Hay River Run, June 2006. Part 3. Poeppel Corner to the Madigan Line

Friday, Oct 06, 2006 at 21:41


The women in the group soon established a pattern of walking out ahead of the vehicles each morning, leaving the men to check the vehicles and warm them up and discuss final plans. These walks were a good way to get to know each other better and also to have a closer look at the country that we were passing through. It was common to see lots of animal tracks made by everything from moths to dingoes as well as any interesting plants and flowers that might be out. This morning there were plenty of dingo prints although we had not noticed any dingoes last night.

For the first section of the track this day we travelled through increasingly red and empty desert. The surface of the sand in many places was patterned with wind ripples and we wished that we could have stopped and admired this sight. But a big convoy waits for no Troopy. A few more easy dunes brought us to the western end of the arrow straight QAA line, then there was a big claypan to cross. You could almost hear the whoops of joy as some of the vehicles fanned out for a “gallop” across the smooth surface. Once across we turned towards Poeppel Corner running south along the edge of the claypan for some distance until we reached signs pointing to Poeppel Corner and the French Line.

The short section of track into the corner post – where SA, NT and Qld meet, was bumpy with outcrops of hard white rock like lumps of concrete, worn down by the passage of many wheels. Another driving surface that we hadn’t experienced before.

Soon we had the official corner post with its boardwalk and signage in sight and we stopped for morning tea and a good look around. There was a brisk breeze that kept the flies under control. There were the obligatory photos at the two corner posts. One post is of wood, the other of concrete with a brass plaque with the names of the 3 states on it. This concrete post marks the spot where Augustus Poeppel placed the original coolabah post in 1880.

There was a visitor’s book to sign and of course previous entries checked out. One disappointing note while there was to see the amount of rubbish, including toilet paper, strewn around. Surely people can do better than that?

From the corner we back tracked the short distance to the French Line then we turned north on a good track that ran beside Lake Poeppel. We then headed east briefly, back to where we came off yesterday’s big salt pan, then turned north until the track eventually brought us to the dry Poeppel Corner oil well where we stopped for a late lunch. Scouting around someone found some camel tracks and that caused some excitement.

After lunch we went on to the Beachcomber oil well along a reasonable track running in a swale parallel to the dunes. Conditions changed for the next 20km as we followed a shot line ENE cutting across the dunes – this was a very bumpy section with lots of small, loose sand dunes and some big holes making for an uncomfortable ride and strenuous driving. Then we turned north, running parallel to the dunes again so the going was easier. We were now heading out into very bare country with long dunes topped with big loose crests making an amazing sight. There were occasional dead trees half buried in shifting sand and big rings of Spinifex in the swales. In places fires had burnt through quite recently leaving almost no green vegetation. Camp that night was in an isolated and well used large clump of gidgee. We were happy to stop driving, as the roller coaster conditions earlier in the day had been quite tiring.

When camp was set up the girls walked out among the dunes for a closer look and a chance to take photos in the afternoon light. The low angled sunlight highlighted the ripples in the sand and caught the tops of the ranks of bright red dunes that stretched away to the horizon. We climbed a big dune, and attempted a celebratory can-can to hold at bay the realisation that we really were a long way from anywhere. For most of us this was as remote as we had ever been. The campfire that night was welcoming and reassuring.

There were lots of dingo tracks around camp when we got up the next morning, but nothing seemed to be damaged or missing. We set off along tracks of loose sand and after travelling in one swale for some distance came into an area where the track started to go across the dunes. These were long dunes capped with very loose sand. There was also a cryptic sign on what remained of the track, any wheel tracks having been covered by drifting sand. The approach on the western face of the dunes was fine but there was a steep drop-off on some of these dunes so crossing was going to require extra care. The convoy came to a halt here while Dave scouted ahead looking for the best route through this area.

This enforced delay was welcomed as an opportunity to spend some time out of the vehicle having a closer look at our surrounds. The dunes themselves were a spectacular sight, very red, with sharply defined crests and patterned with wind ripples. Some are elegantly beautiful with their wind-sculpted shapes and intense colour. In a way we are fortunate to see this country under these dry conditions. The wind blown sand would probably not be there in wetter years reducing the wind sculpting effect and giving more green in the landscape.

There are many small animal tracks and patterns made by moths as they fluttered over the sand. In places the wind had blown sand from around buried termite nests leaving them exposed. In such an arid place it is amazing to think that there could be any animal however small surviving out here. There is a bit of vegetation in the swales, a few different Eremophilas including one with a purple flower, a blue pea and a Scaevola or fan flower on a very tough prickly bush. In some places there are signs of recent fires and we speculate why it is that burnt shrubs seem to constrict their branches into a compact cone shape.

The pattern of waiting while Dave found a way through difficult sections was repeated a few times, so our progress was quite slow but exciting as we topped crest after crest then plunged down the steep faces of these big dunes. We were pleased that we were not travelling from the north as getting up these big loose dunes could have been difficult.

Eventually we got very excited about finding a single star picket in swale, confirming our arrival at the Hay River. Not that there was any river to be seen, or any water, but we were in the swale where the river occasionally runs before the water sinks into the sand. Around the star picket there were some stunted Coolibah trees confirming the presence of water somewhere deep underground. Amazingly they were even flowering. The Hay River starts in the ranges just to the north of the Plenty Highway and after heavy rain flows south into the Simpson Desert where the waters evaporate and sink into the sand, although some water goes into numerous lakes and wetlands around Lake Caroline.

We stopped for lunch on the track among some big dunes. Although there was still very little vegetation, by now some larger gum trees were showing up in places, suggesting that there was more water available underground. There were increasing signs of animal life, a dragon fly, the odd bird in the sky and most telling, an eagle’s nest.

As we progressed the sand dunes fell behind and we travelled up the course of the dry Hay River. The Coolibahs gradually became bigger. The road was quite bumpy and winding with patches of loose sand requiring careful driving. Occasionally dunes came down almost into the bed of the river. We stopped at Madigans Camp 16, the Blaze tree, where there was a visitors book to sign and check back for records of other trips and other travellers. HF radios are on as there is a call out for a couple that police are trying to contact with an urgent message.

We travelled on a bit further, collected some firewood and finally made camp just past the junction with the Madigan Line. Everyone is rather tired as driving today has been quite energetic. Some others in the group have come down with a flu like virus. We found a spot near a big yellow flowering Hakea with very spiky leaves. It’s an unexpected lay day tomorrow as there is another big group at Batton Hill, so there wont be room for us if we arrive too soon. So that night there was a mood of relaxation and satisfaction and good company around the campfire.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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