Birdsville

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

birdsville sign 2
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.
birdsville races
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 tree roots
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

birdsvill camp flood debris
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
birdsville washing day
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!
birdsville billabong sunset
Our view of the Billabong at sunset. Is this really a caravan park?
birdsville billabong pelicans
The Pelican tree had a few interlopers.
prickles
Walking, you really had to watch out for the prickles and the snakes. Especially since we hate putting on our boots.
black kite
This Black Kite was across the Billabong from us. We watched it swoop to try to get a meal and it often missed out.
billabong pelican
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.
birdsville billabong plants
Swamp vegetation around the Birdsville Billabong was full of Swam Hens and Native Hens.
birdsville billabong
Walking along Pelican Point across from the caravan park was lovely.

 

Nankeen Night Heron juvenile
Nankeen Night Heron in green leggings.
red kneed dotterel 2
Red Kneed Dotterel with arthritic knees- poor thing!
horsefields bushlark
Horsefield’s Bush Lark- a new bird! A bit brown and boring but we are not complaining.

cooling pond sign

birdsville water works
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.
cooling pond
This is the town’s water supply being sprayed into cooling ponds before being pumped up into tanks.
cooling pond egret
This Egret LOVED the Birdsville water supply cooling ponds!
birdsville bore
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.
birdsville bore drain birding
Birdwatching at the Birdsville GAB drain.
banded lapwing
A new bird seen. A Banded Lapwing loved the drain!
old geothermal sign
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.
burke and wills sign
They think Burke and Wills passed through here on their travels and “blazed” a tree near the Diamantina.

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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

royal hotel birdsville
The Royal Hotel didn’t make it, but it is being restored. Built as a hotel it was even the ‘hospital’ for awhile.
birdsville hotel
Still going strong and the meeting place of the town.
inside the birdsville hotel
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!
birdsville hotel and planes
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!
tom kruse bust
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

 

inland mission sign
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.
bakery wheel rim sign
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
yet another warning sign
Next we headed 35kms out of town and into the Simpson desert to the famous ‘BIG RED’ sand dune.
little red sign
First you come to ‘Little red” you can go over this one if you don’t want to tackle Big Red.

big red sign

big red dune
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.
dune climbing
We walked up Big red for a sunset drinks and dinner.

 

one other vehicle on big red
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.
rsz_big_red_bash-2-1024x683
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 view
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.

maddy at sunset

big red sunset drinks
Sun set dinner and drinks at ‘Big Red’,Simpson desert.
birdsville washdown
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.

The Birdsville Track

The Birdsville track became a legendary stock route in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century as pastoralism established itself in the arid centre of Australia. Before that, is was an Aboriginal route following a succession of watering places. They did and we all still do, rely on the water from the ancient Great Artesian Basin beneath the surface, to sustain life. The Birdsville replaced the Strzelecki as the preferred route as it had a better water supply. It is one of the most famous outback drives and although much improved in recent years it still remains a remote track with very limited services.

weird birdsville track sign
Like many road signs on the Track this one has been cooked by the sun and heat and sand blasted by the wind.

We left Marree, lowered our tyre pressure and headed out on the track . We saw one other car day 1 and then only a couple of triple road trains. This was and still is a cattle route. Instead of drovers on horse back,  it is now men in road trains moving cattle around these days. The drought in this area has seen no rain for 3 yrs. Only the properties bordering  the Warburton Creek that got the Winton flood waters, have something for cattle to eat. Cattle from the dry stations away from this area are trucking their cattle to these “wet” properties to feed them up, so we are seeing this movement of cattle on the roads at the moment. M

warning sign birdsville
The first part of the track is open.
dust machine
Full of cows, so not moving so quickly. When these triple road trains with cattle come past, you can see the dust for kms!

