This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2007 Travels May 22


After a fairly early breakfast, we walked back to the bridge, to view it in a different light from last afternoon. Spent some time wandering about there and also around the northern end of the bridge.

Early morning, Algebuckina
Our secluded riverbank camp in the morning
The train driver’s perspective
Neales River from the bridge approach

The Trakmaster group was away from camp well before us, as a result. That pleased us – meant they would probably be clear of Oodnadatta before we arrived there. We would not be tailing along in their dust.

Trakmasters’ camp at Algebuckina

We only had about 60kms to go, to Oodnadatta. Along the way, stopped to have a look at the Mt Dutton Siding ruins.

This siding was in a really open, exposed position
Partly demolished, like so many of the old siding buildings along the Track

There was one lonely grave here – evocative of the loneliness and isolation of the place.

The desolate grave
The Mt Dutton bore that sustained the railway – and siding – here

And so on into Oodnadatta, like Marree, once a significant settlement on the Ghan Railway line. Now it had shrunk to having about 200 people living there, half of them indigenous.

A lot of travellers – like us – end their time on the Oodnadatta Track at the township. and from there head west to the Stuart Highway on unsealed roads either to Marla or Cadney Park  or SW to Coober Pedy. The Old Ghan Track north of Oodnadatta becomes rougher and more of a challenge to vehicles, heading up to Finke and thence on to Alice Springs. We had driven part of that section back in 1999, as part of our trip across the Simpson Desert.

We refuelled at the iconic Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta – $1.67cpl.

The establishment of this Roadhouse arose from an interesting history, which originally involved Adam and Lynnie Plate walking down the Ghan Railway track, with camels, in the 70’s. The building and the vintage car in front of it, were painted pink to attract custom, and to stand out in people’s minds. Adam Plate was instrumental in the Oodnadatta Track being so named and becoming a must-do on the list for adventurous travellers. They have done travellers to these parts a great service by placing their distinctive pale pink direction signs all over remote northern SA. We’d found these of great help when we drove across the Simpson Desert’s Rig Road, in 1999.

We browsed the tourist offerings in the Roadhouse. John bought Pink Roadhouse Tshirts for his two grandsons, and a soft, life-sized toy galah for the younger one’s birthday, had them packaged up and mailed from there. I wondered how many mail items had ever been received in Brussels, from Oodnadatta? I bought a stubby holder. M bought a soft toy blue heeler dog – destined to keep her company in “Bessie”, her Troopy.

Despite what we had heard on the road reports, the Road Conditions sign at Oodnadatta said that the Cadney Park road was closed! Bugger!

Then, at the Roadhouse – the source of all accurate information for these parts – we were told that was wrong. The road really was open, but the policeman with the key to change the sign had gone to William Creek for the Cattle Drive start.

So, feeling reassured – and legal – we ventured forth.

Along the road to Arkaringa

Backtracked for 5kms, then went SW on the Coober Pedy road.  It was a good gravel surface. There were a lot of little floodways and creek crossings, some of which showed signs of having been wet, but were dry now.

Regular dry little floodways….

The country had subtly changed and was less desolate.

We stopped by a dry creek bed that was attractively vegetated, to eat lunch.

It was actually a really interesting and attractive spot for a lunch stop
A live tree this time!

Fifty kms from Oodnadatta, we turned west onto the Cadney Park road. There were starting to be some dramatic, jump-up type hills in the distance. It became obvious that we were heading for these – the Painted Desert.

Took a short side track to a parking area for the Painted Desert.

The area was covered by gibber stones.

The Painted Desert was once part of an ancient seabed. Uplift and differing erosion rates on hard and soft strata, plus staining from minerals in some of the rocks, have created this rather unique, surreal, and very picturesque little area.

One of the widespread and typical Pink Roadhouse signs

We  set out to walk the 2km circuit track that wound around through the hills and gullies.

The varied colours of the mesa formations were strongly contrasting, from deep red-browns, through to white.

I wondered if the indigenous peoples of the area had any particular stories or legends about it?

Some of the exposed underlying rock material looked really soft and fragile. It was clearly easily eroded.

This really was a very different place to any we have visited before, although maybe there was a little similarity to some of the country around Winton, in Qld. It would have to go on my list of my Top Ten Places in Australia. It was so superbly dramatic.

More mesa formations in the distance

I loved the stark dead mulga standing against the bare terrain. Yes, I know…. more dead mulga!

