Category Archives: Birdsville Races 2018
The road out of Diamantina NP to Boulia was not much different to the one we came in on, a bit shorter and bit bumpier as we crossed numerous little channels along the way. Came across an interesting little place ‘Elizabeth Springs’, this was a short walk off the road to some naturally occurring artesian water seeps, there are about 16 of these seeps, of varying sizes. They were originally found by white settlers in the 1890s and it has been estimated that at the time the water flow from the springs would have been of the order of 4.5m litres a day. The area became a major centre for stock watering. By the 1950s, however, the water flow had degraded to about 68,000 litres a day, and a number of the springs had dried up. Since being made a Conservation Park the area is slowly recovering.
Moving along we made it to Boulia, had lunch, filled up with petrol and headed for Winton for an overnight stop. The trip into and out of the Park had required us to carry an extra 40 litres of fuel in jerry cans, we also had another 20 litres up our sleeve just in case, otherwise we might still be there! Allthego was a bit tired when we eventually arrived in Winton and booked into the Tatts Hotel van park, pretty basic place, but you get a discount at the hotel come dinner time. A rather good steak and chicken parmie were had by the weary travellers. Down at Birdsville we had been entertained one evening by the ‘Crack Up Sisters’, a couple of young ladies from Winton who specialise in the skills of whip cracking. We were blessed to see their house in Winton, not to be missed!
We have had a night in Blackall and will today be heading to Roma for the night and then home the next day to Brisbane.
So until next time somewhere in the great outdoors …………..
Diamantina National Park is one of the most remote NP in Queensland. It lies midway between Longreach and Bedourie, as the crow flies. There are roads into the Park from the towns surrounding it: Bedourie, Boulia, Winton and Windorah, all involving drives of 150-300 km along gravel roads. These are pretty good roads in the scheme of things, at least at the time we are doing the trip. They criss cross gibber plains and Mitchell grass grazing lands. It is a very dry environment at the moment. We chose to take the 193 km trek from Bedourie, leaving town at around 11am and arriving at the Park a bit after 3 pm.
We set up camp at Hunter’s Gorge beside the Mundewerra Lagoon. Mundewerra means ‘dreaming place’, the indigenous people believed Yamma Coona the mother of the Dream Time came here in her travels through the land. It is a bit dusty here, particularly when the wind is blowing across the bare earth camping ground behind us, fortunately the wind changed direction on our second day, blowing across the lagoon and it was a bit cooler too. Those pesky little fly things also put in an appearance and our fly nets proved invaluable!
On our first two nights we had some fellow campers either side of us along the banks of the lagoon. We were alone on the third night. No phone, no internet! Very quiet, but the night sky was brilliant. The Milky Way, a white smudge through the sparkling stars. The lagoon is deep at about 8 metres, in flood time though the waters rise up and cover the camp ground. The drop loo had water marks on the walls about a metre above the floor from the most recent wet season. The loo was also the home of some Fairy Martin mud bird nests in its roof. These little birds scamper around on the ground amongst the grass and flit off when approached. We originally thought the mud nests belonged to some sort of wasp and so had been a little cautious around the loo and some other shelters where we had seem the same ornate structures.
Allthego tried his hand again at some yabbies, the effort yielded a couple of small fresh water shrimps. Down the bottom end of the lagoon a couple were fishing in the shallower water and had caught some fish using these shrimp as bait. Allthego had carefully forgotten his fishing gear, but not next time.
The lagoon area is a haven for bird life. Pelicans cruised up and down its reaches, ducks ventured forth, some brolgas relaxed in the shade of over hanging trees, galahs were everywhere stripping trees of leaves and small branches, kites and eagles soared above and the fairy Martins scratched around in the dirt.
(Click on this , video it might work?)
We went for a short drive for about 10 km across the drainage channels of the Diamantina River ‘to the other side’ to see the ranger station and its displays. The NP used to be a cattle station and was acquired by the Queensland Gov’t in the 1990s (I think?) for a National Park. The grasslands and water courses are slowly recovering from their grazing past, although a stock route continues to run through the Park. On the other side we were able to rise up onto the plateau area at Janet’s Leap. From here one looks down into the ‘Diamantina Gates’. This ‘narrow’ gorge is about 1 km wide and our camping ground is on the other side, separated by the river and the channels we crossed to get here. In flood time water comes down across the Diamantina flood plain ( which can be many km across ) from the north and funnels its way through the ‘Gates’ and once passing spreads out again on the flood plain to the south. Apparently, a spectacular sight.
