Western Deserts - Anne Beadell & Sandy Blight Junction Tracks

Monday, Aug 04, 2014 at 00:10

Baz - The Landy

Photos and story: Baz – The Landy

There is something very satisfying about heading down the driveway, out of the “rat-race” and into the heart and soul of this great country of ours.

And Friday morning was the appointed time for us to head off to the Western Deserts and rest assured we were eager, departing before even the kookaburras’ were stirring. Mind you there is the mundane of actually getting out of the city, but before long The Landy was pulling the Tvan up and over the Blue Mountains on what was a fairly cool start to the day.

Similar to our recent trip along the Birdsville Track, we headed west on the roads less travelled visiting the small rural towns of Tullamore and Tottenham, in New South Wales central west. And central it is, as we visited the geo-graphical centre of New South Wales, not too far from Tottenham.

In fact, this is the third time I’ve been there in the past 12 months, despite having never visited previously, and I suspect, most likely never again…after all, there is only so many times you can visit.

We’ve always considered crossing the Darling River heading west, or northwest, as the case might be, as arriving in the outback, and we did this passing Wilcannia on our way to an overnight stay at Silverton. We camped at Penrose Park and let me say that if you are looking for a great place to stay whilst visiting the Broken Hill region, this is the place…

And you can enjoy a walk along a heritage trail that incidentally finishes at the famous Silverton Hotel.

So anyway, here’s cheers.

If you are ever heading north along the Stuart Highway be sure to visit Woomera, which is a short distance from Pimba, and the site of Australia’s rocket test facility. Of course in the 1950s it played a pivotal role in the Atomic Test Program.
Janet, Mrs Landy, has been extremely excited about this visit, as her Aunt, Nell Mott, worked for the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury in Adelaide during the 1950s and spent long periods of time at Woomera operating test equipment.

During the infancy of the Establishment Nell also worked as a mathematician alongside about thirty other young women deciphering the information from many of the tests that took place on the Woomera Range.

In effect, they were human computers.

We have many photos of her time at “The Establishment” and we saw many similar photographs on display at Woomera.

Nell was also great friends with Len Beadell whom she came to know very well during this time and over the weeks ahead we will witness the work he undertook, building roads and marking trig points, with great precision, ahead of the Atomic Test program that was undertaken in the region.

Tomorrow we head towards Maralinga where we will meet with the caretaker of the village, Robin Matthews, for a tour of the Maralinga Range.

And as I pull the ring top I just remembered to tell you, if you are travelling via Glendambo, don’t overnight there, but drive another 40-kilometres westward and overnight at Kingoonya and visit the local publican Muzza and his mate, John at the pub.

Talk about characters, we had morning tea chatting to them, but unfortunately we didn’t think to overnight there and stayed at Glendambo the previous night, which to be honest, lacked a bit of soul.

But back to Robin Matthews and our visit to Maralinga Village. Robin gave us a great welcome, organised a “Donga” that we could shower in and had dinner with us out in a pleasant outdoor area that he had created.

The highlight of our visit was a tour of the Maralinga “forward range” and visiting a number of sites where they actually detonated the atomic bombs. Now mind you, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but we enjoyed learning about the history of the program and Robin is a walking encyclopedia on the topic. We visited the airfield where British personnel were flown in and out of in a cloak of secrecy and learned about how the waste was cleaned up and dealt with during the 1990s.

Of special interest to myself was the impact the testing has had on the traditional landowners and how it has affected them. Robin is closely associated with the Maralinga Tjarutja people and was able to relate in a sensitive way how it has affected them and what it might mean for their future.

We are currently camped on the Emu Road, approximately 70-kilometres to the north of Maralinga and tomorrow we will head to Emu Junction.

And what a great day we had travelling north passing a number of Len’s markers, one of which was located on top of Observatory Hill, a small hill that gave a fantastic 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

Our travel was mostly through open sand dune country and we took a small diversion to view a large saltpan set amongst the dunes.
We had intended to camp at Emu Junction after visiting the Emu Atomic Bomb sites at Totem 1 and Totem 2, however after visiting numerous at Maralinga we elected to set up a pleasant camp just short of Emu Junction and in time to witness the setting sun casting a golden hue on the nearby sand dune.

And speaking of the nearby sand dune, TomO has elected to sleep out in his bivvy bag on the dune, nestled in a small culvert about 400 metres from our camp. We are pleased that he is comfortably at ease spending a night out under the stars by himself, and what a place to do it, in the middle of no-where with not another soul in sight!

