OMNI men from Diamond Creek and Hurstbridge visited the Chinese Museum in Chinatown on Tuesday. Our guide Nick took us through the history of the Chinese people in Australia then a walkthrough of Chinatown.
OMNI men from Diamond Creek and Hurstbridge visited the Chinese Museum in Chinatown on Tuesday. Our guide Nick took us through the history of the Chinese people in Australia then a walkthrough of Chinatown.
A very enjoyable visit to the Old Treasury Building was had by OMNI men on the third Tuesday of the month ( 30 August ).Built in 1858-1862 it was a product of the 1850’s gold rush. Built in the Renaissance Revival style from Sandstone from Bacchus Marsh and Bluestone mined from Footscray.
The architect was John James Clark, a 19 year old immigrant from Liverpool who also designed Government House, the Royal Mint, City Baths and the Queen Victoria Women’s Hospital.
We started our trip in June 2016 in Swaziland, where we stayed at the Sondzela Backpackers in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. It is one of my favourite places on earth.
The mountain on the left is called Executioner’s Rock. In ancient times Swazis suspected of witchcraft or criminals were forced to walk off the edge at spear-point for their crimes.
This is what our accommodation looked like:
Next we visited the Kruger National Park for twelve days, staying in three different campsites: Berg-en-Dal, Lower Sabie and Skukuza. Not a day went by when we did not have many sightings of a large variety of animals.
Giraffes at waterhole. There is an interesting article at http://www.animalanswers.co.uk/animals/how-do-giraffes-drink-without-passing-out/ which explains why giraffes don’t pass out when they drink water.
The animals have right of way.
This buffalo was the victim of lions or a leopard.
The sunsets in the Kruger Park are often stunning.
These lions ignored the tourists with disdain. They like lying in the road towards the end of the day because the road stays warm for a while after dark.
Waterhole with zebras, hippopotamuses and a crocodile
White rhinos. In the three years from 2012 to 2014 1,858 of these magnificent animals were killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park.
A kudu and impalas at a waterhole
A large herd of elephants arrived while we were waiting at this waterhole. The one on the left kept a wary eye on us.
A hyena scavenging on a very smelly carcass
We saw many giraffes every single day that we were in the park. They are the most graceful of animals and we never tired of seeing them in their natural environment.
A zebra with her baby
After the Kruger National Park we travelled to Namibia to visit the Etosha National Park in the north of the country. The park borders on the Etosha Salt Pan, which is 40 kms wide and 175 kms long.
We were surprised at the variety of birds and animals living in Etosha’s dry landscape. This bird is called a Kori Bustard. Not a bad name to call someone who gives one grief, I reckon.
There were many large herds of springboks in the park.
Blue wildebeest – a common sight
An oryx. They thrive in dry areas.
Not a blade of grass grows on the Etosha salt pan. It is an endless vista of nothingness.
Finally we travelled to Cape Town and to Hermanus (see picture below), where we suffered from culture shock when confronted by the sea and the green landscapes after the barrenness of Namibia!
9th November 2015
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.
We 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.
We 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.
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.
We 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.
We 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. 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.
By 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. All 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.
The 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 efforts 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”.
It 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. We 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.
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 called 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 Chloe 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:
Mark Dellar – ‘The Instructor’
Peter Thomson – ‘Thommo’
Daryl Morrow – ‘Oh Wise One’
Land Rover Discovery:
Greg Mitchell – ‘The Doctor’
Lou Fazio – ‘The Masterchef’
Harry Morris – ‘the Navigator’
Huon Thomson (son) – ‘lone pine’
Leon Higgins – ‘Sandman’
Lindsay Clarke – “digger”
Story by Daryl Morrow ©
We left Broome somewhat reluctantly, as our setting, the weather, our new-found love of the place, and our state of relaxation/ contentment were begging us to stay……but our “adventure juices” won over with an exciting plan for our return home.
