist in residence at Quilpie’s Eagle Gallery.
Born in Roma, Lyn’s life meandered from governess and radio journalist to wife and mum, before a paintbrush became firmly lodged between her fingers.
Her work is attention-grabbing. It reflects the vibrant, luminous colours of the outback - the red dirt; the faultless blue sky; the dirty green of the mulga scrub. She captures perfectly the harsh glare and clarity of light, and effortlessly shows the relationship between the land and its people.
Lyn’s skills were developed during workshops sponsored by the Regional Arts Development Fund - a program which started back in the 1970s.
These days Lyn does her bit to keep the artistic spirit of Quilpie alive.
She conducts community art classes. They’re popular and raw talent is continually emerging.
Take Ben Hall for instance. A truly Quilpie local, Ben’s a family man who runs the town newsagency. He only started drawing a few years ago after deciding to take one of Lyn’s pastel classes.
Twelve months on he held his first exhibition – and sold out.
Anabel Tully originally hails from Brisbane. She left behind a life as a primary school teacher and principal, to become a prize winning landscape artist.
She and husband Stephen also host the Bunginderry Artist Camp at their sheep and cattle property.
Bep Van Ginkel is a more recent arrival.
A lifelong artist, he was happily residing on the Sunshine Coast, until his partner announced a driving trip through outback Queensland. He reluctantly agreed. Then the car broke down. Bep and his girlfriend were stranded in Quilpie until the vehicle could be fixed.
But it didn’t take long for the landscape, the people and the outback way of life to sink into their souls.
On the fifth day, they bought a block of land. That was almost two years ago, and they haven’t looked back.
Bep’s discovered a new passion for his art. His initial concerns that his abstract work would not find a following in outback Queensland, have not been realized.
"I have sold more here than anywhere in my life," he said.
Of course there is more than art around Quilpie. There’s the world’s only opal alter at St Finbarr’s Church, the pub with no town at Toompine, the remote Adavale "Surf Lifesaving Club" or the historic Ray Station.
Charleville is just a two hour drive east, while further west is Eromanga – the Australian town furthest from the sea - and the gateway to the country’s newest dinosaur dig.
There’s motel, hotel, farm and caravan park accommodation. You can fly in, or drive there.
And one thing’s for sure, if you open your mind and heart to the people there, Quilpie is sure to get under your skin.