Birdsville, in the middle of nowhere with a population of about one hundred people, is the service centre for outlying pastoral properties. It is the most isolated town in Australia where the temperature can be over 45 degrees Celsius for days on end. Its main tourist attraction, apart from the fact that it is in the middle of nowhere, is the annual race meeting attended by many thousands who come by car, bus or plane. Many will have travelled the Birdsville Track or some of the other lonely roads from the Gulf or Channel Country.
Its history goes back to 1878 when a store was opened for drovers on the Diamantina. Three years later, in 1881, it had its very first race meeting. More than hundred years later they are still being run with the crowds only getting bigger! In 1883 it was reported that the town had three stores, two hotels, a chemist, blacksmith and butcher's shop, and as it was the direction of the proposed Queensland railway there was little doubt that it would become a very busy place. Two years later the town was officially surveyed and had its first policeman, Mounted Constable Arthur McDonald appointed.
The Birdsville Hotel,
rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1979.
In 1887 the town had three hotels, two stores, billiard room, police station, customs house, blacksmith, baker, butcher, saddler, shoemaker, cordialmaker, Jockey Club, a bank and a billion flies. By the end of the 1880s there was even talk of a railway to Birdsville and during the early part of 1891 a Royal Commission travelled from Hawker via Innamincka, Haddon Downs, Birdsville, Marree, Farina and Leigh's Creek to investigate the railway to Queensland.
They were back in Hawker just in time to be saved from the deluge which came down on 6 March causing the creeks between Birdsville and Clayton to be flooded, Birdsville and Innamincka tracks blocked by flood waters and the Cooper running a banker. A month later the Birdsville police station was under water and the Strzelecki creek three metres higher than in the 1887 flood. In a place where normally people died of thirst they now ran the risk of drowning.
After the floods came the usual heat and lack of surface water and in December 1892, thirty-five year old A.R. Engman died at Ten Mile Creek on his way from Birdsville. Many others have suffered the same fate since. Today, with only one hotel, where the beer only comes in stubbies or cans, but also a hospital and a population of about a hundred, it is still regarded as something of a feat of 'having done the Birdsville Track' or camped at Goyder's Lagoon or along the Diamantina. Unfortunately few of the modern day travellers know anything about the people who have lived along the track or in Birdsville and made that country prosper.