1994 Solo trek from Bililuna to Wiluna in Western Australia. Some photos updated 2011
We did a Solo north/south crossing of the Canning Stock Route commencing at Alice Springs and along the Tanami Road via Billiluna Station in the north and visiting Wells 51 to 1 and on to the goldmining town of Wiluna in the south. Then we drove along the whole of the northern section of the Gunbarrel Highway, across the Gibson Desert to Giles Meteorological Station and then back to the Northern Territory via the Olgas (Katatutja) and Ayers Rock (Uluru). On the CSR, at Well 42, we did a special 200km round trip to the east and Helena Spring. The total distance driven over the 25 day journey was 4700km.
It took twelve months of planning and research and six months of preparation to take part in this adventure. We spent close to $2000 upgrading parts of our vehicle and spares, $400 on food and Super Petrol cost just a whisker under $1000.
In 1906, Alfred Canning, a surveyor with the Western Australian Government, was commissioned to survey and provide water for cattle and humans along a stock route from Halls Creek in the Kimberley Region to Wiluna in the south. This stock route would be a short cut to the beef markets in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia. The route would also bypass the traditional droving route through the West Kimberley region which was infected with cattle ticks. In all 51 wells and watering points were established. Supplies were brought in by camel and with the help of resident aboriginal clans, Alfred Canning and his men survived the four years it took to accomplish the task. The stock route was used for the last time in 1958 when road transportation was taking over from cattle droving.
The first motor vehicle intrusion along the route was claimed by Michael Terry in 1925 when he visited Wells 51 to 48. During the 1960’s more survey teams, including that of Harry Johnston, established a motorised track along the route and Len Beadell crossed it with his Talawana Track. By 1977 the first commercial tour completed the CSR and today a journey along the Canning Stock Route provides a real challenge for four wheel drive recreational users. It is also a chance to visit four of Australia’s desert regions namely the Tanami Desert, the Great Sandy Desert, the Little Sandy Desert and the Gibson Desert. Along the CSR we crossed more than 950 sand dunes and a further 50 along the Gunbarrel Highway. Seven dunes gave us trouble but we crossed them eventually without assistance ( five rushes at one dune alone!!).
Saturday 9th July
We are off on a leisurely start along the first 150km of bitumen road north-west of Alice Springs. We are driving our 15yo petrol powered Toyota Landcruiser named Gertie. Then on and across the Tanami Desert with 600km of pot holes and corrugations to Rabbit Flat Roadhouse where petrol is $1.20 per litre and oil $25 for 4 litres. Because we do not complain about the fuel prices we are invited by Bruce Farrands, the owner of Rabbit Flat, to camp in his specially cleared area of Mulga scrub and Spinifex. We accept. A few light drinks and a good camp fire feed put us to sleep quite early. Today we have seen Wedge tail Eagles, Finches and Spinifex Pigeons. Gertie blows a main fuse and I wonder why but cannot isolate the problem. She also drinks a litre of oil.
Sunday 10th July
We are up and about early and soon on our way over a corrugated road to the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Judith left her sneakers on the bull bar overnight and only realises this 50km down the road. There is still one sneaker sitting on the bar. But what can you do with one shoe? We have morning smoko at the border and talk to a fellow traveller also driving a Landcruiser FJ55. The word is that Bililuna Community is out of fuel and we need to top up the tank before setting off on the CSR. Along the way to Bililuna we come across a bloke and his companion and a puppy. Flat tyre, no jack, no spare, no wheel brace. They are next to a water hole. He didn’t want any help and we move on. We arrive at Bililuna and yes, there is no fuel but it is on its way. The manager of the store suggests we can camp on Sturt Creek and wait for the fuel tanker to arrive. We do that and set up camp in the shade next to a billabong. Grevillea and wattle in flower. Did some washing, had a cold dip in the billabong and then a warm shower. Long billed and short billed Corellas fly by in the late afternoon. Crows and finches in abundance. Pleasant day and mild evening. I talk to Kevin in Darwin on the HF Radio on 6950 but he sounded very far away (which he was!!). Too much static interference on the radio waves. Lost part of the winch today. The brake dust cover rattled loose and fell off. Sundown at 5.30pm. We had to retard our time by one and a half hours to WST (Western Standard Time). Listen to fire crackling and frogs croaking in the billabong. Very peaceful. Judith has sinus from all the dust. Not very happy.
Monday 11th July
Last night we had a snoring competition. Jude feeling better. Lots of birds on the billabong including Budgies, Corellas, Spoonbills, Doves, Finches, Teal Ducks and White-eye Ducks. We drive into Billiluna. Still no petrol. Due in today. We drive back to Sturt Creek and camp for the day. Lazed in the sun. Went for another cold dunk in the billabong. Ran generator, played classical music. Got the 500mm camera lens out and took some photos of the Inland Dotterel and the White-necked Heron. Repaired my boot with Araldite. Reset the tie-rod clamp on Gertie. Billiluna Community Manager came down in the afternoon to tell us that the fuel has arrived. He stays for a cuppa. Flies annoying today. A few mozzies around. After dark we counted satellites as we sat at the camp fire. No other campers. Very quiet. In bed by 8.30.
