Willems Big Trip Report No 2

Submitted: Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 18:43
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Cotton Creek, Rudall River National Park, Pilbara

We set out from Georgia Bore around 8.30 in the morning and after 9 kilometres in a westerly direction we came across the Landrover, which had been driven by the two blokes who perished out there in March this year. Virtually nothing had been touched or disturbed. Their personal belongings and their places where they had died were left as is. To make things worse, the people who came to retrieve the bodies even threw their surgical gloves and other recovery items, which had obviously been contaminated, into the bush. We were unimpressed. The Talawana Track at this point is shocking as corrugations make any speed uncomfortable. These corrugations must be the result of sustained travel by the truck, which delivers fuel drums to Well 23.

Further along the Talawana a wrecked trailer lay by the side of the road. We endured the shaking and rattles, wondering what was going to fall off. Suddenly we were at an intersection where a great big wide graded road meets the track. A right turn and 21km took us in to Cotton Creek Community (Parnngrurr). I was aware that you had to ring up before entering the community but had my answer lined up if asked. The Community Manager did ask and I said that I had come in to find out what the protocol was with entering the community. He thought this answer was very funny and we got on well after that. One community elder had 32 dogs lying around his house. We asked another elder about numerous dead camels we had seen on the way in and he replied that they were shot for dog meat. There are around 80 inhabitants at Cotton Creek and at least 500 dogs or thereabouts. Whilst Cotton Creek is not a regular refuelling place they did ask if we wanted diesel. We said yes and then took 50 litres each out of a drum with a hand pump. One, two three, four…winds of the pump, to get four litres or thereabouts. Who knows how accurate it was at $2 a litre. Then we bought some supplies from the store and then I asked to see the community elder. We wanted access to the back way in to Rudall River National Park. Cotton Creek is part of the National Park; set a side for traditional use and a No Go area to outsiders. I asked anyway. At first the elder indicated we had to go the long way around. He was worried that it was too isolated and dangerous in view of the recent deaths on the Talawana Track. I explained that I was experienced in travelling to remote places and pointed to my grey beard. He pointed to his. He wanted to know what communications we had. I said HF and he shook his head. Then I said Sat phone and his eyes lit up and said “OK, but you be careful because the river might have water in it”. Then I asked which way out of town and he said he would show us. So he commandeered the Managers new Nissan GU with everything on it and showed us the track. We said our farewells and started on the track. Two kilometres from the start point the track divided into 5 tracks. It was then that I discovered that my GPS wasn’t talking to my laptop. So I had to go through the procedure manually. We found the right track eventually. It was very washed out and had not been used for a long time. Part of the track was so overgrown that we had to drive cross-country to get ahead. Always mindful of broken timber and stakes I had to be very careful where I placed the wheels so that we got through safely and that George in his GU could follow in our tracks. When we came to the Rudall River it was bone dry. A sign facing away from us stated that this area was set aside for aboriginal traditional use only and was not accessible to others.

It was still early afternoon and a printed wooden sign alongside the track indicated a track to Graphite Valley. So down the track we went for 10km and a dead end. Some very rough sections were encountered and on the way back George took a wrong approach through a creek and cocked a wheel, much to the horror of his wife, Maureen. But he managed to extricate himself from the predicament. I had a mud map and a Hema map on Rudall River and we were searching for Kalkan Kalkan soak. We never really found it but found a waterhole in the general area. Trouble is it was now a camel watering place and they had made a real mess of the area with their droppings. Darkness overtook us and we camped in the camel dung. Which was quite dry, I might add, and which burned OK in the fire.

Rudall River National park is remote and I get the feeling that CALM would rather one did not go there. The only ‘park’ sign was the one in to Graphite Valley. The rest were crude signs scribbled on 44-gallon drums or hand painted on scrap pieces of tin. The park is quite scenic but not spectacular. This was probably because of the lack of rain. Camels had polluted most of the waterholes but we managed to find a small creek bed out of the main river where there was a swimmable pool and drinkable water. Most tracks a slow and rough but not unmanageable. We spent four days in Rudall River including a drive up to Desert Queen Baths. The flies drove us insane. We saw no one until the last day when two vehicles were spotted in the distance. At the Desert Queen Baths campsite we found a dead dingo hanging from the branch of a tree smelling most foul. Someone was obviously intent on keeping others away. Human or animal!

Now, getting to the baths meant a bit of physical rock hopping, which put me out of the picture. So while the others went for a walk I opted to drive to a nearby cave where someone had made a track right up to it on the side of a hill. From below it looked an n easy drive but once at the top I realised just how steep it was. After taking some pics I put the truck in reverse and let her idle down the slope guiding by means of the mirrors. It was definitely a lot steeper than I had first thought.

