Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 9 Birdsville to Coongie Lakes

Wednesday, May 02, 2007 at 10:53

Member - John and Val

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After a hot Birdsville night we made our final farewells the next morning then packed up in preparation for the next stage of this journey. Before we left though, we got to chatting to another couple, Sue and Terry, also in a Troopy. They were planning on driving the Walkers Crossing track, so we might meet up later in the day.

Before leaving Birdsville we had a bit of a look around town. We paid a visit to the bakery for pies and had a look at the bore where water comes out of the ground at about boiling point. It is so hot it has to go into a cooling pond. On the edge of town we went to the Burke and Wills tree, which marks one of the explorers’ final campsites before they reached the Innamincka area, where the more famous Dig Tree stands. The trees is out past many stables, which would be a hive of activity during the annual Birdsville races.

Then we were off down the Birdsville Track travelling through very bleak and barren country, with big sand dunes running either side of the track. Soon the country changed to an open floodplain, followed by big expanses of shiny gibbers. But the track was in good condition and before long we came to the Walkers crossing turn-off. This track was little more than two wheel tracks crossing an empty gibber plain, an astonishing bit of country.

After a while saltbush started to creep in among the gibber and soon we were among cattle, all very sleek and fat. Despite appearances there must be some good cattle feed out here somewhere. We made a few stops to look at various features – ground tanks to provide water for cattle, patches of flowers, and big claypans covered with the skeletons of dead trees. We had only seen a couple of other vehicles all day, but when we stopped for the night beside a little waterhole Sue and Terry pulled in too so we had a convivial evening together, swapping tales of Troopy adventures.

We were back on the road early, heading towards Walkers Crossing where there was just a muddy puddle where the track crosses Cooper Creek. The track as it followed along the floodplain was in good condition, but we gave ourselves a nasty jolt when we hit a cattle grid where the approaches had been scoured out. After that we were very careful to drop our speed (moderate thought it already was) when approaching the frequent grids.

Much of the day seemed to be spent driving over dry lakes and through gas fields, and without OziExplorer to guide us we would probably have become hopelessly lost in the maze of mining tracks going to the many gas wells. There were many well constructed roads in the area but they were marked as private roads for use by the miners. We were limited to the lesser tracks, but even those were good to drive on. And throughout the morning we were rewarded by wonderful displays of wildflowers in big patches on sand dunes.

By lunchtime we had reached Gidgealpa waterhole and decided that we would stop overnight there, taking the opportunity to have a closer look at the country. The waterhole was just a small muddy puddle surrounded by big gnarled coolibahs up on the high banks. It is part of a small ephemeral watercourse that gets overflow when the Cooper floods. The flies were out in great swarms but they desisted towards evening, and in their place big flocks of parrots came in to drink at the waterhole.

A few spots of rain overnight had us a bit concerned, given that we were in black soil country, so we got back onto the main track early next morning. We were now heading east across the Strzelecki Desert, or so the map informed us, because the country looked more like a spring garden than a desert. Everything was bright green or carpeted with wild stocks and daisies, a wonderful sight. There were quite a few washouts across the track so we had to drive slowly, giving us plenty of time to take in some beautiful vistas.

Eventually the country became drier and stunted coolibahs replaced the lush plains. We were now approaching Innaminka and Bourke and Wills territory where there are several historical markers at significant places on their tragic final journey.[Image cannot be loaded] Wills’ grave is beside a beautiful waterhole lined with magnificent river red gums – but the desert takes over again at the top of the high creek banks. We spent a while walking around that area that looks so benign today. It was hard to reconcile this place with its seemingly abundant food resources with the deaths in the past of travel weary men coping as best they could in an unfamiliar land.

From there it was just a short run into Innaminka where we stocked up on a few essential items before heading out to Coongie Lakes. The Walkers Crossing track had been an easy run for us, but by contrast the track out to Coongie was quite corrugated. As is our habit we checked out possible campsites for future reference. We had lunch at Scribbly Gum camp, high up on the creek bank. Kudremitchie Outstation looked quite promising with some access to the water. The best site at Kudremitchie was taken but the folk who were camped there told us about a great spot at Coongie, so we continued on, with a short delay for yet another flat tyre.

By mid afternoon we had located that campsite which was just as it had been described to us. There we settled into a private, reasonably sheltered spot surrounded by big gums. We set out the solar panels and had a great shower. It was good to stop and our plan was to spend a few days at Coongie just relaxing.

We did spend a couple of days there, one spent doing chores and maintenance, and the second day taking a long walk around the shore and a little distance inland. There were plenty of birds about and our walk revealed some big middens and stone tools including a big grinding stone, reminding us that these lakes must have provided an abundance of food for aboriginals who lived in the area. There are big mussels in the water, as well as birds and fish. On land there was a lot of seed on the grasses, and almost certainly plenty of other roots and edible plants that we could not see. Above all there was the solitude amid the beautiful colours of the landscape.


Unfortunately cloud built up and a strong, cool wind set in, blowing over the water. Little waves covered with patches of foam were breaking along the shoreline. The wind made conditions quite unpleasant, so we decided rather reluctantly to move on.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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