Consecutive years of good rain have seen Lake Eyre - and its 'local' hotel - brimming with life.

Story By Katrina Lobley

When Ngaire Beckett and partner Noel Perdon started contemplating running the iconic William Creek Hotel last summer, they couldn’t have imagined that Lake Eyre would fill for a fourth consecutive year.
The rare sight guarantees the remote South Australian community, the closest settlement to Lake Eyre North, an extraordinary boom in business. When the lake flooded in 2009 for the first time since the 1970s, tourists flocked to see the normally brilliant white salt pan – Australia’s lowest point at 15 metres below sea level – transformed into a watery expanse that seemingly stretched to the horizon. Thousands of pelicans, banded stilts and silver gulls also came to breed on the lake’s tributaries and newly formed islands.
Back then, it was hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime event. Only it happened again in 2010, then in 2011 and this year is again full from water that’s drained from Queensland’s Channel Country, as well as unusually heavy local rains. And people, it seems, still can’t get enough of the sight.
“We see young backpackers on tours, four-wheel-drivers with their campervan or caravan, and young families,” says Ngaire, who took up duties behind the hotel’s weathered wooden bar in late February. “Quite a few families are taking the kids out of school and doing the big road trip for four to five months.”
The best views of a water-filled Lake Eyre are from the air but some visitors tackle the treacherous desert tracks that lead to one of two vantage points around Lake Eyre North: Level Post Bay and Halligan Bay. In a dry year, each spot attracts about 2500 visitors. Last year, that figure boomed to 12,500 visitors each.
Tiny William Creek has a population of just three permanent residents (the publicans plus pilot Trevor Wright, who operates scenic flights from the airstrip just up the red dusty road). Straddling the Oodnadatta Track, the community is located on Anna Creek Station, the world’s biggest cattle station at 24,000 square kilometres.
Because of the hotel’s sheer remoteness, visitors are usually after more than just a cold Coopers Pale Ale or Carlton to wet the whistle. Many time their arrival for lunch or, if they’re staying the night at the hotel or campground across the road, they’re after dinner as well.
One of the first things Ngaire and Noel did was revamp the menu. “Just because you eat in the bush doesn’t mean you have to eat like a bumpkin – although there’s nothing wrong with eating like a bumpkin either,” Ngaire says with a laugh.

This story excerpt is from Issue #83

Outback Magazine: June/July 2012