Jacko’s August Travels North

Our trip north was a dash to Narrandera for night 1…turned out to be
0c in the morning though. Then a long drive to Bourke and it was 1c the
following morning. Then we went on a bush road to Hungerford just over
the Qld border for some much better weather of mid 20s daytime, and cool
single figures overnight, so we stayed 2 nights at th CP….$11 per
night for power and full bathroom facilities….fantastic, but the pub
meal in the town of 9 permanents was superb. Currawinya NP was nearby,
so we explored the past of this vast sheep station, now NP

Shearing stands at the old wool shed -Currawinya Station

More bush road to Thargomindah for a snoop, then on to Quilpie on
another dirt track to camp on the banks of the Bulloo River. Nothing
better than a freedom camp with big camp fires for 2 nights. We had been
to Quilpie before, but didn’t see the Amy Johnson tribute, so nailed it
this time. An amazing adventure for a young British aviator in the
1930’s trying to beat a Bert Hinkler record crossing to Australia.

We have spent another 300km on a dirt bush road today from Quilpie to
Blackall where we will stay 2 nights…to do some washing and re-stock.
This “Channel Country” in Qld is amazing and challenging, for its
remoteness, flatness….hence the channels when it rains, and for its
harsh dry climate.

Here is photo of Blackall’s version of the Black Stump….this one
a survey peg from the 1860’s, but since blackened. All black stumps have
the common thread of marking the edge of nowhere!

Blackall’s black stump

Also some pics of the partially resurrected plant, funded by a
$100,000grant from PM Hawke, and massive vollunteer input from the local
community. The buildings have been recovered from desolation, and much
of the working plant stripped and overhauled to safe working order. The
plant was the only scouring plant for hundreds of kms, and sheep would
be herded for shearing and scouring from surrounding farms. Water at 58c
from the Great Artesian Basin (capacity…170,000 Sydney Harbours!!) was
heated and maintained at 60c for scouring, and the entire plant,
including workshop, and amenities, was run by steam from 2 boilers, and
the giant flywheel….returned to working order today. It is all started
up (now small diesel steam engine) to show the plant in running order
for every guided tour….every hour! They even have a dozen or so
merinos on hand to show what they would have looked like.

With the advent of synthetic fabric and subsequent demise of the wool
industry, hastened by the uncontrollable menace of wild dogs, there are
NO SHEEP in western Qld any more, now turned over to cattle. The
Blackall Woolscour Plant closed in 1978, and the town virtually
deserted. It is now making a steady comeback.

Nice town, with obvious civic pride and certainly RV Friendly

…and so …. The Journey Begins


19th May 2017 – Barry and Denise, pictured with friends Val and David, taking the first step in their epic adventure to challenge the legendary Canning Stock Route.

From all the blokes at OM:NI DC – wishing you a safe, interesting and fulfilling journey  ……..

**The road goes ever on and on
                     Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
    And I must follow, if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet,
        Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet,
            And, whither then? I cannot say.

**J.R.R.Tolkien – (Lord of the Rings) circa 1954

Saturday 3rd June 2017
Wiluna, Western Australia – the gateway to the Canning Stock Route and Well No.1

Canning Stock Route

GEM OF WISDOM: THE CANNING STOCK ROUTE

 

  1. WHY

Alexander Forest’s 1879 expedition to the Kimberley  discovered vast tracts of excellent pastoral land. The West Kimberley was settled from access to the west. The East Kimberley was settled from Queensland and NSW, with herds of different cattle in the thousands coming from the east coast. Shipping to Perth from Wyndham was expanded to meet the needs of a 5-fold population explosion in WA from 29000 in 1880 to 161500 by 1901, created by “Gold Fever” from Halls Creek to Kalgoorlie.

By the early 1900’s, movement of cattle from east Kimberley and NT to Wyndham was banned due to an outbreak of cattle tick, so the cattlemen were facing ruin unless they could market some cattle in WA. Several cross country routes to ports south of the tick exclusion zone were tried without much success. Finally, under pressure from the cattlemen, a Government expedition across four deserts was agreed to. These are Little Sandy Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Gibson Desert, and Tanami desert.

 

  1. WHO

Alfred Canning, an inspecting surveyor with the WA Department of Lands was chosen to lead an expedition into the feasibility of a stock route from Halls Creek to Wiluna. He was the obvious and ideal choice as he had recently led the successful 4 year survey of the 1900km long rabbit proof fence from Esperance to Cape Keraudren.

He assembled a team of 8 men – 2 drilling/ boring experts, 2 camelmen, himself as leader, Hugh Trotman as his trusted assistant, a general hand, and a cook. To carry the provisions, equipment, water drums, boring plant etc, he determined he would need 22 camels and equipment for them, and 2 horses with saddles. All up including salaries for the men…..Pounds 3495!

Rations per man per week were 10lb flour, 10lb meat, 2lb sugar, 1/4 lb tea. It was anticipated killing wild animals would provide some supplement.

 

  1. WHEN

Canning and his crew left Wiluna on May 29, 1906, with the charter to survey and document a stock route to Billuna, some 1860km north east on the Tanami Desert track – SHOW ON MAP. The remaining 190 km to Hall’s Creek was already established. The track had to be capable of supplying sufficient feed and water to support a herd of 800 cattle. Water supplies were deemed to be necessary ideally no more than 30km apart, the distance it was expected cattle could travel daily. The route had to avoid “poison bush”

They arrived in Hall’s Creek on October 29. He blazed 31 trees on the upward and return journey, marking significant features for the future. He ascertained that 51 wells would need to be sunk to supplement several permanent water soaks. Later this became 54 wells. He used aboriginals he “conscripted” on the way to help find promising water sources, but never took them beyond their “traditional lands”. Surveying a satisfactory route was made more difficult by the need to find satisfactory feed as well as water. Some 1000 substantial sand dunes to cross was also a factor in route selection. The party met some resistance from local aboriginal tribes and his most trusted borer, Michael Tobin was killed (speared) in one altercation.

