The old airstrip at the end of the Deering Creek Track, and about 5 kilometres from the Cleland Hills and Mount Winter, was most likely put there to supply food, fuel and parts for the machinery that made the seismic tracks way back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Now totally overgrown, there are only bits of scrap to be found lying about the place, a 44gallon drum with some very offish diesel fuel in it and a bottle from the Adelaide Bottle Company with lettering on the base stating that the bottle always remained their property!
A track heading west from this point is shown on the digital government mapping that I have and taking a Waypoint to Waypoint reading via my mapping software, the distance showed up as 200km in a straight line or as the Flow Cries (Crow flies). So, taking into account most bush track scenarios, like tracking around steep dune ends and washed out sections and new tracks skirting wet areas, I considered the distance could be up to 230km. This is a seriously remote track through country which is seemingly devoid of water except when it rains.
As per usual the track was very overgrown in places but there were fresh wheel tracks (maybe a week or two old) ahead of us for a round 150km when they seemingly disappeared into thin air. At one time I had missed a turn-off and also followed these same wheel-tracks but then, as I noticed on my mapping, I was heading in the wrong direction and I saw that the previous traveller had also turned around. I then took a bearing cross country and found the original track a few kilometres on. At that point we lost Jeremy in sight and radio contact and so I had to backtrack about 10 kilometres in all to find him and lead him back to our desired route.
I carried 230 litres of diesel for our journey and Jeremy, having a petrol-powered 4×4, carried 280 litres of petrol and 70 litres of LPG. These amounts of fuel we had estimated would be sufficient, in a worst case scenario, to have a range of at least 1000 kilometres. Our distance from Hermannsburg (last fuel) to Docker River( next fuel)via all our roads, tracks, backtracks and cross –country driving was estimated at around 800 kilometres and so we decided that the estimate was good and that we should be safely within our range of fuel supplies. Things can go wrong out in remote country but if you prepare well and drive with safety in mind at all times then you should be able to complete the journey without issues. This I have done for the past 45 years with only minor incidents happening in remote country. I was able to remedy all issues in the bush over the years.
In 2006 this country was very dry as we were then in the middle of a serious drought. By 2011, with two years of good rains, the countryside had improved tremendously. But later that year devastating fires took hold in Central Australia and cut a swathe through some of the desert areas.
The vagaries of termites and fires
Fires in the modern era have a great impact on the remote areas of inland Australia. It is a well-known and researched fact that Aborigines had a fire management regime for their own tribal areas. They had ‘cool’ burns after the growing season, either to flush out wildlife or to regenerate the flora into new growth at an earlier period. But then the invaders came along and soon Aboriginal People lost their tribal areas and were settled on Mission Stations. The years passed and Aboriginal Land Trusts came into being encompassing the lands of many tribes and forcing them to live together in closer knit communities. The whole life cycle changed for them and soon there was no need to go out and hunt and manage the environment. Subsequent rainy seasons brought on luxuriant growth and when drier times came along a tremendous amount of dry undergrowth promoted the rapid onslaught of bush fires. With no one ‘out there’ to manage these large areas, the environment has been burned in ‘hot fires’ changing the ecological make-up of our natural world. There is no simple answer to this modern day phenomenon as the world revolves around money and its availability to solve problems.
We stopped for a bite to eat and I had to refuel from my jerry-cans in the shade of a Desert Oak. After our brief lunch and a laze in the shade we continued on our journey to the west just following along a very faint track.
My mapping showed some clay-pans coming up later in the afternoon but suddenly the track veered away from them in to an unmarked new direction. After a while tracks appeared at all angles and I managed to drive down two dead-ends. Eventually I noticed where earlier traffic and been more often and followed that way into the setting sun. Not long after, my mapping showed that we were now heading in the right direction and just before sundown we made camp on a dry clay-pan. The quiet of the bush set in with only the crackling flames of the fire denoting our presence.
Early morning and with the sun on our backs we made better progress as we started to get into an area where there has been some mineral exploration over recent years. The countryside is pretty featureless with only the occasional sand dune to cross. The flora is mainly spinifex with some low scrub and scattered eucalypt trees. We searched for Wylookarri Rockhole as denoted on our mapping but could not find it. We had crossed a rocky outcrop but most of this was covered with red desert sand. There was an enclosed hollow surrounded by sand and we figured that this may indeed be a water catchment when the rains came.
By now we could see Johnstone Hills in the north every time we crested a dune. We had come on to a wider track by now which had been graded not so long ago. At Nguman Outstation Airstrip we turned west again towards Yuwalki Outstation as shown on our mapping. We could now see Mount Rennie rising out of the mirage to the north and stopped to take some photos.
A short while later we suddenly came across a great wide graded road which ran in a north south direction via a large S-bend. At the intersection was a large sign stating that we were now on the Surprise Oil Test Well access road. The track beyond the S-Bend was graded too for a short distance but then fell back into only two wheel tracks through the bush. So even when you think you are travelling across a lost world you you find the march of progress has beaten you to it !
Where the track turns north once again I looked for the access track to Yuwalki but saw none. A subsequent Google Earth search does show some buildings there but whether the Outstation is inhabited, is a guess.
My mapping showed a track continuing on in a westerly direction but upon further investigation we could not see one at all and so I opted to take the access track to the north that eventually heads for the Sandy Blight Junction Road and Kintore. In the morning sun Mount Strickland in the Kintore Ranges loomed in the distance. We were heading right for it and the distance was 28 kilometres.
We came to the intersection of Sandy Blight Junction Road and Kintore Back Access Road around midday and turned south.
Our run across this dry and desolate terrain was done. The distance travelled from the Cleland Hills was 211 kilometres