After a couple of days meandering around and over sand dunes in some very spectacular country we find ourselves just over the Western Australia border and around the camp fire once again. And isn’t that one of the great things you can enjoy under a canopy of stars set against an inky black sky. We’ve spent many nights with our heads bent back looking at the night sky trying to pick out the various constellations and stars.

Travel has been slow as we make our way westwards and that is just the way we like it. We have averaged around 30-35 kilometres per hour with about 4-4 ½ hours of driving time each day, with plenty of time in between to explore some of the dunes and beyond.

Being early rises has its advantages, at times, and has ensured we have caught the sun piercing the eastern skyline each day over a warm cup of freshly brewed tea from the fire.

Tomorrow we will make our way towards Ilkurlka Road house, which may, or may not be open given it is Sunday. Whilst my understanding is they are usually there on Sunday’s we did meet another group today who suggested this may not be the case this Sunday. Either way, we have sufficient fuel to make it to Laverton.

Mrs Landy has indicated that having a shower is up there with seeing a “Thorny Devil”. Mind you we are still to see one and the colder weather will make seeing one less likely, so let’s hope she gets her shower at least!

And incidentally the group we spoke with today is the first we have seen since leaving Maralinga four days ago.

We arrived at Ilkurlka on Sunday afternoon and were greeted by Tony and his partner Helen who were looking after the “shop” whilst the owner was away. It was no problem getting fuel despite indications they are closed on a Sunday, with Tony quipping, “where would we be anyway”.

Now Mrs. Landy is no slouch when it comes too moving, after all she does boot camp a few days a week in between looking after “her boys”. But crikey, she moved fast when TomO proclaimed that the “donkey” was fired and the water was hot!

Sadly, no Thorny Devils have been sighted at this stage, but Janet did say the shower was “bloody damn good”!

After changing a leaking shock absorber on the Tvan we made tracks westward towards another destination with a bush camp, and how good are they under a sky full of stars. We camped nearby to a formation of rocks that apparently have been there for a long time and placed by aboriginal people.

Each day we have covered approximately 160-kilometres, with plenty of stopping time to enjoy and photograph the scenery, drink cups of tea and generally just relax. Our average speed has been in the region of 30-35 kilometres per hour at best to date, but that has a number of advantages of course. The lower speed gives you more time to take in the scenery, does wonders for the fuel economy of the V8 Diesels, which have performed extremely well, and a lower speed goes a long way to ensuring no damage is done on the corrugations…

Although there was the one shock absorber on the Tvan, which we will send back to Track Trailers for checking as it was almost brand new…

Mind you, after Ilkurlka our average speed has increased as the road is in better condition after a grader team came through and stole all the corrugations!
Hey, be sure to stop and climb to the top of Bishop Riley’s Pulpit, a small hill and rock formation about 40-kilometres east of Yeo Homestead Ruins.

Currently we are sitting around the campfire, the roast lamb is sizzling away and seemingly there is a truckload of vegies in the oven ahead so as to avoid dumping them in a quarantine bin before reaching Laverton tomorrow.

The Anne Beadell section of our Western Deserts trip has been fantastic and we have spotted a number of reasons to return along this route in the not too distant future.

But the lamb needs tending, so catch you soon!

And that lamb was pretty good, today we travelled on to Laverton and along the way Mrs. Landy treated us to some of her famous camp oven scones cooked by the roadside for morning tea.

After a few chores, that would be doing some washing, we had a couple of beers at the Desert Inn and we are now preparing hamburgers for dinner. And if you have never had Mrs. Landy’s hamburgers – unlucky!

Tomorrow we are heading to Tjukayirla were we will spend a couple of nights taking a look at the local area and catch up with Al and Serena at the roadhouse who are also EO business members.

And talking about hamburgers, expectations are high for one of those Tjukayirla burgers!

It was a very casual departure from Laverton as we pointed ourselves north-eastwards along the Great Central Road, which is in very good condition and wide enough to take a Jumbo Jet!

Along the road we stopped to take a look at a number of rock-holes, the life blood of the aboriginal people who travelled these lands long before our arrival. And of course, to take plenty of pictures of some wonderful wildflowers, including the Sturt Desert Pea!

We are overnighting at the “chook” for two nights and tomorrow we will head out to Breaden Bluff and Empress Springs.

