The Birdsville Dash

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by FangitAshmo, Mar 3, 2016.

  1. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Hello. I thought I would put together a short ride report on a trip I did late last year. I have got so much out of the Advrider brotherhood over the years, and thought it was about time I started to contribute.

    I was introduced to motorbikes at a very young age, and have been riding since I was about 10 yrs of age, or basically when my feet could touch the ground - mostly Ag-bikes and motocross bikes mustering cattle, kangaroos, and anything else that moved. Whilst studying at University I rode a Honda Elsinore, to and from, which was deadly with knobby tyres on the wet tram tracks in Melbourne, but a lot of fun. The intervening period involving career, marriage, kids, overseas postings meant a hiatus in interest in riding, though it never quite left me. I came back to Australia after a 7 year stint and needed to include something else in my life. Charlie Boorman and Ewen McGregor’s “Long Way Around” inspired me (and subsequently Sibirsky Extreme, even more so).

    Heres me.


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    So with my wife’s blessing, about 8 years ago I went and did a “Stay Upright” rider training course and have never looked back. BMW had just brought out the F800GS detuned, which was a good bike to ease back into riding on - though I wanted something bigger. In 2010 I was planning a solo trip around Australia and upgraded to the, then new, Camhead.

    So enough with the intro’s. The ride.

    This trip was about resetting my dial i.e. I had, had a gut full of work. Our day to day city living can be poisonous to ones soul if you let it be - I have always found solace in the bush, and recently, solo trips on the GS. I love my family dearly, but have to have self time. So, the only focusing question now was “how far west could I ride to escape in 6 days?”.

    It turns out, quite a long way, or at least far enough! I decided to head to Birdsville, in the far southwest of Queensland, and back as per the track below.



    ASh's Birdsville Dash_2.jpg

    Planning started in earnest. I put my steed in for her 30,000km service and had her re-shod with TKC70’s front and back. I did have two sets of Anakee 2’s since she was new, and they had served me well on the Big Lap (roughly 15k km’s a set, with some more to give) though on this trip I needed something more dirt orientated, but not a knobby. I was recommended the 70’s and have no regrets, and proved to be confidence inspiring in the highly variable road conditions - rock (gibber), loose gravel, bitumen - though sand proved troublesome. Not only due to tyres, but more on that later.

    I was going to need to carry additional fuel and water on this trip and I purchased, respectively, the Rotpax 3.8L water/fuel versions and mounted them, via removing the pillion seat, and replacing with a pillion luggage plate (MC Products). I then mounted the Giant Loop Great Basin bag over the top of the Rotopax, and then a duffel (which had sleeping gear - tent, self-inflating mattress ) behind that. You will see the set-up in the following photos. Additional water was carried in aluminium bottles in the bag, and I also had a Camelback. A 5L jerry can was used for additional fuel. I also signed up for the tracking feature on the SPOT, which turned out to be a great investment.

    Day 1. Brisbane to Mitchell, Queensland (560 km’s)

    I left Brisbane at 0730, 23 September heading out against all the inward bound traffic feeling despondent at leaving the family behind though excited at escaping the throng. It was not until I arrived in Toowoomba (approx. 125 km’s) that I started to get into the groove with the bike - this sensation is a bit like scuba diving, when for the first time you reach neutral buoyancy - sort of euphoria. Anyway, the smile returned as we negotiated the traffic and headed out west on the Warrego Hwy. Dalby, Chinchilla (lunch) , Miles, Roma - unless you are into sorghum and cotton, not much to report on. The Coal Seam Gas boom has really injected much needed investment out there. Arrived in Mitchell just on dusk, perfect spot in the camp ground overlooking the Maranoa River - $10/night. There are “hot baths” here from an artesian well, though too late for that. Would have been nice though.

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    #1
  2. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Day 2 Mitchell to Windorah, QLD (637 km’s)

    Up early, before light. I generally get away early on these trips, to put a couple hundred k’s down before breakfast - its cool, and is a good start to the day. Arrived in Charleville, refuelled, quick breakfast and kept going west on the Diamantina Development Road. Arrived in Quilpie, and had lunch on the banks of the Bulloo River.

