Thursday. Leave home on my own at 5.45am. It is a cool morning with the temperature at 2 degrees. A fresh tailwind accompanied me out of town and I was able to cruise at 95 quite comfortably. Lots of kangaroos to be seen.
Drive in on Beltana Road to where plaques are at the Afghan well and take some pics for the John MacDouall Stuart Society.
Stop at Copley at their new rest stop and then buy a pie and drink before heading off to Lyndhurst where I refuel. I give Paula from Holland a lift to Marree. She is on a 12 month working visa in Australia and is visiting a friend in Marree who says that there may be a job going on one of the stations nearby. I speak with some travellers at Marree driving an old Jeep J20 with a caravan built on to the back.
Set off for Lake Eyre along the Muloorina road and Rosie starts to hiccup again every now and then. Notice a water splash on rocker cover and can’t see where it is coming from. It is 96km from Marree to Lake Eyre via Muloorina Station. I let the tyre pressures down to 25psi. The last 15km in to Lake Eyre is very badly corrugated. The country side is moonscape with lots of gibber plains and very little surface vegetation. Lake Eyre is bone dry and 0 degrees above sea level according to my GPS reading.
I drive back to Muloorina Waterhole and pay my $2 camping fee. Enjoy the quiet of the bush and do a bit of bird watching. See some Swamp hens, Cormorants, Wood swallows and Willie Wagtails. There are reeds, tea trees, date palms and coolabahs. Muloorina Waterhole is the overflow from an artesian bore. The station has a turbine set in the bore and this generates power from the water pressure of the artesian bore. I set up camp and have tucker and clean up and then some other campers set up less that 30 feet from me. They are noisy, falling around in the dark.The vehicle is registered in Victoria. My peace and quiet is shattered and I get annoyed and move off to the other side of the waterhole but the Jeep campers have a generator running. I drive back along the station road till I can see the lights of Marree and then sleep for the night.
Friday. I am woken up by a passing fuel tanker at 5.30am and set off in to Marree. Have a clean up, get dressed and have some breakfast whilst the morning is breaking. Repair drivers seat as a bolt had come loose and replace number plate light globe which had worn away its contact point. There was nothing wrong with the element. I fuel up and get on to the Birdsville Track. Not cold this morning and I am able to wear shorts and a jumper. At 54km up the track (which is wide enough to take 4 vehicles side by side) I stop at Claytons Bore to check out their artesian hot water shower and spa. Does not warm up for me (I was a bit impatient at that time) so I drive down to the wetlands area and take a photo.
Two days before a 200 kilometre rain band had crossed over the Birdsville Track and more than 25mm of rain had fallen. The mud started about 50km south of Mungeranie Pub to another 150km past that point. I find the where the water leak is coming from in the engine. It is coming from the by-pass hose. I remove the radiator cap and drive on. Stop at Mungeranie Pub for a cold drink and a sausage roll. Arrive there same time as coach full of tourists but get my order in quickly.
About 50km north of Mungeranie I hit a washout at 50kmh after slamming on the brakes to come down from 80kmh, and bounced across the road surface severely. The solenoid on the starter motor jams and causes the starter motor to continue cranking This causes a fire in the loom. I use the dead switch to stop the overwind and isolate the loom wires as soon as possible. Now what? I am temporarily in a fit of despair but then get the workshop manual out and read about the solenoid. I tap the solenoid and starter motor with a hammer and this frees it up again. I am very relieved. The car starts and I drive on and make it in to Birdsville by 4.30pm. Ruth Doyle, my internet friend, is standing by the gate of the Caravan Park which she and her husband, Ian, own. We talked a lot and later she came over with a scotch and we had a quiet drink together. Then I cooked supper and was in bed by 8.30pm.
Fuel consumption has been exceptionally good as I had a strong tail wind all the way to Birdsville and I made 6.2km to a litre which is 16.12l/100km or 17.63mpg! I find out later that I have a broken rear shockie and the two front ones are ready for replacement.
Saturday. Started working on Rosie after breakfast with much interest from fellow campers. Removed the bypass hose and walked across to the Servo where a young fella by the name of Daniel reckoned he could repair it with some Sikaflex. He did the job and charged me $20 but it still leaked. I have learnt that the owners of the Servo are ex-South Africans and call over the fence to Mrs Marietjie Nel. Her husband Theo is away on a CFS course but should be back by Monday. I said that would like to speak with him about the Nel family in South Africa as one my ancestors was a Nel. Mrs Nel tells me that they have been in Birdsville since 2000 and had immigrated under a sponsorship arrangement. They seem to have done pretty well for themselves with this huge modern Servo.
