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
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