SUNDAY 20 MAY COWARD SPRINGS TO WILLIAM CREEK 80kms
After breakfast, we walked around to view the developments since we were last here, eight years ago. The Engine Drivers’ Cottage was now fully restored and open as a museum, with some really interesting exhibits about the railway, and about this place.
The Station Master’s House was the other restored building, and where the owners lived, so it was off limits for viewing, except from a little distance. They certainly have been doing a wonderful preservation job here.
We went for a wander around a section of the old rail route, where there were still some sleeper remains left. A lot of these had been utilized in the building of the camp facilities at Coward Springs; probably more had been utilized as firewood.
On our first trip this way, John acquired some red gum sleeper from the old route, near here. It had now been made into a pepper grinder that was in regular use at home. I like, when using it, to think about its history…….and feel privileged to have it.
And so onward. The old rail alignment crossed and recrossed the track a few times on this section.
There was some surface water in places today.
Warriners Creek was flowing shallowly across the track. There was a depth measurement sign; it was hard to beleive that water could get to 2 metres deep in this country………However, there was plenty of water under the old bridge there. Clearly, there had been a heap of rain up this way, not too long ago.
Today’s stage was short, because we wanted to stay at William Creek, so some of us could take a sight seeing flight over Lake Eyre, where we knew water was entering the north-east lake from the Warburton Groove; the flight would also go over the Painted Hills, an area not accessible to travellers in any other way.
As we drove into William Creek, an unexpected sight was the Channel 7 (TV) Sunrise Bus. It had come to the hamlet to cover the start of the Great Australian Cattle Drive. This was the first that we had become aware that this was happening – and thus there would be a lot of extra people around.
The first of these Cattle Drives – to commemorate the feats of the old time drovers – was held in 2002, the brainchild of boss drover Eric Oldfield, and used the Birdsville Track. Tourists could join the droving expedition for a few days at a time – for a fee. It was so successful that it was repeated in 2005. This third one had moved away from the Birdsville Track, and would drove the cattle from William Creek to Oodnadatta.
By sheer fluke, not knowing about the imminent event, with its associated crowds, we had managed to get in here just before the start – lucky. A few days later and we would have been mixing it with the drove up along the track!
William Creek, with a usual population I could count on my fingers, was SA’s smallest town, surrounded by Australia’s largest cattle station – Anna Creek. Today, this tiny place of one hotel was humming!
We booked into the very new Dingo’s Caravan Park – $20 for our powered site. We thought this place would be removed from the rowdiness of the camping area right by the pub. It looked to have a lot of promise, with a lovely new amenities block. There were no formally marked out sites, only power poles to mark places, so as we were the only occupants of the place, we pulled in each side of one such pole.
After a very quick basic set up, we walked over to the airstrip.
Wrights Air was the operation offering sightseeing flights from here. A wee bit of negotiating saw M and John offered what we thought was a good deal on flights – $150 for an hour, usual price $180. After they had booked, their flights were upgraded to two hours – for an extra $30 – in order to fill up planes.
All three planes based here went out for the afternoon flight. M and John were put onto different planes. They were very little planes……
They both got to see Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills (on Anna Creek Station and not open to the public), from the air, but John’s flight went even further – up to the Warburton Groove, in the NE corner of Lake Eyre. He was away for nearly three hours! So, it was a really good deal – and John was given a CD that covered the flight area, too.
John took along “my” still unfamiliar DSLR Pentax camera to take photos from the plane. Unfortunately, he somehow managed to get the focus all wrong. Results were very blurry.
For several reasons, I do not enjoy being shut up in a small motorized box that leaves the apparent security of terra firma. In other words, I do not usually “do” small plane flights. So, after I’d watched the planes disappear into the distance, I wandered around to the institution that was the William Creek Hotel. This was one of those establishments featuring memorabilia from previous visitors – all over the walls and ceiling. I bought myself a polo shirt – a somewhat cheaper “treat” than the others were having.
I received a big surprise when I walked back to the camp ground. Our formerly isolated van and Troopy were surrounded – by Trakmaster caravans! Ten of them had somehow managed to sneak into Dodge whilst I was otherwise occupied. It was like we had suddenly been cloned! It was the annual Trakmaster Trek – across the desert to Marble Bar in WA.
The fliers arrived back, one at a time, both equally taken aback by the way our van had multiplied in their absence. Both were really exuberant after their flights, and there was much comparing of the experiences. I think M was rather envious of John’s extended flight.
We found out that, when you have eleven Trakmasters all in a row, and very little lighting in the camp ground, it ain’t easy to find “home” in the dark!