Doctor Hicks Range - Great Victoria Desert June/July 2010

Saturday, Aug 03, 2013 at 12:25

Life Member - Duncan W (WA)

Doctor Hicks Range & parts of the Hann Track –Great Victoria Desert Western Australia
June 26 to July 10 2010

(We know it just isn’t going to go to plan; but hey that’s half the fun; isn’t it!)

Total Distance = approx. 2,832km
Longest distance without fuel = approx. 740km
Length of cross country section = approx. 150km
1:250,000 Maps = Kurnalpi SH51-10, Cundeelee SH51-11, Minigwal SH51-07, Edjudina SH51-06, Laverton SH51-02; Rason SH51-03; Neale SH51-04 & Plumridge SH51-08. (We’ll spend most of the trip on the Rason map.)

Day 1 Sat 26 June
The Lakes Roadhouse to Kurnalpi-Pinjin Rd east of Kalgoorlie (Camp 1). (approx. 650km)

Day 2 Sun 27 June
Kurnalpi-Pinjin Rd to Stella Range (Camp 2) via Kanowna, Kurnalpi, Yangan Rockhole, Pinjin Hsd, Kirgella Rocks, Kirgella Rocks Hsd, Mulga Rockhole, Lake Minigwal and Surprise Granite Rockhole. (approx. 330km)

Day 3 Mon 28 June
Stella Range via Mt Dennis, Yarri Gnamma Hole, Friday Gnamma Hole and Burtville to Laverton (140km - last fuel for approx. 740km), then return via Burtville and turn E to Mallee Hen Rocks (Camp 3). (approx. 260km) [620km to next fuel]

Day 4 Tue 29 June
Mallee Hen Rocks to Chick Rockhole (Camp 4) via Gum Rockhole (?), unnamed gnamma (?), Mt Luck, Mt Hickox, Lilian Addicott Rock & Soak. (approx 65km - about ¾ on tracks, the remainder cross country) [555km to next fuel]

Day 5 Wed 30 June
Chick Rockhole to Blaze Point (Camp 5) via Tigertrap Gully, Signal Point, Mt Carlon, Crow Cave Hill & Mt Douglas. (approx. 32km - all cross country) [523km to next fuel]

Day 6 Thu 1 July
Blaze Point to the creek system north of Hann’s Knapp Hill – maybe Hann’s campsite of 3 July 1906? (Camp 6). This is the start of Hann’s Doctor Hicks Range. (approx. 45km - cross country and via a few seismic lines) [478km to next fuel]

Day 7 Fri 2 July
Spend a few hours exploring the Knapp Hill creek system on foot, then proceed to a spot in the Doctor Hicks Range North of Hann’s Table Hill that may be Hann’s ‘Cruiseo Creek’ (Camp 7). (approx. 20km – all cross country) [458km to next fuel]
Day 8 Sat 3 July
From camp North of Table Hill via Hann’s ‘Rabbit Point’, then over his Bertha Creek to his Hidden Secret RH (Camp 8 & Hann’s camp of 5 September 1907). (approx. 20km – all cross country) [438km to next fuel]

Day 9 Sun 4 July
Rest day at Hidden Secret RH (Camp 8) – explore breakaways to the North. (approx 15km all cross country) [423km to next fuel]

Day10 Mon 5 July
Hidden Secret RH southwards to the shore of Lake Rason, then eastwards to cut the track around the east end of Lake Rason, then down to the Plumridge Lakes Rd and southwards on it to opposite Hann’s Bartlett Bluff and proceed cross country eastwards 5km to breakaways and ‘H’ soak where Hann camped on 1 & 2 September 1907 (Camp 9). (approx. 60km almost all on tracks today and from here on) [363km to next fuel]

Day 11 Tue 6 July
Explore the breakaways and search for Hann’s mark on rock. Depart late morning and take track to McKay Creek via Bobby and Myall Rockholes (Camp 10). (approx. 50km) [313km to next fuel]

Day 12 Wed 7 July
Rest day at McKay Creek (Camp 10). (approx. 5km). [308km to next fuel]

Day 13 Thu 8 July
McKay Creek to Condun Well (Camp 11) via Hann’s Knob, Lake Rason, Cape Marten, seismic line and Yamarna Rd. (approx. 230km) [78km to next fuel]

Day 14 Fri 9 July
Condun Well to Bullabulling (Camp 12) via Laverton (refuel), Leonora & Menzies. (approx. 510km)

Day 15 Sat 10 July
Bullabulling to Perth (approx. 540km).


Like all big trips there has to be a certain amount of pre planning, foremost was the preparation of the car. Following the Easter trip in and around the Upper Gascoyne Region I needed to get all the electrics in the car fixed as our auxiliary battery wouldn't keep charge, I’d lost both spotties due to cheap and nasty mounting brackets, and I’d wiped out the trailer plug as usual. A trip to Forrestfield Auto Electrics soon had that sorted. Now have a rather expensive Optima battery for my auxiliary so should keep me in cold beers and frozen food for quite a while.

As usual and running behind schedule I got the car serviced in the last week before the trip to be told that the upper control arm bushes needed replacing. This would have to wait as I’d run out of time. Odd thing was that the car had also developed a heck of a squeak since getting serviced?

On the Wednesday night got the car filled up with the cheapest fuel we’d see for 15 days. Car’s capacity is 75L in the main tank and 110L in the reserve. But reckon I could squeeze at least another 5L up the spouts.

Took the Thursday and Friday off before the Saturday 26 June departure date and my travelling companion Ian and I screened up the front of the car, and loaded up the car with all our food, drinks and camping gear. Hell those split rimmed and 14 ply rag tyred spare wheels are heavy to lift onto a roof rack.

The roof rack was over loaded as usual with a very heavy spare, 50L of jerry cans (empty at this stage), our two camp chairs and a box of spare parts etc. All up I’d say about 110Kg and the rack is rated at 100Kg.

Now What Really Happened

DAY 1 Saturday 26 June: The Lakes Roadhouse to Kurnalpi-Pinjin Rd east of Kalgoorlie (Camp 1). (approx. 650km); [actually travelled 644.4km]

Left home at 6.30am to pick Ian up and the radio announcing that it was 0.3 degrees, an ominous sign of things to come no doubt. Arrived at the Lakes Roadhouse, our scheduled meeting and departure point, at about 7.30am.

Surprise, surprise, (visions of Gommer Pyle go through my mind with that saying), who’s sitting in his car waiting for everybody but Mr Ranger Camping himself, Mr John Brown or JB to those who know him. He’s got to go to Kalgoorlie on business and he’s arranged with Nick to travel with us for a couple of days. Great stuff as John is always fun and great company.

Within 15 minutes the others start to arrive and we all have breakfast before departing at 8.30am.

This will be the smallest convoy and group that I’ve travelled with on these long and extended tours.

In the convoy would be up front Nick Underwood (Western 4WD mag & Campfire Escapes) and partner ‘in crime’ Sue Woods, in Nick’s tricked up Toyota 70s cab chassis; closely followed by historian and exponent on all things Hann, Ian Elliot (Mr E) and his grandson Ashley (Ash) in his Toyota Troop Carrier; Arie, Kristina, and their two children Ella, and Aiden, in their Toyota HiLux; Pete & Mel in their Toyota Prado; Wendy and Jan in Wendy’s Ford Escape; Ian and I in my Terracan; and tail end Charlie was Andrew Fardon (ORE & Nick’s partner in Campfire Escapes) and his passenger on the trip Colin, in Andrew’s 200s Land Cruiser.

Wendy and Jan would meet us in Coolgardie around 2.00pm and Mr E and Ash will be waiting for us at our first night’s camp, as they've left a day early so Ian can show Ash around Kalgoorlie.

Being such a small convoy we made good time heading along the Grt Eastern Hwy to Kalgoorlie. First stop was for morning tea in Cunderdin stopping opposite the Pipeline Museum and across the road from the Ettamogah Pub.

Lunch was at the old Yellowdine town site now nothing more than an earth dam and some minor ruins and junk. Funny thing is that every time we've stopped for lunch here it’s always cold.

Wendy and Jan were waiting for us in Coolgardie and we all proceeded into Kalgoorlie to refuel and get any last minute provisions. Ian went and got some more fruit as I could see we were going to scoff all the fruit we’d packed.

Leaving Kalgoorlie in the late afternoon we headed out to the Yarri Road and the real start of our adventure. We shared the road with the occasional mining vehicle heading back into Kalgoorlie. The bitumen soon turned to gravel as we headed to our night’s camp along the Kurnalpi Pinjin Road. The map shows this as the Garibaldi Mining Centre, although there didn’t appear to be any activity to interrupt our night. When we arrive Mr E has already got the fire going.

