I had another trip planned for 2008 and was busy making an application for a permit from the Central Land Council when other participants became involved and the whole thing fell in a heap. So we applied for permits to enter the Central Reserves in Western Australia instead and this went without a hitch
Friday 16 May 2008
We finally got away from Alice Springs at 1.00pm.
Convoy of 4 diesel vehicles:
Myself and Bill, in a Nissan GQ, towing a Modern Offroad Trailer. Trip Leader
Peter and George in a Nissan Navara
Rob and Carol in a Landcruiser Troopcarrier
John and Suzette in a Landcruiser 80
It was an easy strip bitumen run, to the Papunya Road. Then we were on to the gravel road and corrugations. I decided on an earlier camp about 15km west of Papunya. We collected firewood and then Peter brought a kite out from somewhere in his ute and we had a great time playing with it in the stiff breeze. We socialised around the camp fire and went to bed before 10 as we needed to get up early the next morning so as to be in time to refuel at Kintore.
Saturday 17 May
A strong wind came up during the night but calmed down again. I got everyone up at 5.30am and we were on the road within an hour. The road was a bit smoother to Kintore (less traffic) but still with some bad patches of corrugations. Stopped at Sandy Blight Junction to look at stuff and take pics and then proceeded to Kintore for diesel and snacks. We had breakfast at the NT/WA Border. At Mt Webb I missed the faint track heading north but John found it. We then drove to a water tank, which was empty, courtesy of a bullet hole in the side. While we were mulling around the tank a battered Toyota drove up. It was packed to the brim with locals who were looking for water. We gave them 2 litres from our supply. They drove off. We then went looking for a native well marked on our maps but failed to locate it. We decided at a later time that the native well was the water tank. We found a track heading north for about 20km and then came across a much better road heading East/West. John followed that to the east and reported that he had found a decent campsite. It looked as if locals had camped there recently. We spotted a fire burning to the northwest about 20km away. I had to air down to 15psi as I got bogged on a dune crest. In camp I changed the scalloped spare tyre for the front one to get more wear out of it. An east wind is still blowing gently. In bed by 10pm
Sunday 18 May
Cooler morning. Late start. Drove east along the track and over some dunes. Identified some samphire plants. Then visited Lake Mackay and spent some time taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere of this vast salt lake. The track then led off along the western perimeter of the lake through the samphire and eventually turned west across small dunes. Drove past some beautiful stands of Desert Oaks. We came across two wrecked 4wheel drives. One Nissan GQ and one Toyota Troopcarrier. Later we approached an isolated tank-stand, which we have decided is Dwarf Well. There was a hand pump which pumped clean, fresh water and someone had left an old enamel bath there. Firewood was gathered, the old bath propped up on some anthills and a fire lit. I was the first to sample the bath but had to put my rubber floor mat in the bath as the base was too hot to sit in. There was much hilarity all around. Hope nothing turns up on Youtube. Peter found a grinding stone. Today we saw Willy Wags, Emu Wrens and some desert birds.
Monday 19 May
Did not sleep well as I couldn’t get comfortable with a pain in my side. Probably muscular. Bacon on toast for breakfast. Packed up and were on the road by 9.30am. Bill drove the morning session. About 12km north we struck out over the Spinifex to the east looking for Dwarf Well as marked on the map. We did not find it and later on decided that the tank stand was Dwarf Well. We came across tracks made by the Victorian Toyota Club in August 2007 led by Ron Smith, but they faded away and we made our own tracks. I am leading the trip on a bearing of 62 degrees and heading for Koarla Rockhole. Not all that harsh driving at the moment but driving in 2nd Low Range at 1800 revs. Have to push down a lot of scrub. Came to a clearing of gibber stones in the Spinifex with lots of wood around and decided to camp. Had a snooze in the shade of the GQ. Refuelled. Cleaned the spinifex grass out from the chassis. Organised a stew including half a cabbage. Cooked the lot. Tasted good. Others went chasing after a BooBook Owl for photos. In bed by 10pm
Tuesday 20 May
Up at 6am and got underway by 8.30am. Hard driving into the sun. Lots of small anthills and dense Spinifex makes driving hazardous. Doing about 9km/h. Troopy throws an aircon belt. Navara needs some underbody work. All this by 10am. VTLC tracks appear from time to time. Driving through open country and head for pans. Did a bit of bird-watching looking at Hawks and Falcons. Our lunch stop is within sight of the hills containing the approximate position of Koarla Waterhole. Have right hand 20l water container on trailer leaking. Had clipped an anthill. Transfer water to another container. Rear wheel carrier on the 80 seems cracked on one of the braces as it is making a nasty noise. We come to a large pan and I decide to camp for the night. We find some rubbing and grinding stones. The area very dry but must have been good in the ancient times sustaining the Stone Age desert dwellers. Can see hills for our destination but decide it would take too long to get there. Collect firewood aplenty. The cracked wheelcarrier is welded expertly, by John, using two car batteries. Peter gives a nightlong photography lesson to interested parties. I eventually growl at them and send them to bed at midnight.
