642 days and about 30,000KM since commencing my ‘I’ve been everywhere’ odyssey I have finally visited the 94th location – Birdsville. Birdsville is located at the border of South Australia and Queensland some 1,590 kilometres west of the state capital, Brisbane.
The trip from Terrigal on the Central Coast to Birdsville is not for the faint hearted as it comprises of some 2,000 km to get there and another 2,000km to get back! Thankfully, for this trip I did not have a shortage of (insane?) volunteers to join me and was lucky to be joined by my 86 year old mother and 19 year old niece Emily who are presently visiting from the UK, partner Atablefortwo and our 4 year old cavalier doggie – Amelie. As one motel owner said, it was a strange mix of travellers, but it is probably this that made it fun.
Whilst my faithful Tiguan has served me very well for all the trips so far, with the four passengers and a very remote location ahead of us, I changed my trustee steed for a Toyota Landcruser. Given the need for extra space and camping gear (we also suffered a couple of stone chips to the window and a suicidal emu) this was probably no bad idea.
The trip to Birdsville was always going to be special. Whilst I did not always know it would be the last destination I would visit, I did know of its remoteness and the fact this one town, and indeed pub, helps define the Australian outback for so many. So heading off, I was excited not only to be finishing this project but to also sharing the true outback with those closest to me.
The trip took us through the Hunter Valley, Dubbo, Narromine, Nyngan, Bourke, Cunnamulla, Charleville, Quilpie and Windorah before finally reaching Birdsville. We stayed at campsites in Nyngan, Charleville and Windorah to give my mum the comfort of a cabin rather than the starkness of a tent! To think you can travel all this way and always find a bed every night is perhaps a sign of just how much Australians are enjoying the ‘isolation’ of the outback. Of course, food was never going to be a concern to us as we not only had the benefit of having comprehensive camping equipment but also Atablefortwo to prepare what some great camping trip meals. Food always tastes better out in the middle of nowhere.
Unsurprisingly the further inland you get the further removed from modern day trappings you are, although strangely and maybe sadly, the mobile phone still rings in some of the remotest parts. The gradual change from green fields to rough sandy scrub never fails to impress and more so, the change from common birds to eagles, emus and the frequent sight of a roo bouncing across the road before you (a deadly potential hazard but fantastic to see). The roads until the last 200KM from Birsville are fantastic. In the main they are wide enough for two cards to pass and are kept in excellent condition. The last 200km though is a very rough, bone shaking experience which I think we were all glad once it was over.
Whilst the outback has the opportunity to be a harsh and dangerous place for the unprepared the people who live there are probably some of the warmest folk you can find. Whether it’s walking down the street or calling in a bakery (we all loved the fact there is a bakery in every outback town) you can not fail to be impressed by the simple pleasure of everyone greeting you with a friendly smile and hello or even a chat. The folk in Birdsville are no exception to this general observation.
The trip was planned so we took as long as necessary to reach Birdsville without any mad rush and this meant that whilst we would have liked to arrive in time for the famous Birdsville Races, we actually arrived the day after the event. Unfortunately we could not have left any sooner than we did so we’ll catch the races when we go back another time…! This did mean that even though the races were over, the town was still a buzz with the excitement and a significantly swollen population compared to the normal 300 or so residents. The majority of the extra population was probably to be found in the famous Birdsville Pub or alternatively at the Bakery. We visited both establishments and with mum and Atablefortwo having a Kangaroo Pie at the Bakery, I could not help but notice the extra spring in their step after eating.
We had a quick look at the old Royal Hotel which is now in ruins. In addition to serving as one of three pubs in the town, the building was converted to a hospital requiring materials to be brought to Birdsville on a string of 75 camels. We then had a drive out of town to take a look at the Waddi Trees. There are only three places in Australia where these grow (Birdsville, Boulia and Old Andado Station in the NT) and are famous for being of such a tough wood that they break axes and saws.
With the races on and no bed at the inn for my mum we commenced our return trip home to Windorah where we had a room booked. Over the course of the next few days we travelled home via Windorah, Quilpie, Charleville, Mitchell, St George, Mungindi, Moree, Narrabri, Gunnedah, Tamworth and the Hunter Valley.
Epilogue to follow shortly.