This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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1999 Travels June 2


There was some rain in the early hours of this morning, enough to dampen the ground and make the air smell tartly sharp. The ground soon dried out as the sun got stronger. The cloud of the morning thinned out later in the day.

We have grapefruit for breakfast again. I have missed the morning citrus input.

I did two loads of washing. Our very grubby clothes from the last week came cleaner than I expected.

We drove to the shops, where I put in three rolls of film for processing.

Then we set out for Ayers Rock. At the Entry Station, about 8kms from Yulara, it cost us $30 for a 5 day Entry Pass into the National Park. We could not talk the lady into extending it for a sixth day, so our last day here will have to be a “veg” day – that’s ok.

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Closer to Ayers Rock. The climbing route is up the part that projects closest to us, here.

The drive to the Rock is interesting, as it looms ever larger each time the road twists about and gives a view to it. We went to the car park that is close to where the climbing route up the Rock starts. The climb was closed, because of the earlier wind and rain, but it was opened soon after we arrived, and the clusters of people waiting around stirred into action.

We had only planned to do the 10.6kms walk track around the base of the Rock. Back in 1993, John had wanted to do the climb, but we only reached part way up the chain section before he felt the effects of vertigo and we turned back. Since then, the aboriginal position about climbing has been made much stronger, so we would not consider trying again.

As well as our usual drinking water, we took a picnic sandwich lunch, teabags and coffee  and a thermos of hot water in the day pack, which I carried. We set out in a clockwise direction.

06-02-1999 Ayers Rock ancestral fight scars

The Rock looming over us at the start of the walk

Even though we have done this walk before, it is still a great experience. The Rock really is a special place. There seem to be more sacred Anangu sites that one is asked not to photograph, than when we were last here. I am sure that I have, at home, photos of some of the now banned views.

It also seems to have grown much more vegetation – grass and shrubs – around the track and Rock, since the last visit. Is this from a good current season, combined with fewer rabbits? And/or good work managing and revegetating? It looks superb, anyway.

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A water worn gully with little waterholes, some marked by vegetation

Ayers Rock is made of a hard type of sandstone that is coloured red by oxidation on the rock surface. Underneath the fairly thin layer of surface colour, the stone is grey.

Although it is a monolith – one big slab of rock – the surface has been shaped by wind and water erosion, and the effects of heating and cooling of the surface.  So there are gullies down from the top, in places. Some of these make a kind of chain of little waterholes, down the face, when it rains. In some other areas, the smooth surface has been broken when alternate heating and cooling of the rock has caused sheets to break away and fall down into piles at the base. Wind and water have caused some intricate patterns inside these holes. There are also caves in places – but these are where photos are banned.

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Large scale patterns where the rock surface has broken away – resembles a human brain?

It got quite warm as we walked, and the cloud burnt away. I was sorry that I’d opted for long trousers, having thought that it would be cool and windy.

Ate our lunch “around the back”, with about two thirds of the walk completed.

We saw a Thorny Devil on the walk! At last I have seen one in the wild. It was on bare ground, between grass clumps. It is a unique critter – definitely looks untouchable. It rocked back and forth, rather than going anywhere.

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Thorny Devil trying to pretend it can’t be seen

Also spotted three new birds – singing honeyeater, grey headed honeyeater and a wood swallow.

We were tired by the end of the walk, so we sat at the base of the climbing track, for nearly an hour, and followed people’s progress up and down. Could see several obviously very unfit people who were silly enough to tackle it. Watching same and guessing how far up they will get before giving up, was quite engrossing! The Anangu request not to climb is quite clear, at the base, on signs.

After that entertainment, drove back to Yulara and collected my photos at the shop. They did an excellent job on these, I thought. I bought an “Age” newspaper. We bought fly nets to wear over our heads, as the flies had been annoyingly sticky on the walk today.

Refuelled Truck – 90cpl here.

At the Post Office, I mailed off some cards. There was no mail in for us, yet. We had checked this morning and found that the mail is not sorted and available until 4.30pm. It was a good thing that we did check with them, because there is a man with the same name as John, who works at the Resort, and we could have had our mail go astray.

I picked in the washing – all still there, despite the long absence – and put it away.

Then we walked to the nearby lookout hill and watched the sunset. The Rock went a deep red-brown. I intend to try to get different sunset effects on film through our time here. On the way back, went via the shops – still open – and put in another roll of film. I go through it quickly in places like this.

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Waiting for the sunset at the Yulara Lookout

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A little later – sunset from the Yulara Lookout

Tea was vegie soup, macaroni cheese, yoghurt and banana.

It was quite a cool night. There was a bright moon and scudding clouds – very pretty.

I was pleasantly weary from the day’s  activities and went to bed about 9.30. John stayed up computering until about 1am.

