We headed towards the abandoned town of Betoota, 160km East of Birdsville along the Birdsville Development Road. After packing up camp at sunrise, cooked up a pot of porridge and then hit the road before 7am to beat the flies.
The local early risers (horses, kangaroos and emus) looked on curiously as we rode past.
We arrived at Toom Pine around 7.30am and were given a warm welcome by local publican Dogga who makes up 50% of the population. The other 50% is his wife Robyn! Toom Pine is basically a pub without a town. And a very very big heart.
Times are tough in the area with constant drought and many of the mines closing down. 80% of the pubs income used to come from local farms and tourist dollars were 'the cream'. Now, it's the other way around with Toom Pine surviving on the passing stream of grey nomads and 4WD adventurers and only a smattering of locals parting with scarce hard-earned dollars.
Dogga made us a cup of coffee and we chatted with him and his buddy Scotty who works at Lee Creek mine about 1000km away. His roster of 7 days on 7 days off gives him plenty of time to visit his mate at Toom Pine on his days off. And it seems that Dogga is happy to have the company.
We learned after we had left that my friends Sue and Richard from QLD are great mates with Dogga and Robyn. Crazy small world.
From Toom Pine we headed north to Quilpie. We fuelled up at a “do it yourself” petrol station and headed out of town. Sunday in Quilpie – there’s not much going on!
From Quilpie we headed west to Windorah. The narrow roads were a bit treacherous with road trains, road kill, kangaroos, emus and and Wedge Tail Eagles. I nearly ended up with one in head – he was busy dining on road kill and apparently didn’t hear me coming until I was almost upon him at which point he soared into the air narrowly missing my head!).
We filled up again in Windorah and were served by a lovely young woman who was quick with a chat and a smile. Given that this was the last fuel we would be able to buy before Birsdville (368km of nothing!) we opted for a 10L jerry can as well. The MT’s fuel range is about 380km on bitumen road so we weren’t quite sure I’d make the distance on a pretty dodgy dirt road.
We also filled up the 10L water bladder and so the poor old Moose (Richard’s BMW GS 1150) ended up with an extra 20kg of weight. And poor old Richard was squashed way forward in his seat…not the most comfortable of journeys he tells me!
En route we checked out the JC Hotel – ruins. Not much there! The old pub was apparently closed in 1908 as it was “ruining” the stockmen. Only a few stumps remained in the ground…the rest as they say, is history.
We saw our first ocre red sand dunes on this stretch of the ride. So beautiful! We crossed Cooper Creek and were in the heart of Channel country. Lots of gullies and lots of river crossings (all dry thankfully for this novice motorcyclist!).
Finally we made it to the Birdsville Development Road! I was beyond excited as I had been wanting to make this trip since I was a teenager. Little did I know I’d be doing it on a motorbike!
The first 5km was just awful! We let the tyres down by about 4 psi but the rough, stony, corrugated road was really hard going. My maximum speed at this point was about 30km/hr and with 360km to go all I could think about was that this was going to be a long slow trip!
After the fist few km, the road improved and the packed clay allowed for more speed and much easier riding. The scenery was stunning! Rocky escarpments, barren dry country. So beautiful in its starkness.
We continued on until we reached Betoota – which consists of an abandoned road house. The sign says “Betoota – Population 0.” I guess we increased that by 200%.
The old road house and yard were amazing – an old yellow London double decker bus was rusting away out the back. We could only imagine the journeys it would have made in its heyday!
A machinery shed was filled with old tools and gadgets, petrol pumps, diesel tanks and water tanks remnants of busier times. Inside the road house (which was basically a large roof with portioned off rooms) were the old kitchen and laundry (complete with the original Hoovermatic washing machine!), a bar with unopened bottles still on shelves (sadly all somehow empty), what appeared to be a dining room and a number of smaller bedrooms.
We set up camp on the old cricket pitch, tonight’s only residents of Betoota. The outdoor toilet and picnic table offered a little luxury.
Our ritual yoga by sunset was followed by a delicious meal of pesto pasta washed down with a Gartelmann sparkling Shiraz.