And we received a warm welcome from Al and Seleena at Tjukayirla!

If you are ever in this region don’t forgot to spend a day or two exploring the area. We took a drive along the David Carnegie Highway and wiled away the hours at Breaden Bluff, taking photos of the landscape and the many Zebra Finches that availed themselves of the rock-holes.

What a great way to soak up the big sky country!

Of course, we made sure we got a fill of the great “Chooka Burger” before heading for another camp fire where Al joined us and related some of his experiences of life at “The Chook”.

But most importantly, Mrs Landy got to see a Thorny Devil (hooray!), whom we’ve nicknamed the “Thorny Rebil” as we made our way to Empress Springs. We considered him a bit of a rebel as they should all be hibernating by now, so we’ve considered ourselves extremely lucky on this occasion.

After an early departure from "The Chook" we made our way to Warakurna (Giles) where we have set up camp ahead of our trip along the Sandy Blight Junction Track over the next three days. And before we go we will head down to the weather station to watch the weather balloon going up in the morning…

And what a cold start to the day it was at Warakurna, the thermometer was calling in at zero degrees and we didn’t have a fire going! But after thawing out we headed to the weather station to take a look at the museum and watch the balloon being launched, which is fully automated these days.

Two hundred and fifty litres of fuel later we departed Warakurna and headed to the Sandy Blight Junction track, which is about 72-kilometres along the road, with the turn no too far past a Len Beadell marker on a white gum tree.

Not long into the track we stopped to view the Bungabiddy Rock-hole and ended up staying for a few hours, photographing the area, taking a walk of the surrounding area, and of course, Mrs Landy was taking pictures of wildflowers.

Tonight we are camped along the track in a wonderful spot, the fire is going, the tea is brewed and tonight it will be meat and three vegies over the campfire, and if we are lucky one of Mrs Landy’s corn dampers!

Another two days along the track has us at a camp approximately 30-kilometres south of the Sandy Blight Junction with the Gary Highway. The fire is licking away at the mulga wood, we’ve had a fill of Mrs Landy’s scones and life couldn’t get much better.

In fact, this will be the last bush camp on this trip for Janet and TomO as they will be flying home from Alice Springs on Saturday, and we will spend a couple of days at the Glen Helen Resort in the West Macdonalds over the next couple of days.

I am going to join the chorus of people who have proclaimed that the Sandy Blight Junction Track is one of the most scenic desert drives Australia has on offer. Those willing to travel this remote track will be rewarded with an ever changing and contrasting landscape.

It has it all, from stands of desert oaks, to red sand dunes and open plains, rock-holes and small mountain ranges, one of which, the Sir Frederick, gives you a 360 degree vista of the surrounding lands of the traditional owners, the Ngaanyatjarra people, after a steep drive to its summit.

But isn’t one of the great things about this great country is sharing the camp fire with family and friends, or maybe someone you’ve just met. Janet, TomO, and myself have been fortunate to have a close family friend Bob, and his cousin Dave, to share the trip with us, and there has been much laughter and stories around fire!

After three spectacular days on the Sandy Blight we have pointed “The Landy” east towards the West Macdonnells and a stay at Glen Helen for three nights to enable us plenty of time to explore this fascinating part of Australia’s Outback.
What makes it quite spectacular are the gorges that run through the mountain ranges and we visited a number during our stay at Glen Helen. Of course, after three weeks on the road there have been some “household chores” to catch up on and a good scrub under a hot shower! We also gave the vehicles a good check over, which have performed flawlessly.

TomO spent a night out under the stars up in one of the gorges near Glen Helen, along with travelling companion David.

But today we said good-bye to TomO and Janet, Mrs Landy, at Alice Springs as we put them on a plane home to Sydney as the young bloke heads back to school this coming week. And as much as he has enjoyed being “Out and About” he also wanted a few days to catch up with mates before the school bell rings on Wednesday morning.

And rumour has it Mrs Landy has given the hair-dryer a flogging since getting home

But fair enough I say, as I’m very lucky to have a partner and son whom both share the same love for the Australian Outback as I do!

The camp oven scones just won’t be the same without them, but we’ll give it a go...

Well the Plenty Highway has been a different drive to the desert country and we camped last night at Arthur River, not to far east of Jervois, and tonight we are by a water-hole not too far from Boulia.