The party stayed on Flora Valley Station south of Hall’s Creek to let the Summer/ Wet season pass, and set off, re-supplied, on the return journey on Feb 18, 1907. This time, they herded 20 wether goats for fresh meat, and this proved most successful. They mainly returned via the same track they had created, but the wet season had transformed the parched desert into luxuriant grass and herbage. Route changes were made where summer water courses had changed the navigable landscape. More experimental bores were sunk to ensure all 51 wells were identified, surveyed, marked and logged. Again the local aboriginals were very useful in identifying existing and possible new water sources.

The party reached Wiluna on July 1, 1907.

In his comprehensive report soon after, Canning concluded the mission a success, and detailed plans showing a compass traverse of the route and well co-ordinates.

He concluded in typical Canning style – “I have the honour to be, sir, your obedient servant, A W Canning.

 

  1. THEN WHAT – 1908

Canning had returned in triumph to wide praise and adulation from the Premier, all members of Parliament, the Civil Service, and the public.

All but Edward Blake, the cook on the expedition, who was concerned about what he perceived to be ill treatment of aborigines. He pursued the issue with high ranking Civil Servants, relevant Members of Parliament, and a broad based attack in the press.

Eventually, on Nov 15, the Minister for Lands asked for Canning’s comments. Canning responded that the claims were “nonsense”, and because Blake “had little experience with natives”, his perceptions of certain events were wrong. There had been no mistreatment of person or property.

However, Blake’s allegations were quickly picked up by all newspapers, and with pressure building and opinion divided, the Government instituted a “Royal Commission to inquire into the treatment of natives by the Canning Exploration Party”.

The drawn out process of charges and witnesses and cross-examination exonerated Canning and his expedition party of all charges, but the recrimination continued in the press and public domain. The Government allowed the turmoil to subside but still planned for the Canning Well construction Party to proceed.

 

 

  1. WELL CONSTRUCTION, 1908 – 1910

Canning left Wiluna on March 28, 1908 disappointed with the accusations and antagonistic towards the press for not publishing his refutations of the accusations, but determined to accomplish the project aims.

This was a massive undertaking, but with experience from the original exploration expedition, he left well prepared.

“The 73 camels bulged with gear, 23 men plodded out, and Nipper controlled a herd of 500 goats for fresh meat.” This trip, they had to carry heavy boring gear, and well construction material including bracing, windlasses, buckets, and troughing for all the wells, to enable all the cattle to be watered in good time. Routine was soon  established with the well construction team at a well site while the bulk of the party moved to the next to do preliminary work and source suitable timber for well supports and gantry, thus “leap-frogging” each other.

After 31 wells were completed, supplies were exhausted, as were the men, so on July 28, 1909, Canning reported his position and distributed his remaining material up the route before escaping to Halls Creek to rest, recuperate and prepare his return after the Summer/ wet season to complete the remaining wells.

In Feb 1910, the Construction Party set south to complete the remaining wells, with 50 bullocks and 150 goats as auxiliary food supplies. Progress was swift to complete the outstanding wells, but then hampered by damage to the earlier wells by the natives. The team finally arrived back in Wiluna on March 12, 1910, and promptly cabled The Secretary for Mines” in his inimitable style – “WORK COMPLETED – CANNING”

A substantial report followed, giving the depth to water, the storage at the well, and the flow rate at each well, together with cattle feed available at and nearby to the well. He also described the journey between each well and the terrain nearby. He estimated the droving journey with a full herd would take around 2 months.

 

  1. WHAT THEN
  • Only 8 herds were driven between 1911 and 1931, mainly due to destruction of well infrastructure by the aboriginals and lack of maintenance. There was also a fear of the natives, who killed 2 drovers on the first drive in 1911, and another geological explorer later.
  • William Snell led a “Re-construction Party” in 1929, and added 3 further wells just out from Wiluna. Snell was a bushman/ cattleman, and his work was slow and “rough”. The party returned to Wiluna well short of the planned refurbishment. During the layover period, his work was inspected and found so inept that Canning was recalled to re-do and complete the task in 1930. Spasmodic droving resumed, but limited to 600 head.
  • Major maintenance and reconstruction was done after the bombing of Darwin in WW2, as the CSR was seen as an escape route for people and cattle to the south, should the Japanese invade.
  • Last of 30 droving crossings was in 1959, by which time road transport was well established.

 

  1. WHAT NOW
  • The CSR is considered to be the most challenging and remote 4wd adventures of its type in the world
  • Around 300 vehicles attempt it each year. It is mainly over the highest level native title land (right to exclusive possession), and pastoral lease land, so several permits are required and strict protocols must be adhered to.
  • Most of the culturally significant aboriginal sites near the stock route have now been closed to public access, due to the impact of a few idiotic travellers.
  • Self-sufficiency is a must as there is no routine “recovery” available on the CSR
  • Denise and I, with close friends Val and David Edwards are leaving Melbourne on May 20, to be in Wiluna June 5 for our adventure, crossing the Canning Stock Route. We are experienced and well prepared, adventurous but not fool-hardy. We plan to take 3 weeks on the CSR, but are prepared for the unforseen, and provisioned to cope. We are excited but take on this adventure with some trepidation.

Jacko’s Journey update …. Burketown to Atherton Tablelands..

TopEnd2
The brand new wharf and pontoon at Burketown on the Albert River….said to be the best barra fishing in Australia.


Burke and wills last camp before their final, failed assault to reach the Gulf…beaten by the wet season and their lack of bush skills. We had a few tears at the campsite .3
Morning coffee on the way to Normanton from Burketown4
Termite mounds next to our morning coffee stop.5
Replica of Kris the 8.63m croc shot near Normanton when it was legal……the largest salty ever recorded.6
The Gulflander train that stills run to and from Croydon for tourists.7
Sunset on the beach opposite the CP at Karumba.8
Part of the remaining fishing prawning fleet still operating from Karumba.9
Our campsite at Karumba.10
Cobbald Gorge – some of the grateful girls with our tour guide Ron…..an amazing 3 hour tour……followed by dinner on the restaurant deck with a couple we met on the tour…..from Montrose.11
Infinity pool, pool bar, dining patio at Cobbold gorge.12
In the little 10 seater electric boats on a tour exploring this amazing gorge. A must on all bucket lists.

….to be continued…..

We made it to the top end!! Aug 8th 2016

We made it to the top end!!
Aug 8th 2016

…to be continued….

