Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 3 Excursions from Batten Hill

Wednesday, Apr 25, 2007 at 17:22


It was a big and diverse group of people who gathered for dinner that first night. Lindsay Bookie was supported by Jol Flemming and some others who had a good knowledge of the local area. They gave consent and planning advice to the organisers and their crew, which included a journalist and photographer. The caterers had their own set of volunteers as they had a mammoth job to feed this big group every day for 2 weeks. We radio operators worked to support this big catering crew.

Then there were the scientists who came from universities, government departments, botanical gardens and other research organisations from all around the country, although two or three were based in Alice Springs. Last but not least there were the volunteers who would work as scientific assistants, learning about the science and the desert country and hopefully getting a memorable experience as well.

The next couple of days passed in a blur of settling in and working out who was going where, with whom and when. Somehow the volunteers were assigned to the scientists and a start was made on the research work. Some scientists and their volunteers would be based at Batten Hill, while others would go to one or both of the out camps, with the expectation that most people would have the opportunity to rotate between all three locations if they wanted to. Mike’s well-equipped truck became the centre for radio communications.

It was now time to set up “our” remote expedition camp. The original plan was for this camp to be out at Mt. Barrington, about 50km SE of the base camp at Batten Hill. However heavy summer rain had made the access track via Goyder’s Pillar impassable. It was decided that Ken, an experienced desert traveller, accompanied by us in Troopy, would travel out to see if we could make a track across country from the Lake Caroline track which runs south from Batten Hill.

We set off early the next day and made good progress although we were travelling through quite thick vegetation following the summer rain so the going was bumpy at times. Following Ken’s track was not too difficult although at times we lost sight of him in the thick mallee scrub. We even saw a couple of groups of what were to prove elusive camels resting in the thickest stands of mallee. Gradually we worked our way into and across small sand dunes, but getting over them became increasingly difficult. Both the dunes and the swales were thickly covered with big clumps of spinifex making it difficult to get up enough momentum to take the vehicles up each dune. A bit of snatching and winching was needed to get each other over some of the more difficult dunes, but despite these minor interruptions it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. We felt that we were in very remote in country where maybe no-one, or very few had driven before. And we really enjoyed Ken’s cheerful and informative company. There was plenty to see too, as the desert mallees (E. youngiana) were just coming into flower, their huge pink buds and big creamy flowers standing out from the subdued colours of the desert vegetation.

As the afternoon wore on and the sand heated up it was clear that we were not going to be able to reach Mt Barrington and return that day. And it was also clear that those scientists and volunteers who were not experienced in this type of driving would have difficulty in this terrain. So we reluctantly concluded to recommend that Mt. Barrington would be inaccessible as a remote camp.

Meanwhile, Kevin and Megan were assigned to the out-camp that would be the focus for work on the edge of Ngarra Ngarra Swamp near Lake Caroline. They set off south leading their convoy of scientists, volunteers and support crew. Unfortunately from Batten Hill we were not able to maintain good radio contact with them, leading to a fair bit of concern among the expedition leaders. So a day or two later we were dispatched to go down to see what had happened. As we went we were to check using our HF radio every few kilometres, both to keep in touch and to try to work out why radio contact had been lost. (The distances where such that the out-camp was out of UHF range, and lay in the HF dead band – too far for local HF, too close to use reflection from the upper atmosphere.) We later learned that HF radio contact between Batten Hill and Alice Springs was notoriously unreliable too, due presumably to particular features of the terrain, coupled with propagation problems due to distance

We needed to stop each time we wanted to transmit, and we also needed to turn our fridge off to avoid interference, so we had to be careful to remember to turn it back on each time we set off again. However we were able to maintain contact with Mike at Batten Hill for most of the way to Lake Caroline.

We passed Lindsay and one of his boys coming north along the track. He had taken a drum of water down, and relayed a message that there had been some sort of accident with a vehicle that had run off the track. We continued on feeling a bit anxious and finally arrived at the camp. To get there we followed the fresh wheel tracks further south down the dry Hay River bed; south beyond the crossing point that leads out to Lake Caroline. The track followed along the side of a dry creek where care was needed to avoid dropping a wheel over the bank and diving a couple of metres to the dry creek bed, then finally over a sand dune or two.

And there was the camp, all apparently in good order. Kevin and Megan and a couple of others were there; everybody else was out in the field working on their projects. They told us that on their trip down, one of the young drivers had somehow run his government vehicle off the track and come to an abrupt stop with the stump of a sizeable sapling wedged under the front mudguard. There was some damage, but fortunately although both driver and passenger were shaken, both were unhurt. It took a while for Kevin to recover the vehicle, after which Megan drove it from there to the camp. Apparently the young fellow had never driven a 4WD before, indeed never driven a manual vehicle – goodness knows how he was able to get the vehicle assigned to him for this expedition.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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