David Carnegie Retracing Expedition 2013

Wednesday, Jul 24, 2013 at 00:00

equinox

I had planned to follow explorer David Carnegie’s 1897 route from Halls Creek to the south for some years now. After my first Carnegie Retracing Expedition in 2003 with my father and brother and subsequent follow-up expeditions from 2007 to 2011, I had retraced and visited many of his points of interest from his 1896 expedition from Coolgardie to Halls Creek.Carnegie’s 1897 route, from Halls Creek to near Lake Darlot was technically more difficult to traverse as it was very isolated, the terrain harsh, and it required the joint permission of both traditional landowners and pastoralists.

However, the time was right to make an attempt. Time itself was against me, as I had only a five week break from work – meaning a full retracing was always out of the question. I had organised and purchased a quad bike for the journey and asked my father to join me, to drive the “Fair Maid of Perth”, my trusty steed of a Landcruiser Ute, as a backup support vehicle for the times that we would be separated.

I discussed my plans in conversation with friends, and interest was expressed by some in joining us on the journey. I subsequently erred on the side of safety in numbers, expertise in historical, navigational, mechanical and social skills. The final expedition party consisted of eight members who would utilise four standard and modified, heavy duty four wheel drive Landcruiser vehicles, one Mercedes Unimog and four Arctic Cat Utility four wheel drive diesel powered quad bikes.

The members of the party included:
Alan McCall – Expedition Leader, Navigator and Historian (myself)
John McCall – My father, Historian
Michael Olsen – Desert Travelling Specialist, expert tyre repairer and Blogger
Alan Kennedy – Desert Traveller and Historian
John Whithorn – Desert Travelling Specialist, Historian, Navigator and Mechanic
Suzette Cook – Desert Travelling Specialist and social coordinator
Larry Perkins – Desert Traveller and Mechanic
Peter Blakeman – Desert Traveller, Photographer, Remote First Aider and Mechanic

Massie, my faithful Kelpie bitch (named after Godfrey Massie, one of Carnegie’s expedition members) accompanied me the entire journey.
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Chapter 1 - Journeying South from Old Halls Creek


“Where are you guys?” I muttered on the UHF radio upon approach to Halls Creek.

Dad and I were just on the outskirts of the town, having driven from Perth over the previous four days. We were due to meet the others at our arranged rendezvous point at Old Halls Creek about twelve kilometres away on the Duncan Road by the day’s end yet I could hear them chattering on the radio. It was 23 July 2013.

“Oh, what!” someone replied. “On the main street about to leave town.”

Then we saw them, directly ahead as we came into town, a line of four vehicles, coming our way, moving on the main highway looking like they were about to go on a serious outback adventure. I chuckled to myself, “Gee, they’re all here already”.

After greetings and a topup of fuel I led the eager and excited party southward along the Duncan Road. The gravel road deteriorated not far from town. The “Fair Maid” was fully loaded, for as well as all the normal equipment, fuel, food and water needed for weeks in the bush, I had a quad bike on the tray weighing 380 kilograms, adding additional weight to the load I was carrying. For this reason I was extremely careful not to put much stress on the vehicle, and drove rather carefully.

We soon arrived at the lonely township of Old Halls Creek. It was here that David Carnegie stayed for almost four months, recuperating from his journey from the south, and it is from here he departed to continue his explorations south again along a more easterly route. Nowadays there is not much left of the original town, the old Post Office being the most prominent feature of times past. The group parked up near the plaques that commemorated Carnegie’s 1896 journey and spent some time looking around and fossicking.

Carnegie left Halls Creek on 22 March 1897 with Joe Breaden, Godfrey Massie and Warri, along with eight camels, three horses and a dog. They all reached Flora Valley Homestead the next day. Here they stayed as guests of the Gordon Brothers, Watty and Hugh, and Nat Buchanan until 28 March.

Click Here for Image of Carnegie's Northern Exploration Map

It was getting late in the day and we considered staying at the local caravan park briefly, before deciding to find a place to camp somewhere further along the Duncan Road. Our goal was Flora Valley, now Old Flora Valley. However we would not reach there today. Instead we camped at Black Hills Yard only a few kilometres from Old Halls Creek a hundred metres or so off the road. This was a cleared area with the yard now only a name, as there were few signs of a yard, just a few old posts and stumps to signify a previous, perhaps glorious, past. Our first camp together; I had travelled previously with all but one of the party, and it seemed like we had just picked up from where we had left off; we set the fire roaring and contemplated what may be, and what would be our destiny for the weeks ahead.

In the morning before sunrise I arose, quite a bit earlier than the others, and sneaked off with Massie and walked towards Elvire Creek almost a kilometre away – I had to gather my thoughts; all my planning had got us all to this point. I was so excited, I had to calm down, and the others must not see my nervousness. They had come from Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and other parts of Australia to share this journey with me. I walked the hills, breathed the fresh air into my lungs, enjoyed the silence that the outback presents, admired the unique flora and felt with my hands the rocks and geology of the area and overcame the desire to know what may be happening at my workplace back in Perth. I effectively tuned myself into the area and the required tasks ahead. Only then did I know that I was ready; ready for an adventure!!!

Back at camp we all started preparing for the day’s journey. Being the first morning as a group there were many things to organise, shuffling and redistribution of loads, discussion of where we may end up at day’s end and what order the convoy would travel in. We would stay in convoy as we were, until we neared Lake Gregory, where we would split into two groups, one group utilising the Quad Bikes following closely Carnegie’s route, and the other group with the remaining vehicles acting as supply and support.

I will point out here that on this side of the lake, that is north of Lake Gregory, the area is mainly pastoral country and we would generally stick to existing tracks and fence lines primarily so as not to interfere with operational duties of the stations. At the time of Carnegie’s journey Flora Valley and Denison Downs Stations (Sturt Creek) were already established, so Carnegie’s journey through these areas, although presenting some new information on features, was not ground breaking as far as bona fide exploration was concerned. It was also considered that as our expedition had limited time, it would be more prudent to follow and retrace more closely the remote areas of Carnegie’s journey, being the areas he visited after he passed by Lake Gregory.

The Duncan Road passed through the Albert Edward Range at Palm Spring, and we would have to go this way in order to reach Flora Valley on the south eastern side of the range, north of the road. The mood was jovial as the convoy moved southward along the Duncan. We utilised the UHF radio quite frequently, either to point out landmarks that we saw and to comment, or to relay our position relative to the other vehicles. We all arrived at Palm Spring and pulled over into a cleared area adjacent to the road.

Palm Spring was beautiful, the kind of place you could easily camp at for days, explore and relax – If you didn’t have another agenda that is. It was a large pool, and a huge abutment of rock, part of the range, overlooked the pool. We stayed here for over an hour. There were some old sheds, an old windmill, and ruins of an old truck nearby, indicating that at one stage there was much activity there. However, we reluctantly moved on, leaving the oasis for others to enjoy as they passed.

Shortly, after about a kilometre, we came to a turnoff to the left, which I hoped would take us all to Flora Valley. My map showed the track following a small valley in between the two main parallel ridges of the range until it reached the Elvire River and swung around the eastern ridge before leading to our goal. The track was quite rough and some sections led up and over shoulders of smaller ridges. It was scenic country. We passed the community of Linga Valley on our right and continued until we were about five kilometres from the Duncan Road. Here the track became quite indistinct. I drove around crisscrossing the general area to see if there may have been a track I may have missed that was in better condition. There didn’t appear to be any so I made the decision to go back to the main road and utilise the more direct track to Flora Valley. This was a bit disappointing as we lost a bit of time. However as there was no guarantee that the track we were on would lead us onwards to our goal without major delay, it appeared to be the best decision.

Back on the Duncan Road we travelled a further three or four kilometres until the next turnoff. I actually missed the turnoff, as the road grading team was visible on the road just ahead, and had only just graded the road at the turnoff so it was hard to spot. However, I soon realised this and back-tracked.

We all headed up the well defined track and soon stopped for some morning tea, as it had already been quite a busy morning and we all needed a break.

After our break we continued north north east up the track, the ranges on our left and rangeland country on the right. We spotted several groups of wild horses in the area. At about 11:30am we arrived at the community of Wungu. There were several houses and small buildings there and we tried to enquire as to the whereabouts of the old homestead. No one answered our knocks on doors; there was a myriad of tracks leading off in several directions, so Peter, Larry and I went for a reconnaissance. Shortly after Larry radioed, “I’ve found it”. There were a number of ruins and remnants around so I replied, “Are you sure?”

“There’s a sign here saying Old Flora Valley Station!” he said.

Larry and the others were already walking around by the time we got there. There was an old shed, the main feature there, and John and Peter had found a snake in the grass, and were herding it away. The shed was quite old, however, but would not have been part of the old original station. Further away to the east some remnants were found. Old posts and rocks placed into lines, flat rocks, which may have once been the foundation of a building. An old well was there, completely filled in.

Down by the river, which made a huge horseshoe bend at the station, there was a considerable amount of water collected at the bend, and Massie had a great time having a swim.

When Carnegie was here he mentioned that there were scores of natives that lived there, relying on the generosity of the owners to sustain them. They gave Carnegie a prime bullock and it was salted there, and Joe Breaden who had “sandy blight”, was kept in a dark room for several days. They left late in the afternoon on 28 March, their destination being Denison Downs Station (Sturt Creek Station), and camped four miles away on a creek Carnegie called “Spring Creek”. This is likely to be a tributary of the Fox River. After that they crossed a few small creeks before getting into the open plain country that is the Denison Plains. They then camped on a small pool near the head of Cow Creek.

After we had our lunch at Flora Valley, we started on our way, where we would follow station tracks until we reached the Duncan Road again, before we would head south along the Sturt Creek Road towards Cow Creek.

Interestingly, the general route Carnegie took from Halls Creek to past Billiluna (Pool) via Cow Creek and Sturt Creek was very much aligned with Alfred Canning’s surveyed stock route from 1906-07. Although not our primary agenda it was noted that most Canning Stock Route travellers currently use Billiluna as their northern termination point, so we all felt quite privileged to be able to travel this section of his historic stock route.

Click Here for Zoomable Map of Canning's Route in the area of Halls Creek, Cow Creek, Sturt Creek and beyond

Shortly after Flora Valley we came to the crossing at Johnston River. Here there was an old concrete ford, however it was all broken up into pieces, so we had to drive across the dry river bed to get to the other side. The track then crossed the tributary of the Fox, near to where Carnegie would have camped. The track we were on now was not on my map, we left the track on the map as it was much less clearly defined – the track we were on intersected the Duncan Road just west of where the Fox River crosses it.

I was worried a bit, much to the amusement of the others, as I had expected Carnegie’s “Open Plains” that he had mentioned to be reached sooner. However, I was soon relieved when upon reaching a point where the road crossed a high ridge, huge “Open Plains” to the south east were visible. We were on track.