Jacko’s Journey continues…..Mount Isa onwards…

TopEnd…. just a couple of ‘hard time miners’….

1Panorama of MIM massive underground lead, copper & gold mine.
2
Our campsite on the Gregory River, the best freecamp we have ever stayed
at. We went upstream and drifted down the crystal clear waters at our
leisure, and basically did nothing for 2 days.

Canoeing the gorge in Lawn Hill NP……a close second to Karigini NP in
the Pilbara for spleandour and challenge.

5Lawn Hill Gorge at sunrise…..left camp at 6am to ford across a river
torrent in the dark up to my waste, then scramble up a nearly vertical
rock face for 300m to be there at dawn for this shot…..how good is
Lawn Hill Gorge???

6Our bush campsite at Adels Grove, the main camp to explore Lawn Hill
NP……..had a campfire every one of the 4 nights there.

7Main street and pub at Burketown on the Gulf….a lovely small town with
great civic pride.

8Burke and Wills camp 119, the last before their final 3 day attempt to
reach the Gulf…which failed due to wet season swamps and impassable
river crossings. There were 15 trees “blazed” at this camp site but only
a few remain. It was truly humbling to be at this famous site where they
had used 3/4 of their supplies, yet had the return trek to endure and
finally perish.

9….to be continued

Jacko’s Journey – The Simson and Beyond – continued……

Barry & Denise, our intrepid travelers, are on their way to cross the Simson Desert then heading further North. I’ll be adding to this post when he is able to send updates of their journey……Admin.
thumbnail_IMG_0304
15June2016    Had five great days in Mildura catching up with friends from our farming days, then two long drives to make Coober Pedy yesterday. Sadly the weather has thwarted our flights over Lake Eyre and Painted Hills and we are stuck here waiting for friends to catch up for the Simson Desert crossing hopefully starting Sunday.
CP hasn’t changed much since we were here 5years ago.

299Crossing Bloods Creek, soon after leaving Mt.Dare at the start of the Simpson Desert Crossing. It was unexpected, and the water was over the bonnet before David took this photo. The first100km or so is crossing rough plains before reaching Dalhousie Springs,
where the 1100 sand dune crossings commence.

Below – Camp at Dalhousie Springs and an 8.00am swim before leaving.


Cresting a dune. You can’t see the track ahead………….Cresting a dune. You can't see the track ahead
Nearing the crest, trying to maintain momentum with no wheel spin……..Nearing the crest, trying to maintain momentum with no wheel spin
Descending a dune………….Descending a dune
Often as hard on the way down with deep corrugations and ruts to contend
with………Often as hard on the way down with deep corrugations and ruts to contend with
Great camp in the shelter of one of these massive dunes……..Great camp in the shelter of one of these massive dunes
Sunset over a saltlake from the hill……..thumbnail_Sunset over a saltlake from the hill
Crossing a dry saltlake….and they weren’t all dry!Crossing a dry saltlake....and they weren't all dry!
Ripping through mud at the end of another saltlake crossing……..Ripping through mud at the end of another saltlake crossing
Another camp with magnificent wildflowers everywhere over the crossing.
Now a green desert………..Another camp with magnificent wildflowers everywhere over the crossing. Now a green desert.
At the bottom of the final 40m dune known as Big Red. Note the spectator
vehicles on top watching the sport………At the bottom of the final 40m dune known as Big Red. Note the spectator vehicles on top watching the sport.
Part way up, bouncing, swerving, cheering……..Part way up, bouncing, swerving, cheering.
Just before the final successful ascent…..thumbnail_Just before the final successful ascent

That’s it for the Simpson, a truly memorable experience with great
friends Val and David Edwards. We loved the challenge, the excitement,
the remoteness, the green landscape with so many wildflowers, the
camping where tales were swapped and good food and wine
consumed……..all and more than we hoped for.
B.J.

** Stay tuned for the next episode in the adventure as Barry & Denise head further north…… Admin.

Jacko’s Journey – The Simson & Beyond

Barry & Denise, our intrepid travelers, are on their way to cross the Simson Desert then heading further North. I’ll be adding to this post when he is able to send updates of their journey……Admin.

thumbnail_IMG_0304

15June2016    Had five great days in Mildura catching up with friends from our farming days, then two long drives to make Coober Pedy yesterday. Sadly the weather has thwarted our flights over Lake Eyre and Painted Hills and we are stuck here waiting for friends to catch up for the Simson Desert crossing hopefully starting Sunday.
CP hasn’t changed much since we were here 5years ago.

Desert Trip 10 Pioneers of Eltham Men’s Shed and OMNI

9th November 2015
Day one

It was 8:45 am and the sun had just risen above the Eastern ranges in Eltham as a 1980’s series 60 turbo charged Toyota Land Cruiser driven by Mark Dellar and Peter Thomson picked up Old Daryl, to meet up with seven other adventurers on a five-day trip through the deserts of north-western Victoria, Australia.
1We met and grouped together at the perimeter of Calder racetrack at KFC’s roadhouse. We had to wait for the Captiva driven by Leon Higgins and Lindsay Clark – they were held up by an accident on the M80 Freeway but we believe they were tangled up in their brides’ nighties. At 10:05 we headed off in Indian file – a Toyota Prado driven by Harry and Jim then Greg and Lou in their Range Rover Discovery, next the Captiva followed by our classic 60 series Toyota Land Cruiser. It was a cool day; no rain and we were all cheerful and excited as we headed north on the Calder highway – our kilometers read 1398 as we took the Bendigo Mildura turnoff.
2We headed left at Bendigo through Lockwood South, Marong, Bridgewaters, Inglewood and passed the Major Mitchell monument as we headed further north to Wedderburn speedo now read 1480 kms
We arrived at Charlton at 1 pm where we stopped at a lovely café and had coffee and various cakes and pies. It was heating up so off with the jackets. The toilets on these trips are always an adventure in themselves – the urinal was so high up that various nameless members had to stand on a stool!!
On the road again and at Wycheproof the railway line runs down the centre of the main street . . . . don’t ask me why. We were now in the heart of grain growing country; the crops were very poor but ready for stripping, some headers were working leaving a trail of dust and chaff drifting into the atmosphere. Then onto Birchip by 2:30pm where a two storey pub, built in 1927, seemed to be beckoning us to stop awhile, but on we travelled to Beulah then turned up the C227 highway to a town called Rainbow on the edge of the desert.
We stopped here for fuel. Our vehicle took 53 litres and the kms now showed 1671, it was 3:50pm.
I stopped at the top on the main street at the railway siding to take some photos of a painted advertising shed, also a centenary rail painting and two lovely old two storey pubs, one being the Eureka Hotel with the food banners on the verandah and the other one being The Royal Hotel. I was the only person walking in the town’s main street, so I thought, until I heard a footstep behind me. Turning I saw a man in a hurry but I still said G’day to him – he replied “I’m in a hurry, can’t talk, have to wind up the bus and take the kids home from school”, and like The White Rabbit he was gone.


