Birdsville and the Birdsville Track, Queensland

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Birdsville cattle muster

Birdsville and the Birdsville Track, Queensland

On the very western edge of Queensland, Birdsville (population: 115) is the quintessential Australian outback town.

Over 1587 km west of Brisbane, Birdsville is close to the border between Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory, on the edge of the Simpson Desert. Because of the harsh climate, the area was only sparsely populated by Aboriginal people, with the Yarluyandi group living in the Birdsville area and the Wangkangurru people on the Simpson Desert.

Birdsville is the quintessential Australian outback town.

The first Europeans to pass through the area were likely the exploration party of Charles Sturt, after whom the Sturt Stony Desert to the south-east of the town is named. Sturt was unimpressed with what he found, describing the area as a ‘desperate region’ with ‘no parallel on earth’s surface’. 15 years later, Burke and Wills passed only a few kilometres from the present town on their journey to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

In the 1870s and 1880s, large cattle stations were established in the area. In order to cater to the squatters, Robert Frew, opened a store near a permanent lagoon on the river, known as the Diamantina Crossing, where there were already stores, two pubs, and a customs collection point on the Queensland/South Australia border. The town was gazetted as Diamantina Crossing in 1885, but was already known as Birdsville, thanks to the rich diversity of birdlife found in the area.

Today, Birdsville has entered the popular imagination as a byword for the Australian outback. Ironically, it has begun to attract tourists from around the world, seeking out one of the most isolated towns on the earth. Draws here include the heritage architecture, including two quintessential outback pubs, the Royal Hotel and the Birdsville Hotel; the late 19th century Birdsville Courthouse; and the Australian Inland Mission Hospital, used as an outpost for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Every September, Birdsville plays host to the Birdsville Races, known as ‘the Melbourne cup of the outback’. The races were first held in 1882, but became hugely popular in the 1990s, often attracting up to 8000 visitors to the tiny town.

Birdsville is also in close proximity to ‘The Burke and Wills Tree’, a Coolabah tree said to be among the explorers’ final campsites before their demise in the Strzelecki Desert.

The Birdsville Track:

Birdsville Track
The remote Birdsville Track, one of Australia’s great 4WD odysseys.

One of the major draws of Birdsville is the Birdsville Track, one of Australia’s great outback adventures. Passing 517 km to Marree in South Australia, it traverses some of the most arid and remote landscapes in Australia.

The route was developed in the 1880s as a shortcut for stockmen. In 1882, a drover called Tom Ford from Lake Nash station in the Northern Territory took 2000 cattle south-west from Birdsville. Covering 2000 kilometres and nine months, Ford successfully reached Marree, and blazed the Birdsville Track.  Western Queensland property owners realised that moving cattle through channel country, and down the Birdsville Track to the end of the railway at Marree was a quicker way to reach coastal markets. This route was at least 1000 km shorter than the alternative path to Brisbane.

The road passes through three different deserts, the Sturt Stony Desert, the Strzelecki Desert, and the Tirari Desert. Over time, it rose to fame as one of Australia’s best 4WD routes and now attracts tourists from around the world.

Odyssey Traveller visits Birdsville as part of our tour of Broken Hill and the outback. Beginning and ending in the ‘Silver City’ of Broken Hill, New South Wales, our outback experience explores the mining history and artistic legacy of the capital of the outback, taking in the works of the ‘Brushmen of the Bush’ at the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery and visiting the moving Lode Miners Memorial and elegant Broken Hill Courthouse. Leaving Broken Hill, we head towards Birdsville, stopping off at the opal mining town of White Cliff and Menindee Lake National Park on the way. From Birdsville we head south to Marree on the legendary Birdsville Trail, before visiting the flora and fauna sanctuary of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, on the northern edge of the Flinders Range. Leaving the Flinders, we head back to outback NSW, passing through the ‘corner country’, possibly the most remote area in Australia.

If you’re interested in exploring Australia, why not join an Odyssey outback tour? Our tours are designed especially for mature Australians, who seek to learn about the history and culture of their destinations. We are now offering a number of outback Australia small group tours, including:

  • An odyssey through the outback roads of the Kimberley, taking you on a scenic flight over the rock formations of Purnululu National Park and to the ancient landscape of the Mitchell Plateau, where the red dirt meets the west coast
  • An outback adventure through rural Queensland, learning about the history of the cattle station in the outback town of Longreach and Aboriginal culture at the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Brewarrina Fish Traps. 
  • A tour of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, taking in ancient Aboriginal art and quintessential arid Australian landscape in one of the most accessible areas of the golden outback.

In addition to our Australian outback tours, we offer a number of other tours of Australia, including a city tour of Adelaide and surrounds (including the Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island), the Wildlife of Tasmania, and West Australian Wildflowers.

Diamantina River
Diamantina River, Birdsville.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

You can read all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers.

External articles to assist you on your visit to ‘Broken Hill and Back’

Selected small group package tours of Australia

Small group tour; Broken Hill and back

 Small group tour of New South Wales, Queensland & South Australia deserts, from Broken Hill. Learn about the history of the people who explored the deserts, from indigenous communities to Europeans, as well as Burke and Wills, visit White Cliffs, Birdsville, Maree.

Departing Sep, Oct, Mar, Apr

Small group tour of outback Queensland

To Dubbo and back, this small group tour takes you to learn about the Brewarrina fish traps, we travel high up into North Queensland to see the Dinosaurs of Winton and incredible Aboriginal rock art at Cathedral gorge and learn about opal mining and the history of Lightning ridge.

Departing Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Feb, Mar
Dingo, Oodnadatta Track

Small group tour of Australia's Flinders range

Escorted small group tour of the Flinders range in South Australia from Adelaide. Learn about Coober Pedy, Wilpena pound and water system of Lake Eyre as we explore and learn also about the history of the people who explored the Flinders.

Departing Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jul, Aug, Oct

Articles about Australia

Pilbara wildflowers WA

The Australian Outback: A Definitive Guide

15 mins read

Explore learn and consider what is the outback in this article. For mature and senior travelers considering joining a small group package tours into the outback to see, learn and explore about this unique place, not only the landscape but the Aboriginal approach to living. On each of the tours for couples and the single traveler you learn something different but fascinating, from Outback Queensland, the Flinders, Broken Hill and the Kimberley and the wildflowers all contribute to this question, what is the outback?