Heading down the main street of Birdsville, my tastebuds already anticipating a fresh pastry and maybe, if we’re lucky, an espresso. After a precursory lap, we parked back at the Birdsville Bakery and made our way inside.
It’s not until you venture inside a building that you begin to notice how grimy you’ve become. Three hot days in the desert, barely doing anything but swatting flies, yet still, grimy, windblown. Weather reports told us it was high thirties and above forty on our last day. Nonetheless, our host had likely seen and smelled worse and welcomed us with a smile. We predictably ordered pies and coffee, myself a camel pie. David with the beef. They were unbelievably good, hot flaking pastry and an even hotter espresso go together like, well, like coffee and just about anything. The camel pie was spiced in a curry type fashion and was gone in record time. We enquired about breakfast and he promised to look after us when we returned the next day.
We decided we would stay in Birdsville, giving us a chance to refuel, bathe and enjoy a pub meal. We hadn’t used nearly as much fuel as we anticipated, even with playing on Big Red, and back tracking to Eyre Creek. But we both were anticipating a high pressure wash.
Booking in to the Birdsville Caravan Park, we looked for a spot to setup the Oztent. We had perused the free camp but it was clearly an inhospitable carpark, empty of even that, rocky and shadeless, clearly for Caravanners.
The wind however, would be a close rival to the rocks. Paid and instructed where we could pitch, we got out to claim a level patch near a tree. The wind was insane. We were keen to get the tent up however, to be able to rest and have reprieve from aforementioned cyclonic therapy.
We don’t fight often, at all really. But the wind lifted, and twisted the Oztent, with me inside. Words were exchanged. Nonetheless, we managed to hammer some pegs in, albeit now bent, with the axe, and park LandCruiser up close. Home.
Lazing about, avoiding the wind. We were struck with the contrast of noise that a water course brings. The racket put the ‘birds’ in Birdsville. Mostly white Corellas, but also Galahs and huge pelicans. Water birds glimpsed by movement alone before they returned to statue, stalking their next morsel.
Enjoying a high pressure shower, we removed the desert sand from ourselves and put on a load of washing. Eventually, there was nothing left to do but walk to the Hotel, slowly, and take in the lowering sun on the old buildings. The wind had dropped off, so it was pleasant.
We enjoyed a couple of pre dinner drinks in the decorated bar. But not before patting the cattle dog who resided on the window sill. Before long, the pub filled and we were able to order our dinner. Meat and vegetables on both our minds. Despite eating well enough on our own, we both enjoyed not having to prepare or clean up afterwards. A lively dining room, we were all flushed with warmth and liquid cheer. Perfect for the cool walk back to camp.
The wind and sun returned the next morning and we folded our tent and after another shower, we were first in for breakfast at the bakery. David ordered the Big Breakfast and after enjoying another espresso, it arrived. In short stages. Our host presented three plates for his breakfast, including his family recipe for savoury mince and tomato sauce. I had something less impressive but equally delicious. His only guests, we lingered. Ruminating and chatting with our host about our travels, and his. We left him to the washing up and rolled out to the LandCruiser. Filling up at the Roadhouse, after asking permission of the canine sentry there, we said goodbye to Birdsville and went looking for its namesake track. We found another Burke and Wills memorial, reminding us of our previous outback tour, following their earlier steps through to QLD.
After the carb euphoria of breakfast, I was feeling a little morose. Stupidly or not, but heading south seemed to swing my mood south too, we were homeward bound, albeit a thousand or more indirect kilometres still to go. My mood lifted a little once we were out of town however, the open road is a subtle therapy. Once at speed, windows cracked to eject the stowaway flies. We relaxed and our groove synchronised with the mildly corrugated highway that is the Birdsville Track.
We stopped a few times, just to enjoy the spectacular nothingness. But sooner than we believed, we rolled in on Mungarannie Hotel. Chatting to its propioritor, we sipped on cold fizzy drinks in his dark and cool bar. Watching a documentary on Tom Kruse after we had the usual background check conversation of where from and where to with Rob Zombie behind the bar.
We setup camp nearby, and had a warm nap. Peak sun and nowhere to be, we were sedated and happily dosing in no time. After the heat got too much, we ventured out to the artesian bath. The flies were kind around the diesel smelling pool. The shade and solitude was too tempting not to partake.
Cooling off with a shower before dinner, which we enjoyed back at the pub. Enjoyed is underrating it. This was the best pub meal of the whole trip. Our super friendly hosts and mega T-Bones with huge fresh salads. We were exhausted with good cheer late that night when we made our dark walk back to the tent.