I was invited to drive the classic Toyota towards the start of the Desert as the sun was now getting low on the horizon on our first day. What a shock – it was like driving my Massey Ferguson tractor! After two laps of the main street we headed out along a narrow strip of sealed tar road towards the desert – everyone in our car was hanging on grimly calling out Jesus as we went sharply from side to side along the road. It took 5 kilometers before I went anything like in a straight line.
And there it was, a welcoming sign to Wyperfeld National Park. We travelled along a Mallee scrub lined track to a lovely camping site provided by Parks Victoria; tables, chairs, toilets and fire pits. We unloaded the camping gear from the four vehicles and set up our tents, swags, comfy chairs etc as Leon and Lindsay prepared a grand meal for us all – spaghetti bolognaise. Drama struck early as Mark realized he’d forgot to ring his wife and, with trembling lips and quivering of body he headed back toward Rainbow – he travelled some 27 kms before he got phone reception. 5With tents erected and beds made we played a game of Bocce with steel balls while waiting for our first desert meal. We had to wait for the flies to retire to eat and before the mozzies arrived. It was dark now and when Harry produced a bright light, so we could see our way around the camp and tents, we were invaded by swarms of migrating flying white ants – they were so thick and attracted by the bright lights we had to turn them off and converse in the dark.
10 tired pioneers then retired to bed and snored their way into the dawn of day two.

Day Two, 10th November 2015
Start 1747 kms

The early sun spread gold across our campsite where a mother kangaroo lazily crawled along the grass with its half-grown Joey keeping close by; slowly everyone emerged from their tents and swags eager to eat brekky before the flies gained formation and attacked us all over again. There was much laughter and anxiety as each group attempted to fold and pack their tents, cook bacon and eggs and eat burnt toast. It was about 9:45 when we headed out past a very large iron roof structure which is designed to catch rainwater and fill the two large concrete tanks nearby for fire fighting and wildlife.
We headed through sparsely treed Mallee scrub on a good sandy dirt track, stopping at a lookout we climbed on foot to this steep spot and climbed the steel lookout tower that gave us panoramic views of scrub, sand dunes; it was overcast with a light southerly wind. All through this country there were thousands of ant nest mounds; it is said they look after the Butterfly larvae and receive some nectar as a reward.
6We excitedly headed for an area called Snowdrop, which must have had the largest sand dune in all the desert. With cameras in hand and lungs full of oxygen, we started to climb this moving terrain. I tried to get some photos on the way up – this gave me a spell to gain more desired air. At last on top, most of we townies were gasping for air, but it was worth the climb and group photos were taken. I now know why it is called Snowdrop – if you look at Jim’s photo I am sure his white undies had slipped around his ankles.

7We then headed for O’Sullivans Track and another lookout – it was a 1.5 km walking track through scrub and with sharp grass seeds that anchored themselves firmly in our socks, however the view was worth the effort and climb. By this stage I started to be suspicious the other 9 were testing me out to see if this old bugger would last the 5 days.
We drove along Gunners Track and somewhere in this desert the track climbed some soft sand dunes and you guessed it – the Captiva threw in the towel.8 Out came the long-handled shovels and “digger” Lindsay moved more sand than a thousand kids on Bondi beach. Snatchem straps were attached to the old turbo powered Toyota – it took off at high-speed and when the strap ran out of slack – bang, Leons neck suffered severe whiplash. Stunned he held the wheel on full lock as he was dragged forward to safety with a wave of sand piling up on his bonnet. This event was to happen many times and thereafter Leon became known as “Sandman”.
Underbool was our next destination we arrived at 5:30pm, some vehicles topped up with fuel and I headed off to take some photos. The one horse town was deserted; the only exception, a large semitrailer which tried to mow me down as I stood in the middle of the highway taking a photo of the old two storey pub, with its gutters rotted out and dangling from the roof with one end resting on the barren ground. On the window it had a phone number painted in lipstick which said ‘for service please ring’, the main double doors said ‘push hard’ so I did; sticking my head in I saw 3 men sparsely spaced around the bar and a battle hardened barmaid with a long neck bottle in her callused hand; they were all watching TV so I called out in my best country voice “G’day what’s doing in this metropolis?” One guy replied in a slow disinterested way “we’re havin a beer” and turned to watch TV again. Where is the country hospitality these days? Never even offered me a beer, so I turned and jammed the front doors hard together again on my way out.
9By 6 pm we were in the Murray-Sunset National park on the banks of Lake Crosbie and the famous Pink Salt Lake. We set up camp here and some photos were taken of the sun setting across the lake. Mark “the Instructor” with his unmentionable apron cooked our second desert meal of chicken and stir fry veggies washed down with homemade beer, followed by Thommo’s famous red wine, then washed down by Greg’s red skin wine, followed by the best Port, followed by the best group bonding evening with jokes and full tummies. No one complained about how cold it was, but Mark highlighted and commented on the noise of the snoring choir as he stuffed in his earplugs and headed into a canvas pyramid.