The little walk took us the best part of two hours, because we stopped so often to admire the outlook round the next corner, and the next……and take heaps of photos.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves away to continue on to where we intended to camp for the night, at Arkaringa Station.

It would have been fascinating to spend the night here, and see the sunset and sunrise on the hills, but there was no camping allowed. This is station property, so one should obey their edicts.

The Arkaringa Homestead was only about 12kms away. We had some ideas of returning to the Painted Desert formations for sunset, or sunrise, or both, to take photos. But these ideas were quickly abandoned after we had churned through the quagmire that was the multiple channels of the Arkaringa Creek.

We could see why this road had been closed, until so recently! Actually, we were rather surprised that it was open! The fact that the creek base seemed fairly firm was perhaps the saving factor. But it had clearly been flowing recently.

I was sometimes surprised at what Truck will tow the van through. In this instance, John had put Truck into low range before tackling the wide expanse of the creek ford – and hoping! Perhaps if we hadn’t known that the homestead was quite close – and therefore, presumably help if we got stuck – we might not have braved what looked quite nasty.

So, not wanting to cut up this part of the road any more, we decided to forego returning to the Painted Desert formations.

We paid $15 to stay in the Homestead camp area and were able to plug into power. This was a rather basic place, but the showers and toilets were adequate. Good use of corrugated iron on the building of these…..

Arkaringa Station was owned by the same pastoral company – the Williams’ – that owned Nilpinna, of the sign we’d photoed over on the Ghan Track. Seems they owned a lot of this part of the country!

It was great that we were able to recharge my camera battery, and also John’s laptop, which he had run down playing computer games last night!

Arkaringa camp

The sunset here was rather interesting, anyway. Vast skies, enough cloud about to make it really interesting.

No campfire tonight.

There was a drilling crew staying in the accommodation section – cabins – who were a bit noisy into the night. Seemed there was a big coal exploration project happening just to the south of here. I hoped that any mining venture in the future did not impinge on this very special environment around here.


2007 Travels May 21


Although we did not race to get going in the morning, we did get away before the Trakmaster party – for which we were grateful. Did not really want to be playing tag with them along the Track. Some of their members were doing morning plane flights, so the group waited for them.

Refuelled Truck – $1.56cpl.

In much the same way as the previous days, we continued on up the Track.

Stopped several times, to look at ruins, scenery and bridges.

Love the name…….
Long rail bridge over the dry Duff Creek

For much of today’s way, there were very low ranges in the eastern distance – the Denison and Davenport Ranges.

The Duff Creek floodway across the Oodnadatta Track

Not far past the Duff Creek floodway, there was an entrance track and sign for Nilpinna – a Williams Cattle Company property of some 5000 square kms.  This group was one of the large players on the Australian pastoral scene.

Hard to believe that this was any sort of grazing country…..
What’s left at Edwards Creek siding

Early afternoon, we came to the Algebuckina Siding ruins and nearby Algebuckina Waterhole, on the Neales River. This really was a river, with substantial lengths of waterholes.

Algebuckina Siding ruins
Some interesting craftmanship in the old stone buildings

 Really liked the look of the bush camping area to the east of the Track. I’d hoped to find it so, rather than go on to stay at Oodnadatta.

There was a spot, right up by a fence that marked the boundary of the camp area, up on the bank above the waterhole, that would just fit us and the Troopy. Prime local real estate it was! It was one of the few spots in the otherwise rather open camp area, that had a water view.

This is the place for a camp……

It took a little manoeuvring ( well, quite a bit) to get the van in so that it was reasonably level, and still left room for M to put the Troopy on a flat part of the clearing. Side on to the river, we had a lovely outlook over the waterhole. As well, there was rather a sense of privacy from the rest of the open camp area.

……if we can get the van in there!

There were no amenities of any kind here, so it was out with the spade and head off into the distance to dig a hole in the ground! I noted that my knees were not managing this particular camp activity too well, any more!

Set up overlooking the river. Van level-ish, doesn’t matter about Truck.

The Trakmasters arrived some time after us and set up in various places around the open camp area. Apart from them and us, there were only two other rigs there. I had expected this place would be more popular, but maybe would-be travellers had been deterred by the recent rains.

Algebuckina Waterhole

We walked along beside the river  and across the Track to the superb old Algebuckina Railway Bridge. It was about a km away from our camp. The ruins of the railway siding that was here, were nearby.

I was surprised that, during the couple of hours we spent around the bridge, exploring and photographing, hardly anyone from the Trakmaster group came along to look.

