Starry, starry night.

As the sun sinks towards the red dunes of the Simpson Desert, the first stars appear in the indigo, eastern sky. A group of people, bulky in winter coats, learn that these are the ‘alpha’ stars, the brightest in their respective constellations.

One by one, they peer into an enormous 11” Celestron telescope to see the stars up close. With the magnification, it’s easy to see that they’re different colours – some are red, others blue or yellow or white. With the darkness of the desert to the west and only the lights of a very small town to the east, Birdsville is the best place for a Star Show, and the Birdsville Star Show is one of the must-do activities in Birdsville.

Sandra McShane has an immense knowledge of the night sky. Her passion and understanding are evident as she speaks about the different constellations, explains ‘light years’ and points out the planets amongst the stars. She shows the group constellations that are invisible to the naked eye because they’re in a different galaxy and explains where the stars are and why they twinkle.

Staring upwards we see Scorpio, Sirius (Orion’s Dog), the Southern Cross and many more constellations with their own stories and history. Sandra knows when they were discovered and by whom and what each constellation meant to the ancients, those who relied upon the night sky for direction and prophesy.

Throughout the 45-minute session we see three satellites moving swiftly amongst the stars and it’s a competition to see who can spot them. We see a constellation called the ‘Jewel Box’, which is so called for its colourful array of stars. It’s one that is almost invisible to the naked eye but the telescope magnifies the stars and intensifies their colours. Sandra explains why the stars are different colours and what it means. There’s no question from the group throughout evening that she can’t answer.

Although we huddle together against the cold, looking forward to a warm meal at the pub, we’re sad that the session is over. Our minds are pulsing with new knowledge and we’re reflecting on the things we’ve seen – the ‘butterfly’ constellation and Saturn, its rings clearly visible around the planet itself. Saturn was so clear that it looked just like a textbook image.

Only in Birdsville, a tiny dot of light in an outback of darkness, are such wonders of the night sky revealed. We’re lucky that we have Sandra’s star show to guide us through the immense galaxy above. We’ll soon be in the desert, sleeping beneath the stars, and will be able to recognise Saturn, Orion and Alpha Centauri and appreciate all that the outback has to offer – even if it’s thousands of light years away.

 

2012 Outback Snaps Competition

As the sun sets over red, windswept dunes, an eager photographer leans over her tripod to capture the moment. Simultaneously, a family in a 4WD is careening up the face of Big Red, the tallest sand dune in the Simpson Desert. An onlooker snaps a photo of them emerging from a cloud of red dust as they mount the crest. Across town, a group of motorbike riders are practicing for the following day’s gymkhana. With a camera in hand, they perform jumps and wheel stands, taking turns to ride and photograph.

The outback is a place of mesmerizing beauty, unique events and lifelong adventure. When this essence of the outback is captured on film, it should be celebrated and shared. Therefore the Birdsville Roadhouse, together with the Birdsville community, is launching the inaugural 2012 Outback Snaps photography competition.

Amongst the residents of Birdsville, there are some very talented amateur photographers. Their photos are displayed in the Wirrarri Information Centre, in an exhibition titled ‘On The Land’. These photographs are shared and enjoyed by the community and travellers alike and exemplify why us locals love the outback so much.

However, we know that amongst the thousands of travellers who we meet in Birdsville each year, there are so many who adore the area as much as we do. Whether you’re serious photographers, experienced bushies or holiday makers with a simple camera, we think that amongst you, there must be some fabulous photos of the outback, Birdsville and your memorable adventures.

Therefore, we are calling on everyone who has photographs of the Birdsville area, both local and those who have passed through, to submit them to our Outback Snaps competition.

There are three categories, monthly prizes and an overall winner that will be announced in December. Lorraine Kath, a photographer from Mt Leonard Station who was instrumental in founding the Birdsville Photography Group, will judge the competition. Her book, My Colours, is a beautifully presented gallery of award-winning photographic work that is available for purchase at numerous locations around Birdsville.

Lorraine’s interest in photography developed after the birth of her children, who she enjoyed photographing as they grew. Living on a cattle station further encouraged her to capture unique moments of life on the land on film.

She will be looking for photographs that capture the essence of the outback, preferably the channel country region, are well composed and fit into one of the three competition categories.

Categories:

4WD Adventure – depicts the spirit of escaping to the outback in your 4WD. Photos can be of your vehicle, a sticky situation or a picturesque moment that you have only experienced because you have set out on a 4WD adventure.

Nature – it’s the landscape, wildlife and sunsets that make the outback, and in particular the channel country, so utterly charming. Any photo focusing on the beauty of the region can be entered in this category.

