Davenport Range 1994

Published in 4×4 Australia Magazine 1994

As we rush headlong through time towards the dawn of the 21st century a myriad of changes in technology and social structures are taking place. There is a concentrated push by governments of states and countries to develop infrastructures that will carry the populace through into the future, enhancing diversification of cultural needs and social behaviour. The Northern Territory Government, mindful of its sparse population base and its need to raise revenue to pay for the needs of the future, is concentrating its efforts towards international and domestic tourism.

A series of 4×4 Loop routes called Territory Explorer Routes, have been devised and marketed throughout Australia aimed mainly at the domestic market. These loops will take the traveller all the way from the southern border with South Australia to the northern coastline along bush tracks. The routes take in themes such as desert diversity; mining, minerals and fossicking; pastoralism; fishing and other recreational activities. Negotiations with outlying stations and communities to provide fuel and basic domestic commodities are coming to a completion and it is envisaged that the whole 4×4 route will be operational by 1996.

The new Davenport Range National Park lies along the main route approximately 470km by road to the north-east of Alice Springs and 240km south-east of Tennant Creek. It encompasses a biological inter -zone between the tropical north and the arid south of the Northern Territory. Stretching in a north-west/south-east direction the Murchison Range, lying south-east of Tennant Creek, joins up with the Davenport range and forms a barrier between the woodland savannah of the north and the arid desert of the south. It has a wealth of ancient history, recent history and the bio-diversity to its credit.

Old Police Station Waterhole

Old Police Station Waterhole

The Frew River flows through the Davenport Range and there are many permanent water holes which are an important refuge for a variety of fauna especially water birds. Seven specie of fish are found in the river system as well as fresh water crabs. The crabs are subject to an intense research project at present and are quite unique in this inland water way. So far 44 bird species have been counted. Desert mice, Antechinus, Dunnarts, Spectacled Hare Wallabies, Northern Nail-tailed Wallabies, Black-footed Wallabies, Euros and Kangaroos all play a part in the ecosystem of this area.

At present this new park is still in its developmental stage. It is managed by the Conservation Commission of the N.T. and surveys are being carried out on how much infrastructure is going to be needed to develop the park. There are a number of problems at hand and one of them is the control and eradication of feral donkeys and the removal of domestic stock from within the park boundaries. The park itself borders on four pastoral stations and the Anurette Aboriginal Land Trust. And there are no fences at present. A section of the access road passes through the land trust, though the road is a gazetted road and opens to the public. Consultation with the traditional land owners for future development within the trust lands is ongoing. The owners of Kurundi Station which borders to the north of the park are also looking towards private tourism development within the confines of the park. The park will have access by conventional vehicles to some areas and there will also be some very rough 4×4 tracks to secluded camping areas at water holes o9n the Frew River where one may camp for a total wilderness experience.

The park area envelops the traditional lands of the Warumungu, Alyawarre and Kaytetye aboriginal peoples. Artefacts relating to an earlier occupation of the land may also be found and areas close to water have small flint quarries dating back to an unknown era. In more recent history missionaries came along to save souls, then pastoralists settled in the area, next came the miners to dig for wolfram, gold, copper, bismuth, tin and scheelite along the tributaries of the Frew River and especially at Hatches Creek. For a while there was a flurry of activity. Wolfram, used in the hardening of steel and especially when used in the manufacture of armaments, enjoyed good prices up to the end of WW2. By 1938 up to 200 men were working in this area. That year a severe drought and high summer temperatures were cause to the main water supply almost drying up. The shortage of water contributed to the deterioration of the general health of the miners who threatened to abandon the area. The Australian Inland Mission provided the miners with a pedal powered wireless so that they could call up the doctor at Tennant Creek using Morse code. After the Korean War in the early 1950’s mining activities eventually subsided and came to a completed closure by 1968.

The main access to the park and the only official camping area at present (Old Police Station Water Hole) is from the Stuart Highway at Bonney Well 27km north of the Devils Marbles or 87km south of Tennant Creek. From the turnoff it is 171km to old police Station Water Hole via Kurundi Station and Epenarra Station. Diesel, Unleaded and Super petrol and limited food supplies may be obtained from the Epenarra Store. There is also a public access road from the Barkly Homestead Roadhouse between Three Ways and Camooweal on the Barkly Highway, along what is known as a ‘fire trail’. This road runs for 122km to Epenarra Station. Access from the south is along the Sandover Highway to Ammaroo Station, 315km from Alice Springs and then north for 110km towards Murray downs Station. Another access road turns east, 43km north of Barrow Creek Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway, past Murray Downs Station and 75km to a gate on the left. Access maps are available at the CCNT offices in Alice Springs.

Puddles through the ranges

Puddles through the ranges

This year tremendous thunderstorms have cause floods throughout the park and adjacent areas and debris in trees can be seen 5 metres above the normal water level in the creeks. Trekking along the tracks is slow going and you have to be watchful of washouts and gullies.

Our trip into the Davenport Rage NP at Easter was very pleasant having come at an idyllic time for temperate weather conditions. Cool nights and warm days and plenty of water to cool down in. One of the highlights of our trip was finding a Stone Age axe-head lying close by a rusted corkscrew relic from the 1950’s. Camping at Goat Hole Water Hole on Hatches Creek we were visited by a feral cat, a family of dingoes, donkeys braying into the middle of the night and a scrub bull that almost stumbled over our swags. Bird numbers around the water margins was quite prolific and we had good fun feed bread scraps to the fish and fresh water crabs. The crabs made sure that we humans did not intrude into their domain for too long by nipping us with their claws.

We had a good look around some of the old abandoned mines and at all the rubbish that had been left behind by the miners. There is a wealth of old bits and pieces to rummage through if you have an interest in that sort of thing.

Old stone oven

Old stone oven

Next when you are travelling through the Northern Territory put some time aside to explore this new park and enjoy what it has to offer.

Posted in 4x4 Travel Stories.