It's one of the most remote towns in the world – yet travellers to Birdsville are discovering there's a whole new shine to the Queensland outback icon.
The famed pub has a new owner and has had a make-over. The bakery is re-opening, the roadhouse has added a café, a one-of-a-kind desert golf course has teed off and a special walking tour of the town has been launched.
"There's a lot to see and do in Birdsville that maybe people don't realise," said long-time resident Nell Brook, who married fourth-generation local David Brook. "A lot of people go to Longreach and Winton, and South Australians come up to the Flinders, but we want to persuade them to go a bit further to come visit us."
The star of the show is always, of course, the Birdsville Hotel, the 1884 honey coloured sandstone pub on the edge of the Simpson Desert 1600 kilometres west of Brisbane and 1200 kilometres north of Adelaide. The pub has changed hands for the first time in 40 years, sold to outback entrepreneur Courtney Ellis who had been travelling there for the past 15 years and was excited to buy it.
"We've always really liked the feel of the historic old watering hole so when the opportunity came about to buy the business, we didn't need to think much about it," said Ellis, who's updated the rooms with new bedding and soft furnishings, replaced doors and installed a coffee machine.
"Our focus will still be on making the experience satisfying for people who make the long trek out to Birdsville and I'm looking forward to talking to people and hearing about where they've come from and where they're going."
One recent visitor was golf professional Darren Weatherall, who came over to try out the new nine-hole Birdsville Dunes Golf Course that has finally opened after more than 20 years in the planning.
Players have to navigate sandhills, native vegetation, shrubs and oiled sand in place of the putting greens.
"But it's fantastic, I loved it!" said Mr Weatherall. "It's been really well-designed with great contours and variety. Being out playing in the outback like that makes it very exciting."
Next June and July, the course will be one of six used for the Queensland Outback Masters, where players can compete in the Outback Hole In One Tournament for the top $1 million prize.
There's further movement at the station too. The Birdsville Roadhouse has just been taken over by the Brooks' daughter Jenna, who has expanded the offering well beyond fuel, road repairs, souvenirs and groceries. She's opened a café and is planning kayak and canoe hires for excursions on the town's billabong.
"It would be a great way to encourage people to experience a little bit more of Birdsville and stay a bit longer," she said. "I'd also love to bring bird-watching experts here to take groups out into the desert and also cater for workshops for groups of artists and photographers."
There's also now a new set of tours of the town, courtesy of outback tourism guide cum diesel mechanic Alex Oswald. He talks to visitors about Birdsville's Aboriginal history, its geography between desert and floodplains and its cattle industry.
"People are always really interested in how we live in such a remote area, getting supplies in and coping with both drought and floods, and cool nights in the winter and summer days up to 50 degrees," said Oswald, who is adding sunset nibbles on the Big Red – a 40-metre-high sand dune 35 kilometres out of town – to his repertoire.
"They breed them pretty tough out here, and it gives you a new appreciation of what the early European explorers went through."
Similarly, visitors to Birdsville are always urged to check temperatures and road conditions before venturing out, but there's plenty that's luring them. That Big Red, for instance, is great for climbing, as well as being the site of the annual bash where musicians come in for a massive outdoor concert. And that's not even to mention the Birdsville Races usually held every September
"Birdsville is a very special place," said Jenna Brook. "We have such beautiful natural terrain and landscapes, our visitors can have amazing experiences."
REX flies twice a week from Brisbane to Birdsville, on Mondays and Thursdays. Phone 13 17 13. See rex.com.au
There's a number of different ways to drive to Birdsville, depending on your location and how much adventure you'd like. It's possible to drive in a 2WD but, with many stretches of road unsealed, a 4WD is preferable.
The Birdsville Hotel has comfortable motel-style rooms. Phone (07) 4656 3244. See birdsvillehotel.com.au
The writer travelled at her own expense.