Birdsville …

We reached Birdsville on August 22nd

I have compared crossing the desert to scuba diving. I can’t breathe underwater or find water in the desert but I can strap some tanks on my back and dive or fill a vehicle with the essentials and drive. Birdsville is like a little boat, you can surface and relax, resupply with food, refuel the vehicle, rejoin the life of modern Australia. During the time that this little boat has been anchored here the divers surfacing have changed from drovers to drivers.

Birdsville sits between the channel country and the Simpson. The nearest dune is currently invading the cemetery just the other side of the airstrip, the Diamantina River is 4km from town when it’s behaving itself. It comes to visit occasionally. The main road runs north south.

Way over to the west is Mr Stuart’s road, the main road from Adelaide to Darwin, it towed the telegraph and the railway behind it. Birdsville lies on the Burke and Wills road. What came after them were more explorers trying to find where they’d gone. This is the losers’ side of the desert. For the graziers of the channel country there was a major market off to the south. The principal reason for a road was as a stock route. And at the time the stock route came into being Queensland and South Australia were colonies. Starting in about 1878, Birdsville grew up at the intersection of the road, a river and the colony boundary. It is adjacent to the best spot to cross the Diamantina, often a place occasioning some delay. Where better for a store to resupply the drovers and a border post where import duties could be collected. When the railhead reached Marree in 1883 things really kicked along. In 1900 it had three pubs (droving is thirsty work) and a population of about 300 people. Australian Federation happened in 1901, this brought free trade between what were now  states. So the tolls were abolished and the population steadily declined.

In the 1950s the population was down to about fifty.

Birdsville, it seemed was consigned to history. In the cemetery you can find the graves of Wankangaru aborigines born in the desert, white settlers, drovers and Afghan cameleers, whilst the legend of Tom Kruse the man who brought mail and supplies up the 500 km Birdsville Track lives on. The history is rich.

The races are an enduring tradition in Birdsville. They were first run in 1881. The crowds are far bigger now than there were then. The rise of the 4WD vehicle has put Birdsville back on the map. People come from all over to visit Australia’s most isolated town, the population now might be about 100 souls, but on race day expect to see at least 7 000 other people.

The little boat is now anchored here to supply the tourist. There is only one pub these days but you can buy a beer at the bakery! Driving is thirsty work.

Birdsville can be very hard to leave …


… we had to wait three days before we could. It gave us time to take in the sights …


the Bakery … sleepy hollow until the races then unimaginable bedlam. Not only can you get a beer here, Curried Camel Pie figures on the menu. We all found an excuse not to try one, mine was vegetarianism. After breakfast a quick walk to the Royal Hotel, built in 1883 last drinks were served in 1923 when it was converted to a hospital which it remained until 1937.

Royal Ruins

Other essential stops include the Roadhouse and the Visitor Centre.The bird watching around Birdsville is excellent. Between the town and the Diamantina there is the famous billabong, sadly the track to Pelican Point was underwater, not that that bothered the Pelicans. Nor did it bother the Caspian Terns, Kites, Red-backed Kingfishers, Woodswallows in several flavours or Spoonbills …

Black-faced Woodswallow (photo - TLG)
Black-faced Woodswallow (photo – TLG)


Royal Spoonbill
Royal Spoonbill

The race track is out this way as well. Heavy just about summed it up  …

photo - TLG
photo – TLG

That’s not the river on the other side of the fence, that’s the track.

Birdsville’s drinking water comes straight out of the ground. The bore is 1280 meters deep and delivers water at 98ºC. The heat isn’t wasted, it’s used to drive Australia’s only Utility Company owned geothermal power station with an output of 80kW meeting about a third of the town’s electricity needs. Surplus water runs off to the billabong to keep the ducks happy, whilst the rest is stored aloft in reservoirs that look stunningly beautiful for several minutes every day …

Bore Birdsville sunset

And by the time you’ve finished the Cook’s tour you’re ready for a drink at one of my favourite Aussie Pubs … the Birdsville Hotel …

Birdsville Hotel


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