We travelled east to Fitzroy Crossing retracing steps from a 2011 trip, but drawn by another one of our “soul” places, so we were delighted to pull in to The Lodge CP again, right on the banks of the Fitzroy River. There are plenty of saltwater crocs here, but we were told they stick to the river, and the banks are quite high. We set up in the non-pwr area, and went for a bit of a drive ending back at the small shopping centre. “Break and Enter” is frowned upon, and the security is solid, but nothing compared to that encasing the local fuel pumps!
The following morning we were away bright and early as we didn’t really want to stay at Halls Creek again, but hoped to start our 900km Tanami Desert Track adventure by reaching Wolfe Creek Crater some 125km down the track. We expected the Tanami to be rough, so let the tyres way down before tackling it. It didn’t let us down, being heavily corrugated to the Crater turnoff…..then it got really bad, taking an hour to travel the last 23km.
It was all worth it, as the free-camp was fantastic, and the Crater awe-inspiring. Thanks to Nick-OMNI-Gange for researching and posting our whereabouts….it happened 300,000 years ago when a 50,000 tone meteorite crashed to earth here causing a 880m circular crater to be formed. It is well preserved as the very harsh and dry climate here has prevented overgrowth. It is the second largest such strike known to earth behind one in Texas.
We continued on the long and not so winding road, which improved after we crossed the border in to N.T. The scenery didn’t change much over the length of the drive…..as I suppose you may expect in an arid desert, but we finally pulled off to an empty designated free camp. We just started setting up when 2 carloads of aboriginals pulled in. We hadn’t realised that a “community” was about 10km down the road (and 5km inland as they always are). They are loud and unkempt (by our standards) and their toilet habits crude (by our standards) but I didn’t feel threatened. Denise was elated when another traveller pulled in, and they set up right next to us. The aboriginals finally left, and we shared a drink with new friends Tony and Dianne from Canberra.
We knew we would complete the Tanami Track the next day, but needed a “splash” to make it safely to Alice Springs, so pulled off the track and wound our way in to Yuendumu aboriginal settlement. I will choose my words and sentiment as carefully as I can, and my observations to Denni on the way in to the fuel stop went something like this…….”lots and lots of dogs here…..dead dog on your side of the road……can’t see many windows left in the houses…..pity about all the trash in the yards and streets……fair size community – must be several hundred homes – all trashed (by our standards)…..looks like a fair sized school over there – nice buildings and grounds……hey, where are the residents, have only seen a few stragglers!”. We finally found the very small store/ fuel stop and a few aboriginals. Denni wouldn’t get out of the car, but when I spoke to one of the locals – she was quiet, no emotion, and sort of polite, but I could see nothing in her eyes; like emptiness of life or purpose. The white owner soon appeared at the diesel pump on a lean with broken glass face and explained only he could coax it to go!! After putting in the 15l I had requested, @ $2.73/l, he climbed on his soap box and let it out (politely). This was a “dry” semi functional aboriginal community with the main (sporadic) employment the aboriginal art centre. The school had about 200 enrolments, but attendance was another issue. It catered for primary and secondary students delivering a heavily modified and generic syllabus, skewed to aboriginal culture and history, but with English a key subject. BUT, that big new building you passed on the way in is our brand new $7.6 million POLICE STATION THAT WE DIDN’T ASK FOR, DON’T NEED, AND DON’T WANT, because despite outward appearances there is little to no crime here!!!
I thanked him for the fuel and sermon and jumped back in the car and crept out of town, back to the Tanami Track. There are in fact MANY such communities right across central Australia out of sight and mind, and although I have no immediate solution to the issue, I can’t help thinking this just isn’t working.
We had about 300km to Alice, so stopped at Tilmouth Roadhouse for lunch and a look at a well renowned art gallery, plus a good place to re-inflate the tyres for the bitumen road ahead.
We had spent time in Alice and out in east and west Macdonnell Ranges in 2011, so this time it was r&r, washing, shopping, and another look around a town we really like. It has all the amenities of larger cities, but still retains a country feel.
Refreshed and refuelled after 4 days, we were ready to return to the dirt, and head 68km north of Alice, then east on the Plenty Hwy (another part of the Great Central Road) to Boulia. The Great Central Highway eventually finishes at Winton.
