The word “outback” brings to mind visions of an open barren landscape, sparsely populated, dotted with the ruins of abandoned homes and towns. Yet the journey into western Queensland has been anything but solitary. All along the way, we have been part of a long convoy of caravans and trailers, many heading to the same location – the Big Red Bash.
Whenever or wherever we stop, one of the first questions to be asked of a fellow traveller is, “Heading to the Bash?”, followed by, “Where are you from?”. From all over Australia, music lovers have hooked up their vans and trailers and headed for the Bash. Some are travelling in groups, while others, like us, are travelling on their own. But it doesn’t matter where you stop, or who you meet, the friendliness of strangers is always the same. There is a sense of camaraderie. We are all heading into a remote and harsh landscape, and you never know when you will need to depend on the kindness of strangers.
As we headed north from the Dig Tree along the Arrabury Road, we could see the direction of the road by the long dust cloud that preceded us. We could even count the number of vehicles in front of us by the number of dust clouds. Sometimes we would pass a group of caravans that had pulled off onto the side of the road for morning tea or smoko, as it is often called in regional QLD. With a friendly wave, we would move up a few places in the convoy.
The landscape was indeed quite barren but possessed a stark beauty. You might wonder what could survive out here – but then, we are currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts in living memory. It would be interesting to travel out this way after a wet winter and see the difference.
We took a little detour off the main road out to Haddon Corner, the point where the borders of Queensland and South Australia meet. It wasn’t until we actually got almost to the end of the road, that we discovered you had to cross two sand dunes. We made it over the first sand dune, but decided to ditch the trailer to cross the second, and pick it up on the way back. I must admit, after all that, Haddon Corner was a little disappointing. I was at least expecting a sign, but there was a monument.
And finally we arrived at Betoota, a ghost town, with a population of zero.
So, why go to Betoota?
In Australian culture, the song “A Pub with no Beer” has achieved iconic status. Immortalised by Australian country singer, Slim Dusty, the words go like this…
But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear Than to stand in a bar, of a pub with no beer…
The story of a pub with no beer actually dates back to 1943, when a farmer called Dan Sheahan wrote a poem about a pub with no beer. His poem became the inspiration for Slim Dusty’s song. You can read more about Dan’s story and poem here.
For the last 20 years, the Betoota Pub has been a pub with no beer. Like Noccundra, the Betoota Pub is the last standing building in what was once the town of Betoota. But not for much longer. The Betoota Pub is currently under renovation, with the aim of reopening in August, in time for the Betoota Races. The new owner happened to be there and was quite happy for all the tourists to have a wander through the pub and see the progress so far. The idea is that the pub will be open during the peak tourist season and perhaps for private functions. So, if you’re thinking of getting married in outback QLD, you might like to keep Betoota in mind!
After wandering through the pub, we headed down to the creek to find a peaceful little spot to camp. Plenty of other travellers had the same idea too. It was nice to enjoy the quietness before joining the throng of the gathering masses in Birdsville – our next stop.