Exploring Victoria August 2005 - Part 3 Pink Lakes to Canberra via Lake Mungo.

Saturday, Nov 05, 2005 at 16:54


In Ouyen we stocked up on groceries and meat and headed north through now familiar wheat and mallee country. The Hattah Kulkyne park headquarters and information centre is just off the Ouyen-Mildura Road, so after gathering info about the park we headed off to check the main campground and lakes. There are a few people around, including what appears to be a school group with canoes. We drove from the main campground to the next campground where we had lunch. This area is a bit more sheltered but still quite open and the wind is keen. We explored the lake, which involved going through a 30m wide band of young red gums growing very thickly along an old water line. Inside that there was a very dry lakebed covered with grass and low shrubs! Clearly this lake has not held water for some time. However the old lake shore is lined with majestic big river red gums.

Moving on we drove along good park roads towards the river. The country is again sand dunes covered with mallee and pine, some dunes red and quite high, with black box on the flood plains. We found ourselves on the banks of Chalka creek that supplies water to the lakes when the Murray floods. The creek is not flowing but is lined with probably the biggest river red gums we have yet seen, magnificent trees. Eventually we make for Tarpaulin Bend where we find a sandy beach and a sheltered site without too many overhanging limbs. And previous campers have kindly left firewood collected up for us. This is a congenial spot, so the following day we lazed around and explored the surrounding area – John found a similar beach not far away and the camera got a bit of a workout. A solitary pelican came sailing by in the late afternoon.

We intended to stay a second day at this site but the following morning the wind had strengthened and the forecast is for strengthening winds and showers. So its time to head north again, following the river in an eastwards lopp past many well-used camping spots. North is via Robinvale, where we get a postcard and some expensive petrol, then head towards Mungo Lakes NP. More Mallee, but more bitumen than indicated on the map. This eventually gave way to a reasonable gravel road as the country changed from rolling dunes to more open plains, and wheat gave way to saltbush grazing country. We were surprised at the extent of wheat cropping in what must be a very marginal area.

On reaching Mungo Lakes NP we first went to the “I” Centre and paid our camp fees via a complicated 2 envelope system. Then we discovered that hot showers are available, and really enjoyed our first proper shower in nearly 2 weeks. Wonderful. After that we explored the campground – open but spacious and only a few other sites occupied – and the old woolshed. This is an amazing building dating from the 1860s and built by Chinese labour. It and its yards is made from local timber, mainly Cyprus logs with the ends squared off. Smaller gates are made from mallee stems. Originally it had about 30 stands for blade shearers, then progressively moved down to 5 stands as it was powered first by steam engine then by a massive diesel producing a mighty 4hp. We also drove around a short loop to see remains of the pastoral era on the old Zanci station including a building dug into the ground, where food could be kept cool. The pastoral phase was based on grazing of saltbush that covers the dunes and lake bed. Much of the original timber in the area was used for buildings and fences and for firewood for the steam engines. Not surprising then that there is not much large standing timber left.

As we set off to see the Walls of China at sunset we were suddenly overtaken by a number of vehicles travelling fast, flying flags and with flashing lights. Probably cars from the variety club or starlight foundation bush bash – we heard that there were about 70 vehicles participating and they certainly raised a lot of dust.

Out to the walls, which are an extraordinary sight, with weird eroded shapes capped by tough bushes, and with occasional fossil bone and shell fragments scattered on the ground. Colours shade from cream to orange red, and as the sun sank the colours deepened to shades of red and mauve. We took lots of photos. It was after dark when we got back into the campground to set up, but it’s getting to be pretty routine by now. We have just enough wood for a fire on a cool night. Fortunately the neighbours don’t run their generator for too long.

In the morning we talk to a group of 3 men who are camped nearby – they are interested in how we have set troopy up. We walked to a lookout close to the campground and find some microliths in the eroded gullies there.

Then we set off to drive the 70km scenic loop around the lake. Lake Mungo is one of a series of lakes that used to be fed by Willandra Creek, but has been dry for the last 15,000 years. When it held water – up to 8m deep – it supported a variety of life, including megafauna, birds, fish, shellfish and eventually humans. As the lake dried the westerly winds blew sediment to form the lunette, or curved dune that runs along the eastern edge of the lake. These sediments contain many fossils and evidence of human occupation like stone tools and hearths that have been exposed as the sediment layers have themselves been eroded away. The products of this erosion now form large white shifting dunes to the east of the lunette.

Where the drive crosses the lunette we stop and spend some time exploring and taking more photos. The erosion shapes are if anything more fantastic here than at the sunset viewing spot. This is high up in the sediment sequence, hence the most recent and where human artefacts would be found. We are able to identify quite a lot of bone fossils and microliths, also some shell fragments. There are also plenty of goat prints. Leaving this site after a good while exploring the area we continue around the one-way loop road. There are several sites, including the second campground (big and unoccupied) and a short mallee walk. There are 5 or 6 species to be seen along with Spinifex. There is also a goat trap around a dam – but fallen into disrepair and unlikely to hold goats for long. The trap consisted of a fence around the water, and an earthen ramp that would allow goats to jump towards the water, but not to jump out.

The highlight

of the circuit though was Vigars Well and the moving sand dunes. The well contains water and was dug as a watering stop for Cobb & Co. coaches before the teams took the coach over the dunes. Wool teams also used the route; its amazing to think that anything could be pulled over these dunes. Behind the well is a wide band of sand blown from the lunette. It is white and the dunes are quite high, although there is some vegetation on them. The highest are blowing freely in the brisk breeze. We walked up into and on the dunes; more photos. Surprisingly here are snail shells and a few bone fragments on the blown sand. These sand dunes continue behind the lunette for most of its length, so although they are not wide, it is a very extensive area. They are lower towards the end of the lunette.

The road continues on past one of the other dry lakes and the drainage channel between them. Finally it comes out past the remains of the old Zanci homestead that we saw yesterday.

Having completed the circuit it is time to be on the road again, heading for home. We travel towards Balranald across other dry lake and dune systems – they are easy to spot now. More mallee and saltbush and little traffic. There has been rain and the country is looking good, though there is not much stock around. By taking back roads we can see different parts of the country and avoid the trucks on the main road. We don’t go all the way to Balranald but turn off at Penarie and start looking for a last campsite. We find Redbank Weir and although there is no camping right at the weir, the banks downstream are obviously favoured camping sites. Not much cover but we are well away from a main road. So we have an uneventful final night beside the Murrumbidgee which just here is flowing rapidly.

Next morning we travelled via Oxley where we crossed the Lachlan River just upstream of its confluence with the Murrumbidgee, to Hay. From there we travelled along the northern bank of the Murrumbidgee (irrigation properties growing rice, cotton), via Darlington Point, Leeton, Temora, Harden and so to home. Troopy clicked over 300,000km near Leeton. Total distance for the trip about 2,500km. $420 for petrol.

This has been a different trip, and a rather cool one, but we have coped well and seen different country, and seen some interesting places. Lake Mungo and the Murray River would be the standout places definitely worth a return visit although next time we will go in warmer weather.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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