June 26 just happened to be a Luna eclipse and as we drank our chosen beverage around our customary roaring fire we watched and recorded the passing of the eclipse. As it happened it was bitterly cold night but fortunately with the help of the fire and bum warmers, (ie a small shovel full of hot coals placed under your camp chair), we were able to keep hypothermia at bay.

It was great having JB with us and much merriment was had and some went to bed somewhat worse for wear.

Day 2 Sun 27 June - Kurnalpi-Pinjin Rd to Stella Range (Camp 2) via Kanowna, Kurnalpi, Yangan Rockhole, Pinjin Hsd, Kirgella Rocks, Kirgella Rocks Hsd, Mulga Rockhole, Lake Minigwal and Surprise Granite Rockhole. (approx. 330km); [actually travelled 250.78km]

Man oh man was it a cold night, thank heavens for beanies. Woke and up at 6.30am to a very clear morning and to find ice over everything. Water bottles left out were frozen, ice on car windows, and water left in a frying pan looked like a mini ice rink.
As the sun slowly rose, the camp started to stir and most gathered around the previous night’s fire that had been kicked back into life

Breakfasted on leftover casserole from the night before, which made for an easy breakfast. Slow start due to the ice and wet canvas, eventually breaking camp at about 9.40am.

We had tried to talk John into staying with us up to Laverton but he said he couldn't as he had commitments in Kalgoorlie and besides he hadn't told his wife that he might be late home. We all bade John a fond farewell and safe and successful remainder of his trip.

Twenty minutes later saw us stopping at the long abandoned mining settlement of Kurnalpi. Now there is scant evidence of there ever being a settlement other than some very old cactus plants and some broken masonry. We spent about ten minutes mooching around trying to find anything of interest. I found some old horse shoe nails and little else.

This area is an active gold mining region and there are a number of signs posted warning about fossicking and metal detecting and whilst we were at the Kurnalpi site, a mine vehicle passed and then came back obviously checking us out.

The further North East we travelled the wetter the track became with some parts of the track were covered by big puddles. The wettest area was around Lake Rebecca and Andrew and Pete couldn't resist the opportunity to play in the puddles, the result being filthy vehicles.

At times the track was either so badly cut up or the puddle so big that diversion tracks had been formed. The old track has been redirected so that you no longer have to drive over the southern part of the lake but now the track takes you between the two lakes that make up Lake Rebecca.

Apart from the occasional roo seen at a distance the track provided little opportunity for wildlife spotting. Vegetation varied from bluebush, to mulga, acacia and various varieties of Eucalyptus. Scenery wise it was predominantly flat with the odd minor rock outcrop or small salt lake.

The Kurnalpi Pinjin Road eventually becomes the Nippon Hwy, and two-way chatter speculated as to how it got its name. One theory was the amount of Japanese vehicles that use the track.

Reaching the Nippon Hwy we turned north towards Lake Minigwal, stopping for lunch at Mulga Rockhole. This is an excellent camp site, if so desired, as it is flat has plenty of shade and far enough away from the Nippon Hwy so that traffic noise wouldn't bother, not that there was any.

We were fortunate enough to find the rockhole brimming with water and there was plenty of evidence to suggest that the local wildlife take full advantage of this.

Mulga Rockhole actually consists of a number of cascading rock holes.

This 54 km long track to Lake Minigwal reminded me of parts of the Holland Track as it is partially overgrown, has burnt out sections, some sandy, some clay/gravel, some rock etc. etc. I had really looked forward to the drive from Kalgoorlie to Laverton via the route we are taking as Ian & I came through here last year as part of Australasia Safari Rally, but we could not spend any time admiring the view as most of the driving was in darkness or at ridiculous speeds.

A number of seismic lines have now been cut either side of the track tell tales of the mining interests in the region.

We got our first glimpse of Lake Minigwal at about 3.30pm or so and we still had some distance to travel to reach our intended camp site at Stella Range.

Driving through undulating scrub covered dune country we passed a small lake that held some water which suggested that we may actually see some water in Lake Minigwal.

We finally arrived at the shoreline of Lake Minigwal at 3.55pm to find the lake dry for as far as the eye could see. Lake Minigwal is a long series of small lakes and islands that lies in a basic Northwest to South-eastern direction. There is a pretty good sand and clay track that skirts around the shore line and there was ample evidence that somebody had tried to drive the track after heavy rains as the vehicle had left deep wheel ruts.

The scenery was a mixture of interesting lake vistas, tree covered dunes, dead camels (skeletons mainly), from either culling or shot for sport. We ended up falling well short of our intended camp, eventually camping along side the track overlooking a small section of the lake. Due to the lack of space, in just one area, we were scattered on both sides of the track and as usual we had set up a long way from the camp fire. Mind you at every individual person’s camp site either a personal heating or cooking fire was blazing. As was to become the norm, Ian and I did all our cooking on the camp fire. For tea we had belly pork, yummo.

The setting sun heralded another cold night.

The evening was rounded off by our customary gathering around the main campfire, sharing light hearted banter and a drink or three. In bed relatively early and could tell from the damp air that we would be in for some heavy dew overnight. Ian, stop snoring!

Day 3 Mon 28 June - Stella Range via Mt Dennis, Yarri Gnamma Hole, Friday Gnamma Hole and Burtville to Laverton (140km - last fuel for approx. 740km), then return via Burtville and turn East to Mallee Hen Rocks (Camp 3). (Approx. 260km) [Actual distance travelled 249.1km - 631km to next fuel]

Up at 6.30am to a wet tent inside and out. Inside due to condensation, (must stop breathing), and outside due to a heavy dew. While I cooked breakfast Ian packed up the bedding leaving the tent for as long as we could. Problem is that the tent fits inside the car and packing to some degree is dependant on the tent being packed before other stuff can be packed.

On the road by 8.45am, our destination being Surprise Granite Rockhole which we reached at 9.50am but not before a bit of fun trying to find the track in. Once found the track ducked and dived before coming to a fairly large clearing with a prominent yet relatively flat rock outcrop.

This rock formation held a rock hole that is inscribed with Talbot’s name.Talbot accompanied Hann on many of his expeditions and there is speculation that he actually was Hann’s illegitimate son by an aboriginal mother.

The rock holes held some water and apart from a scattering of old bones, there was a long dead roo on the rock along with a fresh blood trail. We speculated whether the blood was from an animal that had been attacked by a dingo or a wild animal had given birth at the rock, either way we didn't find any recently dead or injured animals, let alone a newly born one.

I noticed a note on my GPS screen that suggested that there was another waterhole near by at the base of the hill. We all headed off on a 30 minute or so walk of discovery and other than it being a nice walk we found nothing. Mr E suggested that what the GPS was referring to was Granite Hill.

So after morning tea we all headed to Granite Hill and had our first encounter with camels. As we were about to leave Granite Surprise Rocks two camels wandered up, and staying a respectable distance away watched our departure.

Turning off the track we were on down a seismic line, we soon found Granite Hill although the number of tracks saw Mr E head looking in one direction while the rest of us followed Nick down another.

Granite Hill’s claim to fame is a waterhole, which we didn't find and the rock face inscribed with explorers or dogger’s initials, (not sure which), from early last century.

Following lunch it was fast track into Laverton for our last fuel for an estimated 740km before refuelling again in Laverton in 10 days time. The track we would be following was the Coglia Merolia Road which Ian and I had travelled down last year. At that time it was pretty much like any other station track, fairly narrow and full of twists and turns. The interesting thing is heading North along the track was a whole sight easier than heading South as we stayed on the track all the way up to Coglia Well, whereas last year in the dark we totally missed the main track and ended up travelling on the Westerly fork. At Goglia Well there is a huge mining operation taking place and new haul roads are being built. Coglia Merolia Road now is a four lane wide track that you could easily do well over 100km/hr on.

Arrived in Laverton at about 3.00pm or so, and some whizzed off to the caravan park for a quick shower while the rest of us got fuelled up. I took on 87L of fuel in the petrol tanks and put 56L in the jerry cans I had on the car roof rack.

Leaving Laverton at about 4.00pm we headed back past Burtville along the Coglia Merolia Road, turning off at the Rason Lakes Road (Mr E calls this road the Plumridge Lake Road). The setting sun turned all the trees amazing colours from bright golden to vivid reds and with a backdrop of an angry black sky it was a truly awesome sight.

While we had intended camping at Mallee Hen Rocks, our night’s camp ended up being well short and was 9km East of the road’s intersection. A really great spot, back dropped by a small rock outcrop, with plenty of open space and fire wood.

Following tea, we sat around the fire telling stories and the odd joke or two. Ash and Aiden kept us all warm by making sure the fire was kept supplied with plenty of wood and bum- warmers for those sitting around the fire.

The night was too much for some and they were soon snoozing where they sat.

