The wild eastern edge of the Simpson Desert’s harsh gibber plains is a long way from anywhere, but that’s where you’ll find the iconic outback town of Birdsville, complete with its famous hotel.
Surrounded by lines of rolling red sandhills and sinewy dry Channel Country creek beds, Birdsville is an isolated oasis in Central West Queensland established to collect tolls from interstate cattle droves in 1881. The area’s traditional custodians are the Wangkangurru-Yarluyandi people.
Surprisingly, there is abundant birdlife in this dry desert. While you don’t see much action during the day, there is plenty at sunset and sunrise around the Birdsville Billabong jetty.
It doesn’t take long to tour the town with a map from the Wirrarri Visitor Information Centre, which is one of the few places you’ll find internet access. Highlights include the Frontier Australian Inland Mission Hospital, which has been at this site since the early 1900s, and the Geothermal Power Station, a rare example of a geothermal power-generating facility which ran off a Great Artesian Basin bore.
Best hotels: Birdsville
If you’re looking for Birdsville accomodation, the Birdsville Hotel has 27 modern, air-conditioned motel units at the back, which will seem like a palace if you’ve been roughing it for a few days.
Just around the corner, Birdsville Lodge in Graham Street has 49 ensuite cabins with a communal camp kitchen facility.
Located around the tree-lined billabong, the Birdsville Caravan Park is perfect for birdwatchers. It is just a short walk to the hotel, bakery and visitor information centre. The caravan park also offers ensuite cabins sleeping up to five, and motel-style units, which all include cooking facilities. There are also motel-style units with shared bathrooms for backpackers or budget-conscious travellers.
Best restaurants: Birdsville
Stop at the Birdsville Bakery for a memorable breakfast or lunch from 6.30am. With little experience behind them, owners Dusty and Jacko built the bakery from scratch in 2004. Except for some shortcrust pastry shells, everything is made in-house – which is quite a challenge in this isolated spot. For a real taste of old-world Outback Australia, try the classic lamb’s fry and bacon with eggs on toast or a Birdsville Bakery Big Breakfast.
When it comes to lunch, the pie menu includes award-winning curried camel, rabbit, Australian Draught steak and kidney, and kangaroo and claret options. For dessert get even more Aussie with a wattleseed custard, citrus and lemon myrtle, or berry quandong tart.
On Friday nights the bakery opens to sell Birdsville Fried Chicken, which is very popular with locals.
The Birdsville Hotel’s Burke and Wills Dining Room offers 450g Angus rib-eye steaks from the Coorong, salt and pepper barramundi or classic bangers and mash. Depending on the cook’s mood, you might find that it is buffet night and you’ll sit down with a plate overflowing with generous serves of a variety of dishes. You can buy a pie or sausage roll at the Front Bar, but according to the sign, only when the cook has nicked off.
If you want to top up your pantry, browse the shelves at the Birdsville Roadhouse for self-catering options.
Best bars & cafés: Birdsville
The best drink in Birdsville is the one you’ll pour yourself on top of the famed Big Red sand dune about 35km from town. Drive rather than walk to the top of the 40-metre sand hill with a bottle of champagne and watch the red glow of the sun slowly dip into the desert.
A beer in the Birdsville Hotel’s Front Bar is a rite of passage for visitors to this outback icon. Established in 1884, the thick, whitewashed walls of this pub have survived floods and fires to always offer the traveller a cold drink and respite from the hot, harsh weather.
The ceiling and walls are covered with signs, stickers and treasures including hats, but only from those who have lived and worked in the town for over a year. Play a game of pool, catch up with your favourite sporting team on the video screen or chat to a local.
The pub’s Green Lizard Room gained its name when the town was cut off by flooding, and Crème de Menthe and lemonade was the only alcoholic drink they could serve. There’s a statue of a large grey lizard displayed on the bar.