Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 9: Mulgaria Run - Farina to Roxby Downs

Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 at 16:49

Member - John and Val

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Farina lies north of Leigh Ck, about half way to Marree, and has an interesting history. The area was originally proclaimed a town in 1878 and named “Government Gums” because of the River Red Gums lining the creek to the north of the town. Later the town’s name was changed to “Farina” (Latin for wheat or flour) as the town was intended as a service centre for what was hoped would become a thriving wheat growing area. Hopes are not enough to make it rain though, and the agricultural venture failed. The town struggled on as a railhead until the railway went further north. Eventually the town died and the abandoned buildings, many being quite substantial, deteriorated and became ruins.

Farina Station provides for travellers an inexpensive but pleasant minimalist campground. We have overnighted there before and were pleased to do so again. We found a good sheltered spot to set up, lit a fire under the donkey water heater and had a luxurious shower before exploring.

One development since our last visit was a little war memorial. It was sobering to see the large number of men who had joined up from this tiny community during the two World Wars. New signage at the old town was most informative and there appeared to be a pretty active conservation group.

We intended travelling north through Marree, 50 km away, but decided to take a loop to the west through country that was new to us. There is a little used track from Farina west to Andamooka and Roxby Downs through Mulgaria Station. From Roxby Downs we would follow the Borefield Road north to join the Oodnadata Track so as to reach Marree from the west. Why take a 300 km detour rather than the customary 50 km direct route? Just to see new country.

The following morning we checked with our hosts, the good folk at Farina homestead, and told them of our plans to go west – no problem, though the track beyond Mulgaria homestead can be rough. The Mulgaria folk were no longer collecting a fee for track maintenance, which should have warned us of what lay ahead.

Troopy was happy and enthusiastic. This was important as he is getting on in years (close to 25 years old), we were travelling alone and didn’t expect to see anyone for a couple of days. No problem. If anything did come unstuck we had provisions and water for weeks, and are competent enough to nurse Troopy back from most catastrophes. Last resort, VKS737 and hf radio if things went seriously off the rails and we had to ask for help. All bases covered. We headed off.

The track through Witchelina where we saw a sign marking the Goyder Line, and on to Mulgaria was in good shape and recently graded. It runs through mainly saltbush country, crossing the usual dry creeks lined with Coolabahs and occasional River Red Gums. A few patches of Mallee adorned rocky ridges. From Mulgaria the track deteriorated and became simply two wheel tracks following the once vermin proof fence. The wheel tracks doubled as cattle tracks and the deep indentations of cattle hooves in deep sand made the track very rough. This track crossed some sizeable dry lakes, rocky outcrops and small sand dunes. In places water had puddled. Definitely 4WD territory, though nothing to challenge a determined Troopy.

Near Lake Arthur a sign pointed to Archaeocyathea fossils – primitive tree ferns. We turned off and followed the rough wheel tracks over some big limestone outcrops, then on to mudstones before the track disappeared onto the apparently dry Lake Arthur claypan. We saw no sign of any fossils and no further signage so it was time to turn around. It occurred to us at about that time that although there might be travellers on the main track every few days, there would be no passing traffic out here on this side track. Back we went to the main track and continued west.

The track had deteriorated badly and some places had washed away to be replaced by gutters, some a metre deep. While remaining with the track, we skirted around the worst of these washed out sections.

Then disaster.

Returning to the track after skirting a wash out, with most of his weight on one front wheel, Troopy dropped a back wheel over the hidden edge of the washout and came to a sudden stop at an alarming (though not critical) angle. With the back axle firmly resting on the ground, one back wheel in the air and one front wheel almost so, there was very little traction to be had. The limited slip rear diff did what it could, which wasn’t very much, though we did succeed in getting the back more firmly embedded and losing any remaining traction.

It was mid afternoon and we were stuck. If we were going to sleep in Troopy that night we only had a few hours to get him back to a sensible horizontal state. Somehow we had to get traction back and that involved getting more wheels on the ground. The winch might have been useful had there been a suitable anchor point. One could bury a spare wheel to function as an anchor but there would be less shovel work if we simply lifted the vehicle and built up under it. We jacked up the lower front wheel, which was carrying much of the total weight, and built up the ground under it. Then the airborne back wheel and build up under it, then the front one again, and again…attempt to drive out with no result apart from undoing the work already done….do it again, higher and ….. Dig the sand out from under the rear axle, more wheel raising and build up under… Finally decided that we must surely have enough traction to move the critical few inches to a solid footing. Uncouple the trailer. Hold breath while attempting a lunge back to normality.

It worked! Troopy confidently walked off the bank down across the washout, up and out the other side. We reattached the trailer and proceeded a couple of hundred metres to a clear level spot where we spent the night. The lessons learned? Always start off by halving the problem – disconnect the trailer. No point carrying a high lift jack if it isn’t easily accessible when you need it. Next time……..! And.... a companion vehicle and a snatch strap can save a lot of sweat!

The following day, after a night punctuated by mouse activity on Troopy’s roof, we followed a branch track leading down along the old verminproof fence over small dunes to the northern end of Lake Torrens. This is a vast dry lake stretching south much of the way to Port Augusta on the coast, but the little bit we could see was a big brown sediment basin, mainly dry. Back to the main washed-out track, to skirt around the edge of the lake, past the turnoff to opal fields, then south to Andamooka.

Much of the remaining 30 km was through small dunes, reminiscent of parts of the Canning Stock Route. It was on this stretch that we met the first traffic since Farina, three vehicles in a loose convoy. They were chatting about wildflowers. We had seen a few wildflowers as we came along the track, but in this sand dune section we were rewarded by the sight of a few Sturts Desert peas and several other flowers making a splash of colour.

The trip from Farina had its moments, but we’d been well rewarded. Rocks, mud, gibbers, salt pans, clay pans, dunes and rocky outcrops, washaways and deep ruts – we’d seen them all. And the country has a remote feel to it with apparently little traffic. For a short trip with plenty of variety this track certainly has the lot and would be a good “test drive” prior to doing bigger outback trips.

Approaching Andamooka there were lots of the mullock hills that announce an opal mining area, then the ramshackle little town. After a look around the display of buildings from earlier times, buildings made from anything that was available and dug into the hillside, we followed the bitumen (bliss!) to Roxby Downs. From there we followed the Borefield Road that runs north accompanying the pipeline taking water to Roxby Downs from bores to the north of Marree. We’d travelled this road two years ago following ten years of drought and had camped then on bare sand beside a dune. Now we barely recognised that old camp; it was overgrown and the once bare interdunal area was a sea of green grass and shrubs.

Onto the Oodnadatta track and east towards Marree. We pulled into an apparently well used area where the track crosses Alberrie Creek and settled in for the night among the coolabahs. [Image cannot be loaded]At this point there was a derelict railway embankment and causeway – such a shame to see such infrastructure abandoned. Another couple pulled in some time later and we were surprised and pleased when they asked if it would disturb us if they set up camp some distance away. Such courtesy is rare and we spent a pleasant evening together swapping yarns and sharing a bottle of red.

Next morning we drove into Marree for minor shopping and major refuelling. Then out to Muloorina Station, a 1 million acre property running around 4000 – 5000 cattle and also sheep, with good camping and also providing access to Lake Eyre.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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