Marree is one of the last towns to visit before you start entering desert country in South Australia. It’s over 650 kilometres from Adelaide in Arabunna country. It’s the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks and although there’s not a lot to the town itself, the hub is the hotel and it’s quite an oasis in this desert environment.
The front bar is typical of many outback Aussie pubs with enough memorabilia and odd bits and pieces hanging to keep you engrossed while enjoying your first beer after a thirsty drive. It’s the sort of place you have to wander through to appreciate though, with a mural of historic events painted on one wall which features a timeline covering indigenous, Afghan and European history. There are a couple of beautiful stained glass windows showing iconic outback images and two dining rooms which feature museums.
One room is dedicated to the inland explorer John McDouall Stuart and his discoveries and the other features the history of legendary outback mailman, Tom Kruse. His exploits in getting mail through Australia’s toughest mail run on the Birdsville track is shown in a documentary playing in the museum, called ‘The Back of Beyond’ which was filmed in 1954. There are photographs and items in the museum which show the remarkable life and work of the man who delivered mail through drought, floods and searing desert temperatures while using his bush mechanic skills to keep his 1936 Leyland Badger truck going. The original truck is now housed in the Birdwood Motor Museum in the Adelaide Hills and another of the mail trucks used sits at Marree. In the spirit of Tom Kruse’s charitable nature, entry to the museum is free but donations to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (a base which is in Marree) are appreciated.
Marree was also used by Afghan cameleers as a base before travelling to Oodnadatta, Birdsville and Alice Springs. Today there stands a replica mosque which was reconstructed to show the style of one built by the Afghan cameleers in 1861. It was made of tree stumps and other available material and claimed to be the first mosque in Australia.
Marree was one of the towns on the original Ghan Railway line and the station, a locomotive and other relics are on display in the rail yards. Nearby you’ll also find probably the most remote water tank art in Australia. The tank features a mural of wild brumbies, kangaroos, camels, emus, dingoes and galahs and was painted in 2019 by Lyn Hovey, assisted by David Strangways and Christine Stuart.
If you’re ever doing an iconic 4WD trek along the Birdsville or Oodnadatta tracks, make sure to stop in and visit Marree, enjoy the hotel and the stories it holds and donate to the RFDS while you’re there.