Wednesday 21 May
Warmish morning. Light breeze. Still about 5km from Alec Ross Range of hills and Koarla Rockhole. Hard going trying to avoid Gidgee stakes. First of series of punctures right at base of hills. Rob pulls stake 30cm long out of tyre. The Navara has two punctures. We are out of Gidgee country but on to loose rocks and shale. I lead the convoy up the side of the hill and eventually locate the rock hole, which is dry. We spend some time there. Bill climbs to the top of the range for some exercise. It is heavy going now trying to get out of the range valley. Natmap Raster Mapping not all what it is cracked up to be. We try and rely on John’s Satnav pictures of the area. Lots of small trees and shrubs, then rocky climbs and then very soft sand all intermingled. Have to back away from deep gullies. Trying to ascertain just where to drive to get the best traction and move forward without damage. Hard to interpret mapping. We are on a bearing of 33degrees from Due North. Then a twig dislodges my alternator belt. Rob and John and George help out and we replace all the belts. We also fit a chain hanging down from the bulbar to try to strip the foliage away from the front of the GQ. Rob ties up loose wires underneath with cable ties. We come out of the shale country and right into soft sand and a largish dune stops us and while we are stuffing around trying to get over the dune, Peter discovers some spear sharpening stones. And then we discover more artefacts and so we spend some time there taking photos. I have my tyre pressures down to 13psi now. Driving over Spinifex moguls making for a claypan on the map. George and I spot a Brown Snake but it disappears under the GQ. Check underneath but it appears to have vanished into the Spinifex. We get to our destination by 5pm and set up camp. I get under the GQ to clean out twigs and grass and tighten nuts while I am there. Also nip up the U-bolt nuts on the trailer. I call Jude on the Satphone. She says its freezing in Alice Springs. We are in shorts and T shirts.
Thursday 22 May
Another beautiful morning in the Dreamtime. A slight breeze is wafting from the east. I take a walk on the pan and discover some petrified wood. I can just imagine this area in an era long ago with water to sustain the inhabitants. I am aiming to get close to Redcliffe Pound and the Hidden Basin today. Trouble is the day always dishes something else up in this journey across trackless country. An easy run along the dunes in the early morning but then we had to make headway across the sand again. The Navara bogged and then I bogged to the chassis after reversing down a dune. Quick snatches got us going again. We had lunch on a pan under some shady gums. After lunch the terrain became worse with rocky outcrops appearing amongst the sand. I found some strange looking gumnuts on a tree. Must identify them. The Navara destroyed a tyre and later had to be snatched out of a sand trap. I got down to the south end of Brookman Waters(dry) and decided to cross over but bogged the lot in the soft sand. It took an hour of sandbagging and winching to get the GQ out of the mire after disconnecting the trailer. John then hooked the trailer up to the 80 while I went looking for another crossing spot and got bogged again. Even with pressures at 10psi the sand was too soft. After more recovery and some road building we made our way back out from Brookman Waters and into the Spinifex. Just on dark I found a gibber clearing with some dry wood close-by and we made camp. What a bugger of a day. We only progressed 29km for the 9 hours of driving! More tyre repairs around the camp-fire. George and Bill cooked the tucker and we survived.