Day 4 Tue 29 June
Mallee Hen Rocks to Chick Rockhole (Camp 4) via Gum Rockhole (?), unnamed gnamma hole (?), Mt Luck, Mt Hickox, Lilian Addicott Rock & Soak. (approx 65km - about ¾ on tracks, the remainder cross country), [actually travelled 98.84km - 521km to next fuel]

Woke at about 5.00am after a warm night’s sleep, by Ian’s loud snoring but finally rising at 6.00am. Pulling up a clump of spinifex to use to restart our cooking fire I found a hibernating legless lizard. Ash ended up taking it around to show everybody.

While Ian started packing up our sleeping gear and tent I made pancakes for breakfast.

As usual we were packed up before most, so while Ian socialised with the others I went for a bit of an explore over the rock outcrop. Not a great deal to see but from the top of the rise I could get a reasonable view over where we would be heading.

On the road by 8.30am and we still had 47km to go before we would get to Mallee Hen Rocks. We hadn't gone that far before Nick said there was a four legged pedestrian in front of him. Catching up I saw that a big camel was slowly trotting along in front of Nick’s car. It hung around long enough for me to get a photo of it through the car’s windscreen.

Mallee Hen Rocks is pretty close to 5km off the main track and down a well defined track. Nick scared away a mob of about 13 camels or so and as we drove past you could see them high tailing it into the scrub. The area also abounded in kangaroos giving a good sign that we would find water in the rock hole when we got there.

The inbound track runs parallel to a breakaway and then around the end and into a small gully.Parking the cars we followed Mr E up to the head of the gully where there are Frank Hann’s initials etched into the rock.

There is also a small rock hole that during our visit was full of pea green water. The water wasn't very appetising to me, but to a thirsty camel, roo or dingo; manna from Heaven.

It was very cold as we all stood or sat around listening to Mr E reading Frank Hann’s diary of his visit to this spot over 100 years previously. Travelling like Hann and his followers did, often near death’s door due to the lack of water, we speculated amongst ourselves whether Hann and his companions boiled the water before drinking, as he never says in his diary that he did or that he ever got sick from drinking bad water.

Following morning tea we headed out back onto the Rason Lake Road. On the road and heading east we hear over the UHF radio that Wendy has shredded a tyre. A large tree branch had got caught up under her car and jammed into the inside side wall of the tyre. Andrew soon tells us that a spare has been fitted and they are on the road again.

An hour after leaving Mallee Hen Rocks we are all stopped at the side of the road while those who haven’t already put on their spinifex blinds do so, as we will be making our own tracks for the next few days.

Turning off the formed track Ian and I expressed our concerns over the suitability of Wendy’s tyres. The tyres she had were at best normal road tyres and showed very little tread depth. It would only be a matter of time before they were punctured again or even worse shredded like the one from a short distance back.

We were extremely lucky the Spinifex in this area was very low and the clumps not too big at all, so driving was fairly easy. We made good progress through this before striking the mulga. Wendy ended up getting two more punctures.

We had to stop at Mt Hickox while Andrew and Colin plugged Wendy’s punctured tyres. The threatening skies produced a few rain spots but didn't do anything of any consequence.

Half way between Mt Hickox and Lilian Addicott Rock we came upon a family of three dingos or wild dogs. Two were quite white whilst the other was much darker. They appeared quite timid and scampered off as we approached.

The drive from Mt Hickox was quite picturesque with some very nice rock formations spotted and the threatening rain clouds produced some very unusual images.

We stop for morning tea here while Andrew and Colin once again repair Wendy’s punctured tyres. Nick climbed to the top of the hill to try and pick a route through the seemingly impregnable mulga.

Following morning tea, Nick picked his way through the mulga as carefully as he could so as to find a path that was as soft on tyres as possible. Not only Wendy had tubeless tyres but also Pete and Mel, and Andrew and Colin. Pete had Hankook Radials that he was testing for a tyre distributor and Andrew had Cooper STT’s.

At 1.00pm we stopped for lunch at Lilian Addicott Rock. Once we’d finished lunch we had a wander around the breakaway looking at all the different coloured rock and searching for the rock hole and petroglyph site.

We found a decent sized hole holding a fair amount of water and Mr E collected more water and algae samples. The petroglyph and rock scratching site was also close by.

Leaving Lilian Addicott Rocks we again encountered thick mulga and travelling was very slow as we picked our way between the trees. At one stage we stopped at a breakaway so Nick could climb high enough to search ahead for a clearer path for us to follow.

Arriving at Chick Rockhole we had to descend a very steep jump-up in the breakaway that surrounds Chick Rockhole. Basically it was watch Sue’s hands and drive forward in blind faith because all I could see was sky. Andrew got a bad side wall puncture in his new STT’s as he lined up for the descent and at $500 a pop he wasn't at all pleased. It was explained that Chick Rockhole isn't an official name but a name given to the rock hole by Nick and Ian (Mr E), because they found some emu chicks that had fallen into it when they were last here, some years ago.

Parking the cars we followed Nick and Ian up the gully towards what would obviously be a waterfall in the wet. At its base was a large waterhole, measuring about 8m long by about 5m wide and of unknown depth. In the pea green water lay a decomposing camel that we presumed fell in trying to reach the water and then couldn't get out. It obviously didn't die from the lack of water. Boy it stank and it would take a long time for the carcass to fully decompose and then a heck of a lot of water to flush the waterhole clean again. Hate to think that I was relying on that water to survive.

Fortunately there was a good supply of clean water above the main pool. Mr E again took his water samples for the scientist in New South Wales. I wonder what he will make of the algae from the main pool.

On the rock face at the side of the waterfall was a name or names inscribed into the rock. Unfortunately time has taken its toll and we couldn't decipher what the inscription read. It looks like some initials with a surname and there is another line of possibly more names under?

Walking around the edge of the breakaway at the lower level we soon came across a large cave system with an aboriginal rock scratching site that also contained some weird petroglyph type symbols.

Amongst the scratching we were able to make out where maybe tools or spears were sharpened. Emu print engravings and other animal prints were also visible. The petroglyph type images gave no clue as to what they represented.

We made camp about 500m away from the rock hole. This evening we shared the cooking fire with Kris and Arie, which was good, and a bit of company whilst cooking is always appreciated.

Around the camp fire Mr E did the night’s reading from Hann’s diary and we played games. The one that raised the best laugh was where you had to place a 50c coin in the clenched cheeks of your bum and then try and drop the coin into a cup. Jan was the resounding winner, me I missed by a country mile.

All in all a great night with a good hot fire and plenty of bum warmers. In bed by 9.15pm. What I've noticed is that most of us are going to bed much earlier on this trip.

Day 5 Wed 30 June
Chick Rockhole to Blaze Point (Camp 5) via Tigertrap Gully, Signal Point, Mt Carlon, Crow Cave Hill & Mt Douglas. (approx. 32km - all cross country) [actually travelled 36.37km - 484km to next fuel]

Up at 6.30am to a clear and surprisingly warmish morning. While Ian started to pack up I made egg and bacon sandwiches for breakfast. All packed by 8.00am, so with camera in hand went for a walk up the breakaway behind our camp. Nick had said that there were some aboriginal art in one of the caves.

Found the art pretty easily and the most distinctive looked to be a child’s hand print (4 prints in all), and some scratchings of what could be emu or some other bird’s print. Before we all decamped Nick and Mr E took the rest of the group up to have a look. I didn't bother going as I’d just got back.

Andrew was a bit narked to find that his behind seat water bladder had started to leak. Oddly enough Pete and Mel’s water bladder did the same yesterday. Both reckoned that only about 1L had leaked out. Not a lot of water but enough to be annoying and to cause the car’s carpets to smell.

We finally broke camp at 9.00am. Our track soon crossed a seismic line and we followed this track as it took a wide sweeping bend westward before circling back towards the East.

We stopped to explore a promising looking gully and walking towards the end of it we found a very large cave. Surprisingly the cave was devoid of any signs of aboriginal presence. Given its size and proximity to a water course it was expected that some form of rock art would have been found. Maybe we were looking in the wrong spot?

Leaving here it was literally just around the corner to another gully near Tigertrap Gully. Tigertrap Gully was named by Mr E after his mate ‘Tiger’ got his foot caught in a dingo trap. The name was accepted by the Geographic Naming Committee of Land’s Department (became DOLA and now Landgate). We only drove in and then out again and we were then back onto the Rason Lake Road.

At this point we bade farewell to Wendy and Jan as they would be returning to Laverton to get new tyres for Wendy’s car. The tyres she had were either punctured or badly worn and totally unsuitable for the terrain we would be travelling. They would rejoin us on Day 10 at the intersection of the Lake Rason track and the Rason Lake Road as the remaining portion of the trip would be predominantly on gazetted tracks/roads or seismic lines, so tyre friendly.

