This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2004 Travels September 2


The alarm went off at 6.45am. I got up and turned it off and went back to bed – my system was sure it was 5.15am! We then got up at 8 and were driving again by 9.20.

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John was not interested in visiting the nearby Giles Meteorological Station.

The road was rather corrugated, as far as Docker River.

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Abandoned car – this one was not incinerated, though!

This was an amazingly scenic stage. The road passes between the Schwerin Mural Crescent – a range to the north – and the Petermann Ranges to the south east.

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It was just wonderful country.

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It was a pity that there were not more open access and camping facilities out there. It would have been an awesome place to stop for a few days.

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A landmark about an hour out of Warakurna was Len Beadell’s tree. He was a multi-skilled man who led the surveying and road building party that blazed tracks through these western deserts in the 1950’s and 60’s. The original Gunbarrel road was one of his – required as part of the weapons testing that took place at Maralinga and then Woomera. He marked his routes with metal plaques on trees.

This section of the Great Central Road does follow the route of the original Gunbarrel – hence the tree with its plaque.

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A Len Beadell tree – and corrugations!

We came upon a wrecked caravan, by the road, on a slight rise. It looked like it had been a conventional van, rather than an off road one. Clearly, the road had won!

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Wrecked caravan – on rise by roadside

A short time after we’d stopped to take a photo of that van, I could hear hissing. A tyre on Truck was going down. We may have picked up a screw from the debris around the broken caravan. We were able to change it before it went fully flat, and that made the process, with the heavy wheel, easier.

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Wheel change – by another wreck

Just after the WA/NT border was the one camping area along the Great Central Road that was not attached to a roadhouse or within a community. This one was a few kms before the Docker River Community, which ran this fairly new facility. We detoured in to have a look.

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Information booth at Docker River camp ground

The camp area was really lovely – just so scenic.

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Ranges all around the camp ground area

I would have really enjoyed a stay here for a couple of days, apart from maybe a little concern about its proximity to the community. There were camping bays in amongst desert oaks – a tree I love for the sound any breeze makes rustling through them.

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How good would camping here be?

There were ranges all around.

The camp ground had water taps, and flushing toilets! There was no one staying here. I wondered how long the community would be able to maintain the campground in functioning condition.

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We did a short walk to the top of a nearby hill, to get a great view of the surrounding country and the campground.

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People who have not travelled in Central Australia have a mental picture of aridity and barren-ness. The reality is so totally different, as beautiful places like this attest.

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Given the limited time remaining for this trip, and the fact that it was still morning, staying here was not feasible, this trip, so we continued on, after spending the best part of two hours just enjoying the place.

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Before too long, we stopped again, at Lasseter’s Cave. We had lunch there and explored around it. The cave is by the Hull River, which sometimes has water in it.

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There was a lot of controversy and uncertainty about Lasseter and his supposed lost reef in this area. Lasseter claimed to have found a reef full of gold at the western end of the McDonnell Ranges, around 1900. But his navigation and mapping skills were inadequate, and no one was able to locate it again. An expedition to try again to find the lost reef, in the early 1930’s, went badly astray, the party disintegrated and Lasseter supposedly lived in this cave for a couple of months, after his camels had bolted away. His body was found some distance away – he having died whilst trying to walk to Ayers Rock.

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No one knows for sure whether the reef ever existed. It might have been covered by shifting desert sands. I had read somewhere a theory that the area concerned was actually the Harts Ranges, way to the east from here, but I couldn’t see how even the most hopeless explorer could make an error of that magnitude!

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We continued on. John felt that the brakes on the van had ceased working. Then, about 80kms from Yulara, the van “grabbed” briefly, a couple of times. John thought that the electric brake magnet arm must have fallen apart again, as it did back in 2000.

We took it very slowly and carefully after that, over the remaining 40kms or so of badly corrugated road. It was a relief to reach the sealed Olgas road, and Yulara after that.

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The Olgas, as seen from the Great Central Road

So – that was the Great Central Road. It had been much less arid than I expected, and at the eastern end, much more scenic. (As a postscript, we never did receive the expected permit to drive it!)

We reached Yulara about 3.45pm. Went into the campground there. $31 a night for a powered site!

The Olgas and Ayers Rock really are unique in this part of the country. Each time I see them afresh, I think that there are lots of great places in this nation, but nothing quite comparable to these.

We approached the Olgas from the west today – a totally different perspective of them. They were pale purple, and looked like mystical brooding creatures sitting on the land.

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I did manage to get John to stop a couple of times, for photos!

After setting up camp, John phoned Trakmaster. They could send up a new magnet, but suggested we try locally, first. So off we went, to the repair place. They were not much use. We did put the punctured tyre in for fixing.

I quickly replenished some supplies at the supermarket.

I phoned daughter, and she found the phone number for the Hardings caravan repair place. John thought he might try phoning them about the brakes, tomorrow. Too late by now, in the eastern states.

Daughter had found part time work in Bendigo and seemed very settled in there. Grandson had a couple of days each week in child care.

I was appreciative of the clean and modern amenities here!

