About Birdsville

Wednesday, Sep 01, 1999 at 00:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

Birdsville could be called Australia's last frontier town. Lying on the edge of the Simpson Desert in an area surrounded by 2 desert regions it is extremely isolated but certainly not desolated.

So it is here where we have stopped travelling for a while - stopped camping & living out of the 4WD and setup home of sorts (a tin shed behind the town hospital).

For days on end the hot desert winds blow dust into every crevice with no respite. On days like this, work is impossible and people gather together in the Birdsville Hotel for talking & drinking.

Joey Harriss, a prominent Birdsville local, will proudly tell you his story of when he lost his finger. You'll always find Jimmy Crombie standing beneath a 20year old photo of himself hanging on the wall in the main bar, and watch out if Harry Crombie challenges you to a game of pool!

The people of Birdsville are proud of their heritage and if you befriend them they might reward you with some of their family stories. Stories of floods, danger and death; of fire and hardship; of love and togetherness. The stories of this town are interwoven with tragedy & triumph but all who live here remain true to one another & themselves.

In the days before airplanes, 4WDs or road trains the mail came by truck. From Maree to Birdsville, Tom Kruse the mailman of the outback conquered sandhills, mud bogs, floods, flies and frustration as he delivered mail to the cattle stations along the original Birdsville Track in an old mail truck. It was a difficult task through summer heat and winter rain but never did the people of the Birdsville Track go without their mail delivery. So important was this simple method of communication that Tom would not let the people down - for anything. (You can see the video 'Back of Beyond' about this incredible man).

But things have changed in Birdsville, but not as fast and furious in other outback towns that have fallen victim to the tourist trade "improvements". The pub hasn't changed much since it was rebuilt after it was gutted by fire in 1979 - the beer still comes in cans or stubbies, no kegs out here. No flyscreens or fancy meals just the dusty memorabilia that line the walls. It's an odd mix of new and old with the latest in fashionable drinks, a state of the art computer system to keep a track of it all and young bar staff eager to work a season in Birdsville to save their money.

But the people on the other side of the bar have been here all their lives and are proud of the old black and white photos of their uncles, fathers and grandfathers that hang above the bar.

In the corner near the side door is a mural of more recent photos, showing people doing wild things at wild parties. Many of these photos have been taken during times of extremes - and there are plenty of these in Birdsville.

Extreme floods, extreme droughts, extreme dust storms and extreme feats of madness such as people who ride a push-bike across the Simpson Desert.

Lying on the edge of the Simpson Desert, Birdsville attracts the new bread of extreme adventurer. It was only 40 years ago that the first white man traversed the full west-east crossing of the Simpson Desert by car and since then many thousands have come to do the same in their 4WDs, push-bikes, motor-bikes, wheelchairs, camels and by plane. They celebrate and recuperate at the Birdsville Pub and return to their homes in the cities, either never to return or vow to make it an annual event.

Since we've been in Birdsville we have seen the following activities: The annual Birdsville Races (held 1st weekend in September)
The Birdsville State School Centenary Celebrations
The annual Cycle Classic - crossing of the Simpson Desert by bike
One of many Variety Club car bashes
The reenactment of the Tom Kruse mail truck delivery from Birdsville - Maree
And daily, safari groups, individuals, convoys, and club groups returning or starting out on a journey across the Simpson Desert

However, with the constant flow of traffic there is of course many accidents.

Since we've been here we've seen:
4 vehicle roll overs
2 motor bike accidents
4 evacuations by RFDS

and countless numbers of mechanical problems ranging from: broken diffs, suspensions, tyre blowouts, broken trailers, snapped draw bars, and holes in fuel & water tanks etc.

The tourist trade fluctuates but is at it's largest during races week with up to 6000 people. During the oppressive heat of summer when temps can top 50 degrees only the 110 locals remain. The main street hosts only the school, the pub (and motel), the post office & Mobile service station and the police station. Further out is the Qld Parks & Wildlife office and on the other side of town is the Birdsville Auto - general store and mechanical workshop. There is one caravan park, the Wirrari Centre (tourist information) and that's about it. Every one in town has a job or two whether it be pouring drinks at the pub or working as a ringer on one of the outlying cattle stations, whether they be black or white.

It's a simple life but never dull. For us, we have worked without a break for 6 weeks continuously. We have offered this community assistance with all things computerised - conducted numerous customised training courses, installed new networks, updated business systems and upgraded software, provided custom forms & artwork design, setup cash register and computer connectivity and a few weird jobs like carting beer to outlying communities.

Our Birdsville "home" is a tin shed called the Padres (in remembrance of the travelling ministers who set up the Frontier Services - hospitals). We have had a visit from a taipan snake, a few mice & scorpions in the house, countless redbacks, frogs & geckos in the toilet, birds nesting in the roof, and tons of dust blown in under the doors and through the windows. Our water is cold and the floor is concrete but it has become more of a home than we've had for 2 years. Best of all is there is no TV or telephone, nor does the town support a mobile phone network. The town receives mail twice weekly by plane from Quilpie; food & general supplies are delivered once a fortnight by road train from Port Augusta; anything else you have to organise yourself.

For all this - we love you Birdsville!
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Travelling fulltime in 2024
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