IF YOU'VE never been to the Birdsville Pub you might have had a curiosity about this Aussie institution. A pub in the middle of nowhere? Why should it have such iconic status? Just getting to it entails a great deal of planning, a willingness to get into the outback and then an arduous journey into the desert. Who in their right mind would choose it as a destination for fun? Plenty of people, actually.
The Birdsville Pub is famous, enjoying international recognition, mostly for its races in September when the tiny outback town is party central with more than 7000 visitors descending on it .
So when the opportunity came up to visit the Birdsville Pub - and to get to this remote location in the middle of harsh and barren country in the speedy comfort of a small plane - I put my hand up.
It was some years ago. An enthusiastic entrepreneur had the idea of holding a rally of small aeroplanes in Birdsville, like a car rally but in the air.
There were about a dozen small planes joining the excursion and off we went in fine fettle to fly over this vast and challenging country, to put down on a landing strip right opposite the famous pub.
It had rained heavily in the days preceding our visit, something of a rarity in Birdsville I believe, and the Birdsville Pub sat in the middle of a big puddle.
This caused excitement for every one of us in the rally-in-the-air. Perhaps only once or twice in a lifetime would the Birdsville Pub appear to float in the middle of a lake.
The minute we got out of our small planes and stepped into the wet heat, five trillion flies descended upon our individual persons.
All of us, about 30 blokes and me, were fair-dinkum Aussies and used to annoying insects of all varieties, but we were shocked to see each other covered from head to foot in a black mass of sticky, determined flies.
We made a speedy rush through the puddle surrounding the pub to get inside.
Well, the Birdsville Pub is just that. A pub. Very pleasant, but just an Aussie pub with a lot of hats and memorabilia on the walls. They had the usual blackboard specials: steak and chips, fish and chips, schnitzel and chips. Copious quantities of beer. (Really?) What was a little different to the usual pub accoutrements was the large number of jars about the place containing dead and pickled snakes. Very creepy, but in a fascinating way.
Our arrival in this remote place had caused a stir among the locals, the whole three or four of them, who came to look at us with great curiosity. One of them was a youngish woman, the teacher at the tiny local school.
She couldn't believe her good fortune to have 30 blokes (and me) descend in one boisterous group at her local pub.
She took one look at us, raced back to her school (probably to dismiss her one student), dressed up in her Sunday best and came back to enjoy the evening with us, talking, laughing, animated, alive, and so obviously grateful for company. I will never forget her hunger for company. It made me shiver with vicarious loneliness, more than I'd shivered at the dead pickled snakes.
In the morning after sleeping well in air-conditioned rooms, we braced ourselves to go outside across the "road'' to the airstrip, whereupon we were instantly covered with the five trillion flies lying in wait for us. We saw a woman coming towards us dressed in a kind of bee-keeper's outfit with full veil over a big hat and heavy-duty protective coat and leggings.
"This is what you wear when the flies are bad," she said cheerfully and went about her business.
What an extraordinary and marvellous country we live in.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.