Birdsville, the tiny frontier town perched on the edge of the Simpson Desert with the Diamantina River at its backdoor, is a place of legends.
The home of traditional custodians, the Wangkangurru-Yarluyandi people, it was originally known as the Diamantina Crossing until it was changed to Birdsville in the 1800s.
It has played an important part in Australia’s pastoral history and is ingrained in the Outback spirit. Birdsville was historically an important township for the agricultural industry, stock suppliers and drovers moving their cattle across the land.
To this day cattle farming and agriculture still plays a vital role in the township and surrounding area. However, tourism has emerged as a prospering industry thanks to the extraordinary landscapes and landmarks, and premier Outback events, the Birdsville Big Red Bash and Birdsville Races, held in and around the town each year.
Although a relatively isolated township close to the Queensland and South Australian border, is a magical place where you will experience a warm welcome and strong sense of community from the moment you drive into town.
Talk to a Local
Birdsville local, Jenna Brook, says “Birdsville is just one of those places that everyone talks about and wants to visit so they can tick it off their bucket list, but there’s a lot more to Birdsville than what you see at first glance.
Jenna, a fourth-generation “Birdsvilleite,” who grew up in the town, purchased the Birdsville Roadhouse last year.
It includes a fuel stop, garage and grocery store.
“It was an opportunity to have something that I could use to help built the Birdsville experience,” says Jenna, who is working seven days a week from 6am to 6pm.
She also opened the adjoining Humpy Cafe, where she serves French press coffee and tea in second-hand china, house-made muesli and delicious treats. Her banana thick shakes already have a following.
Jenna, 34, says Birdsville is a place that just gets under your skin, a sentiment echoed by the many thousands of travellers who venture along the famous Birdsville Track to the isolated town with a population of about 100. But it isn’t always that small.
Melbourne Cup of the Outback
In September, numbers swell to more than 7000 for the much-loved Birdsville Races which are coined the Melbourne Cup of the Outback.
The two-day 13-race meeting that was first held in 1882, has a huge following with a bounty of $200,000 prize money and attracts international and national horses vying for the coveted Birdsville Cup.
Race Club president, David Brook, says last year was meant to be the 138th running of the races but like everything else was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“It will be one big party this year- it’s like tent city and a fabulous atmosphere with fashions on the field, fun runs, and a Royal Flying Doctor fundraising cocktail party – it’s a unique event and people come back year after year,” he says.
There’s also a string of annual race meetings in the region including Bedourie and Betoota events, where red dust flies and competition is keen.
Big Red Bash
The other big drawcard is the Big Red Bash festival which started out as a fun run in 2013 with entertainment as a side-line.
It has evolved into three nights of eclectic entertainment staged in the shadow of Big Red, the highest sand dune in the Simpson Desert, 35 kms from Birdsville.
Organiser, Greg Donovan says it’s a bit like creating a mini-city as preparations for the event, billed as the world’s most remote music festival, start a week out.
“It’s a huge effort but well worth it and it’s something so unique to the Birdsville area – we expect a crowd of 10,000 next year,” Greg says.
The show will feature 19 big names of Australian rock music including Paul Kelly, Tim Flynn, Kate Ceberano and John Williamson.
Greg says watching the artists perform and the crowd having fun as the sun dips in the middle of the desert, is an amazing experience.
Even if you can’t make it to those big events, it doesn’t take long to discover Birdsville’s appeal.
Wirrarri Visitor Information Centre is open daily and provides lots of tourist information.
Big Red Sand Dune
Drive out to the 40-metre tall Big Red sand dune that marks the symbolic edge of the Simpson Desert.
One of 1113 parallel sand dunes stretched across the desert, its vivid colour is due to rusting iron particles in the sand.
It’s a tradition for 4WD owners to venture to Big Red and the top of it is the best spot to watch the sunset over the desert.
Birdlife is abundant at the natural Birdsville Billabong on the edge of the town with Pelican Point perfect for sunsets, wildlife spotting, swimming, fishing and bushwalking.
Bird’s Eye View
Nothing beats a bird’s eye view of the area and Arid Air offers scenic flights from Birdsville flying over rugged and vast landscapes including Big Red, Lake Eyre, the Channel Country, Simpson Desert and the spectacular river systems of Goyder Lagoon, which is a photographer’s dream.
Historic Birdsville Court House
The restored Birdsville Courthouse, which is a heritage-listed sandstone building, built-in 1891 features interactive displays which tell the stories of policing in Birdsville.
To experience authentic Outback hospitality, step into the famous sandstone Birdsville Hotel built by William Blair in 1884, where both locals and visitors gather for a yarn and a beer.
It changed hands last year and has been spruced up by new owners, Courtney and Talia Ellis from Albury, who fell in love with Birdsville years ago.
Courtney is the former co-owner of touring operation, Outback Spirit and Talia is an experienced pilot.
They also purchased the Birdsville Bakery.
The pub is one of the most photographed pubs in the country and stands as a testament to the resilient and battler spirit of the Outback.
It’s survived flood and fire over the years.
Birdsville Big Red Bash – July 6-8, 2021 www.bigredbash.com.au
Bedourie Camel and Pig Races July 10, 2021 www.thediamantina.com.au
Betoota Races – August 27-28, 2021 www.beetootaraces.com
Birdsville Races -September 3- 4 2021 www.birdsvilleraces.com
Bedourie Races and Rodeo September 11, 2021 www.thediamantina.com.au
Birdsville Tourist Park
Wirrarri Visitor Information Centre
07 4564 2000