North-west Queensland tourism attractions on private property can confuse tourists

From grey nomads to Instagram influencers, many tourists to the outback want to find that picturesque secret spot.

But many of north-west Queensland landmarks are located on private property, which can leave tourists in a predicament as to whether they are sightseeing or trespassing.

Mount Isa in Queensland’s north-west is known for its rodeos and as the last major pit-stop for travellers heading to the Northern Territory.

However with the rodeo cancelled this year due to the pandemic, the city’s tourism has fallen back on simpler activities.

But main tourist attractions like waterholes perfect for swimming and waterfalls, which run once the rain has come, are on private property and many do not have signs.

While locals can find their way, tourists often stray.

Mayor Danielle Slade said nearby councils had been collaborating on ideas to attract visitors west.

“I think a lot of things have gone out the door, and we’re going to have to start again to really promote the city.”

An older couple in bush hats smile for the camera
Sunshine Coast retirees Greg and Kerry Tucker make a pit-stop at Fountain Springs, on their way to Darwin.(ABC North West Queensland: Eric Barker)

Sign-posting predicament

The Mount Isa City Council has applied for a state government grant of up to $114,000 for signage to tourist attractions.

However, the funding can only be used for tourist-appropriate sites and not on private properties.

This has meant locally-known landmarks such as Camooweal caves, East Leichardt Dam, Fountain Springs, and a disused granite mine that resembles rocks at the Northern Territory’s Devil’s Marbles remain a secret to travellers.

Tourists like Greg and Kerry Tucker stumbled across Fountain Springs, a year-round water source, on an online campers’ forum.

“We did notice the private property sign, but we’ve learnt to follow our nose,” Mr Tucker said.

Although these sites are frequently visited by locals, their location can’t be signposted as they are located on a private cattle station.

A pristine outback waterhole
Pristine waterholes like this one at Fountain Springs are on private property.(Supplied: Keisha Storey Armstrong)

The ABC contacted the owners of these landmarks, however did not receive a response.

Cr Slade said the relationship between Mount Isa council and the private owners was strong.

“We really do have pristine areas around [Mount Isa] and even your grey nomads want to see all these great areas as well,” she said.

Threat to close landmarks

In recent posts to a Mount Isa community Facebook page, owners have threatened to lock gates to sites such as East Leichardt Dam due to littering.

text Facebook post disgruntled with littering at dam site
Posted on June 15 to the Mount Isa Vent Page, a community Facebook forum.(ABC North West Queensland)

Cr Slade said she was not worried about the threat of private owners closing the doors to landmarks, as she thought it was unlikely.

“Lawn Hill National Park was closed once, for a few months in the late ’80s due to littering,” she said.

“I think it’s very unlikely that areas like East Leichardt Dam will be shut to the public.”

Queensland’s peak farming lobby group AgForce says tourism and trespassing is a nationwide problem.

CEO Michael Guerin says that picturesque areas such as waterfalls, dams or crops such as sunflower fields are in a constant battle to keep their biosecurity standards.

“If we lose that biosecurity position we currently have, we lose that premium, and we lose that income into the Australian or broader Australian community,” he said.

“What we do ask is to ask permission before you go onto private property, understand that landholders have obligations to biosecurity, and if we work together, there is no need to lock the gates.”