Alone on the Gunbarrel - Oct 2010

Sunday, Oct 31, 2010 at 23:20

Navigator 1 (NSW)

Day 1 Sunday 17th October

We left our Perth base at 10.00am and visited other Amesz motorhome owners near the Perth Hills before finally ‘cutting the cord’ with Perth. Eight and half months is a long time!
We found a good overnight campsite at Buntine Rocks, S29.97024 E116.58506, on the Mullawa/Wubin Rd, about 10km north of Wubin. The rocks were only 25m above the surrounding plains but from the top we had an excellent 360° of the surrounding countryside.

Day 2 Monday 18th October
130km down the track we had brunch at the old Payne’s Find Battery, S29.25510 E117.68481.Just 4 months after Payne/Dowd’s gold find (a question mark hangs over which man actually made the discovery), a five head Government battery was approved in October 1911 and started crushing in 1912. The Taylor family still crush today from time to time. This makes it the oldest operating battery in WA.
In Sandstone, S27.98793 E119.29659, we fuelled up and took time to do the 18km Heritage Trail. From the Information Centre/Grocery store, housed in the old Post & Telegraph Office, a good booklet is available detailing the trail – ‘Sandstone - 100 years of Gold & Wool’.
• Back in 1907, Irishman J.V Kearney, established The Brewery, S28.00791 E119.32232, on top of a breakaway. Water was pumped to the top storey from a well sunk on flat land east of the brewery. The beer, when ready, was stored in the cave beneath, passing down through a shaft. This cave was dug into the face of the breakaway. It’s amazing what lengths men will go to for their beer! (The brewery building has long since gone).The Brewery supplied the local hotels until 1910 when the railway line from Mt Magnet to Sandstone was completed.
London Bridge, S28.01149 E119.31417, is formed of weathered basalt and the rock formation is believed to be about 350 million years old. Unfortunately, ‘London Bridge is falling down’ as it is getting thinner and thinner. For over 100 years it has been a popular lookout and picnic spot. Have a look at the BBQ in the picnic area – vandals won’t do any damage to this one!
• The State Battery .. Unfortunately measures are not being taken to restore this historical building and with time, it and the workers’ cottages will cease to exist.
Contradiction Well was the first town water supply. It was located on Menzies Rd for prospectors, Cobb & Co coaches and travellers traversing the area. It was mainly used for watering horses and livestock.
Other sites in town are:
• The Old School House, now privately owned;
• The Museum & Tourist Information Centre built in the late 1940’s. Previously the building has been used as a grocery store, a hardware store, a fuel depot and for agricultural supplies;
• The Post and Telegraph Office – now the general store and post office;
• Black Chapel which had major restorations in 1995, the main feature being the stained glass window.
• The Cemetry, the first burial taking place in March of 1908.
The residents take great pride in their town.
We continued a further 50km NE of Sandstone and made camp at the DEC property of Lake Mason Station, S27.58625 E119.52094, yet another example of the land not being viable for sheep farming.
Established in 1965, the property was purchased from the then owners, the Humphries family , in July 2000. It covers an area of almost 150,000ha.Lake Mason has a long and interesting pastoral history with a string of past owners and many tales to tell. It was originally a cattle station but turned to sheep. It was interesting to read that the shearers’ mess was the original Sandstone train station building. We thought it fitting to pull in alongside for the night! We are led to believe that DEC is planning to bulldoze all the buildings in the near future!
We had company for the evening, a caravan and a camper trailer. It was a calm, balmy evening which made for a very pleasant evening around the camp fire.

Day 3 Tuesday 19th October
[bi]Early in the morning we explored all the buildings – the Homestead, the shearers’ quarters, their camp kitchen, and adjustable sheep loader, equipment and shearing sheds.
We fired up the donkey and had a hot shower (one last night as well) before settling in for breakfast and a day relaxing around the property.