Tuesday 12th July
Mob of wild cattle passed close by our camp last night. Lovely morning. Weetbix and hot milk, bacon on toast and a cuppa. Drove in to Billiluna and refuelled. Bought a pair of sneakers for Jude and some other last minute goodies at the store. Could not find the way on to the CSR and had to ask directions. Problem was that the Community had built an airstrip across the track. Track corrugated whilst following through Desert Oak forest and some Spinifex country. Meet up with a tour group of ten vehicles including a large MAN 4×4 truck. Tour leader gives us directions around the flooded Lake Gregory. Then as they pull away he makes an uncomplimentary comment about me over the radio channel. I tell him that I had heard what he had said. Silence. The instructions given prove to be wrong as we follow them right into the lake. We backtrack and take the right route, annoyed at having wasted fuel. We visit Well 51, the last well on the CSR. It is under water with just the identification tag protruding above the water. We are starting to run along the dunes now and the track becomes soft in places. We push on to Well 50 which has caved in. Drive across country over some very rough Spinifex for 4.6km searching for Gulvida Soak and a small gorge mentioned in Michael Terry’s book, A Land of Promise. Eventually we come to the gorge and walk up the dry creek for 1km. There we find petroglyphs and some more modern names etched out on the sandstone walls. The cave, as described in the book, has been silted in and would need some digging to open. There are also lots of spider webs across the opening with a large yellow resident spider looking at us hungrily. We decide to give it a miss. Startled a Barn Owl on the way back. Funny thing, Michael Terry writes about a Barn Owl in his book of 1932. Maybe the same one or a descendant?
Its getting late and we make for some Tea trees on a claypan near Well 50. Hoisted our NT flag on the whip aerial with great pomp and ceremony. This is to warn other travellers of a vehicle approaching on the other side of a dune. Today we saw Brolgas, Pelicans, Darters and lots of Crows along the fringes of Lake Gregory. Two Major Mitchell Cockatoos are resident in the Tea trees. Played scrabble in the dark. I won despite Jude getting SQUID on a triple word score! Milo for nightcap and in bed by 10pm.
Wednesday 13th July
Sunrise 6.13 over dune
Cool night. Slept well. Photographed the Major Mitchell’s who are unperturbed by our presence. Gertie refuses to start. Puzzling. Judith suggests I fit the new spark plugs. I do so and Gertie fires up straight away. WELL…….Jude sits there with a smile on her face. We drive on to Well 49 to replenish our water. The bucket will not tilt over when lowered to the water. Water is about 10metres down. I tie a shifting spanner to the handle of the bucket using some wire and that does the trick. The bucket tilts over and sinks below the water. The windlass is still in working condition and we use that. We fill our containers and the water trough and do some washing. The finches arrive in their thousands chatting merrily to us within arms length. Some travellers come by and we swap notes. Then two Brits Rentals with German tourists on board stop for a chat. We refill their small water containers. They have very little food, no safety equipment and did not know about the deviation around Lake Gregory. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread!! We push on to Well 48. Meet travellers in a F100 with exhaust fallen off and some panel damage. Just limping along. Decide to take a photo of the South Esk Tableland from Mt Earnest (also known as UFO Hill). Drive off road to the base of the hill. On leaving the site Gertie sinks to her belly in the soft sand. Luckily there are lots broken and flat shale rocks around. And after an hour of digging and jacking and letting air out of the tyres and cursing, we laid out a path of rocks to drive over. We managed to extricate ourselves from our situation and pushed on. This is the start of the Great Sandy Desert. These deserts are not like other deserts which have pure sand only. These deserts are covered with prickly Spinifex grass as well as other grasses, shrubs, bushes and trees. This area was once part of a giant river system which has dried up and the water now runs under ground less than 5 metres below the surface in places. Well 48 is caved in and we make for Breadon Pool. We take the wrong track however and find a secluded camp site in a sheltered valley. There is good wood and we have a scrumptious meal of Apricot chicken with sweet potato cooked in the oven on the coals. Played Yahtzee and in bed by 8.30pm. A calm quiet night. At midnight a wind sprang up and scattered embers from the fire and started a grass fire. It took three attempts to get the fire under control. We were camped in an area surrounded by lots of dry grass.
