ALIVE IN THE DEAD HEART

The old frontier town of Birdsville in southwest Queensland supported many thousands of people in the days before Federation in 1901 when Birdsville was a major transit stop for smugglers.    These days the town swells to numbers like those of the old days only when the Birdsville races come around in September.

By far the most significant feature (and most recognisable facade) is the Birdsville Pub, the most talked-about outback pub in the whole of Queensland.


CATTLE CRUSH
KAMARAN DOWNS

DESERT DIGEST

Cashbook and Claypan
Share in the tribulations of the admin manager as he balances the books from his Office-in-a-Blitz

Birdsville or Bust
Learn how French know-how and Australian muscle carved the French Line through the Simpson

East From Oodna
Marvel at the initiative of the early pathfinders who solved the mysteries of the Red Centre

Alive in the Dead Heart
Recollections from the crew who first burst the road through Australia's One True Desert

B-line for Birdsville
Join the CGG veterans on their return journeys to the French Line. Take their tip and travel with experts

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Capital of the Channel Country

Queensland Frontier Town

Birdsville 1963 Showing the Old Watertower


A CGG seismic worker's Lannie is seen outside the Birdsville Pub circa September 1963 shortly before the drunk room wall crashed into the street.  In a rare photo, the original water tower is to the right of the pub.    This tower has been succeeded by TWO generations of water towers erected by the Diamantina Shire Council in an effort to keep pace with the needs of the district.

Old Signpost at King Creek 1963


Kamaran Downs cattle station twenty miles west of Bedourie did not get a mention on this 1963 signpost at the King Creek 'intersection'.   It is now part of the Kidman property Glengyle but in 1963 it was run by the genial pilot/cattleman Jack Clanchy.    His cattle crush appears top left in the sidebar.  It was Jack whose persistence in the air during the search for the Page Family later in the year led to him banking the Cessna for one more circuit to observe partially-hidden remains beneath a coolibah.  Jack directed the ground party to the spot.

After a prolonged drinking session in the Royal Hotel with CGG men, Jack found the takeoff plans for his Cessna foiled by the presence of a steer in the way on Bedourie's only 500 yard strip of bitumen.   Fortified by more than the friendship at the pub and cheered on by the onlookers, Jack towed the steer backwards by its tail from one end of the 'road' to the other as an extra challenge and then blithely took off for home.

Birdsville Looking West From the Old Watertower


This was the elevated view from the tower of 1995.    Since then the town has updated to another bigger version.   It is not known if Diamantina Shire Council have another water tower in the next budget but it wouldn't surprise as the subject is pretty highly regarded in these parts.

The capacity of the tower and the cooling ponds around the bore determine the comfort level for showering in the town.    If the bore water (one of the best drops west of Brisbane if swigged from a canvas waterbag) isn't allowed to settle and cool it would hit the taps around 55°C.   In times of heavy demand such as when the Birdsville races are in full swing, council workers monitor the temperature and slow the flow to try to keep it down to the mid-forties.

The Pub With No Wall

The Renovated Birdsville Pub


A CGG LandRover stands in front of the empty space that was the drunk tank for the Birdsville Hotel in John Blaney-Murphy's photo above.   The TAA Channel Country DC3 parked on the airstrip appears to be poking its nose under the awning.    We were to fly out on it later that morning, which - combined with the fact the rubble has been cleared away, dates this photo at late December 1963.  Thereafter CGG chartered Fokker Friendships when the whole crew needed to be lifted out.

On a visit to the area in 1994 I presented an enlargement of this photo to the pub and it can often be seen displayed in the bar, except at race time when all the memorabilia is taken down for safekeeping.    And as far as I can gather, the drunk tank has never been restored to this day, although I can bet there have been plenty of times since when it could have come in handy again.


Looking rustic and coolly-inviting, this view of the Birdsville Pub was taken by Rene Quin in 1994 at the onset of the summer, when only tourists on a special mission or the very bravest of visitors dare to test its hot, dry heat.    Rene was the leader of French Petroleum in those heady days of the conquest of the Simpson Desert back in 1963 and he had returned to Australia after many years seeking oil in other parts of the world to look up some of his old mates.

Dick Cavill, who had the Caterpillar concession for South Australia and also operated South Australian Air Taxis (SAATAS), both instrumental in the success of the original CGG campaign, was one such old crony.    Dick flew Rene up to Dalhousie and from there together retraced at low-level the French Line on its path to Birdsville.

French Petroleum Boss Revisits South Australia

Channel Country Mail Plane at Birdsville


This trip was not to be experienced without sadness for Rene.    He learned that 'Pec' (Jaroslav Pecanek) was gone from Oodnadatta.   Pec owned Oodna Stores, a major supplier for CGG in the early days of the French oil thrust into South Oz and had passed away some twenty years before.   His remains rested at Mokari, one of Rene's wellsites.

Rene also made a special visit to Arkaroola, the Northern Flinders Ranges nature reserve and HQ of Reg Sprigg, AO and although he knew Reg and his wife Griselda, the first couple to drive the Simpson and open up the desert to exploration, were overseas at the time, he was determined to see Reg's unique resort for the first time.    In a bizarre quirk of fate Rene was advised on his return to Sydney that Reg had suffered a heart attack and died in Scotland on the Saturday Rene left Arkaroola.


Griselda Sprigg paid £10 to have the old dray carted to the corner of the Birdsville airstrip on the September 1962 day they emerged with their children from the Simpson while Reg busied himself fashioning the memorial to Madigan with rocks scavenged from the Diamantina River bank.    The aircraft on the strip is a DC3 on the TAA Channel Country fortnightly service and CGG LandRovers are seen gathering stores and mail from the plane in this memorable photo taken a year later.

The Diamantina Shire Council has since moved the fence west inside the airstrip and the lone cairn has been joined by a memorial to Edmund Colson and now both flank a miniature tribute to CGG, placed there in July 1998 by the Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria (LROCV) at the conclusion of their Vintage Simpson Desert Safari.

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Coles Express Picks on a Pensioner .....
Try the  "with Malice a'Forecourt?"  link and read what they did

LINK TO THESE DIGESTS FROM THIS PAGE

Cashbook and
Claypan 
Birdsville
or Bust 
East from
Oodna 
Alive in the
Dead Heart 
B-Line for
Birdsville 


GONE TO MOTHBALLS .....
Thommo's Desert Report The BeeGees Page
Coles Express Picks On a Pensioner The Kid From Towra Point
Bulldozing a Desert Trans National Causeway
Signwriter for the Simpson The Long Haul
Simpson Desert Birdlife French Line Circa 1979

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