Birdsville Track – Cooper Creek Crossing Trip June Long Weekend 2010

Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 00:00

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Brief Pre Trip Events
Since early in 2010 I had been following with great interest the massive rains that deluged outback Queensland. With my local contacts at Etadunna Station, approximately one third the way up the Birdsville Track from Marree, it was clear that there was just too much water heading south that the Cooper Creek would again have at that stage had a 90% chance of unleashing its torrent of water and spread its life giving water all the way to Lake Eyre.

Over the following months I was making regular checks with Patsy, Jason and Jade on the progress of the flood waters, and in turn passing on my first hand information for all to read with forum updates. By late March it became very clear that the volume of water was equal to, or greater than the last time the Cooper Creek flooded over the Birdsville Track in 1990 and there was no way that this water would not reach the Birdsville Track. In its early days, the headwater were making very good progress, as the usually dry landscape was deluged from local rains and the spreading waters of the Cooper were simply passing over the wet countryside instead of soaking in.

From first hand previous experience from Station people that live and work along the Birdsville Track, bets were placed with each other to see who could predict accurately the actual date when the Cooper Creek would reach the Track and Jason had his money on the 20th June 2010. By mid April the progress rate had slowed, but never the less was still heading further towards Lake Hope, the final hurdle that determines if the Birdsville Track will be closed by flood waters of the Cooper Creek.

With this information in hand, my wife Fiona and I booked with our employers an extra day to have off for the June long weekend, still two months away, as we wanted to be there, even if it had not at that stage crossed over the Track. With the filling of Lake Hope, the body of water was making anything from 1 to 3 kilometres per week. Within the last few weeks of May the flow of water increased drastically and had at one stage proceeding 15 kilometres in 3 days. With the body of water past the ferry site, the locals all realised that they had all lost their bets and during the early hours on Tuesday 1st June 2010, history was made for the first time in the Twenty First Century and nature had showed what all the locals knew would happen, and the Cooper Creek flooded over the Birdsville Track. Within the next 24 hours, the depth of water over the actual Birdsville Track was over 1.2 metres deep and rising and by Tuesday 8th June, the ferry carried its first passengers and vehicle.

The Trip
Thursday 10th June 2010
Leaving Clare by 1pm on Thursday 10th June the outside temperature was only 13 degrees, very overcast and a few spots of rain and it was like this all the way to Hawker. Topping up our Prado with diesel, we departed and proceed out on the main Leigh Creek Road and the temperature was already slowly rising and by the time we passed through Parachilna it was a pleasant 17° degrees. Arriving at Leigh Creek at 5pm it was still 16° degrees with the clouds clearing, so it looked like it could be a cool night, but at least it was not raining. Arriving at the Copley Caravan Park, we booked in, pulled out the Black Widow side awning and proceeded to the Copley Hotel for tea. After another top quality meal, we walked back to the Caravan Park and went straight to the campfire where we talked to a man that had arrived from Tibooburra in one day and informed me that the Strzelecki Track was in first class condition. After a good chat and a warm up, we said our goodnights and walked back to the car and unrolled the swag for another warm and cosy sleep.

Friday 11th June 2010
It was hard to get out of our cosy swag, but seeing as it was 6.30am and we had a big day ahead of us, it was off for our last showers for a few days. By 7am it was 7° Degrees and the lure of the campfire got the better of us. After the usual full turn to warm our backs up, it was off for breakfast and we were on the road by 8.30pm. Even though we had driven this road many times we decided to take a few detours that we had not taken for some time. Our first stop was the Leigh Creek Coal Mine Lookout. At the lookout, there is an old Titan dump truck and an old Bucyrus Erie 9W Walking Dragline with its 60 metre length boom.

After the Coal Mine Site we headed to Lyndhurst and arrived at the Ochre Pits at 9.15am. Due to the very overcast conditions, the normally colourful Ochre Pits colours seemed washed out, so we pushed on further north and dropped into the Farina Historic site. For any person looking for a top little spot to camp, the Farina Campground is a little oasis. While at Farina, it is also worth while checking out the Farina Cemetery, where there are many old and interesting grave sites.

As the dirt road sections to Marree were in first class condition, it did not seem very long and we arrived in Marree. After a few photos and a visit to the Lake Eyre Yacht Club it was time to head north and on the Birdsville Track. Even though it was still overcast, it was a comfortable 18° degrees and made travelling up the track very comfortable. The first 20 odd kilometres from Marree were in first class condition and then the usual rocky sections of the Birdsville Track appeared, but this did not last for long and we were again back into good driving Conditions. Stopping at the Lake Harry ruins, it was a quick lunch stop and then our next stop was on the Dog Fence. On past visits up the Birdsville Track, there was always a sign to advise travellers that they were crossing the famous Dingo Fence, but the sign was no longer, so travellers that did not know this area, it would be just another grid of no major significance.