Day 4 Wednesday 20th October
We continued through into Wiluna, S26.59790 E120.22339, and fuelled up in preparation for our trip along the Gunbarrel Highway. It was the first road built as part of Australia's role in the weapons research facility called Woomera. The area of land designated between Woomera and 80 Mile Beach near Port Hedland was chosen as the most suitable area in the world for a rocket range, but it was an uninhabited desert waste-land in the most remote part of Australia. This weapons research project did not just involve the launching of rockets into waste-land, but complex missile tracking instruments had to be placed in position throughout this vast region and so a massive ground survey was required to determine the earth's shape.
The first task was to construct a road running east-west across the centre of Australia to provide a major service access for the construction of all other linking roads. The Gunbarrel Highway was the first of the Len Beadell roads and so is a very historical journey for people taking the trip today.
Len Beadell, the surveyor for the project, admitted he was " a surveyor who liked to draw neat lines on maps", so he decided to site his roads in areas where long straight tracks could be built. It was Len himself, who light-heartedly named his road gang the "Gunbarrel Highway Construction Party".
The signpost at the Wiluna General Store/Petrol station gave our distances – Carnegie Station 353km, Warburton 846km, Giles 1077 and Yulara 1421km. We checked in at the Wiluna Police Station to notify them of our journey and then headed off around 11.15am.
Back in June/July we were in this area for the Exploroz National Gathering at the Gunbarrel Laager after which we ventured out a little further to Lorna Glen Station but now we were off into uncharted country for our GPS. At Wongawol Station we learnt from the manager, Adrian, that it was the largest individually owned property in WA, 3 million acres. Most properties are owned by a syndicate. The 15,000 head of cattle had been reduced to 7,000 due to the drought in the area. The property looked very poor indeed! I couldn’t help but love the original stone homestead – in time it will undoubtedly fall into ruins.
After gaining permission we continued on to camp on their property at Mingol Camp – and old drovers camp by a permanent water hole. The evening was warm! Our presence ididn't deter the cattle, emus and birds coming in for a drink.

Day 5 Thursday 21st October
We were on the road by 6.10am and had a smooth run into Carnegie Station. We thought this trip was going to be a breeze, our only concern being a 'closed in' section somewhere along the track that may be too narrow for the truck.
Carnegie Station was geared up for travellers with dongers, showers, toilets and a great camp kitchen. The property has recently had rain and was looking good. Three ‘boys’ from Perth were stuck for several days waiting for a truck to come and pick up their brand new Toyota – you just can’t work on them the way you could in the old days!
The truck was thirsty again so after filling him up we were on the road again.
On a large claypan travellers had erected goal posts and christened it the ‘Foolball Oval’. We could imagine a few fun games had been played here in the past to break the journey. However, nothing was happening today, so far we hadn't seen a car on the track since leaving Wiluna.
At Mount William Lambert we parked in the small turning circle at the top of the hill. After taking in the view of the surrounding plain and placing a rock on the cairn we continued onto the junction of the David Carnegie Road & Eagle Highway. We were tempted to head south 170km to the Great Central Road as the track conditions had deteriorated dramatically. We hadn’t done any research on the DCR so we decided to stay on the Gunbarrel ‘Highway’. (This word is certainly used very loosely!)
The Mangkili Claypan was the next concern as it can flood extensively and block the road. It was dry and there was no need to make use of the extensive network of diversion tracks. The corrugations between here and Geraldton Bore, a further 52km, were never ending and our speed was down to 10/20km p/h. The truck tyres are big and can handle the conditions but breaking down out in this territory, all alone, was not a comforting thought.
All the way to the bore we were wondering if we had done the right thing continuing on this journey. We arrived at 4.45pm and made use of the bore to have a good wash. We were very dirty having spent a lot of time pruning the Mulga so we could get through the tight areas. After a quick snack and a few drinks we hit the sack. We didn’t sleep well .. Should we go on? Should we turn back?

