The Galah Session

Sam to the rescue - not once, but twice!

Birdsville Roadhouse - Friday, August 03, 2012

We love a good piece of bush poetry, especially when it’s about the Birdsville Roadhouse’s Sam Barnes! He’s more or less Birdsville born and bred and, although he’s a boilermaker by trade, he can often be found around our workshop putting his impressive mechanic skills to use.

He’s also a terrific driver so is often sent on vehicle recovery missions, rescuing stranded travellers who are grateful for his quick response and bushman know-how to get them out of a fix. Clearly, we think Sam is awesome (although ‘we’ are his parents and girlfriend…). But, when he received these wonderfully written poems in the mail, we realised that our customers love him too!


They were trav’lin’ through the outback,

Down Diamantina way,

When they happ’ed upon a small town

And there they spent a day.

 

The people were quite friendly

When at the Birdsville Pub they called,

So they settled in for two nights –

Soon the locals were appalled.

 

They headed for the ‘crossing’

In spite of recent rain,

“Pajeros can go anywhere,

We’ll prove that right again.”

 

So down the bumpy, sandy tracks

These ‘city slickers’ wander,

Until they hit a soggy patch

And then were they a goner!

 

They revved the engine, spun the wheels,

In four-wheel-drive they sat

And soon they found, for Sam they soon

Became another stat.

 

A quick phone call and quick response,

Soon found them Sam at hand.

Behind his smile amusement lurked –

MORE tourists in wet sand.

 

He brought a rope but needed two –

Another soon to hand –

He checked the hitch then gave a tug,

Pajero on dry land.

 

Then Sam he headed back to work,

The tourists back to town.

They called into the Roadhouse,

Then took off to look around.

They liked young Sam, the tow-truck man –

He did a cheerful job.

Whate’er he’s paid, they’d tell his boss,

“He’s worth each flamin’ bob.”

 

And… the next instalment…

 

‘Big Red’ – now here’s another tale;

It happened just this way –

They bought a pass so they might go

That self-same fateful day.

 

Petrol to get them there and back,

They’d water – they weren’t fools!

Sunhats and glasses and such things,

They knew the outback rules.

 

They travelled down the gravel road

Until a detour’s seen –

There’s water where, one hundred years,

No water has been there.

 

So 13ks around the pool,

‘Long sandy tracks they wander,

Until at Big Red’s base they be –

The top is way up yonder.

 

In four-wheel-drive, with engine revved,

They whizz right to the top,

A glance around, turn engine off,

And out of it they pop.

 

The scenery is engaging,

They look in great delight.

Photos taken, back into car,

But something ain’t quite right.

 

They can’t reverse, forward must go,

So down the other side.

They turn around and face Big Red,

Now for the upward ride.

 

The engine revs and up they head –

Just halfway up the slope.

Back down they go to gather speed –

Two-thirds, but still no hope.

 

They needed to reach Birdsville,

Neil said that he’d go back.

And so through water three-foot deep

And up the gravel track.

 

Neil had about a 5k trek

Until he hailed a truckie,

Who wired through to Birdsville

(which did prove rather lucky).

 

While Neil was gone, King tried again,

Going way, way back –

He got three-quarters up this time,

Which was a worthwhile crack.

 

Then back came Sam, the tow-truck man,

Collecting Neil enroute.

King saw the dust come down the track

And cheered “Whako! You Beaut!”

 

Relief at seeing Neil climb out

One tow-truck cabin door,

While Sam climbed out the other side,

Was huge – that is for sure.

 

Sam released air from the tyres,

Reversed back down the hill,

Then up he came without a care,

Car bending to his will.

 

With smile upon his happy face

At showing up these oldies,

To Birdsville once again he drove –

Suspect to have some coldies.

 

Again the oldies hit the road

With ne’er a further worry,

Back to the Birdsville Roadhouse,

Where no one’s in a hurry.

 

While driving on a sandy beach,

These oldies know the drill –

You let air out of tyres,

WHY NOT ON SANDY HILL?!?!

 

Yes, they liked young Sam the tow-truck man;

He was a cheerful kid.

But, behind his pleasant, smiling face,

Amusement surely hid.

 

 

Bound for Birdsville

Birdsville Roadhouse - Friday, July 20, 2012

Griselda Sprigg and her children try to escape the heat.

When Griselda Sprigg was asked, incredulously, why she should want to cross the Simpson Desert she replied: “All these blokes have done it – why shouldn’t I?” This was in 1962, as she and her family were planning the first motorized crossing of the barren, dune-laden Simpson Desert that covers 176,500 square kilometres of central Australia.