Almost 18 kilometres to the east on the Duncan Road we came to the quite hidden turnoff on what is labelled on my map as Sturt Creek Road. Judging by the state of the track and the fact that later we would intersect another track further east, I hypothesized that this is no longer the main track to Sturt Creek Station. We followed the track south, and although underutilised, was in great condition. We crossed Cow Creek at Bohemia Tank. In this vicinity Carnegie would have had his camp of 29 March. However, as the creek was quite indistinct, and there were a few pools on the map, we decided to push on further.

The Denison Plains were vast and mostly devoid of trees and we needed somewhere decent to camp, so when we came to Rocket Tank, which was surrounded by beautiful ghost gums, and cleared areas between the trees, I decided that although still early we would set up camp here. This was our first real remote camp; the firewood was collected and fire lit, and chores were attended to. Some of the others opted to have a look at the dam which had water in it – I was quite content to remain in camp.

Carnegie had more or less followed Cow Creek downstream passing a fine pool on the way. They then reached the point at which Cow Creek joins Sturt Creek and said that there was a splendid pool there. He commented that there were numerous waterbirds at the pool, but he couldn’t get a shot at any ducks as they were quite shy. This pool is likely to be what is now known as Anjammie Pool.

Chapter 2 - Waterholes of Sturt Creek


Morning came and we headed east along the track, crossing Cow Creek at Lilly Tank. We came to a junction where we turned south and shortly came to the boundary gate of the station. This was a good sign as neither I, nor the others on the team, knew whether we were really on the right track. We crossed Cow Creek again and we came to a section of the track that was almost due west of Anjammie Pool.

The pool was supposed to be about 500 metres off the track so we left the track and pushed through the scrub, then followed a fence line which almost got us all to the pool, if it was a pool, that is. Leaving the vehicles we jumped the fence and made our way north about 100 metres on foot. Quite a sight for sore eyes, the pool was 60 metres wide and about a kilometre and a half long.

As Carnegie had indicated, there were a number of waterbirds around, and the pool was quite a muddy colour, not really inviting to swim in, or drink raw from. It was surely different in Carnegie’s day with less cattle spoiling the water. However now we had seen it!!

Carnegie continued to follow the huge creek downstream until they camped on a clayhole. Here he shot some ducks and made mention of seeing Mt Weekes and some bluffs. The next day, April 1, he passed by an old station house and, passing by several mobs of horses and cattle, reached the homestead of Denison Downs, run by William Henry Stretch and John Weekes. At the time he mentioned the adjacent “reach” of water was over five miles long and 100 yards broad. This is the current Chuall Pool. Here they stayed until April 7 1897.

We left Anjammie Pool after spending just over half an hour there. Where we joined the main track again following it about 20 kilometres before taking a side track and fence lines that would take us closer to the creek and hopefully near to Carnegie’s clayhole. When we reached the vicinity of where the clayhole should have been I could glimpse views of the bluffs that Carnegie had mentioned through the gaps in the trees by standing on the top of the vehicle. We stopped for some morning tea near to where he would have camped, but did not sight an actual clayhole.

I was quite keen on finding any remains of the Old Station house that Carnegie mentioned in both his diaries and on his expedition map, so we continued southward, still along fence lines until we reached the vicinity. There was a yard marked on my map near this location so this was an obvious place to start looking for the house. The yard itself was still in existence, though appeared to be of a latter age. Nearby, just closer to the creek, Alan found remains of what appeared to be an old wooden fence with only the bases of the wooden poles remaining. We all went over for a look and some small stone slabs were found too, similar to what we saw at Flora Valley. These may have been the remains of a house entrance, or perhaps the base of a chimney. A tree was growing directly next to them. A cleared area, on which no vegetation was growing, was adjacent to the stones. Although not entirely convinced that this was the remains of the house we were seeking, it was the best evidence that we found in the area.

Around the time most of the crew were looking at the possible remains of the house Dad had wandered off in the direction of the creek. This was only assumed, as he could not be sighted on the flat cleared area on which we were located. When we noticed he was missing we waited for a while, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he may have just gone off wandering to the creek and Jawilga Pool just over 500 metres away. However, when he didn’t return we split up into three groups and started to search for him. The scrub was quite thick the closer to the creek we got. However John spotted him through the scrub and relayed his vector to me, as I was closer. I eventually caught up with him, toilet roll in his hand, and he reported that there was a good deal of water in the pool.

We decided to have lunch at the pool and we regrouped, which took quite some time, due to the scrub and rested by Jawilga Pool. This pool was about 20 metres wide and perhaps 1200 metres long, and almost looked like a man made channel following the course of the creek which we were following.

Soon, though, we were back on the station tracks and made our way to the station, only about fifteen kilometres away as the crow flies. The first part of the track, although not a main station track, was in quite good condition; we joined the main track again not far from the station and followed Chuall Pool around its western and southern sides before swinging around the pool to head north and arrived at the Station in the mid afternoon.

Upon first glance it appeared there was no one around. Then we noticed a sprinkler watering the beautiful lawns of the homestead so we assumed correctly that there was someone there. At this point I would like to thank Jim and Sarah Lomas, the managers of this current outstation to Ruby Plains, for allowing us permission to visit and travel through their pastoral lease. They had previously mentioned to me that they would be heading into town for a rodeo, and may catch us on their trip out. However, we caught no sight of them.

The homestead and adjacent buildings covered a smaller area than I had imagined. We made our way on foot to the lawns from the carpark area, to be greeted by a lady, Janice Houghton, who introduced herself as the cook, and indicated that she was the only one currently in residence. Janice was very welcoming; she said that she had worked there on a seasonal basis for years. Janice showed us around. This place is still at this time very isolated. I thought it would take a very strong person to cope with the isolation.



We explained to Janice that we were following Carnegie’s journey, and that we were very interested in seeing anything that may be still around from the old times. Janice showed us some graves nearby on the other side of the carpark but she was unsure of their history. There were two graves surrounded by an iron fence. One of the graves clearly showed a P. Tracey who died in 1941 and another grave adjacent. I have since found out that the first was of Patrick Tracey. However, I do not know anything about him. The other grave is unmarked.

Janice then took us all around to the other side of the homestead, towards the pool. She said there was a slab of concrete there that looked like it was fairly old. Whilst on our way to the “slab” we passed an area of ground which had an alignment of stones which looked very much like it used to be the base of some sort of shed or housing. It was about two metres wide by five metres long. To me this looked very much like it could have been from Carnegie’s and Stretch’s era. Further along towards the pool we came to the “slab” and it looked like it may have been the entranceway to an old house. The area where it was located was well within the flood line, she said, which may explain why the current homestead is on higher ground.

Janice offered to show us a room which had photos and a bit of information about the homestead. This was the kitchen area and mess, where stockmen would eat when staying onsite. We removed our dirty boots and entered the main mess area. There were historical pictures of the station and a file of information about its history. I was absorbed by the information contained in its pages, but had limited time to completely devour its data, and I did not want to outstay our gracious welcome.

We wandered out towards the carpark again; Janice was very much interested in Larry’s Unimog. It would seem not too many of that vehicle type comes through this remote location.

We were all very much thankful for Janice’s hospitality, and she wished us well on our journey. She advised there was a nice place to camp with waterfalls and pools not far from the homestead but as we were going in a different direction to where it was located, we decided not to visit.

The track along Sturt Creek, along its southern side was not a main track although this was the one we followed. Weedy Waterhole was our goal, where Carnegie passed by. We passed by the waterhole - however there was a fence dividing it and the track. Reaching a gate we went through and tried to find a suitable campsite. This was not an ideal place to camp. There were scrubby, spiny bushes all over the place. Upon walking to the pool we found it dry. Still, the name of Weedy Waterhole was quite accurate, as there were weeds everywhere.

The area was so unhospitable, it was decided to go out to the track again and backtrack about two kilometres to a cleared area that I had spotted on the way past. There was plenty of room for all the vehicles. Peter then indicated that he found some aboriginal artefacts, such as splinters of stones and rubbing stones. We all set up camp in the cleared area and more artefacts were found by myself and other members of the group, indicating to us that this was a popular campsite for the aboriginals in times past. We were all settling now as a group; however, I yearned to take the bike off the back of the ute, so I could take it for its ultimate test. It would not be long now!

Carnegie had probably camped at Overlander Waterhole on 7 April, about ten kilometres further downstream from where we were camped. He passed Wowaljarrow Pool and marked it as such on his exploration map. He also marked and mentioned a pool he called Red Rockhole, which is now called Ima Ima Pool, however, there is still a station yard in the area called Red Rock Yard. They passed the junction of Wolfe Creek, which Carnegie mentions was named by Mr Stretch from Denison Downs. Incidentally, Mr Stretch accompanied Carnegie’s party from the homestead to just south of the junction of Wolfe Creek.

Continuing downstream, Carnegie camped at a lagoon on 11 April. The current Stretch Lagoon is in the vicinity of the lagoon where Carnegie camped, but it cannot be stated with absolute certainty that these are the same lagoons.Stretch Lagoon was certainly a popular spot for explorers to visit, with Alfred Canning visiting in 1906, and H.W.B. Talbot visiting in 1909, so there is reason to assume that the lagoon was easy to find around the beginning of the twentieth century. Explorer Michael Terry also visited the lagoon in 1925.

On 13 April Carnegie made camp just north of Lake Gregory and the next day sighted the expanse of the lake for the first time.Carnegie then writes, “the next day we moved camp to the fresh-water reach, and had not been travelling long before a small tribe of blacks came round us, quickly followed by our friends of the day before, and presently by more, until we were marching along with an wild escort of nearly a hundred, mostly men; they were fearfully excited, though quite friendly, and with yells and shouts danced alongside, waving their spears and other weapons.” They camped on the northern edge of the lake until the morning of April 20.

I led the current party from the camp near Weedy Waterhole at half past seven in the morning. It was 26 July. We soon came to a fence line with no gate visible and were forced southwards away from the creek. The track averaged a south westerly direction for about ten kilometres before we came to an abandoned well. At the well there was another track following another fence line which headed in a north westerly direction which was a bit of a relief. However this meant that we would probably have to forgo visiting Overlander Waterhole if we were to maintain a continuous route with no backtracking.

The fence line was quite straight for about seven kilometres and took us over some rough stony country before levelling out to lead us onto a floodplain. The floodplain was very flat, though did not reach to far from the creek, and there were many kangaroos sighted on it. We came to an open gate which was at the intersection of a track which ran parallel to the creek. At this point we could probably have attempted to reach Overlander Waterhole to the north east, however decided to instead continue downstream to Wowaljarrow Pool only a couple of kilometres away.