Day Three, 11th Nov 2015 (Remembrance Day)
Start 1891 kms

Windy cold and cloudy – had two Weet Bix and a cup of tea for brekky. Others had eggs and bacon, toast plus coffee, again lots of fun folding tents, chairs and blankets ready for day three’s adventures. Left Lake Crosbie, passed Lake Becking and Mt Crozier by 11:20am. At 2pm we stopped for lunch at the T-intersection of Underbool Track and Pheenys’ Track. 10All sorts of lovely food came out of various fridges as we sat on the limbs of the twisted Mallee that made comfortable swinging chairs to eat from – it was so peaceful as we sipped our teas and marvelled at the wild flowers . . . . . all four of them.
Some drivers swapped around and it was great to see young Huon “lone Pine” at only 22, being accepted within the group of oldies and given the chance to drive various vehicles under trying conditions. He did better than yesterday in the Toyota with its hair trigger accelerator and stiff clutch as we entered the bumpy rough terrain. We gave those kangaroos an exhibition of how to hop high and shake up all the food in the different compartments – the upshot was we had great frothy beer at the end of the day.
The skies were darkening as we pulled into the Shearers Huts camping grounds. Here there were some quarters and shedding that had been restored with the assistance of the Sunraysia Men’s Shed.
With a storm pending and a structured fire pit we decided to gather some wood and have a campfire for us to sit around having our group meal. We set up our tents ready for a stormy night’s camping as Harry and Jim cooked up Rice and Tuna plus a lovely salad followed by apricots and custard. We were all thankful for such a hearty meal, Thommo provided digital music via Bluetooth from his iPod as we sat around the fire talking and joking well into the night as lightning lit up the sky; rain would be so welcome here. We retired into our tent with all windows and door flaps zipped up.
Lindsay tried to sleep in his bubble tent but later admitted he spent a lot of the night in the Captiva.
Lots of sand one day, water the next!

Day Four, 12th Nov 2015
We headed off from camp at 9.30 am.

11The three of us woke through the night to rain, thunder and lightning Mark “the instructor” stood straddled across Peter trying to close off the windows and stop the rain getting inside. He looked like a grandfather clock in loose undies with his pendulum swinging side to side as the lightning flashed intermittently. The ground was wet and sticky in the morning, we stoked up the fire and I saw Lindsay standing in the smoke like a fire warden surveying the situation, he then jumped onto the picnic table holding his mobile phone high above himself – claiming you get better reception up there.
Brekky was successful as the rain had stopped and the ground was drying up, but the tents were wet and sandy now. The Instructor had folded his tent and stood by Greg and Lou observing their efforts12 to fold their pyramid tent . . . . . . he soon became frustrated and threw his arms around stuttering “no, no do it this way and that way” he then walked away and took his blood pressure tablets!!
Harry the “Navigator” invited me to drive his Prado on day 4 of the trip . . . . what an impressive machine, we easily drove over the sand dunes only to hear “Sandman” again calling out “I’m stuck”. As we mounted the top of a sand ridge waiting for the Captiva to catch up we saw a large kangaroo stooping over a fresh water puddle in the track and I am sure she reached into her pouch withdraw an enameled pannikin, scooped up some water and had a drink, placing the pannikin back into the pouch before hoping away into the safety of the bush.
By 2:30 we were in Murrayville, we stopped for our fridge lunch in a lovely park opposite the two storey pub with a phantom sign on the wall that said “There are no Ghosts here but the spirits are good”.
13It is only a small town and the Fire Warden and I visited the local op shop, which was the original bakery, the wood fired oven was still there. It was here we met the lovely Christine who ran this shop, she told us just last week they had 86 mm of rain and it flooded the school and also her shop. I took her photo and we bought two books, a bottle of her home-made chutney, and 3 brass belt buckles with a camel on each one that I guess were worn by the Afghan traders as they brought supplies loaded upon the camels crossing the desert sands with their camel trains, to these remote settlements. All this cost us $6, and Christine invited us to sign her visitor’s book.
We headed off back into the desert and stopped at Big Billy Bore, (kms now 2139) there was a windmill pumping water and some holding tanks with water available to the weary travelers, we mostly washed our faces and filled our water bottles leaving there at 3.30 pm. We were heading for Red Bluff on the South Australian border road of the Big Desert. 14We stopped to load up firewood on top of two vehicles and on we went only to find the road some 20 kms along was flooded and the clay very sticky – with great disappointment we turned back and made camp on the road side between Murrayville and 70 kms north of Nhill. We could hear a cow mooing in the fields, reminded me of my Jersey cow back on the farm some 66 years ago. We dumped the wood for some other travellers to use at Red Bluff camp site and we set up our last camp on the road side amongst the Mulga.


Lou our chef and my Doctor Greg cooked our last evening meal – spaghetti and beef cheeks and we all eagerly sat around in a semi-circle and devoured this superbly prepared meal, everyone had bonded well, there were lots of fun stories about our adventure, we had all learned so much about our country and about each other. I went to bed early because of my infected eye, which Doctor Greg had helped me with so much. They all sat around my tent and I started snoring country music and humming in tune, but they complained that they could not hear each other laugh and talk, so they went to bed early also.

Day 5, 13th Nov 2015
Speedo read 2234 kms at start of day

We had a great tuition session from “The Instructor” and we filmed it all in motion (thanks to an iPhone6) as he gave more lessons on how to fold and pack a pyramid tent.
With brekky over we were all getting ready for our homeward bound journey, tyres getting pumped up for the highway and whilst this was being done we took lots of photos of the group around the sign of the BIG DESERT
We headed off at 8:30 am back through the wheat and grain farms, we passed through Yanac with its rail siding silos and the general store named Wheatons. Most of the land is flat with very spacious paddocks, then onto Nhill by 9:30 am, then Wail with more silos and a very small town 17called Pimpinio and then to Horsham for morning tea at 10:45 am where the parking meters were not working but they can still book you somehow. We are now back to civilization, warts and all, 11:33 and on the way again past the Deelea State school no 721, then past the outskirts of Stawell and arrived at Ararat by 12:33 where we stopped for lunch at the Leopold Hotel. We took a group photo and said our goodbyes. On leaving the pub I saw a painting of Chloe18 hanging near the front entrance, the only other one I have seen is in Young and Jacksons in Flinders St, Melbourne.
Passed through Beaufort at 2:30 pm and skirted around Ballarat heading down the Western highway toward the M80 and home.
We are now entering the uncivilized zone getting lost before the M80 but getting back on track was a nightmare once we entered the freeway it was bumper to radiator and at standstill many times. About Dalton St we heard and saw there was an accident ahead so we slipped across to Settlement Rd, Thomastown – which was no better. It took us over one hour to get from there to Eltham, now being 6:10 pm we were all pleased to arrive safely home and to get the first shower in five days and to shave off all that grey stubble.
End kms 2720, for a total trip of 1475 kms
The temperature was never above 30 deg on this trip, however since returning temperatures have been as high as 42 deg.

