This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2000 Travels June 21


We were up at 7.30am and away by 9.

John topped up the tank with 20 litres of diesel. The fuel here was 1.13 cpl.  He pumped up the van tyre that had been put on yesterday – it had lost some air overnight – only a few pounds.

Today’s driving was really scenic. After leaving Top Springs, we soon drove into jump-up country, which was much more interesting that yesterday’s fairly flat grass and scrub lands had been. There were more creek crossings, too, the closer we got to Victoria River Downs, and some with significant water in, too, though the crossings were shallow fords.

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Cement ford over creek on the Buchanan Highway


We stopped at the Dashworth Crossing of the Victoria River, and walked alongside the adjacent waterhole, for some way. It was really lovely.

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Crossing the Victoria River

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Waterhole on the Victoria River at Dashworth Crossing

There was more traffic today – we met about ten vehicles on the dirt “highway”, over several hours. Most were VRD vehicles.

Victoria River Downs is a very large cattle station that dates from the early days of pastoral settlement of the NT, in the 1880’s.

A few kms after the river crossing, we passed kind of through the settlement that is the station centre. It was like a small town. There were many houses, other buildings, yards, an airstrip. We saw two helicopters there and two light planes.

We decided that, in the rainy season, there would only be air access to the place. at times, given the size of the streams we crossed in the area.

After VRD, the road headed more in a northerly direction. We stopped at the campground at the entrance to Jasper Gorge, and had lunch. This was just into the Gregory National Park. It was a very attractive spot, beside Jasper Creek, a tributary of the Victoria River, which flows through the Gorge.

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Camp area near the entrance to Jasper Gorge

There were pandanus growing there. Hadn’t seen any of those for quite some time!

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Jasper Creek at the campground

There were two camper trailers set up at the campground, but we thought the people were off canoeing.

Then we drove on through the Jasper Gorge itself, which was very dramatic, with great towering red walls.

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Jasper Gorge

Closer to the main Victoria Highway, there was burning off close to the road.

It had become increasingly hot and humid through the day – possibly partly a product of us moving further northwards.

The road today was rougher than the one we were on yesterday, and much more stony and rocky. With that, and lots of creek floodways that made dips in the road, it was fairly slow going. We had ceertainly made the right decision to stay at Top Springs last night, and not press on.

06-21-2000 01 Buchanan Hway west of Top Springs

A road that required some caution

Once we reached the sealed main highway, and turned left, it was only about 30kms to Timber Creek – a small settlement beside the large Victoria River.

Timber Creek began as a dock for boats that serviced pastoral stations upstream, around 1900, but really only grew after the Ord River Scheme over the border in WA, began, the highway between that and Katherine to the east was sealed, and a bridge built over the Victoria River for the highway – in the 1970’s. One tends to overlook how relatively recently these parts have become readily accessible to travellers like ourselves.

We booked into the Timber Creek Caravan Park, for $15 a night, for two nights, because we wanted to do a little exploring around here.

John went to the servo and workshop at the roadhouse, to see about a new tyre. The man told him that our Dunlops were wrong for the roads up here! We will see, because this was an issue we had discussed specifically and at length with the Rockhampton dealer before we bought them. John then said we would wait until we got to Kununurra before looking for a replacement. We do, of course, still have one usable spare, for either Truck, or van.

John hosed the van down – it was extremely dusty – before we set up. Setting up was hot and sweaty work!

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Looking much more respectable.

I phoned K and reported our movements to the answering machine.

Tea was soup, lamb chops, veggies, yoghurt.

No doona was needed tonight. It is not that long since we were huddled up in our winter gear, around the campfire at Opalton!

We went to bed at 9.30pm – were both really tired.

06-21-2000 to timber ck

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2000 Travels June 20


Despite the highway noise, and that of other travellers getting going, we managed to sleep in until 8 and 8.30am, respectively. It was not intentional.

The bush thick knee was wandering about near our site, again.

We were the last ones out of the caravan park!

We bought fuel at the Roadhouse – $1.12cpl!

Then, John decided he wanted to phone his mates at Cockatoo. This took half an hour, so it was 11am when we finally left Dunmarra.

There was a few kms on the highway, then we turned left onto the unsealed Top Springs road – the Buchanan “Highway”. We stopped at the turn off to take off the weight distribution bars.

The road seemed reasonable. It was firm gravel type surface and was not rough, compared to some we’d been on.

We saw a big, 2 metre long reptile just starting to cross the road, and stopped to take a photo of it – at a prudent distance! I did not know what kind it was – maybe a King Brown snake? Or a python of some sort? I did not know how to tell the difference between a snake and a python. But it looked somehow more “snaky” to me.

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Long reptile – looks like we might have squashed its tail!

There were plenty of birds about, and plenty of plants in flower, which made the drive an attractive one.

