The Birdsville Track
Connects Marree (700 km north of Adelaide) with Birdsville and Mt. Isa.
Length: 517 km, Travelling time: 1-2 days
Best time to travel: March - November
Road conditions: Maintained road, frequently graded. Slippery and slow after rain. Take care of the river crossings and bulldust holes.
The Inside Birdsville Track
This track is the old dry weather stock route. Today it's abandoned and often impassable or closed for long periods when wet. It crosses the Diamantina at the south end of Goyders Lagoon.
Track length 143.5 km
Best time to travel: April - November
The southern end of the track is hard to find and exact directions are only available for members.
The Birdsville track was established by the first Birdsville storekeeper as a supply line. Supplies were then carted by bullock teams. The new route provided soon a link to Adelaide for outback Queensland's cattle stations.
Later, camel trains travelled the track in 24 days. Lonely stores, all abandoned now, provided for the drovers and camelleers. When Harry Ding's mail trucks began to service Birdsville in regular 14 day intervals, the camel trains became obsolete. While travelling on the gibber of Sturt's Stony desert only demanded many tyres, the mail drivers had a hard job to cross the sanddunes. John Maddocks Mail for the Back of Beyond tells their story.
In the 60s, a detour for the treacherous Goyder Lagoon was finally bulldozed. The 'Outer Track' avoided the Inner Tracks main hazards in the Diamantina floodplain.
Today, only a few ruins tell the story of past labours. But legends are still born on the Birdsville Track, I will tell the story of John the Pom on this site one day.
Tom Kruse's AEC Mail truck at Mungerannie
The thriving town of Birdsville has today 160 inhabitants. Their main income is tourism these days, so you can expect all facilities like the famous Birdsville pub, the caravan park and two petrol stations. A public library has a good exhibition on the Diamantina shire and south-west Queensland. The Birdsville Museum is worth the entrance fee if you want to learn about past life on a cattle station. As space is ample in Birdsville, the collection is as vast as you might wish.
The caravan park has the rare feature of a Coffee Shop (left), serving a cooked breakfast, which settles you for the day. The owner is also quite willing to help you with mechanical advice.
Don Rowland, the resident desert park ranger, is a well of information on the Simpson desert. Hope you see him in the Ranger station before he retires.
There is also a lot to see around Birdsville, in fact more than you can expect on the track. In the caravan park or the library you can ask for hints and a mudmap.
Sturts Stony Desert
Leaving Birdsville to the south, you'll soon cross the SA border. The track crosses blacksoil flats with the occasional yellow sandridge.
Passing mayor landmarks like the aptly named dead man's sandhill, you'll be pleased for the change from flat blacksoil to yellow and red gibber. After all, there isn't much else to get excited about. You might start collecting different sorts of nothing.
198 kms from Birdsville, a couple of coolabah trees mark Melon creek and lonely Clifton Hills station. Another creek is passed 11 kms further. This is the 4WD Rig road turnoff, which is the most scenic Simpson desert crossing.
About 10 minutes later you will see the first artesian bore, drilled for the cattle in the early 20th century. The water is very hot and smelly, though. Better bring your own.
More bores follow, all clearly visible by the unusual greenery around them.
Except these rare trees, the only shade you'll find will be under your vehicle when you jack it up to change a tyre. White gibber looks quite harmless here, but awkward splinters are often buried in the sand.
The Mungerannie Roadhouse
tries to break the routine a bit. To give you some distraction, they installed a couple of these signs, to provide for your basic needs. As the roadhouse is a couple of km south of the Mungarannie Gap, you'll see some scenic hills at last. A swim in the warm bore water enhanced Derwent River beside the roadhouse's campground might also be just what you need. As you might expect, cold drinks and decent food are available for travellers.
After Mungarannie. the first homestead ruins will appear just when the gibber starts to soften. The Mulka store ruins are next on the schedule, where once a store provided for the travellers on the mail trucks. These had had to cope with the dreaded Natterannie sandhills, a major obstacle by then. If you doubt that now, think of Big Red in Birdsville and imagine it in a rear driven, overloaded truck.
After the sandhills, the Cooper river plain will be a welcome sight. Trees abandon and so does the cattle. Watch out!
There is still a ferry provided for the rare flooding of the Cooper, but this is a lot better than the old one seen at the river crossing. The mail drivers had to unload everything ship it across the Cooper and another truck was picking up the load.
Another 2 hours and you are finally getting to Marree, after you came past the usually dry Lake Harris and another homestead ruin. For Marree see the Oodnadatta Track.
by Annette Flottwell