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Birdum Town Site (former), Larrimah, NT, Australia

Photographs None
List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Historic
Legal Status Indicative Place
Place ID 102990
Place File No 7/04/013/0001
Nominator's Statement of Significance
The Town of Birdum evolved as a result of the Transcontinental Railway Development which was never completed. Birdum was the terminus. It was also the place where road, rail and air transport came together to service the Territory's developing needs and no other single location in the Northern Territory served this purpose.

Birdum was immensely important initially in the Country's World War Two defensive operations in the Northern Territory and was for a short period the headquarters of the American air force that had been deployed to the Territory.

The Birdum site also demonstrates the ways of life in small inland communities, their isolation and importance, during the early formative years of AustraIia's Northern Territory.

The O'Shea family and relatives who are well noted for their major contributions towards the Territory's Development from 1909 to the present day have close associations with the site of Birdum Town.

Not only was Birdum an important landmark in the early Development of the Northern Territory, it's role in the defense of the Country, the initial railhead for the deployment of troops arms and supplies, to defend Australia from invasion, as well as temporarily serving as headquarters for Australia's allies the American Air force, should ensure Birdum a place in Australia's history
Official Values Not Available
The former Birdum township comprises an area of about one kilometre square, situated on a slight rise of sandy loamy soil. The township site is on the western edge of an extensive area of Birdum Creek flood out, on heavier clay soils. Vegetation on the townsite is mostly spinifex and wire grasses with sorghum grass on patches of heavier soil, with shrubs and open forest of eucalypt and ironwood trees. One or two boab tress, introductions in the 1930s, survive. On the heavier soils toward the creek coolibahs become the dominant trees, with denser spear grass and Flinders grass coverage.
Before field work commenced it was necessary to burn off vegetation on the subject site, to reveal the ground surface and to make it possible to walk over it.

The former Birdum town site contains only one intact structure, the overhead water tank for supply of water to locomotives.

In very general terms, the remaining elements of the site are comprised by floor slabs at the locations of former structures. Scatters of artefacts on and in the ground, including numerous 44 gallon fuel drums and carbide drums; a few upright posts and some stumps; derelict fencing; several pits which may have been earth closets or refuse pits; the main railway line alignment with the track virtually intact; a branch line to form a reversing triangle, from which lines and sleepers have been removed; another branch line to a former engine shed; a pit between the railway lines near the overhead water tank - presumably the pit was used to gain access to service locomotives and rolling stock; a bore (perhaps recent); and a large excavation which is thought to have been a reservoir. The reservoir is thought to have been filled by water pumped from a dam sited about 3 km east of the town site. This system may have been superseded by the bore, but, on the other hand, appearances indicate that the bore may post date Birdum's abandonment.

A very distinctive feature of Birdum today is the survival of bottles, in-ground and inverted, to form pathways or garden edgings, or, in at least one place, a "bottle floor". Oral testimony has it that the bottle floor was within a bakery attached to the hotel. It may have been used as a platform on which to rest newly baked bread while it cooled.

Another feature of Birdum, especially in the vicinity of the hotel, is the presence of ironwork (a hand made funnel is one example) which shows a high degree of craftsmanship. These items are said to have been the work of Tim O'Shea, a blacksmith (among other things).
History Not Available
Condition and Integrity

The site of Birdum contains remnants of the Township and the Railway Terminus.
The Township site contains floor slabs of former structures with the bottle floor at the hotel site still relatively intact scatters of artefacts in and on the ground, derelict fencing refuse pits etc.
The railway terminus site contains, remnants of buildings associated with the railway, the rail line is mainly intact, some remnants of roiling stock, with the only intact structure being tin overhead water tank.


Birdum is rapidly being destroyed by the elements, vegetation growth and intermittent fires due to wet season burn off , remnant artefacts are being trampled by livestock.

Human interference is also taking its toll, the pillage of remnants by surrounding station personnel, the few tourist that make it down to Birdum unsupervised in the dry season take souvenirs, and some local residents of Larrimah also take items for display in their businesses or personal use.
6km south of Larrimah, Stuart Highway.
Alford, R. Darwin's Air War. Aviation Historical Society, Darwin, n.d.

Dermoudy, P.R. A Survey of Historic Sites at Larrimah and Birdum. A report for the National Trust of Australia (N.T.). Darwin, 1988.

Donovan, P.F. Alice Springs: Its History & The People Who Made It. Alice Springs Town Council, 1988.

Eley, B. Ion Idriess. imprint; Potts Point (NSW), 1995.

Flynn, F. Distant Horizons. Sacred Heart Monastery, Sydney, 1950.

Giles, A. Exploring in the Seventies and the Construction of the Overland Telegraph Line. Adelaide, n.p., n.d.

Grant, A. Palmerston to Darwin. Frontier Publishing; Dee Why, 1990.

Grant, A. Palmerston to Darwin. Frontier Publishing, Sydney, 1990.

Hagan, M.A. Timothy and Catherine O'Shea. entry in N.T. Dictionary of Biography, Vol. l; Darwin 1990.

Harvey, J.Y. The Never-Never Line. Hyland House, Adelaide, 1987.

Hill, E. The Territory. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1995.

Jamieson, R. John joseph Mahoney. entry in N.T. Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1; Darwin 1990.

Lands and Survey Dept. N.T Administration Birdum Map 7 - Showing N - S Road, Railway, Boundaries. of Pastoral Leases. NTAS NTRS 1252.

McLaren, W.J~ The Northern Territory and Its Police Forces. unpub. ms. Darwin, 1988.

N.T. Police Mataranka Police Journals. NTAS F 293

O'Shea family Family materials held by Peter and Maureen Dunham.

Powell, A. Far Country. M.U.P., Melbourne. 1996.

Sager, E.W. Discovering Darwin - The 1930s in Memory and History. Darwin; Historical Society of N.T., 1993.

Shepherd, R. Notable Flights in Northern Australia Prior to 1940. unpub. m.s.; Darwin, n.d.

Stevenson, I.R. The Line that Led to Nowhere. Rigby, Adelaide. 1979.

Stuart, J.M. Explorations in Australia. Saunders, Otley & Co., London, 1865.

Tanner, Alex The Long Road North. the author, Richmond, S.A., 1995.

Taylor. P. An End to Silence: the Building of the Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin. Methuen; Sydney 1980.

Transport Australia History File - Birdum Aerodrome General file B 11175

various The Roadmakers. Dept. Main Roads, NSW., 1976.

Williams, E., & Northern Territory: A Postal History 1824 - 1975. Collas, P. unpub. m.s., n.d., copy held by N.T. Library.

Wixted, ET, The North-West Aerial Frontier 1919 - 1934. Brisbane, Bodlarong, 1985.

Wright, F, & Goldman, P Telegraph Tourists.. jimaringle, Mount Martha. 1993.


Dunham., M. Interview, especially re O'Shea family. Notes in possession of Peter and Sheila Forrest.

Hagan, M.A. Interview, especially re her father Fred Ulyatt. Notes in possession of Peter and Sheila Forrest.

Ivinson, W. Interview, especially re operation of Darwin to Birdum railway. Notes in possession of Peter and Sheila Forrest.

Lansdowne, K. Interview, especially re physical layout of sites. Notes in possession of Peter and Sheila Forrest.

Report Produced  Sat Aug 30 15:38:18 2014