• Thewhiteox

The Birdsville Hotel

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

And then to Birdsville, straight to the famous hotel, where we had a couple of beers, chatted to Colin behind the bar, who was very friendly and interesting and told us some stories about the air strip, races and breakdowns he’d seen, like a couple of guys on motorbikes, hooning around the dunes, when one of them went over a crest to find a camel right in his path. He said that the bike was almost comically bent in two, with the wheels pretty much touching each other, and the RFDS flew out to get him and treat his broken arm, ribs, hip and numerous other internal injuries, apparently the camel trotted off without much discomfort, must have been a real tough bastard, no doubt the hotel has seen and heard many a story of adventure throughout its long and infamous history.

The Birdsville Hotel in 1939, from footage of the 1939 Madigan Simpson Desert Expedition, ending in their arrival at the Birdsville Hotel.

The Birdsville hotel was erected in 1884, although European explorers had passed through the Diamantina district in the 1840s and early 1860s, pastoralists did not occupy this semi-arid region until the mid 1800s, in the early 1880s the towns of Birdsville and Bedourie were established to service the newly taken up pastoral holdings of the Diamantina, built on a stock route towards Adelaide. 

The name seems to have come about as the result of the substantial birdlife in the area, which was previously known as the Diamantina Crossing, referencing the river the town is built on. At the time, the only other buildings were a police lock up, a few stores and a shop. 

It was developed as an administrative centre for police and border customs. Nearly all the trade of the town was with Adelaide, and it became an important marshalling point for cattle being driven south to markets in South Australia. By 1889 the population of Birdsville was 110, and the town had 2 general stores, 3 hotels, a police station, school, 2 blacksmith shops, 2 bakers, a cordial manufacturer, bootmaker, saddler, auctioneer & commission agent, and a number of residences. The population peaked in 1895 at 220.

With its longevity, romantic remoteness, and as a focus for festivities associated with the annual Birdsville Races, the Birdsville Hotel has become an outback icon, and an absolute must to stop off at if you're anywhere within a 100km vicinity!

Jade put on his best shirt and treated me to great dinner at the hotel, which was lovely, followed by an attempt at a game of pool. We left soon after to find a nearby free camp spot close to the Diamantina river.

There was heaps of tiny flies, the worst kind, in my opinion, because they’re small enough to get through the fly net (which I want to replace for a finer one) and swarm around your face, making writing impossible (I’m writing this the following day). To try to stop the onslaught, I closed the windows and doors, put the camp light outside, the fly net down and the lights off.

I went to bed pretty exhausted, being around noise and people feels quite exhausting after so long being on our own, and I feel somehow melancholy and introspective.

Madigan, getting close to Birdsville in 1939

Turns out, Madigan felt the same way, which makes me feel a little better about it… thanks Mad dog: "Unlike my friends at the bar, I have never been able, often to my regret, to throw off the dull care and become thoroughly hilarious and hearty on a joyful occasion such as our arrival at Birdsville. The more reason for jubilation, the more sober I seem to become, while in adversity I am by comparison more stimulated and companionable. This curious reaction to success, this coldness when warmth is expected, has lost me some of the pleasures of life, even though it cloaks a deep inward satisfaction." - From Crossing the Dead Heart, C.T. Madigan 1939. 

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