There was no visible track to the pool as we passed by, so we drove over the floodplain to reach it. It was fairly typical of the pools that we had seen so far along the creek. It was about 60 metres wide and a couple of kilometres long. We only stayed here about fifteen minutes before continuing along the track to Ima Ima Pool (Red Rockhole). Again there was no track leading in so we crossed the floodplain to reach the pool where we had some morning tea. This pool was quite large being over 250 metres across and no end in sight lengthways. I thought if I had a canoe it would have been an ideal spot for some exploring along its shoreline.

Red Rock Yard on my map was just a couple of kilometres away further along the track so we thought we would have a look for it. Nearing its position the floodplain narrowed and disappeared altogether. Replacing it was woodland about vehicle height or a bit higher. No sign of the yard was found, however, there was a track into Ima Ima Pool, which was still present adjacent to the main track at this point. At the pool here we surprised a number of waterbirds, and saw many swans paddling off in the distance. Here we also found a small excavation in the ground, and many emu feathers surrounding it. We assumed that someone had cooked an Emu in the hole.

To the west a fence line and track ran due north south, blocking our way along the creek. We were to the south east of the creek, west of Ima Ima Pool and I would have preferred to stay this side of the creek as after the junction of the Wolfe there was supposed to be a track running parallel to the creek all the way to the Tanami Road, near Billiluna. However, from here to the junction, about seven kilometres away, there was no track marked on my maps to take us all there.

I therefore surveyed the track to the south for several kilometres and Larry did so to the north above the creek, which was dry and easily traversable in this area. I found that the track continued to the south with no end in sight. Larry found a gate a few kilometres to the north that would let us cross to the west. However, if we were to cross at that point we would be north of the creek and might possibly have to make a huge detour away from the creek to get us back on track to follow the creek southward. The way to the south was not guaranteed of certainty either. The track might end a few kilometres further on, or possibly deviate to the east. The choice of route was discussed over the radio with differing opinions expressed. However, we eventually decided on the southern route.

As we all made our way south along the track the country showed its first glimpses of typical desert terrain. Sandy dunes with spinifex abundant, a sign of things to come. As it turned out a few kilometres further on the fence line terminated at a tjunction with another fence. However, as luck would have it, there was a gate about 100 metres to the east which allowed access to the other side. There was a very faint, little-used track on the other side. This track on the southern side of this new fence line, which ran almost exactly east west, was the one we travelled on – to the west!

This new fence line was taking us almost directly to our target, which was the junction of Wolfe Creek. The terrain was still sandridge country, and to the north when atop of the ridges you could see Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater about twenty kilometres away, as well as the rough outline of Sturt Creek, by way of the vegetation surrounding it, meandering its way through the country a couple of kilometres away, also to the north.

The fence line veered towards the junction about three kilometres from it and we continued to follow it. At this point the track beside the fence became more discernible. We passed a track leading off to the west soon after, however, continued on. Eventually, after a few kilometres the track took us across the Sturt twice before leading us directly to the vicinity of the junction.

At the junction we all rested, as it had been a fairly big day so far, and we had some lunch. There does not seem to be an actual junction, a single point where one can say that here was Wolfe Creek merging with Sturt Creek, as both creeks are split into several channels with differing merge points. We all investigated the area and followed up different parts of both the creek systems. We all agreed, though, that we could narrow down the junction to about a one hundred metre radius.

After lunch, and about an hour and a half at the junction, we departed, and headed back along the track. We went back to the track we passed earlier that led to the west, and hoped that it would continue to do so, until we would hopefully reach the track that runs parallel to the creek.

This track more or less wound around the Knobby Hills, and crossed rocky areas where the drainage emptied into the creek. It was quite a scenic track, even though it only went for a short distance. Near the intersection of where it joined the track parallel to the creek the terrain was sandy again. The part of the track along the creek that was to our right at the intersection was not well used, and it seemed like were already on the main track.

As it was nearing camping time we decided to try and camp at Skeen Waterhole, another pool in the creek bed which was about twelve kilometres further down the track.The pool was about 500 metres off the main track to the west. Tonight we had a communal dinner and Peter treated us all to a free performance on his didgeridoo.

The community of Billiluna was not far away now. In the morning, after a slight delay due to repairs to one of Larry’s tyres, we travelled about eight kilometres south along the track parallel to the creek, reaching the Tanami Road before the short journey to Billiluna, where we arrived at just before 9am. Here we topped up the fuel and water tanks and purchased a few minor supplies.

Continuing south, our goal was Stretch Lagoon which as mentioned previously may have been visited by Carnegie. We travelled on the “official” Canning Stock Route track, which in this area was quite corrugated, compared to the tracks we had been travelling on over the last few days. We reached the lagoon after about 40 minutes and we pulled up and admired the huge billabong for half an hour. I studied Carnegie’s writings most of the time we were here. He didn’t mention much about the creek in this location; in fact he didn’t go into too much detail of his journey in this entire area of the creek.



Our next goal was to loosely follow the creek along the Mulan Track. The turnoff to the community of Mulan was only a few kilometres from Stretch Lagoon and veered off the Canning Stock Route to the left and south. There was a sign indicating the turnoff, written on a vehicle’s bonnet sticking out from the ground. After about ten kilometres Larry called out on the radio saying that he had broken a spring on his trailer. I was a couple of kilometres in front already so I swung around and made my way back to him. Most of the others were already surrounding the trailer, their minds seemingly buzzing on how they could repair the broken leaf.

We remained at this lonely spot on the track for just over two hours, and a temporary clamp repair was installed. Lunch was had as well. Two groups of locals passed us whilst we were here. The mood was still quite jovial considering the nature of the problem and the distance that had yet to be travelled. A replacement spring would have to be sought in Mulan.

Continuing south along the track Kura Soak came to be a few kilometres to the left and east of our position. I sought and looked for any tracks to the soak but did not find any so we did not visit the soak. Our goal for days end was Billiluna Pool. This would be the last pool and location on the creek that we would visit, before veering around the swamps and mazes of the inlets to Lake Gregory. We came to a location on my map that indicated a track and direct line to the pool. The track was most overgrown with spinifex moguls and was quite indistinct. I decided then to continue further down the track to avoid the track and pursue an easier option of a track to the pool further south. At this point one of the party who perhaps may have thought the rougher track was a better option announced jokingly on the radio, “Going soft Al?”.

I had good reason to seek an alternative route as I had not yet put radiator protection on the front of the vehicle and did not want to tempt fate and expose the vehicle to conditions that it was not ready for. However, I made a mental note to myself though, that I would not under any circumstance allow any further instances on the trip arise where someone could accuse me of being soft, joking or not! – rather, I would ensure that if accusations of being “soft” where made, they would not be directed at me.

Soon we came to a junction of another track which was on my map. This was our last chance of getting to Billiluna Pool on a track. I went a bit further along just to see if there were any other tracks that led in, however there was nothing I could find so I backtracked to the junction where the others were waiting.

We headed west along the western track the condition of which was quite a bit better than the previous track that led to the pool. However another junction was reached, one that would take us directly to the pool. We followed this for about three kilometres; the track itself was a good, however there were many overhanging branches which slowed us all down somewhat. John took the lead here, and was quick with the handsaw, removing the worst of the overhung branches to enable an easier path as we moved north towards the pool.

Chapter 3 - Searching for Graves, and Mulan


Billiluna Pool was smaller than most of the pools that we had seen so far along the journey down Sturt Creek. It was only about twenty metres wide and less than one kilometres long. We set up camp above the eastern bank on a flat patch of ground. The original Billiluna Station was pioneered here in 1920 by Joseph Condren, who constructed a hut in the vicinity. He and Timothy O’Sullivan were murdered on the station in 1922 by an aboriginal station hand named Banjo. Their graves would be in the area somewhere and for the next day or so would be the subject of searches by us.

We finally off loaded the quad bikes and John, Mick and I took them around the pool. With deviations due to small pools in the main creek, and thick vegetation, the journey around was almost five kilometres in distance. Later, we all got the fire going and had quite a relaxing night – the main focus of our discussions were where the graves of Condren and O’Sullivan were located.

After breakfast we, on the quads, including Larry on his, and Peter on the back of Johns, left the others remaining at camp, and started to travel to what looked like an old stockyard on the map a few kilometres to the south. It was good to be on the quad, close to the ground, and able to view the surrounding countryside at close proximity. My quad was almost brand new, and apart from just one weekend away from home a few months before, had never been driven in this kind of environment.

The old stockyard was found easily enough; it was run down, and the fences fallen and damaged by many years of neglect. We wandered around the yard, and imagined what would have happened here in years gone by. Splitting up on the quads, we searched the general area for anything of further interest, finding nothing, before wandering back to camp to join the others for morning tea.

The search for the graves of the two stockmen were a good alternative to our primary goal of following Carnegie, as we had decided to leave Carnegie’s main line of travel for the moment, to bypass the part of his route that took him downstream to the watershed of the creek just twenty kilometres away, and instead rejoin his route just to the east of Lake Gregory, where out of the maze of the tributaries that feed the creek his line of travel would be easier to track.

The graves had been photographed by Explorer Michael Terry in 1925 so we knew that they existed at some stage. We had minimal clues however, as to their whereabouts. Bits and pieces of information had been gathered such as:
• Condren and O’Sullivan were killed by Banjo on Billiluna Station in September 1922
• Billiluna Station was pioneered at Billiluna Pool in 1920
• Prior to 1925 a new Billiluna Homestead was established on Durbai Creek
• Sesbania Creek may possibly be the current Durbai Creek
• In 1922 a policeman named Flinders said two freshly made graves (which he exhumed) were found at Sesbania Stock Yard 14 miles south east of Billiluna
• The murders took place 15 kilometres WSW of Sullivan Hill
• Condren was buried in Old Bronco Yard at Sesbania Creek
• Condren Well was previously known as Old Homestead Well

The places of interest were all nearby to the south east of the pool, so we packed up camped and got back onto the main track to Mulan. Larry loaded his quad back onto his trailer, however John, Mick and myself rode on our quads. We would travel on the quads now until the very end of the expedition. The main track to Mulan was a good track and we travelled in a convoy until we reached Old Homestead Well where we stopped to have a look around, and to have some lunch.

At the well there was a windmill and a couple of water tanks. We all explored the general area for any sign of the graves. About half an hour later Mick radioed that he had found something of interest, so we all went over to him. He was about 100 metres to the south west of the well, at the end of a short side track. He had found a large stone, which was placed upon some smaller stones which was surrounded by four galvanised poles in a square shape.

The stone would almost certainly represent some sort of marker, and the poles reinforced this presumption, however they looked more like something of aboriginal significance, and not a white man’s gravesite. We all pondered what they represented for some time, before leaving for the next goal.

The goal was Condren Well, upstream of Durbai Creek about six kilometres away eastward. Suzette had found an old disused track leading almost directly east from just south of the well, and so we followed her for a while. The track split and re-made several times before it became a single defined track. On our maps there was a windmill marked adjacent to the track, which was about a kilometre south of the well, however despite John and I’s best reconnaissance on our quads we were unable to find any sign of it. I rode north to the position of Condren’s Well on the map, and found a muddy waterhole in the creek bed. Finding a suitable smooth path back to the track I guided the others to the waterhole to camp there.