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1999 Travels June 1


We had a quick and efficient departure from Erldunda, then joined the regular flow of vans, campers and travelling vehicles along the road to Yulara.

The country seemed far more interesting than I remember from last time – 1993. Maybe my appreciation of the outback has grown?

We had some stops along the way. First for coffee – from the thermos I carry. Then, for a photo shoot of Mt Connor, looming brilliantly to the south. I remembered how, last time, I first thought it was Ayers Rock – a common error, I believe.

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Mt Connor

We stopped at Curtin Springs Roadhouse to top up the diesel. John was getting worried about fuel consumption, even though he thought we had a tail wind. At $1 a litre, it was very expensive, so he only put in 20 litres, being certain it would be cheaper at Yulara.

Closer to Yulara, for about the last 25kms, there were small gangs of aboriginal workers out cleaning along the roadsides. The whole area looked quite spotless.

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The first sight of Ayers Rock

The Ayers Rock Resort – the only place where one can camp – charged us $26 a night, for a powered site, which is the most we have ever paid. The seventh night is free, though not that many stay that long.

We were given a good site – maybe because we are unusual and are booked in for a week! We have been here before and believe we will have no trouble filling in a week. Our site backs onto a reservation, so we have shade from the trees there and around the site in general, and only side neighbours, who will no doubt change several times during  our stay here.

This is another place where people do not allow enough time to see what is here. But I guess it looks deceptive on the maps too, and on the brochures. One sunset view of the Rock, one quick drive out to the Rock and to look at the Olgas; it will only take a day, and one can even climb the Rock in that time, if they want. There – seen it all! There is little real appreciation of the changing moods and light there is out here. And so many travellers, even in this day and age, think Ayers Rock is close to Alice Springs, rather than about 450kms by road.

We set up, then went to look at the group  of shops that is in the heart of the Resort complex, because I couldn’t remember what was there. And I wanted to go to the Visitors Centre.

I bought maps of Watarrka (Kings Canyon) and the West McDonnell Ranges – graphically presented ones, excellent.

Got today’s Australian – fresh news! Bought food at the supermarket, mostly fresh stuff. The prices were, I thought, not too bad, given the distances involved in getting produce here. Got some cash out – we were running low, having been in so many places lately that didn’t “do” cards.

There was, obviously, heaps of souvenir stocks at the shops and many costly items, as one would expect here.  An example was $279 for a hand knitted pullover that I thought was rather poorly made. There were some nice T shirts and polo shirts, but they are a bit expensive – will have to think about those.

John put in some time repairing the back door lock on Truck, which had decided not to work. He eventually fixed it and was quite pleased with himself.

We showered while the tourist hordes were out watching the sunset! There are several coach camping groups in the campground and I did not want to be competing with them, later, for bathroom space.

Tea was vegie soup, steak with onions, fries, eggs for John and tomatoes for me.

We watched some TV – the signal is good, here.

I got tired early and went to bed. John stayed up playing his computer game until 4am! He has had a break through in the game.

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Erldunda to Yulara

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1999 Travels May 31


We did not get up very early this morning, and it was after 9am before we got going. We have driven today’s section of road before, so perhaps did not feel any great sense of urgency to get going.

Refuelled before we left the roadhouse – 93cpl.

Before we left, I phoned the resort at Yulara to book us a powered site from tomorrow. There seems to be so much traffic going north that I want to be sure of getting in there.

It was pleasant driving. The highway was in good condition. The country was fairly flat, with occasional low hills in the distance for some variety. Watercourses were wide and shallow. The country seems to have had some rain and there is plenty of roadside shrubbery. It may also be that the absence of rabbits since calicivirus was introduced a few years ago, is having an effect.

We were stopped, about 109kms north of Marla, by a young man who had been driving a Subaru. He’d had an accident when he got into the gravel at the roadside, blew the tyres on that side, hit a fencepost and stove in the side. He told us a motorist had stopped, then continued on, with a promise to report the accident and send help from Kulgera, but that had been a while ago and Kulgera is only about 60kms north.

Then a passing south bound driver stopped to see if all was well. He told us there was no tow service at Kulgera, so the nearest service would be from Marla. John used the Radphone to call the police at Marla and they said they would see to a retrieval. It is great to have the HF radio to use at such times.

The driver seemed alright, so we went on our way. He’d told us that he was on his way to start a job at Yulara, so this was tough luck for him. However, he was fortunate not to have been severely hurt, as the road was banked up quite high at this point, and he could easily have rolled right off and over several times.

The rest of the trip to Erldunda was uneventful, apart from crossing the border into the NT at Kulgera. This is now five States/Territories we have been in, so far, this year!

Booked into the Erldunda Desert Oaks Roadhouse caravan facility. It was quite adequate, but expensive, at $18. Like Marla, it filled up greatly, later in the day. We had decided that we’d break our trip to Yulara here, rather than drive over 500kms in a day. We are not in a hurry!