All good things must come to an end and on our third morning we headed off to the north on the 155 km gravel trek to Boulia and then 360 km on sealed road to Winton.
We are now at Bedourie having travelled the 180 or so kilometres north of Birdsville. Bedourie is the administration centre for the local Diamantina Shire, which occupies much of the south-west corner of Queensland and the flood plains of the Diamantina and Georgiana River systems. Eyre Creek flows south past Bedourie and ultimately into Lake Eyre. So the road up to Bedourie passes across many flood drainage channels, clay pans and grass lands. The road is called the Bilby Way, after the critically endangered native rabbit like animal. We didn’t see any.
Part way up we passed by a big stand of the rare Waddi Trees. Very slow growing trees dating back to the last ice age, extremely hard wood that resists burning. Some of the trees are thought to be up to a thousand years old. Also passed the ruins of the old Sydney Kidman owned Carcoory homestead. Abandoned in the early 1900s after a period of severe drought. The nearby bore flows and feeds a pond for the local cattle, water very hot.
Further along we cross Eyre Creek at the Cuttaburra Crossing where a herd of cattle were watering. This is a popular bird watching area and a few vans had taken up residence. Some pelicans were in residence upstream.
Arrived in Bedourie and managed to get the last powered van site in the Caravan Park, we were well located just next door to the artesian spar and swimming pool complex.
After a good nights sleep it was to be day of action on the golf course for Allthego and a dip in the artesian hot water ‘infinity pool’. The golf was a little challenging as there was much loose sand, thankfully a couple of the fairways were quite hard dried sand and a good run on the ball could be had for the low and frequently hitting Allthego. Allthego’s card for the 9 hole course was a modest 60, 27 over for the 33 par course. One shouldn’t bother with handicaps! A couple of bad scoring holes otherwise spoilt a reasonable effort among the sand dunes.
After this it was off for the dip in the spar and swimming pool to sooth away the aches! Homealone enjoyed the time by herself at the van beavering away on some craft.
We are now setting off after two nights here in Bedourie for a couple of days in Diamantina National Park.
Saturday night after the races we partied a bit down at the hotel and enjoyed the night scenes around the various stalls that were still open. The boxing tent was in full swing and there was much revelry. We even had a star politician in town for the festivities. One Pauline Hanson, she is pretty popular out here. Allthego couldn’t resist a photo-op.
Our time in Birdsville has come to a close. We did our Sunday morning shift on the pancakes, followed up by some stock taking, packing away and lunch. There was some time on Sunday afternoon for looking around Birdsville! We have been here a week and haven’t seen the cemetery yet. Now Allthego doesn’t mind looking through an old cemetery. A lot can be learnt in a cemetery about the towns past. Birdsville’s cemetery sits between a couple of sand dunes on the outskirts of town on the way to the caravan toilet dump point and the town dump. Allthego suspects it was there before either of these two modern conveniences. The graves certainly indicate this. Life was tough out here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is a strong indigenous presence among the headstones, including a ‘rainmaker’. An early Inland Mission Padre died in 1929 and is buried here. He was 29 and it is thought died of a heart attack while having a swim in the river. The bare earth and sun light flickering in the scattered trees among the sand dunes was haunting. It would have been a lonely place a hundred years ago.
Back down by the Diamantina River at Pelican Point we saw flocks of birds on the Birdsville Billabong. Our grand daughter, Alyssa was wondering why Birdsville was called Birdsville. Well, we think we can confirm it is because there are lots of birds here! Or is it because a shop was built here by two blokes, Percy Bird and George Field. Hence Birdsfield, which later, because of a mailing error, became Birdsville! Who knows! Two young Corellas were hiding high in a tree above us as we gazed across the Billabong.
Down by the river the horses are stabled for the great race and it is also here where it is thought Burke & Wills might have camped on their way north back in the 1860s. There is a tree labelled the “Burke & Wills Tree” with a blaze cut into it with some barely legible markings. Better thinking suggests this is an imposter tree, the work of a later day pleasure seeker! But everybody comes here and takes a photo! Remnants of the 5 or 6 thousand campers are still to found in this area. Many will continue north in coming days for the races at Bedourie.
One of the old buildings remaining in Birdsville is the Court House. Signage indicates it is now only brought into action once a year. The Monday after the Birdsville races! No doubt to deal with matters arising from the rather strong police presence in town during the great race . Much breath analysing going on. There has also been a little unruly behaviour on the town common amongst the campers, some lads got excited and threw some gas bottles on a fire creating some big bangs in the early hours of the morning. Apart from this, things have been calm in town with not much angst being displayed.