We camped on a cleared patch of ground right next to the waterhole. John, Mick and I again rode around the general area looking for any signs of the graves with no positive result – we found no signs of any human activity.

Bronco Waterhole was the next goal about eight kilometres further upstream, and was just marked as “waterhole” on our main maps. However, on an old geological map I had it was marked by its name, in addition to having “Bronco Yard” marked adjacent. This was our last chance to find the graves, so in the morning we set off, leaving Condren Well and made our way east along the track. Larry left us to go west, back to the Mulan Road; he wanted to get into Mulan early to see if he could source some replacement springs for his trailer.

We arrived at the area of the waterhole at about 8:30am, the last kilometre or so of the track was indistinct and hard to follow. There were remains of stockyards. Whilst Mick, Suzette, Peter, Alan and Dad looked around the yards, John and I went to Bronco Waterhole on our quads about a kilometre to the south east. We found the waterhole easily enough, a typical billabong of the area again, with many white galahs amongst the surrounding gums trees. We circumnavigated it, going wide, and back close again to try and find the graves, or indeed anything of interest.

Returning to the old yards, we were told that the graves we not found by the crew. Not unexpected, as we did not hear any radio calls stating such a find. This news signified our end to our search. We would return now to the Carnegie’s line, so Mulan was our immediate goal. As the crow flies the community was only fifteen kilometres to the south west, however there was no easy route to get there. Our best option was an old shot line which went from the vicinity of the yards and crossed the Balgo Mulan Road a few kilometres east of Mulan. We followed this old line in convoy; it could not be described as a track, more like a faint scaping in the ground covered by the weather of time, and even this was lost and found a few times.

We left this shotline completely after about eight kilometres and veered south to the main road using Condren Pinnacles as our guide arriving at the road two and a half hours after we left the old stockyards.

Mulan was now only a few kilometres away on the main road which was a very good gravel road. We met Larry and a traditional owner on the outskirts of town at the local rubbish dump who had sourced some springs from a near new Ford Falcon which had been written off and lying on its side there.

Arriving in Mulan we parked at the community store and some of us obtained some minor supplies. Here, two of the local people, one indigenous and a traditional owner, and one white man approached me and asked who was the leader of the party. I stated that it was I who was in charge and they seemed somewhat surprised. Perhaps other members of the group looked more like leaders. I explained to them what we were doing and what our intentions were. It was a very important conversation as a denial of access would change our plans considerably. My previous negotiations of access to the main area of our planned travel were with the Ngururrpa people, and the border of their country was just over 40 kilometres away to the south east. However they, along with the other traditional owner we met at the rubbish dump with Larry, granted permission for our journey and I thanked the Tjurabalan People for this decision.

I asked the two men about the location of the graves of the two white men we had been searching for, for the last couple of days. At first they indicated that the men were buried at Well 37 on the Canning Stock Route however, these were the wrong graves. Indicating that the men were buried north of Mulan somewhere, the white man without prompting from me said that they were buried at “Bronco.” I asked him how to get there and he indicated directions which would take us to near where we were this morning at the old stockyards.

There was no going back, we did not have time. The graves would remain unvisited by us.

Chapter 4 - Into the Great Sandy Desert and Mount Wilson


After we were all finished at the store we made our way south, along the track that eventually goes around to the south west of Lake Gregory. We all met up at Bungabiddy Well though, on Salt Pan Creek only a few kilometres out of town. Here we had lunch and prepared the Quads for the journey ahead. It was here that we will split up. From now on the Quads would follow Carnegie’s route again. The others in the party would meet up with us only when convenient, at the junctions of tracks, and others areas of importance to Carnegie’s journey.

I scoffed down my lunch and was ready to go well before anybody else. I lost count of the number of times I mounted the quad and got off it again, a waiting game. Dad asked me numerous times, “Have you got everything, are you ready?” and I asked John and Mick similar questions. I cannot speak for of the others, but my heart was pounding and my flesh sweating. The sense of anticipation, danger, eagerness and exploration was thick in the air – it was like waiting for a line in the sand to be crossed, your shadow already having crossed it.

David Carnegie left his camp on the north eastern edge of Lake Gregory on 21st April 1897. He had spent a week exploring the northern section of the lake. His immediate goal was to reach Mount Wilson. This was visited by explorer AC Gregory in 1856 and was his furthest point south. He spotted the mount early in his day and he altered his course to 132° to what he described as “a long square hill about the southern end of the range.”

He says, “Riding ahead steering was most unpleasant; one hand for the compass, one for the bridle, left nothing with which to frighten the flies from the corners of my eyes, which became quite raw in consequence.” He reached Mount Wilson, describing it as the highest hill in a little broken range of barren sandstone hills, peaks, knobs, and cliffs of all manner of shapes and sizes. To the east he saw low gravelly stony tablelands from which a creek could be seen running northwards from them.

He followed the cliffs to the east, keeping them on his right until he cut the creek he saw from Mount Wilson. Following up the creek he found a pool holding about 200 gallons and he camped nearby.The pool he said would hold about two or three thousand gallons when full and was beneath an overhanging ledge of sandstone made of horizontal layers with slight dip to the south.

John, Mick and I left Bungabiddy Well on our Quad bikes and made out way to the main track and south. Shortly before crossing Salt Pan Creek the track veered to the left and east and we followed this route across the creek. It was only 300 metres or so before I decided that as the track was going too far east we would leave the track and head across the scrub to Mount Wilson. So we left the track and went into the raw scrub. The country was flat and only two sandridges were crossed enroute to the mount. Continuing south it was fairly easy travelling. We didn’t use our maps to any great extent. The highest hill that would be Mount Wilson was visible so it was simply a matter of heading to it. The Mount Wilson that was indicated on our maps is not the actual Mount Wilson anyway for some reason; the real Mount Wilson is just over three kilometres further south.

There were many isolated peaks and hills visible on our route, all of which were to our south and east. The country was very scenic, and we started to get the feeling of isolation that one gets the further you recede from help at hand. We crossed an unnamed creek five kilometres from Mount Wilson and there were signs of water amongst some of the rocks that sat in its bed.

As we neared the mount it clarified its position as the guardian of the area to the north and east being one of prominence and individualism. The mount appeared to be easier to summit from the south, so we went around to have a look. Both John and Mick surprised me when they both commenced to attempt to summit the peak with their quads. I watched in astonishment when they both managed to peak the hill. I was a bit more conservative in trying to sustain the life of my bike and that of my own and the dog, and walked up.

What a view! Such a vista of desert and outcrops. The lake was quite visible to the north west. There was a cairn of rocks upon the summit. Within the rocks we found a corked wine bottle with a note inside. With delicacy and tact we managed to retrieve the note. It was a note from Kieran Kelly, author of Hard Country, Hard Men: In the Footsteps of Gregory, from 2005. We replaced the note in the bottle and restacked the cairn.



We stood atop of the mount for just over half an hour admiring the view, and looking towards the east and the area that we would head following Carnegie; the cliffs and a faint view of the creek that he had seen were just visible.

After the John and Mick had clambered back down on the quads, and I and Massie had scrambled down, we rode eastward to find a suitable place to camp as it was nearing the end of the day’s journey. We had a great choice of outcrops to choose from, however we settled on a high and secluded mid-sized outcrop almost three kilometres away to the east, where we had fine views of Mount Wilson and all of the surrounding outcrops and tabletops.

We spent time clearing an area of undergrowth and collecting firewood before settling down for our first night as a singular team, one which for the next two weeks would visit some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of Australia, following the route of Carnegie.

Chapter 5 - Headlands and a Desert Waterhole


It was up early for all us in the morning, and after some breakfast we rode down from the hill and started to head east, to attempt to find the rocky pool that Carnegie has visited. It was 30th July. The tablelands to the east were only a few kilometres away. So as not to overlook any possibilities, we planned to visit any creeks we found of any size that flowed from them to the north. Away from the hills the terrain was only slightly undulating and was pleasant riding. I was happy at last that we could spend our first full day on the quads following Carnegie’s route.

It was planned to meet to the support group on the track that went from Balgo to Point Alphonse.Carnegie crossed the position of this track about five kilometres south west of Gunawarrawarra Rockhole and this was the anticipated meeting point. Massie was getting used to riding on the back of the quad now, and would get up on command. I’m not sure if she liked it though I am sure though she had no choice in the matter.

Our first possible location for the rockhole was only three kilometres away from our camp, near the point where the tableland started to extend east from the south west. It was soon discounted though with nothing found. The second was just around the next head to the east, where the wall like rocks narrowed to form a small gorge that recessed into the tableland for hundreds of meters. Despite being a very scenic place which may have had water further up the gorge it didn’t match Carnegie’s description. We all thought that it would be nice to explorer further if we had more time to.

Around the next head the tableland dipped to the south slightly and we veered slightly in this direction keeping our eyes peeled for any signs of a creek. We saw a creek like feature in the apex of the curve of the tableland so we deviated to this. There was a desert fig tree sitting on top of where water would flow from the top of the plateau. Fig trees always seems to always indicate the presence of water so our hopes were lifted by the sighting. We walked around underneath the fig tree however there were no rocky receptacles that would hold water. Myself and Mick climbed up to the fig tree and there was a dry rockhole there. However, this rockhole would only hold about 500 litres if full and still didn’t fit Carnegie’s description.

I was now feeling slightly unsure if Carnegie had adequately described his route precisely, more probably it was just a case of me wanting too much too soon – however the tableland extended for some distance yet so we mounted the quads again and rounded the next head.

Along the next face of the tableland there were two possibilities in the distance, cracks in the tableland that we should have visited, if it was earlier in the day we almost certainly would have visited them to see if the rockhole was there. However, there was a distinct line of vegetation about a kilometre away eastward that caught my eye. To this we headed and came across a creek, the longest we had passed so far.Carnegie described it as “a narrow but deep gum creek” and it matched his description perfectly.

We crossed the creek at a suitable spot so as to get closer to its head, as on the eastern side it would be easier to get closer. We managed to get the quads to within about 80 metres of the head and parked up. Seconds later I dismounted and hurriedly jumped into the dry creek and followed its sandy and rocky base to the tableland.

The rockhole was exactly as Carnegie described, its horizontal layers dipping to the south confirming the find.Carnegie camped on the flat north of here. He said the creek was made of three or four rocky channels of which the main tributary was the western one, the one which we had followed, and there were other nearby eastern channels converging further downstream. Before Carnegie made the find, Breaden and Warri went further east to another creek however found no water. There is another creek about two kilometres to the east so it can be assumed that this was the creek that they visited.

