17 December 2011

Birdsville sans Big Red

Thursday, 15 December 2011

After leaving Boulia without seeing any Min Min lights – which Flip is still slightly upset about – we well and truly entered desert country.

The Simpson Desert to the west, sand dunes of varying colours, rather dense vegetation in parts after recent rains, the Eyre Creek flowing at quite some speed. I wasn't surprised to see ducks in the desert...but seagulls?

On our way to Birdsville we were on the lookout for a stand of Waddi trees (Acacia puece), a rare and ancient species endemic to the central deserts.

Waddiwood is a very hard timber, causing similar damage to axes and saws as our Ironwood – but before we found these special desert plants we came across a tree of a different kind.

Why would people part with their footwear in the middle of nowhere? Who started this custom? Bizarre!

We made it to Birdsville around lunchtime.
Steve had set his mind on 'Big Red', a monstrous red sand dune about 38km west of Birdsville and enquired at the local visitor information centre about a temporary detour to the dune due to flooding
while the rest of us were preparing lunch in the shade of a picnic shelter outside.

After gathering the facts we decided that 'Operation Big Red' would require sufficient time to plan and carry out, postponing the trip until the next day.
Our priority would be to find a suitable camp site first, check out the Diamantina River that had just started flowing again a few days earlier – and to go to the Birdsville Hotel for a drink and a meal.

During the busy time of the year up to 120 people live here in Birdsville. Since October the population has shrunk to about 60.
Only about 10 residents will be celebrating Christmas in town this year, the annual migration of townsfolk to more populated regions was in full swing at the time of our visit.

Even more commendable how much attention to detail the managers of the local caravan park had spent on decorating their office building.
We had set up our camp for the night overlooking Birdsville Billabong, part of the Diamantina River, within walking distance to the pub, naturally.
Returning after dinner we saw Frosty, the snowy Swagman, Christmas lights all over the roof, truly delightful!

The lovely people running the park came out for a chat and with an update on weather conditions and forecast. The Bureau of Meteorology had issued several warnings, forecasting heavy rainfall and flooding around the Simpson and Strzelecki deserts and the Channel Country we were yet to traverse.
If we wanted to see Nappanerica, Big Red, we would have to get up early in order to beat the weather and make for the Dig Tree before the desert country all around us would turn into a giant boggy mess...
The message was clear: Get out of here ASAP!

Just a little while later, I had already gone to bed , the children were sound asleep, Steve received word that Big Red was off the itinerary.
A couple that had arrived in town pretty much the same time as us had decided to head out there before dinner had gone missing, triggering a search and rescue operation.
The local police officer found himself as bogged (again, had only happened the previous day) as the travellers and it took until 11:30PM for everyone to arrive back in town safe and sound.

Oh well, I'm sure Steve will get to play in the sand one day!

Boh boh!

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