Old Stuart Highway

Submitted: Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 09:50
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Has anybody followed the Old Stuart Highway and is it it worth it?
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Reply By: Member - Boobook - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 10:37

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 10:37
Which part of the old Stuart Highway are you referring to Ivan? Up until the 80's or 90's the Stuart Highway ran through Kingoonya, heading North. I am not sure if it went east to Glendambo or continued south.
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Follow Up By: IvanTheTerrible - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:09

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:09
The only sections I can find marked are from Woomera to Coober Pedy but it runs straight through the Woomera test range
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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:29

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:29
Yes, we have driven the "old" Stuart Highway (when it was the "only" Stuart Highway :)), in 1967 (Mini), 1970 (Mini) and 1974 (VW Kombi Camper).
Bear in mind that the route changed over the years prior to that and possibly after that too, before it was extensively re aligned and surfaced.
Several sections of the old road are now "private property" and out of bounds.
This map is pretty much how I recall it...It essentially ran from homestead to homestead.

And this is what it looked like in 1967.

Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:54

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:54
Correction to the map...I am pretty sure that from The Twins it passed through Ingomar, not to the east of Ingomar in 1967.
Another couple of pics...from 1974...

EDIT.... MORE CORRECTIONS.
In 1967 the main road also went north from Welbourne Hill via Granite Downs, Mt Cavenagh, and Kulgera.

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Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 10:49

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 10:49
That's a great map Peter.
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 11:02

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 11:02
Another of the section north of Coober Pedy. More as I remember it.
Not dated unfortunately.

I probably have the 1:250,000 maps of the era somewhere too....although I would have purchased them after the first trip in 1967. They were ($7.50 each) EXPENSIVE at the time and lots were needed.

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Peter
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Reply By: Mick O - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:31

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:31
As I recall, it also passed through Mt Willoughby Station where you could obtain fuel. Much of the southern sections (pre Coober Pedy), lie to the east of the highways current location.

Many of the original stretches (pre-bitumen) were ploughed over to promote plant growth.

You'd have more luck trying to retrace the original Oodnadatta Track which previously hit the highway up at Granite downs above Marla. I did this in 2011 although there a quite a few station owners to be rung for permissions to cross these days (even though it's still listed as a Public Access Road!)
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Reply By: Member - nick b boab - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 19:36

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 19:36
Ivan: l travelled that Rd many times in the 70s and 80s till the Hawke government re-routed the highway for a more all weather Road , bypassing some of the lower areas. Not much changed in the 9 years of the Fraser government. Till the next labour government ? Finished the bitumen ceiling as it is today ~ mid to late 80's ?
I can remember when there was no Marla ...
Chris Joseland used to run Mt Willoughby Roadhouse and built Cadney Park Roadhouse when the new Rd was introduced .
If you look on exploroz maps you can see most of the old Rd apart from north of Mt Willoughby from Kingoonya heading south east towards Woomera it then pretty well followed the existing road today.
As I recall not too much to see ~ lot better on the Oodnadatta Road where you could spend a long time checking out some of the old train line and buildings .
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: IvanTheTerrible - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:00

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:00
Done Oodnadatta five times. Looking for future challenges
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:12

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:12
"I can remember when there was no Marla ..."
This is from Marla bore windmill in 1967 ..... I climbed it again a few years later.

Marla, the roadhouse, is some distance away and was not built until the new road went in.

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Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:19

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:19
That should have said no Marla bore Roadhouse
Lol
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:25

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:25
I knew what you meant. :)
Same applies to the other road houses. Glendambo was purpose built.

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Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:31

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:31
Would have thought Marla bore Roadhouse went in in late 70s ?
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:45

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:45
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marla,_South_Australia.... 1982
http://www.marla.com.au/

I was a public servant at the time and there was a government subsidy provided to build the road house.

Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 08:30

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 08:30
Just a correction , got my original statement stuffed up , it was Whitlam Government that started the Road realign/ Road sealing and was not finished until after the Hawke government took power after 1983
Prior to new road it had the reputation of being the roughest Road in Australia LOL
600 km of bone jarring corrugations .....
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: Member - PhilD_NT - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 17:05

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 17:05
Nickb, I did a number of trips between Alice and Adelaide in the late 70's and early 80's and my recollection was that the dirt from the NT Border to Pimba was around 900km but towards the end was getting graded more often. Unfortunately they also graded back the rocks in places which was fun and steel rims were advisable if they needed to be beaten back in to shape. For about a week after grading it was like driving through constant sand then you had a week or so of really smooth surface until the corrugations started forming again and then it was far less fun. The worst rocky section was from Pimba to Kingoonya.

There was the joy of paying the night time callout fee at Kingoonya and Coober Pedy. One great sight was the concrete rocket launching structures across the other side of Lake Hart but it was a pity that they destroyed them.