The bridge is high and almost 590kms long. It is a wonderful subject for photos, especially silhouetted against the setting sun.

The bridge was opened in 1899 and is the longest bridge in SA. Despite its height, the big flood of 1974 reached almost to its decks!

The remains of a wrecked Holden were still there, from 1976. The motorist attempted to cross the flooded river, via the rail bridge, by putting down some planks, moving his car onto them, then taking up the ones behind and repeating the process. Unfortunately, the works train came along, while he was only part way across, and ran over his car. He lived. The wreckage was pushed off onto the creek bed below the bridge.

One could think up a new variation on the signs one sees about not attempting to drive through flooded creeks!

We took a heap of photos. It was the sort of place that just lent itself to being photographed in the changing light of late afternoon.

It was dusk by the time we’d walked back to our camp.

Our site even had room for a campfire, in a place where there had obviously been ones before us, so we sat outside for a while after tea, chatting and enjoying looking out over the waterhole. There were some occasional nocturnal sounds from frogs and waterbirds – lovely.

We were hoping that each day that goes by was allowing the Cadney Park track that we wanted to take, to dry out.

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2007 Travels May 20


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 Engine Driver’s Cottage

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.

Some remnant sleepers on the rail bed

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.

The old Ghan rail bed – and surface water

There was some surface water in places today.

Warriners Creek

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.

Old railway bridge at Warriners Creek

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……

Organising to go flying…….

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.

William Creek from the air. Caravan Park central, hotel in trees just beyond it

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.

Water filling into Lake Eyre
A cattle watering point, with cattle tracks

The Warburton Groove, bringing water to Lake Eyre
The Painted Hills and creek channel – reminiscent of aboriginal art depiction.

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.

Ummm…….mine is in there somewhere!

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!

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2007 Travels May 19


Today, we meandered up the first part of the Oodnadatta Track, otherwise known as the Old Ghan Track.

This route followed, broadly, that of some of the early explorers through this way, and was dictated by the availability of water in a series of naturally occurring springs. Because of available water, the Overland Telegraph line to Darwin and thence the rest of the world, was built along this route, in 1872.

Not long after, work began on a railway that was intended to link Adelaide with parts north, and eventually Darwin. Because the steam engines of the time needed supplies of water for their boilers, the railway route followed that of the Telegraph. Railway building began from Port Augusta in 1878, reached Marree in 1884, Oodnadatta in 1891.

From Oodnadatta, northbound passengers had to travel by camel to Alice Springs, until that section of the railway was finished in 1929. It is hard to find much in the way of description about what that was like, but a person must have been really motivated to get to Alice Springs, to undertake that camel ride section!

Railway sidings and fettlers’ accommodation were built at the watering points along the railway. Eventually, water towers were constructed at some sidings, to de-mineralize the bore water.

The railway was prone to floods and track wash aways and hence considerable delays at times. Ghan rail travel could be an unpredictable adventure, with extended periods of passenger strandings  not uncommon.

Ghan train in flooded creek (ABC Site)

Because of the importance of camel transport in the region, and the railway’s early associations with same, the railway became known as The Ghan, for the pioneering Afghan cameleers of the inland.

With the coming of diesel powered railway engines, the days of the Old Ghan route were numbered. A road, of sorts, had been constructed from Port Augusta to Darwin during WW2, following higher ground well to the west of the train route. That was to become the Stuart Highway. In 1980, a new rail line was opened that roughly paralleled the highway, and avoided the flood prone sections of the old railway. The Old Ghan line and its associated infrastructure, fell into disrepair; the townships that had serviced the railway, shrank to either ghost towns or small, mostly indigenous, settlements.

The modern track that follows the route of the Old Ghan Railway is, mostly, a good gravel road.

There tend to be the ruins of a former rail siding every 20kms or so. We stopped at a number of these, wandered about, took photos.

We did the same at some places where creeks (mostly dry) crossed the track – and where there were bridges left from the old railway.

In possession of one of the few trees…….wedge tailed eagle

Although the siding buildings were in various degrees of ruin, they were interesting. Life out here – particularly in the heat of summer – must have been so hard.

What was left of each siding’s buildings had been vandalized and grafittied – this had to have been done by travellers. What is it about some people, who can’t leave a piece of our heritage standing , be it natural or man made, without decorating same with their initials? We really don’t give a damn that Ignorant Joe was here, whenever! Given the good condition of this track, it was not really an achievement to boast about either, by tagging places.  It was probably harder driving in suburban Melbourne!

