The fourth of December, year two thousand and two, turned out to be the day for chasing the shadow.
They came from far and wide to see the moon block out the sun. Ceduna on the far west coast of South Australia became a mini city for a few days. Sleepy little Lyndhurst in the far north of the State, skyrocketed its population from 15 to 8015. A four-day party ensued with music blaring to keep the battle-weary awake.
So, we had decided to go and have a look as well, BUT not liking crowded places we headed out to a spot near Mt Hopeless Station near the Strzelecki Track. Headed east out to Yunta along the Barrier Highway on the morning of the 4th December with a strong early summer tail wind. Topped up the fuel tank at Yunta and headed north along the road to Arkaroola. We stopped for smoko at Waukaringa Ruins and inspected the old gold mine diggings. It was hard to believe that this isolated place once catered for a population of close to 5000.
Blue bush, saltbush and mallee scrub covers the Minburra Plain. Very marginal country for sheep and cattle. But hardy pastoralists battle against the odds trying to eke out a living and always hoping for those elusive rain, which can turn the land into bloom.
The road is open and flat and very lonely. We saw three other vehicles in 450km. Once past the turn-off to Arkaroola and the Gammon Ranges National Park HQ the road deteriorates significantly as there is less urgency to maintain it. Finding a shady spot for lunch was a challenge but at last a tall river gum made itself available in a washed out creek bed. There are numerous small flood creeks running out of the hills east towards Lake Frome and about a month prior to our visit a thunderstorm followed by heavy rain washed down these creeks leaving debris and scouring out the road crossings. Once past Wooltana Station (a place where one is unlikely to be welcomed…according to the numerous warning signs along the road) the terrain gradually flattens out again. The road continues on past Beverly Uranium Mine, North Mulga Station and on to Moolawatana Station. The vegetation becomes sparser from this point and the terrain changes to a flat plain with low undulating rises. Gibber rocks are everywhere and one wonders what the cattle eat. But they looked quite healthy and well fed. Along this road we saw two vehicles set up to watch the eclipse. We pulled up on the gibber and parked the Nissan broadside to shelter us from the howling gale. Our GPS reading was as close as dammit to where the centre of the eclipse shadow was to be. But it was only 4pm and we had to wait some three hours for the event to happen. So we decided to have a few relaxing glasses of Muscat which was nearly our undoing in missing the eclipse altogether. But we got the desired photos. They could have been better though, but someone forgot to pack the tripod. It was quite an eerie feeling when the moon passed in front of the sun and caused the amazing blue shadow that emanated from this refraction of light. Another amazing thing we were to witness was the fact that we had parked very close to an ant nest. The occupants were similar to what we know as bull ants but were slightly lighter in colour. What they ate out there on the gibber was anyone’s guess.
We saw some other eclipse gazers, who had arrived in buses, about two kilometres away and after dark they disappeared to Mt Hopeless Station, we presumed. Lights could be seen in the distance, which I guessed could have been more than 50 kilometres away.
The wind died down and we slept like babes in the back of the Nissan. But it started getting light again at 4.30am and I was out of bed by 5.30 and put the billy on for an early morning cuppa. Sometimes it is just nice to beat the flies to sunrise.
After breakfast, and we were on the road before 7.30, we backtracked to Moolawatana Station to take a major road, or so it was marked on our RAA Map, to a closer point on the Strzelecki Track. The recent rains had washed out all the river crossings and the first twenty kilometres of this “road” took two hours to negotiate. We pulled up at Terrapinna Springs for morning tea. The water was cold and so we did not attempt a swim. The was quite a lot of water and being spring fed the water level stay constant despite times of drought. Although signs advised that stock used this water hole there were few indications of fresh animal tracks.
It was slow going from the springs past Mt Fitton ruins, the Talc Mines and Mt Freeling Station to where the road joins up with the Strzelecki. From there it was another 75km drive to Lyndhurst. We stopped atop the lookout over the small town. At what looked like rubbish dump from a distance was in fact a tent city with cars, 4x4s,trucks, caravans, tents, and portable toilets, marquees. There was a road in and a road out. Once you were in and staying, only movement on foot was allowed. If you wanted out then you weren’t allowed back in. Entry charge for the four-day event was $150. There was 24-hour non-stop thumping music.
Parked next to us on the hill was a young bloke in a late model Honda Sports car. It had a flat battery. The bloke was trying to get it started by pushing it down the hill. We gave him a jump-start, as he looked a bit hung over. Trying to walk around in thongs in this prickle country isn’t wise!! He knew nothing about the car. Couldn’t even get the bonnet open. I figured it might have been a stolen car. The bloke was very grateful.
We passed through Lyndhurst. Throngs of feral people staggering around looking worse for wear and greatly unwashed. Others were working, serving food and drinks and making heaps of money.
The sealed road starts at Lyndhurst and from there it was a run of around 350km home with a stop off for a cuppa at Hawker. The road wad busy with many heading home to wherever they had come from.