The road was pretty good with some sections of light corrugations…..but lots of bulldust. There were plenty of road trains moving cattle out of drought ravaged central Australia, and lots of open road.
We made good time as we were fresh and the road good, so we made it to Tobermorey, a cattle station on the NT – Qld border. It was like an oasis in the desert of bulldust. This bulldust is like talcum powder, and is hazardous on the road as you can’t see how deep or wide it is, and once in it, steering becomes unpredictable with loss of traction. If you don’t maintain momentum, it is also possible to become bogged, so just keep your concentration up, and drive to the conditions…..common sense is the winner. Back to Tobermorey, there was a beautiful big shaded and grassed area to camp on, and lovely hot showers, even if it was all courtesy of the Great Artesian Basin! We take power for granted, but on this station the nearby generator goes 24 hrs a day…..a clean body, full tummy, and adequate “hydration” ensured we didn’t hear a thing until the morning!!
We only had 250km to Boulia the next morning, and soon set up at the CP right on the banks of the Burke River. Boulia is 300km south of Mt. Isa at the junction of the Diamantina and Kennedy Development Roads. The town’s fame largely rests with its association with the Min Min Light, a strange spectral light that can appear, hover, disappear and reappear with an eerie will of its own. The life like recreation of sightings at the “I” was sensational, and poses more questions than answers as you would expect. There was plenty of Burke & Wills landmarks with the waterhole and slashed tree nearby.
But Boulia has more with the annual camel races so we had to visit the racetrack. It was really well appointed and the camels were out in force. And Boulia has its own “Red Stump”….We loved Boulia
But we moved on with Bedourie and Birdsville in our sights. The road was mainly sealed but narrow, so we were in Bedourie before lunch. It was a foul day with strong, hot, and gusty northerly winds. The two highlights on the road were the Vaughan Johnson lookout, and a substantial stand of Waddi trees. The Vaughan Johnson lookout was only recently completed at a shared cost of $470k, but is a magnificent highlight with 360 views to match, and is a welcome change to the vast emptiness of the gibber and Mitchell grass plains. It has a number of well- presented interpretive panels detailing the pioneering history of the area with emphasis on the evolution and importance of early transport in the far west of Queensland to today’s road trains.
Bedourie (meaning “dust storm”) is a small town of 120 people, but is the administrative centre of the huge 95,000 sq. km Diamantina Shire. It has limited services, but a camp ground, a racecourse (naturally), an old pub and a 25m/ 6lane swimming pool with 42degC artesian spa!!!!!! It seemed out of place, but who cares – we loved the hot and cold pools on a day in the mid-30’s with strong winds to maintain the namesake. Unfortunately the pub’s reputation was shattered by a shocker of a meal after a pleasant sit at the bar chinwagging.
The weather forecast from Bedourie wasn’t encouraging for our plans to do Haddon Cnr, Cordillo downs, Innaminka, Dig Tree, Tibboburra, broken Hill….home, but we had come this far so set off for Birdsville with the fall-back plan to come home via Birdsville Track rather than Strezlecki Track. Bedourie to Birdsville was mainly dirt, very bulldusty, and some corrugations which we have come to expect and handle. We came in to Birdsville to see a sign announcing population 150 + or – 7000! (for the race weekend). The 7000 were commencing the pilgrimage, but we still found a lovely spot on the banks of the Diamantina….with the obligatory surface layer of bulldust everywhere. Birdsville has one CP, 2 pubs (the old one completely derelict), a bakery, an airport with agistment for unlimited light aircraft flying in for the race weekend, and a roadhouse for fuel and very basic supplies…..and a racetrack of course! And enough primitive free camping to support the annual influx of pilgrims.
It also has reminders of the ill- fated Burke & Wills expedition identifying a waterhole camp on the Diamantina, and a “slashed tree” marking a point to return to. The weather was against our initial plans, so we couldn’t return on the Strezlecki. So it was down the famous Birdsville Track. It was smooth at first, but soon turned to the characteristic tyre destroying gibber rock road, so it was tyre pressure and speed down to reduce the risk of puncture and breakdown. The Track borders the Simpson Desert so the massive parallel sand dunes flanked us most of the way. Someday soon we hope to cross the Simpson Desert dune challenge, but for now the enormity and steepness of this endless dune system just haunted and beckoned us.