Found there was no fresh milk to be had here. It is not a place one stocks up at!

We went for a walk around the caravan area, then just rested around the van for the rest of the afternoon.

Tea was soup, then pasta with a creamy sun dried tomato sauce. I thought it was alright. John didn’t comment!

We have some TV again.

05-31-1999 marla to erldunda

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1999 Travels May 30


John wanted to drive out to Mintabie, today. This is an opal mining settlement, some 33kms west of Marla. It is little-known, compared to places like Coober Pedy or White Cliffs, but actually produces extremely high quality dark opal.

John loves these mining settlements, and he also thought he might be able to buy some opal from miners out there.

From what we’d read, a permit was needed to go to Mintabie, because it is on aboriginal lands, but they told us in the Marla Roadhouse that due to some sort of administrative hiccup, no one has bothered, for months, about getting permits to go out there, so we didn’t either.

I was really pleased to find I could buy both the Weekend Australian and the Melbourne Age newspapers here – what a luxury!

It was a pleasant drive, on a dirt road, out to Mintabie. We crossed the “new” Ghan train line, soon after turning off the highway. The country was almost flat, and scrubby. Could tell we were approaching Mintabie, by the appearance of white hills in the distance – the huge dump heaps from mining.

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The white dump heaps of Mintabie in the distance

The Mintabie diggings were quite extensive, stretching for kms along a low ridge line. They use machinery, seeming to dig shafts into the sides of deep bulldozed pits.

05-30-1999 at Mintabie opal fields

White dumped material from opal mining contrasts with surrounding red hills

We encountered a man driving an opal mining machine, as we cruised around town, trying to work the place out, and John got out and stopped him. He showed John some opal, but did not want to sell any.

The settlement is small – general store, pub, school, caravan park – which does not look too bad. Had John known that was here, he would probably have insisted we brought the van out! There was the general air of scruffiness that we have found in other mining camp townships, where the land is basically leased. Lots of derelict and old cars around. Stone shacks, a few more substantial. The hotel was built from stone. The store was a large building.

There were several aboriginal women sitting about outside the store; they looked rather derelict and spaced out. Apparently, they were trying to get money from the shopkeeper – there is a bank agency in the shop. He told one that she’d had $200 only yesterday. I don’t know whether the issue was that there was no more money in the account, or whether he felt she would be better off without another big lot of cash to drink away or have taken off her.

John obtained directions from the store keeper to find someone who might sell him some opal. We have no map of the township, of course. I doubt one exists. Because it is not a place that tourists normally visit, there is no such thing as an information centre. Likewise, there is no place for the amateur visitor to fossick about for opal themselves.

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An opal mining machine on the outskirts of Mintabie

After much difficulty in the maze of tracks that is Mintabie, we found the place the storekeeper meant. And there John was enlightened! The local miners sell only to professional buyers and do not worry about the occasional tourist, because the opal is such high quality that batches begin at $10,000 and go to over a million. That was the end of that idea!

We drove around a bit more and found a place to eat our packed lunch. Saw a nankeen kestrel. Then went back to Marla.

Spent the rest of the afternoon reading the papers and having a cook up – a batch of barley and vegie soup, rock cakes, and some tuna and rice patties for tea – they were alright but needed spicing up somehow. Chilli sauce helped.

The caravan park was chaotically busy again this afternoon, but with a fresh set of travellers.

There was a full moon at night, but it seemed unusually small.

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1999 Travels May 29


We got away early today. We will be pleased to leave.

Refuelled at the Pink Roadhouse – 90cpl. That is reasonable for such an isolated place. The driving conditions along the Track seem to be really eating up our fuel. We have gone from getting 8 or 9 kms per litre, to about 6kms, along here.

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We did not stop to look any further around the town, or go and look at the waterholes on the Neales River, near here, which may also have been a better place to stay.

About 17kms north of Oodnadatta, the road divides. The Old Ghan Track, proper, continues north, as the railway did,

This section of the track was much rougher than previous ones. There were a lot more corrugations. There was little to stop for, apart from a coffee break. I found the country interesting though, its vastness, the occasional low hills or creek lines, and the like.

We reached Marla at lunch time.

Booked into the Travellers Rest – sort of a caravan park that was part of the roadhouse. We were charged $18 for a powered site a night – but it is clean, has reasonable facilities, including drinkable water, and there is toilet paper! We paid for two nights because John has a plan for tomorrow.

Upon opening the van, I discovered that the door had come off the fridge and was lying on the floor, along with spilled capers, yoghurt and soymilk, that had been in the door shelf  – all mixed in with a thin layer of red dirt. The motor was running constantly, but the freezer had not defrosted, for which I was most thankful. The swivel attachment that the door opens and closes on, had given way – there must have been a lot of vibration from the corrugated road sections.

