Now reading: Birdsville
Text: Tim Robson | October 2017
Proving a point.
Tim Robson joins a Volkswagen Australia trip to the outback town of Birdsville aboard a car that wants to claim its place in the outback.
Straight lines. As we howl into Broken Hill aboard the noisiest plane I’ve flown on ever, what amazes me as we fly 12,000m over outback NSW are the orange-red dirt roads that intersect the grey-green mottled landscape.
People talk of gun barrel-straight roads in the outback, but from here, it looks like a gun barrel ought to be compared with the road. It’s not the fact that there are no bends that take your breath away; the road simply does not stray a metre left or right from its set trajectory as it marches resolutely across the landscape. The engineering aspect alone is doing my head in.
We’re on our way to the Big Red Bash in Birdsville, which is touted as the world’s most remote music festival. Now in its third year, it’s attracting people from all corners of Australia (and around the world) to one of our most famous – and remote – towns.
Music festivals have come a long way in the last decade, with VIP camping and backstage access for a price. Not this one. The organisers’ list of what’s NOT on site is kind of eye-opening to a city slicker; there’s no power, no showers, no internet access, no hotels within 35km of the site (which in truth is just down the road in the outback)… in many ways it’s a throwback, and a welcome one at that.
It’s being billed as a family event, and we’re joining a group of Amarok owners who have been on the road for a week already just to get to the half-way point in Broken Hill. They’ve come from Sydney and Melbourne and all points in between to live an adventure that many of us may only ever daydream about, and they’re doing it in something that – out here, at least – is pretty far from the norm.
People being people, our Amarok troupe walk to their own beat, too. Tell a group of people that something isn’t a good idea, and inevitably a handful will go ahead and do exactly that, just to prove you wrong.
Once you get over the coastal ranges of pretty much anywhere, there’s a marked change in what you see on the roads. Small citified SUVs and hatchbacks don’t suit the vast distances that Australia throws up for its rural residents, and there’s still several hundred thousand kilometres of unsealed roads around Oz.
As a result, large SUVs and utes of all shapes and sizes are the rides of choice – and there’s a real tribalism that’s developed as a result. Where the proud Aussie brands once dominated the cities, it’s typically the Japanese brands that dominate the bush – and it’s as much an issue of culture as it is practicality.
Stickers proclaiming allegiances to one tribe or another are both amusing but pointed, and it’s not wise to diss a bloke’s choice of ute. Not wise at all. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, then, to roll into town in German-made pick-ups that have only been on the scene for five minutes, relatively speaking. One reason that the Japanese brands have been successful out here is because the companies quickly understood just how rugged the terrain away from the cities really is in Australia.
Hundreds of kilometres of soul-destroying corrugated dirt roads, relentless dust, temperatures that range from freezing to inferno in a single day and the simple tyranny of vast distances all conspire to destroy cars that aren’t built to cop abuse.
Our 1200km cross-country odyssey will take in three states and more than 1200km of dirt roads, aboard a pair of lightly modified Amaroks.
Mods to our factory fresh cars are minimal; along with the standard sports bar in the rear of the V6 Ultimate’s ute tray, a black lockable roller shutter has been added, along with a VW genuine accessories-sourced roof rack and platform combo, an ARB awning and sand shovel holder.
The usual 19-inch rims have been replaced with 17-inch versions from the Amarok Canyon special edition and finished in black, and fitted with General Grabber G2s all-terrain tyres.
A total of twelve Amaroks of various ages congregate in the small town of Tibooburra, most towing camper trailers and outfitted with gear to get right off the beaten track. After a quick briefing from tour leader Sam Petzy and a refuel, we head out for our first stop, Cameron’s Corner in Queensland.
I’ve only ever really driven the Amarok in urban settings and some short coastal fire road traverses, so settling in with the torquey V6 over the loose, dusty gravel is a revelation.
The weather and grader gods have smiled upon us, and the Silver City Highway is all gravelly goodness right past the Salt Lake and through to Cameron’s Corner, where we make camp for the night and lose several five-dollar notes trying to stick them to the roof of the Cameron’s Corner pub.
Our luck varies the next day for the haul from the crossroads of NSW, Queensland and South Australia, as we’re obliged to take Omicron Road to Innamincka rather than the Strezlecki Track, but a second big day puts us within cooee of Birdsville, and a great night beside the Catchiekambo Waterhole.
The run along Cordillo Road towards Birdsville Developmental Road is an absolute belter, too. The roads are freshly graded and conditions are prefect for a high speed blast through its surprisingly frequent twists and turns –but the final run into Birdsville is a bit of a slog, with thick traffic on the way to the festival throwing up billowing dust clouds that makes passing almost impossible.
Still, the Amarok fleet manages the journey with barely a hair out of place. One participant loses a side window to a stray rock, but clever use of a piece of real estate sign corflute from the back of a camper trailer soon sees the convoy back in action.
I talk about the festival in this blog, but suffice to say that VW’s foray into the heartland of Australia is laying down the building blocks for something more substantial for the Amarok. It’s a terrific chance for director-level VW Australia bods to get in front of the people who buy – and rely – on vehicles like the Amarok, and it’s amazing way to prove the case, too, that the Amarok belongs here.
After a 20-year career in consumer magazines, Tim has moved into the online space, where he's found his happy place combining his two passions - cars and bicycles - to create 032media. Happily married with three kids, he's based in Wollongong on the NSW south coast.