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.