Sunday, March 15, 2009


This was written in March 2009, but for some reason I didn't put it up. I thought I should finish the story ....

Neale the policeman finally opens the Birdsville Track for traffic.

At the beginning of March we were starting to develop cabin fever, after having been unable to get out of town because of the flooding for the last five weeks. As soon as the water went down enough for us to leave we drove down to Adelaide for a week just for a change of scenery. We knew there was a fourth flood coming, and hoped it would be up and down again quickly enough that we could get back in, but just in case, arranged for the flood boat to pick us up if necessary, and leave the truck on the other side. And necessary it was — it took nine days for the water to drop enough for us to go and get it back.

We finally got to drive all the way down the Birdsville Track. We stopped overnight at Mungerannie Hotel, a little pub next to a spring, with the Mungerannie Station homestead nearby. Pam the owner was lovely and looked after us very well, I think we were the first people she'd seen in days, it still being non-tourist season at that stage. The road itself was very good, but it was so hot we thought our air-conditioning had broken down until we opened the windows to find out. We realised how bad it would be to break down out here in these conditions, with little chance of someone happening by to help out. It reinforces the need to let people know where you're going, and letting them know when you get there.

There are a lot of ruins along the way, the most interesting being at Farina. There were several buildings, the town was finally deserted in the 1980s after the railway was closed, but once had a population of 300. I can't imagine how people used to live out here.

The ruins of the Mulka Homestead.

The ghost town of Farina. The Post Office finally closed in 1980.

The Lake Eyre Yacht Club. Not such a joke now, with all the water in Lake Eyre at the moment.

At last the scenery started changing, there were hills and trees, and the towns were closer together. After an excellent lunch at the pub at Parachilna, we detoured through the Flinders Ranges which was so foggy and rainy it was difficult to see anything. At the Clare Valley, I had to buy a jumper because when we left Birdsville it was so hot I didn't think to pack warm clothes. We stayed in a fabulous house overlooking the valley and enjoyed a bottle of wine in the spa bath, looking out at the blustery rain, thinking what a novelty it was to be cold again.

The scenery finally starts to change, although it is still a bit surreal. The (sealed!) road winds around naked hills south of Marree.

The Flinders Ranges was so overcast we didn't see much on our detour through after Parchilna.

This is the view of the Flinders on the way back north, the one most people see.

The view from the spa in the Clare Valley.

I'd earlier been looking on the internet job sites to see what sort of work might be available when we left Birdsville, and had spotted an ideal position in Broke, in the Hunter Valley, a couple of hours north of Sydney. We'd decided we loved Birdsville so much we would stay until after the next races in September, but the job was too good an opportunity to miss. After a couple of phone conversations, I agreed to do an overnight trip to Sydney for an interview once we arrived in Adelaide, which was successful. This threw a major spanner into our plans, I was due to start at the end of May. We were absolutely torn, our heads said what a great opportunity this was, our hearts said oh no, this means we'll have to leave soon! I was very excited at the new job, but it was going to be hard leaving Birdsville ...

By the time we drove back up the track to Birdsville, it all seemed a long way away — we still had three months to go, we would make the most of it. We radioed the flood boat guys and stashed the car at the race track. There was a welcome party in the boat when it arrived, it was a real homecoming. We stowed our belongings in the boat and headed back to town.


I'll put some more up shortly from what I can remeber, but it seems so long ago now. I'm dying to get back out to Birdsville, but circumstances so far have prevented it. Evan managed to get out there for the last Races, and for the Bronco Branding -- the National Titles were held there in May. And to the Drovers Festival in Camoweel -- his latest book, called The Drovers -- Stories behind the heroes of our stock routes was released recently and is a very good read -- not that I'm biased!

And yet more flooding ....

Desert? What Desert? Just out of town on the Big Red road, looking west.

The third flood was a doozy. It came up much higher than the previous two, lapping at the grid that marks the edge of town and reaching 7.2 metres — the flood level sign disappeared altogether. The river flooded out all over the gibber plains behind town as well, so we were surrounded on three sides, and the Bedourie was completely awash about 30 km north.

We were totally cut off for a while because the only way in and out of the place, the MacAir plane, went broke and stopped flying. The government had to charter a plane, but there was no ticket-buying infrastructure and for a week or so you had to already have a ticket or be dying (literally) to get onto the plane, causing a great deal of frustration for people wanting to leave or come back. They then made tickets available through the council, and have since awarded the Birdsville route to SkyTrans for the next six months while they tender the contract. SkyTrans has been very reliable so far, they actually come when they're supposed to, but they've hiked up the price of tickets quite significantly.

The food truck from Adelaide wasn't able to get here either, they finally came last week after nearly six weeks, and had to stop on the other side of the flooding, about 5 kms out of town. The food was ferried across by a couple of the locals in utes with snorkels. We get a delivery from Quilpie on the plane previous to that, and I was able to get a supply of fresh fruit and veg, a good thing because I was down to cans and frozen stuff.

Finally after three weeks the water started to go down again, although the Georgina River/Eyre Creek system was still coming up. We went out to have a look at Eyre Creek, about 45 kms into the desert. The water runs down channels between the sand dunes — it was apparently about 16 kms wide but we didn't get past the first channel. Another weekend, we went camping out to Adria Downs Station, on the Eyre Creek about 100 kms north of Big Red. The normally dry Muncoonie Lakes are full and very spectacular. We camped on the dune south of the lake and had a relaxed evening around the campfire. In the morning we dropped in on the station owners for morning tea (Judy's delicious pikelets with jam and cream). Don had to come and get us in the tinnie, they were still flooded in. When the lakes dry out they will grow lush grass which will feed the cattle for the next couple of years, so they were very philosophical about it all.

This sign is on the fence of the grid at the eastern edge of town.

Annie and Georgina don't let the flood stop their morning walk.

Lauren and Paul in the floodboat, checking out the water.

The bridge out of town.

From the billabong (south side of town) looking back towards our unit.

Looking back across the gibber plain on the western side of town.

The first of the 16 km-wide channels of the Eyre Creek about 45 kms out into the Simpson Desert.

Whoops, could have done that better! The dunes are very soft after summer and no-one driving across them. And it pays to travel in pairs — it only took a few minutes to pull Neale out again with a snatch strap. Otherwise, it would have taken a long time to dig him out by hand ....

We passed this herd of 25 wild camels on the way up to Muncoonie Lakes.

The two lakes, separated by a sand dune.

Don arrives with the tinnie to take us across to the homestead for morning tea.

We had to walk the last bit ....