Prior to their trip, the desert had been traversed by surveyors, settlers and land prospectors – but only crossed twice. Of course, the Wangkangurru people, the traditional owners of the land, were the first to travel the Simpson. They lived on desert animals and made wells for water as they roamed the dunes - descendents of the tribe still live in the Birdsville area today.

In 1936, Ted Colson became the first white man to actually cross the desert. With Peter Ains, his aboriginal friend and guide, and five camels, he crossed from his homestead near Dalhousie to Birdsville and back in 36 days. A monument opposite the Birdsville Hotel recognizes their achievement.

Cecil Madigan’s crossing followed in 1939. It was he who, a decade earlier, had named the desert the Simpson after a former Lord Mayor of Adelaide called Alfred Simpson who had provided the funds for a grateful Madigan to survey the region. Until then it was called the Arunta Desert. Madigan returned to cross the desert in 1939 with the intention of surveying its least-known areas and was again funded by Simpson.

However, it was the gutsy Griselda Sprigg, her geologist husband Reg and their two children, Marg and Doug, who first crossed the desert in a motorized vehicle. They spurred the beginning of a four-wheel-driving challenge that now brings thousands of travellers to Birdsville each year.

Doug, Reg and Griselda Sprigg

Griselda was a young Scottish lass who met Reg (won him in a bet, as she says) while he was in Scotland for a conference. Their romance lasted for two years via correspondence after he returned to Australia. Eventually, he proposed over the phone and Griselda immigrated to Australia.

She slowly grew accustomed to the Adelaide heat. But, when Reg was assigned to months of work in the arid South Australian outback shortly after their marriage, Griselda, not wanting to live without her new husband, insisted on joining him. Her adaptation to life in a caravan, the dust, heat and flies of the outback is admirable and led to a life of remote outback travel, even after the birth of her two children.

The Sprigg children at the original Poeppel's Corner post.

While Reg founded Geosurveyors of Australia and Santos and discovered some of the most ancient fossils known to man, Griselda was by his side. “I would try to be inventive,” she said of her limited pantry while crossing the Simpson Desert. “But there are only so many ways you can cook spam.”

Her book, Dune is a Four-Letter Word, is an entertaining, honest reflection of her life in the outback contemplating red back spiders on the loo and learning bush mechanics on the Birdsville Track (“we limped into Mungerannie, me walking beside the Land Rover, sprinkling talcum powder every time I sensed a puff of burning rubber,”). A large part of the book documents their Simpson Desert journey, which is being recreated in Birdsville this week as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations.

For those contemplating the desert crossing today, it’s a very different experience. Reading about Griselda’s quest for a toilet at the township of Finke (“Why in heaven’s name were men made to pee standing up?”), her battle with spinifex (“Marg was at the time trying to remove spinifex spines from my derriere… I wondered once again what could possibly have possessed me to trade those cool Scottish climes for a desert dune,”) and combating an overheating car on a rough track (“The track got worse and so did my already frazzled mood. Every few miles I had to slide under the car to remove clumps of grass,”) is enough to make any four-wheel-drive enthusiast feel lucky for the now heavily traversed Simpson tracks, roof-top tents and battery-powered car fridges.

The Simpson Desert today.

You can buy Dune is a Four-Letter Word here.  

Easter Update: Birdsville News

Birdsville Roadhouse - Wednesday, April 04, 2012

For sale at the Birdsville Roadhouse - yum!

As easter approaches the fridges fill with easter eggs, the smell of fresh hot cross buns wafts from the Birdsville Bakery and the freezer is raided for prawns, oysters and fish. This year, as easter is smack bang in the middle of Queensland school holidays, the long weekend also means that we'll be busy with travelers coming through town on their holidays. This week has already been very busy with people traveling through Queensland and many of them are crossing the Simpson Desert. 

The Birdsville Bakery opens tomorrow!

The Birdsville Bakery will be opening tomorrow and we're all very excited to see what will be on the menu this year. I've heard that my favourite finger buns are being replaced with jam scrolls, though. The scrolls are almost as delicious so I think I can live with that. Dusty is also making Hot Cross Buns for the weekend. Until he opens tomorrow, we'll be selling them at the roadhouse. We also have a range of easter eggs in stock if the easter bunny needs to visit your camp on Sunday! The Bakery will be open for breakfast and lunch everyday, starting tomorrow, and dinner on selected nights. Dusty's 'Birdsville Fried Chicken' will be launched tomorrow night, too!

Fresh Hot Cross Buns for sale!