None of my trips though were like the pictures posted of the muddy conditions as with me it was always dry. Truck traffic in those days was light and about the only frequent ones were the Bulls Transport mob. With the speed that they mostly seemed to sit on if I caught up to one I didn't bother trying to pass through the flying rocks and dust.

I no longer have much enthusiasm for corrugations but never get tired of doing the whole Darwin to Pt Augusta run, even solo, as most trips have differences in them.

As to the OP's question I would have thought that about the only publically usable section of the SH South of Alice was out to Kingoonya then North to above Glendambo. North of Alice there's only the sections through the Devils Marbles, Churchill's Head and the scenic route from Hayes Ck to Adelaide River. These are good for anyone wondering what the old narrow bitumen was like from Alice to Darwin.
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 21:22

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 21:22
Phil D : you're not far out with your kilometres from Woomera to Kulgera Google says 850 ks although back then pretty sure the bitumen started at the Northern Territory border .
I had a laugh to myself when you talked about the opening fee at Kingoonya I can imagine what that was old Mr Fox wasn't renowned for his generosity .... lol
I remember on a trip down that way a mate of mine a machinist sharpened all his drill bits and then charge him full tote odds for his fuel ...lol
Back then when it got wet & boogie on those Road the trucks would connect them selves together to push and pull through the doggie sections and jump ups re Bull transport.. that Rd used to be like a mystery box you never know what you were going to get .


Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 21:44

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 21:44
"One great sight was the concrete rocket launching structures across the other side of Lake Hart but it was a pity that they destroyed them."
In the mid 60s, a group of "Gang Show" Scouts had a guided tour of the facilities at Woomera. The locals were amased because we saw stuff that they could never see, like the last Blue Streak (which I put my finger print on).... but we also saw that launch pad on Lake Hart, close up..
There was a very long escape slippery dip there in case things went terribly wrong.
Memories....

Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 01:02

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 01:02
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The concrete launch pads and exhaust chutes have not been destroyed. They were far too massive and still sit on the edge of Lake Hart cliff face.
What has been demolished is the tall gantries and service towers above the launchers which were more visible from across the lake. All other infrastructure has also been removed including the escape slides which I considered more risky than simply running for the donga!
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Allan

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Follow Up By: 826 - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 10:00

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 10:00
I didn't know about those. I looked at google maps and could see 2 of these at the northern end of Lake hart. I will need to get the binoculars out next time I am there.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 11:49

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 11:49
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Here is a photo of the Europa rocket in its final launch stage on launcher 6A. The tall gantry has been backed away. Two of these concrete launch pads and chutes were constructed but only one was ever used. The gantry towers were later demolished. I have a photo of one being toppled by a bulldozer and cable but cannot now find it.

From the public observation area across the lake the two concrete launch pads are maybe visible with the naked eye if you know what to look for as they are up gullies on the lake cliff. Best with binoculars. The gantries were more visible in their time.
Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Member - PhilD_NT - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 23:05

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 23:05
Alan, by "public observation area" do you mean the current Rest Area or somewhere else up amongst the sand dunes? There's that many tracks throughout the area it's hard to know where to go for a better look.
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Follow Up By: Member - PhilD_NT - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 23:20

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 23:20
I mentioned earlier about the opening fee at Coober Pedy and Kingoonya and from memory it was $12 then but if there were a few vehicles they might waive it at Kingoonya. On one trip through the night I was lucky that in both places a few of us arrived around the same time. In Coober Pedy though no one responded to the call out button and when I had a closer look in the window someone had disconnected one wire. I asked a local that was walking by and he said that the person lived out the back in a shack so we went and knocked on his door and said a local told us to. He probably wasn't happy about being woken up but did refuel all of us and didn't charge extra.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, Mar 29, 2018 at 00:00

Thursday, Mar 29, 2018 at 00:00
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Phil, I was purposely imprecise about the viewpoint because of the rather undefined area there and the meandering tracks. But an elevated location such as the Rest Area and carpark would afford a better distant view. The launchers are about 20km away on the shoreline, NNE. I doubt that I could now perceive them with my ageing vision. On any warm day the heat haze and mirages would obliterate them. Nothing amazing to see anyway.