We got a flat tyre on the van – the first one ever! It took us about half an hour to change the wheel. The tyre was ruined – it looked like a sharp stone had gone through the side wall. The van tyres are still the ones we started out with, in 1997, so are different from the ones we now have on Truck.

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First ever flat tyre on the caravan

Not long after we got going again, we encountered a Down Under Tours bus, towing a trailer, heading east. On the CB, he said the road ahead wasn’t too bad, there was a bit of a washout at Coolibah Creek, beyond Top Springs, but it was better than last year.

That was the only vehicle we saw on the road, all day.

We had a late lunch parked by the crossing of the Armstrong River – really a creek with a bit of water each side of the ford. Watched birds while we ate – mostly finches.

We reached Top Springs about 3pm. We knew it was too late to go on and reach Timber Creek today, so had to decide whether to stay here or go on and try to find a camp in the bush further along. We’d been told this place could get pretty rowdy – hooligans, according to one traveller – but decided to take the risk. It was not a weekend, when workers from the surrounding stations might be in to celebrate, and it wasn’t pension payment day, either.

Top Springs is a hotel/motel and roadhouse, with a sort-of caravan area. It is at a crossroads – the east-west road we are taking, and a north-south one that goes from west of Katherine, down to Halls Creek, in WA. This is a region of really large cattle stations.

We were charged $14 for a powered spot. Had to go under overhanging trees and plug into an extension lead rather than a pole. It was alright for a night. The showers and toilets were adequate.

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Top Springs site

There were butcher birds about – singing their carolling song, and  we saw a rufous throated honeyeater – a new bird.

After the minimal set up, we wandered over to the hotel and had a beer each at the bar – $3.50 each. There was a road making crew came in and stayed at some of the room accommodation. Some aborigines set up camp out the front, too.

When we arrived on our site, there was a man working on his car, near us. Then a helicopter flew in, landed at the side of the enclosed yard area, and this man went through a form of job interview – for about five minutes. He was hired, there and then, as a stockman on Camfield Station, about 90kms SW of here.

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Arriving to conduct a job interview

The chopper took off again, and the stockman left to drive to his new job. Just like that!

Tea was soup, fried rice, yoghurt.

I phoned K from the public phone box over at the hotel, and left a message where we were.

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Late afternoon at Top Springs

After dark there was a surprising amount of road train traffic. They all seemed to stop, for a meal or a drink, before moving off, with accompanying noise.

There was a nice moon. The night was so warm that we didn’t need the doona at all, for most of it.

06-20-2000 to top springs

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2000 Travels June 19


Under the impact of seeing L and P pack up and head off for Karumba, John decided we would go today, after all. We left the park about 10am.

John put some grease on the van wheels before we left.

We went straight to the Post Office. The mail had arrived! We’d have been rather inconvenienced if it hadn’t.

We then went to the Education Centre and saw John’s bowls friend. It seemed to me to be pretty disorganized in there. The aboriginal students were older teens or adults. They were at least using computers, which was something. From what I could see, there was a huge need for materials development, to support such learning. The centre also offered VET programs, such as health work, but we didn’t get any indication as to successful completion of same.

Neither of us was tempted to change our plans for this!

We left there after midday. It was quite hot. We ate lunch as we travelled.

It was fairly monotonous country, mostly flat and featureless grass and scrub country.

North of Elliott, we passed a big Trakmaster van, made contact on the CB, and pulled over for a talk. They were Victorians, from Wedderburn, who had been travelling for a week longer than us. Theur van was 19 foot long and was the first full caravan that Trakmaster built. It was more spacious inside than our minimalist rig. They had also had electrical/wiring problems, running three solar panels and two batteries – installation of that system done by the same man as did ours. Hmmm…….

We got to Dunmarra about 5pm. This is essentially a roadhouse and motel, with a basic caravan park area, for overnighting, adjoining it. We paid $10 for a powered site at the Wayside Stop and did not need to unhitch. It was a pleasant enough place to overnight.

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Late afternoon at Dunmarra Roadhouse camp

We had passed one wayside rest area, not far south of Dunmarra, where there were about ten units all setting up for the night. They were all crowded together – much more crowded than here.

On dusk, we had a short walk around the camping area and saw a bush thick knee, hiding by a bush.

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Bush Thick-knee (Curlew)

Tea was soup, pasta with tuna, caper, olive etc sauce, and pears.

I phoned K. The dog is going fairly well and seemed to be happy enough.

Being by the main north south highway, there was a lot of passing truck traffic through the night.

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2000 Travels June 18


There was some cloud today, but it was warm.

John and neighbour L went off to bowls fairly early.

I walked to the shop to get the paper. Then I worked for much of the day on putting photos into albums and labelling same. I made some soup.

