On a grey day I passed through the Flinders Ranges heading north for the Oodnadatta Track. There wasn’t actually a forecast for rain in the area but rain it did, although only lightly. I stopped to make a sandwich at the lookout near the Moralana back-road turnoff, and chatted with some overseas visitors, who were trying to get a glimpse of the Flinders Ranges as the clouds hung low. The inevitable question came up of when the clouds might lift and I replied that when the temperature increases they might dissipate….maybe come back tomorrow……
I had decided to test my skills at continuing my camping regime as declining health has put me at odds with what I love doing. So this was a test for the year to come to see how I could cope camping on my own
A bright number on a dark day was this magnificent mural in the small hamlet of Carrieton along the road north. It is a credit to the community.
My mission for the morning was to deliver some paintings to a friend in Beltana and after a short chat there I drove out to Warraweena Sanctuary east from Beltana, to catch up with friends who manage the place. Once again the conversation was short and to the point and I caught up with all the history of the previous number of years I had missed out on and soon I was pointing the Datto back towards Beltana again. Dunno, mebbe I am now persona non grata as not even a cup of coffee was on offer. How things change…….
I skirted around Beltana and took the back track to the sealed road via Puttappa Gap. The road hasn’t had much maintenance done over the years and I hit a washout at the bottom of a slope which I only saw at the last minute. With brakes on full lock it was still a hard bounce through the obstacle. Warily I continued on my journey feeling the steering for any perceived damage. It seemed OK.
On the bitumen again I had to keep the speed in check as I had fitted my MRF Off-Track tyres for this trip and high speeds are not good for tubed cross-ply tyres. I had it in mind to do a refuel at the small town of Lyndhurst, which lies at the junction with the Strzelecki Track but to my dismay I found the fuel outlet closed down. There is another fuel outlet but in a scene some years before, I came across some dubious management practices by that business, and so gave it a miss. I had enough fuel with me anyway as I always make sure that I should never run out of fuel. And so I continued my journey northwards to the next town of Maree. By now the gravel road appeared and within a very short distance I came across two vehicles with blown tyres and both the same brand of tyre too. I won’t mention the name of the brand as a very good friend of mine advertises that brand in a television commercial. I stopped at each incident but the travellers did not need assistance, just sympathy.
This stone edifice stands alongside the road between Lyndhurst and Marree
The memorial celebrating 1862-2012, 150 years since John McDouall Stuart’s epic walks through the Centre of Australia. A rock solid exclamation of one man’s determination.
At Marree, which lies at the start of the Oodnadatta Track, I refuelled and made enquiries about a sign I had seen along the way advertising a 4×4 track called the Mount Nor’West Loop. It sounded interesting but I decided that the cost of such a trip was overpriced for my liking and cancelled that idea. I made for Hergott Springs just outside of Marree, where I camped for the night.
Hergott Springs was the original name for Maree and so named by John Macdouall Stuart who explored the area in 1859. He named it after the German Botanist by the name of Herrgott, who was accompanying him. The town itself had a name change to Marree in 1917 after resentment against the Germans for starting WW1 (this was a phenomenon throughout South Australia whose founding fathers were of German descent). Marree is the Aboriginal name for a type of desert Possum so known by the Dieri Aborginal People of the area. Marree became a gathering place for the Afghan Cameleers of Australia who were vital to opening trade routes to the inland. Camels were imported to Australia from Afghanistan as early as 1839 together with Cameleers from that country. Over the next 100 years they were to leave their mark in Australia as major carriers of goods and supplies across the inland of this country. Almost all of the cameleers who came to Australia during this period faced enormous hardships. While their skills were needed and mostly appreciated, they were largely shunned by the European communities who ostracised them with racism and anger. Eventually rail connections and the coming of motorised transport saw an end to the Camel Trains and the camels were let loose by and by to forage for themselves. Now it is estimated that there are close to 1 million feral camels roaming the inland deserts of Australia. Marree was also the place where the first Mosque was built in Australia. The Afghans left a rich heritage behind, but, as said, faced enormous difficulties.
The Oodnadatta Track starts at Marree and runs for 620km until it reaches Marla on the Stuart Highway. Oodnadatta itself was originally a small town along the Overland Telegraph Line and later, by 1890, the rail-head for the line from Adelaide to the north. It is known as the hottest town in Australia having reached a temperature of 50.7°C in 1960. It is also known as the Driest Town in the Driest State in the Driest Continent on Earth. The name is derived from an Arrernte Aboriginal word, utnadata, which translates to ‘mulga blossom. The Track, which was so named after the camel tracks, is now a misnomer as these days it is a great wide gravel road which carries a heavy traffic load in the winter months of tourists wending their way along this iconic route to destinations beyond.