Lunch on day one was at the lake Harry Ruins where there was a hot Artesian water shower. Steve inspects the shower. It was a bit too early in the day and not hot enough believe it or not! The site was once an oasis of date palms planted as an economic enterprise. By 1897, there were 2622 palm trees progressing well. Crops were then damaged by crows and cockatoos and many dry years saw it fail by 1912. Nature always rules! M

 

A road train passed us at the dog fence. The dog fence used to have big double gates. Now there is no gate, just ear piercing alarms when you get near the grid to scare the dogs off. It doesn’t slow these big rigs down. Well not much anyway. M

camp one birdsville
First camp we stayed at was Clayton’s Wetlands campsite which we had to ourselves. It is so strange, to be so remote and find a flush toilet and hot shower. It is all compliments of the Artesian water that comes out of the ground here for free and at 50degC. It seems farmers can have an unlimited supply of this water, so we had a shower and a bath at our disposal. This is owned by the nearby station. M

the gabgabsi

looking for the wetlands
Looking for the wet in the wetlands! I think they turned off the tap. Possibly as part of the Artesian Sustainability project! There was no water except for the end of the pipe which emptied the “spa bath”. We also could not find a bird! Very bad for a track called the “BIRDS VILLE” ! We want a refund! M
artesian spa at claytons camp
Now this is a bath! Artesian water comes out naturally at 50deg here. It is good it was a cool day on the Birdsville track! Just empty when you are done please or it becomes a stock watering station. The Artesian water made me feel 10 yrs younger! Who needs an expensive European Spa. This one cost us $10 to the farmer. M
roadtrain dust
Day 2 began with a double road train and we saw only 2 other cars all day. The great thing about this was there was very little dust, only your own. In the “season” you would be driving in dust all day following people and passing them. It would be terrible! We were camped this close to the road but there was no traffic all night and probably 2-4 vehicles during the day.  M
oasis of dulkaninna
Not quite!

We stopped next at the Dulkaninna Wetlands, which are artificial Artesian bores flowing  along creek lines that supplement surface water collected after rain. These provide a permanent habitat for many birds and so lovely to see in this dry land. They used to run unchecked but now are only supposed to be running at 8 litres/min to try to protect the GAB and it’s natural springs elsewhere. Well finally there were some birds. All you need is water out here. In about 30 min we saw 2 new birds! Australian Spotted Crake and Little grass bird. We also spotted what we thought to be the biggest Emu we had ever seen and then saw that it was an Ostrich! It wasn’t a wild one, so we couldn’t add it to the bird list. It looked very well fed by the station nearby.

 

biggest emu ever
Biggest emu ever!

What was even more of a surprise was to see a 2 wheel drive Holden Captiva drive up and a man step out of his car with binoculars. He then opened his folding chair and sat down to have lunch on the road next to the wetland, as a road train swerved around him! More rare than finding water out here is finding birdwatchers in the summer in a 2WD with only one spare tyre- and it was in a hire car! He turned out to be a Swiss teacher named Jacques and he was seriously into birds. He was only in the country for a few months to see birds and he knew all about Aussie birds. When I asked him if he had seen this or that rare bird, he told me exactly where he had seen them, like they were not that hard to find. He even told us he had seen not one but two Grey Falcons. We were not sure whether to believe him, as these are very hard to find supposedly. Anyway, I was hoping this guy had enough water etc and made it out of the desert alright. I did tell him to be careful as it was often the Swiss and Germans that died out here in the Summer! He is posting his bird sightings on the “e bird” website, so we will continue to watch where he gets to. M

drop your dust
This road train slowed down enough so he wouldn’t hit crazy birdwatchers on the road, dropping his dust from his wheels!

 

little grassbird
Little grassbird

 

It was nice to see horses still being used by a few of stations out here. Horse mustering has been mainly replaced by motor bikes, quad bikes, light aircraft and helicopters these days. You hardly see a horse any more.

 

Next stop was the Mulka homestead and store ruins and the lonely grave of 14 yr old Edith Scobie nearby.

birdsville track view
View on the track.
great artesian basin hair
Steve suffering from Artesian Bore hair! Who cares as there is nobody to see you out here!

We only saw 2 road trains this day and they caught up with each for lunch together. I don’t think they got out of the aircon!

mv tom brennan
Steve driving the MV Tom Brennan. This punt used to take people and supplies across the flooded Cooper Creek in days gone by. Now there is a one car ferry when required.
birdsville track sign
In the middle of nowhere this appeared!

mungerannie station

really on the birdsville
Really?  Out here?

And then we came upon the Mungerannie Hotel and roadhouse.

mungerannie hotel

old truck mungerannie
One of Tom Kruse’s (The old mailman of the Birdsville Track) old trucks sits out the front. He wore out a few in his time.