Thursday 14th July
Drove out of valley around to the south side and found the right track to Breadon Pool. Spoke to a couple camped on open plain. They were deserters from the group we had seen when leaving Billiluna. They told us that they were unable to find Godfrey Tank. We pushed on to Breadon Pool and then found a track on to the plateau and an easy 20 minute walk to Godfrey Tank which was visited by the explorer, David Carnegie in 1896. His initials and that of Canning, Trotman and others are carved out on the sandstone walls. Godfrey Tank is a natural water fall and pool set in the Breadon Hills. Above the falls there are some very interesting rock formations. We returned to Breadon Pool in time for smoko and had a cuppa. We were fascinated by the beautiful white butterflies with red spots on their wings and the multi-coloured wasps that inhabited the pool. Close by in the small escarpment there was an aboriginal hunting cave. The early inhabitants closed off part of a hollow in the rock face so as to hide from animals coming to drink from the water hole. We left this beautiful oasis and made for Well 46 as on inspection Well 47 was caved in. We started to cross the first dunes. Well 46 has been reconstructed with a new windlass, timbers, bucket and cover. The bucket would hold about 60 litres of water. We washed our clothes, had a shower and burnt the Spinifex seeds out of the radiator. A few flies annoy us but they go away at sunset. Gertie is behaving well. Been driving in 2wd in the corridors and high range 2nd gear over the dunes. Quiet night with crickets, frogs and night birds calling. Get in to a very warm bed. Realise that we have put our swag over another camper’s fireplace. We moved the swag just in case. Opened the second cask of Port.
Friday 15th July
Beautiful fresh morning. No wind, no flies….yet! Took photos of Well 46 at piccaninny daylight. Buried other camper’s rubbish. Had breakfast and the drove on to Well 45. Medium dunes. Visited Gravity Lakes and explore the caves in a small rise to the east of the lakes. Took photos of very ancient rock paintings. Gave Wells 44 and 43 a miss as they were reported to be caved in and the track overgrown. Got our first look at Samphire plants on Guli Lake and Well 42. Getting into big dune country now. Still manage to drive in 2wd in the dune corridors and 4×4 High Range over the crests. Mid afternoon and the sand is hot and very loose. In some instances we only crawl our way over the top of the dunes. Gertie is fitted with all purpose bush tyres which are probably not all that suited for sand driving. Drop tyre pressures down to 20/20. Temp outside is 30C. Temp inside the car is 40C! The highest dune on the CSR at 17 metres gives us trouble. We cross over on the fourth attempt. Have oil pumping past the rings and Gertie is blowing black smoke and running rough. We take some photos of Honey Grevilleas in flower. Then we turn on to Helena Spring side track. It is quite faint to find but according to recent history was last used in 1992. In October 1896 explorer David Carnegie was shown this spring by an aboriginal guide. Here he and his expedition partners spent a leisurely 5 days recuperating and washing their clothes. Carnegie named this spring after his sister Helena. He called it the ‘Diamond of the Desert’. Such a vivid description prompted me to seek out this place as I might pass this way but once. We had made provision for excursion by carrying an extra two jerry cans of fuel sufficient for the 180km plus return trip. We did a quick inspection when turning off on the track and found the left hand front shock absorber leaking gas. We had fitted new shocks in Alice Springs and they were 12 days old from date of purchase. I am not very happy. We struggle down a very washed out and overgrown track. No one had been here for a while. A two metre high tree is growing in the middle of the track. We are both tired and Jude’s face is clouded. Never mind, we can turn back. No, go on, says Jude. We camped on the track. Deflated the tyres, topped up the oil, brake and clutch fluids. Tightened all the nuts on the suspension. Gertie running OK. We have supper and a glass or two of Port. Asleep by 8.30pm.
Saturday 16th July
Sunrise 6.20am behind dune
Another beautiful morning. Slight easterly breeze. We bounce along the rough track at 28kmh. We have to cross about four dunes. The rest of the track runs along the corridors. The Spinifex grass grows thick in this part of the country and it is in seed. Looks like fields of wheat interspersed with desert oaks, bloodwoods, grevillea, holly, salt bush, samphire and many shrubs and small bushes. One of the most beautiful scenes so far. We drive into Warrabuda Native Well and have a look at it. I dig by hand and get some seepage.
Then we push on to Helena Spring and arrive after about four hours of driving. The Speedo cable gets hooked up and kinked on some foliage and is not working properly. There is a sign at the spring to dig it out and to open it up and then to close it up again when we leave so as to avoid it being polluted by animals falling into it. This sign also states that the Carnegie Historic Expedition visited this place in 1982. The present track to Helena Spring was made by Peter Vernon of Melbourne who dragged some sort of blade behind his vehicle to make the track more permanent. He did this in 1990, four years earlier. We dig the soil away from a depression in the ground and discover the spring after about half an hour. The soil and water is black and muddy and smelly. Not quite the oasis that we were expecting, conjuring up thoughts of shady palm trees and crystal clear waters. No, just a couple of claypans surrounded by tea trees and covered with scaly salt crust. A limestone reef covers the whole water course and in this reef a hole has been dug out, probably by early aborigines. It is about 1 metre deep and about 1 metre wide. Dig the hole out and the water seeps at about 100 litres per hour. We did not test the water for drinking but it was salty. Used it for washing and a bath, though. As soon as the hole is opened two crested pigeons walk out of the Spinifex to inspect. Then they walk back over the dune and within a few minutes about fifty fly in. Then the Galahs arrive and then the Budgies and the Finches. Amazing stuff. Generator won’t run properly. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and photographing the birds. Played with the speedo cable, cleared grass away from the radiator guard and worked on front body mounts, which had become loose.
