Len Beadell, Surveyor and Road Builder of Australian Fame, constructed this road in 1960 as part of the Woomera Rocket Range access roads. The road was built from Giles Weather Station in Western Australia and heads north, skirting the Walter Range, and Rebecca Creek, Sir Frederick Range, Mu Hills until it crosses over into the Northern Territory just south of the Bonython Range. Then it passes Davenport Hills and the majestic Mount Leisler at 920metres above sea level, and later the Kintore Range and Mount Strickland, before meeting up with the Desert Road(also known as the Kintore or Gary Junction Road) which runs from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Port Headland on the coast in Western Australia. The road was going to connect up with the Tanami-Halls Creek Track eventually via Mount Doreen Station, but constructing the Desert Road to the west was more pressing at the time, and so the latter road project was abandoned after 20 kilometres past Sandy Blight Junction. Before the rest of the Desert Road could be continued however a road had to be constructed to Mount Liebig Community which was then at the terminal end of the Desert Road from Alice Springs.
Len Beadell had been to Adelaide on business concerning the road construction projects. Just before leaving the city he got the sensation of an irritant under his eyelids. It felt like there are grains of sand wedged between his eyelids and eyeballs and he was in great discomfort. This condition is known to ‘bushmen’ as Sandy Blight. Len called in at Woomera where the local doctor gave him some ointment and told him to rest up but Len ‘escaped’ and kept on heading north back to his Construction Crew out in the bush. The Doctor however knew his route and where he was going to call in and left medical instructions via High Frequency Radio communications with stations along the way. Apart from the agonising pain the condition of Sandy Blight is accompanied by blurred vision. Before recovering from his ailment Len and his crew had completed the construction of the road and he named the intersection with this new road and the Desert Road as Sandy Blight Junction. Later he saw that maps included the road’s name as Sandy Blight Junction Road.
Australian names of places could be confusing at times. Although the Sandy Blight Junction Road was built as a road that skirts around sand ridges and made for access by ordinary vehicles, today, 53 years later, it is nothing but a track with single lane access for most of the way through various habitats and reasonably rough in places. Whereas another iconic road, the Oodnadatta Track, in South Australia, is today a big wide road which, at most times, is in good condition.
We turned left after reaching the Sandy Blight Junction Road and not long after that stopped to inspect a burnt and rusting Range Rover which had rolled over some time ago. This road is littered with burnt out vehicles which are made up from mainly cars, station wagons and four wheel drives and a bus or two. Research has shown, that, from an Aboriginal perspective, a vehicle that is no longer repairable is burned so that ownership is disassociated with the individual who had owned it. Non Indigenous Society would look on it from a re-usable resource point of view whilst Indigenous society looks at it as something that has passed on and is of no further use. Vehicles are replaceable. The trouble is that by doing this a roadside litter problem arises for Non Indigenous people whereas Indigenous society does not recognise it as litter.
We stopped at the Tietkens Tree for a spot of lunch. William Harry Tietkens was second in command to Ernest Giles on expeditions to Central Australia in 1873 and on a journey from Beltana, South Australia to Perth, Western Australia in 1875.
In 1889 Tietkens led his own expedition west of Alice Springs to the vicinity of the Western Australian border. This expedition discovered Lake MacDonald, the Kintore Range, Mount Rennie, the Cleland Hills, defined the western borders of Lake Amadeus, and photographed Uluru and Kata Tjuta for the first time. The expedition collected new species of plants and rock samples allowed the South Australian government geologist to compile a ‘geological sketch’ of the country traversed. Tietkens blazed this tree near the base of Mount Leisler in 1889 . The tree has since succumbed to old age but lies propped up on bricks as a memorial to Tietkens. Mount Leisler was named by William Tietkens after a friend and benefactor from Victoria. It is known to the Pintubi as Yunytjunya.
Further down the road I saw a vehicle parked in the distance and a number of bodies walking around. This could only mean one thing….a broken down mob of locals. And sure enough, there was old Bundy and seven ladies, with an overloaded Toyota Troop Carrier and a number of flat tyres. We stopped to help. It took a while and I gave Bundy an old tube for his one tyre telling him that is had a slow leak but was better than no tube at all. Soon they were speeding off in a cloud of dust and out of sight heading for their homes at Tjukurla Community.
The original road made a point of skirting around the dune heads so as to facilitate access by two wheel drive vehicles. Later other travellers with 4×4 started cutting corners and made short-cuts over the top of dunes. At Davenport Hills there was one such long drive around the head of the dune and right at the apex I swung the Datto off the road, crossed three dunes and found a lovely camp spot in the shade of a clump of Desert Oak Trees.
Day two saw us continue down along the road at a leisurely pace taking in the scenery. We met up with a convoy of travellers and then one other vehicle and that was it for traffic for the day. We crossed over the State Border into Western Australia and learned that an area along the road and spread out both east and west from there had been set aside as the Ngaanyatjarra Indigenous Protected Area.
An IPA is an area of Indigenous-owned land or sea where traditional owners have entered into an agreement with the Australian Government to promote biodiversity and cultural resource conservation. Indigenous Protected Areas make a significant contribution to Australian biodiversity conservation – making up over a third of Australia’s National Reserve System.
The Mu Hills changed the scenery a little bit from driving through Mulga and Desert Oaks to scrabbling over some very rocky sections.
At the Sir Frederick Range, Len Beadell had scraped a track to the highest point of the hills and it rises deceptively over loose stones via some steep grades, but nothing that would require Low Range First Gear, however. The view from the top is great and you can see the Big Sky Country from there. The wind was quite fierce at the top and so we made our way back down again to have lunch at the foot of the hills.
Next stop was at an emergency bore on the side of the road where I fill two water containers. The water was very brackish and not really palatable but would do in an emergency. The road was improving as we drove by stands of Desert Oaks and low grass plains. After the Tjukurla Community turn-off the road changed to being a proper well maintained one. We stopped for the night at Bungabiddy Rockhole (also known as Pungkapirri ). The wind was strong and cold as we walked the short distance to look at the narrow gorge and the rock pools. It was quite a pleasant sight and a pictograph of a snake can be seen on the rock wall adjacent to the main pool. We set up camp using the vehicles as a wind break. Later I had to call home for my scheduled check-in via Satellite Phone but could not raise a signal. So I drove out of the gorge the 1 kilometre back onto the road, and found a good signal and made my calls. Strangely enough, there was no wind out there. I mused that maybe the spirits of the place where trying to chase us off. On my return we cooked our food but turned in early as maintaining the fire with the wind was problematical.
I went for a walk to the waterhole in the early morning again to take some photos.
We made the 50 kilometres to Docker River/Kaltukatjara for some fuel supplies at $2.35 per litre and I just bought enough to cover emergencies. By then we had crossed back into the Northern Territory again and our next adventure would take us back to our entry point off the Mereenie Loop Road.