Birdsville is a town that seemingly is synonymous with the Australian Outback.
Mention the Birdsville races to any group and there’ll bound to be any number of people who can retell tales of their trip to the event held each September. Mind you ur arrival in town was threatened by some low cloud and the potential of some light rain, which didn’t eventuate.

It is a very pleasant drive from Boulia, and one we have done on numerous occasions, and it is also worth a stop off at Bedourie, and later on, at the Eyre Creek Crossing.

But back to Birdsville, there is only one place to go and that is the pub for a few beers and a steak. And with the arrival of a flash looking bakery over the past few years, the morning after was followed up with curried camel pies and lamingtons.

The town was full of people who had either just made a crossing of the Simpson Desert, or were about to, and whilst I enjoy the trip across, from the number of vehicles we were left wondering whether there would shortly be a need for a set of traffic lights atop “Big Red”.

We have wanted to travel the Walker’s Crossing track on a number of occasions, but for whatever reason it has been closed. This time around we seemingly got lucky and this was a most enjoyable way to arrive in Innamincka, or at least to the Minkie Waterhole. The rain was still threatening, but we awoke to a beautiful sunny day the following morning, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast just wiling away the time.

For me Tibooburra speaks loudly of the Corner Country, an area that we have visited frequently over the years, and our route today was down through Epsilon and Omicron and through the jump-up country area of the Sturt National Park. This is quite a spectacular drive and the views afforded from the mesas and over the surrounding country is breath taking.

Our overnight camp is at the Dead Horse Gully camp area and it is quite cold, so after a warm drink I’m heading to bed. Good night!

Like a horse sensing it is nearing home “The Landy” is getting a whiff of that East Coast sea air and I am desperately trying to rein it in and make this trip last as long as possible. Today we headed across to Louth via Wanaaring.

And a comment on Wanaaring, be sure to visit the local store, it is a very friendly place where you get a “good old yarn” from the owner ensuring you will want to linger that little bit longer!

Strewth, who doesn’t like Louth?

Talking about friendly places, this is another one of them, and the pub, Shindy’s Inn, is the focal point, which is just as well as we were a little thirsty after our drive today. We attended an ANZAC Day service here a couple of months ago, which was held on sunset and this precluded us from witnessing an unusual phenomenon.

Thomas Andrew (TA) Matthews founded the town around 1859 and when his wife, Mary Matthews, died in 1886, he had a large headstone made from marble with a cross at the top. On the anniversary of her death, a date in August, the cross, when viewed from the front stairs of the family home, shines brightly from the reflection of the setting sun. On other days of the year the same can be viewed from varying positions around the town.

Now apart from being quite an engineering achievement, and not to mention this had to be made in Adelaide and transported on the Darling River back in the 1880’s, it actually has “another world” feel to it.

Robyn, who was helping out in the pub, took us to the vantage point just ahead of sunset and we watched the setting sun do precisely what it does every other day ever since the headstone was laid. It shone brightly, brightly like a very bright candle – to see is too believe, as they say!

And as an added bonus to this event, an older lady, the great, great grand-daughter of the late TA was there to view it for the very first time. There was only one thing we could do and that was to head back to the pub and recount our experience!

You can read more about this in my blog "Love in the Outback - An Ethereal Experience"

Tonight we find ourselves at our usual “end of tour dinner” at the Narromine Aero Club, tomorrow we make the final drive home down through Orange and Bathurst and home to Janet and TomO. You might recall they flew home from Alice Springs so TomO wouldn’t miss the start of his school term – and no that isn’t the reason that a pub has figured in our daily travels since that time, rest assured Janet would gladly sit atop a bar stool and enjoy a cool beverage, and TomO, well not just yet, but he always enjoys a can of Solo and game of pool!

So folks, I guess that is it for a little while at least until we get Out and About once again, and as we point “The Landy” back down the Bell Line of Road tomorrow without doubt there will be banter over the UHF radio of highlights of the trip, and in the years ahead they will recounted over again like it was only yesterday we made the journey...

For those with an interest following is some of the "Stats" for the trip...

Just in case you were wondering “Baz – The Landy” came about as a consequence of owning three Land Rover Defenders, but as you can see this has now changed...

And yes, thank you, I've recovered fully from the experience!

But “Baz – The Landy” reference has stuck...!

Cheers, Baz – The Landy, Outback Australia…
“Those who don’t think
it can be done shouldn’t
bother the person doing it…”
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