Sunday 17th July
Today was supposed to be a rest day but Judith is getting edgy and nervous about being so far away in this remote wilderness area. Democracy reigns and we move on. Find an old back-pack on the track and wonder where it came from. Spoke to Peter Vernon some months later by phone and he said that it fell off his truck. A bumpy three hour drive out. We are able to make better time following our own tracks. We were going to miss all the dunes and take another seismic track to the south but in the end decided that that would be too risky. With the sun from behind the scenery is even more beautiful. Two camels get on the track in front of us and keep us amused for fifteen minutes. We have to cross the biggest dune again and after 5 attempts we struggle across the top after letting the tyres down to 16psi. The rest of the dunes are OK and we arrive at Well 41 in time for lunch. This well has been rebuilt and a stainless steel bucket has been provided. I have trouble with this bucket and go back to our own one. I am not happy with the camp site. There are prickles everywhere and we are sharing the camp with 7 other vehicles but to save an argument I relent. I hate cluster camping but we talk with a few fellow travellers and share notes. Worked on Gertie’s carburettor. Kangaroo for supper. In bed by 9pm.
Monday 18th July
Just coffee for brekkie and we are on the track again. Gertie starting to bounce badly on the south side of the dunes. Here the sand is very scalloped out and we need first gear to get down some of the dunes!! On inspection I find that the right front shock absorber is now leaking gas as well. We do not need this! From here on the trek becomes a bit of a nightmare. The front of the vehicle bounces up and down severely at the slightest bump and consequently the rear of the vehicle reciprocates by bouncing as well and all the gear in the back of the vehicle lifts up and crashes down. Our gallant little Engel fridge has endured many rough bush trips over the past 8 years but has succumbed to this rough handling and the little plastic body has been smashed to pieces. But the motor still keeps purring away making everything inside icy cold. We push on to Well 40 and then find that we have missed the turn off when we drove out on Lake Tobin. Here we pick up a red flag lost off some vehicle. We back-track to the well and then have a look at Michael Tobin’s grave and the unnamed grave of his attacker. Tobin was with Canning’s party and was fatally speared by an aborigine whom he killed with a gun shot. From Well 41 to Well 39 there are lots of dunes. At Well 39 we meet a solitary dingo who relishes on our melon peels. The well has a snake ladder which is a branch of a tree put into the well so that if a snake falls in it can crawl out via the tree. To Water (Well) 38 which is also known as Wardabunni Rock Hole Lots of multi headed sand dunes. We hit a rock ledge in a dune and lift both front wheels off the ground. One dune takes five attempts to get over after dropping tyre pressure down to 16/16. Pumping oil on to the pistons again and blowing black smoke. Gertie will not idle and fuel gauge needle is lying on EMPTY!!! Worried about fuel to Well 23. Pump up tyres to 25/25 at Wardabunni as track is reputed to be rocky to Well 37. Judith takes pics of finches. Track is rocky for about 2km and then sandy again. Let down tyres to 20/20. We meet a solitary vehicle in a dune corridor. Stop for a chat. He says he has two mates following. We wait and wait and wait…. and finally give up and drive over the dune. Halfway up the other side there is a Nissan with a jacknifed trailer. We have a chat and question the sensibility of towing trailers on this route. The reply is impolite and contains many words starting with F. We watch these clowns get over the dunes. First Nissan takes 3 attempts. Second Nissan takes 5. Dune pretty messed up by now. We drive off after the entertainment. We get to Haunted Well 37. More graves to inspect. Those of drovers, McLernon, Thompson, Shoesmith and a Chinaman, all killed by aborigines between 1911 and 1922. Drive through pretty country with lots of Desert Oaks. We find a good camp site amongst the Tea Trees at Wanda Well 37. Rest day tomorrow to lick our wounds and recover from bouncing. Food boxes have been thrown around today and the margarine containers have disintegrated. Oh what a mess!! Rear door panel is broken. In bed by 7.30pm.
Tuesday 19th July
North east breeze comes up. Heard ‘Glunk Glunk’ of emus passing by last night. Judith thinks that this is the prettiest camp site and we have it all to ourselves. Clean spark plugs. Gertie is idling better again. Both front shocks demised. We wash all our clothes and ourselves. Refuel last of Super in jerry can and one of Unleaded Generator fuel. Picked seeds out of air filter. Travellers with new Range Rover and new Toyota stop for a chat. Judith spends time photographing birds. Flies bothersome. Went for a walk in the dunes. It started cooling down by 4pm. Played Yahtzee. In bed by 7.30pm.
