CLONCURRY, 137km west of Julia Creek, is caught between two landscapes, where the flat eastern plains rise to a rough and rocky plateau. Signs at either end of the town wish you "a warm welcome indeed", given that Australia's highest temperature (53.1°C) was recorded here. Cloncurry offers glimpses into the mining history that permeates the whole stretch west to larger Mount Isa. The highway runs through town as McIlwraith Street in the east, and Ramsay Street in the west. Most services – banks, supermarket, half-dozen bars and a post office – are along Ramsay or the grid of streets immediately north. Cloncurry's train station is a couple of kilometres southeast of the centre, while buses drop off along Ramsay (and at the Roadrunner Roadhouse east of town on the highway) – you can buy tickets for either at Cloncurry Agencies, 45 Ramsay St (Mon– Fri 8am–6pm, Sat 8am– noon; Tel:07/4742 1107).
Buildings at the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park Museum and Visitor Centre (March– April Mon– Fri 8am–4.30pm; May– Oct same hours plus Sat & Sun 9am–3pm; $8.50; Tel:07/4742 1361, Web:www.cloncurry.qld.gov.au) were salvaged from the short-lived town of Mary Kathleen. The museum is primarily of geological interest, a comprehensive catalogue of local ores, fossils and gemstones arranged in long cases, though Aboriginal tools and Burke's water bottle add some historical depth.
Cloncurry's isolation inspired the formation of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Over on the corner of King and Daintree streets, John Flynn Place (March– April Mon– Fri 8am–4.30pm; May– Oct same hours plus Sat & Sun 9am–3pm; $9.70) is a monument to the man who pioneered the use of radio and plane to provide a "mantle of safety over the Outback".
The best campsite, Cloncurry Caravan Park Oasis (Tel:07/4742 1313; camping $20, powered sites $26, cabins $76–130), is on McIlwraith Street, with cooling pool and comfy cabins. Otherwise, you'll find accommodation right in town at the welcoming Wagon Wheel Motel (Tel:07/4742 1866; $51–100) on Ramsay Street, founded in 1867 with both older pub rooms and newer motel rooms, or at the eco-conscious Gidgee Inn (Tel:07/4742 1599, Web:www.gidgeeinn.com.au; $101–160) on McIlwraith Street, built from recycled timber and rammed earth and named for the surrounding gidyea trees. Both also have good restaurants, the latter specializing in char-grills. During the day, Cuppa's, a café on Ramsay Street, is cool, spacious, and serves up strong coffee and good-value food, while the Bio Café, one block north of Ramsay on Scarr Street, has healthy, freshly prepared light meals.
Moving on, the highway, buses and trains continue west for 118km to Mount Isa, while the (sealed) Burke Developmental Road heads 380km north past forests of anthills and kapok trees to Normanton, via the one-pub settlement of Quamby, and the Burke and Wills Roadhouse.