Birdsville, QLD

642 days and about 30,000KM since commencing my ‘I’ve been everywhere’ odyssey  I have finally visited the 94th location – Birdsville. Birdsville is located at the border of South Australia and Queensland some 1,590 kilometres west of the state capital, Brisbane.

The trip from Terrigal on the Central Coast to Birdsville is not for the faint hearted as it comprises of some 2,000 km to get there and another 2,000km to get back! Thankfully, for this trip I did not have a shortage of (insane?) volunteers to join me and was lucky to be joined by my 86 year old mother and 19 year old niece Emily who are presently visiting from the UK, partner Atablefortwo and our 4 year old cavalier doggie – Amelie. As one motel owner said, it was a strange mix of travellers, but it is probably this that made it fun.

Whilst my faithful Tiguan has served me very well for all the trips so far, with the four passengers and a very remote location ahead of us, I changed my trustee steed for a Toyota Landcruser. Given the need for extra space and camping gear (we also suffered a couple of stone chips to the window and a suicidal emu) this was probably no bad idea.

The vehicle of choice for this leg of the adventure

The trip to Birdsville was always going to be special. Whilst I did not always know it would be the last destination I would visit, I did know of its remoteness and the fact this one town, and indeed pub, helps define the Australian outback for so many.  So heading off, I was excited not only to be finishing this project but to also sharing the true outback with those closest to me.

Passing through Coopers Creek

The trip took us through the Hunter Valley, Dubbo, Narromine, Nyngan, Bourke, Cunnamulla, Charleville, Quilpie and Windorah before finally reaching Birdsville. We stayed at campsites in Nyngan, Charleville and Windorah to give my mum the comfort of a cabin rather than the starkness of a tent! To think you can travel all this way and always find a bed every night  is perhaps a sign of just how much Australians are enjoying the ‘isolation’ of the outback. Of course, food was never going to be a concern to us as we not only had the benefit of having comprehensive camping equipment but also Atablefortwo to prepare what some great camping trip meals. Food always tastes better out in the middle of nowhere.

Enjoying the Charlieville Sand dunes

Unsurprisingly the further inland you get the further removed from modern day trappings you are, although strangely and maybe sadly, the mobile phone still rings in some of the remotest parts. The gradual change from green fields to rough sandy scrub never fails to impress and more so, the change from common birds to eagles, emus and the frequent sight of a roo bouncing across the road before you (a deadly potential hazard but fantastic to see). The roads until the last 200KM from Birsville are fantastic. In the main they are wide enough for two cards to pass and are kept in excellent condition. The last 200km though is a very rough, bone shaking experience which I think we were all glad once it was over.

Mum and Emily wonder where the races are

Whilst the outback has the opportunity to be a harsh and dangerous place for the unprepared the people who live there are probably some of the warmest folk you can find. Whether it’s walking down the street or calling in a bakery (we all loved the fact there is a bakery in every outback town) you can not fail to be impressed by the simple pleasure of everyone greeting you with a friendly smile and hello or even a chat. The folk in Birdsville are no exception to this general observation.

Inside the Birdsville Hotel

The trip was planned so we took as long as necessary to reach Birdsville without any mad rush and this meant that whilst we would have liked to arrive in time for the famous Birdsville Races, we actually arrived the day after the event. Unfortunately we could not have left any sooner than we did so we’ll catch the races when we go back another time…! This did mean that even though the races were over, the town was still a buzz with the excitement and a significantly swollen population compared to the normal 300 or so residents. The majority of the extra population was probably to be found in the famous Birdsville Pub or alternatively at the Bakery. We visited both establishments and with mum and Atablefortwo having a Kangaroo Pie at the Bakery, I could not help but notice the extra spring in their step after eating.

Atablefortwo points out a Waddi tree

We had a quick look at the old Royal Hotel which is now in ruins. In addition to serving as one of three pubs in the town, the building was converted to a hospital requiring materials to be brought to Birdsville on a string of 75 camels. We then had a drive out of town to take a look at the Waddi Trees. There are only three places in Australia where these grow (Birdsville, Boulia and Old Andado Station in the NT) and are famous for being of such a tough wood that they break axes and saws.

The old Royal Hotel

With the races on and no bed at the inn for my mum we commenced our return trip home to Windorah where we had a room booked. Over the course of the next few days we travelled home via Windorah, Quilpie, Charleville, Mitchell, St George, Mungindi, Moree, Narrabri, Gunnedah, Tamworth and the Hunter Valley.

Epilogue to follow shortly.