Wednesday 20th July
Temp 0 C no frost
Work on carby. Stop at Bungabinni Native Well which has been restored. Water salty. Write in visitor’s book. Gertie won’t idle properly. Get the toolbox out and fiddle with carby again. Well 35 has bore casing and we cannot reach the water. Give Well 34 a miss. We are now on the open plains and the track is badly corrugated. Have to sit on 70/80kmh to stay on top of the corrugations. Everything is shaking loose. Good water at Well 33 where a windmill pumps water relentlessly into a soak. We fill our containers. We miss Wells 32 and 31 to economise on fuel usage. Track to Well 30 is very rough. Drive from Well 30, which is caved in, to Mujingerra Caves. Rope ladder into the cave looks a bit suspect as a piece of rock wall comes away in my hand. Tales of adders, taipans and pythons in the cave. Look but see nothing. Decide against going into the cave. We push on to Thring Rock. Speedo cable not working. Carby not functioning properly. At Thring Rock I take the whole Carby to pieces, clean every bit and reassemble it. It’s after midnight when I get the whole shebang back together again. By this time I hate Aisin Carburettors. Put last jerry of generator fuel into the tank. Fuel needle still lying on EMPTY. We use our HF Radio and call up the RFDS VKJ base at Meekatharra, 800km away. Trying to ascertain information about a possible fuel drop. Will keep on track to our fuel drop. Arrange to call them again tomorrow. Judith takes photos of sunset, Thring Rock and the rising Moon. We find some Gastropod and Nautilus fossils from the Ordovician Period some 500 millions years ago. In bed by 8.15pm Very worried sleep.
Thursday 21st July
Awake at 5am. Count satellites. Work on carby again. Gertie is running rough. 150km to go to Well 23 and our drum of fuel. Take the wrong track out from Thring Rock and detour an extra 10km. Did not need this! Let tyres down again to 20/20 just before Well 29. Plains country with dunes and rocky outcrops. Track has a lot of switchbacks. Wondering how far I will have to walk to get to our fuel. Track very bumpy. More dunes. Two dunes we have to rush to get over. Wells 28 and 27 caved in. Good water at Well 26. Snake and Goanna living in well. Put bucket down to rescue snake but it swims away. Water level at 10 metres. We fill our containers. The Police from Marble Bar in the North-west of W.A. patrol this area of the Canning every three months and this is written in the visitor’s book at Well 26. Wells 25 and 24 are virtually non existent. Near Well 24 we meet the ‘Circus’. Two single Toyotas cross a dune. They then stop on the dune and hook up in tandem to a third Toyota with a boat on the roof rack. This last vehicle is towing trailer 4 metres in length and at least 2.5 metres in height. In it they have two welders, two generators, large freezer, lounge, TV, food etc and a microwave. They are on their way to Cairns and thought that it would be a good idea to take a short-cut along the CSR! We wait for them to cross the dune. I tell them that the road ahead is fraught with danger and they are foolish to try and attempt such a crossing with the gear that they have. They become aggressive and I back off to the confines of our vehicle. We have driven now for more than 100km with the fuel gauge needle lying below the E. The track gets better towards Well 23. With a sigh of relief we reach our fuel drop near Well 23 and our pre-paid 200 litre drum of Super petrol ($225 for the drum delivered). Our fuel siphon does not work very well so we position the drum on a large tyre which has been left behind by someone and we decant the fuel into a bucket. We do not spill a drop and we put 193 litres into our 207 litre fuel tank. The rest we decant into our jerry cans. We also try all the empty petrol drums and find another jerry can of fuel from the dregs. I call up VKJ Meekatharra on the HF Radio to say that we have reached our fuel and that we are safe and thanks for being there. We used 333 litres of fuel over 1237km and have averaged 3.7km/l or 27lts/100km or 10.5mpg from Billiluna. Now we have 700km to go to the mining town of Wiluna which is where we will be able to fuel up again. Should have enough fuel as the driving will become easier. We relax at last and push on to Georgia Bore which lies 21km south of Well 23 and where there is excellent water and a hand pump courtesy of CRA Exploration. We have a hot shower, do the washing and relax around the fire. Had to scrounge for wood though. In bed by 8.30pm.
Friday 22nd July
Slight south-east breeze this morning. Moon up all night. Full Moon tonight. Collect fire wood. Drive on to Wells 22 and 21. Both caved in. Replaced fuel filter. Part of inside of mudguard on Gertie is badly cracked and battery holder is flexing. We stop on a claypan and do some thinking. We use a turnbuckle, 100x10mm bolt, some builder’s straps which we attach to the outside mudguard of Gertie by drilling holes into the panel and attaching it with bolts and nuts. The bolts hold the turnbuckle and the turnbuckle holds the battery against the inside mudguard. This invention lasts until we arrive home in Alice Springs.
