Trek Report no.3

Our two nights (days 17 and 18) at Yalara mainly resulted in catching up with some cleaning and re-organisation ready for getting back on the road again.

Day 19 we made a leisurely departure from Yalara heading towards Curtain Springs.  It had been hoped that this would be where our next camp site would be (as it was in the year 2000) but with the progress of time and the sometimes apparent poor behaviour of travellers through private property, the current owners have ceased to allow camping at any of the waterholes or  any other areas on the property. The only area set aside for stopovers was their camp area on the roadside near the store/restaurant and their private residence.  So most of us enjoyed a gourmet burger served under the bough shed along with a very informative chat with the owners about life and trials of living in these remote areas.  Following this we all took to the road again heading towards the junction of Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road where we turned left and made camp a short distance from the intersection.

During the previously mentioned chat at Curtain Springs, we were made very aware of the problems caused by camels on these outback properties and the vast numbers that roam the countryside. To us as travellers/tourists the sighting of camels (as previously reported) generally causes a degree of excitement and a lot of camera shooting but to know of the problems they cause has somewhat changed our thinking.  Our thoughts are now genuinely with the land owners who suffer so much damage to their property.

Around the campfire that night we all enjoyed listening to Len Beadells address to the Shepparton Rotary Club some years ago. To anyone who has had the opportunity to hear it, you would understand that it was a good, light hearted way to end another great day on the road.  One of the very special sights of the day was that of Mount Connor.   Whilst only seeing it from a distance as we travelled along, it certainly was an impressive sight on the skyline.

Day 20 began with a normal start but just as we were ready to leave the campsite the youngest member of our group – Walter James – cut his shin quite deeply causing a re-assessment of our travel plans.  We were able to attend to the injury with one of the normal first aid kits carried in each of the tractors but it was then decided that it should be attended to by a Doctor.  Given that Alice Springs was only some 2 to 3 hours away on the main road Harry and Walter left in one of the support vehicles, Dick took over driving Harry’s tractor and Barbara drove our other support vehicle with Anne as companion.  Walter’s wound ultimately required four stitches and we were not to meet up with them again for four days.  Unfortunately for them they missed three of the most amazing, challenging days as follows. 

After the events of the morning we were eventually under way at about 9.15am moving on towards Ernest Giles Road where we then turned left and on in to Finke Gorge.  Washouts and water crossings started almost immediately being, for most of us, the commencement of, as stated, one of the great challenges that make trekking in our 9gs so much fun. It turned out that we actually had to ‘blaze’ a new trail through the Gorge following recent flooding in the area.  Four years ago several of the group had gone through the Finke Gorge in one day on our Cape to Cape trek but this was not to happen this year!!!  At about 5pm it was time to make camp and have a fairly early night ready to face it all again the next day.

Day 21 dawned and we were up and on our way by 8.30am, straight in to the next river crossing!!  So it continued throughout the day – we actually did approximately 25km’s for the whole day.  At many points it was a matter of members of the group walking ahead to access the situation and maybe try to pick up ‘old tracks’.  There were times when the words “maybe we should turn back to the main road” were heard but really this was the last option for most.                                                Not only was walking ahead part of the process but we also had members who stripped down at water crossings to walk ahead and mark a trail through the water with stakes for the rest of us to follow safely.  Again we have to say not a lot of kilometres were covered but the challenges were multiple.  Having Dick in Harry’s tractor without towing a camper made it all a lot easier especially for going ahead to check the route and also for towing up embankments and in very sandy riverbeds where some of the group chose to venture at times.  To other Club members in particular, relating to “doing a Cumber thing” would be understood and by the end of the day we had renamed Allan – Allan “Cumber” Faulkner!!!!  That innocent look and comments like ‘I just thought I would check out an alternative way’ could be heard as he was towed out and back on to our ‘official’ track.  Every corner turned held something new or challenging but nothing that made us feel we could not overcome.  Again at the end of day two on the Finke our campsite on the river bed was a welcome sight and an opportunity to assess “where the water got in”.  Any necessary cleaning up took place then it was time to put our feet up and chat about the days happenings.   