 

 

Off to Birdsville

On 1 September 2011 I’ll be heading off to my 94th and final “I’ve been everywhere” destination – Birdsville in the Queensland outback.

The 2,000 KM trip there will take about 3 days staying in hotels, motels and a tent. This will then be followed by a 2,000 KM trip home.

The Fred Hollows Foundation have kindly issued a Media Release about my adventures. If you would like to support this worthwhile organisation, please consider making a donation.

Oodnadatta

Town number 93 of 94!

Well, I was humpin’ my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta road,
When along came a semi with a high and canvas-covered load.
“If you’re goin’ to Oodnadatta, mate, um, with me you can ride.”
So I climbed in the cabin and I settled down inside.

The night before heading off for Oodnadatta I actually had a sense of excitement about my trip to the following day. It was like the night before Christmas as I tried to sleep in my underground hole in Coober Pedy. Whether it was the fact I was visiting the first place mentioned in the ‘Everywhere’ song, or the thought of travelling along 189 km of dirt track I’m not sure – possibly both.

The road is open!

Oodnadatta is one of the most remote locations in an official remote area. Whilst the trip has always been reasonably well planned, this destination required a little more care. I’ve encountered two punctures whilst travelling around and the thought of having one in the middle of the trip to Oodnadatta was not a pleasant thought. So, in good tradition I ensured my spare tyre was good and also carried not one, but two puncture repair kits. I also carried a PLB should the worst happen and had a friend keeping close watch on my travelling progress (thanks Dave!). Four new tyres had also been fitted to my car over the course of the last month.

I left the dusty township of Coober Pedy a short while after sunrise to give the roos the opportunity to get tucked back into bed. It was then onto the even dustier track from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta. It is this track that has been closed for much of the summer and autumn due to flooding and only recently declared open. Having checked with the tourist information and my helpful hotelier, I was relieved to learn that not only is it passable but also in good condition for a dirt track.

Patsie has seen better days...

The road is almost like a rainbow as it changes colour at random intervals as different repairs have been conducted over time. It can be dark red, white, black or grey depending on the materials available at the time. Floodways occur frequently and evidence of heavy rain remains by way of a few extra ruts and topsoil washed onto the road. But like the reports, the road is certainly passable.

The scenery from the window, like the gravel beneath, changed texture and colour every now and again. From grasses to shrubs, flat terrain to mountain backdrops the changes occurred all be it at a very slow and gradual pace.

After about three hours of travel I finally reached the junction with the actual Oodnadatta track which is just a short distance outside the township of Oodnadatta. So, I turn left and head into the metropolis.

The Pink Roadhouse

Oodnadatta is small. You could walk from one end of the main street to the other in less than five minutes. It is dominated by the Pink Roadhouse, not so much by the colour of this travellers friend, but because of the hustle and bustle going on there. Yes, your in the middle of woop woop, but the Pink Roadhouse is doing a roaring trade selling fuel and supplies to mostly 4WD travellers going along the Oodnadatta track.

After purchasing and consuming my Oodnadatta burger with the lot (Roll, lettuce, burger,cheese,pineapple, bacon, beetroot), I head across the road, over some disused rail tracks to the museum located in the old train station.

The Oodnadatta Burger

It’s here that I learn that Oodnadatta became the terminus of the Great Northern Railway in 1890, and remained so until the line, which then became known as the Ghan, was extended to Alice Springs in 1929. It was not until as recently as 1981 when the line was moved further west that the towns association with the rail road ended. It is this tourist trade that keeps the town alive today with its population over 200 people.

Other than the Road House, museum and a general nosey about there is not too much to do in Oodnadatta so I pick up my bluey head back along the dusty Oodnadatta road to my underground hole in Coober Pedy.

 

Remains of the old Ghan days

Base Camp: Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is not in the I’ve been everywhere song, but it did serve as a ‘base camp’ for my trip into Oodnadatta. It is probably best known for being the Opel Capital of the World and for its underground homes, so worthy of note here.

I arrived in Coober Pedy after driving from, and staying over night, at the camp site in Pilba some 366KM to the south of the town. On arrival you can not fail to notice the evidence of the mining activity that is going on. Mounds of soil/rock/dirt are everywhere to be found apart from in the main shopping strip which consists of petrol stations, a supermarket, chemist, bank, tourist information office and many shops trying to sell freshly mined opels.

The road to Coober Pedy can also be used by aircraft from the RFDS, hence these markings.

Once you turn off the main shopping street the road turns into the unsealed variety and more mounds can be found, only these ones are actually homes, buried into the hillsides.

