For three weeks I said goodbye to the luxuries of home and headed out to Birdsville for the Big Red Run and the Big Red Bash. Birdsville is a town in South-West Queensland only 13km north of the border of South Australia and has a population of approx. 115 people. It’s at the gateway to the Simpson Desert and several times a year the population swells to around 7000 as people roll in from all over Australia for events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville Races.
I had a great time in the outback, and rather than write a long story about what I did, I will break it down into points as to what I experienced and what I learnt.
- People seem to think that the desert is always hot, but they couldn’t be further from the truth! Being here in winter (or the dry season) meant days were often sunny but cool, with a maximum temperature of about 15 degrees. On the days where there was no wind I managed to get away with a t-shirt and shorts, but most days were spent in long pants with a jumper handy for when the weather turned. I learnt that picnic blankets double as a great tent liner and extra blanket for when the nights get extra chilly. Not even thermals were helping me on some nights.
- One downside of camping in the desert in winter is when the call of nature occurs. When it’s 2 degrees outside your tent (and not much warmer inside) the last thing you want to do is leave your warm sleeping bag to find the port-a-loo in the dark. There were instances where I tried to go back to sleep, but after an uncomfortable few minutes I’d reluctantly get up, put on several more layers of clothing and head out into the freezing night. Whilst it was miserable in those few minutes outside the tent, it was great to get back into a warm sleeping bag.
- I realised what the hood of sleeping bags are for: it’s not to hold your pillow, but instead to pull over your head after turning the sleeping bag upside-down, leaving only a small gap around your face to let fresh air in.
- Sleeping on a self-inflating air mattress is great when you’re a side sleeper and have a tight ITB. Who needs a foam roller when you’re basically massaging your muscles all night on the rock hard ground? There were times when I woke up and found myself sleeping on my stomach which is something I never do, but apparently in my sleep it was the most comfortable position to be in.
- Flies are slower in the outback. There were so many flies that I would wave my arm and hit about 10 in the process. I also had photos ruined by flies hovering in front of my camera lens. The only relief we had from the thousands of flies were on rainy or windy days. I’m grateful that I had my fly net.
- Wet wipes work wonders when you don’t have access to a shower, but only when it’s cold outside. I would have hated to smell us all after the Big Red Run if it had been hot.
- The only time your hair isn’t covered in those few seconds between taking off your beanie/hat/buff and putting on another piece of headwear. In the three weeks I was in the bush I only was able to wash my hair once, so that first wash when I got back to the city was like heaven for my scalp.
- There’s something very special about watching the sun rise over a billabong, the sun set over a sand dune and the stars shining brightly in the pitch black night sky. It’s moments like these that can take your breath away and make me feel grateful that I could experience such spectacular sights in the outback.
- Next time you’re in the outback and need to do work, but feel claustrophobic in your tent, head to the banks of the billabong. Well, that’s what I did anyway. I admit that I did have Waltzing Matilda stuck in my head for the few hours that I sat by the water but it was so peaceful that for a while I forgot about the thousands of people that were only a few kilometres away from me.
- I enjoyed waking up to the sounds of the birds chirping in the trees above my tent. It was a nice change from waking up to the sound of an alarm.
- After two weeks of tent life I can now say I am a master at putting up and pulling down my tent. I must have put up or pulled down the tent at least 15 times over the fortnight. For $25 off Gumtree it worked well.
- Being in a remote area meant I had very limited phone reception and the only internet I had was when the crew at the run turned on the wifi for an hour. Even then it was slow as almost 200 people tried to check Facebook and emails. After a day of struggling to get online I decided to just forget about accessing internet and instead embraced two weeks of an internet free life. It was a nice change from always looking at my phone and it made me realise just how addicted to technology we are as a society. Even when in town I didn’t bother as 6000 people tried to access the network using an antenna built for a town of 115 people.
- Being in the bush meant we all switched onto ‘Birdsville time’ and at times I had no concept of what day it was or what the date was. Of course my phone could have given me the information that I needed, but I enjoyed not knowing what day it was and just enjoyed my time in the outback.
- Volunteering at the Big Red Bash was great fun. I spent three days helping out with ticket scanning and the majority of people were excited for the concert. There were a few sour faces after the concert was moved from being at Big Red to town, but the organisers did a fantastic job organising a move in such a short amount of time.
- The Big Red Bash is definitely my sort of concert! Everyone brought along their chairs and eskys and just chilled out whilst watching the amazing Australian bands perform. I made sure to go and dance during Christine Anu, Adam Brand, the Angels and Jimmy Barnes, and just chilled out whilst watching Paul Kelly and the other performers. The ‘no boofhead’ policy was enforced and overall I think everyone had an amazing time.
- There’s something special about outback Australia and the people play a huge part in that. They have big smiles and even bigger hearts. Living in the city means I rarely hear the country Australia talk, so out here I embraced every “fair dinkum” that was said to me.
- The power of visualisation was apparently when I watched Christine Anu. She shared the story of how she came to sing ‘My Island Home’ and how it related to her childhood. She told us about one day in Year 7 English when the teacher asked the class to write about where they would be in the year 2000. Being a Torres Straight Islander she had seen the devastation of what can happen to her people and thought her future was bleak. She then told us about the following conversation:
- Christine: “Excuse me sir, but I don’t know what to write about.”
- Teacher: “Well, in 2000 you’ll be 30. So where would you be living?”
- Christine: “I don’t know sir.”
- Teacher: “Well let’s say you’ll be living in Sydney. What will you be doing?”
- Christine: “I don’t know sir.”
- Teacher: “The Olympics will be in Sydney that year. So how about you’re working there. Start with that”
Christine went on to perform ‘My Island Home’ at the closing ceremony at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. As a 12-year-old she may not have believed that the story would come true someday, but it did. That story brought a tear to my eye as I realised just how powerful goal-setting and visualisation can be.
The whole experience was memorable and I am glad to have worked with some amazing people over the last fortnight. I will cherish the time I spent in Birdsville and hopefully I will return in 2017 to take on the Run and enjoy the Bash one more time.
After three weeks, 3,500 kilometres travelled and six days of driving, to get to/from Birdsville I am finally back in the big smoke and ready for my next adventure.
22 June – 9 July 2016