Off to the camel races in Boulia, outback Australia.

Winter sunset in the Outback

Well I am more than just a little behind on our travels this year, we returned to Australia from China in June and then faced with the prospect of enduring some cold wet weather in Melbourne, we decided to skip town and go bush again. At some stage I will get an update out about our week in Yunnan Province where we visited Lijiang, Dali and Shangri-La.

We had some vague plans about travelling in Australia this year but a phone call from a friend who was heading up to the Big Red Bash, on the edge of the Simpson Desert, and then to the Boulia Camel races spurred us into action. We quickly rearranged plans to head north and meet up with Phil & Karen at Boulia. Of course there have been some adventures along the way.

Link to a few (lots) pictures from Melbourne to Longreach:

First part of our 2019 Australian adventure

It really has been a bit of a whirlwind journey so far, we covered a lot of ground to get out of Victoria and through to the Flinders Ranges more quickly than normal. We have driven about 3000kms in our first 2 weeks, searched for fossils in Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges, driven across the famous Birdsville track, attended the Big Red Bash music festival in the Simpson Desert, watched the camel races at Boulia, discovered dinosaur bones in Winton and then arrived here in Longreach, the home of Qantas and the Stockman Hall of Fame.

Leaving Melbourne we thought we may have escaped the worst of the winter weather but our first day saw us drive 700kms, mostly in wild, wet and cold conditions which meant we wimped out and stayed in a cabin for our first night, the upside though was to wake up on the banks of the Murray River in Renmark with some weak winter sunshine.

We stocked up on fruit and veggies (we had been through the quarantine station just after the VIC / SA state border), then quickly out toward the Flinders Ranges north of Adelaide. Our second night was spent camped behind a country pub at Cradock offering free camping as long as you bought a beer or two, seemed like a good idea and they had a wood fire burning inside to warm our hands.

Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges

Packing up the next morning had us heading into the Flinders Ranges and looking for fossils in Brachina Gorge, a hot-spot for finding fossils, allegedly. The sun was shining although accompanied by a chill wind, but we explored along the gorge, turning over a heap of rocks and enjoying our first chance to really get out and stretch our legs. We didn't find any fossils but the girls started their new rock collection and we headed further north towards an old historic township at Farina. The township is being slowly restored by volunteers working through June and July (coolest and most pleasant months of the year here), and the original underground bakery operates for these two months. We bought freshly baked bread and pies, cooked in the original oven built back in the 1880's.

Underground Bakery Oven Door, remade in 2010 after the original was stolen

Next morning saw us head up to Maree and the start of the famous Birdsville track, this used to be a supply route to and from very remote stations way out in the scrub. Initially serviced by camels, then slowly mechanised as trucks took over from camels. There is a book I read years ago by Tom Kruse, he was the first man to drive his truck across the route, delivering supplies and the Royal Mail plus bringing back some of the produce from the outstations to the rail head at Maree.

The track from Maree to Birdsville used to take 5-6 weeks using camels, Tom cut it to two weeks with his truck, unless it rained, or he got stuck. It is about 500kms and although still an outback road, you can cover it in a day now if you have to.

Leyland truck driven by Tom Kruse, the original Birdsville track mailman

We were just 80kms into the Birdsville track when a rock flicked up off the trailer and destroyed our back windscreen, it made a huge noise and was a bit of a bother but with some cardboard, clingfilm and a serious amount of tape we were back on our way. We have just had it replaced in Longreach so our cardboard creation lasted pretty well.

Latest style in outback Australia - cardboard and cling film

The journey along the Birdsville track crosses vast Gibber plains and I can't imagine crossing these in the heat of summer with the camel trains or even with Tom Kruse and his trusty Leyland truck, even in winter the heat shimmers off the horizon and you wonder where the next landmark really is.

Birdsville Track

We ended up camping at the Mungerannie Hotel, just about halfway along the track, had an interesting evening in the bar being regaled with tales tall and true from local characters and travellers alike. There was another guy there who had smashed his rear screen too, plus another couple with a broken front screen (ouch) and worst of all a couple who had a tyre burst leading to their truck and caravan rolling over and over, destroying both. Fortunately they were only slightly injured and would be taking a ride down to Maree before flying home the next day, they had been there a few days already sorting out the wreck and insurance. The Birdsville track is not to be taken lightly.

