Northwest Odyssey - Part 3 Old Lost Port to the Gascoyne

Monday, Sep 02, 2013 at 17:56

Mike & Amanda

It occurred to me that watching our kettle boiling on the Oddy’s gas stove was a bit like the thought of decaffeinated coffee or worse - alcohol free beer… there’s just something not right about it!
We need a billy…a dirty, blackened, dented old billy that has sand and grit in it. Nothing tastes as good as fire charred billy tea or coffee…it seems to come infused with wood smoke and the a taste of the bush. So with this important point settled we headed up the track towards Carnarvon on the mouth of the Gascoyne River.Carnarvon has shops. One of them will sell billies. Carnarvon has had a very hard time. In 2010 the river flooded to record levels and devastated the whole area, followed by horrific fires in 2012 which destroyed enormous tracts of banana plantations. The kids always look forward to spotting the huge satellite dish that was used during the Apollo 11 1969 moon landings relaying Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon.

The town is a pleasant enough place. Ambling around we found a nice café near the beach for a coffee, sangers and some greasy chips. Passing seagulls did their little their dominance squawking dance, squinting cold eyed predator stares whilst eying up our precious chips. Pat and Jeff took off up the street wanting to buy one of those foamy eggshell mattress overlay thingies…apparently the borrowed trailer’s mattress was a useless piece of dead foam. Kate led me up the street looking for a billy shop. Sadly, we couldn’t find one, but we did find the Visitor Centre. We have found Visitor’s Centres very knowledgeable about all things important, so what better place to ask about the whereabouts of a billy shop. Unfortunately they told us bad things. After Kate had given the lady her best cute little girl smile and was rewarded with a bunch of freebies like stickers and rubbers and Made in China ‘Carnarvon is Great’ stuff, the lady said our great plans for going to Gascoyne Junction and crossing the river are now history! The river had flooded, and as Microsoft is famous for saying “access denied” – the roads are closed and no one is going in or out. I’m told I have a problem with authority so I immediately adopted a shifty eyed stance and set about scheming how we could ignore this paltry, yet to be proven fact and sneak out of town and do what we bloody well like anyway. This is disregarding the niggling kernel of logic that 173 km out and 173 back is a long way just for sulkily being bloody minded. Well, one thing we had learned from crossing this country back and forth, everyone has an opinion and usually not all of them are right, with lots being born from rapidly spreading rumour…still this is THE VISITOR’S CENTRE, and you would expect them to know……

Sneaking out of town we passed a billy shop and I managed to become the owner of a very shiny cheap Chinese genuine Australian billy. I secretly hoped it wasn’t aluminium as I’d read about the link with Alzheimer’s…or thought I had….maybe I should have shelled out for stainless model, but billys don’t survive very long in my bonfires which are usually hotter than your average blast furnace.

One hundred a forty kilometres along the Carnarvon- Mullewa bitumen, the little pin on the Hema iPad App told us to turn left. It is amazing how accurate this App is with the dirt appearing right on schedule. Luckily we encountered no water or blocked roads yet, although the countryside looked remarkably lush with some flowers starting to appear. The red parapet wall of the range loomed on our left, looking dry and parched, at odds with the recent wet weather. Someone had been on the receiving end of the WA Royalties for Regions program as the 70 odd kays of gravel dashes shown on the Hema map was replaced with shiny new bitumen…damn, they are ruining this country. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…. as our bumper sticker says “bitumen, another waste of taxpayer’s money!”

The red gravel and dirt track led in towards the Gascoyne and the ochre western face of the Kennedy Ranges. We planned to visit this little known or travelled side to Mooka Creek, Yenny Spring and the lovely Chaffcutter’s Spring with its permanent water before heading over the top of the Range and back down onto Ullawarra Road, well north of the Temple Gorge campground.

The DEC or now more properly Department of Parks and Wildlife plan to develop this western side, which will probably result in the usual gravel, bollards and improved access….just what we four wheel driver’s want to avoid. After dropping tyre pressures all round we found the track in to be wide and easy driving, although it got wetter and wetter with significant standing water. Acacias and mulga sparsely dotted the area. The tracks narrowed and became chopped with evidence of other vehicles sliding and bogging. A number of twisty chicken tracks helped us to avoid the worst bits, me trying to demonstrate my new maturity, silently muttering a mantra “must not get the car unnecessarily muddy, must not get the car unnecessarily muddy…” Besides I’m the one who usually has to clean the bloody thing so its in my interest to keep the gobs of mud off I say, as I eye up another interesting looking mud hole….….Small bushes were growing in the tracks, dotted with hundreds of deeply embedded cattle prints telling us that not a lot of people come this way. Two steep water crossings helped us to regain rusty skills and add some much needed confidence to the time diminished supply. These were Pat’s first real crossings and she did really well considering the Hilux was a little vertically challenged in the clearance department.

Coming closer to River we encountered a seemingly abandoned large fully loaded semi just sitting there. This didn’t look good. The track led straight into a large body of water…was this the river? Well it was, and yes it was flooding. We parked and barefooted crossed the 50 metres to the other side. It wasn’t too deep but it pushed me sideways and the bottom was soft in places. A pow wow enabled us to discuss the pros and cons. I reckoned we could make it, but just in case, there seemed to be an absence of reachable winching trees. The water would have come up to the just above the doors depending on how deep we sank, the flow was a worry. We all agreed that this early in the trip it wasn’t worth the risk…damn!

Turning around we drove along the bank and set up under some lovely river gums. An old piece of corrugated iron served as the perfect reflector for the evening’s fire. The kid’s found some huge logs that weighted nothing at all, pretending to be superman they posed for impressive pics.

It was a great spot, river gums, cadjeputs and coolibahs lining the banks. There was enough water for a good icy dip and wash, the kids splashing away like wild things. Cockatoos, finches and wrens skittered around their cries and song echoing as the sun dropped. The new shiny billy became tarnished and produced (in my opinion) a truly unbeatable bush cuppa. How can it be better, free heat source and free clear, fresh river water! This is what it is about, no one within at least 50 kilometres, feet pointing towards a blazing warm fire, the intoxicating smell of bush wood smoke drifting over as you drink that welcome first beer or wine of the evening. We were all a little melancholy that the plan had failed the first encounter…oh, well tomorrow is another day…and we’re not at work!
Mike & Amanda
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