Endless Horizons

Endless Horizons

Escaping into Cunnamulla can be one of the most unique and enchanting things you can do in Queensland.

In Cunnamulla, every night the sky is clear enough to see the stars.

Escaping into the outback is one of the most unique and enchanting things you can do in Queensland. In this edition, we were grateful to hear from Peieta Mills – a fifth-generation local who has done more for the little town of Cunnamulla than you can imagine, from championing the region’s tourism to establishing the oasis that is the Club Boutique Hotel.

Peieta said from the start, the venue was made to feel like a home away from home, especially since the majority of guests entering reception have been on the road for a very long time.

“I think the way we operate the hotel is quite unique. Our staff are very down-to-earth and personable, we’re in the hospitality business because we want to be, and we love Cunnamulla, so we know how to look after people and make them feel welcome. We may do things a little differently from everybody else, but we’ve always made sure that our guests’ outback experience is as comfortable and positive as it can be.

“We want to create nice little spaces where visitors can sit back and unwind after exploring all day. Events, functions and accommodation drive our business, so we’re really involved with tourism in Cunnamulla. We get the majority of travelling workers, coach groups, and fly-in groups, and they’re growing all of the time,” she said.

Run by local people, local knowledge, and local passion, The Club Boutique Hotel puts guests in the best position possible to experience the region’s breathtaking environment. After all, Cunnamulla is situated on the the Eromanga Basin – the biggest underground river system in the world.

Peieta said, while the native flora and fauna are a huge draw to the Paroo shire, much of the tourism in outback Queensland is evolving to include natural health and wellness experiences such as luxury bathing.

“There’s a state and federal funded $11 million hot spring location that just opened up here. Outback Queensland Tourism has also recently developed a bathing trail with 28 locations on it, with five of those being in our area. For the last three years we have been working to understand these opportunities and build upon this health and wellness trend with experiences such as our luxury glamping tents and our beauty and massage space.

“That goes for the entire region too, with unique attractions like our nature and character based tourism, the well-established artesian mud baths at Eulo farmstays, and Harmony Health and Wellness who offer a range of holistic therapies and intuitive healing techniques like reiki.

“It’s a good thing that these attractions cater to a different and emerging type of customer. The region also has lots of walking trails and magnificent estuaries that are great for swimming, kayaking, camping, fishing, and yabbying, so there’s really something for everybody out here,” she said.

Being 206 kilometres south of Charleville and 750 kilometres west of Brisbane, the peace and camaraderie of Cunnamulla make the location a wellness experience all on its own. As the vitality of the entire community benefits from each and every visitor, the town is a very friendly place that is welcoming and appreciative of tourism. Peieta said research after the pandemic suggests that many people have re-evaluated their lifestyles, with most realising that it’s not all about the toys they have – it’s about the experiences that offer a connection to others, themselves, their families, and nature.

“Whether that’s true or false, I don’t know. What I do know is that sometimes the city is an expensive and stressful place, but out here it’s the opposite. As you walk down the street, people say g’day all of the time, whether you’re a local or a tourist.

“For us, it’s personal, so we make sure it’s personal for the guests and tourists too. We need them and we are happy to let them know that we appreciate their investment in our community and business. The town would not exist without tourism.

“I think when people visit, they realise just how stressed out and disconnected they feel. You can’t live a happy life when you’re like that, let alone a healthy life. They also realise that not every fulfilling experience has to cost you a whole lot of money.

“There’s no parking fees or any other charges for existing out here, and there’s just so many natural spectacles that are appealing to anyone looking for an escape. There’s 215 documented species of Australian native birds here – that’s more than a third of all birds in Australia,” she said.

As someone who was born and raised in Cunnamulla, Peieta knew that the region was a hidden tourism gem worth sharing with the world. Encouraged by the myriad of colourful experiences and local people in town, she founded Out the Back Australia in 2007, where she worked with up to 20 attractions and businesses in the area to create and market a range of tours.

Peieta said they never strayed outside of the Paroo shire, purely because they were trying to turn around the economic decline, create jobs, and prevent people from moving away.

“When we marketed it around the world through Queensland Rail, we started to get a lot of people coming through.