Waking to another spectacular desert sunrise we had a relaxed start to our day before continuing towards Birdsville. Interestingly the further north we got, there was more evidence of the rains that had fallen recently and the water coming down the channel country from the far north of Queensland. We passed a few water holes created by free running artesian bores, and then as we approached Birdsville some flooded sections on the edge of the Simpson. One of the tracks into Birdsville is currently closed because of flooding, known as the inside track it was the original route into Birdsville before the current road was built as a diversion track.

We camped on the banks of the river just outside Birdsville and enjoyed a really pleasant afternoon and evening there watching the almost full moon rise over the horizon and reflect in the waters of the river.

So here we were in Birdsville, less than a week, and 1500kms, after leaving Melbourne. We knew Phil & Karen were attending the Big Red Bash music festival, 40km out of town on the edge of the desert but as the tickets were $550 each and I didn't really know any of the famous Australian Musicians very well, we had decided not to go to the bash.

It would be nice to go out and see Big Red, the most famous sand-hill on the Simpson Desert crossing but were unsure if ot was going to be possible with the festival going on.

So after a leisurely pack up we ambled into town and into the information centre, to our great surprise and good fortune we were gifted free tickets to the event, WOW.

After a quick obligatory beer at the iconic Birdsville Hotel we were off to to spend the next couple of days at the festival, it was big, busy and an absolute blast. Set against the backdrop of Big Red the music was good, surfing down the sand-dunes was a delight for the girls and the atmosphere something we will cherish for a long, long time.

Watching one of Australia's most Iconic rock bands, Midnight Oil, under a full moon in the desert, simply awesome. I could probably write a whole bunch of stuff about the festival but I will leave it to your imagination and a few pictures.

After the Big Red Bash it was a quick dash to Boulia for the Camel races, but with a lunch stop at Bedourie for a swim in their pool and artesian hot spa along the way. An oasis in a sea of dust, and perfect for removing the red dirt from the desert.

Ironically, we finally met up with Phil, Karen, John and Tony after missing them at the bash, we searched for them, they searched for us but it was hard with no phone reception and 10,000 people living it large in the desert.

Boulia is another small town in the middle of nowhere out the back of Queensland on the edge of the black soil country, but a couple of thousand people had descended on the town for the races and were camped haphazardly around the course and town. The races are pretty funny to watch, a camel in full flight with a jockey trying to hang on and steer them in the right direct a sight to behold. Throw in some local activities like tug-of-war competitions, foot races along the dirt race track, Yabbie races in the bar and you have a fantastically authentic local event in the outback.

We camped with friends, baked cakes, pancakes, hot dogs and drank expertly made Cafe Latte's (thanks Karen) and enjoyed a few days of fun in Boulia. There may have been the odd glass of wine and cold beer consumed but it all seems a bit hazy now.

All too soon Phil & Karen had to leave, they are on a much tighter schedule needing to back in Melbourne sometime real soon, so they headed off a day in-front of us to Winton and Longreach.

Winton is home to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum, they have the biggest and best collection of Australian Dinosaur bones, in fact they only dig for 3 weeks of the year and have more bones that than can store, process and display. They are in the midst of an expansion phase where they will add another 6,000 Sq Ft of display space and open up more fossil processing stations.

We had an educational and enjoyable tour with their team of volunteers, staff and helpers from Brisbane Museum, a happy group of people coming out to dig out dinosaurs in the middle of nowhere.

And then we were back on the road heading on to Longreach ourselves, continuing to travel a little faster than we expected but it meant we were able to catch up for a final chat with Phil, Karen, John & Tony after their whirlwind day with the major attractions here.

And here we are still in Longreach enjoying the warm winter sunshine and cool nights, daytime temperatures here are about 27c and down to around 10c overnight making it easy to sleep.

Our girls have been doing some schoolwork here, using the local Library as a work base, but we have also spent time at the Stockmans Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum learning more about the Australian Outback and some of its rich recent past.

I have included a couple of links below to the two museums for people who want to know a little more about Longreach.

And finally, as I mentioned we replaced the smashed rear windscreen and I can see out the back of the car again, it was only $600 and if you say it fast enough it sounds quite reasonable.

Woohoo - a new windscreen

And one of my favourite pictures so far of this trip, from the Birdsville Track.

Lonely ruins on the Birdsville Track

We are off to Sapphire to make our fortunes fossicking for gemstones, stay tuned for our next installment as we move from rags to riches in Queensland.

Regards Roy, Helen, Zoe and Sophie

PS: we have ditched the real camera this year and are only using the iPhone, so far so good but I have found a few times I would have liked a real DSLR with a decent lens to capture an image or two.

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