I also rather appreciated the fact that it looked like we would have to stay put here for a few days, until the brake was fixed. Six days of constant moving on had been too much for me. I needed some days that were not just sitting in Truck!

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2004 Travels August 31


Another early start, on a cold but sunny morning. There was some cloud about.

Now we were embarking on the dirt road to the north west. The Great Central Road, loosely and erroneously called by some, the Gunbarrel Highway. It was pretty good quality though. We were mostly able to bowl along at 70-80kmh.

I had wanted for years to drive this road. It had been on the original plans for 2001.

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On the Great Central Road – at last!

The lush growth of bushes, grasses, mulga continued – and regular wild flowers in bloom, as were a lot of the shrubs. If I’d been driving and on my own, I would have stopped a number of times to photograph some of these – beautiful and unusual. But, unfortunately, John was in no-stop mode. So we missed many opportunities to stop and savour this different environment.

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We encountered a group of aboriginals with a broken down vehicle. Stopped – cautiously – to see if they were alright. They had a car and trailer and there were problems with the trailer. There were four adults and three children. They had been broken down there since yesterday, they said. I could not work out why someone just didn’t take the car and drive for assistance! Maybe they just didn’t think of that? I gave them some fruit and fruit box drinks, for the kids. We took a message for them – to the next roadhouse – Tjukayirla – to be phoned back to Cosmo Newbury settlement to send out help for them.

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Stopped to eat lunch at the Beegull Rockholes/caves. These were natural depressions in the rock, which held water for a long time, and so were valuable wells for the traditional aboriginals – before cars and roadhouses!

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Beegull Rock Holes

We had a bit of a wander around here, whilst eating. It was nice to have a break from Truck!

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Cave at Beegull Rock Holes

The terms of our permit – WA stretch – had been quite adamant that we were not to stray from the road, make any side detours, or camp except at the roadhouses. So we were conscious of this limited access. However, the Rockholes were marked on the map we were following, and its notes indicated exploring here was alright.

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Outlook to the north

There was very little other traffic on the road.

There were lots of abandoned vehicle bodies – burnt out and ratted for parts. Later, we were told that there was a major loss of face for the locals if they abandoned a vehicle that had broken down, only to have someone else get it going! So they burnt them, to make sure that did not happen! Face was a very significant driver of behaviour in indigenous communities.

There were so many car bodies that some humorist had attempted to number them, with white paint.

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We stopped – too briefly – at Tjukayirla Roadhouse. Got fuel – $1.50cpl! The roadhouse appeared well run by the Blackstone community people.

I had planned that we would stop in the campground there, for the night. 300kms from Laverton seemed like a good day to me, on the unsealed roads. But John was determined to push on to Warburton.

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After Tjukayirla, the road was very corrugated for quite some time. That slowed us down and made for unpleasant travel.

There were some small herds of wild camels beside the road.

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We stopped again for another group of aboriginals, whose car was still burning. They were a ruffianly looking lot. They asked if we had cigarettes and Coke. Couldn’t help them on either count, but I went to the van to see what I could dredge up, as a gesture. They crowded me at the van door and seemed unduly anxious to get a look into the caravan. I suspected they were hoping to spot some alcohol – don’t know what might have happened had they done so! I gave them some water and a packet of rice crackers. I was sure that was not what they were hoping for – they did not look impressed! We agreed to take a message to Warburton for them, and were quite relieved to drive away from the group.

We were still driving when dark came, at about 5.30pm. That made driving harder.

We had been going through dune country for some time by now – but the road remained firm, if corrugated. The country was still interesting, even though I was totally fed up with the long driving day.

It was great to come over a dune and see the lights of Warburton in the distance. But it took ages to actually get there – one could see so far out there!

The roadhouse was shut when we got there. There was no answer when I tried what appeared to be the manager’s house.  So we proceeded to set up in the camp area behind the roadhouse. There was a big gate that we had to open.

After some setting up, I went to the toilets – only to discover they were locked. Made sense in a place like that. Luckily, I then saw the manager coming out of the back of the roadhouse, and he got a key for us. I passed on the message from the stranded group.

We paid $18 for the night – and had power.

We were even able to watch The Bill on TV, though the image wasn’t great.

The nearby community seemed pretty quiet, through the night. Some occasional raised voices and barking dogs.

It had been a very long day. Far too long to be enjoyable. I did not like sitting cramped up for such a long time, without much chance to exercise and get the blood circulating again. We had driven , in one day, what I’d intended would take two. It seemed a shame to rush, in this way, a route that we were unlikely to drive again, but I was, literally, not in the driver’s seat.

We were in bed by 10pm.

It was a cold night, but not as bad as the previous three nights had been.

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2004 Travels August 23


We drove to the shops, in the morning.

John did a computer download.

I used the Internet at the film shop to apply for the necessary permits to cross aboriginal lands on the Great Central Road. The application for the WA section was transmitted to Perth, where it was filed, so that was all that was needed for that.

A second application went to Alice Springs, for the NT land section. They send out the permit, which one is meant to carry with them. I requested that it be faxed to the film shop here.

I bought prawns. They were so delicious, here.

More Olympics watching.