I went back to my job on Rosie and separated the burnt loom as best I could and applied new electrical tape. I found that the burnt wire was the one to the starting switch and was live. Plugged the sockets back together again and replaced the fuses and EVERYTHING WORKS. What a relief. Tested all the circuits and alternator charge with my voltage meter. Climbed in under the truck and tightened all the suspension nuts. Went for a drive to the racecourse and back and apart from an odd hiccup (still some residue of the jerry-cans in the fuel tank), Rosie is running OK. Spent some of the morning in Ruth’s coffee shop at the Caravan Park. She made me a mean Cappuccino. Chatted to her husband Ian and some of his cronies who all seem to drop by on a Saturday morning.
In the afternoon I drove around town looking up old haunts. Decided not to frequent the pub but had a Chocolate Thick shake at the Caravanserai Café. Drove down and peeped in the door of the Working Museum. The bloke said that there was a tour on at 3pm and I said I would come back. What was in there of what I saw through the door did not interest me really as there is as much junk in a mate of mines back yard which I see every time I go there. My next door neighbour at the CP is Sully(Rory O’Sullivan) from Rathdowney in Queensland. Aged 81 and driving his 1989 Toyota Sahara Turbo Diesel and a trailer which he built himself. Him and his dog Smokey spend six months of the year travelling around. Smokey has a plastic drum for a kennel. Sully sleeps in the back of the trailer which is set up with all sorts of paraphernalia and weighs about 3 ton according to him.
The Birdsville flies are annoying. I don’t think that I will ever be able to live in such a place for a long time. In the late afternoon Sully gets some wood together and lights a fire by the front entrance of the CP. He uses a compressed-air flame-thrower and a compressed-air diesel accelerant squirter. Instant inferno! Some people have the weirdest ideas about lighting fires. I drive over to the phone boxes and ring Jude on 1800 Reverse. Later on by the fire, Ruth comes over with some tucker and a bottle of Scotch and the deeper in to the bottle we get the more laughter there is. They also get stuck in to the almonds I brought them and much later we finish the evening off with ice cream and Prickly Pear juice. In bed by 9pm.
Sunday. Slept well and am surprisingly clear this morning. The supply truck pulled in at 6.45am and thereafter sleep was over and done with. Cool morning but not too cold. Should be a nice day despite the flies. Well………..whilst having breakfast I see a drip of oil on the ground and find a pipe hanging loose. It appears to be the gearbox breather hose. After breakfast I get in to my sad rags and climb in under the truck. No way can I get the hose back on. Decide to remove the passengers’ seat so that I can get to the battery compartment more easily. Get the battery out but still cannot reach the pipe attachment. Remove 24 bolts to get the gearbox cowling off at the firewall and slip the pipe back on and fasten with a clamp. It takes two hours to do a one minute job! Rubbed some silicon over the by-pass hose and let that set.
Drove out to Big Red in the afternoon. It is 33km to the ‘new’ crossing of Little Red and 3km along the base of the sand hill to where the old Big Red crossing was. I managed to struggle up the dunes with my walking stick and take GPS measurements of the height above sea level.
Information booth at the approach to Little Red is 39m ASL
Little Red Crossover point is 58m ASL
Little Red southern sand blow estimate at 68m ASL
Approach to Old Crossing of Big Red 35m ASL
Old Crossover of Big Red 65m ASL
Big Red northern sand blow 70m ASL
Big Red southern sand blow 75m ASL
The information booth relates that the highest point of Big Red sand hill, which stretches for about 300km is 90m. It does not state that this height is Above Sea Level, but it is! Decide to drain about 10 litres of fuel out of the tank to see if I can get rid of some of the gunk that came out of the jerry cans. An uneventful drive back and I have the whole road to myself.
Have not seen Ruth for most of the day. I think she isn’t feeling well. Sully cranks up the fire again and we warm our cockles with some port and a fireside chat. In bed by 9pm.
