The route: We were on our 4 month trip around Australia and arrived from Mt Isa. But next time we’ll be taking the famous Birdsville Track into South Australia.
Time: We recommend staying for a week to really get into the swing of being surrounding by million acre properties! It’s great to plan your trip around an event, like the Birdsville Races or the Bronco Branding competition for a real taste of life in the outback.
“G’day, where are you guys from?” said the barman.
“Melbourne” I replied as I ordered our beers.
“Ahhh.. welcome to god’s country” he smiled as he poured our first frothies at one of our country’s most iconic and remote outback pubs, the Birdsville Hotel. It is a place that has seen some of Australia’s hardiest men and women take a seat at the bar for over a century and debrief their week of working on the land. If you want to meet them, drop in on a Friday night.
My partner Clint and I hadn’t even finished our beers, and already found ourselves deep in conversation with a charming young woman by the name of Lou who had the kind of sparkle in her eye that was akin to a person living one of life’s great adventures.
“My plane is parked out the front, meet me here tomorrow and I’ll show you around”, she announced.
Sure enough Lou’s Cessna was parked out the front of the pub. The next morning we flew with her over Australia’s most remote town. Soaring above the Diamantina River, we also got some kind of perspective of what a million acre station is really like. A birds-eye view of the famous Birdsville Track capped off the experience.
If you’re looking for a road trip with adventure, you don’t get much more iconic and off the beaten track than Birdsville. The tiny town with an enormous heart sits on the edge of the Simpson Desert in central-west Queensland. There’s not much more than the pub, the Birdsville Bakery (make sure you try one of their famous camel pies) and the caravan park. But there is still plenty to see and do.
With a population of only around 110 people, the town was established to collect tolls from droves of cattle being moved between South Australia and Queensland in the 1800’s. The area is dotted with monuments of famous early explorers who passed through on their epic journeys, including Burke and Wills and Captain Charles Sturt.
It now welcomes us travellers who have adventure in our blood and want a taste of the Aussie outback. Some of us drive in, others fly.
I’m not sure what had captured my imagination more. The colourful characters we met in town, or the nearby Simpson Desert that played tricks with my eyes as we rolled into town along the Eyre Developmental Road – the only road in and out – watching the prolific bird life after the recent rains.
And for such a tiny town it sure knows how to put on an event. We came for the annual Bronco Branding competition that saw some of the toughest farmers from all over the country battle it out over a weekend in all manner of traditional bush skills.
I am not really even sure how it happened but Clint ended up in the ring with a few of the locals, attempting to lasso a calf – his efforts only lasted a few seconds.
I think it took him a few hours to stop shaking from the experience. “Gosh they are tough blokes” he kept repeating.
Another huge event each September is the Birdsville Races – an event that has turned into a bucket-list experience for many Australians. The town’s red-dirt airstrip fills with planes with many people arriving by air, and the local campgrounds fill up as the towns small population swells to around 7,000 for the ‘Melbourne Cup of the outback’.
People come for the races themselves, but also the festivities that happen around them. Yabby races, outback fun runs, comedy nights, cocktail parties, live music, trackside dining, fashions on the field and more are all part of the experience.
It’s hard to capture our time in Birdsville. Other than introduce you to a man we met at the caravan park called Sully. He shared how he’d been coming to this very spot for a holiday for more than 60 years, and how the locals and landscape had captured his heart.
Like a character out of a movie, his camp was all set up with the Australian Flag flying, and he invited us over to sit around his campfire. It was a clear night; and the universe was on show above us. He pulled out his harmonica and started playing it. With his eyes shut, his music echoed across the outback.
We all sat there listening to every note. And Sully kept playing till our fire went cold. None of us wanted the night to end.
How can you ever sum up these travel experiences that are in every pocket of our country? I’d love to know if you’ve been to Birdsville, or want to go?