 

bus stop
The bus stop at the Mungarannie Hotel/Road house said to hail the bus! The owner of the roadhouse likes a joke!
mungerannie tyres
Mungerannie is the only place on the Birdsville track to get a tyre fixed. The side of the road all the way along is littered with dead tyres. These are the one’s that made it all the way to Mungerannie Road House.
inside mungerannie pub
Mungerannie Hotel

We were not there more than 5 min when Phil the owner of the Pub/Roadhouse said “not MORE Crazy Bird people”. He had met the Swiss guy the day before. He asked what WE wanted to see and I said “Grey Falcon” as a joke. He told us to drive 20kms down a road off the Birdsville track, don’t worry about the closed road sign. He said we should hurry as the sun was going down. We were stunned. We didn’t know if he was serious or not. Then he laughed at Steve’s camera, came out with his big camera, gave it to us and told us to be quick. This is about 15 min after meeting us. We got in the car and drove fast down the road with his $4000 camera wondering if he was back at the pub laughing at us while having a drink with the station owner from the next property!

another sign
Just ignore the road closed sign we were told. So we did!
steve and phils camera
Steve trying to work out how to use Phil’s camera very quickly.
grey falcon p
And there it was. Just where he said it would be. It was a young grey falcon waiting for it’s parents to come home with his nest just above him. Very exciting, especially for Steve as the birds had made their home on a communications tower of all places!

gorgeous birdiegrey falcon p3grey falcon back

grey falcon screech
After awhile he decided he wasn’t too sure about us and started calling out for his mother. It was a sign it was time for us to go. We could have watched it for hours he was such a big beautiful baby.

grey falcon p 2

grey falcon
It stood on one yellow foot and had the other tucked into it’s feathers.
moon falcon
Is was pretty exciting to see such a rare bird and we would have loved to stay until his parents came back to see a full grown bird, but we felt he had had enough of us after awhile and we left him alone. We headed back to the pub for dinner with Phil who then asked us to manage the pub/roadhouse while he took a break. Failing that did we want to buy it, as it was up for sale?

We stayed 2 days at the roadhouse campground which had one other person staying and which was right on the wetlands. These were produced by a constantly running GAB Bore which was pouring into the now dry creekbed of the Derwent River next to the roadhouse. It was an oasis and bird magnet.

yellow and royal spoonbill
Yellow and Royal spoon bill

 

spotted harrier flying
We watched this Spotted Harrier come in for a hunting session.
drought cow
These are dead cattle from Mungerannie station. They died of starvation due to drought. This is the reality out here. There were many of them further away along the wetlands area, away from where we camped thankfully.
mungerannie wetlands
Mungerannie wetlands are pretty dry at the moment.
white breasted woodswallow
A very hot White Breasted Woodswallow near camp.

 

spotted crake
Spotted Crake a new bird seen at Dulkannina wetlands, but I got a photo here at Mungerannie
f__k
This guy was swearing the whole time!

The next morning we were up early to look for a Gibber Bird which we still had not seen on this trip. We hit the “gibber pavement” with our camera and binoculars and found not a Gibber Bird but a Cinnamon Quail Thrush.

mungerannie gibber
Gibber pavement.
searching for gibberbird
There were mirages everywhere but it wasn’t as hot as it looks.
cinnamon quial thrush
Cinnamon Quail Thrush

 

phil
Phil tried to shock us city slickers at times while we were here, but by the end of our stay we were mates. Despite the look, he was a real sweety. You just had to watch his hands! We left the Roadhouse and headed up the track.
mungerannie gap
The view going through Mungerannie Gap
emu on birdsville track
Emu on the gibber plain
bull dust sign
Strange signs
mitta mitta bore signs
Mirra Mitta Bore is a bit warmer than the previous bores. The have now had to fence it off due to silly tourists that don’t know what hot means. This bore was sunk in 1901 to a depth of 1076 metres. This is a place where you can see the Grey Falcon but were there at the wrong time of day.

mitta mitta bore

pink eared duck
The strange beaked, Pink Eared duck seen at a lunch stop at road side bore dam on the track
variegated fairy wren males
Fairy wrens hanging on in the wind.
lunch time bird hide
Lunch time bird hide. The caravan has turned out to be an amazing (expensive) bird hide. We see so much more inside than when we put our chairs outside. The birds just don’t seem to notice us. This is an area that was flooded and their were many small birds around.
desert flowers
Very tiny wild flowers growing after the flood

Our next free camp we were told about by Phil. He said to take the Simpson desert track to the Warburton Crossing. We were to go through the gate even if it said the road was closed. So we did.