After saying goodbye to the ladies we travelled about 5km east along the Rason Lake Road before again cutting North over virgin ground of thick mulga, Spinifex plains and regeneration Marble Gums and acacias.

Our track saw us pass Signal Point, Mt Carlon, and Crow Cave Hill and we stopped for lunch at Mt Douglas. Not far from our lunch stop at Mt Douglas we spotted a few camels in the distance and they ignored our passage, most probably due to our distance from them.

Driving was pretty easy now as we drove through large areas of low bluebush. This stuff is quite soft and you can drive reasonably fast over it. There must have been some light rain in the distance as a rainbow was visible towards the north.

Nearing Blaze Point we were driving through 1-2m high regeneration Marble Gums, most just bent as we drove over them but some snapped off near ground level and as luck would have it Nick staked a tyre. With all hands helping he soon had the wheel changed and we were on the road again.

We arrived at Blaze Point at about 3.50pm and soon found the blaze tree.

Blaze Point is so named due to there being a tree blazed with Frank Hann’s, Talbot’s (Mr E thinks that Talbot is Hann’s illegitimate son by an aboriginal woman), and Giles (no not Ernest Giles).

Ian wouldn't tell us where the rock hole was only that it was in an area behind where we were camped. So walking to the right and around a small outcrop of rock we soon found the hole and the small quantity of water it held.

Our camp site was pretty good as we had plenty of dead mulga for the fire, bushes to squat behind when required and we looked out over a small plain of blue bush. The breakaway literally wrapped around us and on the top of the breakaway was a cairn left by Frank Hann back in 1906.

We again shared our cooking fire with Kris and Arie, and Kris made a cake. Phoned my wife, Kerry and Ian called his wife, Linda on my satellite phone but when we tried to get hold of Jan in Laverton we couldn't get coverage. It ended up being a very cold night and we were in bed by 9.20pm

Day 6 Thu 1 July
Blaze Point to the creek system north of Hann’s Knapp Hill – maybe Hann’s camp site of 3 July 1906? (Camp 6). This is the start of Hann’s Doctor Hicks Range. (approx. 45km - cross country and via a few seismic lines) [actual distance travelled 45.72km - 438km to next fuel]

Woke to find ice over most things and what wasn't frozen was wet. As the sun rose a low mist rolled in.

Emptied two of the 20L jerry cans of fuel into the car (44L actually), didn't need the fuel at this stage but reducing the weight on the roof is good. The roof rack has a hell of a squeak and I think that we must have a loose load?

Have pancakes for breakfast and give one to Ella, who scoffs it down with relish. We pack up slowly due to the frost and heavy dew, everything is wet. We finally break camp at 9.30am.

We saw little wildlife other than a couple of roos and driving was initially hard going as we negotiated thick pockets of mulga and regeneration marble gums inter-spaced with Spinifex clumps. Driving became a whole lot easier when we came across some seismic lines that were heading in our general direction.

While the seismic lines made travelling faster, the centre of the tracks were overgrown and this caused a large build up of debris under the car which required constant cleaning out of.

We stopped for lunch at the side of the track, about 12.5km from Knapp Hill, in a nice cleared area. I finally tracked down the squeak in the roof rack. The rear mounting brackets on both sides of the rack had cracked right through due to fatigue. Andrew gave me some twitching wire to secure the rack to the mounting bracket bolts. Worked well and no more squeak!

Following lunch we pressed eastwards towards our intended night’s camp at Knapp Hill. It wasn’t long before our progress was again hampered by thick vegetation and bush bashing and the careful picking of our route was called for.

We finally arrived at Knap Hill at about 4.00pm and made camp. This is a good area to camp with the breakaway behind us and the trees and shrubs providing both fire wood and privacy. Steak for tea tonight.

It was another very cold night around the fire even though we had a good fire and most were in bed by 9.00pm. I think the cold and strain of driving is forcing us to bed early and the amount of alcohol being consumed is a lot less than normal.

Day 7 Fri 2 July
Spend a few hours exploring the Knapp Hill creek system on foot, then proceed to a spot in the Doctor Hicks Range North of Hann’s Table Hill that may be Hann’s ‘Cruiseo Creek’ (Camp 7). (approx. 20km – all cross country) [actual distance travelled 21.59km - 417km to next fuel]

Up at 6.30am, very cold and no ice but a lot of dew so everything is wet. At about 7.00am or so we could hear dingo’s howling in the distance. Cooked egg and bacon for breakfast then Aiden, Ian, and I went for a walk up the breakaway next to camp.

The face of the breakaway was littered with small caves and one larger one that had a hole in the roof and I suspected that this had been caused either by erosion or a cave in.

From the top of the breakaway you could see Lake Rason in the far distance (approx 8.3km as the crow flies according to the GPS).

Slow start for the day to allow for things to dry out and for people to explore around the breakaway. We finally broke camp at 11.05am

The going was very hard with much of the first kilometre having to be hand cleared by our passengers before the mulga thinned out as we progressed southwards.

It was inevitable that somebody would end up with a puncture and it didn't take long before Pete and Mel had staked a side wall on one of their tyres. A couple of tyre plugs and the hole was soon fixed.

When we stop for lunch Andrew and Colin remove the front wheel on Pete’s Prado and do another bush mechanic’s repair on the CV joint boot. Canvas, gaffer tape and cable ties do the trick.

On the move again and 3 km from Table Hill we come across a large burnt area of mulga that was thick with sharp stakes just dying to puncture tyres. Nick slowly worked his way through the 400m long or so mine field of sharp sticks and just as he made it through he staked a tyre.

Stopping to change wheels we watched as Mel and Colin hand picked the route through so as to ensure that the two vehicles with tubeless tyres didn't come to grief.

The remainder of the drive to Table Hill was pretty uneventful but the scenery was for ever changing
Arriving in Table Hill we proceed a further 4km or so north and make camp in a wide valley between a deep curve in the breakaway that tags onto the end of Table Hill and forms part of the Dr Hicks Range. Once we had set up our various camps we all gathered around Nick and Sue’s vehicle for nibbles and mulled wine. Mel had brought the ingredients and was dying to try it out.

We watched a spectacular sunset unfold while enjoying each other’s company, having a drink or three and munching on the abundant and varied nibblies. The mulled wine wasn't however to everybody’s taste, more of an acquired taste I’d say.

While enjoying the happy hour we listened to Len Beadell’s talk to the Shepparton Rotary Group, as a number of our group hadn't heard it before.

Following our tea of casserole, I phoned Kerry and then Jan. She (Jan), and Wendy are doing ok in Laverton but getting a bit bored. Ian and I joined the others around the camp fire. The mulled wine set the tone for the evening as the music was cranked up and people danced around besides the fire. It must have been a good night as I didn't head off to bed until 11.00pm despite the cold. Some would no doubt be suffering in the morning.

Day 8 Sat 3 July
From camp North of Table Hill via Hann’s ‘Rabbit Point’, then over his Bertha Creek to his Hidden Secret RH (Camp 8 & Hann’s camp of 5 September 1907). (approx. 20km – all cross country) [actual distance travelled 16.73km - 400km to next fuel]

Up at 6.20am very cold no ice or dew, which is good. We did however, have a light mist which our cooking fire smoke added too to give a slight eerie or mystic feel.

Had egg and bacon sandwich for breakfast as usual, and then helped Nick fix his tyres. He repaired two and Pete fixed one of his. Pete has a slow leak in one of the repairs and every time we've stopped he’s put air into the tyre. Nick also has a gas bottle problem so I lend him mine.

We decamped late and our progress was very slow with the passengers again having to hand clear much of the track. It took us two hours to travel 7.7km.

Our travels were further hampered by a number of small steep banked dry creeks that we had to cross. On one of these I managed to wipe out the trailer plug fitting. In other areas we had to negotiate through low rock outcrops and the stony ground made for a slow ride. Once we entered the bluebush plains our pace increased. This area reminded me of driving past Saunders Range last time we were in the GVD as we flanked a distinctive range with a steep cliff like edge and a blue bush plain.

Heading east along the foot of a steep cliff faced section of the Dr Hicks Range we spotted a large cave that just begged to be explored.

Most of the group were content to just look at the cliff and its features from where the cars were parked. Nick and I on the other hand clambered up the rocks to reach the cave. Most of the cave had collapsed presumably many years previously. You have to wonder though that the caves we walk into could collapse at any time, just as this one had done.

The views from the cave level were quite spectacular and Nick spotted a black dingo or wild dog approaching the parked vehicles. It seemed quite curious and ventured quite close and some of our group even tried calling it like any other sort of dog. Eventually it wandered off into the scrub towards the East.

