Strzelecki Track

Sunday, Jun 20, 1999 at 00:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

The Strzelecki Track is steeped in history: discovered and named by Charles Sturt in 1845 the Strzelecki Creek and the subsequent discovery of the Cooper Creek opened the area. The actual "track" was originally blazed by Harry Redford a cattle thief droving 1000 stolen cattle over untracked country from central Qld to Adelaide. The thief was caught out but due to his heroic efforts in establishing a new stock route he was let off and became one of the greatest drovers in Australian history.

But the tragic death of explorers Burke and Wills on the banks of the Cooper Creek near present day INNAMINCKA is the region's most famous incident. In 1861 the South Australian government offered 2000 pounds to the first explorer to reach the top end of the continent. The Victorians at that time were brashly rich and with much pomp and ceremony Robert O'Hara Burke left Melbourne with his team of 20 men, 18 camels, 22 horses and 20 tonnes of food bound to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria. Unfortunately, Burke was not a bushman, had absolutely no tracking or surveying experience and was extremely hot tempered. His second in command was not initially Wills but a fellow who had an unfortunate habit of feeding the horses rum! When Burke discovered this he sacked the man, smashed their entire supplies of rum and appointed William John Wills to the position.

Their race to be the first to reach the top of Australia was fraught with incident but amazingly three of them actually made it to the top and returned to their supply depot at Cooper Creek. They were Burke, Wills and King. The tragedy is that they were over a month overdue and the supply team had retreated south only 9 hours before their arrival. The supply team had left supplies buried beneath a tree which bore the markings "Dig 3ft NW" and various other markings. The tree is now called the Dig Tree and is protected by the Qld pastoral commission. It's just a half day drive from Innamincka to visit the tree and the surrounding area where plaques mark the grave sites of Burke and Wills who died of a combination of starvation and poisoning from eating berries after the supplies ran out and they couldn't make their way south. Only King survived - he had the sense to befriend the aborigines and when Burke and Wills died they cared for him until he was rescued in 1861.

Getting to the Strzelecki Track is often done from LYNDHURST but from our position at Arkaroola in the Gammon Ranges it is far better to access the track from the back way through some stations, which is how I've written these notes.

Leaving ARKAROOLA via the track to MT HOPELESS the scenery and the climate changes dramatically. Not far from Arkaroola you leave the ranges behind you and the further north you travel the terrain rapidly becomes what you’d expect the desert to be with wide barren plains. The track is wide and hard and you can easily move at over 80km/hr.

Once turning onto the Strzelecki Track there are a few interesting places to either visit or even pull over for a camp. The best setup is the MONTECOLLINA BORE 20km from the junction where a bore is overflowing into a series of dams that attract literally thousands of birds. The camping area is marked out in the sand with a shaded picnic shelter and even a water tank. The access track off the main road is a little sandy so I can’t imagine 2WD or caravans coming here. There are more good camp sites further north at and near the Strzelecki Crossing. YANINGURIE WATERHOLE is a good spot to get off the road being 2km behind the dunes. The waterhole was not full but we saw plenty of evidence of desert animals including corellas, crows, kangaroos and plenty of dingo tracks too.

Back on the Strzelecki Track the crossing is 3km further north. People obviously camp here and there is plenty of room for a few cars with trailers to pull over but it certainly wouldn’t be as peaceful as getting behind the dunes such as at Yaningurie.

If you want to get off this relative "highway" you could take the track to your right from the crossing that is officially the real Strzelecki Track. This track will take you 43km north to MERTY MERTY HOMESTEAD and a junction. Turning right at the junction will take you out to CAMERON CORNER (99km) or straight ahead you can continue along the Strzelecki Track right up to INNAMINCKA via the oil and gas wells. We missed the turnoff from the crossing and had to make do with travelling up the main road (technically called the Moomba Road). After 45km we came to the junction of the track to Cameron Corner, which was the only road visible on the Westprint Birdsville & Strzelecki Tracks 1:1,000,000 map we got with our SA Deserts Parks Pass.

We were surprised to find an incredible series of red dune roller coasters stretching the full length of the track out to the corner and after stopping for lunch at the general store and standing on the borders of Qld, NSW and SA simultaneously we retraced our steps back to the junction at Merty Merty and the Old Strzelecki Track. To give you some idea of this track I counted 205 dune run-ups on the 99km track. That’s a lot of dunes. The track surface is pretty firm but otherwise like a mini Simpson desert run.

The Old Strzelecki Track is pretty barren from here to Innamincka but there are a few odd sights to keep you interested. The plain is dotted with numerous oil wells with brightly coloured pumps operating full-time like giant meccano sets.

We had to make camp pretty much by the side of the road because it was nearing dark. Had we realised it was going to be a wet night we might have pushed on. We attempted to make an early start the following morning to arrive in Innamincka before lunch but as soon as we put our wheels on the track we sunk in the mud and with no traction to hold the trailer on the track we had pangs of deja vu and pulled over to wait for the track to dry out. We were almost car-bound because the mud was so slippery to walk upon and of course it clung to the soles of our shoes - but we enjoyed the time to catch up with our reading. After lunch we'd had enough waiting and had a go at the road. It was hard going, slipping and sliding with the trailer acting like an anchor and pulling the car all over the track.We travelled for about 40km in low range but it took about 2 hours. The Old Strzelecki Track meets up with the main Moomba Road and with the soggy conditions we decided to take the easier road into Innamincka (but first we had to clean off the mud with the spade so that the wheels would go 'round). Sorry, no photos.