Algeberry Station Art
The Oodnadatta Track has various points of interest along the way from Marree and including railway siding ruins, Giant Art Sculptures, vantage points of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre South, Mound Springs, Sand dunes, access to Lake Eyre North, the small town of William Creek, the vast Anna Creek Station which is the largest working cattle property in the world at 6 million acres in size and Algebuckina Railway Bridge which is 19 spans long and around 570 metres in length. There are also many rudimentary ‘pink signs put up by the late, Adam Plate, depicting various historic areas or instances.
This week Lake Eyre South was a beautiful sight with about 90% of its surface covered in a film of water. Creeks from a higher level from the southwest were still feeding water in to the lake and small inland fish, spawning from the shallow reaches of the mud are fair prey to all types of predators. Seagulls and Pelicans fly from long distances away as if a radio beacon has gone off in their heads. Dingoes prey on whatever they can catch and I spied a good looking King Brown snake crossing the road. He even stopped for me so that I could take a close-up photo or he was waiting to see what my next move was?
Having visited most of the iconic places on this route before, I just drove at a slow pace along the track and turned off to Lake Eyre North and Halligan Bay, just short of William Creek. Having paid my $10 Park Entry Fee at the honesty box I set off on the 124km return journey just to look at this Salt Lake which lies 15 metres Below Sea Level and is 9500 square kilometres in size. There were dire warnings of the remoteness of this track and it difficulty but since the signs were installed, some time ago, the road has been graded and made into quite a smooth run. At the lake I had it all to myself, and could stare uninterrupted at the stark, never-ending whiteness.
Along the way is this memorial to Caroline Grossmueller, a German Tourist, who perished here on 11 December 1998, after leaving her husband and their bogged vehicle at Lake Eyre . It was a hired Four Wheel Drive and they were unaware they had to engage the front hubs to activate four wheel drive mode.
I camped the night at Algebuckina Waterhole between William Creek and Oodnadatta that night, and it afforded a lovely sunset over the waters and the bridge. The mosquitoes had me going to bed early though and at around 11pm it started to rain softly. Not wanting to get bogged in slippery mud, I packed up quickly and moved camp away to harder ground. Then it stopped raining. Early morning saw me having a very hasty breakfast as the mosquitoes were still biting even though the flies were pressing for their dominance as well. Due to good rains in recent weeks and still relatively warm weather, there has been a quick rate of breeding by our iconic bush flies of which there are no less than 2000 species in this country. The flies can be annoying at times.
Early morning saw a fresh Dingo out on the road looking for some road-kill morsels no doubt. I did a lazy drive into Oodnadatta which seemed to be a hive of activity with trucks and machinery moving in all directions. I refuelled at $2.25 per litre for diesel which made a sizeable hole in my bank account and had a lukewarm cappuccino at the Pink Roadhouse. Then I took some photos and continued on my way.
Oodnadatta is well served by the Pink Roadhouse which was established there in the 1970’s by Adam and Lynnie Plate, who had the foresight and artistic flair to establish and build a thriving business in a normally desolate area. They painted everything Pink. The building is a collection of demountable houses stitched together. The business changed hands in 2013.
To advertise his business and to draw attention to an area within 200km from the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta, the Late, Adam Plate, erected many hand written pink signs some with distinct humour. Here is one and a poem picked at random
Eventually I veered off the Oodnadatta Track to take the road via Hamilton Station, Eringa Waterhole and beyond. Whilst there were some road-works beyond Oodnadatta the road was in good repair up to Hamilton Station. The road deteriorated as I kept on moving north and various washouts had road markers depicting danger. As is my wont, I look around at everything whilst on the road and still taking my safety into consideration. However, I almost came unstuck as when I looked back to the road an extremely large washout, unmarked by danger markers, loomed out at me. It was with great dexterity that I swung the steering wheel instinctively to slide the Datto out of harm’s way to miss the hole by centimetres. I was a lot more careful after that encounter.
Another hazard of Outback Travel is Bulldust Holes. They can be almost bottomless at times and I know of large vehicles getting bogged in them. A few years ago a friend of mine was killed on the road between Kulgera and Finke when he hit a bulldust hole at speed and his Toyota Troopy was thrown headlong into an oncoming road train. The driver of the road train was also killed.
Eringa Waterhole, now part of Hamilton Station, is where Sidney Kidman the Cattle King of the early 20th Century established one of his many cattle stations. This is one of the few permanent waters in this normally dry area and it is a regular camp spot for travellers. I discovered a doused fireplace but two logs still burning separately from the fireplace left by campers of the previous night, no doubt, and built my fire around that to cook up a delicious stew. Having arrived there by midday I slacked off for the rest of the day to camp the night. The evening however turned out into a mosquito bonanza and it was stiflingly hot and around midnight I drove out to higher ground for some cooler air and less mosquitoes. It was then that I noticed lightning in the night sky far to the south.
