Birdsville Track

Sunday, Jul 04, 1999 at 00:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

We set out from Birdsville well after lunch on Monday after updating our website from Wolfgang's house and scouring the local businesses for work. Meeting Wolfgang was quite a highlight of our visit to this area - for it turned out that he and his wife share mutual friends of ours in Sydney, people David grew up with. Wolfgang is also a local celebrity - an artist whose wife Kersten runs the hospital as the only remote area nurse (outside of races time, when the RFDS bring in additional support) . Knowing him has helped us approach other locals about work opportunities and gave us a better feel for the area. Wolfgang lives next door to his gallery, the Blue Poles Gallery which is on the same block as the Birdsville Pub where his son works. Everyone's life in Birdsville is centred around the desert - either to feed, supply or accommodate the travellers or to come to the aid of those who have come to some misfortune. The day we arrived, Wolfgang had acted on a friend's message that "if we're not back by 7am come looking for us" and sure enough he found a friend miserably stuck in the dunes. Kersten's skills often means she is called upon to help someone who otherwise might come to further grief if left to wait for the 3hour service from the RFDS that come from Mt Isa.

We prefer to avoid camping at the designated camping areas and aim instead for a dry creekbed or sandhill away from other travellers. When you consider that these places charge about $12 per night for the same dust and few if any facilities you may as well get out amongst the dingos and the stars on your own. Along the Birdsville Track good spots are fairly limited but with a bit of an adventurous spirit (and a good map or guidebook) you can always find somewhere. So instead of camping at Mungerannie (where most people head) we stopped sooner at a secluded spot with plenty of firewood at Melon Creek. We had spent about an hour off the track looking for the Page family graves - to no avail and by dusk we were only 155km down the track. This was our very first night without our support vehicle - our trailer. We have only forgotten 2 items - the tripod for the camera (disastrous) and some medication that can easily be purchased in Coober Pedy. Without the trailer we need to store our camp chairs, table, a 30L jerry of water and a tub of car parts/spares and tarp and some poles. Due to the setup of our vehicle we need to remove these few things each night to get into the back to cook and to sleep. We have a tarpaulin to cover it with in case of rain (what? are you joking?) or inquisitive dingos (more likely).

The terrain varies considerably along the track from harsh red stones of the Sturt Stony Desert to the yellow dunes of the Natterannie Sandhills but thankfully the first part of our trip was done in the late afternoon and the colours at this time made the trip all the more scenic. Without a guidebook the trip could be easily done in a full day but you'd just be blasting along the dirt and missing all the history and sights. Little is marked or signed and you really need to know what you're looking for to get the most out of your trip. It seems that for most these days, a stop at the Mungerannie Pub is all that is left of the "atmosphere" of the track. The sights are mostly bores and hills with occasional grave sites and ruins, but the most notable thing about the Birdsville Track is imagining what it would have been like for the original mailman and stockmen who travelled the track before the road was at its present state. You can see the actual vehicle used by Tom Kruse the mailman when you get to Maree at the end of the Birdsville Track displayed opposite the pub.



Somewhere along the way we came across a guy broken down with his friend's vehicle (a Pajero). He was waiting for help from John at Mungerannie Pub (who can handle all repairs etc). He'd had 3 flat tyres that same day and was out of spares. We haven't had a single problem with our truck so far and couldn't believe that someone could have so much trouble - but then anything can happen out here.

Towards the end of the track you cross the Cooper Creek. Luckily it was dry - when its full it is 1.5km wide and you need to cross the river via a ferry. Although that hasn't happened since the '70s I think. The original ferry has been restored and is now by the side of the road on the southern bank. But it was very very dry when we crossed on Tuesday 17th August.

Arriving in Maree we found two good stores for food and the supply truck was just being unloaded. They'd suffered from the same burnt out supply truck that didn't make it to Arkaroola a few weeks ago. Interestingly enough the range of supplies and prices in Maree were much better than in Birdsville. Surprisingly, the only place to buy food supplies in Birdsville is at the Shell service station and its a limited range. To give you some idea, Birdsville locals organise to have their supplies freighted up on the fortnightly supply truck that services the Birdsville Pub from Port Augusta Woolies so for the tourists it's just a few tins and the odd potato, whereas Maree has everything.

David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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