Art of the Calvert Ranges 2006

We turned towards the Great Central Road which runs from Laverton in Western Australia to Uluru and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and on to Boulia and eventually Winton in Queensland. After camping at Sunday Point we started another adventure up the David Carnegie Road and Eagle Highway. On our way to Tjukayirla Roadhouse on the Great Central Road we stopped at the Beegull Waterholes. In the overhangs nearby there were paintings done by the ancients a long time ago. I could envisage that in times of good rain this would have been an ideal shelter for the ancients with water nearby and a vista over the plains to look out for wildlife.

Beegull Caves

Beegull Caves

Beegull Cave Art

Beegull Cave Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beegull vista

Beegull vista

After refuelling at the roadhouse and gorging on fast food we back tracked to the David Carnegie Hwy. There is really not much to write about on this track but it had a lot less corrugations though!! We climbed down the opening via a steel rope ladder into Empress Spring along the way, and found it to be bone dry. Someone had written in the visitors book about the presence of a snake down there but we did not see it. David Carnegie was shown this water hole by local aborigines on his exploratory travels in 1896 and he named it Empress Spring .

 

A worried Jeddah at Empress Spring

A worried Jeddah at Empress Spring

The countryside has some low hills and the scrub is mainly Mulga, Spinifex(what else!) other grasses and Grevillea and although very little rain had fallen since January the colours of the Gibson Desert were phenomenal.

We met a few cheeky camels along the way, and they persisted in running in front of the vehicles at 15kmh. When I had had enough of this event I increased the driving speed and got up alongside one and then they scattered off into the Spinifex.

Camels on the track

Camels on the track

Stopping for lunch on a rocky rise I found a jerrycan with MOWER written on and it had nothing wrong with it and now adorns the mower shed at my place. some of the track was overgrown with Mulga saplings and it seemed that little traffic had been this way for some time

 

Honey Grevillea

Honey Grevillea

At the Gun Barrel Highway we stopped for a break and the road looked like it had been graded recently. Mungilli Outstation lies in ruin after another failed attempt to house bush dwellers in this remote part of the country. Sooner or later they up and leave it all behind. Others come after them and pilfer what they can carry away.

There are a few washouts along the Eagle Highway but nothing too extreme. In some places 5th gear was possible at 80kmh only to be brought back to reality when a 5kmh washout appeared. We met for the second time an old bloke in a Cruiser, travelling on his own seemingly to nowhere. We camped at Eagle Hussar Airfield for one night, and then pushed on to the Warri and Yutanga site at the Karrinarri Claypan. Warri and Yutanga were the some of the last nomadic aborigines to come out of the desert and settle in civilisation(Wiluna). This happened in 1977. This was at their own request. Later a lean-to was built and a bore was put in close to the Karrinarri Claypan but it soon too was abandoned. I managed to get some water out of the tank to replenish our dwindling stocks. The windmill is no longer working and the water in the tank was rainwater.

 

Karrinarri Claypan

Karrinarri Claypan

 

Warri windmill

Warri windmill

We managed to get 40litres of water from it. .

Karrinarri Rockhole

Karrinarri Rockhole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stashed away in a bottle of notes and business cards at Karrinarri Rockhole, we found a note that friends had passed by with Murchison Safaris only a few weeks prior to our visit. Our journey across the Spinifex at first followed a track across the claypan but eventually I lost it and then went across country looking for Murchison Safaris wheel tracks. We aired the tyres down and covered about 15km until we stumbled over the tracks. They in turn led us to what is known as The Breakaways, a rocky outcrop, where we camped for the night.

The Breakaways

The Breakaways

 

 

 

Looking east from Mt Madley

Looking east from Mt Madley

 

 

 

 

I refuelled and worked out that consumption had been better than 6km/l. Then I had to plug a tyre which had a miniscule hole in it. Everyone helped. It was a much warmer night.

The next morning the left hand trailer tyre was flat and needed a plug. We got out of camp at 8.45am and followed some tracks to Garan Waterhole which we could not locate. Then on to Kuta Kuta Well which also was elusive. Being at the beginning of a drought cycle most waterholes and soaks had dried up. We then found our way to Mt Madley, a low rise with some rocky outcrops, where we had lunch.  In ta cairn at the top of the mount here was a plastic bag with some names in it from the Geraldton 4×4 Club who had visited Mt Madley a week before us. From this place the visible tracks petered out and although my research had shown that there was a track or at least, recent tracks, we did not find any. I pointed the Nissan to the West North West and we struck out over the Spinifex.