Arriving at Etadunna Station, we were greeted by Jade and we then went to see Patsy. Leaving the Station, it was on past the detour sign to site of the MV Tom Brennan. During the drive out, there were constant distant view of water in the distance, but cresting the final hill before the Brennan Memorial, we were confronted by a sight that words can not describe. While taking some photos of the MV Tom Brennan with water as the backdrop, Fiona heard a call for me over the UHF Radio and it was Greendog, who with this Brother in Law Tony, were down at the waters edge when they saw our vehicle arrive at the Brennan site.

With formal greeting over, Greendog walked out into the Cooper and walked out to the Camping sign, which at this stage was a few hundred metres from the waters edge and around 600mm deep. From the waters edge it was to their camp site where we set up our camp and then it was around the campfire and talking about life, work and what we were here for, the mighty Cooper Creek. Around 5.15pm Fiona and I grabbed our cameras and head over to see the setting sun over the Flooded Plains. Taking lots of photos, it was back to camp to cook our tea and then spent the rest of the night by the campfire. After a long day, we finally said our good nights and then went to bed after 11.00pm.

Saturday 12th June 2010
After our breakfast and sitting around the campfire, it was time for Pete and Tony to pack up and then we went down to the Cooper Crossing again, taking more photos and said our goodbyes to Greendog and Tony, as they had to head back to Adelaide. Arriving at the ferry site around midday, there were no vehicles in front of us, as the ferry had just taken off to collect a vehicle coming from the other side. When it was our turn to drive onto the ferry, we were the 15th vehicle to cross that day alone. The 270 metre crossing took around 8 minutes and all people that cross must wear one of the supplied life vests. After driving off of the ferry, we met Ian and Ruth who were camped just past the ferry crossing. Unloading some camping gear from our vehicle, we went back to the crossing and crossed over again and returned to our previous camp at the Birdsville Track, where we quickly packed up our camp and went back to the ferry for yet another crossing.

When we arrived back, there were 6 vehicles in front of us waiting to cross. Mingling with the small group of people waiting to cross over, the expected conversation was the unreal sight of the flooded Cooper Creek, where they had come from and where they were going. Even though to wait was around an hour before it was our turn again to board the ferry, the time went very quick. By 4.30pm we were back with Ian and Ruth and set up out camp. Cooking tea over the campfire, it was again another late night and we went to bed again after 11.00pm.

Sunday 13th June 2010
Out of the swag by 6.15am to catch the sunrise, with a very friendly cool breeze to keep me company as I was on the bank of the Cooper catching the early morning light and taking lots of pictures. Back to the campfire and breakfast, it was time to get the kayak off of the vehicle and have a paddle on the Cooper Creek. There was a steady steam if visitors to the ferry site, most just there for a look and ferry ride. I was quite surprised at the flow rate of the fast flowing Cooper Creek, and when paddling with the flow, it was like someone was giving me a big helping push. While on the water, there were quite a few planes flying overhead, and the Cooper would look unreal from the air. After a good paddle, it was back to camp and more talking around the campfire. It was now lunchtime, so we had our usual easy lunch, while Ian and Ruth cooked up their hearty meal of fresh yabbies.

Around 3.30pm, Fiona, Ruth and I headed out to the Birdsville Track to check out the water levels on the northern side of the Birdsville Track, which again can be described as incredible, while Ian stayed back at camp to babysit the dogs and cat. The drive out was only about 20 minutes from our camp and gave a better view of the roadside white posts slowly disappearing from sight by the fast flowing Cooper floodwaters. Returning to camp, I again collect a little more timber for the fire and we just again sat around and talked. After another enjoyable day on the Cooper with great friends, it was time for bed and our last night on the Cooper.

Monday 14th June 2010
I had a sleep in this morning, as I did not get out of the swag until 6.30am. With another cool breeze, but a clear sky, I grabbed my camera and went to the banks of the Cooper for more first light pictures. Getting back to camp at 7.00am, Fiona had a good fire going where it was great to just sit there and listen to the birds. After breakfast came the usual worst part of any trip, packing up knowing that our brief, but very rewarding stay on the Cooper with fantastic company had come to an end. With the car all packed, it was time to go over to the ferry site to get back over to the homeward side of the Cooper. When Larry came over to pick us up, he said that we had travelled it the most number of times and we should be going for frequent flyers. Larry was saying that on the Sunday of the Long weekend, they had ferry the largest number of vehicles so far in one day, ferrying 44 vehicles, going non stop and not having time to scratch them selves. With the ferry loaded and all life vests fitted, we again made for the southern side of the Cooper, where we said our final farewells to Ian and Ruth and left the crossing at 9.50am for our homeward journey. Along the way we made a number of spots and talked about our great time and our life long dream of seeing the Cooper Creek over the Birdsville Track. So impressed were we that we decided to cancel or WA desert trip this year and instead back up to the Cooper where we intend to spend more time and seeing the changes that will have happened before our next extended stay. Nine hours later we arrived home and were now making more plans of more station tracks to visit, with more time on hand when we again visit Etadunna Station.
Smile like a Crocodile
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