This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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1999 Travels August 25


John woke up feeling poorly today, but was determined not to give in to it. I think I am a little improved.

I did washing – three big loads. The weather is hot, so there are no drying issues.

We went to the gem cutter’s place and saw six of our stones that he had already cut: two pairs of garnets for earrings, one bigger garnet, and the big zircon. All are lovely. There are five pairs of zircon earring stones still in the making, and two other zircons – maybe for rings? We showed him the four garnets previously rejected by his wife as too dark to cut, and spun a yarn about “finding” them in a pocket of John’s in the wash. He says two will cut, so we left them there. It was smart to ask his opinion, after all. All this work will cost about $500, which we think is reasonable.

We then went to their gem shop in town, and chose plain claw earring settings for all the earring stones. All the girls will get earrings for Xmas! I bought myself an ironstone and garnet bracelet, for $13.95, because I really loved it. She has some great things there. Her blue topaz items are inspiring – but that’s for later. The chunks I found at O’Brien’s Creek last year, have been left at home.

We picked up the mail from the Post Office. It contained a very large phone bill, from July – mostly due to John’s calls to his sister and daughters. There was a letter from friend T – nice to hear from someone!

I picked up the seven lots of printed photos and am really pleased with them. They cost $111 to have developed and printed. They are a great record of the trek we have just done.

At Coles I did a food shop, and bought enough meat, on special, to fill the van’s little freezebox.

That was quite enough activity for us in our current states, and we rested up at the van for the rest of the day.

Tea was some salad and potato – neither of us had much appetite.

Not to be deterred by the phone bill, John phoned sister H and had a long chat.

Watched some more of the swimming, on TV. We both enjoy watching this.

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1999 Travels August 24


I woke up feeling very unwell, but there was little choice – we had to go and organize to get the van out of storage and back on site.

It was not too hard to get to the van. We had to be able to open it, before moving, to get out the big hitch, and put that onto Truck, before beginning to hook up the van. All quite fiddly.

The caravan park (McDonnell Ranges Big 4) charged us $99 for the five nights we booked in for, minus a $9.10 discount, which brought it down to about $17.42  a night. Once more we were on a pleasant site. I appreciated clean and green again!

I managed better than expected, all the moving, unpacking, repacking, setting up. It took much of the day. I kept going on paracetamol, sweated a lot, but it was a hot day.

By the end of the day, despite the work, or maybe because of it, I was feeling slightly better than yesterday.

We drove out to the COR Refinery and filled Truck, and the jerry can.76 cpl.

Went shopping for some food, and wine. I put the used films in for processing, being quite eager to see the Simpson Desert shots.

John called in to the gemshop and the lady told him that one zircon had cut really well. Now they know we are back, there will be pressure to get the rest cut.

We have planned to be here for five days, in order to get over all the driving, get the gemstone cutting and setting sorted out, and for John to get in some bowls. And for us to get healthy again. Unfortunately, John is starting to get symptoms of the “bug” too!

Tea was salads and a tin of red tuna – John’s suggestion and a good one.

The PanPacs swimming championships are on TV and we watched some of that.

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1999 Travels August 23


I woke up to the certainty that I was getting a head cold, or flu. Headache, sinus pain, sniffles, sneezes, generally feeling rotten. Where did I pick up that bug? We have hardly been around any people for weeks. Was it the air conditioning in Birdsville?

We emptied the plastic jerry can into the fuel tank.

As we left Tobermorey, the skies ahead were dark grey and looking very threatening, but that passed without rain or a storm, as we proceeded west.

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Very threatening skies west of Tobermorey Station

I felt progressively worse as the day went on. It was really hot, too, which didn’t help.

We had planned to go to Gemtree, then down the Pinnacle Bore Track we’d done before, and east to Ruby Gap, to camp for a couple of days, before returning to Alice.

I felt so awful, and really couldn’t face more camping or touring, so we decided to push on through to Alice Springs, on the Plenty and then the Stuart Highways. We would be able to make better time once we hit the bitumen at Gemtree.

Because we would be late, and because I couldn’t face the effort of getting the van out of storage and setting it up, we decided to try to get a motel room.

At least the unsealed Plenty Highway, from Tobermorey to Gemtree, was much better to drive on than the Qld road had been yesterday.