We pass a convoy of mud bespattered vehicles. They are unhappy and tell us that they have spent 7 hours getting through Savory Creek and that we do not have a hope in hell getting through on our own. When we arrive at Savory Creek I turn to the west after seeing tracks coming in from the east. We drive about three kilometres and find an almost dry crossing. We reach Lake Disappointment after a very bumpy ride cross country to find the track again. We collect more wood. Finally we end up on a small peninsula jutting out onto Lake Disappointment. Shortly afterwards two identical Toyota Troopcarriers arrive about 5 minutes apart. One driven by a man with a pony-tail, dressed in Country and Western clothes, the other driven by a very pretty female dressed in white moleskins and cowboy boots. They stop for a chat. They are together but driving their own cars. We invite them to camp nearby but they do not like wide open spaces and decide to leave. Before she goes the female gives us all the firewood in the back of her vehicle. She does not have anything else in the back of her vehicle. We are puzzled. Maybe they just slipped in from another dimension by mistake? We have the peninsula to ourselves and a nice fire. Full moon comes up over the lake. We take lots of photographs of the eerie light. We drink some port and go for a walk on the lake in the moonlight with Vivaldi blaring in the distance. Surroundings very serene and quiet.
Saturday 23rd July
Out of bed before at piccaninny daylight to take photos of sun rising and moon setting. Today we are heading for Durba Springs and Killigurra Gorge where we will rest up for a few days. The dunes coming up are supposed to be the most difficult on the Canning. It is not that they are high but that their texture is different and that they are very soft. The sand grain size is very small and sharp and this makes the sand flow more easily. The track is very bumpy and we lose our red flag. The dunes do not give us any trouble however. Gertie has got hiccups. We change the fuel filter again. We meet a solitary lady of 70 years of age( or that is what she told us ). She is driving a white Daihatsu Rocky Turbo and is very well prepared. She is going all the way to Halls Creek. We wish her well. We drive over lots of rocks into an overgrown gorge. We find the one and only camp site and set up camp. We have running water 20 metres from camp. Other visitors come in the afternoon and walk by our camp 100 metres in to the gorge. We have a chat to all and they leave to camp at Durba Springs. Go for a walk into gorge and look at rock paintings. Goanna painting behind rock ledge very beautiful. Had tea and Jude made custard in Dettol bowl in the dark. Yuk!! In bed by 8pm. Two jets fly over during the night.
Sunday 24th July
Sunrise 6.30(not in gorge)
Temp 12 C
No mosquitoes last night. A few flies during the day, but not too bad. Walked up to the pool again and took photos. Climbed up to rock ledge and found more paintings. We do some more washing. I pull the carby down again!! The float ball in the fuel pump is jammed and is not repairable. Reassemble the carby and advance the engine idle speed to solve the rough idling problem. Pulled speedo cable to pieces, reworked it and reinstalled it. Tightened all suspension nuts. Jude made scones in the camp oven. Dozed in the sun for a while and then went for an icy cold dip in the pool. Very refreshing. Did some sketching. Finches and Spinifex pigeons flew in. Talked to members of NSW Toyota Club. Swapped notes. Played Scrabble and Judith won this time. Cooked pumpkin in foil. Very nice. Chased tea down with some port. Listened to music. Tiny bats flying around. Big old bullfrog making noise like didgeridoo. We take the torch and go looking for him. Find him under a rock ledge all blown up and looking for a mate. Sounds fantastic as the droning noise reverberates off the gorge cliffs. Later we were to hear that Killigurra Gorge is haunted because some campers heard the aborigines playing their didgeridoos at night. They packed up and left in the dark!! Boobook Owl calls his mate all night. Just very softly. We are alone in the gorge. Estimate that there are 20 vehicles camped at Durba Springs, 5km away. In bed by 8.30pm.
Monday 25th July
Another warm night. The owl kept us amused but we could not find him with the torch. Very elusive. Walked down gorge to collect fire wood. Went exploring under overhangs and side creeks. I went to collect water from the creek, tripped and fell, hurting my knee. Ouch!! A lone Emu walked into our camp, twice! We baked beer bread which was scrumptious. Did some more sketching. Relaxed in sun. North-west breeze sprang up. Flock of 20 Red-plumed pigeons fly in. Took lots pf photos with the 500mm lens. More visitors pass through. Hear of convoy of 50 vehicles coming up the Canning. Hear of bloke with 2wd Ute and using sand mats to cross the dunes, coming up the track. (We heard later that he did not get very far before he gave up). Ate some Kangaroo jerky we had made in Alice Springs. Very tasty. Chased it down with some port. In bed by 7.30pm.