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    Refuelled, and continued west to Windorah (Population 158, or there-abouts) to spend the night. Windorah is located on the Cooper's Creek, shown below.

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    #2
  3. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Cooper's Creek is actually an extensive river system which stretches approximately 1300km’s from Eastern Queensland down to Lake Eyre (refer to the map below).

    Lake_eyre_basin_map.png

    Pitched camp in the Windorah Caravan Park, run by the Barcoo Shire. It was a tidy place. Freshened up and went to the Windorah pub for dinner, and had a great T-bone steak and a beer while watching the sun set, contemplating tomorrow. Windorah is the start of the stereotypical outback. Tomorrow the dirt starts, and by all accounts it was going to get rough. Early to bed, it was going to be a big day.

    Day 4 Windorah to Birdsville via Bedourie, QLD (580 km’s)

    Up with the birds again this morning. Porridge with sultanas for breakfast, which is a staple for these trips. My neighbours at the campsite invited me for a coffee prior to departing, and they gave me a heads-up on road conditions- corrugations were pretty bad. Re-fuelled and headed out on the Diamantina Developmental Road, into the unknown.

    This was the view just north of town.

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    The road conditions were actually very good - single lane of bitumen which finally gave out to a well formed gravel road - I opened the throttle and made good time. The remoteness and vastness of this country took some getting used to. Kangaroos were prolific. This to me is what adventure riding is about. Testing oneself and pushing personal boundaries - this was certainly pushing my boundaries. I was self sufficient, had everything I needed to survive, and the assurance of my SPOT tracker.

    Lunch comprising canned tuna and crackers was had under a tree on the side of the road in a channel of what was, in better times, the Diamantina River. I had only seen a single vehicle since leaving Windorah. I could imagine that this would be good grazing country after decent rains.

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    #3
  4. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Brisbane
    Another view of the road to give an idea of the country I was riding through.

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    My track for the day.
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    The road surface varied from well graded gravel to corrugated gravel. It was actually quite a good road and I was able to maintain pretty good time.The landscape was forbidding, however. Breaking down out here was going to test “BMW road side assist”.

    My next stop was approximately 40km’s southeast of Bedourie, as I came across this.

    IMG_3067.JPG IMG_3068.JPG

    Turns out it was a steam engine driven drill that was brought to site on bullock drawn wagons to sink a well. It appears to have been a success, given the water in the pond. Once the well was completed the engine was abandoned, and here it sits. I often wonder what drove our pioneers to come out to country like this - must be good when it’s good, though that seems to happen only occasionally.
    #4
  5. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Next stop, Bedourie (pop. approx. 120) This used to be a watering place for cattle drives from the Northern Territory, and it was also a Cobb and Co. (like Wells Fargo) station and a real little oasis in the middle of no-where. Re-fuelled, walked up the main street which took all of 5 minutes later headed south on the Eyre Developmental Road to Birdsville.

    Royal Hotel - Bedourie.

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    I now headed south towards the South Australian border. The road was the roughest yet - a lethal mix of rock, fine gravel/sand and corrugations. It sees a lot of tourist 4WD traffic (relatively) as it is the main road north up to Mt Isa. Off into the distance I could see a dwelling, and I was intrigued, so paid a visit. Turns out it was the ruins of the Carcory Station Homestead.

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    Some history.

    The Carcory Homestead Ruin (also spelt as Carcoory and Cacoory) is a roofless stone structure located on the northern end of Roseberth Station, eighty kilometres north of Birdsville.

    Thomas Mitchell made the first exploration of the area in which Carcory Homestead is located in 1845. Explorers Burke and Wills made further investigations in 1861, and it was while searching for them that intensive exploration of the region was first undertaken. In the 1870s, this region comprised some of the last remaining unclaimed land in Queensland.


    The land on which Carcory Homestead is located is believed to have been taken up about in the late 1870s as a pastoral run.

    The homestead was positioned near Carcory Waterhole and the major stock route through Birdsville. It consisted of two main rooms under a hipped roof, probably used as a bedroom and a living room with a chimney, and a skillion roofed second bedroom and store forming wings to the rear. It had an awning supported by posts at the front and was built of blocks of local limestone rendered inside and out. A stone store and kitchen were also built to the west of the house.