After our drive around town and catching the last of the ‘sites’ to be seen we headed back to base for dinner and a good nights sleep before heading for Bedourie the following morning.
One of the ‘big’ things to do in Birdsville is to drive the 35 km out to ‘Big Red’ and see the sun set. Big Red is a 40 m sand hill fronting the Simpson Desert. There is not much human settlement between this point and the Western Australian coastline. To get across the desert from here involves traversing 1100 or so sand hills. This is something Allthego is keen on doing, but not this trip. We witnessed a number of vehicles climbing up the sand cutting to the top of Big Red, whilst a challenge it did not appear to be overly difficult, would need to let the tyres down to about 18 psi. We resisted the temptation to attempt it and instead walked up and saw others try, all successful! A great view from the top. The sky was clear of cloud, so the sunset was not a spectacular show of colours and patterns as you see in the postcards. Instead, a ball of orangey/ red slowly sinking across the horizon.
We sat on the sand enjoying the view, glass of red and some cheese. As did some others. After the scramble back down we headed off in the dusk and dust back to town.
Our day at the races arrived and we headed off in the shuttle bus to the racetrack which is about 4 km outside of town. Several thousand people were descending on the same place. It was quite a crowd and a little hard to judge how many people were there, perhaps three or four thousand. Races had also been held the day before and I suspect not everyone goes both days. Indeed there had been an exodus of vans from Birdsville before the start of the second day. But it was still a lot of people and obvious that some had been there the day before, very happy individuals!
We planted our seats not far back from the fence and the finishing post. It was a good viewing spot although we were in the sun, needed to be early to get the shady spots under the stand. It was also a good spot to observe our fellow race goers and the fashions on display. There was the usual fashions on the field competition, best dressed females, males and family groups in various categories. It seems a number of people going in these competitions take them very seriously (like in Betoota) and put in big efforts to ‘glam up’ for the occasion, even if they have to wander around amongst the stones and dust in high heels. There are others though who don’t go in the competition, but just like to hop around the place being admired by the masses.
We were also located not far from the parade ground were the horses are shown around prior to the running of each race. The strappers take them out, walk them around for all to see. Allthego noticed many astute punters wandered over to this area with their form guides and carefully pencilled their thoughts into these little books. He thought to himself that maybe Homealone should be doing this rather than relying on names and colours. But then again he saw many of these punters after the race screwing up punting tickets, giving the odd grimace or two and heading back to the bar area for more inspiration. Maybe names and colours are just as reliable after all.
Homealone was unsuccessful in picking winners here at Birdsville, did not even get a placing. Employing the same techniques of the horses name and colours, as she did in Betoota, yielded average performances and two last places. It was easy to leave after the signature event, the 1600 m Birdsville Cup. Here at Birdsville the horses run anti clockwise round the track, like in NSW. The rest of Queensland run clockwise. Why this anomaly, I don’t know.
The bus trip back to town was easy, we had a quick getaway and beat a fair bit of the crowd out of the track.
We took it slowly along the road to Birdsville, hoping to nurse the water tank to an early repair. It held up well with the make shift bung getting a good dust coating to ‘cement ‘it well in place with no leaking! A closer look at the problem when we arrived in town found that it was relatively simple thing to fix. Friend Neil Imlay suggested a trip to the local hardware shop for a replacement plug, screw the remains of the old one out and put the new one in! An exact match wasn’t to be had, but the replacement was more than adequate. All fixed up in about half an hour. Bought a couple of spares for next time!
We have been here in Birdsville now for 5 nights camped behind the Old Hospital Museum with a group of others, there are about 20 of us all up. We are all volunteers on a couple of activities organised by the Uniting Church (UC) capitalising on the presence of the crowds here in Birdsville for the annual race meeting. The Old Hospital complex is the base for us and is the location of the ‘Pancake Palace’. We have another stall located in the town centre selling souvenirs and various clothing items. It is located next to Fred Brophy’s travelling boxing tent and amongst all the other spruikers in town for the races. Our aim is to raise some funds to restore parts of the hospital museum, which dates back over a hundred years and was founded by UC forerunners, as well as help fund the work of the UC in the outback.
Since arriving Homealone and Allthego, assisted by friends Neil and Dianne Imlay, have put time into both the pancakes and the souvenirs, it has been a rewarding experience as well as a bit tiring. It is starting to warm up out here in the west and yesterday we had quite a dust storm, although not like you see on the TV. It was really just a strong wind blowing dust around the place. It nevertheless drained the energy tanks.