Day 6 Friday 22nd October
5.48am and we were at it again. We decided to continue - conditions had to improve!
Not so, the corrugations were relentless! We were down to 5/10km p/h in places and spent quite a bit of time clearing the track. The truck being wider and taller we just couldn’t get through ie without scratching our new baby.
We stopped alongside the monument to David Carnegie, one of our explorers. At this point, many years ago, he had past through heading in a northern direction.
Next was Everard Junctionjunction of the Gunbarrel Highway and Gary Highway (another of Len Beadell’s roads named after his son, Gary). This was also the location of a Len Beadell plaque.
Only another 7 or 8 km and we were at the base of Mount Gordon and nearby Mount Everard. This would have made a pleasant camp site but we were on a mission to conquer the corrugations.The horrors of the journey were all forgotten when we arrived at Mount Beadell, it was so impressive! S25.54770 E125.33221 We made the short climb to the top and took in the view before placing a rock on the cairn and having a good look at Len’s theodolite. For protection it has been placed in a wire cage.
Just a little further on and we were at Camp Beadell – 11hrs/88km .. now this was not a good average! It was 4.00pm and the shady campground was welcoming as it had been a hot day. Unfortunately the bore did not have a handle so the water was out of our reach.

Day 7 Saturday 23rd October
We left Camp Beadell at 5.37am and at 5.34am we were out clearing the track again. By the time we had reached Thrypomene Bore, S25.64265 E125.55368, we had spent about an hour and half cutting down branches. The bore had a hand pump so we had a much appreciated wash.
We were in and out of the truck all the way to the intersection of the Gunbarrel, Heather and Old Gunbarrel, S25.75146 E125.88325. It was 5.30pm and time to stop for the night, have a glass of wine and watch the sun set.

Day 8 Sunday 24rd October
To the Great Central Road we only had an 85km stretch south along the Heather Highway. We could see heavy rain clouds ahead so we were keen to get through as soon as possible. The first 40km was corrugated, washed out in places and took 3 hrs but we did pass a car travelling in the opposite direction. From this point the road was graded through to the Great Central.
It was obvious that recent heavy rain had fallen in the area and the much awaited super highway was wet and dangerous with great pools of water and boggy section. After Warburton it started to rain so 22km before Giles we pulled off the road for the evening.

Day 9 Monday 25th October
Due to continuing rain we stayed put till well after lunch before heading to the Giles Weather Station, S25.03384 E128.30353. We were on WA time and the weather station operates on SA time. We thought we had it all worked out but unfortunately we missed the release of the balloon by 5 minutes. Oh well, perhaps there will be a next time!
We could have stayed at the Roadhouse so we could watch the release of the weather balloon in the morning but due to conditions under foot we thought it would be best to drive on.
The Docker River area had 70mm or rain the previous day so road conditions were hazardous. The scenery however was magnificent! We were pleasantly surprised when we reached the Docker River Campground. It was clean, had a cold shower and flush toilet. It certainly was the end of the tourist season – we were all alone again!

Day 10 Tuesday 26th October
After and hour and half we stopped to talk to a grader driver before turning off to see Lasseter’s Cave, S25.01950 E129.39748. Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter was a gold prospector in the area who became stranded when his camels bolted in the heat of summer in January 1931 leaving him with no provisions. He actually sheltered in the tiny cave alongside the running waters of the Hull River for 25 days waiting for his relief party to find him but when they didn't come he set out to walk to the Olgas. He only carried 1.7L of water and made just 55 kilometres before dying.
It was a reminder of the harsh conditions our early pioneers faced and those which we too can face if travelling in remote areas alone in the summer months.
Just a short distance down the track and the amazing Olgas appeared on the horizon. When visiting several years ago we did the ‘Valley of the Winds’ walk so we continued the short distance on to Ulura.The rock is absolutely amazing! No one was climbing the rock today as it was closed for ‘Cultural Reasons’ – it was the 25th anniversary of the rock being handed back to the original land owners.
We continued on to the campground finishing a very memorable journey.
The outback calls
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