R.I.P Walter B. Barnes

It is with extreme sadness that The Birdsville Roadhouse reports that Mr Walter B. Barnes has passed away after a long battle with a mysterious illness/injury. He was almost 8 years old. Wally’s health had been been deteriorating since mid January despite the best efforts of everyone around him. Long time family friend and awesome vet, Keith Newby, flew to Birdsville on Monday afternoon to assess Wally’s condition. Keith operated and removed his front left leg in a last ditch effort to save Wal’s life but sadly he didn’t make it through the night. He was buried on Tuesday morning. Walter will be sorely missed around town as he was often referred to as the ‘Unofficial Mayor of Birdsville’. Amongst all his unofficial duties he also found time to hold down at least two full-time jobs at the Roadhouse as both the ‘Customer Relations Officer’ and 24-hour security guard. Wal was easily the hardest working employee the Roadhouse has ever been blessed with and I doubt if he will ever be replaced. Keep an eye on this space over the next few days as we add photos and memories of Wal.

Introducing Krakka Koldee Racing

Many of you will be aware that the Birdsville Roadhouse is associated with the Krakka Koldee off-road racing team. Barnes’y and Sam are working hard to get their new Nissan 350z-powered pro-lite buggy ready for the Finke Desert Race in June.

If you’re not familiar with the world of off-road racing, it’s a thrilling sport that combines the best of motorsport and rally with four-wheel-drive terrain. For many four-wheel-drive enthusiasts that visit Birdsville, seeing the buggies in the workshop is a source of fascination. They’re mean-looking, powerful machines that can conquer almost any type of track.

The Finke Desert Race, a two-day event where buggies (and motorbikes) race from Alice Springs to the small township of Finke, is the most renowned off-road race in Australia. It joins the ranks of Mexico’s Baja 1000 as one of the world’s most famous off-road races.

Competitors can race a number of different types of buggies ranging from two-seater ‘sportsman’ buggies with up to 1300cc motors to ‘pro’ buggies with up to 6000cc motors to ‘trophy trucks‘ with up to 6000cc motors. Most buggies are built with their engines in the back of the vehicle, but trophy trucks have the engine in the front. There is also a separate class for standard four-wheel-drives.

Off-road racing became prominent in Australia in the late 60s. ‘Buggy Clubs’, or off-road racing clubs, sprung up around the country with increasing amounts of people building buggies or adapting Volkwagen Beetles to suit driving on sand and rough tracks. In the late 70s, Barnes’y bought his first buggy for $50 and joined the Millicent Sand Buggy Club. Since then, he has upgraded through five buggies, and introduced his son, Sam, to the sport. 

Sam began navigating for Barnes’y in 2004 at the Sunraysia 500 in Mildura. Together, and with Bronwynne for support, they’ve travelled to compete in many races around the country. With Barnes’y at the wheel and Sam in the navigators’ seat, they won their class at the Finke Desert Race twice. When Sam started driving, in 2007, he successfully completed many races, culminating in winning his class at the 2009 Finke Desert Race.

Although off-road racing buggies were originally derived from Volkswagen Beetles, a lot has changed over the four decades since the sport’s inception in Australia. Buggies have become bigger, tougher and a hell of a lot heavier. Sam says that this has made both positive and negative impacts on the sport. When once it was possible for a DIY buggy builder or mechanic to participate in the sport with some success, it’s now too expensive for the every-day person to race competitively. However, for the spectators, bigger, tougher buggies means more spectacular jumps, drifts and stunts in races.

The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport supports the Australian Off-road Championship, which began in 1981. It’s comprised of four or five races each year and the winners are calculated on a points-based system over the year. Last years’ overall winner was Dave Fellows, of Peter Kittle Motorsports. But, each class of buggies also has their own winner. Barnes’y and Sam were the ‘sportsman’ class winners numerous times before upgrading to the ‘pro-lite’ class in which they’re yet to race.

After replacing the engine in their new pro-lite buggy, Barnes’y and Sam couldn’t get it running smoothly again. When driving, the buggy was misfiring at 6300-6750 revs. It was a mystery problem that couldn’t be googled. They tried every possible mechanical solution including replacing sensors, looking for fuel problems, upgrading to shielded wires, testing the exhaust gas breakdown and changing Motec computer programs, all to no avail. 

The buggy is currently being rewired by a specialist in Brisbane and we should be hearing more news about it shortly. Hopefully, the wiring will have fixed the mystery problem and Sam can take it for a few runs near Birdsville to get a feel for the driver’s seat before heading off to Finke in June. Wish him luck! 

Both Barnes’y and Sam would like to thank their sponsors; Jaycar ElectronicsPhillip’s Foote Restaurant, Birdsville Roadhouse, Teagle Excavations, Millicent Tyre Power and the Outback Loop, for their generous support and patience while developing the new buggy.

*There’s just two weeks left to vote for The Galah Session in the Best Australian Blogs 2012 competition. Click here if you would like to vote for us and help put Birdsville and the Krakka Koldee Racing Team on the map!

We’re nominated for the Best Australian Blog Awards 2012!

Hello lovely followers! Just a quick note to let you know that people’s choice voting opens tomorrow at 5pm for the Best Australian Blog Awards 2012 run by the Sydney Wrtiers’ Centre. We’ve just been nominated and as we’re such a new blog, we need your support! Help us get Birdsville on the map by voting. We’ll tweet and facebook the voting form as soon as it’s available so you can all help us promote our beautiful outback!

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. 

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?