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  • Writer's picturePete Jonson

The Birdsville Track

The starting point for the Birdsville Track is the town of Maree. We left Wilpena and took a road to the other end of the Braciana Gorge, so as to see the half we had not seen and to see again the second half. This is a stunning gorge and highly recommended. Winding road of course, care needed with rocks and tyres but stunning views and signs about geological features.

We popped out on the road to Parichilina and on to Maree. A stop at Leigh Creek found a large town practically deserted. A nice bloke at 'Reception' (the pub) explained the coal mine had closed and the workers had left. But with a perfectly good town, 'the government is trying to entice people to live here'. 'Open the coal mine' was the idea that sprang to mind. With no such real activity how could a large town get refilled with people? The nice bloke from reception said there was some hunting for gas, but the locals were greatly opposed to that!

We drove a few km further to Copley, far smaller but with people. At the roadhouse we were served an excellent BLT and coffee, sitting in the sun and reading a local paper with lots of sporting stories.

All too soon we were on the road again. At Maree we stayed at the pub, nice pub dinner, comfy sleep then it was time to tackle the Birdsville Track. After the trip we asked each other the three adjectives which best described it. Long, hot and bumpy were agreed upon.

At first we drove along quite quickly and spent another pleasant evening at the Mungeranie Pub. Its feature was a hard working lady named Debbie and a lot of hats nailed to the ceiling. Also a wall board with various potted philosophical statements. The one that took our eye was: 'The only real wilderness is the space between a greenies ears'. Disgraceful, disgusting but no doubt true. We walked into the wetlands and saw two Brolgas as well as numerous other breeds.

Dinner was another fine steak with chips and salads, the safest option on the Birdsville Track. We sat outside and watched the sun go down and chatted with a bloke named Dave, also from Melbourne, who was waiting slightly anxiously for three other sets of mates to arrive.

Next morning we resumed our trip. Still tearing along, dodging sharp rocks and potholes. After a couple of hundred km, with Mrs T at the wheel, there was a gentle 'pop' and a slight sag to the left. We stopped the car to find a flat tyre, with a large hole caused, we assumed, by a sharp rock. As we scratched our heads and began to work out what to do three proper 4WDs pulled up. 'Can we help' asked one of the drivers. 'That would be great' we replied in unison.

Within 15 minutes the wheel was changed and the team had, after explaining why, removed some air from our tyres. Also provided advice on how to drive on the Track. 'More slowly and carefully' was the summary. They asked if we had a second spare tyre, and suggested gently its absence was a bit unfortunate. We thanked the group as heartily as we could, and for the rest of the trip drive far more carefully, both watching the road and pointing out rocks to be avoided.

We arrived at Birdsville older and wiser, and exhausted at our paranoid work to avoid a second blow out which would have left us assuming we could flag down someone with a satelite phone, another sensible tool we had failed to bring. Our evening could have been lonely and very hot awaiting rescue.

In Birdsville we went straight to the tyre business and soon had a new spare tyre and more advice on how to drive on stony unmacadamised roads.

Accommodation was at the Birdsville Hotel, more excellent steak, salad and chips and comfy beds. We were proud of having tackled The Track with broad success and also proud of our fellow Aussies for stopping to rescue us from a hot and lonely night. And now we are far more educated about driving in the hot centre, far from dead, and full of challenges.

The landscape along the track changes rapidly at times. Occasionally desolate, often beautiful and rarely boring. We took photos and Henry took notes for the paintings he plans to produce. Watching for animals is a major task as well as looking out for sharp rocks.The landscape is primarily based on rocks and sand. Gibbers - on one occasion red-brown rocks on one side and glistening black on the other side. Later as the sun moved, sides swapped, with red-brown on the other side and lavender (not glistening black) on the first side. Green shrubs and trees, light green and dark green. Flowering trees. Dead skeletal shrubs and trees. Very occasional trees with bright white trunks.

The saddest sight is the number of dead animals by the side of the road.

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