GDEC 2015 - Exploring the Hunt Oil Road

Sunday, Nov 12, 2017 at 20:44


Thursday 6th August
Mount Worsnop WA
The Hunt Oil Road.

We got away at about 8.00 a.m. which was a very good effort, considering the time spent repairing tyres the previous evening. I certainly slept well as a result of the exertion. Those big Toyo tyres really take some wrestling. Departing our scrub campsite, we had approximately forty kilometres drive north to reach the Hunt Oil Camp intersection, and the headland there. It was an easy run with the track in fair condition as we pushed across the wide laterite plains. Shrubbery hedged the track here and there but all in all, I’d call it a comfortable drive. After a great day of easy exploration, we camped for the night at Mount Worsnop.

The Hunt Oil Road splits as it reaches the range, where a lone oil drum marks the intersection. Proceeding straight ahead the track heads north east for ten kilometres to the site of the old Hunt Oil camp and airstrip. The main track heads off to the left, westerly around this crescent of bluffs, and eventually picks its way across the range to continue west towards the Sutherland Ranges, Lake Gillen and Mount Worsnop. Reaching the headland we crossed the ridge and pulled in on the northern side of the range near the larger caves visible there. It was a perfect spot for a cup of tea, and some time spent exploring the many caves and caverns that eons of erosion have worn into the bluffs. The area was simply magnificent, with the low red bluffs providing a stark contrast to the surrounding plains. What was not immediately apparent until exploring on foot was that the cliffs facing to the north were only half the equation. The ridge has bluffs on both sides, with those on the southern side facing into a broad horseshoe-shaped pound area about 500 metres across. A broad mouth or gap in the range provides access to the
pound, but the extent of it remains well hidden, unless explorers venture into its interior. Our small band of intrepid explorers walked along the top of the ridge, then climbed down and crossed the entrance to the pound, to explore the caves on the other side. One huge cave could be entered from both back and front, as the rear wall had collapsed over time. We wished we had Pete’s drone here to fly through the cave from south to north.

With a good morning’s exploring under our belt, we decided to head out and see what remained of the oil camp site. While the trip was only ten kilometres, the conditions were somewhat more challenging, particularly in the first kilometres north of the bluffs, with erosion taking its toll. The local acacia was starting to hedge the track dramatically. Just over six kilometres north, the track made a decisive turn to the north east and conditions improved somewhat. Around twenty-five minutes found us in the vicinity of the oil camp. All that remained were some parts of a large windmill, and a huge turkey nest dam. The remains of the Airstrip were more defined and I drove along it in the “tuck truck” followed by Pete’s drone. With all the gull wing doors of the pods open, the tuck truck looked more like a big silver dragonfly trying to get airborne.

Thirty minutes later we were back at the bluffs and here we turned right, driving along the face of the cliffs to pick up the main track again. Heading north, the Hunt was a mixed bag of conditions. Much of the country had been burnt recently but in other areas, someone had certainly been knocking the tops of the spinifex in the middle of the track for us. We also noted a lot of fresh wheel tracks heading off along every little side road or track. These vehicles obviously weren’t shy about heading across plains and pans either. The reason soon became obvious when we discovered an ever-increasing number of camel corpses.

Most were recently shot and had not yet bloated. In one spot there was a group of nine, which made for an apocalyptic scene in the burnt-out country where they lay. This certainly explained the wheel tracks, the shooters roaming far and wide making light work of the dromedary population. While this might be confronting for some, even for me, I do see it as a positive thing. These feral pests are a real nuisance, causing regional extinction of native flora and fauna throughout the arid inland areas. They are capable of decimating local populations and easily can account for scarce local water resources in a single session. So, the more camels removed the better, I say.

In an example of both stupidity and good fortune in equal measure, I stopped to photograph a local dingo, and in my haste I left my very expensive prescription sun glasses on the bonnet of the vehicle when I drove off.Thankfully only a few kilometres down the road, I realised they were missing, and leaving the others to head on, I backtracked. I was none too confident given the amount of powder like bull dust around, and the fact that four other vehicles had followed my tracks since the sunglasses fell. Then three kilometres back, with a sudden realisation that a shape I glimpsed protruding from a mound of bull dust by the track didn’t seem ‘right’, I had my glasses in my hand again, dust-covered but otherwise unscathed from the adventure. What a relief that was.