We made it to Mungaranie Hotel and Campground the first night and had a hoot of a time. The bar was packed with station hands and tourists (most on their way to the Birdsville Races), the atmosphere and meal sensational, and we just made it back to the van, when a jam session commenced and went well into the night.
We came off the Track at Maree, where we had commenced the Oodnadatta Track many weeks before, then down past the Flinders Ranges again, finishing up in Mildura for 4 nights to catch up with friends from our previous farming life. It was really cold again so we had no hesitation retreating to our home in Diamond Creek to catch up with family, friends and my fellow OMNI mates.
Safe travel everyone, and always be thankful that we live in the greatest country in the world.
Before leaving Yulara, I feel I should comment on the divided opinion surrounding Uluru – Ayres Rock. It is a WORLD FAMIOUS ICON, visited by large numbers of Aussies and tourists from all over the world. For tourists it is almost a rite of passage to climb the “Rock” if physically capable, because believe me, it is a very strenuous climb…..as we did it some 20 years ago, before it was frowned on.
On this trip, we did the 12km walk around the base of Uluru. There are numerous interpretive panels educating tourists about the historic use, the sacred nature, and the significance of this site to the aboriginal people. The remains of a sheltered kitchen for women, a permanent water hole to sustain life, a men’s/boys shelter as a base years of initiation and learning to achieve manhood, and more than half the track that veers maybe a km away from the base which is still regarded as “sacred” suggest that tourists have been accommodated rather than welcomed.
We left Yulara CP after a magnificent sunrise, and drove the 50km down past the Olgas to the start of the 1100km Great Central Road to Laverton in WA……another rite of passage for 4WD’ers.
You really have little idea of what’s in front of you, but we knew the first 200km to Docker River on the NT side would be rough…..and it was. We veered back and forth across the heavily corrugated track, avoiding the odd camel, and enjoyed the journey and the ever-changing scenery. We pulled off just short of Docker River to explore Lasseters Cave. Harold Lasseter supposedly discovered a rich vein of gold in this area in 1930….the legendary “Lasseter’s Reef”, but his camels bolted with all his gear and supplies, so he was unable to plot the find. He sheltered here with little food or water, but the story goes that sympathetic aboriginal people helped him attempt to walk out 140km to a relief party, but he only made it 55km before dying.
Once over the border to WA, the track improved dramatically, and it was graded dirt road, so we made it to Warburton CP for our first stop aided by the hour and a half time gain. We still had time to stop at several of the interpretive signs to soak up more of the history and geography of the track. Kurrajong trees are ideally suited to the harsh climate and were real friends to the aborigines providing shelter, food, and fibre from the inner bark for nets to catch fish and birds.
The weather forecast was for rain the following day, so we left early and decided to make it to Laverton that day. The road was really good for the most part, so we still had time to sneak into several spots off the road for a peek and a rest. One was at White Cross, in the midst of a stand of Mulga’s, where a cross made from Mulga was erected by aboriginal Christians in 1991 to remind travellers of their belief in the importance of spiritual as well as physical health. The mulga was another very important tree to aboriginals for flour from the pods, sap mixed with water to drink, honey stored by ants from the blossom, and utensils from the hard wood.
We even stopped at the Pines camp some 120km short of Laverton to remember the spot we got to on a previous crossing attempt from Laverton, before abandoning the journey due the very very rough road.
We arrived at the CP late and had a snoop around Laverton in the morning, as we had no time on our previous visit. We particularly wanted to personally thank the girls at the “I” for their help on numerous occasions over several years. We also wanted to visit the Explorers Hall of Fame at the “I”, which brings to life some of the characters of the past as they tell their stories of hardship, bravery and perseverance in the harsh and dangerous conditions that were endured by men and women in the early days of the Goldfields. From the gold rush years to the nickel boom of 1969; from early pastoral history to local flora and fauna, this fascinating overview of the region is now available to all.