Tuesday 26th July
Crickets very loud last night. Saw Boobook Owl high up in tree. Still, quiet morning. We break camp and head for Durba Springs. Oi! Speedo cable is working again. There are 10 vehicles at Durba. The rest having made an early start. Durba has 2 acres of camping space set on couch grass. There is a thunder-box pit toilet. There is water but not of good quality. We go for a walk up Durba Gorge where we see Fire-tail finches. There are also rock engravings and the usual graffiti left by early travellers. We push on to Biella Spring and walk up the gorge for about half an hour. We saw lots of paintings though they are not very good. Not much water in the spring. We took a photo of Canning’s’ cairn high on a hill but were too lazy to do the climb. Got back into dune country again and drop the tyres down to 25/20 as sand is quite soft. Found a camp site off the track at Well 13. The track is improving all the time and we should be out of dune country by tomorrow. In bed by 7.30pm. Had too much exercise today. Slept like bears.
Wednesday 27th July
Cooler last night. Early breakfast and on our way by 7.30am. Saw two camels this morning. Since Durba Springs we have seen no humans for two days. Fill our water containers from Well 10, have lunch and pump up the tyres again. From Killigurra Gorge to Well 10 there was no drinkable water in the wells. After Well 10 we leave the dunes behind and the countryside flattens out a bit. Went for a walk on Aerodrome Lake.
Mulga scrub and Spinifex still dominates the landscape. The track twists and turns through the trees. There are lots of wash outs and progress is slow at times. We come across 3,1,1,14, 1, vehicles in the late afternoon. Drive past Willy Willy bore. Weld Springs and Well 9 is inundated with cattle and Emus. We push on and camp at Well 7 in and amongst a dense forest of Mulga trees. Purple native Violas in flower as well as Mulla Mullas. Quiet night. Took our NT Flag off aerial as it was getting caught up in the trees. In bed by 7.30pm
Thursday 28th July
Quiet morning. Meet solitary man in his 70’s driving a black Daihatsu Rocky. He has no bucket, no rope, no recovery gear, not enough fuel and is almost totally unprepared for the journey ahead. We shake our heads in disbelief.(We heard some months later that he had to be rescued by fellow travellers). Butcher birds singing this morning. Hot coffee with baked beans and beer bread for breakfast. A Red-capped Robin pays us a visit. We set of for Well 6 and Pierre Springs. Along the way we stop at Mt Davis. Saw some weird rock paintings and also some ‘graffiti’ paintings of unknown heritage. At Well 6 there are tall gums and lots of shade, a reconstructed well and a bucket. Water at about 5 metres. Throughout the day about twenty emus come down to drink from the trough at the well. Travellers always tip some water into the troughs for the wildlife. Judith takes lots of photos. Greater Bowerbird and some Galahs frequent the water as well. Ten vehicles pass through before lunch. We stoke up a hot fire and bake more beer bread. We burn the crust but the inside is very tasty. Have and early feed. Then two vehicles from Perth arrive with noisy campers and they park close by. We watch with amusement as they try to fill their water containers with a cup. They prove to be too disruptive and we pack up and move off at sunset to find a quiet camp in a secluded setting 5km down the track. In bed by 8.30pm
Friday 29th July
On the road by 6.45am. Saw Kangaroos and Emus. We have breakfast at Well 5 and Windich Springs. Track horrible. Lots of bulldust, ruts, stakes. Very bumpy ride. We cook breakfast at Windich Springs and talk to travellers from South Australia whom we had met before. Today we drove through mediocre country. We crossed part of Lake Nabberu. Had lunch at the Granites water hole. Dead emu nearby. There is a cold south wind blowing. We keep on driving. 40km out of Wiluna we come to a graded road. Oh, what joy!! We visit North Pool. Very uninteresting and lots of rubbish left by locals. Then we visit our last well, Well 1. There is a dead goanna in the water and it stinks! So, that’s it for the Canning Stock Route. We push on to the Wiluna pub and find a spare room in the motel. Book in and relax. Go down and refuel tank and all jerry cans to have a full 340 litres of fuel on board. Hot shower, heated room and a good feed at the motel. We meet up with our South Oz friends who also book in. Party on that night and play pool. We slept well in a comfy bed.
Saturday 30th July
Cooked breakfast at motel. What luxury!! Got out of town at 8.30. Last night the vehicles got locked in to the pub. They close the gates to the perimeter fence and lock them until 7am. Sign on road reads Alice Springs 1886km of which 1350 ended up being corrugated dirt. We visit the Emu farm and saw lots of emus. We see lots of Wedge tail Eagles picking at carcasses of sheep, kangaroos and emus along the road. Also saw lots of live Sheep, Emus, Kangaroos, Cattle and wild Horses. We pushed on to Carnegie Station some 351km from Wiluna along a very rough and stony road. We refuelled there and then tackled the Gunbarrel Highway. The Gunbarrel was constructed from 1958 to 1963 by Len Beadell and his party to provide access for vehicles servicing the Woomera Rocket range. It has not been maintained since. From Carnegie Station the Gunbarrel is only an overgrown track with numerous washouts almost every 100 metres and corrugations so bad that your false teeth could rattle. We found a camp site 100km from Carnegie atop a hill near a new Telecom Tower site. Had to use low range first gear to get up the virtually unmade track. Tightened nuts on the suspension. Both centre pin nuts off the front springs have rattled loose and fallen off. I do repairs from my bag of tricks. In bed by 7pm.