Monday. Up early. Cold morning. Rosie won’t start. Do the elimination bit which takes half and hour. No go. Pull the in line fuel filter off and it breaks. Then I crank the motor over and she starts. Must have been some airlock. Fit new fuel filter and we are mobile. Go over to the Servo and catch up with Theo Nel. He invites me in to the his house and we jabber away. He brings out the Nel Family Bible and I start my laptop. Soon we are comparing notes and it turns out that his ancestor nine generations back and my ancestor eight generations back, were brothers. His ancestor Jan(Jean) Nel was the first born child and my ancestor Pieter Willem Nel was the tenth born child of Guillleaume Neel(later renamed Willem Nel) and Jean de la Batte both of Rouen in France, who migrated to South Africa in the 1680’s.
I get away from Birdsville at about 10am after refuelling at $1.11pl for unleaded fuel. Say goodbye to Ian and Sully. Ruth is in bed with a very bad cold and under sedation. This time I have a headwind and fuel consumption is going to be bad. The country side is barren with gibber rocks strewn far and wide. No wonder that the owner of Roseberth Station (a personal friend of Ruth), told me that they own 1.25 million acres of land. I am not sure what the cattle eat out there but there must be some sustenance for them. The road is not good as the gibber is formed into little walls of about 100mm high along the outside of the tracks and tracking the truck is difficult at times. But we are only making 70kph against the wind. Looking forward to buying a snack at Betoota. Lots of kangaroos to be seen. Not sure what they eat either. Disappointment reigns supreme. Betoota has only one building, that of the Betoota Pub, and it closed down in 1997!
After 250km or thereabouts I get to the turn off to the South Australia Border and Innamincka. 40km later I find the turn off to Haddon Corner which is where Queensland and South Australia meet at a fence post corner. I am able to drive across two sand hills in 2wd but take the easy route over the highest sand hill on the way out. I have a photo session at Haddon Corner and then make for Arrabury Station and beyond.
The wide open spaces with nary a hill in sight. Great flat plains endlessly stretching into the distance. Some flat topped mesas loom out of the distance shimmering in a mirage. The road is reasonable but about twenty kilometres from Arrabury Station there are long patches of bulldust and I have to drive with care. I do another 120km and pull up off the track inside the Innamincka Reserve. I refuel and cook a very nice stew which some straggling flies and I enjoy immensely. It’s the night before full moon and like daylight outside. Plus, I worry about whether the truck will start. So I crank the motor over at midnight and again at 3am. Silly!
Tuesday. Get on the track at 5.15am and the first 30km of the next 130km is twisty and corrugated but evens out after a while. I have a hot 4 minute, $2 shower at Innamincka and then go down to the banks of Cooper Creek to have some breakfast. I ring home and then also ring Bollards Lagoon Station to get permission to use the Bore Track. Refuel at $1.19pl but only put 50litre in as I still have a spare 80litres in the jerry cans. Drive out to Cullyamurra Waterhole and meet the mother and daughter duo who were camped next to me at Birdsville. They are doing OK in their Mitsubishi Challenger. It looks a bit too close to the ground for my liking, our Commodore seems about the same height.
The Bore Track is wet in places and I follow a station truck’s tracks to avoid mud holes. I get caught out by one mud hole and blot the daylight out when I plough through it at 60kph. There are lots of Oil and Gas Mining activities along the Bore Track and road signs are scarce. Quite a few road signs are broken off for souvenirs. I was informed by Ruth in Birdsville that they get tired of replacing signs because so many of them get souvenired. The track is easy and can be done in a sturdy 2wd vehicle. Going left at a turn off I feel the truck slide slightly. Have a look an decide that the right hand rear has a slow leak. Pump the tyre up and continue. I meet two other travelling vehicles, one towing a small pop top van, and eventually get to Bollards Lagoon Station at about 2pm. I pay my dues at the homestead and head off to Cameron Corner. This is not far away.
Once at Cameron Corner I chat to a young fella working on the Dog Fence and also to two blokes riding Postie scooters from Geelong to Darwin.
Buy some soft drinks and push on. Get to Fort Grey in Sturt National Park and camp for the night. I decide to use their gas facility but after ten minutes everything is still ice cold. I unpack my gear and cook tea. The flies are worse than at Birdsville. Pump up all the tyres to 35psi. Three other campers come in and camp a distance away. The sun finally sets with full moon arriving and the flies go to bed early.