BIRDSVILLE ... QLD
Im not sure what word properly describes Birdsville in the far west of QLD. Some words that come to mind include, isolation, mecca, iconic and even remote definatly describe Birdsville.
But being 1500km west of Brisbane it is so isolated that the whole area is like a magnet to people who want to visit one of the most isolated places on earth. Birdsville sits on the edge of the Simpson Desert to the west, the Sturt Stony desert is to the south, the Channel country is to the east and the nearest city to the north is 700km away.
It's known for its isolation and that’s why there’s a regular stream of 4wders and other adventurers who deem this place so far away that its cool. But just imagine back in 1845 ( yep read it right ! ), that Charles Sturt explored the area on foot, then in 1860 the ill fated Burke and Wills crew passed nearby their way to the gulf.
Over the next 20 years, more explorers trekked through the area and finally around 1876 several large pastoral stations were taken up. Birdsville became important when drovers realised that moving cattle south through the town was cost effective and efficient as they headed down too Marree to the railhead that opened in 1884. With the movement of stock south from here the infamous Birdsville track began to develop and today its an iconic track known right around the world.
Back then the towns population was 110 and even through to today its only risen to just on 400. But this changes every year when the iconic Birdsville races are on and the town swells to breaking point where crowds over 5,000 people merge on the town to cheer on horses running on a very dusty track.
Birdsville is also the stop over point for travellers heading into the largest National Park of QLD, the Simpson Desert region. Its a remote place where isolation and remoteness go hand in hand. The desert dunes stretch for hundreds of kilometres in either way where sand blows move slowly each year creating their own micro systems. Rich colours with endless horizons and where the stars come right down to meet the earth every night is a major drawcard for those crossing the Simpson.
But crossing the desert region is another reason why travellers flock to this area, and the destination is often the far reaches of the park. Some of the dune often get to within 50 metres high and the most famous one is the second dune from Birdsville, Big Red.
Its synonymous with 4wders who head out here to try to tame this massive dune, which is one of 1100 across the way. During really spells water flows down from the north ( run off from cyclones ) and in-between the dunes making them impassable across the clay pans, but after the water dries up or soaks in, wild flowers make this area come alive.
Even tho the town is surrounded by flat desolate areas, there’s still a few Mesa mountains around that are slowly eroding, giving the area stunning vista’s when the sun is in the right spot. One of the best lookouts to explore is Deon’s lookout, to the east of Birdsville. Up here the views are to die for and is a great stopover in between long stretches of dirt road. The information boards here give a little insite to how the area grew and how life in the outback is often a battle.
Other spots to explore around Birdsville include finding the corners, where the states meet and where historical markers have been put in place. These include Haddon Corner - where QLD and South Australia meet, and also Poeppel Corner tucked in the Simpson Desert where the NT and SA meet. Both these corners have their own challenges to find and to get to them but both are definatly worth finding.
Beneath Birdsville feet lies the Great Artesian Basin where an enormous lake of water lies. Estimated at 2000 km long and 1500km wide it's a vast system where water slowly seals underground filling the basin. For many an outback town this has given life to them and it was back in 1961 that a 1330 metre bore was sunk to tap into the system. The water comes out just below boilings point under pressure so cooling ponds have been installed before it gets pumped around town. Once you get passed the smell of the sulphur ( think rotten egg gas ) when showering or washing its a great thing for the community.
The harsh outback conditions over the past 100 years have shown their toll around the area with a number of ruins in and around town. In town, the Royal Hotel that was built back in 1883 is now heritage listed but was once an inland Mission Hospital, a AIM Hostel and finally the Birdsville Nursing home. The thick dehydrated gypsum walls and rough timber beams are now the only thing left standing.
Up the road the very famous Birdsville Hotel built in 1884 with thick sandstone walls has been a haven for travellers for over 136 years. It has survived many droughts, fires, floods and even a cyclone serving many cool drinks. Its an icon of the outback which has been refurbished a few times but the bones and colours remain the same.
Around town there’s a beautiful stroll beside the lagoon where at anyone time a host of different species of birds can be seen, often its birds you’ll see at the coast, like pelicans, seagulls, bin chickens and shags all enjoying the cool water.
Just south of town and sign posted is a marked tree that Bourke & Wills blazed when heading towards the gulf and it's believed to be one of their last camps on their way to the gulf. Blazed into the tree, and somewhat just readable ( don’t forget they passed here in 1860 ) is their camp number and the year they passed.
Or head north 12km and find the Waddi Trees that grow no where else on the planet and can grow to be 200 years old. The wood from these trees is hard, very hard. Rumours are around that if you chop one with an axe it will blunt the head and there are marker posts still in the ground from 100 years ago, unaffected by termites or weather.
Some say Birdsville is in the middle of no-where, but honestly its in the middle of everywhere. With history abound, adventurers wanting to tackle either the infamous Birdsville Track or head into the stunning Simpson Desert this place has to be visited at least once in your life.