With the races starting today (31st August) and continuing tomorrow with the main program the crowds have started to build up in town, although some have said they are not as big as last year. We are off to the races tomorrow afternoon for all the action.
We have visited a couple of the iconic attractions here in town, the old hotel and the more modern bakery. It was the Sunday roast at the pub and a cold beer. At the Bakery it was a bit of a mixed bag, egg and bacon sangers and a curried camel pie. Homealone avoided the camel pie and instead had a chunky beef pie. Both of the establishments do a roaring trade.
Now it’s off to bed to for a good sleep and an early start on the stall before race time at 1pm!
We are now in Birdsville for a week or so. Leaving Windorah we set out west on a good sealed road to the turnoff to Birdsville. From this point on the road is mostly reasonable gravel with a few rough spots and loose rocky stretches. A few cattle beside the road, not much wildlife to be seen. It took us a little under three hours to make it the 240 km to Betoota.
Just short of Betoota there is a lookout, named after Deon; he was a young helicopter pilot who was killed in a crash nearby. Great views over the landscape here. We alighted for a good look around. Strolling around the van Allthego noticed some water spurting from under the van, creating a rather large wet patch. A quick look saw that we had sprung a leak, the tap on one of the water tanks had been knocked off by a stone, hence the water pouring out. For how long was the question? Allthego quickly sprung into action under the van with his index finger dutifully inserted into the tank to stem the flow. This could not be the solution though……..after some deep thought a rag was stuffed into the hole. This allowed time to search around for a piece of shrub timber to fashion into a plug to fill the gap. A very suitable piece was found and along with some plumbing and gaffer tape the flow was arrested. We had lost half our water, the remainder just enough to get us through the two nights at Betoota in the free camp beside the creek. No camping grounds or power at Betoota and limited water.
So we limped into Betoota and settled in beside the creek with a fair few other people. Betoota has been holding a race day continuously for 40 years. Nobody has lived at Betoota for 20 years. The last resident was the publican and when he died in 1997 the pub closed. It then slowly fell into disrepair and is now marked on maps as ‘ruins’. But it is being reopened and has undergone significant repairs and modernisation. It was due to reopen for the races but has run into some bureaucracy which has held things up, some suggest maliciously. Anyway we were able to have drink as a ‘social licence’ had ben obtained. You had to buy tickets that were swapped for drinks and eats. All proceeds going to charity. There were 50 or 60 people there at the time, but evidence of plenty others! The next day was race day so we retired to our abode by the creek. The plug in the water tank was holding well.
Plenty of action on race day. All up there must have been close to 750 people in attendance for the 6 race program. We grabbed our camp chairs and sat in a covered enclosure not far from the finish line. Great view of the track and the various characters coming and going from the bookie tent and bar area. Plenty of fashions of the field on display, ‘quality’ somewhat variable! All seemed to be having a good time. The local member flew in on a little plane, having come from Canberra for the day. There is dedication for you.
Homealone managed to pick two winners and a third place based on the horses names and colours. Same principles also yielded a last place. We didn’t lose any money or for that matter win any as in her usual style no bets had been placed. We departed after the fourth race to ready for our departure the next morning for Birdsville.
Apart from a couple of shops, the pub, Post Office and the service station there is not a lot in Windorah. A truck comes once a fortnight with fresh fruit and vegs for the 80 townsfolk. One of our fellow campers has been off on a full day mail run with the postie, 800 km out and back to various stations. The camping ground is a hive of activity, with vans coming and going as they travel east or west. The Council has recently developed another section with new amenities and camp kitchen. Not a tree or blade of grass on it and has been nick named ‘Siberia’, the older park (where we are) is a little greener and has a number of trees and small gardens.
What to do when you have a spare day in Windorah? Some go fishing. We chose to head off to Haddon’s Corner. This is the border corner of Queensland and South Australia. Cameron’s Corner to the south is three ways with NSW and Poeppel’s Corner to the north and west is also three ways with the Northern Territory.
It is about 200 km to Haddon’s Corner from Windorah, out along the Birdsville Rd and then a turnoff down the Innamincka Rd. A lot of gravel road, mostly in good condition. Just short of the Corner we had to traverse two red sand hills, the DMax did it in style. Homealone was hanging on as we went up and over with no difficulties. No one else was there! After the obligatory photos and signing off in the attendance book we had lunch and then turned around and headed back. We had left at 10.30am and arrived back at 5.30 pm.