Day 22 we awoke to a dampness in the air – not exactly condensation inside but dampness outside –  so for most of us it was decided to wait until the sun was high enough to dry things off a bit before we packed up and continued on.  Our South Australian contingent decided to move on earlier to address prior commitments, believing (and rightly so) that the ‘worst’ of Finke Gorge was behind us now.  Later in the day they rejoined us at Hermannsburg.  For the remainder of us a leisurely exit from the Gorge was enjoyed with only a couple of small waterholes and embankments to be completed before lunch on the river bed then a drive out to the Highway on a well maintained gravel road.  As mentioned earlier some of us had fond memories of the Finke Gorge in 2006 with its river and water hole crossings but our 2010 adventure will remain special to us.  As a result of recent flooding in the area we made numerous river crossings and crossed many water holes throughout our three days.  We are truly disappointed that Harry and Walter missed this part of our journey but pleased to say Walter ‘made a complete recovery’. 

At this point we all want to pay tribute to our relief support vehicle driver Barbara.  What an amazingly capable lady.  There was not one time that she reacted to any of the challenges to be faced even calmly saying to Anne at one point “my feet are in four inches of water”!!!  Well done Barb.

Once we arrived at Hermannsburg we took a brief look around the settlement before heading off to Palm Valley where we were to have Harry and Walter rejoin us.  On the way in to the valley, Harry’s tractor (now affectionately renamed by us as ‘Uncle Harry’) decided to ‘act up’ and ended up having to be towed in to our camp site.  With Barb still at the helm of our support vehicle she had to do the towing while Dick guided the tractor.  Another very capable, confident display thanks Barb. 

The designated campsite at Palm Valley is well worth a mention with its immaculate ablution block, piping hot showers (supplied using solar power), beautifully maintained coin operated barbecues and generally well kept surroundings.  Sitting right on the edge of the Finke River setting up camp there for the night was a real pleasure.

Day 23 saw Harry, Walter, Cedar and George carry out the replacement of the head gasket on   ‘Uncle Harry’ in the morning while the remainder of the group took in an informative, enjoyable guided walk at Palm Valley.

Most of us waited until ‘Uncle Harry’ was up and running again and ready to make the trip in to Alice Springs where other work would be carried out before moving on.  We left Palm Valley at about 2.30pm arriving in to Alice Springs at about 6pm. 

As in 2000, Alice Springs was to be a major stop for us to allow for restocking our stores, cleaning and checking of the tractors and general bits and pieces before our move on towards Birdsville via the Simpson Desert.  ‘Uncle Harry’ also had the necessary work done to be ready for the next part of the journey.  Bob King, Chamberlain club member and interested party in ‘Uncle Harry’  joined us with his friend Maureen at Alice Springs planning to travel with us to Mount Dare but unfortunately Maureen’s ill health changed these plans somewhat.  Noeline Hill returned to South Australia as planned.

Our break in Alice Springs also allowed us to enjoy some ‘fine dining’ (not that we don’t do that around the camp fire!!) at local restaurants patronised on previous treks.

In undertaking this as the official trek for 2010, it was agreed that we would carry the official club collection tins in each tractor and vehicle as well as having a small amount of merchandise available if required.   As ever, we are in awe of the generosity towards our fundraising by the general public.  Not a day goes by that we are not asked if we would accept a donation.  Our sincere thanks must go to all concerned.

Day 27 saw us ready to get back on the road.  From Alice Springs we went south east towards Santa Teresa on unsealed but well maintained road.  After a brief stop there we headed to Alambi Station to pick up the road to Andado but this was where we faced our first “road closed” sign so had to back track to the Deep Well access road.  Allan made a telephone call to the Deep Well Station and we were willingly given permission to pass through the property (calling at the homestead on the way).  After chatting with the owners for a while and being given alternative directions, we continued on to the Old Ghan Rail Track Road.  A few earlier threatening clouds, thunder and lightning and some spots of rain lead to a heavy downpour just as we were about to set up camp at the historic Rodinga siding.  Setting up was a little more difficult than at previous sites but we all ended up around the campfire later in the evening discussing the happenings of the day and pondering the conditions to come following the latest rain in this area. 