Sunday 31st July
Low cloud on southern horizon. Hope it does not rain. Freezing cold morning. Jackets and gloves today. Highway very rough. Saw six camels. Staked a tyre. Had breakfast while we repaired the puncture. Passed the ‘Gary Highway’ turn-off. Another track that leads to virtually nowhere. Saw Plains Turkeys. Changed fuel filter again. Track washed out and corrugated. Fixed speedometer twice. Landscape very scenic. Winch rattles apart and I tie it up with a strap. The snorkel rattles loose and falls off but we retrieve it and stow it in the back of Gertie. We come up behind three other vehicles. They are travelling at 15kmh over the corrugations. They get a big fright when we come boring down on them at 80kmh. They move over and let us pass. We have a short chat. The whip aerial keeps turning itself loose. We meet 7 vehicles coming towards us. Their faces sag when we describe the road conditions. We stop at a bore and fill our water containers and give the finches a drink. We take a photo of the Len Beadell tree and plaque. Everything is rattling and dust keeps pouring in to Gertie. She is like a vacuum cleaner. With our front shockies out of action we jump at the slightest bump. There are side tracks and side tracks off these side tracks but no matter where you drive, the corrugations are still there. We turn left at Mt Samuel and inspect the native wells at the top of the rise. We push on to Jackie Junction. Now the Highway is really a track. Near Jackie Junction I see a four footed animal in the distance that looks and moves like a cat. It is the size of a Rottweiler. It darts off into the scrub and out of sight. At Jackie Junction we meet a big graded road running south-north. We follow that to the north for 90km. It is sandy but nice and smooth in places and a welcome relief from the never ending corrugations. We then turn east off this road along the ‘Abandoned’ track 165km to Giles Meteorological Station and the Warakurna Roadhouse. We camp just down this track at 5pm. We have travelled 400km today. Have a hot shower despite water restrictions. A flock of Cockatiels fly over at sunset. Asleep by 8pm.
Monday 1st August
Fresh, still morning. Ice on swag. Refuelled from jerry cans after breakfast. Track rough again but easing in the dune country. This must be one of the most beautiful desert scenes in Australia. Desert Oaks, Spinifex, Desert heath, Grevillea are all set amongst the rolling sand dunes. We visit Christopher Lake. We come to the Warburton Road just on lunch. We have not seen any other vehicles or humans for the past 550km. Road is corrugated. Refuel at Warakurna Roadhouse. Look at the Meteorological Station from the outside only. Nothing exciting. We drive through the Petermann Ranges and the Schwerin Mural (so named by the explorer Ernest Giles) to Docker River Community in the Northern Territory. The road is badly corrugated. After a look around Docker River we head off to the west and get our second puncture. Now it is time to repair the punctures or we will have no spares. I have trouble breaking the bead on one split rim. Some young blokes from Perth who, incidentally, work for a tyre company, stop and lend a hand and we have both tyres fixed in no time. We share a few beers and they take off into the setting sun. We make it to Lasseter’s Cave. It is dark and I share some wood with a couple of old fellas in a Troopie. They crack a bottle of Champagne and we sit around the fire and yarn. They are both in their 80’s and travelling around for the last time “before we fall of the perch” they said. Late night. In bed by 10pm!
Tuesday 2nd August
Sunrise 7.33am CST
Some ice on the swag. We take a look at Lasseter’s Cave. Road very corrugated for 80km. Then it becomes graded for 70km and just near the Olgas we are on the bitumen. We stop and take some photos. Tourists everywhere in buses and rented vehicles. Everyone is rushing around. We have something to eat at Yulara Village. We get another puncture at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse. Have a cuppa whilst changing the wheel, then a good wash and set off for home in Alice Springs some 250km away. We sit on 90kmh. Gertie is hard to start and there are lots of repairs to be done. What a way to spend a holiday!
It took three days to wash and clean everything. Gertie was very sick. I had the front chassis cross member welded, built one carby out of three, repaired the broken mirror and one parking light. Fitted a new speedo cable and mig welded cracked body panels. But the old car has 360,000 on the clock and is heading for the scrap yard.
POST SCRIPT: We rebuilt Gertie’s engine at 380,000km at the beginning of 1995. There were lots of broken rings and I had to replace all the pistons and bearings. From there on Gertie towed a 27ft Viscount caravan around Australia until February 1999 when repeated electrical and rust problems forced us to trade her in. She had done 551,000km. The old FJ55 was one of the best large off-road vehicles I have ever owned and she served me well.