    Around the turn of the century, Sidney Kidman, a pastoralist of humble beginnings who by 1890 owned stations stretching from the Gulf of Carpentaria almost to Adelaide, took up the Carcory Run, comprising one thousand square miles. Between 1900 and 1903, the region suffered severe drought conditions and the entire stock of 4000 bullocks perished. After visiting the station in 1902, Kidman decided to close it down, reputedly allowing the mailman to reside in the homestead for eighteen months. When Kidman returned, the place was abandoned and without a roof. The contents were then removed to Annandale Station. Reference: http://eheritage.metadata.net/record/QLD-600458

    Couldn’t imagine what it was like to live out here in those days. Looks like the drought never broke.

    #5
  6. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Sir Sidney Kidman was a cattle baron whom at the turn of the 19th to 20th century had acquired vast swathes of Australia. It was estimated that the enormous area of land he owned covered from 85,000 square miles (220,000 km2) to 107,000 square miles (280,000 km2), which included some 68 separate stations stocked with about 176,000 head of cattle and 215,000 head of sheep. (refer to Figure below). He believed that by diversifying his holdings over large areas, stretching from the far north (tropics) to the drier south he could move cattle around and hence drought proof his business. He is somewhat of a legend, somewhat of a hero and by all accounts pushed his people hard.

    Sir Sidney Kidman's Empire.jpg

    Finally arrived in Birdsville (pop. 295) on sun-set and decided to take a room at the caravan park (the hotel was booked out) rather than pitch a tent in the sand. I had a hearty feed of “bangers and mash” at the pub washed down by some ice cold amber fluid I cannot remember the name of. Life was good!

    View of the iconic Birdsville Pub

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    Day 4 Birdsville to Innamincka via Cordillo Downs, SA ( Approx. 420 km’s)

    Woke before sunrise. I wanted to get away before it got too hot, avoid the cue at the fuel pump and get a picture of the famous Diamantina River. The river is why the town is here - Birdsville was a crossing and watering point for the cattle drives, bringing cattle from the north of Australia down to Adelaide for sale. As it is also on the border of South Australia and Queensland, pre-Federation, the drovers and other travellers had to pay a toll.

    The Diamantina River at Birdsville.

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    After a little research, I had decided to go to Innamincka via the Cordillo Downs Road, which offered some challenges, and some historical sites along the way, including the famous Cordillo Downs shearing shed. The road is named for the Cordillo Downs Station, which according to Wikipedia “once occupied an area of 7,800 square kilometres (3,012 sq mi) and was regarded as Australia's largest sheepstation (in the 1880s, Cordillo set a record of shearing over 85,000 sheep in a season)” It now carries 40,000 head of Hereford cattle.

    Anyway, back to the ride. I needed to get the ubiquitous picture of the bike and famous pub. Whilst taking the picture a fellow on a luggage laden pushbike stopped to have a chat. He had ridden up from Adelaide (approx. 1200 km’s) on the Birdsville Track and was “heading to London”??!!! I wished him luck. He was heading over the Eyre Developmental Road I had been on yesterday. The flies and road conditions were really going to test this fellows resolve. I wonder where he is now?

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    Went and refuelled at the Mobil Service Station, and filled the 5L jerry can. Total distance to be travelled today was going to be around 420km and so I will need all the spare fuel I had. I found out the owner’s father of the "servo" worked for Sir Sidney Kidman, driving cattle through here in the early 20th century, and he had been brought up in Birdsville. His fathers recollections of Sir Sidney that he was tight with his pennies.

    It is hard to imagine what this place would have been like in it’s heyday - all I can say is it must have been better.
    #6
  7. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    My track for the day from SPOT is shown in the Figure below. Left Birdsville quite late, around 0800, and headed out on the Birdsville Developmental Road, past the famous race track where the Birdsville Races are held each year. The road was sealed for stretches and then unsealed and very corrugated gravel. I think the Birdsville Races had been on a couple of weeks earlier and this road had seen a lot of traffic.

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    After approximately 110 km’s, I arrived at the intersection with the Cordillo Downs Road. The road looked good and I was heading south to the South Australian Border.


