The Heartbreak Hotel to Birdsville then onto Coopers Creek, (1909 k's)


Armed with a Mrs Mac pepper steak pie and a carton of iced coffee Sass and I left the Heartbreak Hotel and headed south down across the vast open plains to camp the night at the Barkly Homestead. The previous extended wet season left this country in good shape with plenty of feed so the stock were in forward to fat condition. Even the odd few water holes that exist along the track remained full enough to hold a variety of birdlife that would normally moved on well before this. Eventually we arrived at the Barkly Homestead and I pulled in beside another gooseneck horse trailer where the bigger riggs camp.The bloke who owned the rig was keen for a yarn and being close to beer time it seemed like a good idea. As it turned out we both knew many of the same people from the bush from all over Australia but for some reason we'd never crossed paths. His name is Bob Holder from down around Cootamundra way, he's managed stations, been a drover,a horse breaker, a live stock dealer and is now a real-estate agent for Elders. Bob is probably best known as a rodeo competitor and has travelled far and wide across Australia attending these events.Even now at the age of 81 he has just competed at the Darwin Rodeo in the team roping event, a fantastic effort and a great Australian character as well. Bob slipped away to feed up and on his way back picked up a bag from a nearby hanger, inside we discovered a Jeppeson Airways manual; it covered a trip from London to Sydney via twenty other countries. Some weeks ago on his way to Darwin Bob stayed here and met a bloke in a wheel chair who had flown an Ultra Light plane from London on his way to Sydney to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I still have the manual and have been trying to track him down but to this point, no luck.

On the BarklyWeaners on McArthur River StationAlroy DownsBack on the road again next day we headed east across the Barkly to Camooweal for the drovers festival. I was surprised to see so many dingoes prowling about, the report is that their numbers are now out of control over much of Australia and giving the station owners plenty of grief. If I ever give up marketing our leather goods I think I'll become a wild dog stiffener. Back in the days before the road trains Camooweal was the starting point where drovers assembled with their men and plant to wait on word via telegrame for orders from the big stations in the top end and the Kimberelys to pick up mobs that would then be walked over to Queensland many via the the famous Murranji track to Newcaste Waters, from there across the Barkly to Camooweal and down to Dajarra to the then new rail head or on down further south to the channel country or to the Birdsville track and on to Adelaide. The last of the boss drovers living today gather at Camooweal each year for a weekend where the public and guests can meet these men and listen to the stories of the epic journeys they made over the years. We all know the stories about droving have been romanticised in verse and song but I can assure you it was nothing other than a bloody  tough and hard lonely life. Sleeping in a swag on the ground for months on end, eating boiled beef and damper seven days a week, riding from daylight till dusk then doing several hours at night riding night watch can hardly be described as an easy and romantic life style. Conditions were always tough, lack of feed and water for the cattle, long hot dry dusty periods or weeks of rain with flooded rivers to cross and worst of all when the mob rushed off camp sometime during the night were all part of the drovers life. With over a thousand head in hand the boss drovers life had few pleasures and a massive responsibility in delivering the entire mob in good condition.

Stock-routs of Australia.The drovers.The Murranji BullThe other activities during the weekend included bronco branding, country music, poetry renditions, an art exhibition of paintings drawings and photography, an evening ball, the Camooweal street parade and an evening at the local pub with entertainment. Our leather good were on display and Noel Giles the blacksmith from Mackay turned up with an impressive display of product he'd made on the forge. I think Gilesy could be better described as an artist, but one who uses a forge, anvil and hammer  rather than a brush and canvas, a great bloke and extremely talented.

The blacksmith artistBlacksmiths creations.Birdsville PubGiles at work.

A few other blokes I caught up with were Ian Michaels, my old boss when I worked on Victoria River Downs and Stumpy Adams who was a ringer there at the same time. Scott Bloxsome, was of Australia's past rodeo champions called in and finally I met Ian McBean, a bloke I was meant to work for and wished I had. He has lived an extraordinary life in the top end, a wonderful character. Once again it was time to pack up and move on to the next event. I had 875 k's to knock over that day so I left before the sun rose heading south to Mount Isa, on to Dajarra, then to Boulia then Bedourie and finally drove into Birdsville as the sun was setting over the sand hills. Exceptional rains over the past three years have resulted in far west Queensland looking the best it has been at any point in time since the area was first discovered and again the stock tell the story. Lakes now stretch to the horizon where once scalded clay-pans existed and the wild life is everywhere. The Birdsville races are the focal point of the race round in the far west, the week prior being Betoota and the week after, Bedourie.To add further entertainment to a trip out this far Bouila put on camel races and Winton, an out back festival which I will attend. Although the dirt roads out here are well prepared prior to the onslaught of traffic they soon deteriorate as the would be bushys geared up with 4WD's and campers drive flat out passing everything in sight spraying stones and dust over those driving according to road conditions.Regardless, everyone enjoys the week at Birdsville as they wander from the pub to the retail displays, over the the museum and the bakery, then Brophys boxing tent and back to the pub then finally stagger back to their camps on the banks of the Diamantina River. Friday and Saturday sees the town much quieter as the mob moves out to the race track for more drinks and dust then of course back to the pub and the boxing to indulge in various forms of social interaction.
Early morning views, Birdsville.Lakes in the desert.Birdsville Races by Steve de Vroom
With Birdsville over for another year we headed off to Windorah to Camp on Coopers Creek for a couple of days away from the crowds and the dust. I was travelling with Kevin Murphy, a mate selling Australian made camping and clothing gear. Not far out of Birdsville I blew a tyre so lost contact with him. Hours later and about 150 k out of Windorah I spotted his truck beside the road so I pulled over thinking he'd stopped to boil the billy. Kev didn't look all that relaxed as the truck had cut out and pumped out the engine oil so things looked pretty grim. He jumped in with me and we headed into town hoping to find someone who could help us. A bloke at the servo reckoned Merv and his son could fix anything and lived just down the street. Windorah is not a really big town so it didn't take long to find them, they were loading half a dozen four wheelers getting ready for a five o'clock start the next morning to do some spraying about 400 k's out to the north west. Even so they were keen to help so gathered up some tools and oil and headed off.
We went out to Coopers Creek to camp the night and returned to Windorah next morning. To my surprise Kevs truck was sitting there in town, they had found the problem, fixed it and got back by ten that evening. When it came time to settle the account Merv wouldn't accept more than $150 as saying he was glad to be able to help so Kev gave them a camp oven as well to try and square up. The breakdown could easly have been an $8000 recovery exercise including a new motor, towing costs and several weeks off the road. Merv and his son offered the best bush hospitatily and proffecional workmanship you could ever wish for going well out of their way to help and charging a fraction of what the job was worth. Another fantastic Australian family from the bush, that's whyI love being out here. Until next time. Steve and Sass.


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  • Sheady

    Gday Steve good one.The old fellas would had some great yarn to tell,good pics they tell a thousand words

  • Hedy Pardey

    Dear Steve,
    left some comments in Tibooburra section. Applies to all. We have been to so many places you describe (2004-2008) and it makes my heart earn to be there again. You describe so accurately and vividly. I grew up in Primary school enjoying my Austalian Atlas and geography lessons. The names of so many country towns and rivers fascinated me as did the journeys of the Explorers, gold seekers and bushrangers. You cover so much of their territory and bring it alive in word and image. Cannot wait to be on the road again in 2012, however your excellent commentary will suffice while I wait. Thankyou for sharing your travels and the wonderful people you meet ‘out there’ with us. You bring a little of the country to the city.

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