Back in the vehicles again we continued east past the cliff like breakaway and I spotted the black dingo following our progress. Speculation over the UHF radio was whether there was a lair with pups in somewhere near and the dingo was trying to lure us away. While we all continued onwards, Andrew being tail-end-Charlie stopped and watched the dingo. Andrew later said that it came to within 10m of his car.

40 minutes later Kris spots what looks to be a very large cave hidden behind some trees, half way up the cliff face of the breakaway we have been following. This time the entire group wants to explore and we have to clamber over and under some large boulders before we find ourselves in the cave. The cave was very impressive being roughly 10m high, about 30m across, and 20m deep. Considering its size and commanding view over the land below, we expected to find some physical signs of aboriginal habitation.

Apart from evidence of bats living in the far reaches of some of the smaller and deeper recesses and an old stick rat’s nest there wasn't much else. Pity really.

Back once more in the cars we continued east stopping for lunch besides a breakaway and in the shade of some trees.

Lunch over it was bush bashing time again as our route towards Bertha Creek was blocked by thick mulga and other vegetation types. The photo below is a typical view out of the windscreen as we drove round, through and over trees and shrubs. Sounds similar to finger nails down blackboards could be heard as we pushed forward. At times our passengers again had to walk in front clearing the larger fallen branches.

As we progressed closer to Bertha Creek the mulga thinned and we encountered bluebush and other types of low scrub. The occasional kangaroo watched our slow passage.

Bertha Creek consists of a number of small tributary like creeks and whilst the GPS told me we had driven over or through the creek there wasn't a significant difference from any other small creek we’d crossed during the day. The only difference may have been that it was slightly wider and had steeper sides and we had to search to find a place to cross it.

Approximately 7.3km after crossing Bertha Creek, we crossed a well formed track leading into Hidden Secret Rockhole. Following this track for a kilometre or so and just before the small dry creek bed we spotted the Hann blaze tree.

We all had a good look and Mr E posed for a photo or three by the side of the tree. By the looks of the tree it may not be there for many more years as it looked to be termite infested.

While we all took photos and acted like tourists, Andrew again was plugging the front right hand side tyre of Pete’s Prado. Because the puncture was in the side wall the tyre plugs don’t get as good a hold as they do in the tread, and thus more plugs are needed to plug a small hole.

A few hundred metres further on we stopped and walked up to the waterhole. Ian (Mr E), said that 10 years ago when he was last here the hole was brimming with water, now it was as dry as a dingo’s donger. In fact there was a dead dingo in the hole. It had presumably got in searching for a drink and got stuck. Maybe it was sick or in a dehydrated state because you would expect that a healthy dog could have jumped out. Who knows? The dingo sure wasn't going to tell us now.

As there was no suitable camping area immediately around the rock hole, we moved about 500m back down the track into some open ground. This was a great spot as it was within the valley leading into Hidden Secret Rockhole, so sheltered, had heaps of fire wood, and also allowed us to spread out.

Ian and I found a spot a little away from the others at the base of the breakaway and in a good clearing between some tee trees.

Cooked mince and pasta for tea, tasted pretty good, especially as I'm not a great pasta fan.

It had been scheduled that this evening would be the cocktail party, but seeing as everybody was tired and Wendy and Jan weren't with us it was decided to postpone the party until we reached McKay Creek on day 10.

Sitting around the fire you could see that most people were well and truly buggered. It wasn't that we were travelling great distances or hiking over Himalayan sized rock formations, it was the concentration needed to negotiate around all the mulga and other features of the track. In bed by 10.30pm and it’s going to be a cold night you could feel it.

Day 9 Sun 4 July
Rest day at Hidden Secret RH (Camp 8) – explore breakaways to the North. (approx 15km all cross country) [actually travelled 0 km because nobody wanted to move - 400km to next fuel]

Up at 6.40am to find the inside of the tent and blankets wet with dew. Everything outside is drenched in dew also. The thermometer at 7.00am reads minus 2 degrees and there is some ice forming.

Cooked up the left over mince and pasta for breakfast and for once Ian is too full to finish.

As this is a rest day there is no hurry about anything. Put the last of the jerry can fuel in the petrol tank and also pumped some water from the drums into the main water tank.

I climbed the breakaway behind where we are camped as I can see a couple of caves that looked promising. Other than eroded holes they didn't bear much of interest; nice view though.

Back at camp I erected the shower tent so that we could have a shower before it went dark; believe me it’s harder to erect than pack up. While Ian wandered the camp I made a cake from a packet cake mixture I’d brought with us. Ian has a real sweet tooth.

While the cake was cooking in the camp oven I went for a bit of a walk with Nick, as he and Sue had found an old aboriginal camp site and there were grinding stones lying about. I found a beauty.

When we got back I checked the cake and it was perfect. Not a bit of scorching, cooked right through and very moist. I even made icing for it. Gave Nick a piece and he reckoned it was great and Ian wolfed his piece down. I gave Nick another piece to give to Sue.

Turned out Sue was baking a carrot and walnut cake and when it was cooked Nick brought over a piece for me. Yummo.

Kris was also cooking a cake and baking some bread over at the cooking fire shared by Andrew and Colin, Pete and Mel, and Kris and Arie.

As Ian was already over there having a natter I grabbed my chair and also wandered over. It was very relaxing just sitting there chatting away and watching Kris work. Ian as usual fell asleep.

Following lunch Ian and I decided to have a wander over the breakaway directly opposite us and explore the gullies to the south and east. So with camera in hand and backpack on we started walking. We always take our handheld radios and Ian ended up dropping the one he was carrying. Fortunately Arie found it as the one I had with me could send but couldn't receive.

Our wandering took us up and over into the next gully over. This one looked promising as it had a creek bed and areas that would hold water in the wet. Unfortunately the whole area was dry. I checked out every cave we came too but found nothing. Spotted Arie and Aiden and we joined up. It was at this point that I discovered the problem with the handheld radio.

Aiden thought he spotted a vehicle in the far distance and looking through binoculars revealed that it was the trunks of marble gums reflecting the sun.

We could smell something dead and a quick search found a dead roo that a dingo had recently been feeding on. Arie told us that the dingo from yesterday had wandered past and in close proximity to everybody. Guess it must have followed our scent.

Back at camp I heated some water so Ian and I could have showers. I couldn't believe how little water Ian had used. When I finished mine there was still half a bucket of hot water left. Those little submersible 12v pump and showers are excellent and it is amazing how little water you need to have a really good shower. As we still had hot water we offered everybody else a shower but they all declined; maybe because it was going cold very fast.

Cooked a roast lamb for tea, with gravy, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beans and sweet potatoes. Yummo!

Ash and Aiden stoked up the main campfire with “whoosh” bush so named because that is the sound it makes and the flames just go whoosh, then it’s all over. Even though the boys got the main fire going most couldn't be bothered moving from where they had had tea. Arie and Mr E stayed around Mr E’s camp fire chatting while the rest of us gathered around the tail ender’s fire, some partied and some just snoozed, it had been one of those days.

Day10 Mon 5 July
Hidden Secret RH southwards to the shore of Lake Rason, then eastwards to cut the track around the east end of Lake Rason, then down to the Rason Lake Rd (Plumridge Lakes Rd), and southwards on it to opposite Hann’s Bartlett Bluff and proceed cross country eastwards 5km to breakaways and ‘H’ soak where Hann camped on 1 & 2 September 1907 (Camp 9). (approx. 60km almost all on tracks today and from here on) [actual distance travelled 101.14km - 362km to next fuel]

Woke at 6.15am and not as cold as it has been but fog soon started to roll in.

As usual while I made breakfast Ian started the packing. He’s got this down to a fine art now and when you work to a system we are soon packed. In fact we’re packed by 8.00am and it’s not until 9.00am that we depart.

Most of our driving today was on old seismic lines and we were able to drive at the fastest speeds we had done in days, and at one stage even touching 60 km/hr.

Wildlife was quite prolific and we passed 3 groups of camels; 5 in one, 8 in the next and 8 in the last. I literally lost count of the number of roos we saw.

The scenery along the way was quite good and we passed a number of hills, ranges and outcrops. Morning tea was at the side of the track in a clearing.

When we reached Lake Rason Nick stopped so we could take photos, but to many this meant a stop to walk over the surface of the lake. Pete even carried a shovel so that he could see how far down water was. He found it at about 300mm. The lake is over 50km long, so the bit we saw was only a very small portion.

The colours on the lake were quite spectacular, almost all the colours of the rainbow.

We followed the track around the eastern end of the lake travelling in a south-easterly direction. The track was sand and the wheel ruts formed a fairly high centre ridge. As the track was well formed travelling was easy and we made good time.

