LEG 11 PERTH to TAMWORTH.
Last leg of our Encountering the Past Odyssey.
DAY 1 TUESDAY 15TH JANUARY 2013.
Mandurah to Stormy Camp, near Esperance
After consulting the Indian Ocean weather map I think we have about ten days of cool weather, which we are going to take advantage of and cross the Nullarbor. Last week record-breaking temperatures were set in southern Australia. A new record of 43 degrees was set for Perth and on a property to the west of Alice Springs the mercury rose to 58 degrees in the shade. It’s not comfortable travelling in such extreme temperatures as you end up not wanting to get out of the air-conditioned comfort of the car.
There is a road running from near Lake King directly to Norseman but because we could find no information relating to its condition we decided to go to Norsemen via Ravensthorpe and Esperance, a 700 kilometre detour.
The journey home is a little over 4000 kilometres, most of it through remote country. Before setting off on such a journey in Australia one needs to take certain precautions. Uppermost for us is water; we are carrying around seventy litres. Most roadhouses, at least until we hit the NSW border, do not provide water. They used to but not any more as there are many more travellers on the road, especially caravans and motor homes and providing a fill up to these vehicles would soon deplete limited water supplies. Food supplies is another consideration for us as takeaway roadhouse food is not to our liking.
The day started out cool but by midday near Dumbleyung Lake, about 350 kilometres southeast of Perth, we passed through the cold front into the hot zone where the temperature was 42 degrees. There was a strong north wind blowing straight off the desert, which made the 42 feel more like 50.
Dumbleyung Lake received world recognition when Donald Campbell broke the world water speed record there on 31 December 1964. Campbell clocked 444.66 km/h (276.3 mph) in Bluebird K7.
It’s hard to believe but when there is heavy rain in the region the lake has sufficient water allowing the locals to play.
From Dumbleyung Lake we headed east through the town of Newdegate across Lake King and south to Ravensthorpe.
By late afternoon we were surrounded by dark green/black anvil shaped thunderheads, a sure sign of hail. Radio warnings indicated destructive winds, hail and torrential rain during the night. In light of the bad weather predicted we had to find a camp that provided protection from any possible hail.
Not wanting to put up a tent (sleeping in a tent with swaying trees overhead does not make for a restful sleep) we decided to sleep in the car. Sleeping across the seats of a Landcruiser is a much more comfortable experience than in the Fiat as we did in France. This is the first time we have ever slept in the Landcruiser and I’m sure I will be able to report in the morning we both had a good night’s sleep.
DAY 2 WEDNESDAY 16TH JANUARY 2013.
STORMY CAMP to BLOWHOLE CAMP
Through the night storms raged all around but we both had a good night’s sleep. This morning radio news reported havoc created by storms on the small towns near where we passed through yesterday. Our camp was fortunately on the edge of the storm.
Note our 1970 route (dotted line) from Balladonia to Zanthus on the Trans Australia Railway.
The damp air this morning brought out the best the Australian bush has to offer; the smell of the eucalypt trees. The bush smells made us realise we were well and truly back in the land of the Antipodeans.
I’m not sure why the area where we camped is classified as a nature reserve, maybe because it is an ideal habitat for ground creatures such as Death adders. Snakes in Australia are a reality so when walking around the bush it pays to be alert. Often before seeing a snake I have said to Bev it looks like a good spot for a snake and on a number of occasions we come across one. For example, damp long grass beside a creek or river is Black snake country, Brown snakes like a dry environment and Death adders inhabit litter like in the above photograph.
The first thing I have to say about Death adders is that I have only ever seen two in all the fifty or so plus years I have been poking around the Australian bush and the reason is they do not actively hunt, but rather lie in ambush and draw their prey to them. When hungry, death adders bury themselves amongst the substrate and expose only their head and tail. The tail is used for caudal luring and when wiggled it is easily mistaken for a grub or worm. An unsuspecting bird or mammal will eventually notice the ‘easy meal’ and attempt to seize it. Only then will the death adder move, lashing out with the quickest strike of any snake in the world. A death adder can go from a strike position to envenoming their prey and back to strike position again in less than 0.15 seconds. That is one mighty fast strike.
Twenty one thousand children die every day around the world and that is equivalent to 1 child every four seconds, 14 every minute and 1 every 4 seconds. The deaths are a result of malnutrition and them not having access to clean water.
Two thousand people are involved in landmine accidents every month – one person every 20 minutes. Around 800 of these will die and 1,200 will be maimed. The majority of injured children die from the results of the blast, mainly because of their small bodies are in closer proximity to the centre of the blast. Those people who survive the initial blast of a mine will most likely require amputations, long hospital stays and extensive rehabilitation.
Would we be better to use the money that was wasted here making this sign in alleviating some of the suffering and deaths? Councils and road authorities are obsessed with signs and they should be made responsible for such gross waste of funds. The people who dream up these idiotic signs need to seek psychiatric help as they are suffering from obsessive compulsive sign disorder (OCSD)!