With some difficulty, John managed to remove some tight screws, and took the offending part off the door and to the roadhouse workshop. They welded it back together. John was most relieved that this could be done. He reassembled the door.

I had quite a lengthy cleaning up job to do. The spilt milk had seeped into cupboards, at floor level. Fortunately, soy milk will not smell as bad as ordinary milk would have, in time! The floor rugs would  have to be washed.

It is disappointing that the fridge did not hold together better; it is designed to be a marine fridge and I guess rough seas are not as severe as corrugated roads. Now that we were focussed on the fridge, it was obvious that the door was held on only three corners – the top and bottom hinge pins on one side and the top corner where the door fastener is, on the other. The lower corner on that side could flex and try to open when it was rough. John worked out how we could fasten that corner too, quite easily. There was already a little protruding bar, for use by the hinge if the opening side of the door was changed, so it had a pre-drilled hole in. John drilled a corresponding hole up into the bottom of the door, found a small bolt in his collection of oddments, and a small nut. It was a little fiddly, but the bolt screwed up through the hinge hole and the nut and into the door. The nut prevented the bolt unscrewing and the door was held firmly. We hoped this would prevent any future such accidents. Putting the bolt fastener into the door became part of the departure routine and with practice I was able to do it quickly and easily.

We walked over to the hotel part of the road house complex and bought a six pack of beer from the bar and some grocery items from the store section. The beer cost $12!

Sat outside the van and watched other campers arriving. This caravan section got really busy, later in the day. It does not have separately marked out sites – people choose where to set up – so it became rather Rafferty’s rules in the drive through sections, with people blocking others in.

Tea was the last of the curried soup, then salad, with hard boiled eggs for John and cheese for me. Our perennial staple of yoghurt for dessert.

05-29-1999 to marla

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1999 Travels May 28


We were a little slow getting away this morning as the lass “next door” came and asked to have a look at the van. The guy was off to Coober Pedy for tyres – a 280kms round trip on rough roads. If it was his driving style that caused their flat tyres, I hope he has learned a lesson – otherwise he might not get to Coober Pedy! It is worrying for them, though, with the bulk of the Oodnadatta Track still ahead of them.

We did not make many stops today. The first was at Beresford Bore – another former siding. The fettlers’ cottage building there looked to be rapidly deteriorating. It was a similar style to Curdimurka. The Beresford Bore was still flowing.

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Fettlers’ cottage at Beresford Bore siding

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Beresford Bore was still flowing

We took a track near Beresford Siding, for a short distance. This led to the remains of a rocket tracking emplacement – a reminder that rockets were test fired from the nearby Woomera Range; some came this way and landed in these parts.

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This was a rocket tracing emplacement

William Creek was our next stop, where there is a hotel. Apart from a rough camp area behind the hotel, nothing else! It claims to be the smallest town in the world.

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William Creek Hotel

Since just north of Coward Springs, we have been driving through Anna Creek Station – the largest operating livestock property in the world, and part of the Kidman cattle empire. William Creek is on the property. The hotel dates from last century and the building of the Overland Telegraph. I presume it was also a rather welcome stop for railway passengers too. Since the railway closure it must make a living from stockmen from the properties up this way, and tourists. It has become rather a tourist icon.

At the hotel, we bought a beer and a coke – have to do our bit for the local economy! We also topped up with fuel – the hotel sells this, too. $1 a litre!

Here, there is a display of some remains of rockets that have come down in the area.

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Rocket remains. Something like this landing nearby could ruin a peaceful camp!

I took a photo of the quirky Pink Roadhouse sign at William Creek. The family that has, for years, had this  roadhouse at Oodnadatta has – in the interests of the travelling public – put up these signs where they felt directions/information is necessary. They are a real landmark item.

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Not far north of William Creek we stopped for lunch. Took a side track towards the creek channels – quite a pleasant spot. The flies were incredibly thick. One had to be careful to just get sandwich in the mouth!

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Bit of a dip, here

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Another of the Pink Roadhouse signs

Our next stop was at the Algebuckina Bridge – a long, high, steel structure that is very dramatic in this isolation and is the longest bridge in SA. Below it were the mangled remains of a car that had tried to use the rail bridge to cross the flooded Neales River – and met a train coming the other way!

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The train won! Algebuckina Bridge over the Neales River

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What the train driver saw – Algebuckina Bridge

Through today, we’d noticed several dry creek areas that would have made good overnight camp places, as well as the often used bush camping area at the Algebuckina waterhole. I would have liked to stay the night at the latter, rather than pushing on, but John wanted to keep going. With hindsight, we’d have been better off staying at one of these, instead of at Oodnadatta!

