In October of 1872 the Explorer, Ernest Giles, wrote:
” At twelve miles we rode over a low ridge; the country in advance appeared no more inviting than that already travelled. Descending to the lower ground, however, we entered upon a bit better country, covered with green grass there was also some thick Mulga scrub upon it. Here we saw a few kangaroos and emus but could not get a shot at them. Beyond this we entered timber country again, the desert oak being quite the desert sign. In a few miles farther another ridge fronted us, and a trifle on our left lay a hollow or valley, which seemed to offer the best road, but we had to ride through some very scrubby gullies, stony and covered with Spinifex. It eventually formed the valley of a small creek which soon had a few gum trees on it. After following this for about four miles we found a place where the sand was damp, and got some water by scratching with our hands. The supply was insufficient and we went farther down and found a small hole with just a enough for our three horses, and now, having found a little, we immediately wanted to find a great deal more. At twenty six miles from the tarn (Tarn of Auber) we found a place where the natives had dug, and there seemed a good supply, so we camped there for the night. The grass along this creek was magnificent, being about eight inches high and beautifully green, the old grass being burnt some time ago. It was a most refreshing sight to our troidia-accustomed eye; at twelve o’clock the thermometer stood at 94° in the shade. The trend of this little creek, and the valley in which it exists, is to the south-east. Having found water here we were prepared to find numerous traces of natives and soon saw old camps and wurleys, and some recent footmarks. I was exceedingly gratified to find this water, as I hoped it would eventually enable me to get out of the wretched bed of sand and scrub into which we were forced since leaving the Finke, and which evidently occupies such and enormous extent of territory. Our horses fed all night, close at hand and we were in our saddles early enough. I wanted to go west , and the further west the better; but we decided to follow the creek and see what became of it, and if, any more waters existed in it. We found that it meandered through a piece of open plain, splendidly grassed, and delightful to gaze upon. How beautiful is the colour of green? What other colour could even Nature have chosen to embellish the face of the Earth? How, indeed, would red, or blue, or yellow pall upon the eye? But green, emerald green, is the loveliest of all Natures hues. The soil of this plain was good and firm. The creek had now worn a deep channel, and in three miles from where we camped we came upon the top of a high red bank, with a very nice little waterhole underneath. There was abundance of water for 100 to 200 horses for a month or two, and plenty more from the sand below. Three other ponds were met lower down, and I believe that water can always be got by digging. We followed the creek for a mile or two farther, and found that it soon became exhausted, as casuarina and troidia sand hills environed the little plain, and after a short course of scarcely ten miles, the little creek became swallowed up by those water-devouring monsters. I named this creek Laurie’s Creek. There was from 6000 to 10,000 acres of fine grassland in this little plain and it was such a change from the sterile troidia and sandy country outside it that I could not resist calling it the Vale of Tempe.”
Fast forward to September 2013:
I was on my own as my travelling mate suddenly had something else to do and pulled the pin on this trip. I headed west via the Ernest Giles Road from the Stuart Highway. This road is notorious for being rough as but on this day luck was with me as the Grader was working in smoothing the corrugations out.
Once I met up with the sealed Luritja Road which runs from the Lasseter Highway to Kings Canyon Resort, I stopped for a snack and boiled the Billy.
A relatively short distance after passing the Kings Canyon Resort, and driving out from the Watarrka National Park, I swung the Datto to the west once again along a very faint track that was most likely the start of a seismic track further along.
Having digital mapping at my disposal on the dashboard it a great help in find a route across open country. However, the mapping does not always relate from the map to what’s actually on the ground. My government maps with a scale of 1 to 250,000 is the best that I can afford but I would really like better mapping and will endeavour to get some soon.
Digital mapping makes searching for places a whole lot easier.
The Vale of Tempe is marked on my maps and it looks relatively easy to access. I had permission to enter the land area and looking at the map decided to see if I could get up and over a relatively easy ridge. Or so it seemed. On the plains the country had shrubs, buffel grass and majestic eucalypts. I started heading towards the flood-out of a marked creek and crossed over a shallow part before starting to slowly climb the rise. At first the rise was gentle and with few obstacles other than low mulga flora and other shrubs but then the further I went the bigger the mulga became. I started picking my way through the trees and the branches made horrific scratching sounds on the door panels. Still thinking that I had a good chance to clear the obstacles ahead and went even further and then got into some rough sandstone rock country to boot and with daylight showing over the bonnet of the Datto I decided to stop to see where I was at. Just as well I did as I was now very close to a sheer drop of 50 metres or so. Ahead of me was a large fallen tree stump and forward movement was no longer an option. So I decided to turn around and head back down the hill.
The Vale of Tempe in the distance……. so close and yet so far
Easier said than done. After a 9 point turn of forward and reverse I was facing in the right direction again but could not see where I had come from as the trees had stood up again. Then I got the Datto stuck on some rocks and after much mucking around I finally got going again. It took 10 minutes to get to where I turned around and half an hour to get back to level ground. I then drove along a valley which rose slowly in the west. A road grader had been that way a long time ago but the surface was very washed out by rain over the years. I picked my way in and out of the gullies until I came to a clearing where there was some short dry grass and gidgee wood on the edges. I could see an old wheel track rising over a sand dune as I was now entering into the dune field again. I decided to camp in the clearing for the night. I set up camp and also refuelled from my supply of diesel stored in jerrycans for this purpose.
Just on dusk I heard a strange noise and looked up to see a very large horse approaching my camp. It stopped about a 150 metres from me and snorted loudly. Then it ran in a semi-circle around my camp with its tail up and shaking its innards making a loud noise. It stopped every 100 metres or so stomping its hooves and snorting loudly. Once it was back in line of its original course it came closer for a while making loud snorting noises. After about 10 minutes it obviously decided that I was harmless and trotted off into the fading light. I have since learned that this horse may be related to Waler Horses which are now running wild on stations and aboriginal land surrounding Watarrka National Park. The Waler is Australian bred and combines a variety of breeds; particularly the Thoroughbred, Arab, the Cape Horse, the Timor Pony and perhaps a little Clydesdale or Percheron. At present there is a horse eradication program being conducted on Tempe Downs Station.
The night was deadly quiet and after my crackling fire had died down all I could hear was my own breathing. Just before sunrise a Mopoke Owl stirred me as it started its haunting call in the distance.
By the time I had breakfast the bushflies were becoming friendly and I packed up and got going.
After I had crested the first sand dune I turned south along a gentle slope driving over small spinifex clumps which then gave way to grasslands and a variety spring flowers. I was now attempting to come in from the western approach to the Vale of Tempe. The first couple of kilometres of the terrain was covered in fine grassland, but then once again, I ran into shrubby country which only seems to grow in and amongst the sandstone rocks. Soon the rocks became too large to drive over. Being on my own out there, I was a little worried that I may push my luck too far and decided then and there that I would come back next winter and hopefully bring a friend along driving their own vehicle so that we may try to get closer and if not right into this fabled place.
Back on the faded seismic track over the dunes I watched my digital mapping make a track where none existed. The countryside had low breakaway hills and some stony outcrops before I came out on the track we used some months previously. After that is was about 20km to the Mereenie Loop Road via some ‘Private’ mining roads.
Once back in the main stream of traffic on the Mereenie Loop Road I wondered as the tourists flocked by towing their new vans over the horrendous corrugations and if anyone had told them about the condition of the road?
At Ginty’s Lookout over Morris Pass on the edge of the small escarpment, I looked in vain to see if the Vale of Tempe was visible from that height, but it appears that the rise of the hills in the valley below hides this elusive place.