‘Taking the waters’ – it’s a mystical phrase loaded with meaning, from a time when people sought out the healing properties of water bubbling up from the ground.
It’s a pilgrimage still undertaken by many in Australia today, where our hot artesian water has been credited with similar health-giving vigour, and it’s a mantra that the McKinlay shire has used to good effect in its latest tourism venture.
Plenty a parched bushie has plunged fully clothed into a water supply tank beside a trough on a stinking hot day but now it’s tourists who have been stripping down for a soaking in the water tanks at the Julia Creek caravan park.
The McKinlay Shire Council this year installed four bath houses, each with two single baths, and so popular is the concept that even locals who’ve bathed in the same water all their lives have been clamouring to jump in.
Up to 68 bathers a day have been lying back and relaxing, partaking of cheese platters catered for by a local supplier, and McKinlay mayor, Belinda Murphy said it had been “so well received”.
“The concept of the artesian bath – there's a whole trail down south but they're generally bigger, almost pool-like operations,” she said. “We have a great pool so we were looking for something a bit more boutiquey, a bit more unique, that ties in with the shire and the outback and cattle.”
Unique it is – lately an old man emu and his four chicks have been strolling across the open plains north of Julia Creek that the baths look out onto.
Cr Murphy has spoken to tourists who had diverted hundreds of kilometres to experience Julia Creek’s newest attraction.
Fully funded through the first tranche of money from the federal government’s Drought Communities Program, they cost $300,000 to install and are seen as a way of encouraging more visitation to the town.
For the season nearly past, only caravan park patrons could book into the fledgling business, resulting in over 400 extra people a month.
“We like to think we're pretty innovative here and do different things,” Cr Murphy said.
Boundary rider huts are next
The popularity of the new bath house concept at Julia Creek has prompted the McKinlay Shire Council to seek to build on the concept.
It’s applied for Outback Infrastructure Fund money to the tune of an additional $350,000 to construct a similar bathing experience housed within a boundary rider’s hut concept, that had a deck attached and which could be used for longer than the current 45 minute period.
“Our caravan park numbers increased because people wanted to do the baths but there's also a lot of people staying in our hotels and motels and at our RV site, and they wanted access,” Cr Murphy explained. “Having the additional baths, we can then make that a bookable product outside of staying in the caravan park.”
The extension, if the funding application was granted, would also create a space that could be used for star gazing at night. At the moment, the bathing experience in the tanks finishes at 9pm.