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Holly Grevillea

I took down the awning roof – by myself. I was quite proud of myself. I was assuming that the mail would arrive tomorrow, and we would be able to move on.

John and L did not get back until after 7pm. The bowls ran very late. John was runner up for the day and received a nice bottle of wine. He was on a high with his performance, and L was on a high too.

John got chatting to one of his opponents, during the day, and found out that she used his Master’s Thesis as a starting point for her own. She thought his name was familiar! She has lived in a lot of places and is now working here, teaching aboriginals to read, for the Alynagulya (?) community. John had agreed to go there tomorrow and look at what she is doing. She reckons he could easily get a job in Tennant Creek, doing that sort of work. Do we want to work? No. Do we want to live for a while in Tennant Creek? Definitely not!

John now thinks we should stay here an extra day, because of these arrangements. Just when I’d packed up the awning!

Tea was soup, steak, mushrooms, vegies, yoghurt.

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2000 Travels June 17


My father would have turned 90 today.

It was a lovely day again.

We had thought about driving out to the Davenport Ranges National Park, to the south of here, to stay for a few days. But I decided that it would be a long and rough trip, involving some 160kms each way of possibly corrugated dirt roads, and therefore not good for my back in its current state. Something else for the “next time” list.

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Our very pleasant site at Tennant Creek

I started taking Brufen today, to try to settle the back down, and had a fairly quiet day.

After lunch, we walked up to the main lookout – that loosened up the back.

Tea – leftover chow mein for John; tinned tuna and salad for me.

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2000 Travels June 16


We had the same lovely weather again.

I washed the two floor rugs. These are a heavy cotton weave and I do them by hand in a laundry trough, not in a machine.

We had new arrivals in the site next to us. Got talking, and it turned out they came from the same area as us, but had moved a couple of years ago to Tathra. The man used to run in the same local Veterans running events as John.

The mail was not in. That meant we would now have to stay here until Monday.

We drove out to the old Telegraph Station. Like many places through the centre of the continent, Tennant Creek began as a repeater station on the Overland Telegraph Line. It is several kms north of the present town, having been built by the actual Tennant Creek.

We had a good look around the Telegraph Station. It was interesting for the architectural features designed to counter the heat – built of stone, wide verandas all round, and the cool room/cellar structure, with its really thick walls.

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Old Telegraph Station, Tennant Creek

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Cool room cellar at the Telegraph Station – thick walls

We then drove out to the nearby Pebbles – a large area of small rock outcrops, promoted as a miniature Devils Marbles (which are about a hundred kms south of Tennant Creek). There was quite a maze of tracks and informal camp spots out there.

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The Devils Pebbles near Tennant Creek

We did more bird spotting. John saw a new looking hole in the bank of a dry creek channel with an agitated little bird flitting nearby, and put the two together – the hole was the bird’s nest. When we moved away, it zipped into the hole with the beak full of grass it was carrying – a red browed pardalote, a “new” birdie! We watched it go in and out, nest building in its hole, for a while. There were good wild flower displays out there, too.

We went back to the van and got the makings of a late lunch, then drove back out north again, to Mary Ann Dam, to eat it. That was a pleasant spot, made about twenty years ago, for recreation.

Refuelled Truck – 95cpl.

John and neighbour L went and practiced bowls at the Tennant Creek club, for a couple of hours. My back was playing up a bit – probably a reaction to the long day sitting in Truck, so I decided to pass on bowls.

I extended our stay here for two more nights, so we can get the mail on Monday – hopefully! That also meant that John could play bowls on Sunday.

Tea was bought fish and chips – alright.

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2000 Travels June 15


It was a day with clear blue sky and a pleasant light wind. I felt happy to be wearing shorts and a Tshirt – finally!

I did a load of washing and did some cleaning in the van.

We drove to the central shops again to see if the mail we were expecting had arrived. No – it takes four days to get here from Melbourne, even if it was sent Express! Aah – the Outback!

We went to the Information Centre, at the old Battery/mine area. As the name suggested, there was a gold crushing plant here. Gold was mined in Tennant Creek from the 1930’s, but it was not the scene of great rushes to alluvial gold fields, like down south, because the gold here was found in solid rock that needed crushing.

The Visitor Centre was quite good. We walked around there for an hour or so, bird spotting – they had expanses of native tree plantings, and pools.

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Sturt’s Desert Rose – the Northern Territory floral emblem

After lunch, walked into town to get the paper. John was walking fairly slowly – it was a long day for him with the driving, yesterday.

The aboriginal presence in the town was visible, but did not seem intrusive or unpleasant.

Back at camp, we talked for a while with a European couple a few vans up. He did a lot of metal detecting and said he did quite well at it. He showed us some big pieces of petrified wood he’d collected.

Tea was chow mein and rice.