Tennant Creek to Mataranka

Sunday, Jul 26, 2009 at 16:00


We head towards the land known as the Never Never, passing many historic points along the Stuart Highway.

We take the Stuart Highway north from Tennant Creek and discover just how much preparation for defence was made during the War, even this far south of Darwin. There are over 1,000 World War II historic sites in the Northern Territory.

Three Ways is on the junction of the Stuart Highway and the Barkly Highway, which travels east and on into Queensland. It is really just another outback roadhouse marking the junction. These remote roadhouses provide fuel, some basic grocery items, hotel/motel and caravan park accommodation and often have a liquor outlet.

Attack Creek now has a large 24 hour rest area alongside the highway by the creek where in 1860, John McDouall Stuart and his party were set upon by local Aborigines, whose intention was not to harm them but to scare them away from the waterhole as water is scarce in this arid area. There is a memorial to Stuart at this site. Were Stuart and his party the first Europeans to reach this arid inland region? What did Stuart see that made him think otherwise?

Approaching Elliot, the large seasonal Lake Woods could be seen to the west. At the northern end of this lake system there is a Reserve for the permanent Longreach Waterhole which is suitable for camping and bird watching. Elliot was a staging post for the army during WWII, and numerous foundations and remnants from this era run through the entire length of this small town. A small town remains along the Highway. Read more about Elliott from signage at the site. marks the divide between the desert and spinifex scrublands to the south and the denser woodlands grass of the semi tropical areas to the north. To the west is desert and the black clay grasslands of the Barkly are to the east. Read more from the signage on the Information Boards. The change in vegetation soon became evident as we entered woodlands rather than the light scrublands we had passed further south. By the time we stopped that night, we would be in dense forest and amongst large semi tropical trees.

Dunmarra is another Stuart Highway roadhouse. The story of how the locality was named is that Dan O'Mara, a linesman on the Overland Telegraph Line, went missing in the area in the early 1900s. Aboriginal trackers engaged in the search pronounced his name Dun Marra and the name stayed, at first for the pastoral station, then for the Hotel and Store that used to supply provisions to locals and travellers.

A four kilometre deviation from the present Stuart Highway took us to Daly Waters and the nearby the historic 1930s airfield which was Australia’s first international airport. The Qantas hanger is intact. It was used as a military airfield during the war years. The runway was surprisingly short. A flying fox, used to get supplies across the river between the airfield and the town is still intact. A bridge now crosses the river. Nearby is a tree blazed by Stuart during his explorations in 1862.Daly Waters Hotel claims to hold the Northern Territory’s longest licence, being licensed since 1938. The building itself is not the original. This quaint and popular Pub once offered cheap camping behind the Hotel and a cheap feed of barbecued Barra and Beef, followed by entertainment. When we arrived, the paddock behind the Hotel was overcrowded with campers and the very basic camping at no longer what I consider low cost. With the meal now $27.50 it did not entice us in to brave the crowds swelling towards the Pub.

Larrimah is another small town that came about when an Army Depot and staging post was established here during WWII. Nearby Railway Siding was known as Birdum. Part of the Birdum airfield runway now forms a street in town. A few kilometres south of the town on the east side of the Highway is the No 45 Hospital Site. A short walk took us to a few concrete slabs and remnant ruins of the former buildings. Read the story of life at the No 45 Hospital as recalled by one of the nurses.

Closer to Larrimah and on the west side of the road, a track into the woodlands went to WWII relics, then onto the Birdum runway which took us back into the town and onto the Highway. Very little remains in the town, and even the Roadhouse on the Highway had literally fallen down.
Nine kilometres to the north of Larrimah is the Gorrie Airfield turnoff. There is a confusion of tracks heading in all directions once into the bush, with some to relic sites and others just good bush camping opportunities. The two kilometre long Gorrie Runway is one of the best preserved of the fifteen disused WWII runways in the Northern Territory.Bright pink flowering Turkey Bush shrubs were encroaching into the runway along the sides. An army depot site was nearby.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues

There are great bush camping opportunities, see Where can we camp Alice Springs to Darwin?


Red desert dreaming

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