This tale is almost mythical.
It dates back to October of 1872 in Central Australia. The modern day explorer, Ernest Giles and two companions started off from Port Augusta on a quest to seek out good pastoral lands. This expedition was sponsored by Thomas Elder and William Hugh of South Australia.
On their return trip to the south and travelling south, south-east from Mount Udor, on horses, and being two full days without any water, Ernest Giles recalls in his diary;
“Looking about with some hopes of finding the place where these children of the wilderness obtained water, I espied about a hundred yards away, on the opposite side of the little glen or valley, a very peculiar looking crevice between two huge blocks of sandstone, and apparently not more than a yard wide. I rode over to this spot, and to my great delight found the most excellent little rock tarn, of nearly and oblong shape, containing a most welcome and opportune supply of the fluid I was so anxious to discover. Some green slime rested on a portion of the surface but the rest was all clear and pure water. My horse must have thought me mad, and anyone who had seen me might have thought that I had suddenly espied some basilisk, or cockatrice, or mailed saurian; for just as my horse was preparing to dip his nose in the water he so greatly wanted, I turned him away and made him gallop off after his and my companions, who were slowly passing away from this liquid prize. When I hailed and overtook them they could scarcely believe that our wants were to be so soon and agreeably relieved. There was abundance requirement for all our need her, but the approach was so narrow that only two horses could drink at one time, and we had great difficulty in preventing the horses from precipitating themselves, loads and all, into the inviting fluid. No one who has not experienced it, can imagine the pleasure which the finding of such a treasure confers on the thirsty, hungry and weary traveller ; all his troubles for the time are at an end. Thirst, that dire affliction that besets the wanderer in the Australian wilds, at last is quenched; his horses unloaded, are allowed to roam and graze and drink at will, free from the encumbrances of hobbles, and the travellers other appetite of hunger is also at length appeased, for no matter what food one may carry, it is impossible to eat it without water. This was truly a mental and bodily relief. After our hunger had been satisfied I took a more extended survey of our surroundings, and found that we had dropped into a really very pretty little spot”. Ernest Giles records later “The receptacle in which I found the water I have called the Tarn of Auber after Allan Poe’s beautiful lines, in which that name appears, as I thought them appropriate to the spot.
It was in the drear month of October,
The leaves were all crisp and sere,
Adown by the Tarn of Auber,
In the misty regions of Weir “
Having read that bit and having researched to find the right spot for this place I came up with an estimate of where it might be. It appears that very little has been written about it since Ernest Giles’s visit. I have heard that certain people may have been there but I have not been able to make contact with them. The 1:1,000,000 Geoscience map shows the water hole at a certain place and I believe that it may be reasonably correct.
So I worked out via Google Earth Mapping where I wanted to go and after completing the run out to Thomas Reservoir continued in a south-easterly direction along the extension of the same shot line we had been driving.
The first 10 kilometres of the shot line was not too bad, with low grasses and shrubs growing in our path. But then a split in the line appeared and we were heading almost due east. The straight line of the seismic track was over grown although it shows up on Google Earth map as trafficable. I did some more mapping calculations and saw that the new shot line should take us in a direct line to The Tarn of Auber. With that in mind we continued along this shot line. But the track was becoming very overgrown and I was driving more off the line than on it. Spindly trees and Mulga started making their appearance and not long after we were in Gidgea country.
I had deliberately come out here with my ‘soft’ tyres shod to the Datto as we were on a 5 month extended tour and running the 16ply Cross-ply tyres was not an option for such an extended trip. I had taken the chance with the wider tyres running them at a higher than normal pressure so as to provide a little more resistance to sidewall stakes.
At 4pm we had come 26km from the access track and it was time to camp. I pulled into a Gidgea thicket with some open space on the side of a sand hill and we made camp. We had driven the 26km in two hours. I refuelled, cleared some seed from the front of the 4×4 and checked and repaired damaged wheel arch flares. We settled down for the night. I looked at my mapping again and saw that we may only be 12 kilometres from the Tarn of Auber but to me the terrain was getting too rough. I awoke with a start at midnight and decided to turn back in the morning and that the Tarn of Auber will have to wait for another time when I am better prepared. I would also approach this feature through the Mereenie Oil and Gas Field via some of their tracks if permission could be gained.
