The last fron­tier

Caravan World - - Contents -

The iconic out­back town of Birdsville is not just fa­mous for its races

The iconic Queens­land out­back town of Birdsville is fa­mous for its races and re­mote mu­sic fes­ti­val, but there are plenty of other at­trac­tions - and per­son­al­i­ties - that make

this a year-round des­ti­na­tion

There's an un­de­ni­able mys­tique about Aus­tralia's desert heart­land. Sit­ting in the far western cor­ner of Queens­land near the South Aus­tralian border and on the edge of the mag­nif­i­cent Simp­son Desert, the town of Birdsville em­bod­ies this out­back ideal. Re­mote, weather-beaten yet determined to sur­vive, it's an Aussie trav­eller's rite of pas­sage.

“Birdsville it­self as a tourist des­ti­na­tion is like one of the last frontiers,” says Ben Ful­lager, Man­ager of the iconic Birdsville Ho­tel. “It is still a very long way from any­thing and when you ar­rive here you feel like you have achieved some­thing.”

Ad­ven­ture en­thu­si­asts and RV trav­ellers have grav­i­tated to Birdsville over the years, and it's now eas­ier than ever with only about 60km of dirt road to cross if trav­el­ing via Be­dourie, al­though many of­froad­ers pre­fer the brag­ging rights of land­ing via the rugged Birdsville Track up through South Aus­tralia.

Jes­sica Green­away, Tourism and Event Man­ager with Dia­mantina Shire Coun­cil, says the town at­tracts ad­ven­ture tourists in 4WD ve­hi­cles with car­a­vans, mo­torhomes,

fam­i­lies and Grey No­mads. And, with all roads ac­ces­si­ble by two wheel drive ve­hi­cles, there is no rea­son why any­one couldn't be plan­ning a Birdsville road trip.

“Birdsville is the launch­ing ground for many vis­i­tors, whether they are vis­it­ing the desert, or tak­ing a trip to Lake Eyre or a short cut up to Alice Springs,” she says. “It is a land of ex­tremes and there is no other place quite like it. It re­ally is quite alien to vis­i­tors that come here to ex­pe­ri­ence our desert life­style.”

The Wangkan­gurru-Yar­luyandi peo­ple are the cus­to­di­ans of the land, and Eu­ro­pean vis­i­tors ar­rived around 1844. Burke and Wills even set up camp here in 1860.

What be­gan as a toll point for drovers of cat­tle and prod­ucts be­tween the states be­fore Fed­er­a­tion has mor­phed into a thriv­ing town­ship and com­mu­nity. It's the beat­ing heart of the im­mense Dia­mantina Shire which is 95,000 square kilo­me­tres — twice the size of Den­mark. There are only 320 peo­ple within its bound­aries, with about 120 of them call­ing Birdsville home, but it boasts 14 cat­tle sta­tions with stock sur­viv­ing on grass­lands and salt­bush. These are fed by the re­gion's three main rivers: the Dia­mantina, Ge­orgina and Cooper, which give it the name ‘Chan­nel Coun­try'.

Rains from the north nour­ish these sys­tems — some­times a lit­tle too much as is the case right now. But that's great news for tourists be­cause once the wa­ter re­cedes, the dry land will bloom in a sea of green as the wa­ter flows down to fill South Aus­tralia's famed salty basin that is Lake Eyre, in what

locals are call­ing a twice-in-a-life­time event.

It’s fair to say there has never been a bet­ter time to visit this iconic town and the sur­round­ing re­gion.


Birdsville of­fers two iconic ma­jor events, the Big Red Bash mu­sic fes­ti­val in July and the Birdsville Races in Septem­ber that see the town bloat from a tiny pop­u­la­tion of 120 to be­tween 6000 and 10,000.

But these don’t just de­fine the town.

In fact, trav­el­ling out­side of these times of­fers the best chance to see what the ‘real’ Birdsville is like.

“The thing is, when 10,000 peo­ple drop in for lunch it gets hec­tic,” says Martin Jos­se­lyn, owner of the Birdsville Bak­ery and Desert Edge Tours. “But when you are here dur­ing the other times, it is ca­sual and laid-back, you can get in to the pub and get a drink, you can talk to the locals and re­ally get a feel­ing of the his­tory of Birdsville and ex­pe­ri­ence all of the good things that are out there.”

Here are some of the top rea­sons to visit Birdsville for a more re­laxed ex­pe­ri­ence.