Simpson desert sign from the other side
In another 2 weeks the Simpson desert would be closed for the summer due to heat. They had not bothered to fix the road or take down the sign.
road closed
It looks locked but you just lift the chain up and replace it again.

We thought there may still have been water at the crossing due to the floods but there was none. It was a lovely camp in the river bed. There was plenty to show that there had been a lot of water though. There was ground cover for a start and green and flowers in areas. There were even birds around and nice fat cattle to be seen.

warburton creek
Warburton Creek. Who would know this was flooded not that long ago! How do these trees survive!

 

mudmoss
This looked like something you would see in constantly wet Tasmania!
fried egg flower
Tiny and gorgeous wildflower in the creek bed.
chestnut and dusky whiteface
They seemed shocked to see us. We were shocked to see such fat cows.

In the evening we watched huge flocks of budgies come in and land to feed near the caravan. Once they landed they all but disappeared in the grass. They were very skittish though and didn’t like us around. They are the favourite food of the Grey Falcon, so I don’t blame them. So much more impressive out of a cage.

Mt Gason Wattle Project is a fenced area where these rare acacia trees discovered only in 1978 are protected from cattle grazing.

high tailing roos
There were not many roos out here but these one’s were not hanging around.
sturts stoney desert
Sturt’s stony desert.
sad tyre and wheel
I think this guy drove on this one for a bit too long.  Dead tyres litter the roadside all the way along, but it was exciting to see a whole rim!

Some of the first signs of the flooded areas from the flooding 7 months ago.  This little flooded channel had a group of about 100 pelicans feeding in concert.

We pulled over to check out the old car and found out it was the best shade around for these Cinnamon Quail thrush.

18km from Birdsville, we entered Queensland and the Diamantina Shire. No fan fare and no border security taking away our honey like in Western Australia. Steve was relieved!

rufous songlark
While the first 100km of the track was birdless, things got better once we started passing artesian bore overflows.   Although we passed hundreds of kilometres of gibber and never saw a gibberbird, we did end up adding 5 new species to the list including the amazing grey falcon sighting, not to mention this rather drab little rufous songlark seen a few km before Birdsville. S
birdsville sign
We made it! 519kms of dirt from Marree and it’s only a few hundred more until we get back to a paved road!

 

 

 

 

Birdsville Track-Marree

We have both always wanted to see the Birdsville track and last year the track was flooded by the Winton flood waters, so we had to miss it. We have returned to this area to do the track now. Most people do this track in the winter months of June July and August because it is too hot (for normal people) but we are looking forward to doing it out of season and we prefer heat to cold anyway. Marree is a tiny town at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks and once called Hergott Springs. Once a thriving centre for transport and communications, relics of bygone years remain. Afghan Cameleers, Aboriginals and Europeans lived in relative harmony as the fortunes of the town came and went over time. We arrived in town on a Sat and we saw only one person out on the street. It felt like a ghost town. Also it was cold. Not what you would expect! M

map birdsville
This sign makes it look pretty easy. Just skirt in between a few deserts and some salt lakes and sand hills and you are there!

road sign birdsville

Before the railway line camel transport was widely used in central Australia and most cameleers were from the middle-east (although they were often called Afgans, apparently many came from India). A replica of the original mosque used by the cameleers still stands in Marree.

Marree was the home town of the legendary outback mailman Tom Kruse who features in the movie “back of beyond” which follows the challenges he faced as the mailman on the Birdsville track in the 1940s and 1950s.   One of his old trucks is on display in Marree.

