This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels May 18

FRIDAY 18 MAY     MARREE

We’d had some discussion yesterday, about what to do next.

M and I were interested in visiting Muloorina Station and thus accessing Lake Eyre North at Level Post Bay. We had picked up a mud map when we checked in to the caravan park, yesterday. The question was whether we went and camped out there, or just did a day trip. But we were not sure of the camp ground quality, out there, nor of the road condition. Another factor was that John tended to find outback SA with all its ruins, depressing, so he was anxious to get moving further north. Part of that might have been that the Oodnadatta Track was familiar to him. In the end, it did not seem worthwhile dragging the van all that way, if John was only prepared to stay a night there. So we decided on a day trip, only.

Galah watching proceedings…..

The unsealed road out to Muloorina was reasonable quality, but the country was incredibly dry. We could have brought the van out, no problems. There were, of course, the inevitable gates to open and close – it was a pastoral property, after all.  Being in the leading vehicle, I got to be chief gate opener – and usually closer, as well…..

We checked out the campground, which was not far from the homestead. It was actually very pleasant, and would have been a great spot to stay for a couple of nights. There was a wetland area around a bore channel and Frome Creek, and plentiful bird life. There were a couple of decent toilets, a concrete table and seats, bush and informal park areas. One could swim in the waterhole – but the water was not drinkable. Charge was $2 a night! The only drawback was lots of flies!

Frome Creek at Muloorina

We chatted to a lady who was camping there, and whom we’d seen at Arkaroola. She was travelling in a Land Cruiser and had a sort of sleeping pod on the vehicle roof. It looked a bit like a blue and white Esky up there! She came from northern NSW, and was just making up her travels as she went – the best way to do it!

Muloorina wetlands

From there, we continued out to Level Post Bay on a fearsomely corrugated track.

Level Post Bay

Lake Eyre, is notable for being the largest lake in Australia – not that it fills very often. It also contains the lowest point of the Australian mainland, being some 15 metres below sea level at one place. It takes a fairly massive, prolonged rain event in SW Queensland to send water down the Warburton and Cooper Creeks, to fill water into the lake. Its base is salt, left from evaporation of previous fillings, so the water that arrives at the lake quickly becomes saline.

There are actually two parts to Lake Eyre: the northern, much larger section, and the much smaller Lake Eyre South, joined by the Goyder Channel which permits the latter to fill if the flood event is big enough.

Level Post Bay on the Madigan Gulf, was part of Lake Eyre North. The track ended here, by a small information board.

We were able to walk out on Lake Eyre North, for a few hundred metres. It was muddy, under the thick salt crust.

Out on Lake Eyre – looking back to our vehicles
The salt surface of the lake

It was disappointing to see tracks out on the lake surface, where vehicles had been driven out from the parking area. There was always some moron who has to do what signs explicitly instruct them not to do!

Level Post Bay and Madigan Gulf

We ate lunch out there, sitting up on the bank, looking out over the lake bed.

Drove back a short way, to the Goyder Channel that links the two parts  of the lake. Walked around, took photos.

Goyder Channel

There was a built up wide causeway across the channel here, not open for public vehicle access, but we were able to walk across on it. Presumably, it was used by the station people to access that part of the property and to move stock.

It would actually be quite something, to visit here when Lake Eyre was full enough for there to be water in Madigan Gulf and flowing through the Goyder Channel. I filed that in the mental wish list – but in the section that I recognized as fairly unlikely to happen!

Goyder Channel – dried salt, not water….

And so, back to Marree – with a couple of us thinking wistfully of the serenity of the Muloorina campground!

Muloorina country: 1. Muloorina campground 2. Goyder Channel

All up, we travelled 200kms. John refuelled back at Marree – $1.45cpl.

There had still been some cloud about today, but we had stopped on the way back in, to tune in to the 3pm road report on our HF radio. It had the Painted Desert road access open again, but with caution at Arkaringa Creek. Good! Maybe it would be nice and dry by the time we got up there.

Today’s jaunt had certainly been worthwhile and enjoyable – and new for all of us.


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2007 Travels May 17

THURSDAY 17 MAY   COPLEY TO MARREE   115kms

There was not far to go today, so we took it in a very leisurely way. Took our time packing up and didn’t pressure M to hurry getting her tent and all packed up.

Only a few kms north of Copley was the open cut Leigh Creek coal mine – the reason for the existence of the Leigh Creek township.

Open cut coal mine Leigh Creek

We had a bit of a browse about, at the lookout over the open cut mine. Some of the old machinery there was of interest, if only because of its sheer scale. The old digging machine dwarfed Truck and van.  We took some photos to show the grandkids later, thinking they would be impressed by the size contrasts.

A tyre that was on display had set a world record for the time, racking up almost 300,000kms. And we think we’re doing well if we get a quarter of that on our Truck tyres!

The mine was a very massive hole in the ground. The coal mined here went by train to Port Augusta, to the power generation station there.

The village of Lyndhurst was the next point of note on our way north, really only because it is the southern end of the Strezelecki Track, to Innamincka. Signs indicated it was still closed.

So, on to Marree, a rather desolate little township. On the outskirts, signs showed the Birdsville Track was open only to lighter 4WD vehicles, so, clearly it too had been affected by the recent rains.

We booked into the Drovers Rest Caravan Park, which had the advantage of being a good distance away from the township centre i.e. the pub and associated noise. This park was set up by the former boss drover, Eric Oldfield, who spent much of his life droving cattle on the Birdsville Track. We had stayed here before.

Marree in the background

Our powered site cost $20. We found slightly shaded sites to set up on;  gravel surface of course. The amenities were still the very basic Atco donga ones, with their strange arrangement of showers of dubious privacy. There was a sort of arrangement of shower curtains, but it was best to try for a shower when no one else was in the building!

Only needed a basic camp set up here, so that did not take long. We had a quick lunch.

Walked into the centre of the township. Marree was quite sprawling – quite a lot of space between buildings and features.

We made for the old railway station, which dated from when the original Alice Springs – Ghan – railway, passed through this town. Like Beltana, it lost out when the railway was moved west. Marree was also a railhead for the movement of cattle from the north, which were walked down the Birdsville Track. Here, they were loaded onto trains and taken to the southern markets.

There was old railway memorabilia – you couldn’t really call it “on display”. It was just there. One could but hope that sometime soon, some effort would be made to mount a proper display. It could be really interesting.

Tom Kruse, the famous Birdsville Mailman, took mail and supplies up the Birdsville Track, from the 1930’s to the mid-60’s. Each of his mail runs took two weeks, covering really challenging terrain in often difficult conditions. He was a really important person to the isolated cattle stations along the track from here to Birdsville. One of the trucks he used was on display here.

It was a pleasant walk to the township, and back.

Road reports had the Painted Desert Road – out of Oodnadatta, which we hoped to take – still closed. Could but hope that, over the next few days, it dried out and was reopened.

Drovers Rest Caravan Park, Marree

The night was really chilly. There was still some lightning to the south east. It was definitely a night for the woolly bedsocks!

I played computer mahjong until 1am – addictive game – then slept very well.


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1999 Travels May 24

MONDAY 24 MAY   COPLEY TO MARREE   130kms

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.

05-24-1999 01 Marree Man

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.

05-24-1999 04 sign

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!

05-24-1999 copley to marreeJPG.JPG