Then we headed west to Leonora, where we had stayed previously, so we did a good shop and picked up some “hydration” as well, before heading north for Sandstone in the heart of the gold country. We had also stayed at Sandstone previously, but it is a really cute place with equally cute council owned CP run “properly” by caretaker Carolyn – also cute despite her years. There is little grass in Sandstone, and very few flowers, but the CP has a little of both thanks to Carolyn.
And at $10 per night unpowered with immaculate amenities (thanks to Carolyn) the park is always near full! Sandstone attracts lots of serious and not so serious gold prospectors for 8 months of the year (far too hot in Summer). It has one pub, small Council Chambers with district museum attached, and one “I”…..no groceries etc apart from a 10 sq. m room at the pub with the basics. There are no banking facilities or ATM, so all transactions are by card unless you have exact (or nearly) change. But when we arrived this time the place was crawling with police, and detectives from the major crime squad……there was a nationally broadcast missing persons alert in March: a missing lady whose husband was found dead down a derelict mine shaft 30km out of town in prospecting country…..and it was still unsolved. So we were not entirely surprised when approached by a tall young detective and his very pleasing to the eye female detective partner when we stepped out of the Cruiser in town. But he was only interested in the Tvan as he was planning outback travel for the future! Sorry, there are two other enterprises in town: a Chinese guy who bakes bread, grows veges and cooks at the CP one night a week, and part-time at the pub I think. Denni needed a trim, so went to the haircutters home and got “short back and sides”…and top for no extra…only cash here, and around $20 is enough…no extra for the goss! We needed a break, so stayed 2 nights in one of our “soul” places.
Unfortunately it rained most of the night, so our cross-country track to Meekatharra was closed when we left. The alternative was to follow the bitumen to Mt. Magnet then up to Meekatharra, all places we have been to and enjoyed previously, but necessary to get to the Great Northern Hwy which leads north to Newman, another place we hear about, so have to visit.
We were tipped off about a great free camp off the Hwy by people we met way back at Warburton on the Great Central, so gave it a go, even though it was some 15km off the Hwy…and we are glad we did.
We arrived at Newman around lunch-time the following day, took a non-power site at the CP for 3 days, and went exploring. Iron ore was first discovered by Sam Hilditch in 1957 and mining commenced in 1967 after a Comm. Govt. embargo was lifted. He is well remembered with a steel statue of him and his wife overlooking the town.
Newman is now quite a sizeable mining town, popln around 12,000, with Woolies supermarket indicating that. It is purpose built for the “world’s largest open cut mine”, Mt Whaleback iron ore mine. It has modern amenities, extensive sporting and recreational facilities, a busy airport, an exceptional “I” with very helpful staff, and expanding residential housing estates. There is also a trail of highlights to follow which includes aboriginal rock art & painting, gorges and watercourses, and the recreational lake which doubles as the town’s water supply.
But the highlight is the mine tour. The statistics are endless, but one that sticks is the railway to Port Headland, the longest privately run in the Southern Hemisphere (426km). Forget the more than 1 billion tonnes of iron ore shipped out so far in the 300,000+ tonne ships, I like the 248 carriages (each carrying 135 tonnes of ore) on each of 7 trains, 2.6km long making the 8 hour journey every day! Mt. Whaleback was originally 805m above sea level and is currently mined down to 135m, well below the water table, so they need to pump out 46million litres of water each week to keep it dry for mining!!! And guess what, the whole operation is operated by remote control from Perth!!!! Trust me, this operation has the ultimate WOW factor.
From Newman we went out back again on the Marble Bar Road 300km to Marble Bar, Australia’s hottest town. And you don’t escape the mining trucks either, on bitumen and dirt. I’m quite happy to give them all the road.
It is a small cutie of a place in the largest Shire in the world, with a roadhouse/ grocery store, elegant Council Chambers/ “I”, and of course a swinging outback pub, school, swimming pool, community resource centre, and quaint CP where we were pleased to camp under shade with OK amenities. It has a great town entrance with steel architecture, and two great lookouts over the town and surrounds, but as you would expect the highlight is the “Marble Bar” which is best left to the pics to describe.
