After a delightful 16 nights in Alice Springs, staying with our friends, we were on the road again and this time heading northwest and towards a warmer climate. During this time the boys had been on a six night bush trip while the girls did the rounds of the art scene and eating establishments.
The Tanami Road is sealed Strip Bitumen from the Stuart Highway turn-off 21km north of Alice Springs, up to the Papunya Community turn off and Two-way Sealed road from there to Tilmouth Well Roadhouse and some sections beyond to Yuendumu Community. I spoke with a truckie over the UHF radio whilst getting out of the way of the road train and he said there were some sealed sections after Tilmouth Well. After refuelling and some 500metres beyond the roadhouse, the gravel road beckoned us and it was well and truly horrendous. I hadn’t dropped the tyre pressures yet and had to endure 5km of extreme corrugations before the next sealed section.
Passing through the Stuart Range I started looking for somewhere to camp and found an old disused track heading in the direction of Sullivans Well as marked on my mapping. After about 500 metres a claypan appeared next to the track and that is where we made camp for the night. There was some traffic on the road up to around 8pm but then it quietened down completely. The vegetation surrounding the clay-pan had been invaded by a nasty Goats-head Burr and one had to watch where one walked as the dastardly prickles seemed to jump towards one clothes!
We found some old dry firewood and had a lovely camp fire. The wood, although looking so dry would not burn out and I had to make four trips to extinguish the flames which kept on igniting after we had gone to bed.
A cool night ensued, but were we snug warm, in our beds. At daybreak the Dingoes gave us a morning chorus somewhere in the vicinity of the Stuart Range. The road to Yuendumu was sealed in two small sections but for the rest it was pretty ordinary. We dropped in to see the town but there we no surprises apart from the NextG Telstra Tower and some large solar panels.
Continuing on our journey in a north-westerly direction the road was pretty corrugated and chopped out in places. We stopped for lunch at a dusty truck stop and I checked tyre pressures and wheel bearings on the van. We saw some lovely Wedge-Tail Eagles, a small flock of Pink Cockatoos, a Big Red Kangaroo and beautiful Brumbies. We stopped for locals who had a flat tyre and they asked for water….so we gave them a bottle of water. A short while later they came hurtling past us again at breakneck speed. I run the tyres at 24psi and rarely go more than 60kmh. We came across two low loaders carting Haulpac mining trucks. They were driving at less than 10kmh on the corrugations and the front wheels of the Prime Movers where bouncing off the ground……what fun!!.
Our camp for the night was off the road at Renahan’s Bore, which was dry. It is pretty much the last place to camp free from Spinifex grass for quite a distance! I checked the U-bolts on the caravan springs and did a few other jobs that needed doing. Both the solar panels came out as it was a great sunny day which peaked at around 24°C. Later in the afternoon a number of vehicles drove in and out looking for a place to camp. A Slaty-back Thornbill and a Falcon came by to greet us at our camp. We managed to scratch around in the scrub to find enough firewood to cook our tucker. Today the caravan did not ingest any dust but the fridge opened and spilled some of its contents out on to the floor. No harm done however. A breeze sprang up later and that kept the ever pesky flies at bay!
I made a new wire lock for the fridge door first thing in the morning after listening to Macca on ABC Radio for a while. The road surface from our overnight camp was good for most of the day with only minor bits that were rough. We passed by the Granites Mine with all its warning signs and stopped for smoko opposite the old Rabbit Flat Roadhouse turn off. The latter Roadhouse closed in 2011 after the owners Bruce and Jacqui Farrands retired.
Then it was time to re-fasten the stove with new clamps and that took a while. We pushed on past Tanami Mine and at the Lajamanu intersection we had lunch. There is a water tank there with water and rubbish bins supplied and serviced by the mine and so we topped up our supplies of water, refuelled from our jerry-cans and had lunch. Then it was 80km to the NT/WA Border and more signs of dire warnings for all kinds of stuff. The countryside becomes undulating and the road snakes over some rock extrusions. There were some bulldust patches but overall the road was OK. There have been fires through the area and a lot of Spinifex grass has been burnt off. Coyote Airstrip was vacant this time but when we passed by here in 2009 there was a Jet parked on the runway!
Another mine passed by and about 30km into WA we saw a bush track heading south with all signs removed and so we went down that way for about 2km and found an old mining camp that was deserted but still with some heavy pumping equipment and mining stuff. This was the place to camp for the night. We gathered fire wood and I repaired some cooking pots which had unscrewed themselves from their handles
Jeddah seems to be feeling better after hurting her left front leg whilst jumping out of the truck a couple of days ago. We have been nursing her along. She sleeps a lot. The Coyote Mine Crusher started up after dark but it was far enough away not to worry us.