With the exception of the Neales/Algebuckina waterhole, the watercourses were all dry. The track was pretty good. I drove for a while, because John got tired. I felt quite comfortable towing the van on the dirt road, but we were not going very fast.

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The Oodnadatta Track

We noticed that the railway alignment criss crossed the road several times on today’s route.

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Some distant hills – south of Oodnadatta

We got into Oodnadatta about 4pm and booked into the caravan park attached to the Pink Roadhouse. We paid $16.50 for a powered site. The amenities were in an Atco building and were not very clean. The toilet paper in all cubicles had run out and was not refilled.

After the basic set up, we went for a walk in the township. It is extremely ramshackle. There is one substantial building – the former railway station, made of stone and now a museum;  one has to obtain a key to go have a look in it, and we were too late. And that is about the “key” to Oodnadatta, from what we saw – lock up anything worthwhile, otherwise it will be broken or nicked!

We saw some falling-down houses. There are a number of indigenous occupied houses, some looking alright, others very damaged, all behind high tin fences. There was a lot of rubbish lying about.

Today was apparently pension day. There was a big group of aboriginals gathering under some trees in the centre of town. There were lots of kids riding bikes around, but we were pleased to see that most were wearing helmets as they tore around.

The Pink Roadhouse is a large establishment – a store and eatery too. But we found it abysmal on service and staffing levels.

We saw that there was an aboriginal school – named as such – and it seemed to be the only one in town. The existence of such a school was, we thought, an encouraging sign that some people are trying to get things together.

It is just a pity that the township has such a neglected, derelict, grotty atmosphere. I think I had formed romantic notions about Oodnadatta, from reading history and novels, so I was expecting a place I could react to positively.

Tea was soup, baked beans on toast, yoghurt.

We are both tired tonight, so we had an early night.

05-28-1999 to oodnadatta

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1999 Travels May 27


I got up at 7.15, not sure why I was wide awake at that hour! John slept until 9.30.

I went walking in the cool but pleasant early morning. Watched the lady proprietor water their camels – about seven of them. They get water every second day, otherwise they fill their stomachs too much. They were amusing to watch – and they have beautiful eyes.

I walked to the wetland area/bore overflow and looked at birds. Saw a spotless crake flitting about.

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The wetland created by the bore outflow at Coward Springs

It did not take long for the flies to descend in droves.

The sky looked like it could turn to rain, for a while in the morning, but it lightened off during the day.

After breakfast, John and I went walking along the wetlands and channel. We saw two more new birds – white fronted chat and black-eared cuckoo. This is a wonderful area in the otherwise dry country.

We wandered about and looked at the historical railway remnants here. There are two buildings, one of which appears to be the home of the owners.

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The old engineer’s cottage – with new roof

After an hour or so of walking, we’d had enough of the flies, so retreated to the van for a while.

For lunch, made ourselves spam and cheese sandwiches, toasted on the open fire. Yum.

After lunch, went driving because John decided that he wanted to find some sleeper remains that he could cut and take home to make woodwork items. We found some lovely old red woods – two different kinds it seemed. Two varieties of red gum? Or red gum and something else? John cut a couple of pieces – obviously, we can’t take much, though. I have in mind a pepper grinder – would be great to have as a memento of the Track.

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John cutting up old sleeper for woodwork material

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The old railway alignment, with the road to the left

A couple who came into the campground during the afternoon, and camped near us, had problems. They’d had three flat tyres between Marree and here! That seemed most strange to us but we did not like to quiz them about it. But we wondered: poor driving as in too fast? Too heavily loaded? Or just a really dud brand of tyre. They will have to leave their camper trailer here and go to William Creek tomorrow for repairs. We certainly had no tyre trouble on that stretch and it really did not seem the sort of surface, to me, that should cause issues.

I used the fire to make curried potato and tomato soup, for these cold nights. But I must use less curry next time!

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Making soup

Late in the afternoon, John went for a dip in the artesian spa, and enjoyed it greatly. I just had a shower, which was also great – nice warm water from the donkey heater.

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John in the artesian spa

The sunsets here are truly spectacular.

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Coward Springs sunset

We cooked sausages on the BBQ grill over the fire, for tea, with potatoes baked in foil in the coals. Followed that with yoghurt and bananas.

We sat round the fire again, after tea. There was a breeze, which was pleasant and it kept the mozzies away. The moon was bright, amongst a lot of small clouds.

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1999 Travels May 26


We had a leisurely pack up and departure from Marree, on a chilly morning. Before we left, got talking with Bev and Eric Oldfield – about tourism, caravan parks, the Internet, computers. Quite wide-ranging! Bev is trying to design a brochure; she said it was a pity she hadn’t chatted to John about it a day or two ago, as he could have helped her.

Refuelled – 85cpl.

It was 11am when we left, seen off by Big Bird.