Temperatures in this remote part of Australia can reach over 40°C in summer. However, by digging into the rocky hillsides, the locals avoid expensive air conditioning costs as the caves they reside in remain constant in temperature day and night and much lower than the peek outside temperatures of summer.

Building new hotel rooms

I was fortunate to get an underground room at the Desert View Apartments along Catacomb Road in Coober Pedy. The room was simply a long tunnel dug into the side of the hill with a bathroom block and door built on at the outermost end. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I notice the room has an echo as I walk around but the whitewashed walls create a feeling of openness and not claustrophobic at all. During my visit the outside temperature was peeking at around 24°C and I did not notice any fluctuation in the temperature within my room – remaining comfortable throughout.

Underground hotel room

At night I was expecting the room to be quiet given it is located within rock. This was the case however, each bedroom did have an air pipe going directly to the surface above and from time to time I could here the echos of a dog barking in the distance. Similarly, the room was not totally pitch black as I was expecting, due totally to be leaving the room door open and light from outside managing to just filter its way through. Nonetheless, you can not fail to sleep well here with such little distraction.

Be careful where your walk around Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is the nearest town to Oodnadatta, my penultimate destination for this adventure where I head off to tomorrow.

Your know your in the real outback when…

Traditionally passing the ‘black stump’ is an indicator that your in the outback. However, with numerous black stumps around the country, I’ve come up with my own observations for when I believe I am in the real outback.

You know your in the real outback when…

… you wave at oncoming traffic with your first finger and they wave back likewise.

… the roads are unsealed and a cloud of dust follows you behind.

… your in the middle of nowhere and the 3G broadband connection is faster than in any city.

… you think sunsets can no longer impress you only to be impressed each and every evening.

… you view five times more stars in the sky than you last remember.

… the folk you meet are genuinely warm, friendly and welcoming.

… the flies are the most maddening you are ever likely to encounter, forcing you to perform the ‘Aussie Salute’ to swish them away only to find they are then in your car.

… TV adverts are for agricultural services and made with a handy cam.

… kangaroos and emus are seen more often than people when travelling the outback roads.

… the only radio broadcast you can find will be on the AM frequency and will be a cricket match.

… TV reception is intermittent and limited to 2 or 3 channels, but always includes the news in Greek and not the one channel you hope for.

 

Please feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comments below.

Tibooburra

I set off for Tibooburra some 332 KM north from Broken Hill after sunrise to hopefully avoid any road crossing roos. The road consists of a mix of both stretches of sealed and generally good unsealed roads with very little traffic but some construction work underway.

The Road to Tibooburra

Unfortunately for Tibooburra, I found it’s tourist attractions listed as the arid landscape and the remarkable granite rock outcrops (the town is named after the aboriginal word for heap of boulders). On face value these features are not going to draw huge crowds.

However, Tibooburra is also regarded as the capital of ‘Corner Country’ and this, along with the local town of Milparinka make the region a worthwhile destination for tourists. Corner Country is so named because the juncture of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia is nearby, known as Cameron Corner. With a bit of careful positioning, its possible to hit a golfball across all three states!

The village itself is a dusty affair like most outback towns. It’s tidy enough but quiet with few people or cars in sight. I call into the local garage come general store and continue to be impressed by the broad range of stock so typical of an outback shop. I then drove into town to see what was on offer. The main features that revealed themselves were the Tibooburra Outback School of the Air, which provides eduction to local children on the premises and through technology located on various homesteads in the region, and the Tibooburra Hotel.

After exploring the village I decide to head back 42 KM south and stop by Milparinka. Milparinka was the base for a nearby gold mine at Mount Browne and has a number of derelict buildings, together with information plaques revealing more of the towns history. I could not resist a detour of 18Km to the Mount Browne goldfields along a basic dirt track. Sadly I was only rewarded with sight of a few remnants from the gold digging days and this did not involve any gold! A lone chap on the hillside to the mining area had a metal detector and may have been more successful than me.

Mount Browne Gold Fields

With the lack of gold in my pocket I head back along the Silver Highway to Broken Hill for a good nights sleep before heading off towards the penultimate destination for this whole adventure – Oodnadatta.

Base Camp: Broken Hill

After a break of some months, I have finally been able to get back on the road mainly because the weather has improved and roads that have been closed to flooding are now open. The idea of flying to locations has been put on hold, but could be used for my trip to Birdsville which still remains inaccessible to road traffic.