Some of the artefacts, signs and murals in Marree including some diesel locomotives from the old “ghan” railway line that closed in 1980 after the rail was re-aligned about 300km westward.  Also a camel shaped sundial made from old railway sleepers

lake eyre yacht club
The nicest building in town was the Lake Eyre Yacht Club. Lake Eyre is a salt lake that floods every 10 yrs if you are lucky! That’s looking on the bright side!
kidman info
Kidman- Australia’s biggest cattle baron and rural property owner had property  all around this area. He used to drove his cattle on horseback across the Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks and load them on the train to go to market. Now it is road trains that do all the work. It is one of these old stock routes that we will now drive across. M

 

 

Heading North

 

We left the lovely town of Quorn and headed north stopping briefly in towns of Leigh Creek  and Copley before a brief stop in Lyndhurst to visit Talc Alf’s gallery. Cornelis ‘Talc Alf’ is a famous local character who uses cast off slabs from the Mount Fitton talc mine to sculpt statements about politics and religion among other things. M

talc alfs joint

alf zyn spiel
‘Alf’ is a Dutch born self taught talc sculptor in Lyndhurst.

alfart

talc alf sign
He designed an Australian flag that I really like.
talc alfs stuff
Some of his art works for sale. Some looked a bit Picasso to me.

We spent our next night camped on Farina Station where the owners and a bunch of Grey Nomads are slowly fixing up the old Farina township. It is an amazing place and a lovely campground. There were only 2 other campers and we visited the old town by ourselves. In the season (June-August) this place is a hive of restoration and visitor activity. The underground bakery has been restored and it operates with the volunteer ‘grey nomad’ crowd each winter. A new visitor’s centre has been built as it is so busy in the winter the old bakery can not keep up with the demand, so there is also a new bakery! I would love to have seen the old bakery operating but not the packed campground that goes with it!  It is so nice that a group of travelers felt so strongly about not letting this little bit of history go to ruin! M

entry farina stationfarina town signnorth of goyders line

old bakery farina
Inside the old bakery which operates in the winter

underground bakery

faina bakery sign

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The sunsets in the desert are always so beautiful. This stumpy tail is trying to look scary.

Thank you Quorn Caravan Park

OK, we don’t usually say too much about caravan parks in this blog mainly because we don’t stay in so many but also because we generally don’t like them. They are usually a place to do some housekeeping before getting back on the “road” as it were. There is one that stands out for me though and it is the one in the lovely town of Quorn. It is my favourite for the entire trip and this should have been mentioned on the Milestones blog. I mean if there were a Van Park travel contest then Quorn would be the winner!!

Essentially, the park has the feeling like somebody cares. There is serious drought on out here and yet you can see there is a garden around you. There are pots around the park filled with flowers and dishes under every tap to give the birds a drink. The facilities are immaculate- as clean as at home- OK maybe more even! The owners do all this without using toxic chemicals too. They think about their customers and the earth. This is hard to find anywhere let alone in remote Australia.

Quorn is a lovely town in itself with a lot around to do and see. The amazing Pichi Richi railway brings the people in, but there is so much more to do and see in the area. The Caravan Park is for sale we understand and it will be sad when it is sold, because I can’t imagine anyone doing such a wonderful job as Bronwyn and Gary. Thank you to you both, for giving us a home away from home!!

 

Maddy and Steve Norman

The 1 year milestone

So here we are in Quorn after crossing the Nullarbor and about to head north to the famous Birdsville Track.   However today marks exactly 1 year after starting our big trip.  We have another 6 weeks or so to go before returning to Sydney to resume “normal” life, but worth a quick reflection on what we have done so far.

40,000 km driven; 32,000 km towing Keddie and about 10,000 on unsealed roads (6000 towing).  Below is a map of our route and camp spots, but a more readable picture can be seen by clicking the following link Travelmap 2.

travel map small

We have stayed in 168 different locations: three times in a tent, once under the stars, 6 nights on a boat, once with friends, 23 nights at home in Avalon Beach, 9 nights in a cabin/motel, 15 on a plane/back in South Africa (for Steve) and the rest (nearly 300 nights) in our now very familiar caravan, often with $500 per night resort views like this.

Cape northumberland view from keddie

We have had temperatures up to 44 degrees C and down to 0.5 degrees.  Two or three rainy days, a few too cold or too windy days, but mostly warmth and sunshine.

