This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels May 20

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 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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1999 Travels May 28

FRIDAY 28 MAY   COWARD SPRINGS TO OODNADATTA   293kms

We were a little slow getting away this morning as the lass “next door” came and asked to have a look at the van. The guy was off to Coober Pedy for tyres – a 280kms round trip on rough roads. If it was his driving style that caused their flat tyres, I hope he has learned a lesson – otherwise he might not get to Coober Pedy! It is worrying for them, though, with the bulk of the Oodnadatta Track still ahead of them.

We did not make many stops today. The first was at Beresford Bore – another former siding. The fettlers’ cottage building there looked to be rapidly deteriorating. It was a similar style to Curdimurka. The Beresford Bore was still flowing.

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Fettlers’ cottage at Beresford Bore siding

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Beresford Bore was still flowing

We took a track near Beresford Siding, for a short distance. This led to the remains of a rocket tracking emplacement – a reminder that rockets were test fired from the nearby Woomera Range; some came this way and landed in these parts.

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This was a rocket tracing emplacement

William Creek was our next stop, where there is a hotel. Apart from a rough camp area behind the hotel, nothing else! It claims to be the smallest town in the world.

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William Creek Hotel

Since just north of Coward Springs, we have been driving through Anna Creek Station – the largest operating livestock property in the world, and part of the Kidman cattle empire. William Creek is on the property. The hotel dates from last century and the building of the Overland Telegraph. I presume it was also a rather welcome stop for railway passengers too. Since the railway closure it must make a living from stockmen from the properties up this way, and tourists. It has become rather a tourist icon.

At the hotel, we bought a beer and a coke – have to do our bit for the local economy! We also topped up with fuel – the hotel sells this, too. $1 a litre!

Here, there is a display of some remains of rockets that have come down in the area.

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Rocket remains. Something like this landing nearby could ruin a peaceful camp!

I took a photo of the quirky Pink Roadhouse sign at William Creek. The family that has, for years, had this  roadhouse at Oodnadatta has – in the interests of the travelling public – put up these signs where they felt directions/information is necessary. They are a real landmark item.

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Not far north of William Creek we stopped for lunch. Took a side track towards the creek channels – quite a pleasant spot. The flies were incredibly thick. One had to be careful to just get sandwich in the mouth!

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Bit of a dip, here

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Another of the Pink Roadhouse signs

Our next stop was at the Algebuckina Bridge – a long, high, steel structure that is very dramatic in this isolation and is the longest bridge in SA. Below it were the mangled remains of a car that had tried to use the rail bridge to cross the flooded Neales River – and met a train coming the other way!

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The train won! Algebuckina Bridge over the Neales River

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What the train driver saw – Algebuckina Bridge

Through today, we’d noticed several dry creek areas that would have made good overnight camp places, as well as the often used bush camping area at the Algebuckina waterhole. I would have liked to stay the night at the latter, rather than pushing on, but John wanted to keep going. With hindsight, we’d have been better off staying at one of these, instead of at Oodnadatta!

With the exception of the Neales/Algebuckina waterhole, the watercourses were all dry. The track was pretty good. I drove for a while, because John got tired. I felt quite comfortable towing the van on the dirt road, but we were not going very fast.

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The Oodnadatta Track

We noticed that the railway alignment criss crossed the road several times on today’s route.

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Some distant hills – south of Oodnadatta

We got into Oodnadatta about 4pm and booked into the caravan park attached to the Pink Roadhouse. We paid $16.50 for a powered site. The amenities were in an Atco building and were not very clean. The toilet paper in all cubicles had run out and was not refilled.

After the basic set up, we went for a walk in the township. It is extremely ramshackle. There is one substantial building – the former railway station, made of stone and now a museum;  one has to obtain a key to go have a look in it, and we were too late. And that is about the “key” to Oodnadatta, from what we saw – lock up anything worthwhile, otherwise it will be broken or nicked!

We saw some falling-down houses. There are a number of indigenous occupied houses, some looking alright, others very damaged, all behind high tin fences. There was a lot of rubbish lying about.

Today was apparently pension day. There was a big group of aboriginals gathering under some trees in the centre of town. There were lots of kids riding bikes around, but we were pleased to see that most were wearing helmets as they tore around.

The Pink Roadhouse is a large establishment – a store and eatery too. But we found it abysmal on service and staffing levels.

We saw that there was an aboriginal school – named as such – and it seemed to be the only one in town. The existence of such a school was, we thought, an encouraging sign that some people are trying to get things together.

It is just a pity that the township has such a neglected, derelict, grotty atmosphere. I think I had formed romantic notions about Oodnadatta, from reading history and novels, so I was expecting a place I could react to positively.

Tea was soup, baked beans on toast, yoghurt.

We are both tired tonight, so we had an early night.

05-28-1999 to oodnadatta