The rockhole itself had about twelve thousand litres in it and was protected by the ledge of rock that Carnegie described and also many large gums trees whose shadows hung over the water. The water was brown yet tasted fresh; I can well imagine how Carnegie would have been feeling. Though his waterbags were full from here, he would not have known where the next waterhole of this size just might be.

After Carnegie decamped he went above the rockhole to the plateau. He had a rough goal of reaching Colonel Warburton’s Lake White, about 150 kilometres to the south east, though he knew that Warburton’s longitude was inaccurate so did not plan to utilise any of his water sources. He saw a “Double Square Hill” at 152 degrees so headed in this direction.

Our current party at the rockhole investigated further upstream from the rockhole and found a further three rockholes all with water, however they were much smaller than the main rockhole. There was an old mining shotline crossing the path of the creek near here and was washed away where it crossed the creek so it would seem that when the creek flows, it does with vigour. We went back down to the main rockhole and admired it for a while longer, before heading on our way again.

Chapter 6 - Eastward to Mount Elphinstone


We rose to the plateau above and we could see the double square hill that Carnegie described in the distance at almost the exact bearing. The country was just ever so undulating so the hill went out of view now and then. The track where the others were to meet us was less than three kilometres away and so we headed in the direction of the hill until we crossed the track.

The support group were not there so we assumed that they were still coming along the track from the north east. We rode along, and off the track, as it was overgrown in places, towards Gunawarrawarra Rockhole, which was a rockhole on the track about five kilometres away. Toward the rockhole we talked to the other crew on the radio and they were still on the other side of the rockhole, so it seemed the track was a bit rough on the other side as well.

We reached the rockhole, which had some water in it; it had some companion pools with water nearby as well. We continued about another kilometre further where we met up with them, and went back to the rockhole with them, where we had an early lunch as it was only about 11am. We stayed at the rockhole about an hour before we again split up. We would head for the double square hill and beyond, and the support crew would meet up with us on the Balgo Kiwirrkurra Road at the crossing of Carnegie’s route hopefully later on in the day.

The country was very good at first, with sparse vegetation enabling us to ride along at a comfortable and steady pace. The double square hill was in clear constant view now. This was retracing at its easiest. Although I had much of the route pre-planned in my GPS mapping unit I had mounted at the front of my quad, it was not required at this point as we were heading to a clearly visible feature on Carnegie’s route. On Carnegie’s map he showed a valley on this part of his route to his immediate south west. As we were slightly off course due to the five kilometre deviation to Gunawarrawarra Rockhole we were getting closer back on route the further we proceeded, however the valley was clearly visible to our right hand side. It was wide, perhaps about 4 or 5 kilometers across however would have been only about 8 metres deep as its lowest point a couple of kilometres away.

When Carnegie reached the double square hill he stopped to admire the view and take note of some of the surrounding features. He noted on his map that there was a bluff to his south and in his diary mentioned that to the east there was a low range running south east with a bluff point at either end. He continued on towards this range until he camped, and reached the hills the day after.

As we approached the double square hill the vegetation became quite thick and we had to choose our vectors carefully to minimise tyre damage. We rode our quads to the top of the highest point of these hills and stopped like Carnegie did, to admire the view and take note of the features. The hills to the east were visible, as was the bluff to the south.

Continuing on in the direction of the eastern hills we travelled a further six kilometres until we crossed the Balgo Kiwirrkurra Track, our rendezvous point with the support crew. The crew were only a few kilometres away and we met up about a kilometre north from where we crossed the track. Here there were minimal cleared areas to set up a decent camp, so we camped on the track itself. The support crew were quite weary as they had been travelling on rough and overgrown tracks all day under time pressures, yet we on the quads had mostly good country to traverse. We had travelled almost 60 kilometres today on the quads.

Carnegie continued from where he was camped, which would have been about five kilometres east from where we were camped on the track, to the range he had seen from the double square hill with a smoke he had seen even further east as his ultimate target.

He reached the hills and named them the Gordon Hills after the Gordon Brothers of Flora Valley. From the southern bluff point he stopped to take bearings and look for distant features. To the south south west about twenty five miles away, across high red ridges of sand he saw an apparently high range which he named Stretch Range, after William Henry Stretch of Denison Downs. To the east the view was limited to some stony rises about seven miles away. As Carnegie was heading towards a smoke which could potentially yield some native water sources, he did not bother further exploring the Gordon Hills so continued eastward.

After two miles they came across the tracks of two native men and followed them zigzagging generally east for about 9 miles before they camped upon a patch of burnt country. On this leg of their journey they sighted a large and prominent hill to the east which Carnegie named Mount Elphinstone, after his cousin. He writes that it is a hill made up of three great steps the middle one being the highest with a sharp bluff at its southern end.

At this camp, Carnegie saw two fires during the night, one of which he thinks was a bush fire and the other a camp fire, as they could here distant native screams.

In the morning, Carnegie was delayed as the camels had wandered west towards Lake Gregory. Whilst the camels were being retrieved by Breaden a travelling party of natives passed their camp.Carnegie describes “a general stampede” when the natives sighted Carnegie and his men.Carnegie captured the whole tribe and secured two men as guides, chaining one so as to prevent escape.

The guides took them further east for about four miles to three good soaks, a nice little oasis. They were six feet deep, in the middle of a fine little patch of grass. They made camp at the soaks and the next morning Carnegie and Breaden made their way to Mount Elphinstone, about 9 kilometres to the north east. There they noticed ranges to the north east and north west and absolutely nothing but sandridges to the south. A mile west of the highest point they found a native well however did not mention whether it had water. They then rejoined the others at the soaks to spend the night.

At our current camp on the track we spent the morning attending to tyre repairs, sorting out gear; it was a slow process, as the rigours of a tight schedule were already taking their toll. The next stage for the quads was planned for two nights away from the support crew. Our next rendezvous was set for somewhere in the vicinity east of Thomas Peak. The support crew would have to make their way to Thomas Peak along a rough and lonely track, and then cut cross country east for about ten kilometres to some outcrops whilst the quad crew had to make their way to Mount Elphinstone and then south across many sandridges to come from the east to the rendezvous.

Carnegie’s Gordon Hills were just over ten kilometres away and Mick, John and I set off just after 10am on a bearing to the southernmost point of the hills as indicated on our maps. The track we were just on almost signified a border between easy and hard country – the vegetation was noticeably thicker on the eastern side of the track. It didn’t matter though, the task was set and we had to accomplish it no matter what. I had a few tyre problems on this section, it was almost an impossible ask to avoid every stake that protruded from the ground. Being the lead vehicle had it drawbacks in this regard. The ground was fairly flat, with only four or five sandridges to cross. As we neared the hills we veered northwards as the part of the Gordon Hills we were heading to appeared insignificant. Our goal was to reach the southern bluff that Carnegie took his sights from. We flanked the hills along the southern portion of the main group until we saw a bluff that was likely to be the one that Carnegie visited.

We reached the bluff at about 12:30pm and parked the quads below. The bluff itself was quite small, perhaps only ten metres high however due to the lack of other similar features around was quite significant. The hills were indeed desolate and dry. We stood upon they bluff as Carnegie did. The double square hill we passed by yesterday no longer looked as such from this angle. We were all quite hungry so sought the shade of some trees to the east of the bluff and had lunch.



Carnegie’s camp of 25th April 1897 was about fifteen kilometres away from here just south of east and it is this direction we headed. From here the country deteriorated even further. It would seem a huge fire had spread throughout the area some years before and the remnants of the turpentine bushes remained as vertical sticks, protruding from the ground from some centimetres to longer, to be avoided at all costs if we were to minimise punctures.

The stony rises that Carnegie mentioned were visible as we gently moved forward. The rises were some kilometres long and their strike was in a north south direction. There appeared to be quite high sandridges behind the rises; however we did not get a chance to investigate them. Dodging around the stakes was continuous, weaving left and right to avoid at all costs the sharp points.

Before we came to the area of Carnegie’s camp we rode the quad to the summit of a low rise. Here Mount Elphinstone was visible before us some 25 kilometres distant. Mount Elphinstone is officially called Mount Hughes, as Warburton visited it in 1873 on his explorations, though as his longitude was incorrect, Carnegie did not recognise this.

Here on the rise Mick and John took the time to have a quick nap in the shade of their quads, and were quite unresponsive for about ten minutes. I felt pity upon them, and reflected on my own scenario, where in many years to come, I may too face the prospect of wearying bones and a tired ageing body. Their discretion though, was more than compensated for their experience and knowledge.

Mount Elphinstone beckoned.

Although Carnegie went to the three soaks he was guided to by the natives first, before he and Breaden went to the mount and back to the soaks, I decided to change course to the mount and visit the area of the soaks afterward. This would save time by not having to travel from the soak area to the mount and back again.

So our course changed and we headed just north of east to the mount, which was quite visible so no use of our maps was necessary. A few kilometres from the rise the country cleared up, and the vegetation became sparser and there were no sandridges to cross. It would be a simple traverse to the mount. It was noted that there was a distinct lack of birdlife on this leg; an eerie silence was the result when we rested from time to time with the engines off.

On approach to Mount Elphinstone it appeared quite red, as the setting sun was opposite the western face to which we were heading. We had travelled in an almost straight line for fifteen kilometers, the southernmost hill of the group our goal. We reached the hill, and drove along its face to the north before choosing a suitable campsite near its base. It was a most pleasant spot with ghost gums lining the base and the chirping of birds setting the scene for a relaxing night at camp. We set up camp and had the fire roaring in no time. John and Mick set up their tents and I set up my sleeping bag by the fire – We cooked some tucker and watched the sun set over the plain from where we had come.




Chapter 7 - Mount Elphinstone and a Native Soak


Before breakfast we summited the hill and admired the view. We looked down upon our camp, it seemed so insignificant against the flat, broad expanse of the desert from where we had come. There was a small gully to the south west of the hill and we decided to have a look in it for any signs of water or anything out of the ordinarily. We found nothing there, though there were birds around so we thought that there would be water around somewhere. Flanking the western wall northwards back towards our camp I spotted a small sign attached to a tree. It was from the “Thunderbirds 4X4 Club” saying they had passed this way in 1998. We wondered what they were doing here and from which way they had come.

Soon, reaching our camp we ate, readied the quads and head on our way. Our plan was to visit the north most hill, then the main central hill. We would keep an eye out for Warburton’s Emily Springs and the well Carnegie found one mile west of the central hill. Making our way to the eastern side of the north hill we crossed the spinifex laden country between the hills. The north hill had low cliffs on its southern and western side. We investigated a small gully on its southern face and then continued around to the north, where we managed to ride the quads onto its upper surface. We stopped at the highest point. Here we could easily see the ranges to the north that Carnegie had mentioned.

We looked upon the southern hill where we were camped and upon the high rocky walls of the central hill to our west. After a short break we rode down the way we came mostly, before riding around the hill anti-clockwise. We rode along the western side, which was made up of low cliffs before rounding the southern bluff.