We have also spotted 333 different species of bird (I hope to get to 350 before the end of the trip), accumulated about 850 hours of driving time, put about 20 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (plus whatever the boat and plane trips contributed) while the tax man lost out on many tens of thousands of dollars in income tax 🙂

Steve did not want me to mention this just in case, but I think it is worth a mention that we have now done 11,000 kms on dirt roads. We have never punctured or burst a tyre on these roads despite passing literally thousands of “dead” tyres people have left as litter in our beautiful wild places. Our only 2 tyre problems on the trip were in towns running over (rubbish yet again!) roofing screws/nails left on the road. We were able to have so few problems with tyres as we go low with our tyre pressures (always!) on dirt and drive slowly. What you also get from this is a more comfortable ride and you spot more interesting things to see which after all, is the reason for being out here! M

 

 

 

 

The rush across the Nullarbor

As mentioned in the last post our plan was to rush across the Nullarbor pausing only at the Eyre Bird Observatory.   As can be seen on the map below, it is quite a long way so most of the time was spent driving, but we did have a couple of stops along the way and there were some interesting things to look at.

across the nullarbor

The first stop was at the Balladonia road house near where NASA dropped some space junk back in 1979 when the skylab satellite crashed to the ground.  The road house had a little museum, but there was not much original stuff to see apart from this bit of wiring loom.

20km from Balladonia we made the left hand turn onto the longest straight stretch of road in Australia finishing at the Caiguna blowhole – a small entrance to a large cave system that breathes in response to changes in atmospheric pressure.

weird time zone
Just east of Caiguna is a little known special timezone that applies to the tiny town of Eucla and 2 or 3 roadhouses along the last 400km of the Eyre highway before the border with South Australia.  Being on the extreme east of the state, I can understand why they would want to avoid the 3:30 AM sunrises in summer, but why they chose to be 45 minutes ahead of Perth and not a more sensible 1 hour is rather odd.
baxter plain view
At Madura, there is a bit of excitement as the road drops about 50m onto the Roe Plains.  Then about 250km further on it climbs back up again.

As if the vast open expanses, a 50m drop and climb and the occasional bend in the road is not exciting enough, The Eyre Highway also features a unique 18 hole golf course – the longest in the world.  Sporting astroturf tees and greens, the idea is that you play the hole, have a drink or even stay at the nearby roadhouse, then drive 80 to 150km to the next hole.  The photo on the left captures the moment where Maddy lost grip on her 7-iron during the downswing and the club went spiraling off to the right narrowly missing a parked car.

border town big kangaroo and joey
At the border crossing to South Australia, this giant kangaroo holds out a tub of Vegemite.  One then advances the clocks another 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I am not sure which is more weird.
nullabor sign
On entering South Australia, one passes this warning sign.  After 88km there is another identical set of signs warning of camels, wombats and kangaroos for the next 96km, then another and another.  I suspect this approach was either chosen to provide regular photo opportunities for tourists, or perhaps the sign design software did not allow for 3 digit distances to be signposted.  After 400km, the camel sign disappeared, but similar warnings for just roos and wombats persisted for another 300 or 400km.
koonalda sign
Roughly in the middle of our journey, we spent the night bush camping at this interesting old homestead which also served as a roadhouse before the highway was moved 12km further south.   Today it stands deserted as if the inhabitants just packed their bags and left.  National Parks is undertaking some basic ongoing preservation work to the homestead, but the surrounding buildings, shearing shed and yard of old cars is slowly deteriorating.  It is an amazing insight into remote life in the mid 20th century.   One is free to explore the area, so hopefully it never gets vandalised.   While looking around I could imagine how this would still be a bustling hive of activity if the highway had not been realigned.

  The exterior and kitchen of the old homestead.  The outer walls built from sleepers from the trans-Australian railway.

The old scrap heap out the back featured cars from the 1940’s to 1970’s that had obviously not managed to complete the journey across the continent;  An old petrol bowser.

 

Koonalda also has a blow-hole, about 1km from the homestead.  The opening is much smaller than the one at Caiguna, but when we visited, the rush of cold air coming out of the hole was far more impressive. It was like natures air conditioner it was so cool!

blue bonnet
A blue-bonnet, a type of parrot, spotted near Koonalda.
bunda cliffs selfie
Apart from the 250km or so of the Roe plains (where the land drops to sea level) most of the Nullarbor coast ends in these strikingly abrupt 50 cliffs. Here we are at the Bunda Cliffs.
nullarbor straight road
Yes there is another straight road picture a bit earlier in this post, but we did see quite a few of them.  Also this one is in a different state, so subtly different to the earlier Western Australian straight road.
outback wave
The outback wave, a cheerful excuse to exercise the finger muscles on passing another vehicle.   At this point we had re-entered the wheat growing area and had only about 500km left to go. S  As part of the big caravan family we belong to now, one must wave to another caravan coming the other direction. I always give at least a 4, sometimes 5 finger wave. It seems to be mainly men drivers coming the other direction though and they rarely give more than 1 finger. Is this case since I gave 5 fingers, I got 2 in return. M