 

 

Driving the Spinifex

Driving the Spinifex

The going was rough mostly in low range second and third gear with lots of turpentine about. The mapping kept on playing up with the laptop shutting itself down. We were heading in the general direction of Birrell Rockhole. Twice I had to back down a dune as I miscalculated the force needed to cross over. I came across some other wheel tracks but they too turned around and headed east again.  At 3pm I found a relatively flat area with only small Spinifex clumps and after clearing away some of the foliage, we made camp. There was enough wood for a fire. The driving is extremely hard and stressful but we still have two days to go to the Constance Headland. The trucks are running well and today we have had no punctures, which in itself is quite remarkable. The edge of the Gibson Desert is lush with foliage even though there has been little rain. Spinifex is seeding, grevilleas are in flower while lots of low shrubs and Coolibah trees adorn the dunes and swales. Today was a lot warmer and we even had the air conditioning on an one stage. Jeddah got bored and started biting at trees through the open rear window as we passed them.

We were up at 5.45am the next day. Sunrise at 6.30 saw us preparing breakfast after having to collect firewood again as all the wood had been burned during the night. A flat tyre on the trailer this morning. This time it was a new stake. Jude found old wheel tracks which ran right through the camp. We broke camp and made heavy weather over the Spinifex and turpentine stumps and after about 50km came across some recent wheel tracks. This led us along the dune corridor past a soak which would have had water in it if it had rained. We crossed a dune and found a herd of 9 camels. Eventually we closed in on Birrell Rock Hole and came upon a well travelled bush track. We then followed this track back for a while to see where it went before heading for the rock hole. Later we visited Yowyungoo Gorge and saw some very nice rock paintings. We took another bush track out of there after some tricky reversing and breaking a trailer light in the process. We found a likely camp site at 3pm and settled down for the night. I repaired a stainless saucepan.

Negotiating a dry creek

Negotiating a dry creek

Rock Art of the Dreamtime, Calvert Ranges
We spent 5 days in and around the Calvert Ranges on our trek through the western deserts. The Calvert Ranges are situated about 40km east of the Canning Stock Route between Well 16 and Well 17 (Killigurra Gorge). I had read reports of the richness of the rock art of the area and that moves were afoot to possibly restrict visitation in the near future and so decided to go there this year.

Our camp

Our camp

The range is basically a smallish outcrop of tumbled ironstone on the north side, a small water-bearing plateau and deep gorges on the south east side. There is a general camping area marked on the Hema Maps and which can be a tad dusty but we managed to follow up the gorge from there and camp alongside a small water hole. There is a constant dribble of water through two water holes in the gorge as well as two small waterfalls. The gorge was lush with grasses and had drinkable water about 100 metres from camp. At the top end of this gorge there was, what appeared to be a stagnant pool and around this pool a number of white gums had grown. As they all fought for space in this cramped area, their branches have grown out and they rub together when even gentlest breeze blows. The result is a constant creaking and groaning of the limbs, like as if they were complaining about their lot.

Creaking gums of Ngundrayo

Creaking gums of Ngundrayo

 

Ngundrayo Waterhole

Ngundrayo Waterhole

I was lucky to meet up with another bloke who was interested in the various forms of rock art and he gave me several pointers of where to search for paintings, etchings and petroglyphs.

 

 

 

Russell Headland of the Calvert Ranges

Russell Headland of the Calvert Ranges

There are basically three major art sites which have tracks in to them and also some other sites further to the west through the Constance Headland hills and beyond. We visited as much as we could in our stay there and took no less than 700 photos of the various forms of art. There was much rock hopping and we struggled through the rocks and foliage to get to some of the sites, not being the most agile of people and using our walking sticks for support. We were pretty tired at the end of each day and fell into bed quite early after dark.

What we saw was basically three forms of rock art. That of paintings in white, yellow and red ochre, depicting all kinds of forms and squiggles, which are open to interpretation. Then there were the etchings or peckings, which depicted Emu feet, Emu eggs, Snakes, Emus, Kangaroos and Turtles. Then we saw some amazing petroglyphs (rock carvings), deeply grooved into the stone and undoubtedly of a great age. The style was far superior to that of the etchings. I was fascinated by a very good petroglyphs of a Tasmanian Tiger, a family of beings, a face (not unlike a painted Maori face) and a body wrapped in cloth ready for burial. There was also a magnificent hand carving in which my hand fitted quite well. I have seen many, painted hand stencils, but never anything like this.

