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Outback Road Trip in Queensland

Toowoomba to Birdsville - July 2021

On 12 July 2021 we set off on the first leg of our road trip to Outback Queensland – destination Birdsville.

One of the iconic and farthest western towns in the state and known throughout the country for its isolation, history and gruelling climate, Birdsville has never been more popular for visitors than now. The small but enthusiastic population of around 150 residents swells to over 10,000 during the towns two most famous annual events: The Big Red Bash (an open air music concert held in early July), and the Birdsville Races (which take place over the first weekend of September).

Getting there is not quite the challenge it has been in the past 200 odd years, however, it still entails a rough, gravel section of over 200kms that is frequently impassable after rain – and has the ability to test every piece of equipment you drive, tow and carry.

So – back to the beginning! From Toowoomba we travelled the first 440kms west, stopping at the park next to Dogwood Creek in Miles for lunch. As we pushed on toward the town of Mitchell, traffic became less frantic and while the number of cars subsided, road trains and caravans increased and eventually, even we wearied of waving excitedly to every caravan/camping combination we met. It was late afternoon by the time we set up camp beside the Neil Turner Weir, brought out the camp chairs, drinks (in my case a nice big glass of juice – but for my husband and camping friends, the liquid was a little stronger!) and cranked up the barbeque.

Day two began frosty but clear and calm and the beginnings of that “holiday feeling” started to sink in. We continued west for another 360kms or so before pulling into a working sheep and cattle property on the outskirts of Quilpie, known as “The Lakes”. As you probably know, Australia’s interior is incredibly dry – except for those irregular periods of torrential rain that bring with them, floods of minor to major proportions. Consequently, any swathe of water, be it a lake, river, billabong, or puddle, is revered. The Lake itself is a beautiful bird filled habitat – a portion of the Bulloo River and the owners of the property have taken advantage of its position and accessibility and set up a wonderful, sprawling camping area that fills every possible need. A welcoming evening campfire, bar and amenities encouraged us to join with the other forty or more campers for a couple of hours “happy hour” – and once again, those stresses and anxieties that fill our everyday lives, drifted a little further away.

Westward again, we travelled on to Windorah, a tiny town on the edge of what is known as “The Channel Country”. Several rivers drift through this part of Queensland, spreading across thousands of hectares of land after rain, leaving behind a massive network of high protein grasses that our predecessors discovered were perfect for cattle. The town is filled with so much talent, and wherever you go, you will see a variety of artwork – statues, mosaics, and paintings that showcase the colours, people and flora and fauna of the country. We took the opportunity to stay in a powered site this night, charged the batteries and filled the water tanks, ready for whatever came next.

Blue sky, gentle breezes and wide open spaces filled our day as we trundled further west. As the single strips of bitumen widened into gravel well-travelled highways, a trail of dust was left in our wake and ensured the pace was slowed to avoid our teeth rattling loose! About 130kms along the road, we made a small detour to Deon’s Lookout taking in the expanse of countryside in all directions. The vastness of this land is astounding – and at times difficult to comprehend! Next stop was the Betoota Hotel a few kilometres further on. This old pub was built in the days when the passing trade was the occasional stage-coach, camel train, or explorer. Abandoned around forty years ago and falling into rack and ruin, an enthusiastic young man looking for a challenge, purchased the building and began to renovate. Built originally from mud brick and hand hewn logs, this was no mean feat – and only a couple of years later, the pub is open again for business! Judging by the number of visitors we encountered as we sat munching our pies and enjoying a cold drink, it has been a successful project and one that, we, at least, very much appreciated. Onwards towards Birdsville – bouncing along the corrugated road but (thankfully) not encountering any boggy areas that presented problems – we finally reached the town – sitting between the Sturt Stony Desert and the Simpson Desert on the edge of the Diamantina River. After setting up camp, we explored the area, chatted to it’s many other visitors and a few residents, and, after a welcome shower, settled in the historic old pub for a delicious hot meal.

The following morning greeted us with gale force winds, blowing dust across the town so thickly it was difficult to see far in front of us. We were glad we hadn’t planned to travel on that day! We managed to purchase the few items required for minor repairs, enjoyed a Camel pie from the gorgeously rustic bakery and prepared our evening picnic before travelling out to “Big Red”. This is the highest sand dune in the area, approximately 30kms west of the town and well known for providing the visitor with spectacular views of the setting sun over the desert. Thankfully the wind had dropped by late afternoon and, perched on the topmost peak, we gazed in awe as the sun gradually sank over the western horizon and the full moon rose behind us. Wow! It was a sight I will never forget.

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