We drove out of Rudall that same day and sped on to Newman along a graded Talawana Road. At Newman we did touristy things. Camped in the caravan park and met up with other EO forumites. From there we visited Wanna Munna rock carvings (petroglyphs) and spent a night at Karijini National Park. We could not do most of the walks but took pics of all the touristy accessible places and had a good time. Then on to Tom Price where we drove up a 4x4 track to the summit of Mt Nameless and a stunning view of Tom Price, the mine and the Hamersley Ranges. The following day we did a mine tour, which was equally breathtaking in just looking at the scale of operations.

Then it was on to Paraburdoo for a refuel and on to the Ashburton Downs road heading for Mt Augustus. We camped on Pingandy Creek that night and some clouds appeared on the horizon. It did not rain however and we were able to make good time towards Mt Augustus the following morning. Some of the vegetation along this way is quite interesting looking like Bonsai trees. George mentioned something about a black cloud and I said it seemed to be drifting the other way. We drove on. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, this little black cloud caught up with us. With rain drops the size of 50cent pieces it bucketed down a blotted our vision completely. We were going nowhere. Twenty minutes later it was all over but there was water gushing out of the hillsides. (For a moment I thought that Andrew MacDonald of “Big Kidz” fame had put a curse on us as he did in the Flinders in 2004). The road was awash with water up to half wheel height. After an hour I still advocated doing nothing and George decided to go for a walk to see what the road looked like further on. It had stopped raining. I rang Mt Augustus Resort on the Sat phone. They gave me the Mt Augustus Station number and I rang the owner, Don. He explained that we would be going nowhere for at least a week if we proceeded towards Mt Augustus as they had had 50mm of rain that day and some the previous week as well. I asked permission to camp at Dooley Downs Station we had passed earlier and he said that, that was in order. There was no one living at the station. At Dooley Downs I cleaned the rain gauge out (dead gecko) and measured the rain. We made camp at the driest spot on the gibber. That night the frogs came out and croaked their merry songs. We took or torches to see them at the edge of the newly created billabong.

The next day the clouds dissipated a bit and a clear day was looming. However, we backtracked the 130km to the Ashburton Downs road again and turned right towards Meekatharra. I rang Don at Mt Augustus Station again, gave the rain measurement and told him that we were going east. He was very appreciative of the fact that I had called him again.

Somehow we got our maps mixed up and the road to Meekatharra turned out to be about 200km longer than anticipated and both of us did not have a full load of fuel on board. So we were watching the fuel gauges intensely. Nevertheless, we pussyfooted it in to Meeka arriving there just on dusk. Then the heavens opened up again and it bucketed down. We grabbed the last two motel rooms in town and settled in for a few cold beers and a hearty meal. I had Kangaroo Road Kill, as stated on the menu.
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Reply By: Michael ( Moss Vale NSW) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 18:56

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 18:56
Hey Willem!!! I'm coming with you next time, sounds like i'v bee n doing the boring stuff. LOL!!
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Follow Up By: Willem - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 19:17

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 19:17
Hey Mike....As my motto goes .. Never a dull moment!!!
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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 19:08

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 19:08
Jeez! Mate glad that Sat phone came in so handy.
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Follow Up By: Willem - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 19:16

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 19:16
Yeah I gave the Sat phone a hiding this trip. Rang a mate once week to state where we were. Rang other mates to see if they were working hard...hahahahaha

I luvvv my Sat phone ! lol
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Follow Up By: Nudenut - Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 08:05

Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 08:05
you never rang me sob sob
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Reply By: Banjo - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 20:07

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 20:07
Great report.
We were told up in Cape York that the natives are given $25 per week to pay for the upkeep of their dog. Limit of 5 dogs per person though. So if 80 people then maybe only 400 dogs!

Banjo (WA)
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Reply By: Lone Wolf - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:04

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:04
"We asked another elder about numerous dead camels we had seen on the way in and he replied that they were shot for dog meat. "

This is interesting, as the consensus on communities further south is slightly different.

For some reason, maybe because of the history of the areas, they do not want to slaughter camels, as they were the beasts that bought the word of God into the area.

Eagerly awaiting instalment number 3!!

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Follow Up By: Willem - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:24

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:24
Funny I thought JC rode a donkey lol

Number three will be a day away or so and not all that interesting.
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:35

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:35
"As they were the beasts that bought the word of God into the area."

Sounds like one of those bull$hit stories they spin for the tourists. LOL.