“Eventually, Queensland Rail pulled their service to Cunnamulla, so the $500,000 business that we had built over 10 years was turned into a $7,000 business overnight. We were encouraged to give accommodation a go after this because we got rave reviews on everything else we did.

“We bought the Club Boutique Hotel before all of this other stuff happened with the tour company. I ended up with no business or income, a massive debt, and a venue that was a dump. That’s how we started, and we are only just turning the corner in the last 12 months,” she said.

Despite its dilapidated nature, the hotel was in a perfect location with a reasonable block of land, so Peieta felt confident that she could do something with it – hence the elegant, beautifully appointed venue that stands there today.

Peieta said the Club Boutique Hotel is the third venue to be built on the site, with the first being wiped out by a tornado in 1887 and the second unfortunately being reduced to ashes on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1933.

“Hotels always burnt down back in the day, so it was ridiculously difficult and expensive to get insurance. Unlike today, it was all candles and kerosene lamps, and you didn’t just turn on a tap and have access to water. So, mix that with alcohol and really dry weather, and everything was highly flammable.

“We found out that there’s actually a whole lot of hotel history in the family. My grandmother and great grandmother were drovers and had a hotel in Hungerford on the Drovers and Pioneers Trail.

“That family and my dad’s great uncle had the Club Boutique Hotel when it burnt down. People who still live in town used to work there as young children,” she said.

Throughout the hotel’s history, many shearers, drovers, ringers, swagmans, cameleers, and coach drivers have come and gone.

From the hotel’s various run-ins with these local legends, Cunnamulla Characters Brewed was born – a collection of craft beer adorned with portraits by Aussie artist Michael Nicholas inspired by centuries of laughter and good will. Peieta said, come beer and wine o’clock, they are passionate about sharing the stories of these incredible women and men with their guests.

“We try to link history and heritage with everything we do, so we’re also planning to release a magazine soon called Vitality Outback. It’ll contain lots of local stories about people doing amazing things every day in addition to worthwhile experiences that are a little off the beaten track. We may have a focus on wellness, but our love for people and nature is key.

“For us, it’s really about connecting the need with the person. I guess our theory is that, if you do the right thing, understand your market, share the love, and deliver, your business will grow and so will the region. If we’re not what someone wants, they can find something they prefer somewhere else in the region, and we are more than happy to give recommendations.

“It’s about working together with other businesses for the betterment of the town. Those people are bound to come back anyway, whether it’s for a beer, a meal, or a ‘G’day! How are you going?’” she said.

Needless to say, there’s not a country town in Australia that wouldn’t benefit from increased tourism.

Thankfully, the outback hospitality scene is a lot livelier than it used to be, with constant improvements being made to the roads and reception of remote areas.

Peieta confirmed that the industry has changed dramatically for them in the last 20 years, especially since more people can afford to travel after they retire.

“Technology has also had a massive impact. Before, we were totally reliant on marketing through magazines and papers, and even that was so expensive for little places like ours.

“Now, with websites and social media, you can bypass all of those things by developing content and writing blogs to attract and reach new audiences.

“A lot of things have made a huge difference and have been very positive for us, but I believe the biggest encouragement to tourism in outback Australia was the Big Red Bash run by Greg Donovan and his family.

“They’ve attracted a different market, bringing all kinds of people and their families from across Australia to our towns. They’ve done a sensational job,” she said.

Clearly, the people behind the Club Boutique Hotel are very happy with where they are, and with so many offerings and experiences, it’s no wonder why guests leave the ethereal outback feeling calmed, looked after, and fulfilled.

“We just had a family up from Sydney – a mum and three kids. They left our hotel at 7:00am every morning and came back at 8:30pm every night. They just had so much fun, and that’s without getting to do half of the experiences here.

“Cunnamulla is an amazing place to visit. Laying back and seeing the stars from our venue is just amazing, and then there’s the magical sand dunes and the open sky, which is a different colour blue every day.

“Whether you want to camp alongside the river bank on your own, stay in a luxury hotel, or go glamping in nature, everything is here, and everyone is welcome,” Peieta said.