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Big Bird was an interested onlooker as we refuelled

Our plan is to follow the Oodnadatta Track – also known as the Ghan Track – north to Oodnadatta. This track broadly parallels what was the route of the original railway from Adelaide to Alice Springs. We plan to leave this at Oodnadatta and head west to the main highway, as we want to visit Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon, before going to Alice Springs.

We took our time and had several stops along the way to look at interesting features. The road was quite good – some corrugations in places but mild ones, a few patches of shallow dust, some stony sections.

The line of the old railway paralleled the track, just to the west. There are no rails anymore, but in places there are sleeper remains, and bridges over creeks and washaways. Initially, the railway alignment was to our left, but just before the Lake Eyre lookout, it crossed the track and ran to the right.

Passed the Borefield Road that goes to Roxby Downs and the huge Olympic Dam mine project. The borefield is a set of bores which tap into the Great Artesian Basin for water that is piped to the mine. It uses a great deal of water. one wonders at the ultimate effect of this on the Basin supply?

We pulled off the track at the Gregory Creek and went down a side track closer to the old railway bridge that is not far above the dry creek bed. It is exactly at sea level here. Had our packed lunch while we wandered about looking for birds and just enjoying the scenery. Wondered if this low bridge was one of the ones where floods used to periodically strand the old Ghan train?

05-26-1999 02 Gregory Creek old Ghan bridge 0m asl

The old railway bridge over Gregory Creek

John wanted me to drive for the next stage, to get some experience in such conditions. Fine by me, but I do not go as fast as he does!

It was not long until we reached the lookout over Lake Eyre South. This is the one point where the Oodnadatta Track comes close to the lake. It was not as scenic or interesting as at level Post Bay. At this point, we were 12 metres below sea level!

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Lake Eyre South, seen from the Ghan Track

John took over the driving again and we continued to the old Curdimurka rail siding. This is fairly intact, compared to the remains of some other sidings we’d passed, where there were just some stone ruins. At Curdimurka, there was the building that housed the fettlers who kept up the line; a couple of sheds; and the spectacular water tower and softener, which dominates the flat landscape. There are still rail lines too.

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The fettlers’ accommodation at Curdimurka railway siding

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There are still rail lines at Curdimurka. The water purification tower

We spent some time wandering about, looking at Curdimurka. What a wonderful place. It contains so much history – I hope it can be preserved into the future.

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Distances in miles!

The Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin was built in the 1870’s, along a route explored by John McDouall Stuart, which linked places where water could be found – often from mound springs related to the Great Artesian Basin. When the northern railway was constructed, starting in the 1870’s and reaching Oodnadatta in the 1890’s, it followed this same route. The steam trains of the time needed regular refills of water, so sidings were established where this was available. The bore and spring water usually needed the minerals removed to be suitable for the train, so water softening towers, like the one at Curdimurka, did this.

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The water purification tower at Curdimurka

Although the route supplied the necessary watering points, it was in places subject to flooding and wash aways when there were heavy rains in this usually arid environment. One time, the Ghan was a whole three months late reaching Alice Springs! Sand drifts over the line were another problem. The train had a flat bed carriage at the back that carried spare sleepers and railway tools – passengers were known to work on the necessary repairs too.

It was not until 1929 that the extension of the line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs was completed. Until that time, train passengers finished their journey north by camel.

When diesel engines replaced steam, the need for watering points ended. Eventually a new wider gauge railway was built further to the west, away from flood country. The last train on the old Ghan line ran in 1980. So it is actually less than 20 years since the last train – diesel of course – came this way.

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The buildings remaining at Curdimurka

John continued to drive, from Curdimurka. The Stuart Creek dry floodway was rougher than expected and the van did some bouncing over big bumps.

We got to Coward Springs about 3pm. So it took us four hours to explore the distractions over just 150kms! Booked into the unpowered campground here, for $10 a night. There were a number of gravelled camping bays to choose from and we picked a spacious area backed by some lovely big tamarisk trees. Our site had a fire pit and rustic seat by this. The campground has toilet and shower facilities – the latter with a strange kind of donkey water heater.

Took the van off Truck. The contents seemed to have travelled alright, despite the jolts back at Stuart Creek. There was very little dust inside – the vent that opens on the roof seems to have worked quite well to prevent it. This is, of course, our first real off bitumen venture with the van. Did a minimal set up – roof up, chairs out.

Drove back to visit the nearby mound springs. We had decided not to do so with the van on, in case the track in was really rough, or wet. We needn’t have worried, but it is nice to know that we do have a really pleasant camp site to return to – not that there is a great deal of tourist traffic competing for places.

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It was about 11kms to get to the Bubbler and Blanche Cup Mound Springs. Here, water from the Great Artesian Basin comes to the surface, of its own accord. The springs are fascinating. Through the clear water, one could see the sandy/silty floor of the Bubbler shifting and “boiling”, with small bubbles coming out.