The first of the sidings we stopped at was Wangianna, about 35kms north of Marree. Here, the old fettlers’ accommodation was still in good enough repair for us to be able to see what it would have been like. It was a pity, though, that other structures associated with that siding , had gone.

So desolate….
..….yet some trees survived

It was perfectly possible, wherever we stopped by some feature of the former railway, for us to see the railbed of the line. In most of the accessible parts of the line, the red gum sleepers had been removed, as had the rails.

Old rail alignment at Wangianna; our road in the distance

Another 16kms on brought us to one of the most unusual – and most recent – landmarks along the Old Ghan Track:  “Plane Henge”, or the Mutonia Sculpture Park.

This was the work of a former mechanic, Robin Cooke, apparently inspired by “mad Max”. Here, all sorts of weird and wonderful installations have been created out of waste or unwanted materials.  

Down on his luck…..

The most striking of these installations, especially so because of the flatness of the land and hence it being visible for a long way, was the pair of old planes, standing on their tails, wingtip to wingtip. This was the sort of sight that made one doubt their eyesight. As in, “I’ve gotta be seeing things!”

Also strikingly visible was a huge dog/dingo (visible in the background of the photos above).

Some of the pieces were interactive.

Making music – of a sort…..

We wandered about, marvelling at the creativity.

I guess, if one has a vision, the urge must be scratched…….

Further along, the old rail line – and hence our current road – passed right by the shore of Lake Eyre South, so we were able to view that from this point. Now we were travelling with the old rail bed to our right; it had been on the left since Marree, but crossed the road track here.

Lake Eyre South beside the Oodnadatta Track

Curdimurka Siding was the only one where much of the siding as it was, has remained intact. It is owned by the Ghan Preservation Society. A fund raising event, the Curdimurka Outback Ball, is held – somewhat informally – every two years, and reportedly attended by several thousand people.

Curdimurka – restored

Curdimurka was an evocative place to wander about. The flat plain stretched in all directions, almost totally devoid of vegetation.

The old water tower stood stark against the sky, with an associated water tank collapsed at its foot.

The rails of the siding were intact, as was the fettlers’ cottage. Here, despite the surrounding aridity, a pair of swallows had made their home under the veranda.

Another 15 or so kms and we were into the Wabna Kadarbu Conservation Park. I can’t say some of these names flow smoothly off the tongue!  The point of this Park is to protect two mound springs – the Blanche Cup and the Bubbler.

Mounds springs occur where minerals in the naturally occurring springs have, over time, been precipitated out by evaporation to create a mound, with the spring in the centre of the “cup” thus created. Hamilton Hill, in the distance from the two currently active springs, is an extinct one, and shows the size the mounds can reach.

Hamilton Hill

These springs, like the Dalhousie Springs much further north, are fed by the Great Artesian Basin. In past times, before widespread tapping into this for water supplies, and the consequent reduction of its levels and pressure, there would have been a chain of such springs through this country.

We took the 5km side track into the springs, parked in the designated area and walked to look at the two features. Because of the permanent water provided by the springs here, the surrounding area was patchily vegetated and green – a real contrast to the surrounding country. The line of the short outflow channel from the springs was similarly marked by a line of green.

The Bubbler was aptly named. Through the totally clear water in the spring, we could see the bubbling effect in the sandy bottom, where the underground water was welling up. We’d seen a similar effect in the Bubbling Sands springs at Pungalina, a couple of years  ago. There was a viewing platform so visitors could watch this, without trampling the greenery at the edge.

The Bubbler and Hamilton Hill
Water erupting in the Bubbler Spring

Blanche Cup was more deeply enclosed within its green nest, and did not have the same frequent bubbling happening.

Blanche Cup

After a good wander around here, it was onwards – only a few kms – to tonight’s destination of Coward Springs, which we reached in the early afternoon.

Coward Springs was another of the former sidings. It has been saved from the decaying fate of the other sidings along the rail route. In 1991 it was  privately acquired. Then, there was an extensive wetland area here, arising from the uncontrolled outflow of a broken bore, and the ruins of only two of the original buildings – the Station Master’s house and the engine drivers’ cottage. The bore was rectified and capped, leaving only a regulated outflow to sustain a smaller  wetland. The two buildings were restored and heritage listed. The campground was set up.