Friday 23 May
A magnificent sunrise this morning through strata clouds. Got going reasonably early over rough rocky patches and the ceaseless Spinifex. I drove back down in to Brookman Waters along the samphire edges but took a quick exit when the tyres started to splatter mud about and clawed my way back up into the rough stuff and warned the others over the radio. I found an easy crossing eventually using a camel pad. Soon after George spotted a cairn on a hill and we drove over to investigate. But there was no message in a bottle. Now we were able to skirt the open plains, which contained streaks of salt, along a range of stunning rock outcrops. We came across some very old and broad wheel tracks, which could have been made by the International Truck, which was driven in this region during the 1957 expedition. We saw heaps of camels along the way as well and they all looked pretty healthy. Further along we came across two old fuel drums rusting away on a stony rise. Bill had to lift one up to see what was underneath and a fat sand goanna ran out and into the Spinifex. After some digging I was able to catch it and hold it by its tail while photos were being taken. Goanna did not like this and lunged at my finger and I let go of him quick smart. From there we had to cross a few serious gullies and careful planning as to approach and departure angles had to be seen to. We ended up near a sharp rising hill along what looked like a ‘Roman Road’. It is just a natural strata of long square stones but laid out like it was forming a set road. I climbed the hill slowly on foot to have a look over Redcliffe Pound, so named by Michael Terry, on his 1932 expedition to these parts. I was even slower going down again being careful where I placed my feet on the loose shale. We decided to camp amongst some gums along Nicker Creek opposite this hill. Camels dispersed as we drove towards them giving us looks like we were some alien invaders. Maybe we are, to them. It was a good campsite with lots of wood and a clearing made by camels and the occasional flood. Now we turned our attention to finding Labbi Labbi Rockhole. I rang to speak with friends via the Satphone. Bill was away playing 4×4 games near Broken Hill and I asked Annette if she could find out the phone number of the trip leader Ron Smith of last years trip to this area by the Landcruiser Club of Victoria. I said I would ring her back in two hours. Annette very kindly obtained Ron’s phone number and when I rang Ron he happened to be sitting at his computer. He in turn very kindly let me have the co-ordinates to Labbi Labbi Rockhole. This has put a whole new slant on things. I do hope there is some water there because we are down to 60 litres after starting with 140. Fuel usage is just as bad as I have used half a tank of diesel for a mere 160km. The GQ has some bad scratches. The 80 and the Troopy are doing well with their paint on film to protect against scratches. A Dingo came close to camp to have a look at us but trotted away when he got a whiff of humans.
Saturday 24 May
Another spectacular sunrise today with clouds displaying the changing pink and red colours. Weather is still mild with no wind. After breaking camp we drove in a southerly direction and eventually through a gap in the ranges into Redcliffe Pound. The going was rough with lots of small gullies to cross and once again trying to avoid the Gidgee. Ron Smith had mentioned that the Rock Hole has an unusual shape and I was looking out for something unusual. Close to where the co-ordinates matched there was a small gorge that looked like a likely place, I pushed on however to the right co-ordinates but there was nothing there. John radioed back that they has walked up the gorge and that Labbi Labbi Rockhole was in fact, at the head of the gorge. The co-ordinates were only slightly out. In the mean time Bill had crossed over the range and I had to wait for him to return. Camels had made a pad into the rock hole and it was a well-beaten track. I was surprised to find that the water was not as fouled as it might have been. Bill and I cooled off in the very cold waters of Labbi Labbi. We all collected water to top up our supplies and everyone who wanted to had a hot shower that night. The rockhole is down to about half of it’s capacity. I found some grinding stones nearby. We all climbed the hill at the entrance of the gorge and found a bottle with some notes in it. We added ours. These notes were from the 2004 expedition and that of the 2007 visitors. I added my business card to the bottle before we buried it once again in the cairn of loose rocks. The rest of the day we lounged by the rockhole watching the antics of about 1000 finches diving in to get a very quick drink of water. We spotted Zebra, Double Bar, and Painted Firetail Finches. I set up camp and collected firewood and we all had a celebratory drink after reaching our objective.
The notes from the bottle dating to 2004 as deciphered:
LABBI LABBI BEACON
This beacon, at 21 degrees 35 minutes 32 South and 128 degrees, 46 minutes 08 East (WGS 84)(GPS April 2004) was placed in 1957 by Chris Armstrong, surveyor with Thomson Anthropological Expedition to contact the local Pintubi Tribe, many of whom had had no contact with Europeans. Dr Thomson joined a Dept of Native Affairs patrol for a recce into Pintubi Country (from Mt Doreen Station) in June 1957. The patrol was led by Mr Ted Evans, of DNA, accompanied by, Patrol Officer Jeremy Long. Mr Bill Braitling of Mt Doreen also accompanied them. The Thomson Party then returned to Labbi Labbi receiving an air-drop of fuel and other supplies from the RAAF. The party was here from 30 July to 25 September ’57.
