The Great Victoria Desert – Our Return Visit August 2014 Part 2

Monday, Sep 22, 2014 at 22:45

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Due to unexpected events, Robin was unable to travel with us, so we said our farewells and Robin handed over the front security gate key and we headed out of Maralinga, knowing it would be around two weeks later before we would arrive back, after doing our big loop of the Great Victoria Desert and coming back down on the Emu Road. For the first and only time during our whole time on the road, we encountered around 12 spots of rain on the windscreen as we headed for Oak Valley. Arriving around 12 noon, we were greeted by a couple of the locals that were expecting us and Andrew introduced us to Anika, one of the teachers at the school. While we were shown around the school, a few young aboriginal children joined in, as they greatly admired their teacher who was guiding us around. The young teachers here would have to be some of the most dedicated teachers around, as they are not just education teachers, but give the young children meals, help them with personal hygiene and everything else in between, including very close to all the residence of Oak Valley.

Our next visit was the local art center which was officially closed, but the local Aboriginal women artists coming in especially to show us how they do their very special dot paintings, and between all members of the group, we put back around $1000 into the local community, with a couple of paintings not finished and were going to be sent back to Maralinga for collection on our return. From the art center, we were shown through the medical center and given a run down on just how hard and varied their workload is. With our final farewells, it was time to leave Oak Valley and head further west on our next section of the trip. As with all main roads that link Aboriginal Communities, the Main Business Road heading west from Oak Valley was in great condition, with countless acres of wildflowers adding to the experience.

Before reaching the Voakes Hill Corner road, we stopped at the site of the rare Eucalyptus wyolensis, a very short distance from the corner turn off, were again we had missed out on seeing the trees in flower. We would not make the BMR Track that night, so we stopped short of the track and set up camp, and as usual, the first job was collecting wood for the nights fire before setting up camp, with everyone doing their job in making it a group collection, and it did not take long at all to head a great stack of wood.

With everyone set up, it was time to relax and discuss the day’s events, knowing that tomorrow we would be leaving a main travelled road and venture out along the BMR Roads, wondering what changes had occurred since our last travels along the tracks 12 months ago. Setting off next morning we were soon at the turn off to head north along the BMR Track and again the country was looking great. The further we travelled along the BMR; the most striking contrast was how the country had changed since our last visit.

Much of the area last year had been burnt out and the regrowth in just 12 months was totally unreal. Nearly all the large, majestic Marble Gums had all shown signs or regrowth, with vast areas that were just bare red sand last year now covered in Native Poplar and Poison Camel Bush, and countless other species of native vegetation. This area was a real delight to travel through, but before long, we soon came to the track junction and it was time to head south towards the capped exploration well of Mulyawara 1 that was first spudded in June 2011.

After we all explored the area around Mulyawara 1, we had lunch and it was then time to head south on the excellent clay capped road. The road south is still great, but mother nature has now started to put some vey large wash aways in the track and unfortunately, if this continues at its current rate, the track will be badly eroded within a few years, making it a very slow drive. Next stop along the road was to inspect the state of the art weather station and airstrip put in by Rodinia. Oak Valley and Robin at Maralinga can jump onto their computers and see all weather data at the Rodinia site, without having to leave the comfort of their office chairs. Not long after leaving the Airstrip, we were again at the second site of the very rare Eucalyptus wyolensis and again we had missed out in seeing them in flower. The good run continued and we were now at the junction with the main Aboriginal Business Road and time to head west and into Western Australia.

The road west was in first class condition and the group was now spread out to keep the dust to a minimum. The vegetation was ever changing, but true to Nullarbor conditions, the main dominant species of vegetation was Bluebush, with larger stands of Black Oak and Myall Trees common. Our moving maps now had us at the border of Western Australia with the only sign that we were in fact at the border was a cleared strip of Bluebush running north and south to indicate the actual border on the ground and the sign advising travellers that they were now entering the Mamungari Conservation Park, who’s boundary goes as far as the Western Australian border.

A little further west and it was time to head north on the Forrest Lakes tracks, and it was that time of the day to look for a camp. Larry led us all into a great spot and once the wood collection was complete, camps were set up and Fiona cleaned up our campfire spot and we all settled into another great night in the bush. That night was a full moon and next morning, the moon looked great, as it was slowly setting and it made for some great photos. The track was easy to follow north the next morning, and at one spot where I stopped to clear fallen timber off of the track and noticed that the Sturt’s Desert Pea that was everywhere had a colour variation, with a white outline around the black boss of the flowers. This colour variation was not confined to just a few flowers, but was the dominant variation to all the flowers in the area. Things were going great until I went around a small patch of timber, and the track had vanished. We all got out of our vehicles, and Mick soon found the overgrown track and he then lead the group for the rest of the way to Forrest Lakes.