We stopped at a very big, unusually shaped, termite mound, briefly, for a look round it, a bit west of Tobermorey.

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Big termite mound by the Plenty Highway

Apart from that we only had brief toilet stops and a short stop for lunch for John – I was not hungry.

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The dry bed of the Plenty River, near Jervois Station

We arrived in Alice Springs about 4.30pm. It was still very hot. We had to hunt around a bit, but John eventually got us a room at Heavitree Gap Resort. Very nice it was, too, for $64.

The shower I had was superb! I hadn’t braved the dirty bathroom at Tobermorey, yesterday.

John went out again and bought a KFC meal.

I didn’t want food. I was running a temperature and felt awful. It was wonderful to be in a cool, proper, bed again, but I slept fitfully.

John had a TV watching session after tea. It is a while since he has had that.

It is only two and a half weeks since we left here for our circuit trip, but seems longer.

08-23-1999 Birdsville to Alice

The final three days of the circuit – Birdsville to Alice Springs

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1999 Travels August 22


Refuelled before we left town today – 90cpl.

Today’s drive was fairly boring and hot driving, over flat, stony plains.

We took the main road north and after a few kms, turned west onto the Donohue Highway. To call the road a highway was a massive stretch of someone’s imagination. It was an awful stretch of track, featuring corrugations, sections of deep gravel, potholes, bulldust holes, and dry claypan-like stream channel crossings.

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A bulldust patch coming up on the Donohue Highway

Much of the way paralleled the Georgina River. There were places where the treed floodplains in the distance added some interest, as did an area of opalized stone around the NT border. We stopped and had a look around there.

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Georgina River floodplain country

With the crossing from Qld into the Northern Territory, the Donohue Highway becomes the Plenty Highway. The road remains unsealed, but differing roadworks regimens between the states can mean an abrupt change of road condition. And so it was here – the road improved considerably once we were in the NT.

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Truck in two states. The sign tells us that it is 500kms to the Stuart Highway.

We had decided that to try to drive as far as Gemtree, on these poor roads, would make for an awful day, so stopped at Tobermorey Station, which has a camp ground.

We reached there in the early afternoon, and were ready to stop for the day. The people there – managers? owners? – had just arrived back from a trip to Mackay. They seemed very casual and disinterested, and as if we were a bother, rather than the paying public.

We were charged $20 for a powered site, which was over-priced for what we got. There was some sparse grass, and shade where we could set up, by a power pole. The toilets clearly had not been cleaned for some time and there was a very nasty smell coming from the waste basket in the Ladies. It seemed pretty unhealthy to me.

We set up camp, then relaxed, for a while. Went for a walk along the levee banks by their creek, looking at birds. It seems an untidy place, in general.

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Tobermorey Station campground

Earlier, as we’d driven along the entrance track, encountered some travellers with a camper with a broken axle. They were camped beside the track, waiting for spares to arrive. Later, I decided that they were better off out there, than in the camp ground with the generator going all night nearby. It would certainly be cheaper! But hot and dusty too.

We were the only campers in the campground.

Tea was tinned soup, fettucine with a bottled sauce.

After tea, I began to feel as though I was getting a cold – prickly nose, sneezing. Not happy!

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1999 Travels August 21


After the day “off”, today was another driving one, and to be first of several.

Refuelled at Birdsville – 92cpl. Quite a drop from what we had been paying.

Today’s drive was northwards, through rather featureless and monotonous country, much of it stony, flat, plains.

After leaving Birdsville, we stopped at the stand of Acacia peuce (waddi) trees, a few kms to the north. These trees are rare now, so the site is noteworthy.

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Acacia Peuce – Waddi – trees

Another stop was at the Carcoory Homestead ruin. This was built in the late 1800’s. The pastoral property was, for a time, part of the Kidman empire, but was abandoned due to drought. The ruins were stark in this harsh country. It is hard to see how cattle survive in such conditions, but cattle there were, in the area.

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Cattle grazing on arid country near Carcoory ruin

08-21-1999 02 Carcoory ruin former Kidman property

Carcoory ruin

We stopped beside the road, outside of Bedourie, in the sun. Shade and pleasant places were hard to find. We should have continued onto Bedourie, though, where at least we could have parked by Eyre Creek and had something of interest to look at, while we ate.