We stopped for lunch at the side of the track in a spot that allowed good views and while the adults ate and talked Ash and Aiden played soccer on the dry lake bed.

Following lunch we continued southward towards the junction of the Rason Lake Rd and to where Wendy and Jan would be waiting for us. According to my sat phone conversations with Jan they would have been camped there for the past two nights.

As we drove the track we saw numerous camel carcases and the state of decay suggested that they had not been killed recently. Whilst I acknowledge that camels are a feral animal, it is still disturbing to see numerous camel carcasses lying where they had been shot.To shoot for meat is one thing and I agree that culling is required, but just shooting for sport and leaving the bodies to rot is not right.

We finally got to the main road at 2.35pm and it was a relief to see Wendy and Jan’s camp. No doubt they were more relieved to see us as they had been camped out for two nights and the only traffic they had seen was a party of two cars from Victoria.

Jan had been shopping and my couple of packets of soup I’d requested turned out to be a dozen boxes of 2 or 3 soups, the bag of sugar was good, but a small jar of coffee ended up being a 500g one and I also got three bottles of wine. Given the size of Wendy’s car I have no idea where they put everything.

They had had new tyres fitted but not a matching set.

It didn't take them long to pack up their car and as the convoy started to head off Wendy drove over a stump and hooked her front bumper. When she tried to reverse it pulled the right hand side corner off. Andrew and Colin to the rescue again and some well placed cable ties soon had the problem fixed.

Heading south we made our way to Bartlett Bluff and as the sign says mining activities were in the area, however other than road corrugations and bore holes we saw no other signs of exploration. The track in the main was pretty good except for pockets of corrugations, mainly on bends; we could travel at between 50 & 60km/hr quite comfortably.

We turned off the Rason Lake Road at about 3.45pm and found a pretty good camp site. Wendy and Jan stayed and made camp while the rest of us followed Nick and Ian bush bashing towards Bartlett Bluff in search of a rock hole and Hann’s “H” inscription. The going was very rough and as we were driving straight into the setting sun it was decided to give it a miss for the day and resume our search in the morning.

Once back at camp we all set up our individual camps and collected wood for our fires and the main communal fire. Cooked sausages and fried potatoes for tea and then phoned mum and dad, and then Kerry.

Once everybody had gathered around the fire Ian, (Mr E), read Hann’s diary for the period in which he stayed at Bartlett Bluff.

Ella and the two boys’ toasted marshmallows, while we adults sipped our drink of choice, talked and in some people’s cases snoozed.

Day 11 Tue 6 July
Explore the breakaways and search for Hann’s mark on rock. Depart late morning and take track to McKay Creek via Bobby and Myall Rockholes (Camp 10). (approx. 50km) [actually travelled 62.68km - 299km to next fuel]

Up at 6.40am. It had been quite cold in bed during the night and the heavy dew made things worse causing quite a bit of condensation inside the tent and wetting our bedding. Thermometer read 0 degrees, so yes it was cold.

All packed by 8.15am. The order for the day was that we would drive as close to where Ian thinks the rockhole is and then we would spread out and search. Those with radials would leave their cars where we are camped and hitch a ride on the back of the other vehicles. Nick or Ian would return for Wendy and Jan if we found anything.

The going was rough as usual with thick mulga and other forms of vegetation. The passengers literally had to walk most of the way, beyond where we had driven the previous day, and clear a path for us, so the going was slow.

We parked on the top of a rocky rise that gave a commanding view to the south and west. It was to the west that we were mostly interested in. We could see an area of white rock and Ian said he would try and drive around to it, while the rest of us scouted by foot.

We headed off in an easterly direction following the back of the breakaway as we could see signs of a watercourse that may have led to a permanent water source. We knew there had to be permanent water some place close as there were plenty of small birds flying around.

Walking out of the mulga into a large clearing we found a long line of stones, which when paced out measured 32m. Obviously not a natural occurrence and more than likely an Aboriginal dance line.

Other than the line of rocks we found no other evidence of Aboriginal habitation around this site.

Changing our course we walked in a more westerly direction towards the white cliff we saw earlier. It wasn't long before we heard that Mr E had found the rockhole where he thought it would be and it held a good quantity of water. Mr E was ecstatic and all we had to do now was find the letter ‘H’. Mel found just below the rock hole what we all agreed, (except Nick and Mr E who weren't that convinced), was a letter H cut into the rock.

The white cliff turned out to be ochre.

Nick and Ian returned to collect Wendy and Jan while the rest of us made our way back to the cars for the drive back to camp. Those who had hitched a lift walked back.

Once back at the camp I noticed that the car’s ABS sensor light was on, thinking that I must of jarred the car somehow on the descent from the rocky spot we had parked I thought no more about it. Usually it went out by itself after a bit of driving.

Heading north back along the Rason Lake Road we turned west down a seismic line in search of another rock hole that Ian had read about. Turned out to be a 6km return fruitless search as the scrub was too thick to see anything at all.

Back on the main track we progressed north until we found a track heading east that would take us to McKay Creek via Bobbie’s Point and rock hole. This track was a bit rough in places but no real problems encountered.

When we stopped for lunch at Bobbie’s Point and rock hole I had a look under the car and spotted that the front left hand side ABS sensor wire had been pulled out and also noticed that the CV joint boot had been torn. Bugger! So jacked the car up and took the wheel off. Andrew and Colin undertook some bush mechanical repairs using an off cut off the canvas sheet Ian had with him, gaffer tape, PVC tape and cable ties. 30 minutes later all fixed, I now know what to do if ever I break another one.

Following lunch I had a quick look at the very dry rock hole but couldn't find the inscriptions of the East brothers’ initials (EB).

Back on the road again we came to Myall Rockhole, so named after the type of tree growing in the area. This hole was on a mound of gravelly material and was quite deep. You could see where the animals had been trying to dig for water and some moisture could be seen. I decided to see if I could dig out enough of the gravel to get water. Because of the amount of soil and gravel that had been pushed into the hole, digging was hard as I kept sliding into the hole I was digging. Between Pete and me we finally had about a 75mm depth of water. No doubt the local animals would be pleased.

Close to McKay Creek we stopped at a large clearing that was full of Chert. Chert is a type of stone that the Aboriginal’s used to make cutting tools out of as it flints off and gives a very sharp edge.

Nick had stopped to let us catch up and watch three camels that couldn't of cared less about us. I was able to approach quite close to take photos and they hung around for that long that we all were able to take photos. They finally moved off and Andrew and Colin thought it would be good sport to try and round them up in the car. The camels won as they were by far more agile than Andrew’s Landcruiser.

We had to cross McKay Creek and Nick went to check out a suitable crossing point for us all. Returning we all followed his path through the scrub towards
the dry creek crossing.

I took photos of everybody crossing the creek while Nick directed operations. Wendy having low clearance and no low range got bogged, but Nick soon had her pulled out. All other vehicles crossed without incident. In fact Arie crossed that quick I couldn't get a photo of him.

Once over the creek it was only a short drive to where we would be camped for the evening and the day.

The colours of the sky changed by the minute and as the sun set nature put on a brilliant show for us.

Tonight is cocktail night and for no apparent reason things started off really slow with none of the usual high jinx that has become traditional with such evenings. Maybe the smaller group and that the party is later in the trip than usual? Things changed when Jan recited a poem she’d written whilst whiling away her time in Laverton. The poem included us all by name, with a few ribald comments thrown in were appropriate to the person. Not being a cocktail drinker I preferred my wine but one of the concoctions wasn't too bad. Even Ian who normally doesn't drink had a glass or two.

The fashion parade was a laugh and somehow or another I found myself being one of the judges. Now I know how the talent show judges on TV feel. Mel and Sue tried to out do each other with the number of cocktail umbrellas they could collect and stick in their beanies.

Staggered to bed at 12.30pm, Ian had gone much earlier. Blew my nose after scrubbing my teeth and got a blood nose that didn't want to stop, suppose the alcohol had thinned my blood. Fortunately Ian had stoked the fire outside our tent so at least I had some warmth while my nose dripped blood.

Day 12 Wed 7 July
Rest day at McKay Creek (Camp 10). (approx. 5km). [Actual distance travelled 44.53 - 299km to next fuel]

I had slept fully clothed as it was so cold, ie track pants, socks, two shirts, 2 wind cheaters and my beanie. Quite comfortable actually.

Up at 7.10am and with a bit of a hangover. Blew my nose and got another blood nose, can see this is going to be an ongoing problem if I need to blow my nose all the time.

Following our pancake breakfast, Ian & I joined Nick and Sue, and Mr E with passenger Andrew to go searching for another waterhole mentioned in Hann’s diaries but since undiscovered.