 

 

The big Galah at Kimba the second time around 7 months on. Doesn’t Steve look much more relaxed now? They did some renovations while we were away and I think even the Galah is looking better! Poor pathetic looking thing! M

 

 

 

Eyre Bird Observatory

From Norseman we turned East.  We had done a trip along the south coast of Australia a few years back and we wanted to spend the last few weeks of our trip on the Birdsville Track and back on the east coast, so we decided to not spend too much time stopping  across the Nullarbor with the exception of visiting the Eyre Bird Observatory as we had missed this on our last trip.

The Observatory is operated by Birdlife Australia and conducts regular surveys of the surrounding birdlife.  It is housed in a 120 year old restored telegraph repeater station which has also has 3 rooms for guests.  It is staffed by volunteer hosts who also provide 3 meals a day, making for an enjoyable relaxing stay.

road to ebo
The last 12km to the observatory is along a narrow sandy track, so we had to leave the caravan at an old microwave tower.  While it felt a little wrong to abandon Keddie, the microwave tower was already 18km off the highway in what is already one of the more remote parts of the country, so the chances of an encounter with miscreants was extremely small.

The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way

ebo sign

ebo veranda
In addition to being a good birding spot, the Eyre Bird Observatory is housed in an old telegraph station building so there is an interesting historical aspect to the place.  The history goes back even further as the telegraph station was built at the location where Edward Eyre camped on his exploratory trip across the Nullarbor in 1841.
telegraph station museum
The current building dates back to 1897 and served as a repeater station on the line from Adelaide to Albany then on to Perth, linking the west coast settlements to the east coast and up to the rest of the world via Darwin and Singapore.   Some old telegraph equipment is on display in one of the rooms.

Several interesting bones and skeletons have been washed up over the years including a turtle which must have been washed thousands of km beyond its normal range by a particularly strong Leeuwin current.

old old telegraph station
The current 1897 building was in fact predated by an older telegraph station nearby from 1877.  Today only the fireplace remains.

Out on one of the walks: a monument to Edward Eyre and his four companions: Baxter, an Irishman and 3 young aboriginals Wylie, Joey and Yarry.   In the end only Eyre and Wylie completed the journey.  Baxter was killed – allegedly by Joey and Yarry, who fled the camp taking two shotguns.

A distant view of the Eyre Bird Observatory nestled behind the dunes where Eyre found water on his 1841 expedition;  one of the many old telegraph poles with rusty wire still hanging.  Today the Eyre Bird Observatory is served by the NBN.  Unfortunately the 150 year old telegraph line was found to be in poor condition and not suitable for even a fibre-to-the-node service, so they have had to fall back to a satellite service.   However this is still better than the cutting edge wheatstone duplex morse system that was enjoyed by the original staff at this building.

And of course what would a bird observatory be without birds.  There were heaps including 4 new species for my list: Chestnut backed quail thrush (too fast for a photo unfortunately); brown headed honeyeater; western yellow robin and blue breasted fairy-wren.

Other birds included (from top to bottom) hundreds of singing honeyeater and new holland honeyeater; brush bronzewing; fantailed cuckoo; inland thornbill; white-browed scrubwren; dusky woodswallow; and unidentified fledgling; white-eared honeyeater; and the spectacular Major Mitchell’s cockatoo.

major mitchells cockatoo 2

Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.

Kalgoorlie and the Super Pit

Kalgoorlie started a couple of years before Gwalia as a gold mining town. The difference between Kalgoorlie and many of these old mining towns we have visited on this trip, is that it has never stopped mining. The underground mines of old have been turned into one big huge super pit and they continue to find gold to this day. It’s one of the richest gold deposits in the world! The good thing about this (for me who is not crazy about mining) is that there is money in town to restore all the beautiful old architectural gems that in many places go to ruin in towns that began last century. We only stopped here very briefly as we had been here a few years ago.

kalgoorlie mine info

superpit lookout
The Kalgoorlie-Boulder Super Pit where many underground mines were opened up into one great big hole in the ground. It’s amazing and horrible all at the same time.