Ev­ery coun­try town has one, and in Birdsville, the pub is a liv­ing, breath­ing icon. Built in 1884, it has with­stood harsh sum­mers, fire and flood­ing, and is a ver­i­ta­ble oa­sis. Thou­sands of trav­ellers, a few Prime Min­is­ters and even a Gov­er­nor Gen­eral have pulled up for a beer at the front bar, and Ful­lager says it’s a ma­jor bucket-list goal.

“I see peo­ple walk in here who aren’t even beer drinkers but they have a beer — it’s one of those things they want to tick off,” he said.

It’s also a liv­ing his­tory mu­seum with pho­tos from by­gone eras adorn­ing the walls, mem­o­ra­bilia ga­lore and a fitting trib­ute to locals who have made a pos­i­tive com­mu­nity con­tri­bu­tion. Those deemed wor­thy are in­vited to hang their hat on the east­ern wall. When they pass away, hats are moved to the western side with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing plaque.

Ful­lager is proof that Birdsville is some­thing of a col­lec­tor. He came here as a trav­eller in 2013, picked up a three-month gig with the pub and sim­ply never left, caught in the net of the area’s al­lure.

“It kind of got into my blood,” he says. “For me it is the chal­lenge of run­ning a busi­ness of this cal­i­bre in such a re­mote lo­ca­tion.

You do face a new chal­lenge ev­ery day. It could be a flood so we won’t get de­liv­er­ies from Ade­laide for weeks, or a phone call to do vol­un­teer am­bu­lance driv­ing out to the desert to some­one who is in need of help.”


Ful­lager says the locals are very wel­com­ing of tourists and re­ally en­joy the un­of­fi­cial sea­son from March to Oc­to­ber.

“Peo­ple on the sta­tions re­ally like it when the tourists roll through be­cause more things hap­pen in the town,” he says. “That’s re­ally good for them be­cause it breaks the monotony of liv­ing in such a re­mote lo­ca­tion.”

Green­away says Birdsville’s “coun­try hos­pi­tal­ity” is an at­trac­tion, but so is the fact that tourism helps the com­mu­nity.

“Tourism is our sec­ond largest in­dus­try,” she says. “Like most out­back towns our pop­u­la­tion is de­clin­ing, and with­out growth in the tourism busi­ness strug­gle, and there are less and less jobs. So while we have a rich his­tory, tourism is the fu­ture of Birdsville.”


There are myr­iad other events in town through­out the year, in­clud­ing horse and mo­tor­bike gymkhanas, rodeos and camp drafts. Most of these are or­gan­ised by the Birdsville So­cial Club, run by Locals Don and Judy Ray­ment who act as the Pres­i­dent and Sec­re­tary. The pair also man­age Adria Downs Sta­tion, the im­mense 1.5 mil­lion hectare cat­tle prop­erty owned by an­other ‘vet­eran’ lo­cal David Brook.

There are also one-off events such as the up­com­ing Ringers Ride for a Cure fundraiser for can­cer char­i­ties, 23-28 June. Three locals will ride from Be­dour­rie to Birdsville to sup­port loved ones who have been af­flicted with and af­fected by can­cer.

Trav­ellers are in­vited to stop and say hello and do­nate to this cause. There will be a BBQ at Car­coory Ru­ins on Tues­day 25 June with guest speak­ers, camp­fire and live mu­sic.

“It is still a very long way from any­thing and when you ar­rive here you feel like you have

achieved some­thing”


The Big Red Dune, lo­cated on Adria Downs Sta­tion about 35km from town, is a huge high­light all year round. Stand­ing 30m tall it’s im­pres­sive, and the sun­sets there are sim­ply magic.

Jos­se­lyn says many car­a­van­ners are en­am­oured with the idea of see­ing the desert, but not nec­es­sar­ily us­ing their own ve­hi­cles to tra­verse it. Which is where tours, such as the Big Red Sun­set Tour and overnight desert trips, come in.

“The desert is cer­tainly an ap­peal­ing place, and they want to get to the edge of it and go and have a look at it and be happy that they have seen it.

“If they want a bit of thrillseek­ing then we will ac­cess the face of the dune with one of our Toy­otas and run them up and down it.

It’s pretty good fun — it looks scarier than it ac­tu­ally is!”

For some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent vis­i­tors might also like to jump on the back of a Birdsville Ad­ven­ture Tours Har­ley for a tour around the his­toric town.