John did not enjoy the drive. This type of arid country is not a favourite of his. There were several detours in place, where we had to slow down, due to road making activities. The sealed sections of road are being extended.

We reached our destination of Boulia mid afternoon. Just drove through slowly. Stopped to buy some frozen fish, and other oddments. John bought a small cask of wine at the pub – it was $20.

Boulia seems an adequate little town, by a fair sized river – the Burke.

Booked into the caravan park – $10 for the night. The amenities were in an Atco type building. This was a strange arrangement inside, with very little privacy. But, overall, the park was quite pleasant.

08-21-1999 Boulia camp

Boulia camp

The park is by a waterhole in the river. There were quite a number of water birds on it.

Tea was tinned soup, fries and the oven fried fish I bought today. It cooked alright in the frying pan. We enjoyed the meal, but couldn’t eat it all – the fish was meant to serve four.

We were camped next to an elderly lady artist and her husband. After tea, she came across and chatted/argued with John, over a wine or two. She’d had a fascinating upbringing in northern SA and the NT, some seventy years ago, with an independent mother. She is a very outspoken lady! She and John clashed over a few things, but finished up friends. We certainly meet interesting people on our travels.

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Boulia butcher bird

There was obviously something on in town tonight, as there was much traffic coming in, past the caravan park, between 7 and 8.30pm. There seems to be a surprising number of motor vehicles in the district to the east of here!

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1999 Travels August 20


This was basically to be a relax day, and time to have a look around Birdsville, and just not drive – after ten days of constant driving.

It was quite hot, to the point where the air conditioning in the town library/information centre was most welcome.

After breakfast, I did the washing. There was quite a lot of that, as none had been done since leaving Alice Springs. Then I went for a wander around town and took photos, while John tried to fix the catch/lock on the Truck back door. It does not like sand and dust.

I spent some time looking at the ruined Royal Hotel building. This was Birdsville’s second hotel, built in the 1880’s. At one time there were three hotels. In the 1920’s this became the  site of the hospital, run by the Australian Inland Mission.

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The Royal Hotel ruin

08-20-1999 01 Royal Hotel Birdsville sign

The first AIM Hospital

After lunch, we both walked to the information centre, where we spent some time talking with a staff person about aspects of tourism to Birdsville. She seemed to think that we represented a significant sample of their clientele – and a growing one – even though we don’t regard ourselves as totally typical of the demographic.

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Birdsville visitors come long distances

We went to the Working Museum and found it fascinating. I am not usually very keen on such places, but this was excellent. However, too much of what it contained was familiar from my youth – does that make ME a museum piece? That was a scary thought. I saw a horse driven chaff cutter, and thought that my dad would have worked on that sort of thing. There was a very friendly mule in the yard outside. The milk separator machines were too familiar – wonder how many of those revolting yukky separator cups I washed, over my teenage  years?

The Museum was excellent value for $6 each.

We walked back to the pub and bought a cold beer each. We still don’t have any refrigeration at camp, of course.

Bought John a Birdsville 4WD polo shirt – a good quality one. They had run out of my size, unfortunately. But I did buy some magnets and postcards.

08-20-1999 05 warburton ck bville

The Diamantina River at Birdsville – and the ever-present corellas

Tea was tinned soup. John had sausages, bought locally, and potato. I did not have any appetite for sausages, so just had some of the mashed potato.

We were both surprisingly tired – probably due to the heat, and maybe to some sort of let down after the desert crossing. Although it was really enjoyable, there was always a little underlying tension over whether all would go as planned, and maybe that has taken a bit of a toll. Anyway, slept well.

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1999 Travels August 19


We slept well, with nothing feral disturbing us through the night.

While we were packing up camp, a very skinny, starving-looking  dingo appeared and flopped down under a nearby tree to watch us. I wondered if it was the same one we had seen yesterday, padding along the track, the other side of Poeppels Corner. It didn’t seem likely, but they do cover big distances, and it looked identically scrawny. We felt really sorry for it, so I put out the block of “dead” cheese, from our rubbish bag. It moved a bit further away when I moved towards it. I dug out a little hollow in the ground, lined it with a piece of foil and filled that with water. Littering, I guess, but to me it was in a good cause. We hoped that, after we left, it would come in to investigate the camp area and find the goodies we’d left for it.

