Birdsville was once known at Diamantina Crossing from 1881. It was located at the border of South Australia and Qld and was a customs depot to collect tolls from the droves of cattle being moved interstate. In it’s heyday, at the turn of the century, there was a population of 300 and there was a school, cordial factory, market garden, police station, court house etc. When the tolls were abolished in 1901 at federation, the town went into decline. The state school opened in 1899 and closed in 1948. It has since reopened and the town has been reborn due to tourism. M
The normal population of Birdsville is 115. It is about 118 at the moment with us and one other in the caravan park here. When the Birdsville horse race is on you can add 7000 more people. When the “Big Red Bash” music festival is on, it is 9000 more. This town is good at going from feast to famine just as the land goes from “boom to bust” between drought and floods. It is lovely and quiet and I get the feeling the locals like this time of year, even though they know they need the tourists. This town relies on it’s tourists to survive.
You pass the famous Birdsville racetrack as you come into town off the track. The Birdsville races are the second most famous horse race in Australia after the Melbourne Cup, even though most people will never get out here to see them!
Our first night in Birdsville was spent at a lovely free camp just outside of town on the Diamantina River. Birdsville has many nice places to free camp just on the outskirts of town. They must be set up like this as they would not be able to fit 7000 or 9000 people in this little town. M
Diamantina River tortured trees
The next day we came into town and checked into the caravan park to fill up with water and do some washing. There was only one other camper and we were told we could go anywhere we wanted in the park, so we filled our water tanks and then headed down to camp right on the billabong. It was just as quiet as the night before. The views were even better though. We could not believe we were in a caravan park! It would be very different in winter. M
Can’t believe this is a caravan park. Not sure if they would let us camp down here in tourist season. Notice the flood debris high in the tree on the right from a few months ago from the Winton floods. Birdsville was cut off like an island for 3 weeks with the first rain event up north and then for a second 3 weeks with the second lot of rain up at Winton. The locals we spoke to said it was lovely to be flooded in- at least for a short while. M
We had a lot of washing to do so I used their proper clothes lines up at the laundry but hung a few clothes down near camp. The clothes dried in 15 min. Quicker than if you put them all in a dryer!
Our view of the Billabong at sunset. Is this really a caravan park?
The Pelican tree had a few interlopers.
Walking, you really had to watch out for the prickles and the snakes. Especially since we hate putting on our boots.
This Black Kite was across the Billabong from us. We watched it swoop to try to get a meal and it often missed out.
This is what we see out our window or from the front “porch” . At night you heard these guys ‘belching’ out there in the dark.
Swamp vegetation around the Birdsville Billabong was full of Swam Hens and Native Hens.
Walking along Pelican Point across from the caravan park was lovely.
Nankeen Night Heron in green leggings.
Red Kneed Dotterel with arthritic knees- poor thing!
Horsefield’s Bush Lark- a new bird! A bit brown and boring but we are not complaining.
It is weird to see water gushing from underground at such pressure. Here Steve is checking out the cooling ponds for birds. It is amazing how many birds can handle the warm water. You don’t need a hot water heater in this town you need to cool your water to take a shower.
This is the town’s water supply being sprayed into cooling ponds before being pumped up into tanks.
This Egret LOVED the Birdsville water supply cooling ponds!
This is the source of the Birdsville Billabong which then runs all around the town in an open drain which grows plant life all along the way. The further from the “tap” the cooler the water becomes and the birds come to it. So we saw new birds at the drain.
Birdwatching at the Birdsville GAB drain.
A new bird seen. A Banded Lapwing loved the drain!
The town outgrew their first thermal power station and it was replaced by this one. This one was shelved because it was too expensive, so now the town uses a big diesel generator. We have not see alternative power sources working very successfully out here due to the expense.
They think Burke and Wills passed through here on their travels and “blazed” a tree near the Diamantina.
The cemetery always tells a people story. This area has always had a mostly good relationship with the local aboriginal people right up until today supposedly. What did they do differently here? There were people buried here that were in the Tom Kruse film. M
The Royal Hotel didn’t make it, but it is being restored. Built as a hotel it was even the ‘hospital’ for awhile.
Still going strong and the meeting place of the town.
We were early for lunch but eventually every car in town was parked out the front. All 4! These looked to be all locals except for us. The owners seemed to be around and busy but it was a French backpacker serving us at the bar. Amazing where backpackers turn up to work! REALLY nice to be able to get a salad for lunch here. Love the outback but sick of burgers and chips!
Every car in town at the only pub and watering hole. It’s right across the street from the “airport” so you just fly in, in your Cessna and go through that gate and cross the street. Not that long ago there was not even a fence. The day always started and ended in Birdsville with only one plane on the tacmac. Planes came and went throughout the day. The caravan park was on the flight path!
The bust of the legendary Mailman of the Birdsville Track Tom Kruse at the information centre. He and his wife lived at Maree and he drove the mail (and other supplies) from Marree to Birdsville from the 1930’s-1950’s every 2 weeks. He stopped at the stations along the way. This was a time when the track really was only a track and a REAL adventure. A film was made about him called “Back of Beyond’ and is where the term came from. It was made in 1954 by John Heyer and was one of the most awarded films in Australian history and is included in the list of 100 greatest films in Australian Cinema. It brought modest Tom, into the limelight and resulted in him being awarded an MBE in Jan 1955. He lived until the ripe old age of 96. Link to Back of Beyond film
I had seen this film a few years ago after reading the book about him on a previous trip to Marree. I had it’s images in my mind as we started the Birdsville track and it is amazing how easy the ‘track’ is today. It is hardly an adventure in comparison. M
The old inland mission building was not open for me to have a look in unfortunately. In the “off season” is when work is done on buildings so one disadvantage of travel here in the summer.
We are amazed how many people do this to their wheels and tyres on the tracks around here. Steve doesn’t want to jinx us by me saying this but I am proud that we have gone nearly 11,000 kms on dirt roads on this trip without ever having burst a tyre. Our only punctures were in towns from roofing screws left on the road. M
Next we headed 35kms out of town and into the Simpson desert to the famous ‘BIG RED’ sand dune.
First you come to ‘Little red” you can go over this one if you don’t want to tackle Big Red.
The top of Big Red. This is the biggest of all the sand dunes on the Simpson desert crossing. It is the first dune you cross if you do the Simpson from the Birdsville end. We went into the Simpson Desert to Purni Bore last April from Dalhousie Springs so we have now been to both sides of the Simpson desert, just not across it.
We walked up Big red for a sunset drinks and dinner.
There was only one car up at the top of the dune and it belonged to the Birdsville hotel. It is here on the area to the right that the ‘Big Red Bash music festival is held each winter, bringing 9000 people to town.
This is what a music festival in the middle of nowhere looks like. This is Big Red in the winter with 9000 people!
Big red was more big pink really. There are redder dunes in NT. It was a lovely dune though and much better not being covered in vehicles and car tracks everywhere which is more the norm.
Sun set dinner and drinks at ‘Big Red’,Simpson desert.
As we left Birdsville we stopped at the washdown station at the bore to give the car and caravan a clean with warm GAB water from the big “firemans” high pressure hose before heading out for another 500 kms of dirt.