Overnight there were two or three short showers and some very strong wind gusts but day 28 dawned reasonably dry – albeit muddy!!!! – as well as overcast skies.  Bob rang to tell us that Maureen was going to be hospitalised for a few days so he would join us later that day for an overnight camp.  We broke camp at Rodinga at around 8.30am to face some very slushy conditions and  major washouts – nothing that we had not expected though.  At about 10.30am we had our morning break so that we could listen to a radio interview that the group had done with the ABC whilst we were in Alice Springs.  Our days travelling continued on the Old Ghan Rail Track Road – originally actually the rail track through the area but in later years formed to make a road – there where even  times when the old sleepers could be seen through the roadway.  Sightseeing stops were made during the day, mainly being at historic rail sidings including our lunch break at Bundooma siding.  Whilst here a passing motorist stopped to talk to us, these folk were from Finke (our next destination) and were heading in to Alice Springs for a few days.  They made a very generous donation to us saying how important the Flying Doctor was to those living in remote areas.  We had a very interesting conversation with them as they had spent many years in and around the outback.  The lady was Principal at the Finke School (and had been so for a number of years).  We arrived at the small community of Finke at approximately 3.30pm where Bob caught up with us.  Most of us made this an ice cream stop after which we continued on for another 10/15k’s before picking a camp site for the night.

Day 29 – having now completed some 3554.6k’s since leaving Dongara – started as a morning of major slipping and sliding through water and mud.  There was also some bogging along the way but ‘Uncle Harry’ was to the rescue each time.  Our lunch and fuel stop was taken at Mt Dare Hotel before we continued on a very rough road in to the famous Dalhousie Hot Springs and camping area.  This was to be a two night campsite to enjoy the hot springs and ‘collect our thoughts’ as the saying goes.  Allan treated us to a great roast lunch on the Sunday followed by a shared fish dinner, with contributions by all and cooked by George.  As said before we don’t miss out on ‘fine dining’ even around the campfire!  George decide to make bread (yeast and all) to go with the fish meal so went through all the stages of rising, kneading etc before putting it in to the camp oven and on to the coals.  At this point he went to do a welding job for Harry and being distracted he didn’t realise the heat of the coals and alas the bread burnt.  With the bread being considered ‘dead’ Dick entered the damper competition and whipped up a sweet damper – yum.  Much to our surprise though George decided to rescue his loaf of bread, give it a bit of a scrape and we all gave it top marks as well.  As we were sitting at the fire after dinner a large ‘rig’ pulled in to the park and next  thing there was a voice from behind our wind break asking if we were the guys with the tractors.  Our guest was Ron McGehee from California who was touring around the outback of Australia in a Uni Mog shipped here from the USA.  Ron asked if we were going to be crossing the Simpson Desert and when we said yes he asked if he might be able to ‘tag along’ with us and so he did right through to Birdsville.  Also when we arrived at Dalhousie we met up with Helen and Bill Taylor; Susan Ruby and Charlie Gardiner and also George Baldwin all club members but doing a private trip in their 9g’s this year.  They departed the day before us to make their crossing of the Simpson Desert.

On Day 31, with our ‘tag along’ we headed out from Dalhousie at 8.45am facing more of the same, rough, wet and muddy conditions.  In saying that though we are all enjoying the experience so much.  Because of the rains in recent times in the centre of Australia everything is so green and lush and from all reports from those travelling East to West on the Simpson these conditions will continue all the way unlike the dryness experienced by the Trek in 2000.  We were still travelling in the Witjini Reserve when we passed by Freeth Junction and Purni Bore.  Some of the crew took the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful hot shower at Purni Bore.  We then proceeded on into the Simpson Desert.

DAY 32 

The desert greeted us on Day 32 with a real frost – 3 degrees was the report and condensation a plenty!!  Our newest official Club Member Walter James was heard to mention being freeze dried in his swag!!