No, Broken Hill is not actually one of the 94 places mentioned in ‘I’ve been everywhere’, however, for me it served as an ideal base camp for my day trip to Tibooburra and is worthy of note on this blog.

Located some 1,147 km east of Sydney on the Barrier Highway the town is close enough to South Australia to be willing share the same time zone, some minus 30 minutes from Sydney. I arrived mid morning which gave me the opportunity to explore some of the town and also head to an outback icon – Silverton – some 20 km north.

With travelling with Amelie, our Cavalier, I was keen to find some dog friendly accommodation for the night and was fortunate to be put in touch with the Calendonian who offer not only B&B accommodation but also rental of three cottages within the town. My needs, and Amelie’s, were well met and my thanks go to Hugh and Barbara for their hospitality.

Mullock

Visitors to Broken Hill can not fail to be impressed by the towns backdrop of man-made Mullock Hills (see above). The locals compare these to Ayres Rock given the changing colours as they glow in the evening sunset. A worthwhile achievement for mining waste.

Indeed, for a mining town it does not come across as the most industrial of places. Streets are tidy and everything well kept. Perhaps one of the best clues to an outsider that this is a place of hard graft is in the street names. Chloride, Cobalt, Sulphide and Bromide Streets all giving strong clues as to the heritage of this town.

Today, due to fluctuations in the fortunes of the mining industry, this origin of Australia’s largest mining company BHP Billiton (Broken Hill Proprietary Company) has now taken to its artistic credentials to promote itself to a tourist trade. As a home of acclaimed artist and ‘father of outback painting’ Pro Hart (1928 – 2006), and a collection of sculptures best viewed at sunset, it has some good credentials in this area.

Silverton

I could not resist the opportunity to detour from Broken Hill to Silverton to see this iconic outback town. Surreal, dusty, artistic, crazy and friendly are all adjectives that apply to this place which is both appealing and confusing to visitors.

Is it a serious town or some themed tourist attraction? I feel it is now the later having evolved from its silver mining history. Like many towns, the mining soon came to an end as the silver became harder to find and also, in the case of Silverton, the vaster discovery of silver-lead-zinc ore body in nearby Broken Hill lead to its quick demise.

In addition to it’s artistic heritage the town is frequently used in movies and TV shows due to its relative accessibility and scenic desert surrounds. It has been featured in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Flying Doctors, and Dirty Deeds.

Iconic Outback - The Silverton Hotel

“Three places of such cunning…”

I write this on 7 April 2011, four months after my initial target for completing my mission of visiting all the places in the ‘I’ve been everywhere’ song. Things were going so well. Place after place was visited, my journal updated and a sense of completion was starting to wash over me. Just three places remained, surely success was within my grasp?

Apparently not as something happened. It rained. It then rained some more. In fact, I don’t believe it has stopped raining! Australian rain records (and droughts) have been broken and along with the records, the roads. Indeed, when I check the roads to Birdsville, Oodnadatta and  Tibooburra (something I do on a weekly basis!) they are all in various states of  closure.

This mission of ‘just visiting a few places’ is now taking on a new dimension. And just like my favorite Indiana Jones movie, I feel I have three places of such cunning to overcome. But overcome I will – drastic situations require drastic measures!

So, how am I going to reach these final three locations? Well, it started today by swapping my four wheels, for three. That is three wheels, two wings – and a rather snazzie fan up the front. It’s also known as  a Cessna 172.

Of course, just jumping in an aircraft and heading off into the sunset would be simple.  Well, it perhaps would be if my two yearly flight review was not due. So, I’ve started the process of making sure my Private Pilots Licence (PPL) is current and the trip can be completed legally. This started at Warnervale Airport and the Central Coast Aero Club with the commencement of my Biennial Flight Review. Following a break in flying, I can say it was a fantastic hour.

Cessna 172 - VH-BAO

Whether its a geek thing, I’m not sure, but flying light aircraft has it all. Lining up, increasing the engine speed and commencing a take-off roll from a standing start to a point where you can actually fly (yes, fly!) is truly exhilarating. Imagine a subtle start as the sound increases and movement begins to transform into a burst of energy.  The runway slowly turns from a textured surface into a blur of speed. Breaking from the ground at 55 knots turns this road going machine into an airborne craft that no only goes right and left, but up and down. Amazing.

As I look out the window I am not blessed with a sun-drenched vista. Today it is grey, but not a dull boring grey. Todays grey is full of a variable wind and rain, often heavy at times, making each take-off and landing different from the last. Any thoughts of work have long disappeared from my head – controlling a machine in flight and taking in the surroundings are filling my senses with an adrenaline fueled pleasure. But alas, good things come to an end and Andrew, my instructor, advises we make the next landing a full stop and the sixty minutes of flight (that feels like five) comes to an end.