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The Bubbler mound spring

The emerging water in these springs carries some sediments and salts, and these, over time, form a mound around the spring. The nearby Hamilton Hill is an extinct mound spring from a different climatic time that allowed it to grow much bigger than the current mounds.

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Blanche’s Cup mound spring and Hamilton Hill , an extinct mound spring

The springs are surrounded by little green oases of growth. The outflow forms a little creek that seems to dissipate into the sands before very far.

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The dry country around the mound springs

On the way back to camp, stopped where we could drive close to the old rail alignment, and picked up some firewood from sleeper remains of the Old Ghan railway.

Back at camp, we walked around the camp area, to explore it properly, and had a look at their artesian spa. Although there was a natural mound spring in the area, for the railway a government bore was sunk. This had a huge flow and a little wetland became established. The bore deteriorated with time and the warm water just bubbled up from the ground. Railway workers and train passengers used to enjoy the bubbling “spa”.  The bore was repaired and capped a few years ago and some flow allowed to go into and through the wooden lined “tub” that the owners here built, and still feed water into the wetland. By this time, the wetland here was well established as a bird and other wildlife habitat and so this decision to sustain it was sensible.

Our new solar panel seems to be working fine to keep our battery charged – the fridge is running from this, of course. We shall use the lights in the van as little as possible.

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Our camp at Coward Springs

Tea was kumara soup, scotch fillet steak done on the BBQ grill over our open fire, potatoes cooked in foil in the fire and zucchini done on the BBQ too. It was very nice.

We sat round the fire till about 9pm, talking and drinking wine. The annoying hordes of flies of the daytime had departed when the sun went down. There were a few mozzies, though. Only to be expected, with the wetland nearby. There was lots of lovely silence, despite the presence of other campers about the place.

The nearly full moon was mixed up with clouds and we got glimpses of various sized pieces of it.

We decided it was so pleasant and peaceful here that we would stay another night.

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From Marree at the far right, to Coward Springs. Lake Eyre South.

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1999 Travels May 25


Today was not as windy, thus it felt warmer.

I posted the letter to K, wondering how long the mail will take to get there from Marree.

We had earlier decided that, whilst passing through here, we would take a day and drive out to Muloorina Station and on to Lake Eyre. One can access Lake Eyre  at Level Post Bay, on the Madigan Gulf section of the Lake.

It was a very interesting drive, in both directions, and well worth doing, on a good gravel formed track. The gate-opening passenger got a bit of a work out! The country was unremittingly flat, for the most part, with shrub and sparse tree lines marking out dry watercourses. This is certainly arid country.

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Muloorina Station

Muloorina Station homestead is found by a very pretty waterhole on the Frome River – the same one that we had encountered at Angepena. It winds its way around the range country of the area, as a series of mostly dry channels,  and northwards past here enters Lake Eyre.

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Wetland at Muloorina, formed by bore outflow. Lots of birds in trees.

The Muloorina waterhole and wetland results from a bore outflow. The force of the water exiting this bore hole powers the 240v power plant at the station! It has created an oasis of greenery in the dry country – a place obviously appreciated by the birdlife we saw.

From Muloorina, drove on a track that took us to the shores of Lake Eyre South, then alongside the Goyder Channel that links this with the main Lake Eyre, and finally to Level Post Bay, the end of the track. This section of track was rougher, and slower going, and sandy in parts – but not enough that we had to let down the tyres.

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The track near Level Post Bay

Lake Eyre was dry, of course, and we walked out on it, on the salt crust. It was so impressive, just to be there, in this salty immensity. We were below sea level by some 15 metres, here.

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John walking on Lake Eyre at Level Post Bay

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Taken from out on the Lake, looking back to Truck and the Information Bay

After our walkabout on the Lake, drove back to the Goyder Channel section and ate our packed lunch there.

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The Goyder Channel that joins Lake Eyre South with the main Lake

We dawdled back to Marree, stopping sometimes to look at birds, and to take photos. Up close, as we wandered around a bit away from Truck, there were interesting aspects to the scenery – low hills, dunes, depressions and the like.

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Interesting to see new technology arriving in the Outback

It was a great day out and an excellent drive. We covered 210kms.

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The country we traversed on our day out at Muloorina and Lake Eyre

Back at the van, John settled in for an afternoon nap.

I read the Adelaide Advertiser paper, which I’d picked up from the shop earlier. Had an early shower and washed my hair – the local water is alright for that. I got talking to the only other campers here – a retired NZ couple doing a 4 month trip with a 4WD and camper trailer, going the same way as us.

John reported in to the 4WD Radio Network at the 5.30pm sched slot.

Watched the news on TV, and needed the heater on, even that early.

