Birdsville Track

Established during the 1880s, the Birdsville Track was the main stock route between Marree in South Australia and Birdsville in Queensland. Usually taking about a month to complete, the route was long and extremely harsh and cattle often didn't survive the trip. Camel trains fared better. Until the 1930s these animals were used as the major transporters into a largely inaccessible region, but were released into the wild when road transport took over. Nowadays, the track is passable to conventional vehicles for most of the year. The current fascination with the outback has meant that a regular stream of adventurers make the 517km journey.

The 517 km track runs from Marree, a small town in northern South Australia, north across the Tirari Desert and Sturt Stony Desert, ending in Birdsville in south western Queensland. In former years the track was of a very poor quality and suitable only for high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles, but it has been upgraded to a full-scale dirt road and is now a popular tourist route. It is also used by stock trucks carrying livestock.

The path traverses the driest part of the country with less than an average 100 mm of rainfall annually. The area is extremely barren, dry and isolated, and anyone wishing to travel the track must carry fresh water, supplies, fuel, and spare parts for their vehicle with them in case of emergencies.

The track was opened in the 1860s to bring cattle from northern Queensland and Northern Territory to the nearest railheads Port Augusta and later Marree. The pioneering drover that is credited with establishing the track was Percy Burt. Burt setup a store at Diamantina Crossing, today known as Birdsville, and used the path to bring cattle out of the Channel Country to the railhead at Maree that was completed in 1883. This stock route was more than 1000 km shorter than the alternative path to Brisbane.

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By 1916 enough bores had been sunk into the Great Artesian Basin along the route, that the movement of stock was much easier and safer than in earlier years. Bores were drilled at 40 km intervals. Over the years the Birdsville track became one of the country's most isolated and best known stock routes as well as a mail route made famous by outback legend Tom Kruse. Tom Kruse and the Track were immortalised in the 1954 documentary film made by John Heyer, The Back of Beyond. Kruse's services ceased in 1963 to be replaced by an air service from Adelaide that started in 1970.

Up until the 1930s only stock and camel trains would take the Birdsville track. Nowadays it has become a very popular track. As a result, the track is reasonably well maintained and generally fairly smooth. However like any outback track, its condition can change, especially after rain. Large stretches of the track can still be destroyed by flash flooding and drifting sand. Fuel, supplies and facilities, including a hotel, can be found on the track at the Mungeranie station (population: 3), 204 km from Marree and 313 km from Birdsville.

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