We were back on the Tanami by 7am after resetting our clocks to Western Australia time. The road was bull-dusty in places but reasonably smooth. We came across an old Bull Camel who posed for photos. Jeddah only barked at it after it had moved off some distance from us….just to be on the safe side! We arrived at Balgo Community just before 9am and waited for a short time before the Warlayirti Artists Gallery opened. The building has a lot of fantastic mosaics on the floors.
The glass works and paintings were phenomenal and so were the prices. We were given a free catalogue and we bought a local band’s CD. Balgo is a community of 7 desert tribes who all live in the same area. After Balgo it was a 44km journey to Mulan.
Paruku IPA encompasses a variety of desert and semi-desert landscapes and undulating red sand plains, salt pans and occasional dunes with stunted eucalyptus. It is dotted with acacias and spinifex, flood plains with swathes of short grasses and low shrubs, and alluvial plains and sand rises. The land covered by the IPA is held under two pastoral leases purchased by the Aboriginal Lands Trust in 1978. Paruku/Lake Gregory and Billiluna properties are managed by the Mulan community with the assistance of the Kimberley Land Council. IPA status helps Traditional Owners protect their places of cultural significance, to develop an ecologically sustainable pastoral enterprise and conserve the Paruku wetlands.
The IPA has several groups of Traditional Owners, including Walmajarri, Jaru and Kukatja peoples. Paruku is at the end of a long Dreaming track binding together a large number of people living across a wide area. The way the land and waters are managed, including the placement of fences, bores and living camps, is governed by Tjurapalan Tingarri Law. The law also binds the Traditional Owners together and expresses their communal ownership of native title.
IPA activities help to manage the land in accordance with traditional ways, and support cooperative community works. Environmental degradation caused by introduced species, along with former overgrazing by cattle, is being addressed with the assistance of IPA funding.
Traditional plant use has been recorded through ethno-botany field trips, and visitor activities managed through the preparation of a tourism management plan, and construction and maintenance of lakeside campsites. Controlled burning practices, and fencing to monitor the impacts of feral horses and cattle, are helping to care for country and maintain the land’s health into the future.
Mulan (pronounced Mullin) is a much smaller community than Balgo. Together with the Billiluna Community it has the surrounding areas of Lake Gregory or Paruku, as their ancestral lands. We paid $30 for a Camping Permit and including one night’s camp and then $10 per night to camp for the additional days on the shores of Lake Gregory. The Ranger said that there was plentiful wood and a water tank and pit toilets and we were guided to the site by Mark, a community leader, who I had met the last time we passed by here. He guided us in along a private track as the main access was, according to him, too rough for our little van. I remarked on the fine looking Brumbies out on the plain and Mark related a story that one of the Elders of Mulan community was a friend of a Horse Racing Icon down south and that the latter presented a gift of 10 retired racehorses to the Elder and the Mulan Community. The horses can certainly run at a good gallop.
Our camp at Handover Camp on the shores of Lake Gregory
After Mark left we discovered that the tank had a faulty tap and that there was no water in it. The bush toilets were not encouraging either. I rang the Paruku Ranger on my Satphone and left a message on his answering machine. Later we tipped the tank up on its side and took about 30 litres of water from it. We set up our full camp for the first time this trip and loafed around for the rest of the afternoon. Today we saw lots of Brolgas and some fine looking Brumbies. There are more birds calling from the Lake, which is full, after 400mm of rain during the Wet Season and we will take a walk down there soon. The sunset across the lake was magnificent. Tonight we are camping here, all by ourselves, with just the flickering flames of the fire, a wonderful night sky and a snoring dog to contend with. Let’s hope it stays that way.
I woke up during the night at around 2.30am to hear the van’s fridge not working properly. It would seem like the compressor has passed away. I had wondered how long it would last over all these bad roads. Even so, the van has done over 50,000km in three travel seasons so far. In daylight I pulled the external fridge cover off and checked all the wiring but all seems OK. Jude repacked the fridges so that all non-essential items that do not need cooling are packed into the van fridge. Then some cloud cover appeared but by midday the sun was on the solar panels most of the time. We went for a walk to the edge of the lake to take some photos and collect firewood. Jude went into her work tent and made cards whilst I tried to invent different ideas to apply to things around the van. Later in the arvo the Ranger came by with another vehicle following. I hailed him and asked whether he had received my message. He replied rather sheepishly that he seldom listens to the messages. Anyway, he promised to come back the next day to repair the tank and to bring water. (He never did). We dragged an old hollowed out tree stump over to the fire at sunset and had a mighty bonfire whilst cooking our tucker on the coals provided. Went to bed at a staggering time of 7.30pm but telling ourselves that it was really 9pm just across the border!