The rain caught up with me at breakfast time before daybreak and I had to make a run for it to keep ahead of the threat of a muddy track. By now the road was only a two wheel track in places as I had crossed into New Crown Station property, 73 kilometres from the homestead. The flat and featureless Gibber Country was now sporting bright, green grasses, since the last rains, with ponds, puddles and clay-pans covered in water. The road from Eringa Waterhole is supposed to be a gazetted road but is rarely maintained as the main traffic deviates east to Mount Dare Roadhouse on the edge of the Simpson Desert. Tracks run in all directions to find a way around wet areas. In the early morning it was quite hard finding and following these tracks.
Gibber Country (Copy and Paste from Internet: gibber, rock- and pebble-littered area of arid or semi-arid country in Australia . The rocks are generally angular fragments formed from broken up duricrust, usually silcrete, a hardened crust of soil cemented by silica (SiO2). The gravel cover may be only one rock fragment deep, or it may consist of several layers buried in fine-grained material that is thought to have been blown in. A gibber is generally considered a result of mechanical weathering because silica is almost inert to chemical weathering) When it rains the cattle thrive….when there’s droughy the cattle die!
Eventually I arrived at a T junction with a major road and New Crown Station main gate. Heading east from there I skirted Andado Station and stopped a while later at Old Andado homestead where the late ‘Mac’ and Molly Clark used to live. This well-known place in the desert traveller’s diary, lies deserted, despite numerous signs along the way depicting activities out there. There were fresh tyre tracks around the old place but no visible footprints around the yard. I ventured into the old house as the front door was open and a shade curtain was blowing to and fro in the desert breeze. I am happy to report that nothing has been pilfered from the place over the years since Molly’s death and everything is still in place just like she left it. Apparently an ‘Old Andado Charitable Trust’ was formed last year and caretakers are invited to apply for positions over certain periods during the winter months and early spring. But for this day it was just me and some crows in the vicinity.
I now tackled the 150km long, dune swale run, north, until the Train Hills and other features closer to Alice Springs. The winds before the rainclouds were chasing me and the day became a bit unpleasant with swirling desert dust and warmer weather. I stopped to refuel from my supply of jerry cans, near the turnoff to the Mac Clark Acacia-Peuce Conservation Reserve. In the middle of absolutely nowhere, a sign on the side of the track stated “No Stopping for 20km due to Weed Control”…..go figure!
In 1990 I had heard of some good rock art near a bore in the Train Hills on Allambi Station. I obtained permission to visit the place from the station owner and Judith and I did just that. Amongst some artefacts and rock carvings we found a rock protruding from the ground that was smoothed off at its crown, no doubt by hands rubbing it in some sort of ancient ceremony. Many photographs were taken but I have not been able to locate them recently. So I decided that as I was in the vicinity I will go back to the area and take the photo needed. My digital mapping showed a track following the base of the hills to the bore. After closing a gate the track was barely visible going off into the bush but off I went anyway. Dodging fallen timber and pushing down smaller shrubs and trees with the bulbar, I reached the bore without incident after about 6 kilometres. I immediately recalled the many rocks that were strewn about the place and started to look for where this particular rock might be as the memory fades over a 24 year absence. Then I noticed a fence spanned across the entrance of the mini gorge and wondered if it was there in the earlier time. Struggling across the rocks with my walking stick in one hand and camera in the other I managed to crawl under the barbed wire fence and proceed up the gully with some difficulty. Now where was that rock? One, amongst 100,000? But as luck would have it, I walked right up to it! After photos I made my way back to the Datto and took some more photos of rock art and artefacts near the dam.
I will call it the Magic Circle. A rock that has obviously been used in ceremonies. The crown of the rock is worn smooth by the constant touching and rubbing with human hands over the millenia. I have done extensive research on this rock and its location but have found no mention of it in the research centres in Alice Springs.
Taking the more direct route back to the road I noticed that there had not been a vehicle this way for a while. Then out of seemingly nowhere a new Toyota Ute came up along the track in my pathway. I pulled over to the side and when the ute stopped next to me the station owner said “Gday, what’s the go here?” I explained and he seemed content with that and said “Yer right, CYA” and drove off. What are the chances of such a random meeting and at least 60km from the station homestead!
Once past Allambi Station Homestead the skies darkened and it started spitting rain. The road improved especially after I had passed Santa Theresa-Ltyentye Apurte Community, and just before dark I arrived in Alice Springs.