Yep, you heard right. The Birdsville Bak­ery has a rep­u­ta­tion for serv­ing up some of the tastiest — and ob­vi­ously un­usual — pie va­ri­eties in the out­back. Aside from the sig­na­ture camel pie, there’s kan­ga­roo and claret, lamb shank, shep­herd chunky, but­ter chicken, chunky beef, minced beef and sausage rolls.

Other ‘Aussie’ fare in­cludes lam­ing­tons, ap­ple turnovers and quan­dong tarts, caramel tarts and wat­tle­seed cus­tard tarts. It’s also li­cenced, so you can grab a cold one to wash down your pie. Es­tab­lished 12 years ago by Dusty Miller, the Bak­ery can serve up to serv­ing 12,000 pies dur­ing ma­jor events. It is open seven days a week from March to Oc­to­ber from 7am.


There are plenty of other lo­cal at­trac­tions to keep RV trav­ellers busy. Here are just a few. The Birdsville Bil­l­abong: Gor­geous sun­sets, won­der­ful birdlife and a great spot to drop in your kayak, have a lazy af­ter­noon

“Aside from the sig­na­ture camel pie, there’s kan­ga­roo and claret, lamb shank, shep­herd chunky, but­ter chicken,

chunky beef, minced beef and sausage rolls”

an­gling or swim­ming to wash off the heat of your day in the desert.

The Burke and Wills Tree: This his­toric coolibah tree on the Dia­mantina river­bank was marked by a party trac­ing the route taken by Burke and Wills.

Waddi Trees: Lo­cated just 12km from town, the rare Waddi Trees can be up to an in­cred­i­ble 1000 years old.

Lake Eyre: Now is your chance to wit­ness an iconic Aus­tralian nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena as the lake fills with flood­wa­ters. The town of Mar­ree is 520km south of Birdsville on the junc­tion of the Ood­na­datta and Birdsville Tracks (of­froad ve­hi­cles and vans only).


Birdsville is clas­si­fied as an RV Friendly Town by the Camper­van and Mo­torhome As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia (CMCA) so it of­fers ex­cel­lent RV fa­cil­i­ties.

The Birdsville Car­a­van Park of­fers 84 eas­ily-ac­ces­si­ble pow­ered sites suit­able for rigs of all sizes in­clud­ing wa­ter. In the off sea­son, prices are $35 for two per­sons per night, and up to $55 per night dur­ing ma­jor events. The park also has un­pow­ered sites spread over 30 acres. The costs range from $25-$40 per night for two peo­ple in off­peak/ peak sea­sons.

There’s free camp­ing on the Birdsville Com­mon on the Birdsville De­vel­op­ment Road. Many spots have wa­ter ( but no toi­lets) and are set amongst the Gidgee Trees. There is al­most no fire­wood for about 5km around Birdsville, so col­lect some in ad­vance. Lo­cal Waddi Trees are pro­tected.

Dump points are lo­cated on the east­ern and western side of the town com­mon, near the race­track and the rodeo grounds. For su­per­mar­ket pro­vi­sions, stop in at Birdsville Road­house or Birdsville Fuel Ser­vice.

“The Birdsville Car­a­van Park of­fers 84 eas­ily-ac­ces­si­ble pow­ered sites

suit­able for rigs of all sizes”

Words C at h y A n d e r s o n Pics Supplied

CLOCK­WISE FROM MAIN The iconic Big Red Dune; an aerial view of the town­ship; the chan­nel coun­try sur­round­ing Birdsville nour­ishes its name­sakes; desert wild­flower blooms

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE Beau­ti­ful night desert sky; Birdsville Bil­l­abong is a great spot to chill out for an af­ter­noon; In­dige­nous 'ser­pent' art painted on the side of a stony hill next to the Birdsville-Win­do­rah Rd about 155km from town; all man­ner of veg­e­ta­tion in Chan­nel Coun­try; walk­ing through the doors of the iconic Birdsville Ho­tel is a bucket-list tick; hats on the walls in­side the ho­tel are for com­mu­nity con­trib­u­tors

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP The iconic Birdsville Bak­ery is a must-visit while in town; curry camel pie, any­one?; a sweet camp­site and Happy Hour at Birdsville Car­a­van Park

ABOVE AND TOP Birdsville Car­a­van Park of­fers a true out­back-style ex­pe­ri­ence

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