Red soil along the roadside marks the entrance to the small Queensland town of Childers. It’s a deep volcanic red — the kind of colour that is trying to make a statement.
Contrasted with the green fields of sugar cane and fruit trees planted in the soil, it’s even more vivid. You can’t help but notice the soil on the way to Childers.
And that’s the thing about the town itself — you can’t help but notice it. For a place with a population of less than 1500 people, it has more than its fair share of attention, and there are plenty of things to do in Childers.
Sadly, many people still remember it as the scene of a horrific attack in 2000 when an arsonist set fire to a backpackers hostel and killed 15 young travellers. But rather than try to forget the story, Childers has tried to grow stronger from it.
The hostel building was rebuilt and opened two years later as a memorial, an art gallery and a visitor information centre. Meanwhile the community dedicated itself to presenting a welcoming and friendly environment to tourists.
It’s a different type of history that Childers now embraces. It markets itself as a ‘National Trust Town’ and its heritage-listed buildings are some of the most interesting landmarks in the centre of the city.
But the local produce is also front and centre, and doing some tastings are also great things to do in Childers.
You’ll also find some interesting animal experiences – more than you might expect for this little town, in fact. And that’s what makes visiting Childers such a delight.
It’s not really a destination in its own right, but travellers doing a Brisbane to Cairns road trip go right through it – or it’s an easy day trip from nearby Bundaberg or Hervey Bay.
So, let’s have a look at what to do in Childers.
Childers was founded in the 1850s as as town to support cattle farms and sugar cane crops. With a railway line opening 1887, it became an important commercial centre in the region, and the town grew.
Many of the buildings from those early days (particularly from 1902 onwards, when they were reconstructed after a massive town fire) can still be seen.
There are more than 25 buildings in Childers that are heritage listed and you don’t need to look too far to find them, with most along a three-block stretch of the main street.
The heritage buildings in Childers include stores like Lloyds’ Barber Shop and the Childers Bakery, the main bank buildings, and Christ Church.
You can see the Childers Heritage Trail on this map:
A few of the heritage locations on the map are worth special mention.
The Paragon Theatre is one of the best things to see in Childers, a magnificent site built in 1927 and one of the oldest surviving theatres in Queensland. It took the tropical climate into account with the design, which is why you’ll see high level windows behind timber lattice and fretwork.
The lounge has a 1930s atmosphere to it and you can pop in and get a coffee all week. There are also often film nights and other live performances – or you can just have a peek at the wonderful interior design.
Palace Backpackers Memorial
The story of the Palace Backpackers is heartbreaking – for anyone, but particularly for those of us who have spent countless happy and innocent nights in hostels around the world. The arson attack here in 2000 killed 15 young travellers, with 70 others surviving, and Childers has never been the same since.
The building that housed the Palace Backpackers was built in 1903 and operated as a pub hotel for about 85 years until it was converted into a hostel in the early 1990s. After the fire, the facade was restored and its heritage protected, but the inside has been remodelled.
The ground floor has become the Childers Visitor Information Centre, and the Childers Regional Art Gallery can be found upstairs here too.
Also on the first floor is the Palace Backpackers Memorial, which pays tribute to the people who lost their lives here. It’s a relatively simple design but that makes it even more moving, with the focus on each of the young travellers and their stories.
Amongst all the heritage are a few small museums and, if you want to learn more about the town, they are some of the most interesting things to do in Childers.
Childers Pharmaceutical Museum
Right in the centre of town, this old store has been converted into a fascinating museum about early medicine from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The shelves at the Childers Pharmaceutical Museum (also called The Old Pharmacy) are full of rare specimens, mysterious potions, and all sorts of other historical items. Step back in time… but don’t try any of the pills you might find here.
The museum has one of Australia’s largest collections of early pharmaceutical history and you can also do a guided tour to make the most of it.
Childers Historical Complex
For something a bit larger, there’s the Childers Historical Complex, an outdoor museum that has a series of recreated buildings, including early cottages, a post office, and general store. There are also two steam locomotives.
It’s open for a few hours each morning and is a good option for families. There’s some interesting memorabilia in the buildings, as well as period furniture… but it does all feel a bit like a school excursion.
Military & Memorabilia Museum
And here’s something you might not expect to find in Childers. The Military & Memorabilia Museum started out as a hobby for Allan Baker and it’s now grown into an enormous collection of 26,000 that he’s collected from over 140 countries.
People from across the world have donated about 80 per cent of the items, meaning that Allan has one of the most impressive collections of military memorabilia in the country.
It’s all piled up in the small museum and you may have to hunt around to see anything in particular – but there will always be someone here to show you the most interesting items and have a chat about any of them.
You may not fancy meeting a crocodile in the wild, but there is a chance to get up close to them here in Childers. In fact, there are a few animal experiences here that are run ethically and are pretty interesting – especially for families.
Flying High Bird Park
The largest free flight aviary in Australia, Flying High Bird Park has more than 3000 birds inside its netted enclosure. Most of them are Australian but there are also some exotic species from other continents.
You can walk through the aviary and many of the birds will fly right past you. Some of them are in cages for their own safety, though. To find out all about them, make sure you have a chat to the owners who will tell you all about their favourite birds.
Flying High Bird Park has expanded over the years and there’s also an outside area with kangaroos, emus, a cassowary, and even a Tasmanian devil. It’s a great place for children with plenty to see and explore.
Snakes Downunder Reptile Park
This reptile park is smaller than the average zoo but that allows staff to give you the personal touch. They’ll be happy to walk around with you, chat about the animals and even give demonstrations.
Snakes Downunder Reptile Park started as a snake show but then added crocodiles, lizards, and other native Australian reptiles. It also has an area with kangaroos and emus and recently some koalas joined the park.
It would be a good idea to check the times of the shows on the day you’re planning to visit so you can try to be there for them. Seeing the staff handle the animals and explain more about them is one of the best parts of any visit.
Don’t let the red dirt of Childers fool you, there’s plenty of fertile soil around here and that means lots of fantastic local produce. There are a few ways you can get a taste of Childers.
You may not think that North Queensland has the right climate for wine – but you would be wrong. And right.
There are actually a few wineries in Childers, but they don’t grow a lot of grapes. But that doesn’t matter because they still make a good drop, and it’s worth doing a tasting or two.
The best-known winery in Childers is Hill of Promise, which is right on the highway and an easy place to stop for a drink and to pick up some souvenirs. It’s a small boutique operation run by a local couple who used to grow their own grapes on the land but now just focus on production.
The Hill of Promise tasting includes information about what foods go best with each variety – and you can even bring your own picnic to eat on the lawn.
Another winery to pop into in Childers is Vintner’s Secret Vineyard, which also has a lovely lawn for picnics, as well as some other picturesque scenery that makes a perfect backdrop for a tasting.
I scream, you scream, everyone in Childers screams for ice cream because one of the favourite local products is Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream.
All the ice cream is homemade at the small shop in Childers and you can choose from almost ten flavours. The most popular is the classic macadamia which is one of the main products grown in this area.
Although Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream has a small shopfront in the main street, it would be better to visit the shop and factory around the corner from there. This is where it all happens and you’ll meet the owners who’ll be able to recommend a flavour and chat to you about their history.