Originally known as Diamantina Crossing the place had a reputation as a natural bird refuge. 1878 saw the opening of a store and the town of Birdsville was born near the permanent watering hole of Pelican Point.
Seated 1600km west of Brisbane and over 700km south of Mt Isa, Birdsville was officially gazetted in 1887. Its proximity to the South Australian border was partly due to a commonwealth customs depot being established to extract a toll for stock and supplies heading south.
By 1901 federation had been declared and with the closure of the toll office, the towns’ population dwindled from 300 people and 3 hotels to the 120 or so that remain today.
Birdsville shares a pioneering and exploration history with many of the nearby towns and celebrates ties with explorers Burke and Wills, Captain Charles Sturt and Madigan.
35km to the west of Birdsville lays Big Red the first and highest of the 1100 sand dunes of the Simpson Desert, which run in a north/south direction for hundreds of kilometres.
The celebrated Birdsville Track begins its 517km journey south to Marree from here. The route originally evolved from the need to send Northern Territory and North Queensland stock south to the railheads of Port Augusta and later - Marree.
Once the track was travelled only by the drovers, cattle and Afghan cameleers, but today it has become a renowned 4WD track, helping to sustain Birdsville’s fortunes with the tourist dollar.
It is often claimed that Birdsville is the most isolated town in Australia and with summer temperatures capable of reaching 50 degrees Celsius and an average yearly rainfall of just over 150mm it is hardly surprising that the region has never seen a huge influx of residents.
However, come the race season, Birdsville bursts to life with a bevy of visitors for the annual Birdsville Races, an event dating back to 1882 and probably the most famous horse race in Australia after the Melbourne Cup.
Mentioned in song, celebrated in painting, film and television, Birdsville is destined to remain part of the folklore of pioneering Australia - a reminder of the true hardships involved in opening up and settling such an inhospitable environment.
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