Rounding the southern bluff I was preparing to lead the others over to central hill, riding down a slope eastward when I noticed a glint; a golden sparkle in a stone that lay crumbling from the peak of the bluff. I stopped to investigate and was delayed somewhat as I tried to keep the sparkle, the reflection of the stone in my eye without having to let the quad continue down the rise. Upon looking at the stone it was found to be a stone impregnated with Mica, which had caused the reflection. When we all stopped and looked in the immediate area and there were many Mica rocks found. We had come across a field of Mica, with many stones found with it. The total area was about 20 by 40 metres and if Mica was a tradable commodity we could have been wealthy right there and then. I will add here that before I had found that it was a Mica field, I thought that I had found gold, and my anticipation was exalted as much as it was debased, seconds later.

Moving along to the central, highest hill our target was the sharp bluff at its southern point. From the bluff and along the cliffs that veered from it to the north east were large boulders that had tumbled down from the top, no doubt in many years gone by. Placed on many of these boulders were small rounded stones. Who had placed them there and for what reason was the topic of much discussion between us. Perhaps they were put there by Warburton and his party, or maybe they were of aboriginal significance.



We continued around the hill. This hill, like the one just visited had cliffs on its southern sides and was gently sloped on the northern sides. We explored some of the gullies that flowed from the north side of the hill before riding along the top of the western face to the highest point. Here we had some lunch and admired the view to the south which was quite bleak - Sandridge after sandridge all the way to the horizon. This was the area we would be travelling through over the next few days.

We left the summit and rode down the slope to the north before rounding our way around the western cliffs of the hill. We made our way to the first hill, our explorations of the area drawing to a close. At the base of the hill, just eastward of the point we came across a depression where there appeared to be saltbush growing. This was the only feature we found that could possibly be a soak or well, and it was very close to being “one mile west of the highest point” as Carnegie wrote.

Our thoughts now were to try and find the three soaks that Carnegie had camped at. Luckily for us Carnegie had left brief, but detailed directions to the soaks from the hills. “Leave hill on bearing 230°, cross one sand-ridge close to hills, then spinifex plain, then another sand-ridge running east and west, from the crest of which can be seen three gaps in the next one – steer for the most westerly gap, and seven miles from the hill the soaks will be found.”

In planning this expedition I had pre-plotted my estimated position of the soaks so we used our GPS’s to give us a bearing to head on. We travelled on the eastern side of this hill. This hill had a long cliff on its western side and was one I underestimated in length as we were forced south further than I had hoped. When we reached the plain that Carnegie mentioned we were forced even further south due to the thick vegetation growing in the dune corridor. This was a bit disappointing as we weren’t able to utilise visually the directions given by Carnegie. We followed the final dune to the west and passed the first gap in the dune. We then passed the second and finally came to the third. We went through the gap and saw that there was a patch of grass growing about 50 metres south of the gap. Within the grassed area we found an old soakage I knew then that we were in the right place.

The soakage was almost completely filled in and was about three feet at its deepest point. No water was visible. John and Mick surveyed the adjacent area while I investigated the soak. The nearby soil was conducive to having other soaks however none was found. It was 116 years since Carnegie was here and it would have been many decades since any aboriginal’s had serviced the soak so it was not too surprising. I was very pleased however about the find and happy that we had found another of Carnegie’s watering holes. We made no attempt to expand the soak and left it as we had found it. We spent more time looking around the area and stopped for a rest and some afternoon tea.

Chapter 8 - Sandridges and the Erica Range


Carnegie wanted to get as far south as he could whilst he still had plenty of water but took the two natives with him as insurance as it was still their country and they would know where the waters where. He chained the natives together by the neck. They travelled from the soaks due south for about seventeen miles before they camped. He commented that the sandridges were “wretched” and very steep on the northern side, and that the camels were only just able to climb to the top of them.

We left the area of the soaks and followed Carnegie’s line south. For the first time on this trip we were in raw sandridge country, and had to cross them at right angles. We crossed about ten of them in nine kilometres before I saw a nice clump of shady trees and the decision to camp was made.

When morning came we were gladdened by the fact that we would hopefully catch up with the support crew that day. We had arranged to meet them at a group of isolated outcrops about ten kilometres north east of Thomas Peak – A rarely used side track terminated near Thomas Peak and they would have to travel off-track the remaining distance from there. We left our camp about 7:30am and continued southward over the dunes. A couple of hours later we would have passed nearby to where Carnegie had camped, though Carnegie left no detailed description of the camp.

Carnegie continued to head south from this camp for about five miles before he saw a range at a bearing of 162° and proceeded to it. Just before we reached his turning point we also turned, but towards the west, where our rendezvous point was located about eight kilometres from there. When we turned we had travelled approximately 25 kilometres in just less than three hours since leaving our camp, and had crossed about 65 sandridges.

John, who had the best radio amongst us, was in contact with the support crew who were almost at the rendezvous point. As we were heading westerly, a similar direction to that of the sandridges, we only crossed one before we came to the rocky outcrops where we were to meet. The support crew were waiting for us over a rocky ridge, and we met up with them and traded stories, before we searched, and decided on a good place to camp near a gully about a kilometre away.



As it was only noon when we camped, we could all catch up on outstanding chores such as tyre repairs and rest if needed, as well as exploring the surrounding hills which were vast and quite scenic. Mick found a small basin of water in one cliff face, protected from the sun and wind – quite a unique water source. We all went up to one of the nearby bluffs that overlooked the south western vista and watched the sunset later on, and relaxed.

We departed camp in the morning at 8:40am. It was planned to be another two nights away from the support crew. The next rendezvous point would be on the eastern side of the Stansmore Range at Wilson Glen. The support crew would travel back to the main track and round the range from the south before heading north to the Glen. It took us just over an hour to get back on to Carnegie’s line, and we stopped on top of a dune for a quarter of an hour to regain our bearings and thoughts.

Carnegie had started to head for the range he had seen at this point, and so we head in that direction also. A few kilometres onwards from here Carnegie said he saw a fair size range to the south west, which he said was the “Stretch Range”, which he had seen and named from the Gordon Hills. We looked to the south west and saw the range; however this was not the Stretch Range as marked on modern maps. In fact it was marked on our maps as the northern section of the Stansmore Range. I am not sure whether this was simply a mistake of Carnegie's, who may have assumed the Stretch Range continued further to the south east than it actually did or whether it was a cartographer error. It may be that the range is more geologically aligned with the main Stansmore Range than the Stretch Range. At the point Carnegie saw the range however he had not yet discovered and named the Stansmore Range so if it was a mistake in naming, one cannot hold Carnegie too accountable for the error or otherwise.

Soon after sighting the range to the south west Carnegie came to an isolated rock of sandstone from where he said the other range that they were heading to (to the south east) came into more prominence. From the rock Carnegie changed his direction to 145°, towards a gap in the range, where the older of the two natives that were with them said there was a water supply.

I had estimated the approximate position of the isolated rock and was fairly close to my estimate. The rock is located at 20° 59 26.3 South and 128° 18 10.4 East. We arrived at the rock, isolated as Carnegie had said and stayed there about an hour.The gap in the range was visible. Here we built a cairn on the summit from loose rocks nearby, and placed a plaque on the cairn. The plaque was inscribed with the date, 3rd August 2013, our names, and “Carnegie’s Isolated Rock”. We wondered when next anyone would see the cairn and plaque.

Carnegie camped just over halfway between the rock and the range, before he was taken to a small native well in the range. The well, Carnegie said was up one gully and down another and was located in the junction of two gullies. After some digging they procured only about a pint of water. Therefore they continued to the east where Carnegie saw that there was a second and larger range. Commenting on the beautiful white gum trees, in about five miles they eventually cut a narrow watercourse coming from the second range. They followed this creek upwards over rough and stony hills until they reach the top of the range.

We left the isolated rock and made out way into the gap about ten kilometres away.The gap and valley split the hills into two sections. It was quite scenic here, despite the unforgiving country. The red hills contrasting with the green vegetation gave us a sense of tranquillity. We split up to try and find the native well. The direction and description that Carnegie gave were quite light on detail and there were many gullies to explore. We spent minimal time here though searching for it, just over an hour.

We regrouped on top of a high rise on the northern side of the valley and exchanged findings. We found some gullies where water may collect after rain however no positive identification of a well, or any signs of aboriginal habitation. We then made our way back down the valley and went east along it, until its end. After the main range there were many isolated rocks along with ghost gums that gave the romantic impression of an ancient lost city. We marvelled at the ancient formations and slowly rode through the scene before coming into sandy country again.



We could see the second range in the distance to the east and went towards it. It was typical sandridge country, though we were almost travelling parallel to the ridges so we were not crossing them regularly. When we neared the range and the creek that Carnegie mentioned I had hoped to travel to the south of the final ridge of sand however the vegetation was so thick we actually travelled along the crest of the ridge until the creek was near. This was quite exhilarating, keeping near the top of the ridge, swerving around the spinifex.

We could see the line of gums trees that flanked the creek so our target was clear. In these remote locations, features that Carnegie mentions are fairly easy to locate, as there are simply minimal other features around. We followed the creek until we reached a point just before elevation increased nearing the base of the range. Here we camped just before 4:00pm, and collected some firewood and looked upon the range as the sun was setting wondering what the next day would hold for us.

When Carnegie reached the top of the range he described the hills as rough stony hills of sandstone, dry and barren of all vegetation except spinifex and stunted gums – his description was quite correct. After reaching the head of the creek he was on he crossed the divide and came to the head of another creek where he found a pool. He says “…down this gully, between two steep sides of rock a fine little pool lies hid.”

We arose quite early, and followed up the creek on the quads, onwards towards the high ground at its headwaters. We actually were not always travelling exactly up the creek; some parts of the creek were rather rocky and we criss-crossed the creek upstream in reality. Just over a kilometre from camp I sighted an interesting looking rock formation, a human looking figure that stood above us to the east looking over the creek and the surrounding plains of sand below. We immediately investigated, and proceeded to the formation about 50 metres from our line of travel. When we arrived we found it to be a natural formation, a stand of soft sandstone with the surrounding stone having worn away to form the human looking figure. It was quite an amazing formation.

Continuing on we had to deviate northward and eastward slightly from the creek, and were having to cross small valleys with large mother rocks on either side. We did this until we thought that, although not on the highest point of the range, we had reached the new southern creek’s headwaters, though not easily defined.



Here we dismounted and prepared for a search for the pool that Carnegie had found. We followed a gully that we were near downwards; downstream along the creek that Carnegie called “the Dora”. There were a few gullies in this area that eventually made into the same creek. Some had high walls, gorge like in their appearance. We walked together mostly, though sometimes we split up to investigate other areas that may yield the pool’s location.