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    Visa control at the border was a nightmare.

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    Approximately, 40km’s south from the turn-off from the Birdsville Developmental Road, the ruins of the Cadelga Outstation, on Cadelga Creek, were a worthwhile stop. The homestead dates back to the 1870’s, and following the merger with the Cordillo Downs Station in 1903, it was used by station workers during mustering. I topped up the tank by emptying the 5L jerry can.

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    #7
  8. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    Between Cadelga Creek and the Cordillo Station the track starts to get sandier mixed with gibber rock. Gibber rock are pieces of angular, sharp edged rock ranging from pebble size to that of a clenched fist. Reducing tyre pressures to account for the sand was not an option as I was concerned with damaging the rim or getting a puncture from the gibber. I kept the tyre pressures as I normally have them for on-road approximately 36/42 and kept my speed down.

    I arrived at the Cordillo Downs Homestead and shearing shed at approximately 2.00pm. This is a working station and they take their privacy seriously, so although visitors are welcome to look at the shearing shed, you cannot go any further. Which is fair enough. A very short video which tries to convey the desolation of this place is provided below


    #8
  9. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    A view of the inside of the heritage listed shearing shed. Hard to imagine the frantic activity in here during shearing. Up to 120 shearers were working here at any one time. The record number of sheep shorn was in 1888 when 82,000 were hand shorn. The bales of wool were transported south to the railhead via Afghan Cameleers.

    IMG_3105.JPG

    I was now approximately 160 to 170km’s north of Innamincka. It was hot, approximately 30 to 35 deg.C, but I was feeling good - keeping the fluids up, the bike was running well. I left Cordillo Downs at approximately 2.30pm. I had approximately 4 hrs of daylight left. It gets dark out here very quickly, though I was not worried. I thought that I would make it to Innamincka by dusk. The road was corrugated and getting sandier with bull dust, which is a very fine talc like dust which can hide deep holes in the road. The creek crossings were dry, and generally comprised deep gravelly rock, with ruts from 4WD’s. I found it hard work, and slower going than anticipated, as I kept the speed down to within my capabilities on this heavy, loaded bike.

    The inevitable happened when I hit a deep bull dust hole. One minute I was upright, next thing I was on my starboard side, with my right leg pinned under the bike. Fortunately it was in soft sand and I was able to extract myself, hit the kill switch, checked myself and the bike over and then attempted to lift the bike. After two attempts I managed to get the bike upright. No real damage besides the left mirror which had come loose. Reckon if I had hard panniers I would have broken my leg.

    I was going to take it easy, for now on as my confidence was a little dinted and this was remote country. Within another 10 km’s I had just come out of a creek bed, when I hit another patch of bull dust/soft sand and we went down again on the same side. This time it was difficult to pick the bike up. I saw a dust cloud off into the distance a 4WD was coming the other way at that time and a nice couple offered to help pick the bike up. They stuck around until I was on my way. Meanwhile the road got sandier as I approach sand dunes. Up until now I had been running parallel to the dunes. Now I was crossing them. This was really difficult in corrugated, loose fine dune sand. I maintained first and second gear and paddled the bike through the worst of it.

    I stopped around 5.00pm approximately 90 km’s north of Innamincka to re-fuel via the Rotopax. I was starting to get a little worried as it was getting late - I generally like to get to my camp spot by 3 or 4 pm, to give me time to set up camp and cook a meal. I was determined that I was not going to be camping out here that night, and I still had about an hour and a half to dusk. No matter what I did I could not get fuel to come out of the “eco-spout” so I had to resort to by-pass this and use a funnel which I carry for topping up my engine oil.

    As it got dark I watched intensely the GPS, tyre pressure sensors, fuel gauge and kilometrage - they were my companions, as a puncture or running out of fuel would have been interesting. I was carrying puncture repair and compressor for re-inflation.

    Unfortunately I do not have photos of this road after Cordillo Downs as I was too focussed on staying safe (and upright) and getting to my destination.