The campground is a wonderful oasis in the dry surrounds. Trees have been planted and bush style amenities built, including  hot showers – sustained by a wood burning “donkey”. I suspected that it was the former wooden sleepers of the old railway that were providing me with the luxury of a hot shower!

Our night at Coward Springs cost $16. There are no powered sites, of course.  The camping is in informal areas, amongst stands of tamarisk trees and date palms. It was very pleasant – the sort of place I would have enjoyed just relaxing at, were it not for a Driver who was determined to get out of SA.

The campground had, obviously, been quite wet recently.

When the old bore was rectified, the owners here built a “spa” pool – the bore outflow runs through this pool and on out to the wetland.

After doing a minimal one night only set up, the three of us spent about half an hour in the warm artesian water of the pool. The water flow felt very strong and seemed very therapeutic. It felt damned cold when we got out, though!

We had a little wander about the campground. It was good that we had arrived early – had the pool to ourselves, and the campground got pretty full by the late afternoon. We’d had our pick of a number of great sites by being early.

We had a little campfire and sat by it, after tea, watching the new-ish moon and listening to the breeze rustling the trees by our site. Life felt pretty good!

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1999 Travels May 26


We had a leisurely pack up and departure from Marree, on a chilly morning. Before we left, got talking with Bev and Eric Oldfield – about tourism, caravan parks, the Internet, computers. Quite wide-ranging! Bev is trying to design a brochure; she said it was a pity she hadn’t chatted to John about it a day or two ago, as he could have helped her.

Refuelled – 85cpl.

It was 11am when we left, seen off by Big Bird.

05-26-1999 01 rig and big bird.jpg

Big Bird was an interested onlooker as we refuelled

Our plan is to follow the Oodnadatta Track – also known as the Ghan Track – north to Oodnadatta. This track broadly parallels what was the route of the original railway from Adelaide to Alice Springs. We plan to leave this at Oodnadatta and head west to the main highway, as we want to visit Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon, before going to Alice Springs.

We took our time and had several stops along the way to look at interesting features. The road was quite good – some corrugations in places but mild ones, a few patches of shallow dust, some stony sections.

The line of the old railway paralleled the track, just to the west. There are no rails anymore, but in places there are sleeper remains, and bridges over creeks and washaways. Initially, the railway alignment was to our left, but just before the Lake Eyre lookout, it crossed the track and ran to the right.

Passed the Borefield Road that goes to Roxby Downs and the huge Olympic Dam mine project. The borefield is a set of bores which tap into the Great Artesian Basin for water that is piped to the mine. It uses a great deal of water. one wonders at the ultimate effect of this on the Basin supply?

We pulled off the track at the Gregory Creek and went down a side track closer to the old railway bridge that is not far above the dry creek bed. It is exactly at sea level here. Had our packed lunch while we wandered about looking for birds and just enjoying the scenery. Wondered if this low bridge was one of the ones where floods used to periodically strand the old Ghan train?

05-26-1999 02 Gregory Creek old Ghan bridge 0m asl

The old railway bridge over Gregory Creek

John wanted me to drive for the next stage, to get some experience in such conditions. Fine by me, but I do not go as fast as he does!

It was not long until we reached the lookout over Lake Eyre South. This is the one point where the Oodnadatta Track comes close to the lake. It was not as scenic or interesting as at level Post Bay. At this point, we were 12 metres below sea level!

05-26-1999 03 Lake Eyre sth

Lake Eyre South, seen from the Ghan Track

John took over the driving again and we continued to the old Curdimurka rail siding. This is fairly intact, compared to the remains of some other sidings we’d passed, where there were just some stone ruins. At Curdimurka, there was the building that housed the fettlers who kept up the line; a couple of sheds; and the spectacular water tower and softener, which dominates the flat landscape. There are still rail lines too.

05-26-1999 04 Curdimurka fettlers cottages.jpg

The fettlers’ accommodation at Curdimurka railway siding

05-26-1999 05 curdimurka

There are still rail lines at Curdimurka. The water purification tower

We spent some time wandering about, looking at Curdimurka. What a wonderful place. It contains so much history – I hope it can be preserved into the future.

05-26-1999 07 J at Curdimurka siding.jpg

Distances in miles!

The Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin was built in the 1870’s, along a route explored by John McDouall Stuart, which linked places where water could be found – often from mound springs related to the Great Artesian Basin. When the northern railway was constructed, starting in the 1870’s and reaching Oodnadatta in the 1890’s, it followed this same route. The steam trains of the time needed regular refills of water, so sidings were established where this was available. The bore and spring water usually needed the minerals removed to be suitable for the train, so water softening towers, like the one at Curdimurka, did this.

