Winding its way through some of the driest, dustiest land in Australia, the Birdsville Track is a direct route to the heart of the outback. It has hosted many of the country’s most legendary pioneers over the past two centuries, as it makes its way from Marree to the town of Birdsville. This is one of only three roads leading to Birdsville, a tiny town with a population of 100 tucked away in southwest Queensland. There are still seven working cattle stations along the Birdsville Track, giving some indication of its original purpose and history.
Beginnings of the Track
The track was originally established by cattle drover Percy Burt in the 1860s to allow settlers to bring his cattle from Queensland to the nearest rail-head at Port Augusta. This provided transport further on to Adelaide, where they could be sold. The railway reached the town of Marree in 1884, providing access to Birdsville and the far north of the country. With this link to the rest of Australia, the Birdsville track became the most important stock route in the country as well as its most isolated.
This road took travellers through some of the most dangerous, lonely, and challenging countryside in the world. Cattle drovers battled a lack of water, extreme temperatures, and sand storms along the way. To help ease these treacherous conditions, the South Australian government sunk bores every 50 kilometres along the track to provide access to water and improve safety at the turn of the 1900s. Afghan camel drivers began transporting goods and passengers between Marree and Birdsville shortly after, and were eventually replaced by trucks.
Battling the Elements for Deliveries
It wasn’t only cattle drovers and camel teams who used the Birdsville track; some of its most famous travellers were the postmen. The first mail service along the route was engineered by Jack Hester in 1884, shortly followed by August Helling in 1886 using a buggy and pack horses. The track would often become flooded, making it necessary to travel by boat.
The most famous postman along the route was Tom Kruse, who delivered mail along the route between 1936 and 1957 in times of drought, flood, and other treacherous conditions. He was eventually featured in a documentary and inducted into the National Transport Hall of Fame. Mail delivery is now achieved by plane, but it’s still the longest mail run in the world.
Tips for Modern-Day Travellers
Are you interested in travelling along this historically lonely road? You’ll need to be prepared to cope with droughts, flooding, and sandstorms as potential hazards along the way. You can make the 524 kilometre journey from Marree to Birdsville in only six hours, although you may want to give yourself two days to take it slow and enjoy all the sights along the way. You’ll need a reliable vehicle with four-wheel drive, and make sure your tyres are up to the task as the road can be rough in spots. Learn more about tyres fit for the journey here and be sure to bring a spare. There are petrol stations in Marree, Mungerannie, and Birdsville, where you can also stock up on supplies. Bring plenty of extra food and water, as temperatures can be fierce and it’s easy to get dehydrated.
A journey down the Birdsville track is a trip through time, allowing you to experience the same rugged terrain as the original pioneers of Australia’s outback. From homestead ruins to abandoned vehicles, you’ll see reminders of their past on this isolated drive.
Road Sign – Natalie Tapson on Flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Birdsville Hotel – Wikimedia Public Domain
Flat tyre on the Birdsville Track – Jussarian on Flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Rachel MacDonald is an Edinburgh-based freelance writer who has worked as a copywriter for businesses from Lima to San Francisco. She specializes in travel, design, and the arts.