We had a very peaceful five days away only to come back to the horrific news of the bombings and shootings in Paris where 127 people were killed. I could only hear the words made famous by Peter,Paul & Mary in the early 1960’s ……………………

“When will they ever learn?”

Trip Vehicles and Pioneers were:
Toyota Landcruiser:
Mark Dellar – ‘The Instructor’
Peter Thomson – ‘Thommo’
Daryl Morrow – ‘Oh Wise One’
Land Rover Discovery:
Greg Mitchell – ‘The Doctor’
Lou Fazio – ‘The Masterchef’
Toyota Prado:
Harry Morris – ‘the Navigator’
Jim Gundrum
Huon Thomson (son) – ‘lone pine’
Holden Captiva:
Leon Higgins – ‘Sandman’
Lindsay Clarke – “digger”
Story by Daryl Morrow ©

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Nullarbor Tales

Nullarbor Tales.                                                                     Bruce McCorkill October 2015

The date is 15th September, 2015. The time is 7.30 AM. Our car is caught in peak hour traffic on the Western Ring Road. Years ago, I would have been commuting, cursing the traffic and worrying about being late for work. This time is different. I’m not fussed by the delay. There is an appointment we have to keep, one we dare not be late for, but there is plenty of time. We are driving to a party at Margaret River – ten days and four thousand kilometres away.

Ten years ago, our son moved there, searching for great surf. He found this, as well as a casual life style and a lovely wife. Now they have a baby boy – Lachie, and he’s just about to turn one. Naturally, we decide to gate crash his party. Generally, we fly over, but have always hankered to drive. Just to do it, for the experience, for the fun of it. This is the perfect excuse. Hence, we are heading off on our adventure of driving across the Nullarbor. The car has been serviced and new tyres installed. I have gathered a collection of spare parts and tools. The boot contains more birthday and Christmas presents than luggage. Our family realised we could be the free Nullarbor postal service.

In the traffic, I think about the trip and decide to write a story about it. Not a diary type travelogue, but one more expressing my feelings along the way. I have a month to plan the story and craft the words to describe feelings which will interest the reader. At this early stage I experience a mix of mild apprehension, concerns about safety and a desire to have an adventure. We are keenly looking forward to seeing our family, especially our grandson. I miss my son, but realise he has found a new home on the other side of the continent. Friends ask when is he coming home, and I curtly reply that he is home.

It will be a fairly quick trip. Seven days to drive over, two weeks there, then seven days to return. A few days will be over seven hundred kilometres of driving. We share this duty, but I wonder if we have allowed sufficient time for a relaxing trip. The research sternly warns against driving at after dusk, with the risk of striking kangaroos and other wildlife. I have read about the dangers of the long snaking road trains, and the need to be wary of people towing huge caravans for the first time. My rational mind decides that these feelings are normal, and I should have no problems in expressing them in my story.

The first day to Adelaide is a long pleasant country drive, like driving to Ballarat, only eight times longer. The road is mostly a doubled lane highway, fairly flat, until we get lost in the Adelaide Hills and spend an hour driving around winding hilly roads. But this is a picturesque diversion, and the B&B owner has provided a range of tasty food in a comfortable environment, so we are off to a good start. The second long day to Ceduna is also a pleasant trip, so I’m feeling quite chirpy. We can do this.

The next two days we cross the Nullarbor proper. The drive is not what I expect. I had thought we would be driving through the desert, but the landscape is fully vegetated. As per the meaning “treeless plain”, there are few trees, but there are ongoing blankets of small saltbush shrubs, native grasses, and delicate purple flowers; all springing up from the rich red gravelly soil. The land is totally flat, just endless stretches of dull grey green colour.

When I think how to describe my feelings, the most suitable phrase would be that of feeling slightly disappointed, maybe somewhat cheated. The landscape fascinates me, but it is too easy after what I had been expecting. The road is wide with generous easy bends, good visibility, and occasionally passing lanes. The tarmac is smooth, with wide verges. Passing the dreaded road trains presents no problems, there is tons of space. Even the hordes of caravans pose no threat. The road even seems somewhat busy, with oncoming vehicles several minutes apart, and the car hums along smoothly. I recollect how my father wrote a story describing how in 1928 his father drove the family, with six kids, over the Nullarbor in an old Dodge, when it was only a dirt road. I feel admiration for those early travellers.

At the Head of the Bight, we digress to the Nullarbor cliffs, where whales spend months mating, calving and teaching their young to survive. I wonder how to describe the feeling of watching these huge creatures softly floating in the gentle swell, diving and surfacing, slapping wide tails, and keeping calves close and safe. We see about a dozen whales plus a few calves, and my camera is working overtime. The words I will use will be along the lines of awe at seeing these lovely animals, sadness at how they have been hunted nearly to extinction, and anger at how some countries still attempt to justify their slaughter.

It is intriguing stopping at Roadhouses. On this highway, function triumphs over form. Motel buildings are simply long brick boxes for travellers to sleep in. Food is basic. The servos are simple shops selling rudimentary supplies, plus fuel. The huge gravel forecourts are stacked with semi trailers, a place for drivers to sleep, grab a meal, have a freshening shower, and refuel. In my big city way I tend to denigrate the standard of some places until the realisation dawns that they are serving their purpose; helping travellers along their way. But I allow myself a Melbourne smugness over the coffee paucity, and crave for a decent coffee. Most places have push button self serve machines, which spit out a milky mixture tasting like baby’s formula. I experiment with the buttons and realise that by pressing the button marked “flat white strong”, a substance resembling coffee trickles out.