I can remember being there alone,where the launchers are now, in 1954 when there was nothing more there than a solitary instrumentation van. A cool stiff breeze was blowing and the white lake was an amazing sight. It was the beginnings of my love for the solitude and grandeur of these desert areas.
Cheers
Allan

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Reply By: IvanTheTerrible - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:51

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:51
Funny. I was doing some planning for our next trip with Google Maps and this is what came up when I did a distance measurement to Coober Pedy



The gray track is mostly the Old Stuart Highway.
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:01

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:01
Ivan : sorry but i don't think so the old road went through kingoonya west of the blue line ?
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: IvanTheTerrible - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:07

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:07
According to EOTopo the gray line is correct. It went north west from Woomera to Mt Eba and then crossed the new highway north of The Twins rest area
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:39

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:39
HHmmm not to sure now , i now the road in 70, went through kingoonya ... don't ever remember it going through Woomera . Its only in the later years you could go into Woomera . maybe it has been re~lined a few times ??
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: IvanTheTerrible - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:55

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 21:55
Looking at an old map it looks like it may have been a network of roads no just one route.
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 22:05

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 22:05
on the Exploroz map it shows at mount Eba one OSH heading to kingoonya and another OSH heading to woomera .
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 22:21

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 22:21
Sorry Ivan, but that grey line in no where near the old Stuart Highway.

We travelled it 4 times in the 1970's is that is not it.

Firstly Woomera was still out of bounds then and when we went there in around 1974, it took 3 months to get a security check to get through the main security gate.....no security permit, no entry.....end of question.

From Port Augusta the bitumen finished 30 kilometres north of the town and then all dirt until 30 kilometres south of Pimba. From Pimba you headed west to Kingoonya and crossed over the railway line and headed north, follow through the variest stations, and the final drive in to Coober Pedy was through the road that is still used from Ingamar Station.



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Reply By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 00:10

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 00:10
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Hi Ivan,

Depends what you term the "Old Stuart Highway". The original road from Adelaide to Alice Springs was a series of tracks via Maree, Oodnadatta and Finke which followed the Overland Telegraph Line and old Ghan railway. It was never officially titled the "Stuart Highway" but is sometimes referred as such in later years.

The railway from Pt Augusta to Alice Springs was relocated westward and opened in 1980. An unsealed road ran adjacent to the rail. It was constructed in 1979 and was progressively realigned and bitumen sealed, being completed in 1987. The discarded sections were returned to a natural state.

No public accessible road ran via Woomera. This became a prohibited zone in 1949 from Pimba to west of Mt Eba where a corridor for the Stuart Hwy was established. The prohibited zone continued westward from the corridor. Woomera township became accessible to the public in 1984 but the prohibited zone then began just on the western boundary of the town.
Cheers
Allan

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Reply By: fishtojo - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 07:42

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 07:42
That grey line is the range road. Ran from koolimilka to mount eba. It had phones for reporting position as you crossed. Koolimilka was the entrance to range e and policed by commonwealth police. The road was a short cut for when the kingoonya road at pimba was washed out and was also access to mirikata tracking station, which was north of mount eba. There was also another road to coondambo from koolimilka which could be accessed if the range was closed. I am talking 1967 here and clearance to access these roads was required.
The old road north of kingoonyaa went from bon bon, mt eba, to McDougal peak , ingomar and then longs creek to Coober pedy. 180 miles all up.
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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 08:08

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 08:08
Fishtojo : fantastic info shared thanks , what is your history here ?
Cheers Nickb

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Reply By: fishtojo - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 09:16

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 09:16
I was state police stationed at Coober pedy at that time. A single man station which required prisoner transfer to port Augusta regularly, so a bit of night driving over those roads happened. The range road at night was a lottery with wall to wall kangaroos .. there were a couple of times the commonwealth would open it with escorted convoy when the pimba horror stretch was a quagmire and dangerous for trucks etc.
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Reply By: Ron N - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 00:37

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 00:37
Old Stuart HIGHWAY?? I went from Perth to Darwin to Pt Augusta and back to Perth with a mate, in July 1969 - in my HK Holden ute - and that section of miserable road from the Alice to Pt Augusta, could never be termed a highway! - in any sense of the word!!

What made our trip all the more memorable was stripping a timing gear in the HK about 60 miles S of Kulgera. Talk about "F .... ed, and far from Home"!!

The timing gear stripped mid-morning, so we sussed out the problem and promptly determined what it was.
We had lunch and waited for someone to come along.
Surprisingly, there were several cars a day on the "highway", even back then.

About mid-afternoon, a truckie rolled up with an ancient Foden - wooden cab and all! - towing a semi trailer.
In our youthful enthusiasm, we thought it would be a good idea for him to tow us to Coober Pedy, as he advised us that that was the nearest civilisation where we might be able to get some parts, or maybe even get the stripped gear fixed.

The truckie related how a mechanic had just built a new shed in Coober Pedy, and he was now open for business!

So we hooked the ute to the back of the trailer (yes, we even carried a chain!) and off we went.
Even though the old Foden was flat out at about 60kmh, we were choking on dust!
What was worse, the trailer wheels were throwing up lots of big nasty stones!

It didn't take too many miles before our windscreen was smashed - and our misery was compounded!