We then travelled another 170km east into the never-never to Carawine Gorge. It is a free camp on a working cattle station I had seen in previous reading about the area and just wanted to have a look…..as you do. It didn’t disappoint, being right on a permanent waterhole with the gorge face across the water.
Then 170km back to Marble Bar passing many 4-trailer mining trucks carrying gold/copper ore from the Telfer mine, a totally fly-in fly-out operation 400km from Port Headland. We didn’t stop as the coast was calling, so another “shortcut” on reasonable dirt road amongst numerous aboriginal settlements had us at our destination of Cape Keraudran early afternoon. The park ranger was really helpful and guided us to one of the smaller campgrounds right on the beach. WE did enjoy setting up right on the rail overlooking the aqua water that WA is famous for. We just relaxed for 3 days, enjoying the warm days, long beach walks, crystal clear water, and memorable sunsets. We had planned to stay a little longer, but the sand-flies eventually won!!
So up the coast to Broome to stay with friends from our farming days at Nangiloc. They have 2.5 acres a bit out of town on the Cable Beach side, and have created a gorgeous palm shade getaway for family and friends with vans. John’s father and partner stay 3 months a year, and we had stayed in 2011 on our first big lap, but it was so much better this time.
Despite all its hype, we actually didn’t really “get” Broome on our last (flying) visit, but this time we made time to explore and appreciate the culture and soul of the town….and now we love it. The defining moment came when we went to the “Taste of Broome” outdoor Music Picture Show”. After a welcome to land from an elder, some traditional music and dance, we were privileged to experience slide show backdrop of photos of Broome’s cultural history with a musical/ storytelling extravaganza from Elder, Stephen, and Naomi Pigrim…….we bought 3 CD’s as well. Now we understand Broome’s history, the reason for so many nationalities living in harmony punctuated by pearling and WW2 bombing.
We had a sausage sizzle with John & Vanessa on Cable Beach to watch another sunset, and were treated to a fresh seafood feast by Brian & Jen at camp.
But we are only half way on our journey, so stay tuned for the last episode.
After enduring too much cold weather, we finally set off in our T-van (extreme off-road camper nicknamed Rex) on July 9. We were meeting friends in their van in Renmark on July 12. We were a little apprehensive being our first extended trip away in this van and it has none of the luxuries of our Traveller, but we are hooked on outback travel; not only is the outback the heart of Australia, but it is the soul from our viewpoint.
We spent the first two nights out at Barham in a lovely riverside Caravan Park. We were perched right on the bank so enjoyed the tranquillity of the setting, while avoiding the still cold weather.
The day we left it commenced raining while we were packing up….great with a drop-down canvas tent attached to the main van body! It rained, then poured and did not let up, so we finally rang friends in Mildura and asked if we could bunk inside for the night. It was great catching up with them…..and sleeping in a protected bed after a hot shower, lovely roast dinner, some good wine and great chatter. It had cleared by the morning but was still cold, so we headed for Renmark to meet our friends Val and David. We stayed at a lovely CP right on the Murray River in the shadows of the old lift span bridge.
The plan was to travel with them for a week or so. We had two more bitterly cold days in Renmark, so spent most of the time in their air conditioned van chatting and recalling past trips. We had 2 farmstays planned next, but it was so cold, we kept driving north through Hawker to Copley (Flinders Ranges) where we booked in for 2 nights. We have both stayed at Copley several times…..bit of a soul place for both of us. But the cold persisted, as did periodic showers, so we parted company; they were going up the Birdsville Track, and we the Oodnadatta Track, both starting at Marree.
We were filled with nervous excitement as we let the tyre pressures down, and set off on an adventure into the unknown (for us). Marree to Marla, on the Stuart Highway is 617km. It basically follows the Old Ghan Rail Route to Oodnadatta before veering off to Marla for the last 211km. From the road, you could be forgiven for thinking you are journeying over waterless plains of gibber rock and sparse vegetation. But beneath lies one of the world’s largest aquifers, the Great Artesian Basin, so all the way along the track the water squeezes to the surface creating mainly mound springs (very small to quite large mounds with permanent water supply) attracting birds, wildlife, farming, and tourists.
