Easter Update: Birdsville News

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 4×4 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. 

The Inland Explorers: John McDouall Stuart

Simpson Desert. Photo: Kelly Theobald

Imagine setting out on an expedition to explore Australia in the 1800s. You leave your home and family for months to trek through the arid landscape, carrying all of your food and water on camels or horses and sleeping in swags beneath the stars. You don’t know what you’ll find, or even what you’re looking for. All you know is that there is barely a settlement between Adelaide and Darwin or Perth and Sydney. In the great, vast deserts of central Australia, there seems to be nothing. It’s your job to find out what’s there.

Without the brave explorers of the past, the outback wouldn’t be what it is today. They mapped the land, built roads, established towns and became heroes of the day. 

This year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the great inland expeditions – the first south-north crossing of Australia. It was John McDouall Stuart‘s sixth and final expedition that successfully reached the Gulf of Carpentaria from Adelaide, with the intention of establishing a telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin. 

John McDouall Stuart

As early explorer Charles Sturt’s protégé, John McDouall Stuart completed Sturt’s Simpson Desert expedition in 1844 as second-in-command. Soon after, he led his own expedition to what is now the border between South Australia and the Northern Territory. It was on this trip that he was the first to discover a spring from the great Artesian Basin and was assured that it was a permanent water supply in the arid land.

On following expeditions, Stuart discovered and named the Finke River, the MacDonnell Ranges, Tennant’s Creek (now the site of the Tennant Creek township) and in 1862 was the first explorer to successfully cross the Australian mainland from South to North. His route can be retraced today via the Stuart Highway, named in his honour.

Present-day Stuart Highway

If you’re off road adventure inclined, the Simpson Desert lies between the Stuart Highway and Birdsville. It contains the world’s longest parallel sand dunes and is Australia’s fourth-largest desert. A number of tracks leading to Birdsville snake over the dunes and after three good years, the usually arid landscape is teaming with wildlife and colourful foliage. 

A number of convoys have already crossed the desert since it opened earlier this month and have reported safe tracks and great journeys. If you’re thinking of invoking some of the early explorers, read our Simpson Desert information page for pre-departure information. 

We’ll be sporadically posting information on other inland explorers on the Galah Session, including the ill-fated Burke and Wills. 

Fresh fruit and veggies in Birdsville!

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.

History of the ‘Galah Sessions’

Birdsville AIM Hospital

Birdsville AIM Hospital, now a museum. Photo: Birdsville or Bust

Before iPhones, the internet and 3G networks, the only way that Birdsville was connected to the outside world was via radio transmitter. Three times a day, for half an hour, the Australian Inland Mission nursing sisters, who were then in charge of the AIM Hospital, were responsible for tuning in to the radio to pass messages in and out of Birdsville. These were called the ‘Galah Sessions’.

Birdsville’s first pedal wireless was installed in 1929. Rev. John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission and Alf Traeger, the inventor of the radio, were responsible for the installation of hundreds transmitters throughout the outback. Flynn saw the huge need for medical services in remote areas and envisioned a ‘mantle of safety’ covering the outback. 

early Pedal Radio

Operation of the first pedal radio in Australia. Photo: Antique Radio Classified

For people living on the surrounding stations, this was the only way to contact Birdsville for medical assistance, even in an emergency. Also, for the station wives, it was a welcome chat with other women as they caught up on news, shared recipes, transmitted telegrams and arranged ventures to town. 

In the case of medical emergency, the nursing sisters had to use the radio transmitter to contact an RFDS base. If the closest available doctor was further away than the radio signal could reach, their messages had to be relayed by listeners in towns or stations along the way.

It wasn’t until 1976 that a satellite telephone line reached Birdsville. But, the Galah Sessions continued until all of the surrounding stations had installed telephones. However, these phones were only operational when the Post Office, where the operator worked from, was open. In the late 1980s, the phones were converted to the type that we now have. 

Telstra connects Next G network. Photo: Telstra

Mobile reception was also incredibly late to reach Birdsville. Optus serviced the town during the 2008 Birdsville Races and installed a permanent tower in 2009, but without 3G service. Telstra followed, building a permanent tower in 2010 with Next G data reception. 

The Galah Sessions no longer exist. But, they’re fondly remembered by Birdsville and station residents and remind us of the days when Birdsville was truly remote. Now, with mobile internet and text messaging, it’s easy to forget how far we are from any major city. The old Birdsville Hospital is now a museum with examples of the pedal radios that were used for the Galah Sessions. 

The Birdsville Roadhouse experiments with blogging!

Welcome to the first post of the Birdsville Roadhouse’s new blog. We’re hoping to regularly update this page with news about Birdsville, the Krakka Koldee Racing Team, our staff, events, new stock, desert and outback road conditions and general titbits of interest. 

This year is shaping up to be quite exciting in Birdsville. We have a number of events already planned including rodeos, bronco branding and a camp draft. Birdsville local and our close friend, Jenna Brook, will be walking across the Simpson Desert in June to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and we’re following her fundraising and preparations with anticipation. Sam and Kelly will also be crossing the desert but in a 1964 VW Beetle that they named ‘Onslo’, which is fitting as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first vehicle crossing of the desert. That car was a Nissan Patrol and Nissan is planning a huge celebration here in July. Of course, there will be the annual Birdsville Races, which gets a little bit bigger each year.

We’ve updated our website with more information about the town, surrounding areas, events and travel tips. But, if you’re planning your trip and discover any questions, we’d love you to contact us. If you’ve been here before, we’ll soon be launching a gallery for travellers’ best desert 4×4 and Birdsville photos, and maybe even a competition or two. 

The Birdsville Track is currently open and we’ve had a few travellers throughout the week, including a group of bikers on their way south. This coming Sunday we’ll be hosting a BBQ at the Roadhouse to raise money for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. If you’d like to donate but can’t make it here for a snag, head to Kathy’s MS QLD fundraising page

Wherever you are, we hope you are well and look forward to keeping in touch over the year. Here is last night’s sunset, taken from the centre of town. Are sunsets everywhere this pretty, or is it just the outback?