golden mile info

kcmg trucks
Big truck and little dozer? Even the dozer is huge!
superpit shovel
It takes 4 scoops of this to fill one of those big trucks!
young hoover
Our old friend Herbert Hoover also used to hang out in Kalgoorlie, where he was smitten with a bar maid at the Palace Hotel, where he stayed. She was not to become the first lady, though he certainly had fond memories of her! He even wrote a poem about this time! We understand he was engaged at the time to Lou Henry, but they an “understanding”.
palace hotel picture
The Palace Hotel where Hoover used to stay in it’s hey day.
hoover mirror selfie
The mirror Herbert Hoover had made for the Palace Hotel as a “thank you”.
hoover poem
The  poem written by Herbert Hoover remembering a summer spent with one of the barmaids at the Palace hotel where he stayed while in Kalgoorlie. We wondered when he wrote this?

 

 

 

There are many beautiful buildings in Kalgoorlie and it’s old sister city Boulder. Many of these are pubs which much money has been spent on. It’s a funny place full of men wearing the high visibility clothing of the miner. The standard pubs hardly had a woman in them, except the barmaids. The “skimpies” which many pubs advertised on the door outside, were barmaids that served in sexy underwear! It is quite amazing that there is a place where this still exists. Not so many years ago these same women were topless!

 

 

 

We took a quick walk through the arboretum looking for birds. Unfortunately it doubled as a dog walking area, which is not good for seeing wild animals/birds. Though the spring flowers were finished there were some nice flowering gums.

gimlet
Gimlet gumtrees has nice shiny bark

lemon flowered gumpink flower gummore pink flower gum

yellow plumed honeyeater
Steve found this yellow plumed honey eater in the caravan park. It’s number 329.

It was a brief stop in Norseman the next night at our next free camp with a couple of others on a quiet green paddock next to the sports field.

 

 

norseman
A life size statue of the horse Norseman who this town was named after. The story goes that he was found by his owner “pawing’ at a rich gold deposit which founded the town last century. Steve and I had seen the Michelle Payne movie “Ride like a girl” in Geraldton and I was trying out the jockey position.
norseman camels
Camels on the roundabout Norseman
Hoary headed grebes
Hoary headed Grebes on the sewage ponds just before the sun went down.

Lake Ballard and Sir Antony Gormley’s ‘Inside Australia’ exhibit. Australia’s largest outdoor Art gallery.

Sir Antony Gormley is a Turner Prize Winning British sculptor who managed to convince 51 Aboriginal and white people from the town of Menzies 51 kms from Lake Ballard to strip naked and have their bodies laser scanned. He then shrunk these scans by two thirds but left them life sized in height. He then made metal sculptures from these and placed 51 of them on Lake Ballard. Because lake Ballard is so flat you can see 360 degrees around it. There is also a big hill to climb to give you another vantage point of the sculptures. You can see them for miles and they really feel like people out there on the lake. It is strange how you don’t feel alone out there. You walk from sculpture to sculpture leaving foot prints in the soft crust of the lake between them. Gormley saw these footprint tracks between the sculptures as part of the work. Not really sure what is all means but it was interesting to see and you really feel like you are not alone out there. They also make the lake have even more of a presence. Maybe this was it!  M

the woman on the lake

keddie from the hill
We were camped on the edge of the lake
lake ballard from the lookout
Lake Ballard from a lookout. The centre has more of the white salt crust that is normally seen at the edges too, when there is more rain. They lake only gets enough rain to be wet every few years and then there is an huge influx of Banded Stilts that come to eat the Brine Shrimp that have hatched from eggs that were laying dormant and waiting for the rain.
lake ballard camp view
This was our view from camp. You can see the first figure close by but it takes many hours to get around to all 51 as they are spaced far apart and they look in all four directions. It was in the high 30’s this day and the flies were epic!
feeling fat and flat
First contact and we are friends already!
lake ballard friend
Trying to make contact with this one. I’m jealous that there are no flies on him while I am covered!
even they hate the flies
Steve liked this one so much he gave his trusty fly net up!
little boy
This little girl was the smallest of the sculptures we saw.
three figures
Friends of E. T. perhaps?

perkyfigure in the distance

sunset with flies
Sunset on Ballard
back in the fly zone
I just have no words!!!!