An increasing amount of vehicles are traveling through the Simpson Desert and we sold out of Birdsville 4x4 Club sand flags yesterday. But, they're back in stock due to popular demand. We've had reports that the desert tracks are in good condition and there's lots of animals and flowers around to make the journey even more rewarding. 

Flowers in the desert. Photo: Kelly Theobald

This week we've had warmer than average April temperatures in Birdsville. We're glad that summer is hanging around a little bit longer as the dry heat is much nicer than the freezing winter nights! Luckily it's not too hot though - the mercury briefly reached 39.5 degrees yesterday but the nights are mild and comfortable. 

Pelicans at Cuttaburra Crossing. Photo: Kelly Theobald

The warm weather is also increasing the number of pelicans in the area. If you're traveling between Birdsville and Bedourie, you might have noticed the flocks of pelicans at the Eyre Creek Cuttaburra Crossing. Pelicans love the warm temperatures of inland Australia and after rain they flock to large expanses of water like Lake Eyre and the permanent waterhole at Cuttaburra Crossing. They're also likely to breed around this time of year, but we haven't seen any nesting pelicans ourselves, yet. If you want to see the pelicans, make sure you check to road conditions before you travel. At the time of writing, the Bedourie-Birdsville road is restricted to high-clearance vehicles as water is covering the road at the Cuttaburra Crossing. Drive with caution through the water - at least you'll have lots of time to take photos! 

Just in time for easter, the Birdsville Hotel has released a new menu. So far we've tried the South Australian rump steak and the lip-smacking proscuitto-wrapped Kangaroo fillets served with macadamias and berries. Make sure you try both the Hotel and the Bakery menus while you're in town to experience the best of Birdsville's culinary delights. 

Two Beetles side by side. Sam and Kelly are on the right.

On Monday, a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle arrived in Birdsville. A young couple from Belgium purchased the car in Perth and have been traveling around Australia for a few months. They're about to start a job in Richmond, central Queesnland, and passed through Birdsville on their way there. You may know that the Birdsville Roadhouse's Sam and Kelly recently bought a 1964 Volkwagen Beetle and will be driving it across the Simpson Desert later in the year. It's not often there's two Beetles here, so it was good to get a photo of them together. 

Fresh fruit and veggies in Birdsville!

Birdsville Roadhouse - Monday, March 26, 2012


On Friday afternoon, ‘the truck’ arrived. When Birdsville residents talk about ‘the truck’, it usually means one thing – fresh milk, fruit, vegetables and meat. In winter, when the town is buzzing with travellers, this truck usually comes once a fortnight. But, in summer, when long, hot days keep everyone inside in their air-conditioned homes and if rain ever closes roads, it can be weeks between deliveries. Before Friday, it had been five weeks since we saw the Adelaide truck.

Carrying a freezer container, refrigerated container and dry goods container, this road train is able to bring everything we could need for life in the outback. We get gourmet cheeses and dips, prosciutto, ice creams, sauces and marinades, iced-coffee, fruit, veggies and a huge selection of meat. Many a discerning foodie has been pleasantly surprised by the array of stock available in the desert.

When the truck arrives, the town becomes a hive of activity. Forklifts hurtle around the streets delivering boxes to the pub, the bakery and to us. All over town, staff are on call to unpack their pallets of stock. Lines of people snake from storerooms as boxes are passed from person to person, displaying true teamwork.


When the truck arrives, we’re glad to see the new stock. However, we often take it for granted that we get fresh food at all. In her book From the City to the Sandhills of Birdsville, former Birdsville nursing sister Mona Henry recalls the days when the hospital milked a herd of goats for the town’s milk supply and when even flour was sometimes hard to come by.

Sister Henry arrived in Birdsville in 1950 and lived here for two years. Her book is a fascinating account of outback life in the days before technology, regular air transport and four-wheel-drives. Back then, the legendary Tom Kruse, ‘mailman of the Birdsville Track’, delivered mail and supplies from Marree in South Australia.

Her accounts of disastrously learning to bake without key ingredients, reluctantly learning how to milk a goat and her surprise when first told she may not see fruit or vegetables for months are often hilarious. But, when she tells of the need to protect the herd of goats from dingos and the shortage of important medicine, the solemnity of her situation becomes apparent.


More recently, the road train didn’t have a freezer trailer and ice creams were rare in Birdsville. Our 24-year-old boilermaker, Sam Barnes, remembers when ice creams were first sold at the general store. They were transported on the truck in chest-freezers filled with dry ice.

While we now enjoy our truckloads of delicious and varied food, it pays to remember when life was more difficult for outback Queenslanders. Although, I am eating smoked salmon and Camembert cheese while I write.


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