Arriving at the Lakes, the track terminated at the top of a large sand dune, where we had great views over looking this large expanse of dry lakebed. While the others were looking around the area, I set off and walked across to the other side of the lake, which was around a kilometer, seeing some very interesting patterns in the dry surface as I headed towards the other side. As I neared a large sand dune that I was walking towards, I could see a large white area at the bottom of the dune, thinking that it would be a thin crust of salt. Reaching the spot, it was not salt, but exposed rock with the large, tall dune as the backdrop. Retracing my steps and arriving back with the rest of the group, it was then time to head back to a track junction a number of kilometers away and reaching the junction; we headed towards another outlying lake and back into South Australia. For such a very remote location, someone had gone to the trouble of placing a dropper on the Border, and then encasing it with a large piece of PVC piping and painting it red. Exploring the area around the second lake, there again were signs of previous occupation by Aboriginals with a number of small grinding stones and hundreds of stone chippings. After lunch, we all headed south again, retracing the same track that we had come in on and made our way down to the Aboriginal Business Road, where we had to cross it and then head south for Decoration Cave. Again we found a great little campsite for the night, but this time we had a slight breeze that kept everything on the cool side once the sun set.

The drive down to Decoration Cave was an easy to follow track and in the lower lying areas where water had collected when the area received good rainfall a numbers before, it was a real contract to the countryside surrounding it. When we arrived at Bottle Corner Camp, it was very clear as to why this location was given its name. Arriving at the Cave, it is more like a sinkhole, with a very small shaft going straight down and it looked a very long way down. Seeing the area down to the Cave had a number of well-defined tracks, we followed a different track to the one that we came down on. We camped in the same spot on the way back as we did the previous night, but over a very small dune, giving the area a very different fell and outlook. The drive the next morning was a very one on the Aboriginal Business into Tjuntjuntjarra and when we arrived, we were greeted by a large group of Aboriginal Women. It felt very odd getting out on the car and making my way over to them, with one lady asking why are we here. I explained that I needed to see Mr. Baird and see pointed in the right direction. Walking over to a Vehicle with lots of Aboriginal Elders all busy putting gear into it, I approach the White Man and introduced myself, thinking that it was Ian. As luck had it, it was not Ian, but the highly respected Scott Cane, Author of the great book, Pila Nguru, detailing the complete history of local Spinifex Aboriginal People. If only I had my book with me, I could have had it autographed by this very trusted man who has spent many years with the local Aboriginal Elders and documented as much history and sacred sites as possible, to safeguard the local Aboriginal heritage. After a chat with Scott, who very surprised that I own and have heard of his book, I then met Ian and thanked him for his most valued help in allowing us to visit this very remote Aboriginal Community.

We were very lucky not to have missed Ian and Scott, as they were about to head off with the older Aboriginal Elders on a special visit to some of the highly Sacred Sites in the area. Once we all refueled, we then went back to the local art centre where we all purchased some very special artwork that the local artists are famous for. Fiona and I then wet and met Bruce Hogan, another Elder and was shown some of the traditional weapons that the Aboriginal men still make and I was able to buy a Boomerang and Traditional Pay Back spear from Bruce. By now the word was around the Community that we were “In Town” as such and other Aboriginal came to the group and showed us other items that were willing to sell us, with others in the group taking advantage of their kind gestures. As we were standing around talking, an Aboriginal women came up the me and asked where we were going next, thinking that were going straight up to Ilkurlka. When I explained that we would be going further west out to the Connie Sue, she then waved here husband over and the exchanged words to each other in their own Anangu dialect. You are going the long way the lady said, you have our permission to use the Business road straight up to Ilkurlka, it is the shortest way. I thanked them greatly for their very kind offer, but explained that we were heading north from Neale Junction up the Connie Sue. It was now time to leave this great Community and head out towards the Connie Sue Highway for our next part of the trip.

In Part 3, we travel the Connie Sue Highway as far north as Point Lilian, and then return to Neale Junction and east along the Anne Beadell Highway before arriving at Ilkurlka and and on to Voakes Hill Corner.

Stephen Langman

September 2014

Smile like a Crocodile
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