Tea was more of the kumara soup; bacon, egg, tomato and crumpets, followed by strawberries, which were awful.

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1999 Travels May 24


We took a gamble that the insurance paperwork we have been waiting for, will be at Leigh Creek today. So packed up and left the caravan park at 9.30.

The insurance documents were at the Post Office, so we filled them in on the spot, and sent them straight back Express Post. Whew!

Topped up the fresh food stocks at the supermarket, then headed north again. Stopped at Copley to top up the fuel – at 81cpl, we had been cross that we paid more in Leigh Creek, yesterday.

The hills became fewer, quite soon, apart from one low range in the western distance. There was a growing sense of vastness and openness. The vegetation became more sparse. North of the hamlet of Lyndhurst the sealed road gave way to gravel, and roadside fences ceased.

We could see the line of the old Ghan railway track, quite often, to the west of the road. The way was fairly featureless, apart from regular floodways – just very shallow depressions, if that, in the road.

Reached Marree about midday. Booked into the Marree Town Caravan Park which, despite its name is on the southern edge of town, about a km from the township proper. Cost $14 a night for a powered site. It seems a pleasant enough little park. No grass, of course, but some nice shade trees. Amenities in an Atco type building – adequate. The park is certainly not crowded!

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The outlook from the back of the Marree Caravan Park – Drover’s Rest

There is a rainwater tank for guests to obtain drinking water from. We had read a warning in a guide book that the Marree bore water has a strong laxative effect! John had made sure the van water tanks were filled at Copley.

The park owner is Eric Oldfield – renowned former boss drover on the Birdsville Track, and former owner of stations along the Track. We had quite a chat with him.

They have a pet brolga, found some seven years ago as a chick tangled in the wire of the Dog Fence. Called Big Bird, it dances with trees, cars, petrol pumps. Knows when it is being photographed too!

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John getting to know Big Bird

After basic set up and lunch, we walked the km or so into town and wandered about. It seems a sad little place. Much of it is becoming decrepit. There appears to clearly be two sides of “the tracks”. The other caravan park is opposite the aboriginal centre. There were no travellers in there. We saw several aborigines sitting drinking, in the central park area.

There are two stores. The Oasis appears to be the fast food outlet serving the indigenous population. The Oldfields have the Post Office and Store, over beside the main road – it seems to be the “upmarket” one.

There were some old former Ghan diesel engines on the old tracks – the basis for an historical display that needs a lot of work doing on it. There was also a wooden camel “statue” commemorating the role of the Afghans and their camels in the opening up of the interior.

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The forlorn engine that once hauled the Ghan train north

Marree was originally called Hergott Springs, but the German name was dropped in World War 1, for the current name.  In the days of the old Ghan railway and the Overland Telegraph, and regular cattle drives down the Birdsville Track, Marree was a real hub of activity. There were two mosques.

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The Afghan cameleers gave the Ghan train its name. Memorial to the Afghans at Marree.

I bought a postcard that depicted the “Marree Man”. This has been the subject of much mystery and debate. It was first “discovered” about a year ago, to the north west of Marree, a few kms north of the Oodnadatta Track.

It is a geoglyph – a man-made drawing carved into the earth. In this case, the carving appears to have been done by a bulldozer, presumably GPS guided. It is the world’s largest geoglyph. He “stands” about 4km tall and is 28kms in circumference.

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Marree Man – as depicted on a postcard I purchased

Obviously, this was not something that was created really quickly and some of the debate centres around whether any locals knew it was happening? Theories abound: made by the American Military (it is not far from the Woomera Prohibited Area); done by locals to be a tourist gimmick; done by aboriginals for an unknown reason – the figure appears to be an aboriginal man with a throwing stick; done by people from space!

Marree Man had been one of our topics of conversation with Eric Oldfield, but he had professed ignorance of its origins.

It can only properly be seen from the air – one needs to be at least 1100 metres up to get the full picture. It was discovered by a local pilot, flying between Marree and Coober Pedy.

Apart from the mystery of its origins, there is speculation over how long he will last – whether the seasons, weathering by the elements,  and vegetation growth will eventually obliterate him.

Our town walk was a pleasant enough one. There was a chill edge to the wind, though.

Marree is where two of the adventure drives of the outback diverge – the Birdsville Track heads north and the Oodnadatta Track ( the Old Ghan Track ) trends north west. That is the way we are going, to Central Australia.

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We will be taking the Oodnadatta Track, this time

Back at the van, I got out the fan heater again, from storage under the bed.

Tea was kumara soup; curried steak and onions with rice;  banana and yoghurt.

I knew that our home water rates were due about now, so we phoned K on the Radphone and asked him to open the notice that was there. He gave us the total; I arranged to mail him a cheque and he would go pay them. That is all settled now, and I can relax for a while about overdue bills.

John gets some TV here.

It was a freezing night!

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