Western Australia Trip 2012 – Part 4 : Warburton to Neale Junction

Saturday, Dec 08, 2012 at 14:24


Getting on the road after refuelling next morning was slightly delayed as the roadhouse doesn’t open until 9.00 on a Sunday. Still it was interesting watching the activity around the heavily enclosed pumps, and the mixture of tourists and locals coming in for fuel and supplies.

The turnoff to the Connie Sue is just out of town, but not clearly marked. For the first few kilometres the road was in good condition but all too soon the corrugations returned. Close to Warburton there were some quite extensive areas of country that had been burnt fairly recently. The freshly burnt ground was a patchwork of red sand and black ash where there had been clumps of spinifex.

From time to time we saw what we at first thought was smoke rising in the distance, though it seemed to come and go in a way that didn’t look quite right for smoke. Eventually we decided that small willy-willys were forming over bare burnt ground and picking up ash, creating the smoke-like appearance as the hot air spiralled upwards.

In other places we travelled through thick mulga and mallee pressing right up to and in places overhanging the track, and in these places we kept a sharp lookout for camels. And then there were lovely open plains of pale spinifex dotted with low shrubs and a few low ridges in the distance.

The early section of the track passed through small tumbled dunes before coming to a number of gorges or breakaways where the hard red ironstone cap rock had eroded away leaving sharp sided gullies full of ragged red rocks. We stopped off at a couple of these gorges and from the rim there was a wonderful view out over vast expanses of mulga that stretched away to the horizon. Looking down into the gullies there were different plants taking advantage of moister, more sheltered conditions. There were many fig trees, some even bearing tiny dry fruit, and mistletoe was common too. Doubtless these gorges would support different animals as well, and indeed we did see one or two birds despite the midday heat. We had lunch at one of these lookouts but there was no shade there.

After lunch the track became increasingly corrugated although there were some short smooth sections. We saw a few groups of camels and there were also a lot of mallees in flower with both red and cream flowers, most attractive and requiring some stops for photos.

We passed a number of little-used side tracks, a few marked with rough signs that meant little to us. By mid afternoon we came to a very prominent flat topped hill – Hann’s Tabletop Hill a short way off the main track. One of our group drove in, and after it was confirmed by UHF that it was a good campsite with a large open area at the base of the hill we soon followed. After a bit of scouting around to explore the area and gather some firewood, we had a good campfire in the firepit in the middle of the site and sat around chatting until it was time to turn in. Cloud came up late in the afternoon, but the hoped-for desert sunset did not eventuate.

Next morning we were up early and on the road by 8am. Val walked out to the main road ahead of the vehicles in order to get photos looking back towards the hill. Such small adventures are worthwhile, giving a taste of what it is like to be alone in a remote area, and a chance to closely observe the country where there is always plenty to see providing you look carefully. Along this short walk were camel pads, a few eremophilas and the tracks of small animals – and over all a profound silence only interrupted by the vehicles catching up.

Back on the main track it was more corrugations, occasional washed out sections where a new track had been formed off to the side of the main track, or places where it was necessary to pick our way carefully through ruts and holes.

We had morning tea at Cooper Hills bore where there was a supply of reddish coloured water in a tank, pumped up by a solar powered pump. Nearby were those telltale abandoned bits of vehicles that speak of travellers who have suffered on the corrugations – broken springs hung on a dead tree and abandoned shock absorbers all told a story.

This was attractive country with big open spinifex covered swales and red flowering mallees, Eucalyptus youngiana. Nearby Coopers Creek (not the same creek that drains much of Queensland into Lake Eyre!) was quite dry but lined with plenty of river red gums, a shady place but with a thick carpet of dry grass making it unsuitable for camping.

We saw a few groups of camels off to the side of the track or briefly crossing in front of us. When we came to a group that seemed intent on sticking to the track we decided it was time for lunch. There was nowhere to pull off but as there was no other traffic about it didn’t matter.

It was at this point that Noel started to be concerned about his shocks, as they were getting very hot. The next section of the track was quite rough with corrugations and washouts, so we stopped while Noel made some calls to VKS737 to arrange for shocks to be sent out to Neale Junction.

Not long after that we came up behind two vehicles that were ahead of us but travelling even more slowly than we were. We stopped for a brief chat. Their HF radio was not working and they asked us to relay a message for them when we were next in touch with VKS 737, which we of course we subsequently did.

During the day as we drove south we noticed that the country gradually changed from predominantly spinifex and mulga in the north, to mallee, then larger and very attractive white barked gum trees, Eucalyptus gongylocarpa (marble gum) in this more southern part of the Great Victoria Desert. We also passed through a section of bigger sand dunes where the track jinked about to find the best way through.

It had been a tiring days drive and we kept a lookout for a suitable campsite but there was nothing really suitable, with open areas well covered with spinifex. So we kept going, stopping to collect firewood well away from Neale Junction. That stop rewarded us with more photos of both flowering mallee and magnificent pink flowering hakeas.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at Neale Junction pleased to stop after a day of constant juddering over corrugations. There were two graders based there, working along the Anne Beadell highway but about to do the Connie Sue. It would be the first time the Connie Sue had been graded this century! One of the grader drivers joined us around the fire after dinner and provided some interesting stories and insights into this remote country.

Although it had been a warm day it soon grew cool when the sun went down. Once inside Troopy the graders driver’s generator was no more than a faint purr and we slept with that rocking sensation that comes from a long day of driving over corrugations.

Next day was a lay-day while our companions waited for the shock absorbers to arrive. We decided that a lay-day was in order for us too as we had by now been driving every day since leaving home 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately the weather forecast was for a front coming through with gales, storms and hail SW of Laverton. We were lucky that all we got was a very windy day.

While we were stopped there was plenty to be done – cleaning dust out of Troopy, doing a few bits of vehicle maintenance, an oil change, a bit of washing and general tidying up. Neale Junction has all mod-cons for the outback traveller – a good clean long drop, a water tank with water, some shady trees and a fire pit or two, so we could be quite comfortable. In between chores, we explored on foot and with our companions, cooked and consumed damper for morning and afternoon tea and sat around chatting, doing our best to find a spot that was simultaneously shaded and sheltered. Another fire and chat with the grader drivers rounded out the day.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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