Back on the track for more ups and downs over dunes.

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QAA Line and yet more dunes – but a creek line for contrast

There were several lots of passing traffic, including one convoy of seven vehicles, all heading west.

Gradually, the distance between the dunes widened again, trees began to appear, and we came out of the National Park at the remains of the vermin fence, built to deter the progress of rabbits, about a hundred years ago. It didn’t work!

08-19-1999 04 end of Nat Park on QAA Line

The end of the Simpson Desert National Park section

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The remains of the vermin proof fence

Then, the bottoms of the valleys between dunes became crossed by grey, rutted, channel forms, and we were in the Eyre Creek area. In floods, this can be over 15kms wide, either closing the track completely, or necessitating a big detour to the north.

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Grey clay pan and creek line between the dunes – near Eyre Creek

We lunched beside the main Eyre Creek channel, though John refused to admit this was our location, because his GPS said it was still some kms away. Because John has to work out co-ordinates from our maps, and then enter them into the GPS, there is room for error.

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The main Eyre Creek channel

After that, it did not take us all that long to approach Big Red – the large dune at the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert that is a challenge to drivers to conquer. Often, travellers who come to Birdsville, but are not tackling the Simpson, come out to have a go at Big Red, anyway. A form of local sport!


As we got closer to Big Red, but had not yet seen it, we had heard the radio traffic of drivers messing about at it. This was a bit annoying because we couldn’t tell if they were drivers coming our way, or not, in the dunes. The memory of yesterday’s close call was still vivid.

Eventually we crested a tall dune and saw Big Red in the distance, with a smaller dune between us and it. Could see the main track over it, and also the side tracks needed by the majority, to go around the steep crest part and over a lower point of the dune line.

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Our first look at Big Red – with a smaller dune between us and it

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The last dune before we reach Big Red

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That’s where we have come from – looking back along the QAA Line from near Big Red

We decided to try it – and got about a third of the way up.

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We got this far on our first attempt at Big Red. One side track is to the right

I got out and walked to the top – hard work in deep sand! But I had a great vantage point for the photos I wanted.

John backed down, let some more air out of the tyres – and didn’t get much further on the second try!

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Getting ready for another try

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The second try at Big Red

At this point, he sensibly gave up, and took the side track. Even that route was hard enough.

08-19-1999 13 going round

Give up – going round

I walked down and met him at the base of Big Red – Birdsville side. This was the last of the sand dune driving, so it was time to inflate the tyres back to road pressure. Yet another instance where we are so pleased to have installed the air compressor.

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Coming down the Big Red side track

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The last of the sand dunes

While John did that, we watched some other drivers failing at the bypass track. I said it was hard!

It was an easy, 30kms drive on into Birdsville, through flat, stony country.

We have crossed the Simpson desert – yippee! Feel a great sense of achievement.

We drove straight to the legendary Birdsville Pub, for a beer. We had been promising ourselves the treat of a properly cold beer for the past couple of days! And wonderful it was, too. We toasted ourselves and our achievement.

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A COLD beer was much appreciated – the Birdsville Pub

At the Birdsville Caravan Park, booked onto a powered site for two nights, at $17 a night.

Set up camp, and then headed off for showers. The hot shower was so wonderful!

Then we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, in shade by our tent.

John did the afternoon sched to Alice Springs Base. I used the phone box to call K and leave a message that we had reached Birdsville and all was well.

Tea was a split pea and vegetable stew with “instant” couscous. I’d been able to buy some fresh vegetables in town, on the way to the caravan park, to supplement the dried ones from our stores.

The Birdsville township has quite a pleasant feel about it. It is small, of course, but not tatty or decrepit – I don’t count the historic ruins in that category. It actually has quite a dynamic atmosphere, to us. The hotel staff are young, with-it people, back packers, I guess. The caravan park man seems pretty go-ahead. The airstrip is much bigger than I expected – and the runway is sealed.

Tonight we went to sleep to a background of human type noise – not excessive, but just there. The nights we had in the silence of the desert were so much better.