We travelled 16.5km north from camp before turning into the scrub and Spinifex. In the main we were driving over grasses and Spinifex with the occasional patch of mulga. We basically meandered westwards for about 2km before heading south again. At one point we found a seismic line which we travelled down before cutting back into the Spinifex. So that we could cover more ground we split up and basically travelled a few hundred metres apart, although we couldn't see each other.

Crossing some old tyre tracks I followed them onto a patch of broken granite but this yielded nothing. Following the GPS I finally found the main track in that we had followed from camp. Nick and Ian (Mr E), soon joined Ian and me and we had lunch at the side of the road.

Arriving back at camp Nick decided to go for a walk over to the creek system to see what could be found. Ian left late to follow and as he couldn't see where they were, he turned back. I followed about five minutes later but found everybody’s tracks where I expected to find them and I soon caught up. We crossed the creek and followed animal paths in a westerly direction for about 1km or so, searching for Chert as we went. I found some good pieces that had definitely been worked to give a sharp edge.

Turning round we cut across to the creek and then followed the river bed as far as a natural rock bar. Nick had us all sit on the rock while he took a group photo.

Back at camp I did some more repairs on the roof rack and transferred 30L of water from drums into the main tank.

As was becoming the norm we had another spectacular sunset.

I had invited Mr E and Ash over for tea, so I made some damper with dried fruit and instead of using water I used two small cans of Fanta. It turned out excellent and I kept it warm by wrapping it in layers of tin foil. The roast didn't want to play ball as the vegies cooked before the meat did. Don’t know why because the meat went in early enough and there were plenty of coals. Anyway Mr E enjoyed it and Ash had two helpings of the meat and veg and three serves of the damper and honey. The two Ian’s had a fair share of the damper as well.

Once cleaned up we went over to the main fire and joined the others. Jan recounted her early life on the cattle and sheep stations when she hadn't been married long and had a young boy to look after as well. She managed one station while her husband managed another. She had had a hard life and has actually written a book about her station life. She is now widowed and lives in Capel with her new partner. She had us in stitches as she told us the story about when her husband was in hospital just before his death, and getting a massage.

In bed by 11.15pm and it was a good job it hadn't rained or was a freezing night as we had left the rear window uncovered.

Day 13 Thu 8 July
McKay Creek to Condun Well (Camp 11) via Hann’s Knob, Lake Rason, Cape Marten, seismic line and Yamarna Rd. (approx. 230km) [actual distance travelled 194.16 - 105km to next fuel]

Up at 6.00am, to an overcast sky that provided a good sunrise. At about 6.30am or so I could hear dingo’s howling in the distance. If only we knew then what the overcast conditions would mean by the end of the day?

Breaking camp we headed west via tracks to Hann’s Knob, and boy was the breeze icy cold. Hann’s Knob is basically a small hill made up of granite boulders. On top of which Hann again has inscribed his initial into the rock. (Today we would call such acts graffiti and vandalism).

Climbing the rock we all shivered while Nick took the group photo, (I wonder if the icicles from our noses showed up in the photo?). Mr E posed by the side of the “FH” while we took his photo.

From Hann’s Knob we headed west towards the intersection of the Rason Lake Road. Following close behind Mr E we made good time to the intersection travelling at between 40 & 50 km/hr for the most. While Ian followed Nick I practised convoy procedure and stayed at the corner waiting for the others to catch up. Whilst waiting (eight minutes it turned out), I spotted a sandy coloured dingo walking down the track towards me but when I went to get my camera it ran off into the scrub at the side of the road.

The others were all bunched up behind Wendy and we proceeded down the Rason Lake track retracing our tracks from three days before. Other than the large number of kangaroos in the area we saw no other wild life.

We continued following our old tracks passing Cape Marten and then instead of turning south west to head to Table Hill as per our inbound route we turned a short distance North to intersect a seismic line that is clearly shown on all our GPS maps but not hard copy maps.

It was hoped that this track would be a cleared track and pretty straight as shown on our GPS’s but it turned out to be very overgrown in places and twisted and turned. The overhanging branches were a nightmare for those with roof top tents.

We had a 50 minute lunch break at the side of the track and then we were off again. We paralleled sand dunes for quite some distance.

Around 2.00pm the sand track took a dramatic turn as we had to turn up and over a breakaway with a couple of jump ups and rock ledges. Thoughts turned to whether Wendy’s car with limited ground clearance and low range would make it. It just lapped it up, you turn around and there is her little car, who says you need a big 4WD to travel in this country, you just need to know your capabilities.

Near the top of the breakaway Nick stopped to let the others catch up but also to explore a gully where Ian had said his mate ‘Tige’ had found a cave. Following the gully down we found a cave and Ian crawled to the back of it and found what was possibly an aboriginal message stick.

What I hadn't noticed, until pointed out to me, was the two large quartz rocks positioned on a natural benched area above the gully and a worn path leading between them. Mr E explained that these usually represented an entrance “door” into a ceremonial site.

Back on track we were soon driving through dune country again and I periodically stopped at the tops of dunes to make sure Wendy made it. Heck she made it look easy.

The track seemed to be going on for ever and the talk over the two-way centred around whether we would make our planned overnight stop. It was suggested that we would be 80km short of our destination.

The track was very overgrown in places and as you hit the regrowth marble gums and other shrubs they seemed to explode in front of you. In the end I lost my AM FM radio antennae, which is annoying as I had been thinking to myself that I should removed it.

We continued our journey westward and homeward and the sun slowly set and our headlights became a necessity now. I stopped to remove my driving light covers and managed to pull the lens out of the cover; typical more haste less speed!

Nick radioed that he’d found a suitable spot to camp and following his headlights we turned off and made camp on a clearing of clay and sparse Mallee.

Once we had pitched the tent I made tea from the left over roast. Basically cubed the meat into small pieces, opened tins of baked beans, carrots and potatoes, with some gravy mix, all into the camp oven and cooked it.

More than enough for Ian and me, so Aiden had some and so did Ash. Ash cleaned the lot off and said it was the best meal he’d had all trip, but don’t tell Mubagee (Mr E).

As we had got into camp so late and with it starting to drizzle we had no communal fire. Ian and I sat around Kris and Aries before retiring to bed early. The only thing left outside the car was the tent.

Woke at midnight to find water in the tent and outside flooded – oh the joy.

Day 14 Fri 9 July
Condun Well to Bullabulling (Camp 12) via Laverton (refuel), Leonora & Menzies. (approx. 510km) [actual distance travelled 472.78km 109km to fuel at Laverton]

Woke at about 5.30am or so to hear Sue yelling abuse at Mr E for causing the rain by finding the Aboriginal message stick. Wasn't his fault of course but it did make light of our predicament.

Inside the tent we had about 5mm of water over most of the floor around the doorway and in any hollow it was deeper. Worst was Ian’s side and near the door. All our sleeping bags were wet and the mattresses had acted like big sponges. It was my fault really as I hadn't put the canvas door flap down just relying on the light weight mesh door.Well that acted like one big wick and water just dribbled in all night long.

We've never packed as fast or as rough. The chairs, we had already packed in the car where the tent normally went, so the tent we put on the roof. The sleeping bags and other bedding we just rolled up and stuffed them into the back of the car. No sense of order, just get the stuff into the car and out of the rain. The rubber mats that we have outside of the tent were just about buried in the mud and had to be washed off in a puddle.

We weren't the only ones to suffer, Colin ended up crawling into Andrew’s roof top tent with him as his swag got flooded. Wendy and Jan got flooded in their swags so slept in the car, Ash slept in a puddle of water between his cot and swag. Those with roof top tents had a lovely night’s sleep.

Kris took pity on Ian and me and made us a cup of coffee. A cuppa never tasted so good.

Sue just ate her cereal in the rain and then did a dance under her umbrella.

That reminds me I had my umbrella and never used it dher.

I decided to move the car before the area got any wetter as just walking was turning the clay into a quagmire. As it was I left deep tracks even in low range moving from where we had camped onto the main track.

The track west was full of puddles and there was every chance we could be stuck out here until everything dried out.

With a wet tent and bedding that wasn't a pleasant prospect. Food wise I had allowed for extra days just in case we did get stuck.

It’s amazing what wet weather can do to galvanise everybody into action and we were on the track and on our way to Laverton by 7.23am (GPS logs come in very handy). We travelled west down the seismic/cleared line for 1.5km until we came to the track that headed north to the White Cliff Yamarna Road.

Ian went ahead of us to reconnoitre the track because if it was impassable we still had the option of staying on the cleared line. This wasn't the preferred option as the tracks would be cleared lines, seismic lines or station tracks and their quality was unknown whereas, the Yamarna Road is an all weather road.

Ian soon two-wayed to say the track was sand and driving was fairly easy and to follow. And follow we did. Nick mentioned over the UHF that his temperature gauge was showing a high engine temperature, which he put down to a faulty gauge and continued on.