At this point in time the group would like to make special mention of our Support Team in Barbara and Dick Garnett.  As they are often heard to say themselves they are no spring chickens having both having  reached a special milestone in 2009 but to some of us we can only watch in amazement at their camping and bush capabilities.  For this trek they decided to tent/swag it agreeing to be an additional support for us from Wiluna, WA to Eromango, Queensland. They carried all their needs on the back of their vehicle and both manage so very well adapting to any situation whether it be pitching the tent in the rain, waking up to ice and condensation inside their tent with 1 to 3 degree temperatures or even seeing their vehicle almost float in creek/river crossings!  They smile and enjoy every single day.  Barb and Dick we thank you both so very much for your companionship and support and look forward to more trekking together in the years ahead. 

Once back on the road, we were straight into the first of the 1100 dunes that cover crossing the Simpson Desert.  Water, mud and rough roads were still part and parcel of the day.  65k’s was to be the total covered for our first day in the desert!  Finding a campsite at the end of the day was not so easy either because of the sparseness of our surroundings.  It was very much a roadside camp for the night this time.

Day 33, 1 degree, ice and condensation!!!  At 9am we were packed and ready to go again.  The day saw us crossing many, many dunes, valleys and basically having all sorts of conditions in one day. The green of the desert along with the beautiful varieties and colours of wildflowers made such wonderful sights to see.  We thought it was awesome at the beginning of our crossing but with each turn or dune there was something else to greet us, it just seemed to get better and better.  Our cameras did not stop clicking.  62k’s was about it for this day when we were all ready to camp up and relax for the evening.  We enjoyed watching some of Barbara and Dick’s photos on their digital frame, then more on Walter’s computer.  Walter then played the DVD of the 2000 trek to refresh our memories of the adventure and also to show our tag along guest Ron what it was all about back then.  An enjoyable evening finished off a great day.

The early morning desert treated us a little better on Day 34, it was not quite so cold getting up and we all seemed to be managing to adjust to the condensation situation a lot better!!!!!!  We can only say the day was “more of the same” which could make one think that it was boring but be assured crossing the Simpson Desert  in a 9g group is far from boring, it has to be one of the greatest experiences.  Cedar and George are the only ones in the group who were on the inaugural trek in 2000 and they are amazed at the changes the wet has brought to the crossing.  Their 2000 experience was of a vast, dry landscape, dusty tracks and loose, sandy dunes.  They say the going this time has the same degree of challenge just with different conditions.  Our evening gave some of us time to sit and chat with our guest Ron and find out about some of his travels and experiences.  He has travelled extensively in and around Australia during the past 5 years and has a wonderful knowledge of our country.

So it all continues on Day 35, we can only say once more how lucky we are to be having this experience and hopefully our many, many photos will tell the story when we return home – it is all so hard to put into words.  We made camp at Poepell Corner for the night after visiting the point where you can basically stand in three states at once – Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Day 36 with 4093k’s behind us (from Dongara) and many of the 1100 dunes also at the back of us we head off out to face the challenges once more and enjoy yet another day on this iconic track.  George and Cedar have also commented on the passing traffic each day (both East bound and West bound) as opposed to the year 2000.  So many more people have the means of being able to head out in their 4 wheel drives these days – 10 years have brought so many changes in so many ways.  Our chosen campsite for today was on the banks of Eyre Creek after making yet another creek crossing at the end of a great day.

