Having left Eromanga and prior to reaching Birdsville we had been strongly advised to make a short diversion – a pit stop at the Betoota Hotel. Every Aussie has heard of Slim Dusty’s famous “Pub With No Beer” – Betoota is, in effect, a pub with no town. Betoota is the Betoota Hotel. Our host at the FoxTrap Hotel back in Cooladdi had insisted we stop in and see “Robbo”, the owner of the Betoota Hotel; “He’s a great character, offers free camping, $5 cold beers and can fix anything that breaks down”, we were assured. Hoping not to test his skills in the latter category we decided that his pub’s interesting history and affordable charms still made for a worthwhile stopover. His WikiCamps reviews were sensational and having now spent a night there we can absolutely see why – a great host, hilarious storyteller, and knowledgable on all things “outback”. Our advice ( if you’re coming to these parts ) ? A stopover at the Betoota Hotel is not to be missed !
According to some, “You haven’t done the outback until you’ve been to Birdsville”. Or perhaps that was just a line created by the owners of the town’s eponymously named hotel – it being probably THE most recognized pub in the country, and, quite honestly, a major outback attraction in its own right. However desperate ( or not ) your desire to reach Birdsville, it draws travellers from far and wide, and, for a variety of reasons, is just one of those places most Australians ( and some international visitors ) have on their bucket list – it certainly was on ours.
Not an easy place to get to and far from everything, if you are not flying in ( and most don’t ), you’re coming up the Birdsville Track from the south, down the Eyre Development Road from the north, or – as we were – on the Birdsville Development Road from the east. From Betoota it was an easy two hour drive into Birdsville leaving us most of the day to explore the town – a town of 80 people ( which swells to 7,000 during the races ) does not take long to explore so we tacked on a trip out to Big Red ( the massive sand dune on the edge of the Simpson Desert and venue of Birdsville’s famous Big Red Bash). No, we did NOT take a run at Big Red in the Sprinter ( we know its limitations ), a walk to the top being more than enough and itself a struggle in 38 degree heat.
Central to the Birdsville experience is a pint or two at the pub – not difficult when it’s air conditioned inside and 38 degrees outside ! There is a ton of history there, usually a caste of interesting locals and at all times a throng of curious travellers passing though like us. Not all make the long drive, we discovered – parked just across the street from the pub’s front door was a small airplane that had just dropped off a dozen or so revellers; they were on some type of outback plane-based pub crawl it seemed. A couple of quick pints, a slew of selfies and they were off to another outback locale. No breathalyzer to worry about at least !
It being almost the end of season there were not as many visitors in town as we’d expected – it was, in fact, rather quiet. We’d find things much the same in other communities as we meandered north ( notable was the fact that what traffic we did see was all coming south with the imminent arrival of the wet season further north ). Leaving Birdsville we continued north, ultimately to Cloncurry over the next few days, and the scenery was little changed – flat, dry, often stoney desert for as far as the eye could see. And hot – always hot. It could have been worse – a month or two from now and the occasionally “uncomfortable” heat would become constantly “unbearable” heat – and stifling humidity. Still, we enjoyed some excellent remote camp spots and surprising attractions in the area’s smaller communities – a great thermal pool in Bedourie and some wonderful repartee with locals and a couple of South American bar tenders in Bedourie’s famed Royal Hotel. Lest you be thinking our travels have morphed into one big pub crawl, they haven’t ( though there are more pubs ahead ) – you simply don’t pass through these parts without experiencing their pubs, quite often camping at them, and always an integral part of the outback’s charm !
Just as we’d found in South Australia, and Western Australia, the whole outback pub/hospitality industry in Queensland heavily depends on young foreign workers, locally (and colloquially) referred to as “backpackers”. These days they come from every corner of the globe and all seem to revel in the experience. It certainly adds an interesting international element to the outback experience.
While Winton was our next major port of call, tiny McKinlay definitely warranted a stopover first for it was here that the mythical “Walkabout Creek Pub” ( of “Crocodile Dundee” fame ) is located. It’s a huge draw with lots of movie paraphernalia still visible, most notable Wally’s hunting truck which, incredibly, still runs ! We shared a few drinks with the owner and other customers and “got the skinny” on different aspects of the movie. Hard to believe it has been almost 40 years since that classic movie first hit the cinemas.
Will leave readers this week with a profound thought on pubs from the bar at the Walkabout Creek:
Till next week…..