Present for all this time was
Dr Donald Thomson, Anthropologist of Melbourne
Bill Hosmer, Dr Thomson’s assistant of Melbourne
Peter Fraser, Anthropology student of Long Island New York USA
George Tjapanangka, Pintubi man from Mt Doreen
Barney Tjangala, Walpri man from Mt Doreen
AND: Some 18-20 Pintubi tribal people
This note was placed here by Chris Armstrong in April 2004 when the following party visited this area at Easter from 10 to 13 April 2004
Bob, Kathy, Ian & Jan Hancock of Sydney
Stuart Kostera & Meg Carty of Perth
Ron Molloy & Shirley Taunt of Melbourne
Tim & Tienna Whitford of Melbourne
Chris Armstrong of Melbourne
Signed J.C. Armstrong
Sunday 25th May
Another beautiful morning. Flies are a bit pesky though. We walked up to the rock hole for the last time and topped up our water containers. We were under way by 10am but did not progress far as I nosed the GQ into an obscured gully. It took all the other vehicles to be involved in the recovery with winches running through snatch blocks. The GQ was recovered after about half an hour and after disconnecting the trailer once again. The result was a bent left hand running board. I decided that we had to leave via our tracks from yesterday. The drive was rough once again with many gullies to cross and me backing out numerous times. We came across some old wheel tracks again but soon after they disappeared. At 4pm I found an opening in the Spinifex but the ladies said that there wasn’t enough privacy on the open plain and so another campsite was selected close by. I removed grass from the chassis and the radiator screen again. George cooked the tucker tonight and it was surprisingly tasty. Early night.
Monday 26th May
I appointed John and Suzette as Trip Leaders for the day and suggested we head northeast from our current position. John however wanted to follow the tracks made by the 2007 trek. I went Tail End Charlie. We inevitably found ourselves on the salt before long and I wasn’t happy. But I had to give John his head. Around one corner close to the hills I was warned over the radio that the salt might be slippery. Both the GQ and the trailer sank as I reached that point and I kicked the old slug in the guts and crawled out with all the left hand wheels covered in wet stuff. Shortly after that John called the salt lake track off and we had to find a way over the ranges. We thought that we had seen faint tracks going up the hill and we followed in that direction. I had to do a swift gear change as the GQ was running out of puff in 2nd low near the top. Then we meandered along the top of the range for a while getting blocked by various deep gullies and having to back out, before John found a way down. Our Natmap Raster mapping was letting us down again as sand dunes were in places where they weren’t marked on the map. One map stated that the average height of the sand dunes should be 5 metres while one dune was more like 25 metres in height. John started crossing the dunes in a northerly direction but I saw trouble looming for the GQ and the trailer and opted to drive down the swale in an easterly direction over the Spinifex moguls. It was hard going and there were lots of large and smaller anthills to contend with hiding in or behind Spinifex clumps. I took a photo of the GQ next to one of the Giant Anthills. We eventually reached the Samphire on the edge of Lake White and found the 2007 trek tracks. We sped along for a while staying in radio contact with the others who were making heavy weather across the dunes. The GQ is overheating today and I removed some of the screen netting at our lunch break when we met up with the rest of the convoy. Our track took us along the fringes of the salt of Lake White and we had to be careful not break the crust in places. Where rivulets or gullies appeared out of nowhere we had to resort climbing over small dunes to gain access to the right route again. John found a good sheltered place to camp for the night and we all settled down again with Peter repairing yet another puncture. John gave him multiple lessons in taking the tyre off the rim. Peter worked for this education.