Having researched the ‘Rock Art’ of Petroglyphs, for the wont of a word, and especially Panaramitee Style Art, I see that the basic designs commence in the northeast of South Australia in what is known as the Olary District and western New South Wales at Sturts Meadows. More intricate styles occur in  Central Australia and the Cleland Hills and north near the Roper River in the Top End. The designs in the Calvert Ranges I find the most definitive and exciting as great care has been taken to to depict an advanced form of style. We as westerners see the creative designs as art but they are more likely to be messages depicting sacred ceremonies or totemic beliefs and were done a a matter of course to relate a story to others. Further west on the Burrup Peninsula the designs are mire akin to those of Central Australia. This is my unqualified opinion.

I have done a bit of reading up of opinions by archaeologists such as Dr. Josephine Flood, and others, and from what I can ascertain no one really knows the age of these various forms of art and even tried and tested dating mechanisms such as Radio Carbon, Thermoluminescence or Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating cannot be sure of definitive answers. Some are as bold as to say 40,000 to 50,000 years but this leaves many questions to the inquisitive mind. Archaeologist Mike Smith, in his definitive work ‘Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts(2013), seems to be of the opinion that pictographs (ochre rock paintings) only date back as far as 8000 years. Petroglyphs are dated up to 50,000 years.

This is only a small sample gallery of rock art of the Calvert Ranges that we experienced.
Photographs by Willem Kempen, Judith Kempen and Mike Willis

Pictographs

Petroglyphs

A short stint on the CSR
At the junction of the Calvert Ranges Track and the CSR we met up with some travellers who claimed to be grand nephews of Alfred Canning, the man who was given the job of creating the stock route. We had a chat and moved on.

Revisiting Killigurra Gorge was magic as we were able to photograph some of the rock paintings which had underexposed the last time we were there in 1994. The campsite has also enlarged so that two vehicles instead of one could camp there. We spent the night there in the quiet gorge and the stillness was only to be interrupted by an overhead jet to nowhere at 2.30am!!

Killigurra Gorge sunset

Killigurra Gorge sunset

Durba Gorge

Durba Gorge

 

 

 

 

 

Durba Springs was showing off its green lushness as usual. There was a lot more water there since the last visit and only 7 vehicles camped. Further north we decided to have a look at Diebel Springs and followed the track in for the 21km. I had to fire up my mapping to find the right track into the spring. On the Hema map it denotes that there is a campsite but all we found was a turning circle on the top of a rocky knoll and Spinifex everywhere else and definitely nowhere to camp. The drive in and out was quite scenic though. We decided against walking in search of the springs as health issues dictated otherwise.

 

Diebel Springs in there somewhere

Diebel Springs in there somewhere

We made for Lake Disappointment and arrived at a small headland in the late afternoon. It was Full Moon that evening (as it was when we last visited in 1994) and the colours were just right for photography. We all went for a long walk out onto the whiteness.

Sunrise over Lake Disappointment

Sunrise over Lake Disappointment

The next day saw us drive past Wells 20 and 21 along a stretch of severe corrugations. Close to Georgia Bore we came upon the burnt out Prado ( I have a very nice piece of molten Prado sitting on my desk in front of me!) and at the same time as a tag a long mob from Alice Springs led by a well-known Territory identity. One bloke was towing a caravan type camper with a Hilux. It had lots of gaffa tape holding it together. I wonder how they got on.

Freaky cold weather, lots of lightning, rolling thunder and a shower of rain got us all reasonably wet that night at Georgia Bore and we made an early start the following morning, packing up in the mud. Heading west along the Talawana Track, and its usual mega-corrugations we met up with another mob that had been turned back by tales of washed out roads in Ruddall River National Park. They also said that one of their crew had pulled out of the trip and was camped at the windmill at the Cotton Creek turnoff. Well!!!, strike me down! We met up with this fella driving a Jeep. He had 8 full jerry cans on the roof rack, tents, 2 spare wheels and a small drum of something. Totally overloaded by a mile. Some people have no idea.

We reinflated our tyres in the sleety rain and pushed on to Newman via the Talawana and Billinooka Tracks and along the road into Jigalong Community.

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Posted in 4x4 Travel Stories.