At the turn off to Innamincka cars came from everywhere and as we stopped to talk to a driver heading out another 4 vehicles pulled in - all wanting to know about the road conditions. The roads here are really easy (when its dry) and totally unpredictable when it's wet. The access road to Innamincka is the best bit of road we've seen since leaving the bitumen and there's a whole 50km of it to get to the township.

INNAMINCKA wasn't quite what we expected but then nowhere ever is! There's the pub, the store, the park headquarters and the hive of it all - the free public shower block. There is no fresh water in Innamincka so washing, showering and drinking is all creek water (Cooper Creek) and its muddy. Everyone seems to come for a day and then move on. There are plenty of places around to move on to with lots of free bush camping on good waterholes, along the Cooper Creek or up to Coongie Lakes. We camped on what's called the Town Common which is a stretch of about 2km along the Cooper Creek and within easy walking distance of the town facilities. We set up our tent and used it as a base camp for our exploring of the area.

Sights of interests are the Burke and Wills Dig Tree, Burkes Grave, Wills Grave, King's Marker, Cullyamurra Waterhole, Coongie Lakes and many good bush camps and fishing holes are good for either just a look or to stay a few days.

We timed our arrival in Innamincka to coincide with their Sunday Roast dinner special which draws a crowd of anything from 50-200 depending on the time of year. We got talking to the manager who asked if we were still going to be around on Tuesday night.

He needed some extra help for a special event - the Australian String Quartet and their entourage of media were performing in the beer garden and their new cook hadn't shown up (from Adelaide).

The night was a huge success, busy but fun. We started work at 4pm and keep working until around midnight - by then it was just the bar running and the ASQ had motivated the locals to get out their "strings" and there were about 50 people singing songs around the campfire to the tunes played on guitars by an aboriginal station hand and a Birdsville artist and his wife on flute.

Not only had the cook not turned up but the huge commercial gas oven was broken. We turned up the next morning to the hotel to find the manager's son (stand in cook) with his head in the oven. David couldn't resist the temptation to get dirty and play with some electronics and after a few hours the oven that they'd been without for 7 weeks was fixed!

We kept saying we were leaving tomorrow but we were quite set up and enjoying the pace and each morning we'd agree to stay another day. Our camp along the Cooper was not only beautiful but teeming with wildlife at all times of the day and night. Before sunrise we would hear the distinctive call of the eagles, the rustle of rubbish bags being vandalised by crows and the distant howling of a dingo. By sun up the corellas were in full chorus, ensuring everyone within a hundred kilometre radius was awake. During the day the pelicans and ducks would patrol the narrow stretch of creek in front of our camp, teasing the fishermen with their skilful extraction of yellowbelly. And by dusk the corellas and sparrows would return in pairs, fighting and screeching to demand their tree. The few minutes after sunset were the quietest moments of the day when everything seemed to suddenly stop. But by dark, as we stoked our camp fire, the fish would be jumping and as we tried to sleep our cooling camp fire was raided by scavenging dingos.

Finally we lifted camp on Friday and started to head north towards BIRDSVILLE. There are two main routes to Birdsville - via Walkers Crossing or via Cordillo Downs. The locals take either route with the Cordillo Downs route being the preferred. The track is about 460km to Birdsville and in varying degrees of difficulty. Not truly 4WD but rough in patches and very rocky. The countryside is a seemingly endless gibber plain and surprisingly these are the homes to large herds of cattle. There are two main points of interest along the track - both part of the Cordillo Downs Station which is still operational.

The original stone shearing shed is found about 250km along the track and further on is the ruins of an outstation - CADELGA, which lies on the banks of a permanent waterhole.

We camped here, as did about 4 others on both sides of the creek. Just before dusk most campers threw in a yabbie pot or meat on a stick and pulled out dozens of edible yabbies. We had 20 in just a few moments and cooked up 9 for an entree, keeping the rest for bait. Overnight our 2 pots revealed another 50 yabbies which we boiled up, detailed and put in the fridge for lunch (yabbie & mayos sandwiches). Not bad for roughing it on the road!

It was my turn to drive again and it was an easy 150km into BIRDSVILLE from Cadelga ruins. We've already met half a dozen Birdsville locals (who were in Innamincka for the concert) so we have some people to talk to and drink with at the pub. We won't be here for more than a few days because we'll be back next month for the races. We have arranged to leave our trailer with Wolfgang (local artist and acquaintance of David's sister) so we can cross the Simpson. Our next leg of the journey will take us south again - down the BIRDSVILLE TRACK, up the OODNADATTA TRACK and across the SIMPSON DESERT from West to East (the preferred direction due to the prevailing winds).
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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