Tuesday 27 May
This morning it was cooler but the day soon warmed up. I reorganised the seed screen again. I appointed Rob and Carol Trip leaders for the day and away we went. I have 75 litres of water left after topping up at Labbi Labbi. The route still took us along the permitter of Lake White and then some cross country driving again. We came upon a pure white salt lake and many photos were taken. We dug down 100mm to find the salt still continuing down. After crossing another dune, which lay in our path, I saw that the right rear tyre was flat. I had staked an MRF, the first, since fitting them, 30,000km ago. We eventually got out of the dune country and around the top of Lake White. We crossed in to the Northern Territory and then back to Western Australia getting around a hill. The drive improved a bit. We came across the 2007 tracks from time to time and followed then until they disappeared again. Driving north along the edge of Lake Dennis the welding on my trailer’s canopy frame gave way. We stopped and disabled the lot with the help of a generator and an angle grinder. We found some lazy camels on the plain and chased them for a short while for amusement. Then we followed a track through a minefield of anthills of all shapes and sizes, to the top of Lake Dennis. There, a fresh water billabong, fed by Kersh Spring, beckoned us for a lunch stop. Further on, the track disappeared again when we approached Kersh Spring and we found ourselves entangled in some old fencing wire, a relic of a working station many years ago. There was a herd of wild cattle nearby. After scouting around for a few minutes we found the track again and made for Carrols Bore and another unnamed bore and both were dilapidated and in ruins. The track was very over grown and the vehicles sustained even more scratches. Eventually we could see Lake Jeavons in the distance and what looked like water but we have been deceived by mirages before and remained sceptical until we got close. Rob found a gully to drive down towards the lake and we were pleasantly surprised to come out on the shores of this fresh water lake. When I drove up to the proposed camp area I could feel that the shoreline was unstable as my narrow wheels started to sink. Everyone helped frantically to unhitch the trailer so that I could turn around, re-hitch and then make for drier ground. After setting up camp I gave a lesson in rim splitting and puncture repair and afterwards went and cooled off in the lake for a cold, no-soap wash! We were surprised to see the many dead Ti Trees and the myriad of spider-webs, which were woven through the branches. It turns out that many midges live along the edge of the lake. In the evening a breeze springs up, probably quite regularly, and the midges are blown into the spider webs. The Golden Orb Spiders then have a feast.
Wednesday 28 May
Early rise and the photographers were out there taking shots of the Black Swans and many ducks and other water-birds. The track to Ngulupi was very overgrown and more scratches were endured by our suffering vehicles. At Ngulupi we wondered at the destruction of a once operating cattle business enterprise. The Palliotine Missionaries built this station up from scratch and had a thriving business up and running when political change came about and they were ousted from the station. After that it was downhill all the way and the place lies in ruins although there are fresh grader works around the homestead and roads. We intended to access the Tanami Road via Tanami Downs in the NT but although the maps(both Hema and Natmap), show a track, it is virtually non existent. So we took the road to the Balgo Community in the west. The graded road deteriorated the closer we got to Balgo. Maybe the driver just wanted to get home. At last it was open road after Ngulupi and we could get speeds up to 80kmh. At Balgo we bought fuel and snacks and made phone calls via Telstra NextG, and then set off for the Tanami Road. One more wheel change for Peter when we got there, and then it we drove at a maximum speed of 80kmh heading to the Stuart Highway. We all noticed that when we stopped at the WA/NT Border the map showed that we had passed the border about 3km before. I must ask the mapping people about that one day, if I remember. Road was pretty ordinary in places not having been graded for a while. We dropped in to look at Rabbit Flat and buy some supplies and then 3km south of there I found a place to camp, just on sunset. Refuelled and changed a wheel over. An early night for all.
Thursday 29 May
We were on the road by 8.30am driving the last stretch to Alice Springs. I kept on stopping to either look at something on the GQ or trailer and so I let the others pass and head off. Peter and George stayed behind us travelling back out of the dust. Spoke with a few travellers via radio. Right in the middle of nowhere about halfway between Rabbit Flat and Yuendumu there is 7 kilometres of bitumen road servicing absolutely nothing. It even has centre and line markings. Refuelled at Vaughan Springs Station turn off where three Roadtrains full of cattle were idling. They took off before us but we gave them plenty of time to get ahead and had a spot of lunch in the mean time. We caught up with the others at the Yuendumu turn off and then caught up again at Tilmouth Well Roadhouse where I had to buy some fuel again. We arrived in the Alice at 4pm, said our goodbyes and each one went their separate way.
It has been a good trip. Hard four-wheel driving, diverse country and new places explored.