I develop an interest in the human tentacles snaking over the countryside. The Grey Nomads. The road is full of caravans pulled by retirees. Couples selling homes and travelling around Australia. The vans are nothing like the primitive plywood ones of my youth. These machines are sophisticated, sleek and shiny, fully self contained with ensuites, satellite dishes, solar panels, comprehensive kitchens and soft beds. Capable of camping anywhere by the side of the road, they are towed by sensible vehicles. Not the cute city SUV style, but powerful diesel four wheel drives and utes. At dusk at caravan parks, flocks of vans arrive. The routine is simple. Carefully back into the spot, connect the power and water, set up the satellite dish and solar panel, wind out the awning, unfold the deck chairs, and within ten minutes sip on a glass of wine. It looks like a good life, and I hope the Nomads are having fun, but for myself I prefer more structure in my life, plus a bit more space. My words to describe these travellers would be in the vein of people who have worked hard over a long life just wanting to have hard earned fun.

We reach Norseman, the Western end of the plain. I am becoming sadly aware that small bush towns are dying. There are only the roadhouses, surrounded by a police station and a few houses. But Norseman, which in gold digging times housed fifty thousand people, seems to be still a large town. I am hopeful that there is some heart left here. But this is an illusion. As we drive into the town, most of the houses are empty and broken down, with shattered windows and overgrown gardens. I ponder how I will describe this in my story, the feelings of sadness I feel. How to adequately convey the desolation of a town which was once a busy hub, to one which now on a Friday night has a deserted main street. There are a few voices emanating from the big pub, which in the past would be full of noisy men furiously drinking and laughing. A few cars are parked along the kerb, and a few children riding bikes up the footpath. The shops along one side of the street are all boarded up, with peeling paint. It is all so quiet and deserted, a living ghost town.

We head north to Kalgoorlie. On the way we stop at the mining town of Kambalda. My wife lived here when she worked for Western Mining Corporation over forty years ago, on a working holiday, and was anticipating seeing her old temporary home again. But she also experiences some sadness. Kambalda has changed so much we have trouble finding her old residence. We finally find the block of flats, but it is abandoned, corralled by a high fence. The busy mall where she had shopped, is firmly boarded up. The once thriving town is now a modern day ghost town, with Western Mining gone. We inspect huge residential compounds, built to house hundreds of miners, now empty, with not even one high vis vest left dangling on a clothes line. I suspect my wife is feeling despondent as we drive away.

Kalgoorlie is an enjoyable break. We stay two nights in a comfortable apartment, and wander the wide streets, admiring the beautiful old buildings, the big double storied pubs with bull nose verandas and ornate pillars. The city seems busy, with numerous interesting eating places, and we enjoy a decent coffee. We even stand outside a brothel. In a somewhat ludicrous twist, the main patrons of the once thriving Hay Street establishments, now mostly gone, are no longer miners needing to press the flesh, but Grey Nomads going on brothel tours. We watch the kerb fill up with lines of caravans, and groups of respectable couples self consciously queuing up. In my story I may try to put some amusing twist on this slice of modern Kalgoolie attractions, but overall I feel happy at seeing this town. It is still a busy regional hub, with life bubbling up. I will describe it in these favourable terms.

From Kalgoorlie we travel inland to Margaret River. My feelings range from regret that we are leaving the intriguing dry inland county, to a fascination with the changing nature of the landscape. I think of this as a transitional journey. The red soil disappears, replaced by fertile grazing land. The scrubby bushes give way to tall trees. Phone lines and fences spring up along the road. Semi trailers carrying massive Caterpillar excavators give way to flat top trucks carting agricultural machinery. John Deere dealerships dot the highway, and towns become more frequent.

It’s easy to describe my feelings for the next fortnight. Simple joy and delight at seeing our son, daughter in law, and our grandson again. Lachie is a lovable little guy. We spend time hanging out together, visiting wineries, going to the beach, and playing with Lachie. I take delight in sipping a daily cup of sweetly brewed coffee and reading the local paper, in the little cafes lining the bustling main street. Because the town is booming, shops are busy, eating places are full, mostly by well heeled tourists enjoying the beach atmosphere, dressed in smart holiday clothing. An absolute contrast to the drabness and functionality of the inland. I realise that Australia, while one country, consists of two landscapes, the harsh dry inland county and the soft wet coastal fringe.

We celebrate Lachie’s first birthday with family and friends, and this is a great day. It’s what we drove all that way for. In my story I will keep it simple, just write a bit about family bonds, love and affection, then leave it to readers to understand.

Regretfully, we finally have to go home. The trip is a reverse of the one over, an easy drive, we know the road now. But this time we travel around the coast, via Esperance. This involves driving south from Margaret River, down through the tall karri timber forests. These are spectacular, tall trees, densely crowding the forest floor. The words to describe this drive are ones like majestic, strong, tall and dramatic. We finally hit Esperance, a lovely place, where we have a walk on the beach and a final decent coffee before heading inland towards Norseman again, where we return back over the Nullarbor.

We reach Ceduna and branch down along the Eyre Peninsular. It is a great drive along the coast, stopping at small coastal towns and sitting by the beach having coffee and cake, and looking out over the blue seas, with cute piers jutting out into the water. In my story I will say we just had a peaceful, leisurely relaxing time in this part of the world. A highlight is detouring to the seal colony at Point Labatt. This is a sixty kilometre drive on a rough gravel road, but it is worth it. From the viewing platform, we gaze down at the colony of sea lions, lolling around on the rocks, seeming to be having a fine peaceful life. The sea is a dark aqua colour, with numerous white crests, and I have fun taking lots of pictures.

At the small town of Tumby Bay, after our coffee on the cute cafe on the beach, we go for a walk and spy two bikes parked next to a bench. These bikes are totally full of panniers, back packs, handlebar baskets, as well as various other bags hanging down. During the trip we have seen a few cyclists riding along, but I have never had a chance to talk to the riders. We see a couple about our age in cycling gear walking towards us, so I naturally ask them if they are the owners of the bikes. We have a great talk to them, for the next half hour, finding out how they cope with the riding, where they sleep each night, and so on. It turns out they are a couple who decided to take two years off work to ride around Australia. So far they have travelled 19,000 kilometres, including riding up the highest mountain in each state. The reason they are doing this, is that the guy developed multiple sclerosis. He couldn’t ski or run any more, but still could ride a bike, so off they went to achieve this item in his bucket list. I would simply use the words of massive admiration and inspiration for this man. Also, if any of the cycling group guys back home, complain about the hill at Westerfolds Park, they will get no sympathy from me.