We spent the best part of 2 hours exploring the many headwaters – we found a few small insignificant pools of water, and other parts of the creek showed past traces of high water levels. Mick and John went back to the quads whilst I went across a few more valleys to the north east before making my way back to the group. I saw Mick in the distance ride up one of the southern sides of the valley where we had parked. This made it easier to find my way back, as I had left my GPS with the bike in my eagerness to find the pool. Shortly after this Mick radioed that he had found a pool however I could not confirm any details as the radio signal was scratchy and weak.

When I reached John about ten minutes later, who was doing some minor repairs on his bike, he said Mick had found the pool just over the side of the valley where we were. I quickly rode up the hill and saw Mick’s bike and made my way to it and then Mick. Sure enough, the pool was found, no doubt about it, and only a hundred metres or so from where we had parked the bikes earlier.

The pool contained about twelve to fifteen thousand litres of crystal clear water. The basin in which held the water was perhaps 80% full. It was located at the start of a small gully which eventually joined the other gullies further downstream on the Dora. It was in the shape of an isosceles triangle with the bottom edge along the southern bank extending about twelve metres and the apex at the northern bank being three metres wide at its greatest width. It averaged almost a metre deep, however there was a deep rounded section near the middle where it would have been a metre and a half deep. There was a small fig tree growing over the water protruding from the southern bank.

The Ngururrpa People, who allowed us to visit their lands, stated that no photographs were to be taken of any waterholes that we came across in our travels on their land, so I am unable to show any in this report.

We stayed here for over an hour, resting and cooling our feet in the water – happy that another of Carnegie’s waterholes had been identified. I called this pool “Dora Creek Pool”, and placed a plaque in between two layers of rock on the southern bank to commemorate our visit.

From here Carnegie went south from the range and commented that it was the very worst sandridge country he had ever seen. We could only hope that he was joking!!!!


Chapter 9 - To the Stansmore Range


We left the pool and made our way down the southern side of the range. In Carnegie’s book and exploration map he named this range, the “Erica Range”, after one of his sisters, however in his diaries he twice mentioned it as the “Rodakowski”. We ended up on the eastern side of the Dora and followed it southward for a couple of kilometres, probably passing Carnegie’s camp unknowingly in the process.

I noticed that the creek itself was wide enough to actually ride in so for just over a kilometre we followed the course of the creek within its confines upon its sandy base, until it became too narrow, when we then once again were in typical sandridge country.

It was in this section of his route that Carnegie mentioned the hard time he and his camels had getting over, “the worst sandridge country we had yet seen.” He was heading almost due south, towards a prominent but small hill, and keep going until he was within three miles of it where he camped.

Although the sandridges were quite high and numerous; and we crossed over 70 that afternoon in about 18 kilometres, we did not share Carnegie’s opinion of them. However, we had different vehicles, and no camels to coerce over the steep sides.

We arrived at the hill that we had assumed Carnegie had been heading for and had visited. However when we arrived I could not make any sense of Carnegie’s descriptions of the area. From where Carnegie had camped some three miles to the north, he described the hill he was heading to as seeming to be made of sand, and had a square point to the west of it. When he described the hill when he had reached it, he said it was a high sand-hill with a stony bank on the western side. He said there was a round single hill to the north east and to the westward a low shoulder.

In this immediate area there are three hills, a central hill, one to the north east of it and one to the south west of it. The central hill is in fact a unique singular high section of a sand ridge and the one to the north east of it is round with a square point on its western side (as seen from the north), and has a low shoulder to its west as well (this is probably the westward low shoulder that Carnegie mentions, though Carnegie wrote of it as if it was to the west of where he was). It was at the western end of a sandridge, however was made of conglomerate and laterite only. There is no mention of the south western hill anywhere except his exploration map.Carnegie’s exploration map shows that he travelled to the central hill only. From the north eastern hill on which we were on, there was no further hills to the north east. I can only assume that initially Carnegie was heading for the north eastern hill with the square point, however bypassed it when he saw the central sandy and higher hill and visited that hill only. Somehow he has become mixed up with his descriptions. I believe my interpretation is correct.

We all proceeded to the central sandy hill. We arrived at the base and myself and John walked up to the summit as the sides were quite steep. Mick was intent of getting the bike up and found a way up from another side. From here Carnegie first saw the lakes of Warburton which he was expecting in his path of that day’s travel, however as Warburton’s longitudes were incorrect the lakes were to the east and now visible from the elevated position. He mentions a flat topped set of hills and a tableland abutting onto the eastern shore of the lake. He also saw a large range to the west, “a rugged looking affair with peaks, bluffs, and pinnacles.” He named this new range the “Stansmore Range”, after Charles Stansmore, and then proceeded to its highest point.

Mick, John and myself stood atop the hill for quite a while and admired the features that Carnegie had seen however it was nearing days end so we decided to camp, and we did so near the shore of the lake.

We set off just after 7am in the morning and headed west to the Stansmore Range. We were running parallel to the sand ridges. Even Carnegie noted that it was a great change and managed 10 miles in one dune corridor alone. He camped halfway to the range from the lakes to the east. It was indeed a great section for travelling and we were able to increase our speed due to the lack of obstacles. We wondered if we used the same dune corridor that Carnegie did!!

The range looked very imposing the closer we got to it, we picked a nice shady tree atop a ridge to have some morning tea. A few kilometres from the range the sand ridges petered out and were replaced by the flood plain that surrounded the huge creek that emanated from the eastern side of the range. It was this creek that Carnegie followed into the range and was rewarded by a nice pool which he called Wilson Glen.

The unnamed creek was very deep and cut finely into the sand that held it. It would be difficult to get normal vehicles across it in most places and a suitable place would have to be located. The support crew were now rounding the southern end of the range about twenty kilometres away. They would meet us at the entrance to the glen, hopefully that day. This morning’s journey from the lake along the dune corridor was just less than 50 kilometres and only took five hours. Now at the glen entrance we decided to split up. John and Mick would find a suitable route for the support crew to utilise and then guide them back here. I would stay here and explore the area.

I watched them ride away, initially to the east – until I could neither see them nor hear them.

For the first time on this journey I was on my own.Carnegie only stayed here for one night and camped away from the creek between “two very high sandridges”. The sand ridges immediately south of the glen entrance matched the description. I spent some time looking over the ridges for any traces of his campsite to no avail.

The others would still be many hours away so I decided to head up the creek, to see the glen and anything else that may be of interest. Right at the point where the creek crosses the range lies a huge pool. It must have been 60 metres long and three metres wide. I tried to take the quad along the banks of the creek however there were to many rocks to ride over so I left it after only a short distance.

Following the gorge-like creek upstream, an excited Massie raced ahead to keep lead. The range was very beautiful, and could easily be a candidate for National Park status. Huge ancient boulders lay in the creek having tumbled down the high cliff walls long ago. There were a couple of tributaries along the way up.Wilson Glen is one of the first of a series of rockpools which appeared evenly spaced out along the creek. This area is a true desert oasis. Passing about 5 or 6 pools I decided to turn back as it would take me almost two hours to get back to the bike.

I wandered back along the creek and was happy in the knowledge that we would be camping at a very special place. This would also be our first real basecamp, where we could all be together and have a bit of downtime and relaxing. I timed my coming back to the entrance fairly well, with already two of the party there waiting. They said that it was fairly tough coming up from the south as there were many high dunes to cross over.

Over the next twenty minutes the remainder of the crew were all at camp, a fairly flat and clear section of land right at the base of the entrance, on the northern side. We all set up our individual sites before spending the remainder of the afternoon getting chores done and relaxing around the fire. The huge pool that we were camped near was extremely cold, and we thought that it was due to the high evaporation rate – so it maybe that this pool will not last too much longer.



The next day there was no particular rush to do anything as we all were quite weary after the previous travel. I climbed up to the top of the high dome shaped hill nearby, there was a great view of the creek heading out to the east, and of our small camp at the base.

After an early lunch we all made out way up the creek. Dad only went to the first rock pool, then made his way back to camp. The remainder of us all hiked together up the creek. We went further than I did yesterday, another three pools further up. We wondered how many pools there was – we were not quite at the high point of the western side of the range. However we were all quite exhausted so we made our way back to camp, some choosing to remain at certain pools for a while for some quiet time.

Wednesday 7th August was a quiet day for most. However Al, Larry, Pete and I went back up the creek in the morning to do some more exploring. Larry and Pete split up and Al and I went north along a tributary, then went over the top of the range to the north of the glen entrance coming back in time for some lunch.

Admittedly, I had rather itchy feet sitting around at camp. I then decided to take the quad north along the side of the range to another major creek about eight kilometres away. When Massie and I got there, we left the quad on a bank and walked up the creek. We walked about two kilometres and came across no pools – there was one section of the creek which had a minute amount of water however was of no real value.

This creek was almost as large as the one on which we were camped. On the map there was a lake at the end of the creek, about four kilometres away to the north east so I made my way to the lake – it was dry. There were nice ghost gums dotted around at regular intervals. I circled the lake and made my way back to camp, arriving just on dusk – this reconnaissance 27 kilometres long.

Chapter 10 - Against the Grain - The Push to Mount Webb


Carnegie left then Glen and made his way south along the eastern side of the range. He was heading for a bluff at the southern end of the range which he had seen from the east. He described crossing many watercourses and gorges on the way to the bluff which he camped at.

We all would now split up again; John, Mick and myself on the quads again. Larry and Peter would now leave the group as they were time poor and had to go back to their homes. Al, Suzette and Dad would continue to act as support for the quad group and arranged to meet up with us at the following days end, somewhere south near Dwarf Well. We departed the Glen entrance just after 8am, we hugged the side of the range as Carnegie did, and the others went out east to avoid the creek before following their own tracks back to the south.

It was a scenic drive following the range. There were many creeks as Carnegie said and some required detours from our route to easily cross over. We went to and summited a high hill and managed to contact the others by radio. They were heading south and possibly may have been visible to us, however we couldn’t see them.Carnegie said he crossed nine creeks and speculated that the largest, “Warri Creek”, may reach the lakes to the east. He took a short-cut to the bluff, bypassing some of the range southward by following a gully west. We followed what I thought may have been this bypass, and shortly arrived at the bluff and Warri Peak. It is interesting that what took Carnegie all day to achieve with Camels, took us on the quads just less than three hours.

Carnegie called Warri Peak a “pyramid of rock”, and it surely look as such. We parked the quads on a flat section of rock below the peak and walked the remaining distance to the highest point. Amazingly there was a camel pad running just alongside the peak, why they chose this route I can only guess. The peak almost looked like a manmade cairn, however I believe it is natural. Great views were obtainable to the south and west. To the south south west was a small bluff on the horizon. It is this bluff which Carnegie started to head to after camping here for the night.

We didn’t spend a lot of time here, our afternoon would be spent chasing the bluff and it was not yet midday.Carnegie followed his bearing of 208° and was quite relieved to get back into open spinifex plains due to his camels becoming footsore on the rocky, stony country of the range. After passing a small grassy swamp they camped, having progressed about eighteen kilometres from Warri Peak.