Action and Events – some of country’s most unique events are held in the outback, and there’s always some sort of action occurring in Birdsville and surrounds. This broad category draws together all images depicting unusual events and action-filled outback experiences.

To enter, email a maximum of five photos to competitions@birdsvilleroadhouse.com.au with a caption, your name, hometown and the category of your photo. We will then put them in the online competition gallery for viewing and will email winning entrants each month.

We look forward to seeing your photographs and displaying them for people to enjoy the spirit of the outback that you have captured.

Birdsville – the busiest place in the world?!

A cartoonist called Lynn Johnston once said, “An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything”. So, we would like to repair our reputation as Birdsville’s best source of news by apologising for our absence on the Galah Session over the past few weeks, which is due to an incredibly busy month in Birdsville.

We’ve had interesting characters reach town after achieving amazing physical feats, we’ve competed in the Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs and have become an official sponsor of The Long Walk Home, Jenna Brook’s walk across the Simpson Desert.

It was Jenna’s walk that inspired German cyclist Walter Leven to dedicate his planned 6000-kilometre four-month-long outback ride to raising money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. After weeks of communication, Walter and Jenna finally met in Birdsville and chatted about the RFDS, their training and the outback over a cuppa.

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Walter Leven and Jenna Brook.

Shortly after Walter continued on his ride, Birdsville was graced with a visit from Merv Hughes, former Australian Cricketer, to promote the importance of men’s health.

The next day, a very healthy Owen Davies walked into town after a 994-kilometre journey following the Georgina River from Camooweal, far northwest Queensland. He had been travelling with his pack of nine goats for two months and reached Birdsville on the wettest day we’d had all year!


Merv Hughes with Councillor Jody Barr. Photo courtesy Diamantina Shire Council

The day after that, Dick and Pip Smith were in Birdsville visiting friends. They’re supporters of The Long Walk Home and caught up with Jenna at the pub before coming to the Birdsville Roadhouse to check on the progress of our Pro-Lite buggy.

Around this time, travellers James and Steph were stranded in town with a blown head gasket. Luckily, they loved the place and agreed to work at the Roadhouse when we took off for Finke, the greatest off-road race in the country. They’re still here and might be hanging around longer, yay!


Dick Smith and Jenna Brook. Photo courtesy The Long Walk Home

Later that week, a plane made an emergency landing 500 metres short of the Birdsville airstrip and our little town made the national news. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the plane was successfully recovered.

We were just about to leave for Finke when our supply truck got bogged on the Birdsville Track. The track was soft after a couple of days of heavy rain and driver Richard was forced to wait at Mungerannie Hotel until the track reopened and dried out. We finally received our supplies and the Krakka Koldee Racing team hit the road as soon as they were unpacked.


Emergency landing. Photo courtesy the Outback Loop

The Finke Desert Race is an annual 460-kilometre race from Alice Springs to the remote community of Finke and back, along the old Ghan line. This year, there were over 80 buggies and cars competing, as well as almost 600 motorbikes and quads. We were one of 8 Pro-Lite buggies in the race.

Unfortunately, though, a broken rear stub axle and engine problems forced us to withdraw from the race during prologue on the Saturday. We’re now working hard to get the buggy back into shape for the next race. Keep an eye out for Kelly’s Finke coverage in the next issue of Outback Magazine for more information on the race.


The Krakka Koldee driver and navigator team

While we were at Finke, the Birdsville Photography Group held an opening night for their ‘On The Land’ exhibition. Prizes were awarded for the best photographs and all attendees reported having a lovely evening. We saw the exhibition at the Wirrarri Information Centre on our return and were amazed by the high quality of all of the photos. It really is a visual reminder of why we love living in Birdsville.

On Friday, the Birdsville State School P&C committee held their monthly bingo night, which was enjoyed by all and next weekend the Birdsville Social Club is holding their annual horse and motorbike gymkhana. The Krakka Koldee Racing Team might even be demonstrating the speed of their ultra-reliable 1300cc Suzuki-powered buggy on the bike enduro track over the weekend.


Birdsville State School students and staff

Lastly, there’s only a week until Jenna Brook sets off on her ‘Long Walk Home’. As we’re now official sponsors, we can officially recommend that you donate to her walk, which supports the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Phew, we’ve seen a lot of action in the past few weeks! Birdsville may be a small town, but life is certainly eventful. 


Owen Davies in Birdsville. Keep an eye out for Kelly’s article about Owen in the next edition of Outback Magazine.