On Day 37 we were approximately 57k’s from Birdsville and about 20k’s from the renowned BIG RED dune when we departed camp at 9.30am.  Each dune we crossed lead us a little closer to our final destination on this section of our trek.  We reached Big Red at approximately 11.30am and spent the next couple of hours just enjoying the moment. Our challenge to this point had been fulfilled, only looking back on photos and chatting with each other will gradually make it seem like the true reality it is.  All tractors (minus camper trailers), support vehicles and our tag along Ron in the Mog did that final run to the top of Big Red and again the cameras were clicking from all directions.  For those who  are aware of George’s 2010 modification to his camper trailer – the fitting of hydraulic drive – it was a success over the dunes as we crossed the Simpson and the final test was to hitch  the camper back on and take it up Big Red behind the tractor which proved successful.   His only comment was that it made all the work worthwhile.  As we enjoyed our moment at the top of Big Red we had a radio call from Peter and Brenda Barr – Club Members and inaugural trekkers of 2000 – who were watching us from the Birdsville side of the dune.  They had been keeping in touch with our progress along the way and had come to Birdsville to meet us on our arrival.  Moments like this are special to all of us. In contrast to the 2000 trek when the land on the other side of Big Red was dry and barren,  we were greeted with a very large lake of water which we had to drive around before getting on to the road in to Birdsville.  Once in Birdsville we took time to set up our campers at the caravan park and take long hot showers (not that we miss a daily shower on trek albeit fairly short ones to conserve water) then it was off to the Birdsville Hotel for dinner and a celebration drink, again there was a lot of reminiscing about the arrival of the trekkers in 2000.  A large photo of the 2000 tractors in front of the Birdsville Hotel takes pride of place in the Lizard Bar at the Hotel.  Also joining us for dinner and celebrations were Helen and Bill Taylor; Susan Ruby and Charlie Gardiner and George Baldwin, they had completed their successful Simpson Desert crossing earlier in the day.  Brenda Barr topped the night off for some of us when she firstly went to the piano for a song or two then brought out her accordion and played a few of the old trekking songs for us.  Thanks so much Brenda you made our night. Birdsville was our base for three nights during which time we were able to clean up the tractors, sort the campers and clear the washing load before being ready to head off east again.  Whilst it has always been our intention to stay as close to the inaugural trek as possible the need for flexibility remains after recent flooding in the areas we are going through.  It was also agreed to make a slight deviation after Birdsville to allow a visit to Cordillo Downs – the largest wool shed in Australia – the famous Dig Tree of Burke and Wills and accept an invitation to visit an operating oil field out of Eromanga.  During our break in Birdsville Ron in the Uni Mog left us to continue his travels.  As he was heading back to Alice Springs Eric Hill – co driver of Plains Wanderer – accompanied him so that he could make the planned pick up of their support vehicle that had been left there earlier on when we departed.  Prior to leaving the group, Ron became a member of the Chamberlain 9g Tractor Club (our newest member and our first one from the USA). On the 9th August, Dennis Hill in Plains Wanderer left to return home after a telephone conversation with Noeline who wanted him back.  Also while in Birdsville George celebrated his Birthday (as he has done on other treks in the past) with an enjoyable evening at the Birdsville Hotel. 

Day 40 it was time to say farewell to Birdsville (not before one last visit to the bakery) and take to the ‘highway’.  We enjoyed our  visit to the woolshed, a place of great history,  then went on to Arrabury homestead, obviously a former flourishing property now used as an out station.  We also visited ruins of old homesteads along the way and tried to imagine how the people had lived and what these properties would have been like in their hay day.  Our pleasure at the end of the day was to enjoy a wonderful roast dinner organised by Barbara and Dick.  Our campfire looked great with all the camp ovens bubbling away.  Allan and Cedar surprised us all with desserts of quondong and custard tarts from the Birdsville Bakery.

As we continued on day 41 we still had some muddy and bumpy roads ahead of us but nothing in comparison to recent weeks.  It was mentioned amongst the group that we had really come across roadside water holes etc almost all of the way although been lucky that we had spent very little time in actual rain or bad weather conditions.  With all the lushness around our farming contingent are continually commenting on the condition of the cattle etc and even to those of us not involved in the farming industry we too can see how healthy and rich everything looks.  As we continued on our travels took us to the Burke and Wills Dig Tree near the Cooper Creek.  As the afternoon was moving on we decided that the banks of the Cooper Creek would be our campsite for the night – very pleasant in the evening and wonderful the next morning with all the bird life to hear and watch.  Being on the Cooper we were able to observe all the traces of recent flooding in the area, it must have been absolutely amazing to see because it is very hard to imagine now when it all looks so calm and tranquil.  When told of the height of the flooding etc there certainly would not have been any means of driving through it at the time.