Wednesday morning and we have clear skies and it is 20 degrees at 6am. The batteries have held up well with the Engel running on Freeze all of the time. The flies are becoming pesky as they have invited their friends over to come and annoy us. Luckily we have the Screen tent we can hide in if they become too troublesome. Brolgas, Cockatiels, Galahs and Whistling Kites fly over. A family of Pied Butcherbirds keeps us entertained. The Crows are local residents. We fire up the campfire and have pancakes, banana and honey for breakfast. Then we all go for a walk to collect fire wood but Jeddah stays out of the long grass and waits for us to return with our bounty. Jude spends most of the day in the Screen Tent making cards whilst I read an auto-biography and shift my position every so often to stay in the shade. I also shift the solar panels every couple of hours to get more direct sun-rays. It’s a hard life!
It’s a warmish day around 25 degrees. Around lunch time three vehicles towing trailers arrive. The occupants are offish and do not even glance at our encampment. Eventually a bloke walks over. They are lost. The Ranger wasn’t around at Mulan so they were given vague directions on how to get to their camp. They do not have not decent mapping and are visibly alarmed when I tell them it is about 170km around the lake to the Lake Stretch Campsite. I don’t tell them about the horrific corrugations they will encounter! We wait all day but the Ranger does not show to repair the tank or bring us some water. We have enough water to last our time here with careful management and having daily showers. After sunset we count satellites and cook a great stew over the fire. We notice lights across the lake and also off into the dunes to the south and wonder about them, but they eventually disappear. The rising cool wind from the east sends us inside to bed at 7.30pm
Thursday and it is our last day on the distant shores of Lake Gregory. Brolgas fly over just before sunrise and sing their melodic calls. I make early morning coffee and we talk about house plans and what the next project will be for 12 Collins Street ( the things you talk about when you are on holiday!). There is a light breeze and the skies are clear. What will the day bring?
I wondered why I tended to roll off my bed last night. As I am setting up the solar panel for the early rays of sunlight I discover that the right hand tyre of the van is flat. After breakfast I jack the van up, remove the wheel and fit the spare. Then I pump the flat wheel to a good pressure and test for leaks. It turns out that the air valve has gone squishy and so I replace that and fit the re-inflated wheel on to the spare wheel holder. Then I remember that I was going to make a ‘new’ locking device for the now defunct fridge as it tends to open by itself on corrugated roads. The dead fridge has been converted into a store cupboard for soft packet foods. The next job is to repair an Anderson plug which has loosened itself from the power chord. We wander off after that to collect more fire wood for tonight’s fire and after catching our breaths and changing back into lighter clothes I sit down to read my book and Jude goes back into her screen tent to make cards. Jeddah settles in the red dust and is soon snoring softly.
About the middle of the day I hear a vehicle approaching and soon Mark’s HiLux appears through the long grass. He has been out gathering firewood and has come to see if we need some. He stops for a chat and three cigarettes and we talk about places and people we know who have something to do with part of the country. Shortly after his arrival 5 Toyotas turn up with a bevy of teachers from Mulan Community School, some women elders and 29 school kids, aged under 10! Bedlam! Kids run amok! They make damper and cook Kangaroo-tail and whilst this is happening the majority of them go down to the lake in the vehicles and then run back a little while later. This is their Culture Outing for the week. They are very interested in our caravan, shower tent, screen tent and solar panels.
After about two hours they take off again in a cloud of dust, waving like mad as if we were long lost relatives. We are left once again with the quiet of the lake shores and the ever annoying flies. Desert Dwellers rosemary and cedar-wood crème, bought in Alice Springs at great expense, it does do a good job though of keeping the flies at bay. We lapse into a zzzzzzzzzzzzzz afternoon just loafing. Three Brolgas fly high overhead. The sun sets and tonight the midges and enough flying insects to make an entomologist happy, bear down on us. Every time we turn a light on they are there!
We were going to stay the extra day but decided that the insects ruled the roost. As it is, the tiniest of ants have built a nest under our porta-potty in the shower tent.
