Team Quilly Park were the first to sign up to Sharon Chapman’s All Roads to Birdsville as an extreme team building exercise. Here we give our account of the highs and the lows of our journey and our time in iconic Birdsville.
Day One – Quilly Park to Peterborough
Sunday, August 28th
In the early hours of Sunday morning the boys left Quilly Park with two vehicles full of gear, with trainer Les Theodore and Richard in one vehicle, Dave and Mark took the other.
Our A-Team, Mark and Dave packed swags, sleeping bags, jerry cans of fuel, tools, non-perishable food, pots, pans, stoves and coffee pots.
At 6am we stopped to pick up our two pommies at the airport, team Quilly Park’s Suzanne and her friend Marion, visiting from England. We were headed for Peterborough, South Australia, a drive that would take us about 10 hours.
After less than 12 hours in Australia and on her first visit to the country, Marion had to take the wheel when Dave fell ill. Dave wound his seat right back to sleep giving Suzanne a clear view of the road to spot for kangaroos and other wildlife or hazards.
The highlight of the day was calling in to the Tarlee Hotel where we were looked after by the lovely Robyn in the absence of the landlord. The cool beers went down well and we left our stamp on one of the bar’s taps.
It was a long day so the Peterborough Roundhouse Motel was a welcome sight, as was our first team dinner in their restaurant which they kept open for us.
Before heading to bed we checked the maps and planned our route for the following day.
There was some deliberation over what time we should leave to avoid the kangaroos but make sure we were leaving enough time to make the trip onto the Birdsville Track and get to Mungerannie by nightfall.
Richard took the initiative to pre-arrange breakfast for the team so we took our toasters and breakfast things to our rooms and turned in for the night.
Day Two – Peterborough to Mungerannie
Monday, August 29th
After an early breakfast we were on the road by 7.30am. We spent the morning on sealed roads and took the time for some sightseeing together.
A real highlight was checking in to Hawker Racecourse. We had some fun at the track including Dave challenging Richard to a race up the home straight. It ended in a pulled hamstring for Dave and a great sprint for Richard who ran for the stunning hills.
The second pit stop was a real treat. We pulled over after Richard saw a sign for the Beltana Station with angus beef and saltbush lamb for sale. We were completely unaware of the gem that was in store for us at the foothills of the Flinders Ranges. Opening the sliding door to an unassuming shed, we were surprised to find a homely café and fascinating museum.
Homemade pumpkin soup, Shepherd’s pie and a steaming mug of coffee went down well. Richard was delighted when the proprietor Laura Ragless offered to teach him to shoot.
Having never shot a gun, it was with great excitement that he managed to hit a coke can 4 times! Les made a brilliant gun rest and Richard also got the hang of the sniper position.
We then pushed on to Leigh Creek, our final supermarket and fuel top up before the Birdsville track. After that we hit the unsealed roads just after Maree and started to get a feel for what was ahead.
Dave and Suzanne had a close encounter with a brumby not long after getting onto the first piece of track after Maree. The herd was very friendly and interested in us.
We saw plenty of wildlife along the way including emus and kangaroos, a stunning sight. Richard was able to fulfil one of his challenges for the NJT when plucking a feather from an emu’s bottom!
With rumours of rain coming and weather reports corroborating that, we realised that although the day had got away with us a bit and we’d be pulling into Mungerannie as the sun set, it was essential to continue.
This proved a very good decision later on as others from our All Roads to Birdsville convoy got stuck at Maree for several days.
On arrival in Mungerannie we were shown to our small, basic rooms at the Motel by the proprietor Phil, an outback legend. After unloading our bags, we headed to the hot spring bath for a rejuvenating soak before our team dinner.
The menu was good and extensive so we ate well then danced with locals and bar staff. We’d heard about Mungerannie’s party nights and weren’t disappointed.
When we went to bed there was uncertainty about whether we’d be rained in with the track closed so we decided to wait until morning to decide what time to leave.
Day Three – Mungerannie to Birdsville
Tuesday August 30th
When we woke there was a real buzz in the air as people began to gather steam ready to leave Mungerannie for the final leg of the trip to Birdsville.
Judging by the weather reports a lot of rain was on the way and if we were to have any chance of getting to Birdsville in time for Friday’s racing we needed to get back onto the track.
We joined the queue at the filling station, filled up both vehicles and set off. The further we got from Mungerannie, the more scarce the wildlife. The land was dusty and arid, when we got out for pit stops the flies were horrendous and we began to get a real sense of being in the Outback.
Along the way we began to meet up with more and more people from Sharon Chapman’s All Roads to Birdsville convoy. When Dave popped the bonnet on his vehicle to check for issues it was lovely of Dona McQueen and family ‘Team Wangaratta Warriers’ to stop and check if we needed help.
With the threat of rain and complete lack of mobile phone connectivity we didn’t dither, instead preferring to keep a good pace until our destination – Birdsville.
The Queensland border was a welcome sight, particularly for Dave and we stopped for a photo opportunity having reached what we felt was an important milestone.
Finally, just after lunchtime we spotted the iconic Birdsville sign. We’d made it! The race track lay to our right and it was interesting how sleepy it looked – quietly waiting for the arrival of around 7,000 people and the horses to kick off the iconic desert meeting.
We headed straight to the famous Birdsville Hotel for a cold beer. We’d had no mobile phone coverage for two days so took the chance to catch up with the weather reports and check in with family.
We met with Sharon and Cheryl who’d arrived in the other Media Banc vehicle – they’d been caught by rain and their vehicle looked distinctly different to ours!
Upon seeking advice on the safest spot to camp we were warned that with the imminent rain we should steer clear of the river campsites, where we had originally planned to stay in our swags.
Instead, Richard negotiated with Andrew from Rent-A-Tent that we could move into Tent City early as soon as they’d got the first tents up. Welcome news for us, especially after hearing rumours of dingoes on the prowl at the riverside campsites.
We had dinner in the pub that night and headed to bed for our first night under canvas.
Click here to read Part 2 of our All Roads to Birdsville Trip of a Lifetime – the adventure didn’t end here, it became all the more extreme!