Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 11: The Birdsville Track

Monday, Oct 24, 2011 at 15:43


The next day dawned calm and clear. Good for boating, but it was time to move on. Initially we followed the bypass track around Lake Killamperpunna, and again marvelled at the size and extent of it. There were some tight bends and a few dunes to go over before we joined the Birdsville Track and turned north. Before long we were at the Mungerannie pub with its wetlands fed by a bore, and the famous spa, so we stopped for a look. It’s a popular stopover point, but being still early in the day we had a look then pressed on.

It was a very warm afternoon on the last day of July, the coldest time of year , as we travelled through the heat shimmering off the gibbers of the Sturt Stony Desert. As if there was a shortage of heat we passed bores where the water leaving the ground was boiling. We had read with interest at Mungerannie how they had trialled different types of polypipe to withstand the hot water, allowing them to pipe water to cattle troughs rather than just let it flow in open bore drains. Over the past 15 or 20 years there has been a big effort across the various artesian basins to cap bores so that the flow of water can be controlled rather than flowing freely. Open bore drains waste precious artesian water and allow feral animals to survive by providing water in otherwise inhospitable environments.

The Mungerannie Gap presented a change of scenery as low flat-topped hills rose out of the flat countryside. North from there we were into the gibbers of the Sturt Stony Desert and even in this supposedly cool part of the year we felt the heat shimmering off them, making us reluctant to leave the comfort of Troopy’s airconditioned cabin. Light plays tricks with gibbers – look in one direction and they are bright ochre red, look the other way they are almost black. Mirages danced in the heat haze and shade was almost non existent – we marvelled that anything or any person could live out here in summer.

We passed the Walkers Crossing turn-off and, although we had been on the Birdsville Track north from there, we would not have recognised it, covered with abundant vegetation as it was now. It was no mirage when, approaching Goyder’s Lagoon we came across sheets of water still lying in slight depressions. Then, some way south of Birdsville the country abruptly turned bright green with vegetation covering the red sand dunes. What an amazing change from the baking aridity of the stony desert.

By now it was getting late in the afternoon and we decided to press on to Birdsville. We usually prefer to stop earlier in the day, but after what felt like a long hot drive we arrived at Birdsville around 5pm. Rather than competing for washing machines at the caravan park, we headed out of town to camp by the iconic but muddy Diamantina River.

Next day, we checked into the Birdsville caravan park early to “hit the washing machines”. We found a shady site (the temperature went to 30 degrees that day) and set up the computer to rejoin the world. Much of the day was spent in wrestling with worldly things; the internet is a wonderful way of eating time, energy and patience! Unexpectedly, one of the two service stations had an exhaust mount to replace the one damaged when Troopy went bush and got stuck in a hole down south, so we replaced that.

We visited the tourist information centre where along with informative material regarding that area and along our planned route, we picked up a remote census pack, as a census of all Australian households was to take place quite soon. Its stretching it a bit to think that Troopy might constitute a household, but the form was duly completed, with GPS location, on the appointed day.

A major aim of the trip was to experience a sample of the red centre of Australia after major rain when it turns to green and wildflowers come out in profusion. To the west of Birdsville lies the Simpson Desert, red sand for hundreds of kilometres. We had travelled the Simpson a couple of time previously and it is a favourite place. First stop the bakery, then off on a day trip to “Big Red”, the nearest of the really big dunes. Not usually a difficult run with a trailer, the road as far as Big Red is built up and gravelled. We crossed some swales (interdunal corridors) flooded with water; the road had become a causeway.

Just one dune from Big Red there was a lengthy detour to the south to get around the intervening swale which is usually dry. We took the detour, running down dry sandy swales, then eventually turning west to cross badly churned dunes. The trailer was now a major inconvenience and with Troopy not set up for sand driving we were struggling. We recognised that every arduous dune crossing was another one to be recrossed on the return leg. We could have dropped our tyre pressures and proceeded, but recalled some sage guidance from an experienced 4WD trainer friend - “Do we really have to do this?” No. We turned around and headed back to the start of the detour.

Returning along the detour we stopped to help a young German fellow who was spending some time on a big station nearby. His engine was boiling and he had run out of water. We supplied him with water and followed him back to the main track to make sure he was OK. He explained that it was important that he reached Birdsville that day as he needed to see the dentist who visited only once a year.

Less than a kilometre towards Big Red from the start of the detour we topped the last dune and could see our destination. Big Red, clothed in green, about 7 km away on the far side of a green meadow dotted with lakes.
This is the Simpson Desert? The road a little ahead was torn up where vehicles had bogged, and further on was lost in the greenery. This was very much the end of the line. The scene before us was in total contrast to our previous experiences in this area.


There followed a photo session, Big Red, the flooded swales to its east, with young coolabahs shooting up around the edges of the water, the dunes covered in lignum, flowering rattlepods and other shrubs as well as many small plants all flowering while there was water.

Then back through Birdsville and out to our spot in the free camp area beside the Diamantina where we would spend another night. This is a big area that could happily accommodate many campers - there are a couple of taps but no other facilities and very little firewood. But by driving in a short distance it was possible to find a private and shady spot close to the river. There were different flowers there and the usual few dopey rats that we were becoming almost accustomed to. All the trees were covered in fresh green growth, and there was fresh grass and clover underfoot.

It was hard to believe that we were camped in a desert.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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