The road from Birdsville south to Marree is the famous Birdsville Track.
When the railway reached what was then Herrgott Springs (now Marree) in 1883 the graziers of the channel country of western Queensland and the south-eastern corner of the Northern Territory had the option of a shorter route to market. The biggest obstacle facing them was about 500 km of desert from the Diamantina River to the rail head. This is seriously dry country, average rainfall is less than 100 mm a year (4 inches). But the Great Artesian Basin lies beneath and by 1916 bores had been sunk every 40 km.
Tom Kruse was the legendary mailman who took the mail and other supplies up the track to the good citizens of Birdsville. A classic film was made about his work in 1954 called “The Back of Beyond“. This played a large part in giving the track a certain reputation which wasn’t improved by a disaster that befell the Page family. They set out from Marree just days before Christmas in 1963 with the object of finding work in Queensland. Their car ran out of petrol, the result of a navigational error combined with gearbox problems that kept them stuck in 2nd gear. At that stage they were fairly close to a windmill and turkey dam. They were able to fill a four gallon drum with water and carry it back to the car.
Two days later they set off on foot and were found dead on January 1st 1964. Their abandoned car, with a radiator full of water, not far from the turkey dam, had been found on the 28th of December. There was a tarpaulin on the trailer that could have been used for shade. Mum, Dad and three kids were buried beneath the Coolibah where they were found.
The track, although still unsealed, has largely been tamed for routine tourist use but it’s still just as bloody hot out there. Take plenty of water, a satellite phone (or HF Radio) and if your vehicle lets you down stay with it.
Ironically, the thing that is most likely to immobilise you on the track is rain.
We were among the first to escape from Birdsville when the track reopened. It was still in very muddy condition, deeply rutted and in places quite slippery. We passed a number of stranded caravans and a truck that had been taking consumables to the impending race meeting. It was an interesting morning.
In places it was much muddier than this but it would have been unwise to stop for a photo …
It was our intention to camp at Mungerannie (if you want to sound cool remember that despite the following E, the G is hard like the G in manGo, and it’s got double n unlike the spelling in the map that I filched from Wikipedia ) but the place was very busy as traffic coming up from the south and been unable to get any further. It certainly seemed unlikely that caravans would be travelling on for a few days yet. After a welcome beer we pressed on to Cooper Creek and had a pleasant night under the coolibahs where conversation turned to the fate of previous travellers who had camped on the Cooper. Anyone for some more of this delicious nardoo?
The following morning saw us meeting the locals …
… checking out more of the ruins of Goyder deniers …
… and soon we reached Marree closing the loop.
The rest of the journey was essentially a repeat of the ride up, only quicker because we were now a little behind schedule.