So we spent our days exploring the ruins of pioneering grazing, the old telegraph line, the railway sidings, and the unusual mound springs. This was also the path of ancient aboriginal trade routes deep into central Australia and back. The string of springs made it possible for McDouall Stuart to complete the first crossing of the interior in 1862. So the overland telegraph and the Great Northern Railway were constructed opening up vast pastoral leases with Sidney Kidman foremost. His Anna Creek Station near Oodnadatta, some 24,000 sq. kms still runs, and is the largest cattle station in the world!
We passed the shores of Lake Eyre South, called in at the fascinating “Bubbler”, and stayed at Coward Springs the first night.
Then past Beresford bore and the ruins of the rail siding, telegraph repeater, and water purifier before venturing in to the fascinating Strangaway Springs where a myriad of mound springs existed and several remain trickling.
We set up camp at William Creek CP early, allowing us to take the rough track out to Halligan Bay (on the 969,000 hectare Lake Eyre). It is the lowest point in Australia at 15.2m below sea level, but still provides a vantage point for viewing Lake Eyre North. There’s not much other than a fantastic old pub and a roadhouse, both with appropriate outback character.
We continued along the Track towards Oodnadatta, taking the heavily pot-holed single lane 20km side track to explore Old Peake, one of the largest and best preserved pastoral homestead ruins. An overland telegraph repeater station and copper mine were both once located at Peake, but like so many it was abandoned because of prolonged drought in the 1860’s. We spent several hours here as it was so well signposted and presented. Hard to believe this hot, dry, rocky, unforgiving country could have been farmed.
We arrived at Oodnadatta mid-afternoon and set up at the CP behind the famous Pink Roadhouse. The town began life as the terminus of the Great Northern Railway in 1889, hence the starting point for travellers heading to the Northern Territory, and a major railhead for cattle from the north. Denni wanted to do some washing, and the walk around town took no time at all……this time not even a pub, just a roadhouse! We did have a superb “Oodna burger with the lot” and chips for tea.
We then left the Track and headed 50km down a deserted track towards Coober Pedy, then turned off to Arkaringa Station a further 40km on one of the roughest tracks so far. The attraction was the Painted Desert. No picture could do this area justice….but of the many we took I have posted one.
I had noticed Dalhousie Springs was only 200km (approx.) north of Oodnadatta, and had always wanted to see it, so we headed the 100km back there early the following morning, and then off the Track north. The trip was slow as the track was narrow and heavily corrugated….what the heck! We arrived around lunchtime and set up our bush camp. The Dalhousie Spring Group has 8 active groups representing some of the largest and finest examples of Artesian Springs in Australia. The Group accounts for around 40% of the water discharged naturally from the Great Artesian Basin. The campground is at the largest of these springs. It is around 50m long and 10m deep at the deepest point…..and it is 37c day and night. That’s all good, but better still is that Dalhousie Springs is at one end of the Simpson Desert crossing, and the vibe here is electric, because everyone, except us, is just about to cross the Simpson Desert, or has just completed the iconic crossing. The buzz is to enjoy, and the talk is all about the “Simpson”, a rite of passage in the 4WD community.
We only stayed the night, and headed back to civilisation via Mt. Dare, Finke, and a bush camp for the night at “Lambert’s Centre”, the geographical centre of Australia. We had a campfire and sumptuous meal amongst the desert sheoaks…..what a place.
We followed the track through Finke and out to the Stuart Hwy at Kulgera to return…..sort of ….to civilisation. We continued north then west to Yulara for a 4 night stop to explore Uluru and the Olgas again. The CP has its own lookout over Ayres Rock and the Olga’s in the distance, so we loved being back to finally see a sunset and sunrise over the “Rock”. We also walked around Uluru, and explored much more of the Olgas than we had time for previously.
Pausing here, stay tuned for the ride to Broome and beyond.