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
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
And then we came upon the Mungerannie Hotel and roadhouse.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
The sunsets in the desert are always so beautiful. This stumpy tail is trying to look scary.
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!!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way
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.
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.
Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.
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.
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.
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.
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