Why tiny, isolated town is in midst of ‘tourism boom’
A TINY Queensland town which has been cut off from the rest of the world by floodwaters is about to become a 'bucket list destination' drawing thousands of tourists.
Outback desert town Birdsville has transformed into a green oasis as a result of the Diamantina River bursting its banks twice in as many months.
The major flooding events, since February, have forced locals to fly-in fresh produce and will result in a major tourism boon when the waters subside.
Diamantina Mayor Geoff Morton expects an additional 10,000 tourists to pass through Birdsville over the next six months, with many stocking up before heading off on a pilgrimage south to watch Lake Eyre spring to life.
"When the water goes down all the waterholes will be full, Lake Eyre will have water in it and there's plenty of green grass and birdlife," he said.
"It adds an extra 10,000 people to the tourist season, especially with people wanting to see Lake Eyre because a lot of people hire planes and fly over the lake. It's a mini tourism boon."
Tourism operator Outback Spirit will increase its chartered flight tours to, and over, Lake Eyre by 10-fold this season, purely because of the water that has travelled from the mid-west of Queensland to Lake Eyre.
Outback Spirit co-owner Andre Ellis said the last time the region was a major drawcard was in 2011. He said it was huge for remote towns.
"It's a major drawcard and people are keen to see the lake flood but also the desert rivers in flood are amazing because they bring a lot of birdlife. It's a stunning natural event," Mr Ellis said.
"We'll run a lot of people out there until about mid to the end of September and we are only talking about six to eight tours a year, normally, but this time it will be between 60 to 80 tours."
For Birdsville, on the doorstep of the Simpson Desert, the inconvenience of being isolated not once but twice has been a manna from heaven for local and surrounding businesses.
Mayor Morton said the timing could not be better, with the tourism season having just started and Lake Eyre expected to fill by up to 20 per cent.
"The road to Bedourie (north) will open in the next few days and the road east to Windorah will open in about 10 days, so within a fortnight it will be all systems go," he said.
The rushing waters are a result of the catastrophic flooding that devastated Cloncurry in February, followed by heavy downfalls as a result of Cyclone Trevor in March that wound its way along the Diamantina River.
Birdsville was completely isolated for about three weeks in March although this time around, finding your way in and out of town is about beating, or waiting out, floodwaters.
For the iconic Birdsville Hotel, they have relied on the airmail service to bring in fresh produce while the time has almost come to arrange deliveries via charter flight deliveries.
Hotel manager Ben Fullagar said access to the town had become problematic with only two deliveries by trucks since February.
"A flood event like this is a very attractive proposition for people to see, and the issue is when we are closed-in, we are busier than ever," Mr Fullagar said.
"We have plane after plane coming in and we are totally a full house, but we don't have any supply trucks coming in or out.
"I'm looking to charter a supply plane next week out of Port Augusta just so we can ensure the quality of our meals and service."
Even though the town has been largely isolated or access has been heavily curtailed for six to eight weeks, Mr Fullagar said it has been an enjoyable challenge to keep up with demands.
"At the moment we are flying fresh fruit and vegetables from Quilpie (530km south east of Birdsville) on Rex Airlines which is the mail airplane, but there is only so much we can bring in on that route," he said.
"It's not a cheap exercise for us to feed people … but we do have plenty of beer."