Birdsville and beyond
Birdsville could well be Queensland’s most remote town.
An orange sky flanked by carrot-coloured sand dunes mark the end of our day. The only sound is the wind as the ancient landscape of the Simpson Desert rolls out in front of us. The wind wisps the sand as Mother Nature moulds yet another stunning, artistic masterpiece. We watch in silence and appreciation of our panoramic view over a vast and arid land.
We are sitting on Big Red, Australia’s largest sand dune located a mere 35 kilometres west of Birdsville at the start of the sprawling Munga-Thirri National Park (formerly Simpson Desert National Park). More than 1140 dunes, separated by valleys, form the world’s largest area of parallel sand dunes.
Located almost 1590 kilometres west of Brisbane, Birdsville is renowned for the Birdsville Races. Held annually on the first Saturday in September, the town’s population swells from a mere 1115 to more than 6000. It is the major event drawing visitors from across the globe to this isolated outback village. Visit outside race week though, and there is enough to keep you occupied for a few days.
You will also have a much better chance of meeting the locals, hearing their stories and having the many sites all to yourself to enjoy. Once considered an epic trip and one not for the faint-hearted, the outback is now easily accessible to everyone.
No matter if you are a camper or like the comfort of a bed, Birdsville has all your bases covered. The Birdsville Caravan Park, located next to the billabong, is suitable for camper trailers, caravans and large motorhomes and has a well-appointed camp kitchen complete with an oven if you’re fond of baking.
At the communal camp fire, share stories and tips of what to see with other travellers. Alternatively, there are cabins suitable for families and singles, and the Birdsville Hotel has modern, airconditioned motel rooms.
Here are a few of my favourite places to add to your list for when you visit this iconic frontier town.
Royal Hotel Ruins
In the main street of Birdsville stand the crumbling ruins of the Royal Hotel. Built in 1883, it also served as the town’s first hospital. For keen photographers, early morning is the best time to visit.
Visit the billabong and you’ll soon understand how Birdsville got its name by the number of birds that frequent this serene stretch of water. It’s another top spot to enjoy a sunset, or go kayaking, fishing and swimming. For bird lovers, early morning is the best time for birdwatching. Drive or walk to Pelican Point on the far side for a good view of the billabong and the birds.
Watch as water comes from deep below the earth and flows out at boiling point. The steam from the water provides around 40 percent of the towns electricity via one of world’s
few low-temperature geothermal power stations.
Wirrarri Visitor Centre
It’s more than just a visitor centre, with a gallery featuring talented local artists, a theatrette where you can watch a documentary about the region, wireless internet access, souvenir shop and library. This is the best place for information on road conditions and the staff are more than happy to advise about what to see and do during your visit.
History buffs will enjoy a stroll around the cemetery, located on a sand dune west of the airstrip. There is an Indigenous section with interesting graves like Miutulee of Thurrabarree (known as Joe the rainmaker), and graves of early white settlers like police magistrate Edward Ward, who passed away in 1896.
Now this a treat we never miss. Open from Easter to October it is one of the few licensed bakeries in Australia. However, a real delicacy here is sampling the array of pies such as a curried camel or maybe a kangaroo and claret.
About 81km north of Birdsville, Carcoory Ruins was originally owned by Sir Sidney Kidman and is built from local sandstone. The homestead was abandoned in the early 1900s during a severe drought.
Travel a mere 12km north from Birdsville on the road to Bedourie and see the rare Waddi Trees. This is one of three stands of trees left in Australia and it’s estimated some of the trees are more than a thousand years old. The timber is so tough its almost impossible to cut or burn.
Visit South Australia
Take the short drive south of Birdsville on what is known as the Birdsville Track (it’s a well graded road) and you can stand in South Australia.
One cannot miss the Birdsville pub. Pull up a stool and chat with the locals and take some time to gaze at the memorabilia hanging around the public bar.
Story and images by Danielle Lancaster.