As luck would have it the track soon entered mulga country and that meant clay. Ian had warned us that there was a sharp diversion around a tree and as we were spaced out I hadn't seen where Wendy had gone. I spotted the diversion when we were almost upon it, the front wheels followed the track but the rear wheels missed the turn by a fraction and down I went into thick mud. Even engaging the diff lockers couldn't pull me out. Ian said that the front wheels weren't driving either. (Back in Perth and getting the car fixed I learnt that the 4wd gear selector pin had fallen out, so I must have been in 2wd).

A call for help and Pete soon had me hooked up to his snatch strap and we were pulled out with ease. We must have found the only soft spot in that general area as he hardly left an impression where he drove.

The clay was treacherous, and no matter how slow I drove on every bend or turn the car just slid, almost doing 360’s at times over the radio Arie was having the same problems. Those with radial tyres appeared to be having no problems and from the track in front of me I could se that Wendy was having no problems at all.

Our 19.3km drive from our overnight camp to the Yamarna Road finally ended at 8.52am. It had taken us nearly an hour and a half of travel time which was quite good considering the conditions.

Once parked and regrouped on the road we found that Wendy had two punctures in the one tyre. Andrew had a hell of a job getting the tyre plugs through the tyres tread and had to ream the holes quite severely to get the plugs in. Far cry from the old tyres!

Nick had a look under his cars bonnet and noted that the coolant level in the reservoir was almost non existent, so no wonder the temperature gauge was up. He refilled the reservoir and we were on our way again.

Whilst the White Cliff Yamarna Road is shown as an all weather road it was still very soft in places and you needed to keep your wits about you as you drove. By keeping to the centre of the road and watching the car in front we were able to travel at speeds up to 90km/hr. In some places large puddles had formed across the road but in the main we could drive around these. Driving off onto the hard shoulder wasn't an option as that would be where you’d most probably stay – bogged. 39 minutes later and 1.3km from Durang Gnamma Hole and 3.5km from Point Kidman, Nick pulled over because his car was overheating and he could smell burning.

A look under the bonnet didn't show anything untoward other than an empty coolant bottle and the burning smell. A look under the car and a large stick was found to be wedged up against a metal pipe that had something to do with the cooling system. The stick had flattened and kinked the pipe so no fluid was getting into the engine, hence the smell and overheating.

It was decided that Andrew would tow Nick the 49 or so kilometres into Laverton. It would be an interesting trip for them as Andrew would be throwing up mud and stones and Nick would have very poor braking without the engine running. Their destination was the Laverton mechanics workshop that Ian knew about and recommended.

We all followed Mr E into Laverton and I wasn't envying Andrew because the track was quite slippery in places and there was the occasional spot where you had to slow down in a hurry because of dips and holes etc.

We arrived in Laverton close on 11.00am and while most of us got refuelled some opted for a quick shower at the caravan park and then refuel. Ian and I opted to refuel and then get some lunch.

All up we had travelled 770km Laverton to Laverton and used 216L of ULP, which equates to 3.56km/L or 28.05L/100km. OUCH! Mind you leaving Laverton the car was overloaded with an extra 56L of fuel on the roof plus everything else. Most of the travelling was in high range and at very low speeds and at times through soft soils. All up not conducive to good fuel economy.

Once fuelled up we went around to the take-away food place next to the pub and bought a sandwich and some hot chips for lunch. The others except for Nick and Sue all rallied here. Ian (Mr E) told us that Nick was getting the pipe fixed and would follow us into Kalgoorlie.

Ian had managed to book us all into Best Western Hospitality Inn Kalgoorlie for the night ($129.00 for the room) and had also booked the restaurant for tea.

As the two photos show the heavens were about to open up and boy did it rain! It bucketed down for about half an hour then stopped. We had heard that all dirt roads out of town were closed so we were lucky that we had been coming into Laverton and not leaving.

Leaving Laverton bang on 12.30pm our now depleted convoy made haste to Kalgoorlie. It was good to be driving on bitumen again and our speeds gradually increased to 100km/hr or more. We were all surprised to see how much water was in the local rivers. The river just outside of Laverton actually had quite a bit of water in it, the locals will be fishing in it next.

We encountered the occasional shower of rain as we headed towards Kalgoorlie. Ian called a pit stop and munchies break in Menzies, where most either got a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. I had a pie, a bit cold but it filled the gap. The Menzies roadhouse’s claim to fame is that the front façade of the shop is covered in car number plates and old advertising placards. Inside the shop is also a mini museum. We also noted that there was a list posted by the door of all the roads now closed in the area.

As the road into Kalgoorlie was all bitumen and should be a simple drive in we all headed off at our own pace. I followed Kris and Arie and it was good to be following them at road speeds again. In the past Arie had had to drive relatively slow due to problems with the “Luxurious” but he’s had all the mechanical problems fixed and his suspension sorted out.

We could see some huge storm fronts coming and we hoped to be able to beat them into Kalgoorlie but to no avail. The rain hit us horizontally and visibility was greatly compromised.

Andrew and Pete had overtaken us way back and we could barely hear them on the UHF as they increased the distance between us. One advantage of radial tyres is that they are by far safer in the wet than the cross ply skinny tyres that both Arie and I had. We kept our speed to 100km/hr or so but not those two.

Arriving in Kalgoorlie in near darkness we made our way to the motel. Ian (Mr E) had beaten us there; he obviously knew a short cut through town.

Once in our room I gave Nick a call to see how he was faring and spoke to Sue. She said that the car would need trucking back to Perth and that they had found accommodation in a caravan in the caravan park and would be flying back to Perth on Monday. Asked her to thank Nick for a great trip and would speak when back in Perth.

Showered and changed; and oh it felt so good to have a long hot shower, we joined the others in the restaurant for tea.

Following tea it was into bed. We intended hitting the road by about 5.00am the next day.

Day 15 Sat 10 July
Bullabulling to Perth. (approx. 540km). (we didn’t make it did we) [actually 584.5km from the motel in Kalgoorlie to my driveway at home]

Up at 4.45am and on the road home by 5.15am. Very little traffic and what there was were mainly semi trailers loaded with mining equipment. Stopped at Southern Cross for breakfast, stretch our legs, and to change drivers.

Ian drove from Southern Cross to Cunderdin and then I drove the rest of the way home.

Dropped Ian off at his place bang on 12.00 noon. Gave Kerry a shock when I walked through the door as she had expected us closer to 4.00pm. Good to be home.

Unpacked all the small stuff out of the car and Ian came around about 2.00pm so that we could take the spare wheel down off the roof rack and put other stuff away. All done by 3.00pm or so. Now all that was needed was to wash the car; but that could wait for another day.

Another great trip was over. We (being Ian and I), travelled 2813km over the 14 days and used 533 litres of fuel averaging 5.28km per litre.

Cost insignificant, memories invaluable!

The Repair List

The damage to the vehicles other than scratches as I remembered it, in alphabetical order of driver:

Andrew: 1 x ruined Cooper STT tyre
A leaking behind the seat water bladder
Numerous minor dents to the car’s body panels

Arie: 1 x torn CV joint boot
Loose roof rack
Minor tear to the roof top tent cover

Duncan: 2 x broken rear mud flaps - steep banked creeks will do that to solid mud flaps
1 x snapped AM/FM antennae - idiot moment
1 x lost driving light - what happens when you drive into young trees
1 x dent in the side of the car - bloody Mulga
2 x roof rack mounting brackets snapped - damn corrugations
Front bumper speared by a stick - woops
Snorkel intake head mesh pushed in and clips broken -
you get that driving through thick scrub
Trailer electrical plug damaged - stupid spot to put a plug anyway
CV joint boot - it happens in country like this
Front diff actuator boot collar - Mm don't know about this one think a weak design problem
ABS sensor - **it happens in country like this
Steerage linkage arm bushes - general wear and tear
4wd gear selector pin fell out (didn’t know until was told by DVG Midland)
Front bumper now loose. - compliments of all the vegetation we had to drive through especially on the overgrown cleared line.
(Total repair bill based on parts list $1950.)

One of the problems with having a car which has relatively low clearance, even with a 2” suspension lift, way too much plastic including the bumper, a roof rack that was way overloaded, and just plain dumb bad luck.

Ian:Snorkel mesh pushed inside the snorkel head

Pete: Numerous punctures
Leaking behind the seat water bladder
Damaged cover to the roof top tent
Torn CV joint boot

Nick: 2 x punctures
Blown engine. Engine has now been replaced ($20,000 worth of damage)

Wendy: Numerous punctures. Set of new tyres purchased on the trip
1 x shredded tyre
Roof rack came adrift and had to be tied down
Front bumper nearly torn off.
Make sure you give back more than you take
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