On a lighter note: No matter when you visit the south of Western Australia there will be wildflowers, not only the delicate ground plants and eucalypts but some of the parasitic ones as well. The parasitic tree in the following photograph is an example.
Nuytsia floribunda parasitises the roots of a nearby tree (host plant) from where it sucks nutrients and moisture, similar to the sandalwood tree I mentioned in leg 3 of this blog. Other similar parasitic trees I know are the quandong and wild cherry.
The country today looked fresh after the overnight rain. Following are a few images showing the nature of the coast near Esperance.
From Esperance our route is north to Norseman from where we head east for around 1700 kilometres to Port Augusta at the head of St Vincent Gulf South Australia.
Search the web to look at rainbow gums. www.terragalleria.com Click on Mindanao Gum Trees to see how beautiful eucalypt gum bark can be. The Rainbow gum (euc degulpta) is a native of Indonesia and South East Asia. I know of no rainbow gums in Australia. At times the snow gums in Tasmania can look similar to the rainbow gums of SE Asia.
Lunchtime we found ourselves on the outskirts of Norseman next to the once very profitable 1906-1918 copper and gold mine.
From Norseman the only route across southern Australia, unless one was to drive the access road running parallel to the Trans Australian Railway is the Eyre Highway. The highway was carved across in 1941. My first traverse was in 1970 with my friend Ian who I travelled overland with to London. At that time it was a lonely, severely corrugated bush track, taking its toll on many vehicles, many of which were abandoned by the roadside. I thought at the time about the circumstances under which the vehicles were left and how difficult it would have been to be rescued and what dreams were shattered when the car broke down. Since travelling the Eyre Highway in 1970 I have read Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, and I now wonder if the Eyre travellers who abandoned their cars were seeking a new life in the west like the Joade family were in the novel.
My 1970 journey was undertaken in a Series IIa short wheelbase Landrover, a vehicle not known for its speed or comfort. There were expressions at the time….Landrover elbow, temple, knee and forehead….relating to the fact that there were projections inside the cab that came in contact with those parts of the body when the going was rough or when you stopped in a hurry.
Our 1970 around Australia journey commenced in Maitland NSW from where we drove to Perth and then to the Pilbara in the far north of WA where we worked surveying the centreline for the Cape Lambert to Pannawonica iron ore railway. After three months work we returned to Perth, mothballed the ‘Rover’ and drove from Colombo to London overland in a Series 3 Landrover.
In the 1970s driving around Australia was only undertaken by the hardy, adventurous and self-sufficient. Much of the journey was on unsealed roads and in some places we had to resort to using a compass to find our way. The same routes today are nowhere as exciting or adventurous; in fact it is possible to drive its entirety without touching dirt, having to cross a flooded stream or getting bogged.
Early model Landrovers were not very fuel-efficient and service stations were few and far between so we towed a trailer with twenty 20 litre drums of fuel and water.
Some people say that the road between Balladonia and Caiguna along which we travelled today is the longest straight stretch of road in the world. It stretches for 146.6 kilometres (91.1 miles) without a bend. However others say the world’s longest road without bends is in Saudi Arabia. This road connects Harad area with Badha and is straight for about 260 km (160 miles). Regardless of which is the longest, the 146.6 km we travelled today was plenty long enough.
In 1970 after traversing the long straight Ian and I had had enough of corrugations so at Balladonia we decided to drive north until we hit the Trans Continental Railway access road and follow it to Kalgoorlie.
Following are extracts from Ian’s diary (bold italics) about the trip from Balladonia to Zanthus and my 1979 diary jottings.
Sunday 10th May 1970
Cocklebiddy to Balladonia. Had a beer, fuelled up and got directions from a station hand on how to follow the track up to the railway. He drew us a mud map for as far as he had been. He hadn’t been up the track for some years. It turned out his map was ‘up to cack’. We drove past a bogged truck and up to a granite soak where we camped. (‘cack’ is an Australian slang term for ‘shit’).
My 1979 jottings.
The reason we decided to go bush was that we had just driven the straightest section (147km) of road in the world. Deciding to go north was a good move as even though the country was similar to the previous day’s driving the track was far more interesting and there was an element of excitement as we were heading into unknown country. Our plan was to navigate by compass and instinct to Zanthus, a siding on the Trans Continental Railway and then go west to Kalgoorlie driving the access track that runs parallel to the rail line.
Even though we had the ‘up to cack’ mud map we decided to discard it and take charge of our own navigation and head for Easter Tank near a homestead marked on our Aeronautical map. In the 1970s World Aeronautical maps were the only maps available for outback travel. After taking compass bearings and searching for a while we found a track that led to our first landmark, Easter Tank. The Easter Tank sign intrigued me because someone with hammer and nail had punched the letters into the lid of a jam tin and nailed it to a tree.