In the morning it is overcast and this helps with packing up. We go down to the lake once more for a last look and then take the designated private track back to the community. As the water tank at the camp had not been repaired and filled in our time there, we are allowed to take water from the store. We have brief chat with Mark again and soon we are on our way back along the road to Balgo. A light shower of rain has fallen during the night and the road is virtually free from dust. At Balgo Community we find a rogue Telstra NextG phone tower and we listen to phone messages and clear up our inboxes. Then it is back to the Tanami Road where we turn left towards Halls Creek. There are road-works in progress and most of the road to Billiluna Community is in good condition. Lunch time finds us at at Sturt Creek and we turn off to find the campsite deserted and then decide to stay overnight, hoping that everyone else drives past. By 4pm we are still the only ones here. It is a pleasant spot right on a small billabong but only about 250metres from the road. There is a severe washout on the way in and the van scrapes it underbelly. Then I spot the easy way in! We manage a nice hot shower with heated up billabong water. In bed by 8pm and slept until about 4.30am when we both woke up and decided to move on.
The road from Sturt Creek past Billiluna Community we will call ‘So far’………So far it’s not bad…some good stretches….about 50km…. and then then some loose-rattling corrugations…about 120km of it, some cattle drovers
….at the bitumen there is a sign all about Quarantine Regulations…and another sign stating Welcome to Western Australia. Hmmmm..we’ve been in WA for a week…go figure.
Halls Creek, the town with only Light Beer…no wine to be had by anyone…just as well we have a private supply. Refuel, buy groceries and water($1 for 10 litres) and make for Caroline Pool 15km out on the Duncan Road. There are 5 other camps but we find a place and stop for the day. Spend the afternoon watching the passing parade. Its gets dark quite early here and we don’t have a fire tonight and we are in bed by 6.30pm. All the radio can pick up is some silly football game some down south. At 4am I make us a Hot Chocolate so as to settle the sleep fairy and we drop off again until sunrise. Some campers move out on their way to wherever. At the entrance to Caroline Pool the sign states ’24 hour camping only, No littering…Penalties Apply!!!’….Geez, friendly mob, eh? Who is patrolling these lands, I wonder?
I decide that I want to see the other side of Caroline Pool. Trouble is, it is hemmed in both side by smooth rocks. I try the rock approach first but my balance fails me and so I gingerly pick my way back down. Then I decide to swim across with my digi-pic camera in a clip-lock bag. Yikes!! …the water is icy! On my way back a young fella tells me it’s an easy walk along the toe holds on the rocks. I can see myself falling and opt for the thick oozy black mud way instead! Slack off for rest of day. We cook tucker on fire and manage to stay awake until 8pm! Wake up at 4am with runny nose(must have been the black mud!). Take pill and that cures it later on.
Monday morning sunrise. Oh what fun…we have a flat tyre on the Datto! The first puncture we have had since leaving home in 11,000km (excluding the off-track punctures). A lovely 12mm screw stuck in the tread. Pump tyre up and get out of our sandy camp using low range and get to a clearing up the hill where I plug the offending tyre. We then take a leisurely drive in the early morning to Old Halls Creek, Palm Springs and Saw-Pit Gorge. Old Halls Creek ruins are now enclosed under a roof and the sides of the building are built from arc-mesh wire, no doubt to protect it from vandals (and there are plenty of them about as one witnesses the needless graffiti on signs, rocks and trees). The Hills of the Halls Creek area have made many a gold prospector wealthy over the past years. Nowadays big mining companies move in when the prospects are good! Palm Springs is a lovely little spot but right on the road. Saw Pit Gorge had a fire raging through it and after 2km down the track we turned around just to be on the safe side. If the wind had changed in our direction we would have been in strife.
So we took our time driving through hilly terrain back to Halls Creek. We checked out a place in the long grass called The Beach. It’s a nice little spot with hard sand and a flowing creek but the entrance and exit could have been tricky and so we gave it a miss. Here we used our two-way radios for the first time talking to one another over about 500 metres. They worked well.
Back in town we did more shopping, visited the Art Gallery and pumped the tyres up to 35psi again. Here I discovered that the back seat had pinched the air hose and had made a hole in the hose. And so that had to be repaired before I could pump the tyres. Meanwhile the locals strolled by watching what I what I was doing with great interest. They basically come out on to the lawn verges of the main street of Halls Creek and watch the tourists go by. I must say that it is a bit of a circus. Maybe around 50 4×4’s with vans, a few cars and three or four road trains made up for the passing parade. At the Art Gallery there were a number of artists working on huge canvasses at tables. The art is to the same standard as that of the Balgo Community. There were paintings, T shirts, bags and Postcards to be bought and all at a healthy price!
Then we made for the road heading north.