    It was a beautiful evening - a full, or close to full moon. Not a breath of wind, and refreshingly cool after the heat of the day. I took a calculated risk of keeping going, and not setting up camp at dusk. The kangaroos that I saw were travelling faster than I in any case - so no risk there. My biggest worry was fuel. As I approached where I thought Innamincka should have been, there was just pitch-darkness - and I was on 70 km of reserve fuel. The darkness illuminated the oil-gas exploration camps which are all over this corner of the country. The GPS said another 38 km’s, which turned out to be right. It was a surreal experience riding at night, entirely alone in the remote outback. It is an experience that will stay with me.

    I ended up arriving at Innamincka (pop. approx. 130) at about 8.30pm, exhausted, thirsty, relieved and quite proud of what I had achieved. I rocked up to Innamincka Hotel, with the patrons of the pub looking at me as if I was some alien being - I felt like an alien being - dusty/salt-sweat encrusted, as I walked through the pub to see about a room. I asked the guy behind the bar if I could get a room and if it was too late for dinner. I forgot it was South Australia (I was running on Queensland time), so I had 30 minutes grace to get something to eat, and most importantly a beer - it was the sweetest, coldest beer I had.

    Pubs were actually a feature of my trip - Windorah, Birdsville, Innamincka and Thargomindah, and they are really the social centre for the little towns. I managed to get a room at the pub, which was an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Slept in as the fuel pump did not open until 0700. I made sure I was first in the cue for fuel.

    Innamincka General Store and Fuel Stop

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    #9
  10. FangitAshmo

    FangitAshmo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2015
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Brisbane
    From Innamincka, I headed due east to go back home via Thargomindah (over-night), Cunnamulla, St George (overnight) and back to Brisbane (approximately 1400km’s). It was uneventful though I discovered a small oil leak from the starboard valve cover, from the forward most bolt head. I have the BMW valve cover protection and no crash bars and this side took the shock of the two impacts. The cover protector was dented though seemed to have done its job pretty well. When I arrived home I took the bike into BMW and they said that when I dropped the bike, the valve cover probably moved slightly, and resulted in a “wicking” of oil. I was very lucky. They removed the valve cover, as part of the service and it is all good now. I am now going to purchase some crash bars - I have procrastinated long enough.

    In conclusion, a fantastic trip, though i was somewhat overwhelmed by the remoteness. I am no stranger to the outback, though have always travelled in a 4WD. I think being on a bike brings you that much closer to your surrounds.

    I was also overwhelmed by the people I met.


    From the prison guard whom was travelling around Australia, and lent me some steel tent pegs (6 inch nails) and a morning coffee (Windorah), the Birdsville Mobil fuel station owner whose father had worked for Sir Kidman, the people whom stopped to see if I was alright on the above-mentioned road, the old fella who was off to see his terminally ill brother though offered his advice on the oil leak and the cafe franchisee in Dalby whom talked about his shift in career (he was made redundant) selling fertiliser, to dealing with, and refraining from thumping ill-content customers whom complain their eggs are too hard or soft….My eggs were perfect :D

    This is harsh, unforgiving country. I have the utmost respect for it, the people that pioneered this place and those that continue to make a living from it.

    Learnings for me (probably obvious for most):
    • The R1200GS is the perfect, long distance adventure touring bike, though is too heavy in loose sand, at least at my skill level;
    • Off road skills course is on the agenda to learn to handle this bike in the rough;
    • Crash bars are an essential for this bike, for off-road. I have put this off for too long - looking at Upper and Lower bars from Altrider;
    • The OEM lights need to be supplemented with auxiliary lights if riding off-road at night. I was concerned I had missed, or would miss direction signs, as the stock lights just do not cast enough light to the side or ahead - looking at Denali D4's;
    • Soft luggage for off-road is a must. The Giant Loop Great Basin doesn’t get the weight low enough -I am considering soft panniers/bags, to which I would attach the Rotapax cells.
    • The TKC-70 tyre was confidence inspiring on the bitumen and in the gibber rock. Tyre pressures were an issue I think, which influenced handling;
    • The SPOT tracking feature is an absolute must for this type of trip.
    Thanks for your attention

    Ash
    #10
  11. Dougo

    Dougo I'm on my way

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2011
    Oddometer:
    59
    Location:
    brisbane,australia
    Great report, really inspiring me to do this trip as I have wanted to visit corner country for along time.
    Thanks.
    #11