Not far from the tank was a homestead. The homestead was no ‘rambling veranda all around’ extravagance; it looked more like an abandoned outstation. However there was washing on the clothesline so in keeping with proper bush protocol we thought we had better seek permission to pass through the property and confirm that the route we were thinking of taking to Zanthus was possible. Approaching the back door we were greeted by a lady who invited us in for a cuppa and lunch. I remember clearly the screen door leading into the kitchen. It was blue, slack on its hinges and had a small hole in the metal screen low down where either a cat or small dog passed through. The fuel stove in the kitchen fascinated me as it had sliding doors on the firebox; normally fuel stove doors are hinged. A log about five feet long stuck out of the firebox, one end burning inside and the other end was propped on a kitchen chair. To stoke the fire all one had to do was push the log further into the firebox. This method saved cutting the wood to firebox length.
The lady of the house made us lamb and tomato sauce sandwiches. The bread was obviously homemade and the lamb would have been off the property. We enquired if she lived alone and she informed us her husband was fencing in the far corner of the house paddock. The house paddock was 10 000 acres (41 square kilometres), a little bigger than property house paddocks on the east coast. When it came time to leave we were asked if we would like to stay the night. We declined but in retrospect we should have because for these isolated people, having a couple of pop-in visitors was a rare event. In the 1960/70s landowners were very hospitable and there was an unwritten law that visitors were made welcome.
Today was a memorable one even though we were lost for a period and the going was far from easy. At one stage we were grinding through sand in second gear low range. Tonight we are camped in the scrub feeling pretty pleased with ourselves that we had managed to meet with a local, get informed about the region and knowing we were on the right track to Zanthus.
Monday 11th May 1970
(From Ian’s journal).
The track was only a two-wheel track through the scrub. Who would have thought that this track could wind 100 miles through the mallee, gum grasslands and scrub? We passed five dams to finally arrive at the trans continental railway! On the way up we bagged a big scrub turkey. There were about six of them but we only wanted one for a feed. We plucked and gutted him while he was still hot and had him in a plastic bag within ten minutes. He weighed about 5lbs. (just over 2kg) We drove all day and at about 4-30pm got to the railway line.
By sheer coincidence the Indian Pacific came past a few minutes later. We followed it until it stopped at Zanthus village, a rail town. Tonight we are camped by a big steam shovel, which must have been used to move gravel for the building of the railway. The turkey is in the camp oven, baking.
My 1979 jottings
On our 1970 expedition we had no way of keeping perishables cold so we carried powdered milk and canned butter; we did not have the luxury of cold beer. Considering these limitations we decided during the early part of our trip to try and live off the land whenever we could. We carried a .22 rifle, a good calibre for taking pot shots at rabbits, ducks, kangaroos and scrub turkeys. Other names for the scrub turkey are bush turkey, plains turkey or Australian bustard. They were, and still are, a protected bird but I think we can be forgiven for harvesting one in light of our circumstances at the time.
As Ian mentioned we managed a sighting of the Indian Pacific. As soon as we hit the railway line I laid an ear on the line in the hope I might hear an approaching train and sure enough I heard a hissing and looking up the train was bearing down on me about three hundred metres away. As it passed I remember clearly the waiters in white shirts and black waistcoats toting silver trays and serving afternoon tea to passengers. I thought a little luxury like that wouldn’t be too bad.
Luxury came to us at the Zanthus fettler’s camp. The camp was not a canvas tent one, as it would have been in the old days, but a neat brick complex. A couple of fettlers invited us in for a shower and afternoon tea (baked beans on toast). Both went down well.
I suspect the above photograph was taken just south of Port Augusta SA. www.greatsouthernrail.com.au is a good web page to get onto if any readers are thinking of travelling the 4352 kilometre train journey from Sydney to Perth.
For us today there was no 1970 excitement. All we did was point the car and hope we were not mesmerised by the flashing road centreline and go to sleep at the wheel from boredom. Somehow I think I’m in love with my youth; give me the 1960/70s travelling experiences any day.
Halfway across the long stretch we began looking for a camp, which turned out to be not so difficult as there were a number of bush tracks heading south off the highway. The one we took was marked Blowhole Track and about four kilometres in we found an almost perfect spot.
This blowhole does not blow water but air. Air movements are a result of air being pushed to and fro by surface winds.
There are many caves, sinkholes and blowholes across the Nullarbor, some with several kilometres of passages. In recent years Cocklebiddy has gained an international reputation as a site for one of the world’s largest cave systems. Ten kilometres to the north west of Cocklebiddy Roadhouse is Cocklebiddy cave. In 1983 a French caving expedition created caving history by exploring Cocklebiddy Cave to an unprecedented distance of 6.4 kilometres. The Cocklebiddy cave system is unique in that it penetrates an aquifer that sits 90 metres below the Nullarbor Plain.
The vast Nullarbor Plain is the world’s largest limestone karst landscape. It covers an area of 270,000 square km, extending 2000 km between Norseman and Ceduna.
The selected campsite we called the Blowhole Camp and it turned out to be one of the best we have had (at least for eight months..we did have some beautiful camps on our drive from Tamworth to Darwin last year!). I gave it a 9.9 out of 10 rating (it lost the 0.1 because of a discarded plastic drum nearby).
By eight we were in our bivvy mulling over the day. Falling stars entertained us and we realised it had been months since we had seen the stars. In Europe most nights are overcast and when not, light pollution eliminates any serious stargazing.