Bentley’s 4WD cross-Australia adventure (Part one)

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 46 of the August 2018 issue.

Hats and caps cover the rafters in the Birdsville Hotel pub, a welcome watering hole for visitors and locals — Birdsville, Queensland. Photos by David Bentley
David Bentley, an Aussie friend who my wife, Gail, and I knew all the way back in the early 1970s when we were living in Tasmania, is a resident of Queensland and a 4WD freak. He recently completed an arduous, coast-to-coast journey solo from northeastern Australia to the far southwest in his faithful Troopy, a rather rare, long-wheelbase, diesel-engine, 78 Series Toyota Land Cruiser known as a Troop Carrier.

As David’s colorful, slang- and wit-filled reports from the road began to arrive, I felt compelled to share his mind-boggling adventure with our globetrotting readers. This 3-part article is edited from his reports. — Randy Keck

Days 1-2 (May 7-8, 2018) — My much-anticipated trip across the centre of Australia via the Simpson Desert and the Canning Stock Route is finally under way from my home in Mooloolaba, Queensland. My wife, Jane, had planned to be with me for the whole trip, but she couldn’t get leave from her job, so I’m on my own until Perth.

The drive from Mooloolaba, on the Sunshine Coast two hours north of Brisbane, to Roma, 500-plus kms westward, was relaxed and uneventful except for heaps of roadwork on the Warrego Highway.

The second day, I got stopped for RBT [random breath test] outside Quilpie but, luckily, hadn’t cracked my first Corona for the day, so no drama.

The weather has been perfect but noticeably colder at night than at home on the coast. The only downside of being in the bush is the flies! Within 10 seconds of exiting the Troopy, there’s five million of them in my eyes, up my nose and in my mouth. Fortunately, once the sun goes down, the flies retreat, to where I’ve no idea. But then you’re often joined by swarms of moths.

I slept in the bush last night, in the back of the Troopy, halfway between Windorah and Birdsville, about 1,400 kms from Mooloolaba. The best sleep I’ve had for ages! A full 10 hours of uninterrupted kip is unheard of for an insomniac like me.

Driving in the Outback is so relaxing — no traffic lights, no stop signs, in fact, no traffic! Instead, there is just mile after mile of peaceful tranquility.  

The Troopy taking a breather in the Simpson Desert.

Day 3 (May 9) — I’m in Birdsville now, well and truly in the deep bush. All fueled up with enough food and water, I’m ready to tackle the foreboding Simpson Desert, starting with the legendary Big Red sand dune 35 kms to the west. The track is open and already carrying some other traffic, so I won’t be alone. There’s some 1,100 sand dunes to cross, so there’ll be no rushing.

Birdsville (pop. 140) has fierce dust storms and scorching summer heat but is famed for the Birdsville Races, a horse-racing carnival that attracts thousands of visitors from all over Australia the first weekend each September.

Finished for the day at 6 p.m. about 122 kms from Birdsville. No problems tackling the first sand dune, Big Red, or any of the others following it… so far. Tyres deflated to 20 psi, second gear high range, plenty of herbs [fuel], then let rip and let momentum do the rest. The Troopy bounces around a bit, but nothing’s broken or got smashed.

I’ve encountered no other vehicles so far, in either direction, which is surprising. For safety purposes, I call-up on the UHF radio before starting each dune but have had zero response so far.

The sunset today is stunning because there’s some cloud cover. Time to organize a meal, and I can’t be bothered lighting a fire tonight, so I’ll stick to cold meat and salad from the Engel [fridge], plus a few Coronas, of course.

Day 4 (May 10) — Cold night last night, as expected, plus plenty of moths to get rid of before getting to sleep. Perfect day again today, with cloudless skies and warmth, once the sun was up. Today was a long, laborious slog, with slow progress because of the endless dune crossings. I only completed 166 kms total in 8.5 hours, which is about 20 kph, and I wasn’t deliberately going slow. You can get an idea of how slow-going it is.

The Birdsville Hotel in Birdsville, Shire of Diamantina, central-west Queensland, Australia.

I have to be honest. At 300 kms from Birdsville, I’m “over” the relentless banging and crashing that is just part of driving across this desert. No hassles, though, with the Troopy or with getting over the dunes. I didn’t get stuck or bogged all day, which is good. I only encountered seven cars going the other way.

I had to stop and tighten the sand flag late in the afternoon because it’d come loose. Each vehicle has a flag on a pole reaching high overhead so that, heading up the sloping dunes, you can see each other approaching on the, often, single-lane track.

The flies were relentless, as always. I’m slowly getting used to them. You have to become accepting of their presence, otherwise they’ll drive you crazy. Preparing food is a hassle, because the flies descend on it as soon as you start.

I pulled up at about 5:30 p.m. and had a bush shower. Bliss! I’m about halfway across now from Birdsville to Mt. Dare, and I’m looking forward to a soak in the artesian bore at Dalhousie Springs, which I should reach late tomorrow, with any luck. The endless sand dunes and slow going are becoming tedious, and I’ve still got heaps more dunes to cross before Mt. Dare. Oh, well! Onwards, regardless.

Day 5 (May 11) — Perfect day again, but reckon the temps dropped to 0°C last night. Made myself a proper breakfast this morning before the flies joined me. It was a much easier driving day today and much more enjoyable. The last leg to Mt. Dare was a doddle in comparison to the first two days. Very few sand dunes after the Colson Track, which is another challenging dirt route.

I stopped at the hot springs oasis at Dalhousie and had a good soak in the 38°C water. Marvellous! There I got chatting to a bloke riding a trail bike from Birdsville. He’d done the trip from Birdsville to Mt. Dare before in nine hours. It’s taken me three days, so he must have been flying! One of the many pleasures of travelling in the Outback is the chance to meet a diverse bunch of people along the way.

About to tackle the dune Big Red in the Simpson Desert.

I passed 16 cars today, a lot more than yesterday. Tonight I had dinner at the Mt. Dare Hotel pub and stayed the night. The bar was full of stockmen in the traditional stockman uniform of RM Williams boots, worn jeans and battered Akubra hat. Chatted to the owner, who said they bought the lease in 2014 and moved from the Victorian High Country, where they had cattle. No cattle are permitted around the Mt. Dare homestead because it’s a national park.

Tonight I had a great steak at the pub, cooked by someone else, and crashed early. I’ll be in touch again when I next have Internet connection, which probably won’t be until Ayers Rock.

Next month, David Bentley takes us across the center of Australia.

Contact Randy at 80 America Way, Jamestown, RI 02835; 401/560-0350, randykeck@yahoo.com.


A marker at the intersection of three Australian states.

An expert KTM rider equipped for the Simpson Desert.