Queensland town's 'top secret' plan for tourism dollars

Tourist dollars for drought-stricken outback Queensland could come from a two-pronged plan to lure tourists to a decommissioned top-secret US air base at Charleville, and a national bilby centre.

Tourism expert Brent Moyle is leading a team of sustainable tourism professors who have spent months investigating the viability of virtual reality and high-tech re-enactments of a secret WWII-era base at Charleville where 4000 troops were based.

Charleville hopes to attract more tourists to Queensland's outback.

Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

The secret bush air base was at the northern end of the "Brisbane line" where US forces planned to defend Australia against invading Japanese forces.

With 101 buildings, the base was larger in size than Brisbane's airport at Eagle Farm at the end of WWII.

Virtual reality technology at the site would allow tourists to recreate life on the air base, Associate Professor Moyle said.

“We get start-up companies to build these virtual reality products that tourists use to bring back the heritage of the place,” he said.

“So we have looked for the stories and now we are trying to recreate them all around the base.

The air base was at the end of the Brisbane Line, where Australia was to be defended against invading Japanese troops.

Photo: Floyd Stacy and Murweh Shire Council

“If you look at Charleville tourism, it is the top-secret air base, it is the dark skies and the Cosmos Centre and it is your bilbies.

“I would very much encourage the state government to consider how they can leverage the unique tourism experiences in the outback to sustain communities affected by drought and that would include a national bilby centre at Charleville, absolutely.”

Charleville’s Top Secret Precincts Plan is backed by the Queensland government’s $650 million Advancing Queensland scheme.

Six Queensland Treasury officers were due to travel to Charleville next month to investigate the plan.

The air base was larger than the airport at Eagle Farm by the end of the war.

Photo: Floyd Stacy and Murweh Shire Council

Queensland drought commissioners Vaughan Johnston and Mark O’Brien were investigating tourism options to generate money in outback towns.

A national bilby centre in Charleville could honour the late Peter McRae, the Charleville-based National Parks and Wildlife ranger who researched endangered bilbies for more than 30 years.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea,” Charleville mayor Annie Liston said. “Pete was loved by everybody."

Peter McRae cuddles a bilby.

Photo: Supplied

Mr McRae, who died last week, was known as the "Father of the Queensland bilbies". He and another former ranger, Frank Manthey, developed the Bilby Brothers concept to teach Australians about the endangered marsupial and formed the Save the Bilby Foundation.

Cr Liston said a bilby centre remained the town’s top priority. A small Save the Bilby Foundation centre was temporarily leased on a property at Charleville’s train station.

“In 2007, we did get $6 million promised for a national bilby centre,” Cr Liston said.

“Then suddenly the government changed hands and that money did not arrive."

Charleville and Murweh Shire lure 70,000 tourists each year.

Associate Professor Moyle was due to meet with the director-general of Queensland's Tourism Industry Development this week and then with Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind.

He had already met with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, LNP senator Barry O’Sullivan and federal Maranoa MP David Littleproud, who told Fairfax Media he backed the bilby centre concept.

Sunday was National Bilby Day and Charleville hosted its annual Fur Ball to raise money for the endangered bilbies.

State Tourism Minister Kate Jones said she would like to investigate the bilby centre proposal in more detail.

Ms Jones said the government had included $10 million for new ecotourism ideas in the 2018-19 budget.

“This is something I’d be happy to look at more closely,” Ms Jones said.

“But any proposal would have to stack up environmentally.”

Most Viewed in National