We too were happy to get out of the stony country. There was an open plain not far south of the range and after that there were minimal sand ridges to cross. We passed what looked like a swamp and stopped to investigate. To the immediate east from there, there looked to be a better defined swamp. That was dry, and probably wasn’t the swamp that Carnegie saw.

Carnegie did not spend much time at the bluff as when there, he saw a smoke in the distance towards the south east, and thought his chance of obtaining water were better following the smoke. He described the bluff as dry and barren looking, and suggested there may be a rockhole amongst the nearby hills as he saw some Corellas and other birds.

Leaving the dry swamp we had just over 20 kilometres to get to the bluff, it was fairly easy going and I asked Mick if he could lead us in to the bluff. He obliged, the bluff very prominent in the distance now. He stopped just under the bluff. I ran up to the top. In 1933 explorer Michael Terry left a note in a tin in a cairn here somewhere. However, I found no cairn and no tin. The bluff though was only part of a small range with a few gorges and cliffs, so it may be located elsewhere.

We found a nice cleared spot nearby and set up camp for the night. In the morning we will explore the hills, which spread over many kilometres. My overheating light on the quad had come on toward the end of the day’s ride too, so I will more than likely have to clean the radiator out.

After breakfast we assisted John in removing the radiator cover, which wasn’t meant to come off easily, and blew out all the debris surrounding the radiator, of which there was a great deal. We rode closer to the hills and noticed they formed the shape of a horseshoe, pointed to the south. Climbing the western point we again searched for Terry’s cairn with no result.

Mick and John rode along the top of the range aiming for the highest point. I explored the lower sections within the horseshoe boundary, investigating some of the small gorges formed by the run off of water. I climbed up one gorge, and then hitched a ride with John, and we proceeded to a high point where Mick was waiting. Great views were obtained, including that of the Stansmore Range some 40 kilometres away.

Carnegie followed in the direction of the smoke he had seen for about 45 kilometres. He followed a bearing of 162° camping about 4 miles from the bluff. We had no smoke to follow so followed his bearing. The area after the bluff had many sand ridges, most of today would be spent riding up and down them.

On the third day on this bearing Carnegie mentions passing a belt of Desert Oaks. He and his men were tired and irritable at this stage of their journey and Carnegie reveals in his book that he had some trouble to contain his “evil temper”. He says of the Oaks, “A change of any kind is welcome, therefore the gloomy desert oaks were greeted with joy; for though their sombre appearance is eminently appropriate to a funeral procession, they give some shade and relive the eye.”

The belt of oaks were visible to us from a couple of kilometres away. Like Carnegie, we appreciated the shade they gave and stopped for lunch there, starting a small fire to heat our food.

It was not far from here that Carnegie finally reached the smoke he had been heading for, finding only “smouldering ashes”. Here, after spending hours searching, they found two set of footprints heading off in a south west direction.

We all arrived at approximate position of where the smoke would have been. Here there was an increased amount of vegetation and it was quite thick in places.

Carnegie and Warri were in front of the others, and they followed the native tracks to the south west. After summiting a high sand ridge about ten kilometres away, they spotted a camp of a dozen or so natives amongst a clump of mulga and grass, surrounding a well. It was 7th May 1897.

The pursued and captured one of the natives. “He was a most diminutive man, almost a dwarf, absolutely without ornament, not even a girdle of string, with a most repulsive face, and wall-eyes like a Welsh sheep-dog.” It was this reason Carnegie named the well, “Dwarf Well”.

Carnegie estimated the position of the well to be: 22 19 south 128 16 east. However, shortly after on this expedition Carnegie incorrectly assumed that he had rounded Lake Macdonald on its eastern side. In fact he traversed by its western side so therefore he thought that he was more east than he actually was so it could be assumed that he was out in his longitude at Dwarf Well as well.

He left a few clues to its whereabouts in his book and diaries. The well lies south of the sand ridge about 150 paces. It lies nearly 5 miles south of a range of hills they had seen from their camp on 6 May, with the highest point bearing 1 degree. South of the well there was nothing but flat country and no sand ridges for 7 miles.

Trying to determine were the well was led to researching on GoogleEarth prior to this trip. Extrapolating Carnegie’s bearing of 162 from the Carnegie Bluff, looking for a huge sand ridge that had flat country to the north east and to the south, and some hills 5 miles to the north I identified the sand ridge reasonably quickly.

Looking for a possible location for the actual well was the next step. The sand ridge itself was quite a long one, with other ridges encroaching on its eastern end. The well therefore had to be nearer to its western end. The well had to be almost due south of the hills to the north. This left a section of sand ridge approximately 2 kilometres long as the target area. Scanning immediately south of the ridge over this 2 kilometre section, a circular patch about 75 metres in diameter stood out, contrasting to the surrounding sand. This was the only standout feature I could find along the sand ridge. This feature would be our target.

We left Carnegie’s turning point of the burnt patch and headed at south west bearing, towards the well’s target coordinates. The small hills that Carnegie mentioned were to our west. We didn’t cross any sand ridges for over an hour. I was a couple of hundred metres in front of the others when I crested the large ridge, which we had seen get progressively larger the closer we got to it. Laying before me on the other side of the ridge was a circular patch of ground where the vegetation was slightly different to the adjacent vegetation.



Parking the quad next to the circular patch I walked towards it with anticipation. Near the centre there was a slight conical depression 30 centimetres deep extending and rising outward to about three metres in diameter. Evidence suggested that this was Dwarf Well. It was 3:45pm on the 9th August 2013, 116 years after Carnegie had been there.

There were small mulga trees in the vicinity and many dead larger ones. Stone chippings and a broken rubbing stone were found directly adjacent to the well. The highest point of the hills to the north of the sandridge was only 1 degree variance from Carnegie’s bearing and the well was 140 metres from the crest of the ridge, matching Carnegie’s measurement of 150 paces.

John and Mick went to join the support crew, who were waiting about five kilometres away, on a dry claypan adjacent to the Balgo Road. I spent another hour or so looking around the area of the well, before joining the others at the claypan to camp for the night.

We all planned to go to the well the next morning however upon inspection of the “Fair Maid of Perth” when at camp I noticed that one of the rear leaf springs had snapped. Dad wasn’t sure when it might have snapped however it did change our plans somewhat. Some repairs would be necessary.

In the morning we drove south down the Balgo Road about 30 kilometres to some old four wheel drive wrecks, which had been there in the past, in the hope that there may be some parts that we could use. The wrecks were still there, however there were no useful parts – in fact the two vehicles were well and truly stripped – We had to make do with what we had, and John led the way in putting some clamps on the springs back at camp. This would enable a slow trip down the road to Kiwirrkurra, where other parts, perhaps more useful may be found.

Meanwhile Mick and I went on the quads back to Dwarf Well. Having a better look around, we also dug the well out to about 60 centimetres. An original mud wall was found in addition to a cross section of burnt vegetation from the past. A couple kilometres to the east, on the other side of the ridge was another old well, found by Dave Morton, so we visited this also. We went back to camp by the claypan again.

Carnegie filled all his water containers at the well, proving its usefulness. He then headed roughly south for three days, the usual sand ridges the most common feature. He did pass a bluff on the third day and he camped three miles north of what he described as “a fine prominent hill flat topped, with rough stony slopes”. He called this hill Mount Webb, after W.F. Webb esq. of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire. It was at this point that Carnegie noticed a mirage spreading out about 90 degrees of the horizon, and he predicted that large lakes would one day be found to the north east of Mount Webb.Lake Mackay, the lake that caused the mirage which Carnegie was viewing was not found until 1931, on one of Donald Mackay’s exploratory aerial surveys.

Carnegie made it to Mount Webb on the morning of 12th May 1897, where he admired the view, noting hills, heads and sand ridges. He didn’t stay long though, continuing his journey south and south westerly for a further two months.

Back at our claypan camp we had decided to bypass the next section of the Carnegie Line and pick up his route again where the Balgo Road cross his track. The section we would not traverse was about nineteen kilometres long. This would be only the second time we didn’t closely follow Carnegie’s line, the first being around the area of Lake Gregory. So in the morning we all travelled south, then east along the track until we crossed the line. We split up again, we a view to meet somewhere near Mount Webb later on in the day.

This would probably be the quad group’s last leg of the journey together, though we headed south together as if it was our first. Most of the day was crossing the usual sand ridges, though there were many gloves of Desert Oaks to attract the eye. The top of Mount Webb was visible over the ridges. Ahead too, a bluff, and we again crossed the Balgo Road to make our way to it. After we rounded the bluff Mount Webb was in full sight and we continued on to reach Angas Hills, a few kilometres west of the mount, and admired the view of this singular mount contrasting with the sky, the plains, the ridges and the surrounding hills.

It was a bittersweet end for me. The last bluff we passed was the wrong one, Carnegie passing another one to the east slightly. My original plan was in line with the correct bluff, however once seeing the other massive bluff slightly to the west I mistakenly interpreted it as the correct one. I had effectively saved my only technical error for the whole journey for the last two vectors of the trip.

We met the support crew back on the Balgo Road just after dark and camped. The next day we went into Kiwirrkurra and managed to find and install a suitable set of leaf springs for the ute. We all met back at Mount Webb and had our final camp together. At this point the expedition was considered complete, and what a good location to end it, the Gary Junction Road crossing east and west, enabling all of us to choose the direction of home easily. It was with sadness that the crew disbanded at the mount having spent so long together, though we had proved that we were an effective team.

And now – Some time to wonder!!! I haven't retraced the sections of Carnegie's route further south and beyond. I imagine this will now have to go onto the agenda for some time in the future.

__________________________________________________________________________________

I dedicate this expedition to Phil Bianchi - Desert Travelling Specialist, Writer and Historian, and Dave Morton – Desert Travelling Specialist, Anthropologist, Historian and Geologist. These men, highly regarded, were to be active in the actual expedition. However, due to personal reasons they were unable to take part and had to withdraw. Without the assistance and guidance of these men during the planning stages the expedition would have been much less gratifying of an adventure. I am eternally grateful and give thanks.

The expedition could not have happened without the permission of the landowners and managers.
I thank Walmajarri People, Tjamu Tjamu People and Parna Ngururrpa People and Jim and Sarah Lomas, from Sturt Creek Station for allowing access to their lands.


Click here to view or download GPS plotfile Old Halls Creek to Billiluna:


Click here to view or download GPS plotfile Mulan to Mount Hughes (Mount Elphinstone):


Click here to view or download GPS plotfile Mount Hughes (Mount Elphinstone) to Wilson Glen:


Click here to view or download GPS plotfile Wilson Glen to Mount Webb:


Kimberley Echo Article from 26 September 2013:

Looking for adventure.
In whatever comes our way.
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