Simpson Desert crossing 8: Birdsville

Birdsville has a permanent population of 115 and is the main centre within the Diamantina Shire with a population of some 322. After crossing Big Red and finding what passes for a road we travelled through some extremely desolate country:



In the next photo we are still on the road, but the track on the side of the road actually passes outside the guide posts. It’s like that for much of the way.


The corrugations were simply horrendous, I think the worst we encountered. We were a couple of weeks away from the Birdville races and all the graders were busy on the road to the east and south of the town. This was my attempt to photograph the corrugations without getting out of the vehicle:


“Bessie”, our vehicle, did not cope well with the rough road. This is exactly what it felt like:

Birdsville card cropped_450

That image is a scan of a card I bought in the Birdsville Bakery from the John Murray collection.

After about 50 minutes we were very glad to see the Birdsville Hotel:


We were staying in a cabin, which was excellent accommodation with two rooms and a large ensuite shower and toilet. Mobile phones worked so we were able to contact loved ones and the let them know we’d survived. Len had a long conversation letting his son Geoff know that Bessie, borrowed from Geoff, had survived also, almost intact!

That night we had a group celebration at the Birdsville Hotel, which does a roaring trade and is exceedingly noisy. From the left we have Len, Don, Patsy, Irene, Darral, Marion, Betty, Eoin, Ian G-J, me and Margot.


The photo was taken by a motor-bike riding medico who was providing medical support to a charity ride. He leapt onto the table next to us in his very dusty riding leathers and expertly captured the happy mood of the group!

Next morning Len went for an early walk. Birdville is located on the Diamantina River which had plenty of water in it. This is some of what he saw:







Darral and Marion had to rush off to an important meeting in Brisbane:


In the full light of day Bessie looked a bit the worse for wear:


Len took her off to get the fuel filter replaced at the Birdsville Service Station. While there he saw and photographed “The Monster” the vehicle used for desert retrievals. The photo below was later supplied by a mate of Darral’s showing The Monster with a Land Cruiser with collapsed suspension on its back:


Darral’s mate also supplied this history:

“Built in 1979 as a supply truck for the German army, it’s had an interesting life. Barnes’y acquired the truck in 1995 as a left-hand-drive and converted it before building a mobile home on the back with the intention of travelling around Australia. It was painted by Birdsville artist Wolfgang John and was a sight to be seen on the outback roads when they set off in 1996.

When the Barnes’ moved overseas for a stint, the truck was displayed in the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs until they reclaimed it on their return, setting off the museum’s fire alarms with their exhaust fumes when they fired the truck up. When they moved back to Birdsville in 2009 the truck came with them and Barnes’y had it converted into the tilt-tray top that’s now used for desert rescues”.

As I said in an earlier post, desert retrieval costs $400 per hour, and you can’t leave anything out there in the desert!

With Darral and Marion departed the rest of us met for a final hurrah at the Birdsville Bakery, a lively place with superb pies! Here’s a photo of the front:


And here, from front on:


Len took a photo of the remainder of the group, from the left, me, Irene, Ian G-J, Don, Patsy, Margot, Betty and Eoin.


The bakery had lots of interesting and humorous memorabilia you could buy. In addition to the card I mentioned above, I almost bought this one too:


Len photographed some humorous signs:




And some desert peas:


Irene took a farewell photo of us in front of Bessie, now restored enough to be good to go:


In the afternoon Margot and I went for a walk around town. We lined up a perfect shot of some pelicans massed in a tree with a beautiful black swan cruising nearby. The swan immediately put its head under its wing and went to sleep. We waited and waited. Eventually something scared the birds and the swan and we settled for those that came back to the dead tree:


Len had told us about a shelter with Aboriginal art themes. All they need to do now is plant a park around it:



The sign told us that there were linked art works at Betoota and Bedourie:


That’s Len’s photo, slightly better than ours. Birdsville has Meeting Place Artwork, Betoota Serpent Artwork and Bedourie Dust Storm Artwork.

We had better luck with the light than Len did in photographing the meeting place which was a total work of art:





We walked past the Birdsville Hotel:


Later that afternoon Ian took a photo of a man sitting near that corner whose legs seemed to go on forever:


At the school they had installed some rainbow serpent art:


Then we came to the Royal Hotel, or what’s left of it:


The Royal Hotel was opened in 1883. As the second of three in the town it operated for 40 years. In 1923 it was converted to a hospital, then from 1937 it became a private residence. The information sign tells us:

Since 1978 the property has been listed for preservation and restoration with the Register of National Estate.

Look at it now!


By contrast the war memorial was very well kept:


Then we found this motley art work which was hard to photograph in the dappled light:


We did better with the individual tiles:





Len had seen an artwork in the morning in a similar style, but a more integrated pattern:


At the end of the road there was a sign:


I was surprised how much closer we were to Adelaide than to Brisbane.

Margot found a daffodil in the yard of a former medical facility, now a small museum:


I have two main memories of our night in Birdsville. First, the TV which worked more or less if you stood in a certain position next to the bed. Mr Abbott came on and looked like a plastic cut-out man.

Secondly, there was a knock on the door. Patsy and Don came over for a farewell drink. They had decided not to come east with us to Windorah, rather they were heading south for some more extended sight seeing.

Sweet sadness!

Thus ended the fellowship of the desert, for a time at least. We plan a reunion next year.

With a bit of luck, the posting won’t end there, however, as the trip to Windorah was quite interesting.

Note: This post is the eleventh in a series on our Red Centre holiday.

2 thoughts on “Simpson Desert crossing 8: Birdsville”

  1. Hi Brian
    It was a pity that Marion and I left Birdsville on the Friday morning to attend a meeting in Brisbane. That was a late alteration to our original plans which were for us to head down the Birdsville Track to Marree then home via Adelaide. It would have been much better for us if we had stuck with our original plan and stayed in Birdsville to have a better look around. The meeting was a disaster and I am sure that my demeanour would have been much brighter had I kept away.
    Thanks for all of the effort that you have put into recording the trip on your blog.
    It has been amazing….well done.

  2. Thanks, Darral. Birdsville was certainly worth the extra day. We didn’t see the racecourse and a few other things.

    On posting the trip, it was a labour of love which I’ve very much enjoyed. My main aim was to enrich and expand the memory and it has certainly done that for me.

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