Embarking south again, we stopped at Cooper Creek, taking a moment to reminisce on our love for this landscape. And honestly, it felt like 20 minutes later, we were turning off and snaking our way to Farina. A promise of ruins and campfires. It took a while for the fella to be found, but $5 each later, we were his newest tenants. Finding the biggest and most glorious gumtree unoccupied we set about unpacking. In the shade, a gentle breeze and so few flies, we were in high spirits. Until I was attacked, no exaggeration, by a giant, face sucking Huntsman. Fellow Oztenters will know, the only moment of vulnerability is when you’re pulling the tent up and over yourself by the pull tab. As the rolled doors brush your head, and you’re outstretched for the side hinge…. BAM, face-sucker makes itself seen. Yelping, and high stepping out of the tent. And quickly back in, now armed with the dustpan. We negotiated his eviction.
To shake the heeby-jeebies, I drove back to the house and picked up a railway sleeper for another $5 to burn in our campfire stove. Pocketing the rusted nails within, it was an easy fuel for our stove later. We visited the Anzac memorial and sat about, again, just enjoying the lack of flies and heat. We chatted with distant neighbours, who loaned their Camps book so we could scope out the rest of our trip. They were experienced travellers, having been through many setups they now toured the backroads by way of Iveco camper. A mansion of urban evasion.
After a donkey shower, and a long sunset, we sparked up the half 44 gallon drum to sear our steaks. A breeze picked up, fanning the flames and our wood was exhausted efficiently, but long enough after we had cooked to enjoy its company up until bedtime. After a visit to the flushing toilets, and cleaning our teeth at the sink, we retired.
Our progress along the Birdsville Track, and the beauty of this camp insisted we stay another night. So after a sleep in, we went over to view the cemetery. A beautiful, quiet resting place with a view.
We purchased another sleeper for the fire later on before driving up to Maree for lunch. A happy chat with the publican, fizzy drinks and their burger satisfied our current cravings. A visit to the Roadhouse, we picked up some supplies for cravings later on. Back at camp, we toured the ruins of Farina, with only the emus for company. Beautifully preserved but still raw enough to appreciate the amazing life of labour and love experienced by its tenants during the boom of the Ghan. There are extensive ruins and street layouts with hours of time travelling to be done. We were totally immersed in Farina.
I couldn’t really help it now, this felt like our last camp. And what a last camp it was. Unequivocally a favourite of both of us. Glamping level luxuries tucked away in a shaded oasis, 50km away from Marree.
Despite avoiding previously driven roads when possible, taking different backroads south east as much as possible, we were unarguably homeward bound.
Pulling into Quorn, we were pleased to find another shaded camp, noisy with native birdlife. The caravan park offers a small grassed area for tent campers with a large, well appointed outdoor kitchen. We spent a couple of days walking around town, frozen in time. There are multiple hotels and cafes worth a visit, old shopfronts and wide streets. We cooked in the outdoor kitchen and talked travel and touring with a group of strangers who lived 3km away from us, in our home town. Walking over the railway for lunch and self guided wandering about town, we met the Pichi Richi train pulling into the station. About to depart, it was very tempting to hop on. Instead, we watched the fanfare.
We tried one of the cafe-restaurants the following night, warm and lively, full of vintage fare, it was an old General Store and Haberdashery. With a wicked desert menu.
Our next camp found us at Penrose Park, in Silverton. An old recreation park from the 1930s. Some infrastructure still about. Old aviaries with peacocks and chooks, murals, enamelled play equipment, white painted rock. A modern camp kitchen fitted with an old timber panel microwave that destroyed my Sea to Summit bowl with its intensity. Strange birds that got under foot, and yelled at us constantly. I would later read they were Apostle Birds.
We stayed a few nights, driving into Broken Hill for woodfired pizza one of those. Spending our daytime roaming and eating up the streets of Broken Hill. Including time at the old fashioned Bell’s diner.
We tried to have dinner at Silverton Hotel but the proprietor told us, rather shortly, that they were closing for an impromptu night off. Instead, we enjoyed a campfire and a session of reading on our park bench.
I felt at odds. Enjoying the urban spoils of espresso and coffee and chatting to Mum with ultrafast text messaging. But still unable to shake the quiet broodiness of urban return. Evidently, it was palpable, as David still teases me about this depression that set in, not after, but during our trip. And blames this on our hasty return across NSW to home. A cold night at hyper-green lawn for our tent beside the Bogan River, we had pumpkin soup and listened to music at camp before retiring late when it felt too cold to be up.
The horizon became increasingly familiar and smaller the next day. Despite each others non-stop company over the previous weeks, we continued to natter over the roar of the tyres. Mostly about the trip, or the kangaroos, goats, emus, eagles, cows, echidnas, sheep, and caravans I managed to dodge along the precarious stretch of NSW roads we covered. Before long, we were pulling into our driveway, the gentle spray of sensor lights and normality welcoming us home.