Countryside was pretty dry, but the few cattle we saw looked in reasonable condition. One rather large dam was bone dry.
It was an interesting day out in this remote part of the land. We now head to Betoota for two nights for the races there. It will then be on to Birdsville on Sunday.
Leaving Eromanga the road took us through some very dry grazing land. The cattle and sheep were not looking great and the pastures were very bare and stony. Rain is certainly needed in these parts.
On our way into Windorah we stopped for the night beside Cooper’s Creek. We were all alone beside the ‘creek’ having driven down the western side to escape the crowds near the bridge. There had been some debate about whether we should stay on the eastern side or the western side, but we settled for the western side. This meant the setting sun was behind us as we settled in for the night. Very quiet place indeed. The resident pelicans paraded up and down the creek and a few other water birds gathered as the sun set.
Cooper’s Creek was named by the explorer Sturt after some chap from South Australia named Cooper. He named it a ‘creek’ rather than a ‘river’, because at the time he perceived there was little if any flow in the stream. Apparently, rivers flow and creeks don’t; at least back in the mid 19 century. In more recent times, map makers have dropped the possessive and are calling it ‘Cooper Creek’. Local Windorahians, all 80 of them, are resisting and endeavouring to preserve ‘Cooper’s Creek’.
As the sun went down Allthego scouted around for some wood, not a lot to be found unless he cut loose with the axe on some almost dead trees and roots. Fortunately, a few pieces of red river gum were found upstream by a vacant old camp spot. These were enough to fuel a nice little fire for a couple of hours and in between allow the BBQing of some pork sausages for dinner. Prior to dinner he had also set a yabbie trap in the creek. This was expected to be brim full of yabbies the next morning.
The fire slowly subsided and we retired for bed. It was really quiet, the sky crystal clear, stars brightly shining with the moon half full and waxing. There is not a lot we know about the moon.
We have arrived in Eromanga after the short drive from Quilpie. Pretty good road coming out from Quilpie, much of it a lane each way. After the turn off to Eromanga there were some lengthy stretches of a single lane down the middle, meaning one has to move on to the shoulders as traffic approaches. Countryside is also a little greener and fresher looking with some water beside the road. Plenty of emus running around, as well as road kill with feathers and bones spread everywhere. The emu population appears to have taken a recent battering.
Just outside Quilpie we stopped at the town opal fossicking area to try our luck among the rocks. After a bit of rock smashing Allthego struck a small rock and lo and behold there was an opal flash to be seen. Nothing to rave about, but in the pocket it went. After a few more hits we returned to the road to Eromanga.
The area around Eromanga is where the south-west oil fields start to make their appearance. Allthego was out this way 30 odd years ago when he was doing some work for one of his old clients who were part of some joint ventures looking for oil. They were successful in finding the Kenmore Oil field as well as a couple of other fields in the area. The Kenmore field is still producing today, although now owned by other parties. We passed by Kenmore Number 9 well beside the road. On the outskirts of the Eromanga township is the IOR Mini Oil Refinery which produces diesel and some other petroleum products from the oil produced from the surrounding oil fields. It was built in 1985 and was at the time also a client of Allthego, it has also now been sold to others.
The oil fields breathed life into the then declining Eromanga township. Today it is dinosaurs bringing tourists and nomads to the town. We had an hour-long tour of the first stage of the museum/research facility which is about 3 km outside town on a bit of a hill which we suspect is above the flood line for the area. The Eromanga township has been known to have had the odd flood or two in the past. Fossils have been found in the area of titanosaurs, these are some of the largest dinosaurs known. The prize specimen is known as ‘Cooper’, a sauropod titanosaur. This is one of those 4 legged varieties, growing to about 35 m in length and 5 m tall at the shoulder, with long necks. They were herbivores and ate enormous quantities of vegetable matter. Cooper would have filled the building we were in. The palaeontologists are still in the process of prepping all the bones found, about half the skeleton. They have one of the fore limbs and one of the rear limbs done and 3-D prints have been made of these, they are about 4 m or so tall, amazing the way this has been done. There were a lot of other fossils in the place on display and we had demonstrations of the prepping process, requires patient and meticulous jig saw puzzle solver type characters for this job.
After the tour we retired to the Royal Hotel for a light lunch and then back to the van for a break before dinner.
Following two nights here in Eromanga our next stop is to be a free camp beside Cooper Creek, not far from Windorah.