What is it about Birsdville that the very name conjures up all sorts of images.. Isolation, loneliness, Birdsville races, the Birdsville track, the outback, the Birdsville Pub, the Simpson Desert….It draws us like a magnet to experience what some people believe is the most isolated place on the continent. A regular stream of 4WD adventurers, all determined to travel the 500 km of the Birdsville track, pass through the town. And for some it’s home.
Charles Sturt was the first European explorer to come across the area and thus the Sturt Stony Desert was named after him. Birdsville was originally named Diamantina Crossing. The town was renamed Birdsville by the owner of Pandie Pandie Station who was amazed by the diversity of birdlife which inhabited the area. Who would expect to find seagulls in the salt lakes which exist in the area?
European settlers moved into the area in the 1870s, looking for minerals and grazing land for cattle. In the 1880s Birdsville was established as a centre for stock routes for the cattle country and as a Customs collection point. In the days before federation in 1901, a toll was payable on all stock and supplies entering South Australia from Queensland.
Birdsville supported a population of over 300 at the turn of the century. The town boasted 3 hotels, a cordial factory, blacksmith store, market gardens, police and customs facilities. However following Federation in 1901 the customs depot was closed and the population slowly dwindled to approximately 50 throughout the 1950s.
Livestock trade has kept the region alive and in recent times tourism has joined cattle as the major industry in the area. Birdsville also offers today’s traveller a modern community with a sporting complex, gymnasium, two galleries, a bakery, air services, motel, hotel, caravan park and cabins, coffee shops and restaurants, general store, post office, medical clinic, fuel and auto services, and a police station.
Things to see and do:
1. Wirrarri Visitor Information Centre
Situated on Billabong Boulevard, the modern centre offers advice on travelling in this remote region of Australia. A good thing to be up to date on. Apart from the usual displays of things to see and do around the area the theatre offers regular screenings of “Back of Beyond” about Tom Kruse, the last mail man of the Birdsville Track.
2. The old Australian Inland Mission Hospital
It was constructed in 1882 as the Royal Hotel, one of the town’s first two pubs. It was bought by the AIM in 1923 and used as a hospital base for the Royal Flying Doctor until 1937, after which it was leased as a private residence for many years. Materials for the conversion from a hotel to a hospital, were brought to Birdsville on a string of 75 camels. It was from this building that Birdsville’s first pedal wireless broadcast occurred in 1929. Since 1978 the property has been listed for preservation and restoration with the Register of National Estate.
3. Have a Drink at the Birdsville Pub
Birdsville’s second pub was built in 1884-5. A simple, stone, single-storey building it is now listed by the National Trust. It has become something of a mandatory stopover point in the town.
4. Big Red
Big Red, recognised as the challenge for every 4 wheel-drive enthusiasts, is located 35 kilometres west of Birdsville. Big Red is the first and highest of 1,100 dunes in the Simpson Desert. A favourite pastime for locals and visitors alike is watching the magical sunrise or sunset over the vast plains of the Simpson Desert from the top of Big Red.
5. Simpson Desert National Park
65 km to the west of Birdsville is the vast Simpson Desert National Park covering approximately 505 000 hectares and characterised by huge sand dunes which run parallel to each other at distances of anything from 200 to 600 metres. The average height of the dunes is 30 metres. Significantly there is no major river system in the park. This is classic arid desert terrain and vegetation. The dead heart of Australia.
6. Birdsville Track
A word of warning: about 100 km down the Birdsville Track is a simple memorial to the Page family who in 1963, after their car had broken down on the road, tried to walk out. All five members of the family died. This is not an area for risk taking.
7. Waddi Trees
Waddis are a rare and ancient species, representing relict populations of Australian desert flora. Its timber is so hard it has caused damage to axes and saws and when dry is almost impossible to drill. Waddi wood fence posts have been found showing little sign of decay after nearly a century. There are only a handful of Waddi Wood groves located in Australia, with one being located 12 kilometres north of Birdsville. Waddi trees have new been listed as a protected species on the Register of National Estate.
8. Birdsville Cemetery
Visitors are welcome to take a stroll around the historic cemetary in Birdsville. The cemetery houses many old gravesites of our early pioneers and is testament to the hardships they endured.
9. Birdsville Star Show
Do a bit of star gazing. What better place could you find than the desert sky. With an informative and entertaining guide, you can view the wonders of the desert sky through an 11 inch Celestron telescope. Look at different objects from planets, moon, coloured stars, nebulas, galaxies to constellations and much more.
10. Birdsville Races (first Friday and Saturday of September) 6th and 7th September 2013
The first race meeting was held in 1882 as an event for hack and stock horses with a few local spectators. The carnival now includes a 13-race program and prize money in excess of $140 000. The XXXX Gold Birdsville Cup is a much sought after trophy and is famous throughout the world. . Birdsville is one of four tracks in Queensland that run anti-clockwise. Crowds of over 6000 racegoers celebrate the carnival each year enjoying two days of quality outback racing and three great nights of live entertainment. For more information check out www.birdsvilleraces.com
11. Diamantina Lakes National Park
Formerly a pastrol holding it was dedicated as a national park in 1992 and conserves over 500,000ha of diverse Channel Country. While visiting the Diamantina Lakes National Park you can experience the arid zone by taking scenic drives. The ranger can direct you to the tourist drive, which passes a number of waterholes and places of interest. The Diamantina National Park also offers great fishing spots and is home to 180 species of birds.
2. The Billabong Café and internet Cafe situated at the Birdsville Caravan Park.
3. Birdsville Hotel where you can have counter meals in the historic ‘Green Lizard Bar’.
Where to Stay
1. Birdsville Hotel/Motel
2. Birdsville Caravan Park
Please note that these venues are not available during race week.
Skytrans flies Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to both Bedourie and Birdsville.
In addition West Wing Aviation conduct the Channel Mail run, flying between Port Augusta and Birdsville.
The Diamantina Shire Council has created a Disability Access Facilitation Plan for both the Bedourie and Birdsville Airports.
The Diamantina Shire prides itself in providing the community with an accessible road network. When driving on outback roads be sure to drive to road conditions and watch out for wandering stock and wildlife.
For more information www.diamantina.qld.gov.au
Birdsville Tourist Information Office
Wirrari Centre, Billabong Boulevard
Birdsville QLD 4482
Telephone: (07) 4656 3300
Facsimile: (07) 4656 3302
Thanks to Karen Brook for her photograph of the Birdsville Races.