Day 42 as we were leaving our campsite at the Dig Tree the other trekkers arrived there so there was one last farewell because we truly were going in different directions from there.   Our travels for the rest of the day were on the Adventure Highway which gave us variety once again.  We found there was quite a lot of bitumen at first (someone was heard to say on the radio “what is this black stuff Allan?”).  Then we came across road works crews repairing after the flooding. This just helped to add a little more water and mud to our rigs!!!  Our morning tea stop gave us such a beautiful  array of wild flowers only a few meters from the road side and added to that was the company of a local lizard about 40cm long who was just relaxing and warming himself in the sunlight.  By lunch time we had travelled some 134k’s and enjoyed a stop beside a small creek at the road side.  As we continued on after lunch there were ranges of table top mountains in the distance, gas fields and oil fields as well as opal mining signs just about all the way.  Seeing the oil pumping made us all think of the sights in the USA.   This obviously is yet another area of our great country with rich underground resources.    Our campsite was at an old road works depot again providing a good site to spend a lovely evening together.

We were all up bright and early on Day 43, although still had to contend with some condensation dampness – one of the joys of camping!!  We were on the road by 8.30am and enjoyed a fairly leisurely run in to Eromanga – some 60+k’s – during our drive along the Cooper Development Road we came across a memorial site dedicated to a young man – Angus Steele Chapman.   One cannot help but wonder when we read the inscription, he was only 30years of age when he died (we were later to learn that this young man had died in a motor bike accident).  We arrived into Eromanga at about 11.30am and after fuelling was completed it was time for lunch at the local cafe – great burgers.  After lunch we had a look around the town then followed directions given to take us to the operating oil field which we had been invited to visit.  We arrived there at about 3.30pm and were shown to where we could set up our campsite.    We spent two most enjoyable and informative nights as guests of the company and felt privileged to have been given such an opportunity.  We also enjoyed the experience of being able to do some opal fossicking with a few good results although none of us felt that we could retire on our finds!!!!

Day 45 we said our farewells to the crew at the oil field and returned to Eromanga.  This was where we were also going to have to bid a fond farewell to Barb and Dick as they had to start making their way back to Gnowangerup for commitments at the end of the week.  The remainder of the group decided that a night at the Eromanga Caravan Park was the order of the day to catch up on some washing etc.  Eromanga turned out to be a very interesting little town.  With a population of approximately 80 people there is an oil refinery right in the town which takes a very large proportion of the oil found in the area; there is a fossil digging area just out of the town where dinosaur fossils have been found and are processed for three weeks each year; opal mining is predominant in the area and it is where Steve Fossit – balloonist – landed when he came down short of Birdsville a few years ago just to mention a few things.  They have the most amazing Living Museum with a very informative movie giving the history of the area which we all enjoyed.  The town comes under the Quilpie Shire and appears to have all the facilities a small town could want.  Quilpie, some 106k’s away, is their closest larger centre for shopping and business needs.  The local cafe has a small Australia Post outlet as well.  There is a fairly large fly in, fly out work contingent in the town as well mainly involved in the oil industry.  We spent an enjoyable evening mixing with the folk at the motel then enjoying a nice meal at the local hotel.

Day 46 began with all of us meeting at the cafe (as numerous other folk seemed to do as well) for breakfast  then making one last call in the town to their lovely little school – a total of 5 students! This was a real highlight for all of us teachers, students and trekkers.  Something like this creates a very special moment.  The children, all junior primary, were so excited with the tractors and were full of questions but the one that really hit home to all of us was during our talk to them a school bus was mentioned and one child ask “what is a school bus?” – how amazing.  They are going to be taken to Brisbane next year on a school camp – we can only imagine their eyes then.  They do have interaction with distance education children and also with the school in Quilpie.  So our day on the road started after this visit and we headed to Quilpie and hopefully some internet coverage so we can get this very overdue report out to everyone concerned.

9g Trekkers of 2010.

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