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Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:46

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:46
Hi Wolfie,

I heard the same two weeks ago from an aboriginal family living on the Hay River in the north Simpson. Their belief was that killing camels brought them harm. We drove past a shot camel and its calf, and were told that the camel was shot by workers on the adjacent station about 12 months ago, and this killing caused the drought they had for 12 months.

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Follow Up By: Willem - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:58

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:58
Hi Phil

I read that the first camel imported to Australia was in 1840. In 1860 another 24 were imported.

It is amazing that totemic beliefs can be established in such a short time.

The aborigines after all claim to have lived here for 50,000 years

Camels(as cute as they are) are a feral pest in Australia and it is estimated that there are at least 100,000 of them roaming the deserts.

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Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 22:22

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 22:22
Hi Willem,
Great Trip, Great reports - keep them coming.

You sound a bit cynical :-)) Perhaps the aboriginal beliefs are not set in stone, but move with the times?

We spent two days and nights with Lindsay Bookie at Batton Hill Camp on the Hay River - changed the way I thought about a few things. He's in his late 50's, is an initiated tribal elder, and is attempting to open up the area to 4wd tourism. Very interesting guy.

If you get the chance to do the Hay River (Spinifex Trail) again, go for it. We found it a great trip.

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Follow Up By: Willem - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 22:45

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 22:45
Hi again Phil

Cynical maybe. I tend to want to think that many things in those circumstances are made up out of convenience. I met the Andersons who farmed there during the Spinifex Trail days. So Bookie has not been there all that long. His ancestors may have roamed that area. The lack of water in the area would have restricted use of the land for living and or hunting purposes. Camels only started roaming freely in the 1930's...................

Will be going that way again next year to look for my plaque I erected in the desert in 1987 but not on to aboriginal lands. Route will take in some serious offroad driving. Taking a select few with me.
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Follow Up By: Bob of KAOS - Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 17:33

Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 17:33
Out west of Alice they won't harm the Camels because the missionaries told them that the Camels helped baby Jesus. ('Some help' I reckon, given how events panned out)
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Reply By: Des Lexic - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:25

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:25
As usual Willie, read your reports with great interest.
You set a high standard with your trip destinations and I wonder how many of us live our lives through your stories.
You certainly inspire me to get out there and travel to those locations that once we only dreamed about.
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Follow Up By: Willem - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:30

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:30
G'day Al

Let me know your itinerary and I will help where I can with info seeing as you may be doing some of the places we have visited
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Follow Up By: Des Lexic - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:45

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:45
West across the Anne Beadell to Neale Junction, up the Connie Sue to Warburton then back track a bit to the Heather and up to the Old Gunbarrel and on to Wiluna then to Mt Augustus. The Pilbara is next and then down to Perth. Depending on time available will determine route back home. We figure 4-5 weeks to Mt Augustus so will be doing lots of little detours. Only 15 more sleeps lol.
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Reply By: Member - Davoe (Widgiemooltha) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:30

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:30
Superb, I have saved both to my computer for future referance
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Reply By: Big Kidz (Andrew & Jen) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:43

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:43
It must be fantastic to see the country when it rains...... hope that rain curse keeps happening.... I would just love to have been there to see the frogs croaking their merry songs!! Did you and George get the dance thing happening again in the rain?


PS - It is a great read.. I reckon it has whetted my appetite for another trip! Sounds about right... four days work and 8 weeks holiday.
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Follow Up By: Des Lexic - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:47

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:47
Sorry to see you guys back home already.
Hope to see your report on here soon.
Trust everything went well.
Catch up soon
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Follow Up By: Big Kidz (Andrew & Jen) - Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:50

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 21:50
You were so effusive in your praise of Willem's writing I thought you were angling to become the next 'Uncle' for Willem's next journey.

When ru coming to Melbourne?? (should we be doing this offline???)
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Reply By: Member - Royce- Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 23:55

Thursday, Jul 14, 2005 at 23:55
Thanks for taking us with you. You made my night. I'm feeling the winter blues here in Gippsland.
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Reply By: Nudenut - Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 08:08

Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 08:08
keep them coming
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Reply By: Member - Robyn J (QLD) - Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 17:06

Friday, Jul 15, 2005 at 17:06
Have to agree with the tour of the mine at Tom Price. Unbeleivable that they are mining below the water table. Our visit there coincided with a blast after the visit so we went to the top of Mt Nameless and watched the blast even got the lot on video. Fantasic to see the dirt go into the air with the noise coiming after the signs of the dirt going into the sky. As there was no wind on the day it took about 20 or so minutes for the dust to settle.

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