Catching up with the rest of the convoy, we had a lunch stop trackside, taking shelter under Peter’s awning. Then it was on to Mount Worsnop, which looked spectacular when first glimpsed, a blue hued table-top in the distance. Not unlike the Territory’s famous Mount Connor, it looked huge in the distance, but as if due to some weird lensing effect it shrunk as we got closer. There is a track into the mount which took us to the base of the talus slope on the northern side of the hill. Climbing the rocky base, we scaled the low cliffs to explore the flat table-top, finding three distinct cairns on the mount. One was left by the early explorers, another by a group of intrepid explorers back in 2008. Viewed from the southern side, it becomes obvious that Mt Worsnop has a tail and in fact resembles a giant ‘thought bubble’ from a cartoon strip, the comma-like tail projecting out several hundred metres. It also provided the perfect elevated platform from which to identify a suitable camp site in the surrounding country.

Late afternoon found our camp set up in a copse of mulga a kilometre to the west of Worsnop, with a huge fire burning and a row of chairs and camera tripods set up waiting for the play of deepening light on Worsnop’s rocky ramparts. It was a fitting way to end a fantastic day of exploring and outback travel.

The Hunt Oil Road - A history.

The Hunt Oil Rd is an abandoned exploration track, cleared by the Hunt Oil Company in the 1960’s, that runs south from Geraldton Bore on the Gunbarrel Hwy, to the Great Central Rd between Chuckarla Tjukayirla and Warburton. The Hunt Oil Rd is about 263 km long and is one of a few ways to access the Great Central Road from the Gunbarrel Hwy, other options being the David Carnegie Rd (Eagle Hwy) to the west, and the Heather Hwy to the east.

The Hunt Oil Road splits across the north western arm of what in geological terms is known as the 'Officer Basin'. The Officer Basin covers over 350,000 square kilometres of South and Western Australia. About 250,000km2 of the basin lies across the Gibson and Great Victoria Deserts in Western Australia. As a result, the natural environment is regarded as harsh desert, with low and irregular rainfall, and extremely hot conditions in the summer months. Landforms in the Great Victoria Desert comprise undulating plains, laterite outcrops and extensive dune fields, with vegetation of low open woodlands, grasslands and spinifex scrub.

A number of significant exploration ventures have been undertaken across the region and a large dataset is available to the public. The earliest recorded geological investigation of the area was carried out in 1916 by H. W. B. Talbot and E. C. Clarke as representatives of the Western Australian Government. Talbot and Clarke passed through the area enroute from Laverton to the Warburton Range, conducting several traverses between Laverton and the South Australia border. The main purpose of their expedition was investigation of reported mineral-bearing rocks near the Warburton Range. Their published works on the area remained the definitive study until the rush of oil and mineral exploration that commenced in the 1960’s.

The Hunt Oil- Placid Oil - Exoil Consortium undertook a major program of petroleum exploration in the Officer Basin between 1961 and 1966. They concentrated their effort in the area southwest of Warburton, which they considered was the deepest part of the basin. Reconnaissance aeromagnetics in 1961 was followed by a major gravity survey and detailed seismic surveys between 1963 and 1965, culminating in stratigraphic drilling in 1965 and 1966. During the surveys, 15 000 km of track were cleared by bulldozers, some 35,265 gravity stations were established, and 1794 stations were permanently marked. The interpretation of the drilling results led to the suspension of operations. Four shallow test wells (maximum depth 614 m) and one stratigraphic well (990 m deep) were drilled. Additional aeromagnetic and geological surveys were done in the northern part of the basin as part of other petroleum exploration programs but none of these reports were published.

While many of the scars left from the gravity and seismic surveys have long been subsumed by the relentless desert, the Hunt Oil Road remains as a lasting reminder of this push into a harsh, remote area in search of mineral wealth. The variety and wealth of the ecosystems the road traverses is astounding, as is the rich history of both the original inhabitants of the land and the many European explorers who crossed these lands including;

• Ernest Giles (1873)
• William Christie Gosse (1873)
John and Alexander Forest (1874)
• David Lindsay – Elder Expedition (1891)
• Hubbe Stock Route Expedition
• Calvert Expedition (1896)
• David W. Carnegie (1896/97)

2016 was the 50th year of the Hunt Oil Road's existence.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
BlogID: 7412
Views: 7279

Comments & Reviews(3) Rating 5/5

Post a Comment
Blog Index

Sponsored Links