Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Birdsville Track

The Birdsville Track was established in the 1880s as a stock route between Marree in South Australia an Birdsville. It was a very difficult track, not all cattle making it to Birdsville. Camels were used as transport along the track until the 1930s.

The track is now usable by conventional vehicles for most of the year. There are actually 2 tracks to Birdsville, the Outside Track and the Inside Track. The Outside Track is used by most drivers, the Inside Track can be treacherous, as it crosses the soils of the Goyder Lagoon. It joins the main track just past Clifton Hills. This track is 4-wheel-drive only.

Stages in the track are

Marree to Mungerannie Hotel 204 km

The track starts at Marree. About 30 km north of Marree is the Lake Harry Homestead, now in ruins, near a salt lake of the same name. It was a date palm plantation and camel trading station. Shortly after is the Dog Fence, built to keep dingoes out, 75km later is Cannuwaukaninna Bore. This is the shallowest and saltiest bore on the track. The water from this bore is so hot it has to flow for almost a kilometre before it cools enough for cattle to drink it. Another 11 km on is the Etadunna Homestead. A memorial to Bethesda, a Lutheran Aboriginal mission that was abandoned in 1917 following years of savage drought. Access to the Bethesda ruins, down by Lake Killalpaninna, is via a 4WD track opposite the homestead and you must obtain permission and a key before setting out.

At this point is a track leaving the main track, it is called the flood detour to Cooper Ferry. At the rare times of flood Cooper Creek brings water from the Queensland Channel Country north of Innaminka. The flood cuts the tack on its way to Lake Eyre. When the Cooper is in flood, which isn't very often, the only way across is via the ferry that only takes cars and trailers. It won't carry caravans. The MV Tom Brennan, the original ferry, has been placed besides the Birdsville Track as a memorial to the early pioneers.

After this the track crosses a different type of country, the Natterannie sandhills. The 9 m high dunes are long and narrow. These dunes are the meeting point of the Tirari Desert and the Strzelecki Desert. From here it leads to the Cooper Creek flood plain. Further north the track passes the ruins of Mulka Store, and further still is the debris that all that is left of the Ooroowilanie Homestead. Both are reminiscent of the hardships endured by two of the area's pioneering families, the Scobies and the Aistons. It is an easy drive to Mungerannie Hotel where supplies and fuel are available, as well as basic accommodation. You can also camp beside the Derwent River.

Mungerannie Hotel to Birdsville (313km)

Just out of Mungerannie, on the gibber plain, you'll see the turnoff to the distant Cowarie Homestead and Kalamurina Homestead and further on, the highest point on the route, the 150m Mungerannie Gap. About 28km from here is Mirra Mitta bore, which gushes hot water; further up the track lies another bore, Mt Gason, which is 5km north of its namesake and 27km south of the Rig Road (a 4WD-only track). A short track will take you to the bore which, with its boiling water and sulphurous stench, is pretty to watch but not very palatable!

The next feature of note is Clifton Hills Homestead, the largest holding on the track. Beyond this, you'll begin to skirt the edge of the Sturt Stony Desert, an expanse of rocks and stones with very little by way of vegetation. There are a number of minor creek crossings around here, some of which provide a bit of shade in which to set up camp, but there aren't any particularly attractive options here as far as this goes.

North of here, the track crosses the tip of the Koonchera Sandhill, a massive landmark that stretches for miles away to the north. About 95 km from here, you'll pass the turnoff to historic Pandie Pandie Homestead and start to travel along the Diamantina River. The Diamantina never really dries up, usually flowing during February and March and sometimes even into April and May depending on the monsoons, with regular floods on the Queensland side. From the turnoff, it's around 32km into Birdsville.

Birdsville is famous throughout the nation for its hotel and its bush races, held every September. Established in the 1870s as a depot and customs post, the town has developed into the small but important regional centre that it is today.

Early Days on the Track

The track was first pioneered by the surveyor E. A. Burt in the 1880s. Drovers then moved their cattle along the track, taking about 5 weeks, from Queensland to the railhead at Marree in northern South Australia. In the days before mechanised travel the landscape often proved a problem. They had to cross wide gibber plains, the Natterannie Sandhills, and in the rare times when it rains, about 10-15 years apart, the flooding  Cooper Creek. The normal problems to be overcome were high temperature, many dust storms, sparse water supplies. The cattle droving continued until the 1960s.

The Afghans with their camel trains transported supplies from the Marree railhead to Birdsville from the 1880s to the 1920s when mechanised transport began. The mail run from to Birdsville by horse-drawn buggy continued from 1890s to 1922 when vehicles took over. The most famous mailman  on the track, Tom Kruze, drove it from the 1930s to the 1950s. He appeared in the 1694 documentary "Back of Beyond", about the track.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Wikipedia


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 05/11/2008


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