Port Lincoln is a bustling place, the home of the tuna and other fishing fleet. The town is busy, and in the evening we have a tasty meal of oysters in the pub, with a cold glass of white wine. Beautiful! We inspect the marina, and I have the “aha” moment, when I realise this is where the tuna in little cans in Safeway, actually comes from. The marina is full of big fishing boats, painted blue and white, strongly built to withstand the powerful seas. It is a dramatic moment.

In contrast, the next overnight stay, at Whyalla, is just depressing. The town is a dull functional one, built to accommodate workers in the huge steel mill. We drive up to the lookout to take pictures of the mill, a scattering of brown red buildings, surrounded by huge piles of iron ore. We get talking to a local resident about living there. He tells us about the large number of workers he knows who have died of cancer. Also, he describes the fish from the local harbour, which are a fluoro green colour, and terribly deformed. We hear how safety equipment for the workers is hung on walls, but without any signs directing workers to use these things, as this would clearly admit the mill is a dangerous place to work. He asks us to look around the town at the colour of the buildings and streets. On the way back to our motel we see that the whole town is covered in a red brown sediment, even the concrete footpaths and street posts are brown. Lots of the houses are painted brown, to blend in with the dust from the steel works. That night we look up the place to find that it has one of the highest incidences of lead poisoning in Australia. My thoughts here are a mixture of sadness for the workers who are suffering, despair for the future of the kids who will suffer in the future, plus anger that nothing is being done about this terrible deadly place. In fact I read an article by the mayor, complaining that people should stop criticising the pollution from the mill, as the company puts a huge amount of money into the town economy. We are glad to drive away the next morning, but feel despair for the residents who can’t leave.

At Port Augusta, we visit the Wadlata Interpretive Centre. This attraction has displays of both the original Aboriginal inhabitants of the Outback area of South Australia, plus the early white settlers. We wander through the centre, admiring the interactive displays as well as the pictures and equipment of the settlers. It is a fascinating look at the early days of this part of the Outback and life there. A number of areas detail the original overland explorers, and I can only think with admiration and amazement of how tough those men and women were.

Finally, we are on the road to Adelaide and nearly home. On the drive, we talk a lot, and relive the highlights of the visit. Our feelings can best be described as some sadness in leaving, wondering when we will next see the Western part of our family, but a certain keenness to get home, as well as the pleasure of reuniting with our Melbourne family. There are some regrets that we did not have nearly enough time to do much sightseeing along the way, but there were time limitations. But we start to talk about what we could do next time if we drove, including taking longer to drive over and see more off the main road, then maybe get the Indian Pacific train home. We will just have to wait and see.

We have achieved our main challenge of crossing the Nullarbor and attending Lachie’s birthday. So after seven days of driving, we finish where we started, on the Western Ring Road, this time in evening peak hour traffic. The welcoming arms of the Eltham trees embrace us, as they have for the last forty years when we return home.

We unload the car, check the garden, and have dinner. Then I head for the study and computer, because I have a story to write.

Port Douglas: Mark 2. October 2015.

DSCN1640Its two years to the month since we were last at Port Douglas and due to its attraction we decided to revisit this wonderful place.

Thank God we left home two hours before our flight was to leave Melbourne due to the difficulty experienced in finding a car park in the new and extended Melbourne Airport car park facility.

It was cool when we left home and wonderfully warm on arriving at Cairns airport where we had some lunch then collected our hire car. We had an enjoyable trip to our destination with beautiful scenery and minimal traffic compared to our Melbourne highways.

We headed straight to the shopping mall in Port Douglas for supplies then onto our accommodation at “A Tropical Nights” resort that was a fully fitted out two-story town house complete with a swimming pool and only a five-minute walk to the stunning four mile beach.20151012_143349

Always wanting to explore/experience new and different places our first outing was to the” Agincourt Reef” situated on the Outer Barrier Reef some 75 km from the Marina at Port Douglas.

The journey on the massive Quicksilver Catamaran to the pontoon travelling at a constant 35 knots was incredibly smooth and we were well catered for with a lovely morning tea that further enhanced the experience.20151017_111811

After approximately 1-1/2  hour  we reached the permanently(fixed to the sea floor) pontoon where we alighted and had a marvelous lunch and from there we took to the semi submersible craft and viewed the reef from below sea level.Bron being a tad more adventurous than me donned the snorkelling gear and took to the water for a more personalised underwater experience.DSCN1664DSCN1657

Next on our to-do list was a day trip down to Babinda about  180 km from Port Douglas to see “The Boulders“that were situated in possibly the most beautiful flora and fauna reserve I have ever seen.

The boulders are the result of Volcanic action most probably millions of years ago and now having a fast flowing clear freshwater stream meandering through them, but before the water meets the rocks a beautiful large lake only a metre or so deep was a sight to behold.DSCN1688

DSCN1683Later that day we continued further along our journey towards Innisfall where our next point of call was the incredible and an absolute must see  enchanting “Paronella Park” located in the rainforest.DSCN1701

This place came about as a result of a young Spanish man’s dream that led him to Australia early last century and he had a desire to have his own castle,so after working as a sugar cane cutter ,property developer and numerous other jobs for many years saved enough to buy land and started building his castle/s as a labour of love!

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Fire ravaged his dream and the present owners are hopeful of restoring it to its original glory.

Apart from walking the beach each day and going out for lunch and dinner most days our final outing was the “Flames of the Forest” dinner.We were collected from our Town House about 6:00 pm  by bus and taken into the depths of the Rain Forest to a point where a wall of flames heralded we had reached our destination.

Ourselves along with approximately 30 other couples then walked through the night-time forest only lit by lanterns along the edge of the pathway until we came to a point where the trees and surrounding bush were covered in coloured lighting that gave a spectacular view to where we were going to be dining for the night under a Marque size covering without walls.

We dined on Kangaroo (YUK), Crocodile(not as bad),lamb and a number of other delightful delicacies and being accompanied by an accomplished singer with an acoustic guitar.20151017_193846

All in all our trip was great and can’t be fully captured,however if you have yet to visit Port Douglas be sure it’s on your Bucket List.

Cheers

Ron