At first light I was up and about to find the left hand front tyre flat. It seems that we had collected a Gidgea stake whilst driving the 50 metres in to our camp spot. We plugged the tyre and pumped it up before breakfast and then once we had had a feed, made our way back to the access track. This time around it took 3 hours instead of 2 and we wondered how we had got that far the day before. In less than 3 kilometres I had slashed the sidewall of the right hand rear tyre. Four tyre plugs fixed the air leak and that tyre got us home.
Today we saw those elusive camels. There were six of them and they were of a darker colour than the normal fawn. At the access track intersection we stopped for around an hour for more repairs. Another tyre had to be plugged as it had a slow leak and we had to remove quite a lot of sticks and twigs from underneath the vehicle. We removed the grill so as to be able to get the majority of grass seeds out of the radiator.
Fast forward to July 2013…..
Having had to back off from my attempt to reach this place lastyear due to sustaining multiple punctures to my vehicle driving along an old seismic line, I had resolved to find this place on my next visit, and with the vehicle shod with tyres to suit the terrain. Later research via the internet brought up a Northern Territory Government website with the latitude and longitude co-ordinates of the Tarn. Locals I know from Alice Springs told me that they had been there years ago but could not remember just how to get there.
The Tarn of Auber lies within the Haasts Bluff Aboriginal Trust Lands and we had obtained verbal permission from the Traditional Owner of these lands to access the area. Access however depended on using old seismic lines and driving through country which has been held by Oil Exploration and Mining Companies for many years. Having driven along the western edge of this area where the seismic tracks were put in in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s some were hardly discernible and could only be seen where the cleared path through the larger trees was visible.
Modern technology, however, comes to the rescue when searching for co-ordinates. I now have a small computer mounted on the Datto’s dashboard which runs digital maps and which also has a plug-in GPS. Progress through an area is denoted by an arrow on the map which moves in the direction one is taking. The digital mapping which is produced by a Federal Government Authority shows existing tracks or roads over an area. They do not show the condition of the roads or tracks, but that one has to work around.
It was exactly 280km out of Alice Springs to where we turned off the Mereenie Loop Road. The latter being a drive promoted for tourists to take as a short-cut to the Watarrka National Park where the majestic ravines of Kings Canyon are purveyed by the wandering masses(tourists). The road has some sealed sections and some horrific gravel sections through Aboriginal Lands and the Mereenie Oil Field.
Our initial track had been disused for quite a while but after a relatively short distance we came to a newly cleared track. We had no idea what level of activity was happening in the Oil Field as they had been in operation since the late 1970’s. Initially they had supplied Gas to run the Darwin Power Station some 1700 kilometres way, but that had come to an end a few years back when the gas source was depleted. They were producing some Crude Oil but that also seemed to come to an end. Now, as we discovered soon after our entry onto the Oil Field, they are renewing their search for Fossil Fuels, no doubt working on seismic data from long ago in search of more supplies.
We headed west into the late afternoon sun following fresh wheel tracks over the soft sand dunes until we crested a dune to see a large mining camp set up in the sand swale. But no one seemed to be present and we slid past quietly hoping not to be noticed. Soon we were out of sight and the next thing to affront our senses was a sign denoting a type of ‘apartheid’ which exists within the framework of the Australian psyche. We had our permission of course and so the sign did not apply to us.
My mapping showed that we needed to take a northwest direction and we found old unmarked tracks leading that way and then found a faint track that lead right to the Tarn of Auber.
The faint track took us right to the spot and we were soon marvelling at the massive sandstone rock overhangs which are found along the low hills behind the Tarn of Auber. Unfortunately this year the Tarn is dry and the rotting carcass of a dead camel shows that life and death at this water hole can be fragile. As Ernest Giles found out, there is little water in the area and that camel must have made its last attempt for sustenance making for this water hole. To its dismay it was dry and the energy being spent on getting to the water had taken its final toll.
We were delighted to find that the ancients had used the overhangs for their temporary shelters making fires and painting their totemic beliefs in red, white and yellow ochres. Nearby there were many
rubbing stones they used to crush seeds and flowers to make a paste for their dietary needs. It would appear that this place was a regular visiting area for these nomadic peoples. Archaeological research done at Puritjarra, some 50 kilometres to the west, shows that the people of the Cleland Hills, used this area from 30,000 to 22,000 years ago when the seasons allowed them to stay for longer periods.
We spent the rest of the afternoon climbing in, around and under rock overhangs looking for any new bit of art or artefact we could find. We made camp at a small inlet in the rocks and soon had a fire going. It had been a good day of travelling and discovery.