GDEC 2011 - A purists journey on the original section of the Oodnadatta Track.

Friday, Apr 15, 2011 at 19:00

Mick O


15th April, 2011
Algebuckina Bridge,
Oodnadatta Track SA


We made a good start to the day and were a way from the prickle camp at a reasonable hour. We headed straight up the highway through Marla, the end/start of the Oodnadatta track as it stands today. For the purists, the original route took in Todmorden, Lambina and Granite Downs Stations and met the Stuart Highway a couple of kilometres further west of the latter. In even earlier days, prior to the Stuart Hwy, the road went NNW to Mt Cavenagh from Granite Downs. These days, a new section bypasses this 125 kilometre stretch and reaches the highway at Marla.


Our turn and the access road into Granite Downs was some 50 kilometres north of Marla. Following the well maintained gravel road in, we arrived at Granite Downs homestead where the road abruptly ended. The station is back in indigenous hands as was evident by its poor condition and the several aboriginal kids riding about the yard on a pig. What ever happened to schooling? Reversing our route and keeping a keen eye on the TrackRanger, we soon found the overgrown track that was the remnants of the original Oodnadatta and headed slowly east.





This stretch of track follows the dry watercourse of the Alberga River for much of its length. Not a great deal of distance east of the Stuart Highway, the Alberga represents the western boundary of the dune fields of the Pedirka Desert. While a Public Access Route (PAR), the road is not maintained along much of its length and the grass is encroaching. It still sees a bit of traffic though so wheel tracks were easy to follow and the track is still faithful to the route displayed on Hema and Natmap maps. These days other, more direct routes to Marla take the bulk of the traffic heading South. We had one moment of consternation when we found a fence across the road. We were forced to follow it south for a distance to locate a gate and make our way through, returning along the fence-line to our track before continuing our way east.


It was a beaut day for the drive though as we moved through the largely destocked country. At the appropriate longitude of our confluence, a track took us almost to our destination and a quick walk of 70 metres had us standing in the midst of a thicket that signified a dry watercourse. It was pretty scrappy in there and we were forced to take a few scratches for the team but we soon had the confluence located and photographed before heading the short distance back to the main track to continue our journey east.


The Warrungadinna Creek was brimming with water and provided a beautiful backdrop to surrounding country. There was some tricky country here and there with the NatMap showing tracks and roads that have long since disappeared. There were some great views to be had along the way particularly of the low ranges around the base of Mount Mystery. As lunch time was approaching, we passed the turn to Lambina Station and continued on to a point where the track rounds the base of the low range that is Mount Alberga where we made our way into the old Lambina Soak area on the banks of the Alberga River. We were greeted by the screeching of hundreds of corellas that had come to graze the grasses and drink at the overflow from the bore. We found a great little spot for lunch in the lee of river side cliffs. There were several soaks still holding water in the bed of the Alberga’s sandy expanse and the tracks in the river bed indicated that they were being visited by abundant wildlife, cattle and other feral animals such as donkey’s, cats and goats. A very dignified lunch was taken with the camp table set with our finest crystal and lace tablecloths (thanks Suzette) and a rather pointed message delivered to our non-present Canadian travel companions!


It wasn’t too long, about 34 kilometres in fact before we picked our way gingerly across the Coongra Creek to meet the “new” Oodnadatta track. The track side split two large bodies of water that were ringed by sand dunes. This is also known as the “Long WaterholeDespite only being a short distance from the main road, both stretches of water were largely invisible to passing traffic and I have marked them as a possible camp site for future journeys.



Once on the main track it was south east to Oodnadatta and the Pink Roadhouse. The roadhouse had an array of goods and takeaway foods. Pretty much after leaving Oodnadatta, the search for a suitable camp site began. We pulled in at one point to gather firewood and were immediately savaged by mosquitoes despite there being any water source within cooee! We decided to pull in and utilise the well patronised camp site at the Algebuckina Bridge. Had we known what was lying in ambush waiting for the last rays of the sun to disappear, we’d have probably moved on. The bloody mossies were unbelievable. I’ve spent time in some pretty interesting jungles around the world but I have never encountered what seemed like a biblical plague of the annoying insects.


From a historical perspective, the Algebuckina Rail Bridge across the Neale River was opened in 1892 and at 587 metres in length, it is still the longest bridge in SA. In 1926 it was strengthened to carry heavier loads. The original steel was imported from Scottish mills. The later steel is from our own BHP. The last train from Marree to Oodnadatta crossed the bridge in 1980. As kids in the early 70’s we camped a few days at the Neale Creek and can vividly remember the Ghan trains slowly crossing the bridge every few days.


After a dinner of steak and veg, I decided to take a stroll to take care of the ablutions. What an experience! I reckon a million mozzies must have been lying in wait and immediately zeroed in on the white expanse of my bum. God knows how many were killed in the rush to pull my strides back up! I felt both violated and feint (from blood loss)! While I’m not a time waster in this regard, there are a few things in life a bloke likes to take his time with and that was one activity I don’t like to rush. As it was, it was so rushed the damn thing slammed shut!



It was a funny picture to see us all sitting around the fire in hats with mozzie nets on, thick full sleeved jumpers or coats and gloves on. Even the merest hint of exposed flesh was to invite a hoard of the blood sucking varmints to feast! I retreated to the taj early giving the place a good spray with Mortien immediately prior and after entry. Every possible crack in the canvas was investigated and plugged with socks, dunny paper, anything. Once the light was off, the noise of the mozzies buzzing about the netting was so loud that I needed to put the ear plugs in. Hundreds would gather on the screen windows frustrated in their attempts to get to the food source. I must confess that I couldn’t resist the odd spray of Mortien as payback for my interrupted ablutions. I no doubt killed thousands to little effect (but it made me feel better in some small way). Roll on daylight!





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