I’ve still got a theory refresher and a some more flying to complete for my review, but if this is like todays adventure, I can’t wait.

I’m now hoping to finish my mission by the end of 2011 with the great folks at The Fred Hollows Foundation extending my fundraising permission until this date. So, if you haven’t already, please consider making a donation by clicking the ‘Donations’ button to the right of this page. 100% of donations go to the appeal. Thank you.

Darwin, NT

Traveling around Australia has, if nothing else, demonstrated what a resilient lot Australians are. However, a few days in Darwin takes this understanding to a whole new level. Withstanding the hot, humid weather is perhaps a given for any Australian, but add to this devastating cyclones and World War II bombing, all of which literally flattened the city, and the residents of Darwin may be considered some of the most resilient.

Darwin was last flattened on Christmas Eve 1974 when Cyclone Tracy ravaged the city. It is this event that has resulted in Darwin looking like a new town as you wander the streets today as indeed, the majority of the town has been constructed since this time. A few pre 1974 buildings survive to offer a reminder of the towns history, like the ruins of the town hall. Like the Cyclone distributing Darwin with it’s 200 mph winds across the peninsular, the remains of the Town Hall are also spread with doors and windows being located in Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory – some miles from the original location – but an interesting way to spend half a day. In addition to an excellent Cyclone Tracy display, wildlife and Aboriginal art are strongly represented.

The Old Town Hall, Darwin

Prior to the 1974 disaster, the town was devastated by bombing by the Japanese on 19 February 1942. These were the largest attacks ever mounted by a foreign power against Australia and further attacks continued into the war. Whilst European women and children settlers were evacuated from the town during hostilities, the aboriginal community remained intact.

Following the attacks plans were drawn up for the construction of seven underground oil storage tanks. Of the seven, five were actually constructed with the final two delayed because of lack of materials and difficulty in waterproofing the tunnels. Today, a short walk from the town centre will take you to the entrance where you can peer inside one tank, and walk the full length of another viewing photographs of Darwin during the war years as you go.

Inside the Darwin WWII Oil Storage Tunnels

Visiting the Oil Tunnels put me in the mood to find out more of Darwin’s past and a short drive along the coast makes easy work of bringing history to life. Darwin’s East Point Reserve was a heavily fortified area and important part of Darwin’s defences and now a highlight for any visitor to Darwin with any war time interest. I particularly enjoyed exploring a massive gun bunker that was apparently installed to defend Darwin Harbour from an assault from the sea, an event which fortunately never eventuated. Rather ironically, the massive gun from the bunker was sold to the Japanese after the war as scrap metal.

It appears that the flattening of Darwin is almost a once in a generation occurrence. Severe cyclones have been recorded in 1878, 1881 and the ‘Great Hurricane’ of 6 January 1897 which was recorded as “a night of terrifying destructiveness” as it coincided with a high tide. Not to forget to mention the wiping out one quarter of the population of the infant Darwin in 1875 because they were all travelling on the same boat, the Gothenburg, in … a cyclone.

A crocodile getting ready to jump

If the weather does not get you mother nature still has a few more tricks up her sleeve. Take the crocodiles that inhabit the waterways surrounding this town and others in the Northern Territory. I was fortunate to have a boat trip up the Adelaide River where crocodiles were in no shortage and were more than happy to jump out the water for a chunk of pork as a reward. I was literally sat on the edge of my seat and keeping all my limbs within the boat at all times was a given for me and all the other passengers.

Aviation Heritage Museum

The Aviation Heritage Centre operated by the Historical Society of the Northern Territory was established in 1976 by a small group of enthusiasts who sought to preserve aviation relics salvaged after the destruction of Cyclone Tracy. With a Boeing B-52 bomber taking centre stage, this well presented collection of aviation memorabilia is worth adding to any itinerary.

With botanical gardens and world class Litchfield National Park on the door step, nature lovers have much to keep them interested. I found both to be great spot to relax and unwind prior to the trip back home. Kakadu is also nearby but a little too far to do justice on a short four day trip.

Termite Mound in Litchfield National Park

Four days in Darwin was about right with sufficient attractions to keep interest without having to travel too far outside the township. Those with longer time on their hand may look to travel further afield to Kakadu, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs which are all comparatively close by – well by Australian standards at least.

Further Darwin photos are located here.