05-26-1999 06 Curdimurka ruins water softener tower

The water purification tower at Curdimurka

Although the route supplied the necessary watering points, it was in places subject to flooding and wash aways when there were heavy rains in this usually arid environment. One time, the Ghan was a whole three months late reaching Alice Springs! Sand drifts over the line were another problem. The train had a flat bed carriage at the back that carried spare sleepers and railway tools – passengers were known to work on the necessary repairs too.

It was not until 1929 that the extension of the line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs was completed. Until that time, train passengers finished their journey north by camel.

When diesel engines replaced steam, the need for watering points ended. Eventually a new wider gauge railway was built further to the west, away from flood country. The last train on the old Ghan line ran in 1980. So it is actually less than 20 years since the last train – diesel of course – came this way.

05-26-1999 08 Curdimurka and our rig

The buildings remaining at Curdimurka

John continued to drive, from Curdimurka. The Stuart Creek dry floodway was rougher than expected and the van did some bouncing over big bumps.

We got to Coward Springs about 3pm. So it took us four hours to explore the distractions over just 150kms! Booked into the unpowered campground here, for $10 a night. There were a number of gravelled camping bays to choose from and we picked a spacious area backed by some lovely big tamarisk trees. Our site had a fire pit and rustic seat by this. The campground has toilet and shower facilities – the latter with a strange kind of donkey water heater.

Took the van off Truck. The contents seemed to have travelled alright, despite the jolts back at Stuart Creek. There was very little dust inside – the vent that opens on the roof seems to have worked quite well to prevent it. This is, of course, our first real off bitumen venture with the van. Did a minimal set up – roof up, chairs out.

Drove back to visit the nearby mound springs. We had decided not to do so with the van on, in case the track in was really rough, or wet. We needn’t have worried, but it is nice to know that we do have a really pleasant camp site to return to – not that there is a great deal of tourist traffic competing for places.

05-26-1999 10 mound springs info.jpg

It was about 11kms to get to the Bubbler and Blanche Cup Mound Springs. Here, water from the Great Artesian Basin comes to the surface, of its own accord. The springs are fascinating. Through the clear water, one could see the sandy/silty floor of the Bubbler shifting and “boiling”, with small bubbles coming out.

05-26-1999 12 The Bubbler.jpg

The Bubbler mound spring

The emerging water in these springs carries some sediments and salts, and these, over time, form a mound around the spring. The nearby Hamilton Hill is an extinct mound spring from a different climatic time that allowed it to grow much bigger than the current mounds.

05-26-1999 11 blanches cup and mt hamilton

Blanche’s Cup mound spring and Hamilton Hill , an extinct mound spring

The springs are surrounded by little green oases of growth. The outflow forms a little creek that seems to dissipate into the sands before very far.

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The dry country around the mound springs

On the way back to camp, stopped where we could drive close to the old rail alignment, and picked up some firewood from sleeper remains of the Old Ghan railway.

Back at camp, we walked around the camp area, to explore it properly, and had a look at their artesian spa. Although there was a natural mound spring in the area, for the railway a government bore was sunk. This had a huge flow and a little wetland became established. The bore deteriorated with time and the warm water just bubbled up from the ground. Railway workers and train passengers used to enjoy the bubbling “spa”.  The bore was repaired and capped a few years ago and some flow allowed to go into and through the wooden lined “tub” that the owners here built, and still feed water into the wetland. By this time, the wetland here was well established as a bird and other wildlife habitat and so this decision to sustain it was sensible.

Our new solar panel seems to be working fine to keep our battery charged – the fridge is running from this, of course. We shall use the lights in the van as little as possible.

05-26-1999 09 camp at coward springs

Our camp at Coward Springs

Tea was kumara soup, scotch fillet steak done on the BBQ grill over our open fire, potatoes cooked in foil in the fire and zucchini done on the BBQ too. It was very nice.

We sat round the fire till about 9pm, talking and drinking wine. The annoying hordes of flies of the daytime had departed when the sun went down. There were a few mozzies, though. Only to be expected, with the wetland nearby. There was lots of lovely silence, despite the presence of other campers about the place.

The nearly full moon was mixed up with clouds and we got glimpses of various sized pieces of it.

We decided it was so pleasant and peaceful here that we would stay another night.

05-26-1999 to coward springs

From Marree at the far right, to Coward Springs. Lake Eyre South.