The truckie stopped to see how we were after about 20 miles, and we decided to leave the ute with my mate, while I went with the truckie to Coober Pedy.

It was getting dark now - but that didn't bother the truckie - he just kept going all night!
All I can remember of that trip, was lots and lots of short stretches of corrugated dirt road, interspersed by hundreds of creek crossings.

The truckie would wind the old Foden up through that ancient epicyclic gearbox (4 speed main and 3 speed "joey"), doing "split shifts" (jumping between the gear levers to even out the gear spread), get her up to near 60kmh - then a creek crossing would appear - and it was back down the gears again to bounce through the creek, and up through the cogs again, once we were out the other side of the creek!

This truckie kept up this routine all night without stopping, it was amazing to watch.
Come the dawn, and Coober Pedy appeared on the horizon. We pulled into the only roadhouse in town, and the truckie ordered breakfast for us, while he pointed out the mechanics shed where I could walk up to and question him about parts or repairs.

I got up there just after he opened for business, and one look inside the almost-new shed showed an almost completely empty building!
My heart sank at that view, I could see a trip to Adelaide for a timing gear, coming up!

I said to the mechanic, hopefully - "Mate, you wouldn't happen to have a timing gear for a Red Holden motor, would you?"

He furrowed his brow for a few seconds and said, "Actually - Yes, I think I do!"
He walked over to an open-topped 44 gallon drum in the corner of the workshop, leant into it and rummaged around - and pulled out a brand new Red Holden timing gear!! I could've kissed the bloke!

I paid him for it and walked back to the roadhouse where I enjoyed a good breakfast with the truckie - then we parted ways with a handshake and much thanks, and I started walking back towards Kulgera!

About 20 minutes after I left town, a truckload of Aboriginals pulled up! The cab was occupied with 3 blackfellas, and there were about 20 on the tray!
I told them where I was going, and they said they were turning off about 50 miles out, but I was welcome to ride!

So I jumped up on the back with all the other blacks and off we went. Of course, they were sharing a couple of flagons of plonk, which they eagerly offered to share - but which offer I politely declined!!

We got to their turnoff and I got off and thanked them for the ride, and started walking again.
After about half an hour, a bloke in a sedan pulled up - and I got a lift with him, right to the ute - because he was going to the Alice.

My mate was pretty glad to see me - I reckon he was pretty spooked at being left alone in the vast Outback all night - and hadn't expected to see me again for several days!

We then set to, to do a real bush repair on the timing gear. Fortunately, we were well-prepared with a good suite of tools.
You're supposed to pull the motor out of Holdens to replace the timing gear - and pull the camshaft out, as well!

But we just removed the timing cover and the fuel pump - broke the fibre part of the old timing gear off - and then chiselled the steel centre off the camshaft - holding the camshaft all the while, with a tyre lever inserted through the fuel pump hole!

We hammered the new gear on, holding the camshaft with the tyre lever - then re-installed the timing cover!
It was a bugger trying to get the gasket between the sump and timing cover to seal, but we managed after a fashion.
After all, you were supposed to drop the sump, to install that gasket!!

By mid-afternoon, we were rolling again! I don't remember a lot about that trip from where we repaired the ute, through to Pt Augusta! - but I can tell you this much, that bitumen we came upon, just out of Pt Augusta seemed like heaven to us!!

I can remember a lot of corrugations, and a lot of creek crossings and very few cars. When you came across someone, you usually stopped and had a bit of a yarn, such was the pace of life on that "highway", back then!!

Strangely enough, I cannot find when the road was officially named the Stuart Highway.
I do know it was just called "The Track" up to about 1940 - then it was officially termed the "North-South Military Road" during WW2 - and probably for a while after the War.

There is a lot of information via Google and in the digitised newspaper archives on Trove, if you do a search, using "North-South Military Road", for the search term.

Here's a NT Engineers pocket history of the Stuart Highway.

History of the Stuart Highway

The Territorians story of the "North-South Military Road".

The Territory remembers the "North-South Military Road".

Cheers, Ron.

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Follow Up By: Member - nick b boab - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 06:24

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 06:24
Ron : that's a good yarn !!
It's A Moment Like These that make a trip so memorable .
Cheers Nickb

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Follow Up By: Member - McLaren3030 - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 12:49

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 12:49
Great story Ron, a real good read.

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Reply By: Member - David & Kerry W - Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 09:23

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 at 09:23
G'day all.

Drove my Mum and Dad Pt Augusta to AS in 1956 after the Melbourne Olympic Games. It really was only a track littered with suicidal rabbits. Very dusty and rough, we had a few serious dust storms (which don't seem to happen these days) and a couple of minor breakdowns. Came across a busted truck loaded with coke, gave him some fresh water but refused his offer of the hot coke.

Mount Isa was a long drive in those days.
David
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