Great Sandy Desert - Rain, reptiles and a "Hummer" of a recovery!

Friday, Jun 05, 2009 at 00:00


Rocky rise, GSD north of Bilbarrd Outstation

It’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m sitting in the car as the rain falls. It fell pretty solidly all night. I was awoken by the occasional sound of water crashing to the ground as the pool captured on the tent fly got to the tipping point and found it’s way to the edge. I had captured a third of a 20 litre bucket of rainwater off the awning by daylight. I had intended to have jaffles for breakfast but a search of the rear wheel bag revealed that stupid had left it cooling by the fire on the first nights camp. Toast on the butane stove it was. Jeez I amaze me with my stupidity at times.

It’s very gloomy and the rain has held off for a few hours this morning to at least allow packing without the constant drizzle. It’s amazing just how fast this moisture is soaked into the ground. The bore water was warm by comparison. I have left a stick in the bathtub to facilitate entry and exit for smaller animals and birds lest they drown as is often the case in outback water holes. Everyone appears in good spirits despite the weather as we prepare to head on towards Balgo some 350 km north west from here. It should make for some interesting driving today.

Our departure was somewhat delayed due to Willem's old and problematic UHF finally calling it quits. In the end John and Suzette provided one of their 5 watt hand held units and we were off north again. The track provided some interesting driving through sand ridges and onto the open plains of the Great Sandy Desert. These areas are devoid of dunes, being covered in spinifex, Holley Leafed Grevillia, acacia and the occasional eucalypt. Ant hills abound seeming to show no respect for the track as well. The plains are occasionally broken by low rocky break-aways. In one area we passed an area punctuated by countless small water filled claypans. Many we skirted but many others we were forced to drive through. At one point as we passed a low rocky breakaway we stopped and I climbed to the top. Dingos were howling as I climbed announcing their concern at our intrusion. It did provide an excellent vista in an arc of 200 degrees from the south around to the north east. From where we’d come, dark rain storms could be seen marching east. The ribbons of sunlight providing a stark contrast and bringing back the vivid colours in the surrounding countryside. To the north we could see a wide expanse of water. This was in fact a large marked, but unnamed claypan on the NatMaps. Willem got a bit bamboozled on our way towards it backtracking a few hundred metres to the main track again.

I ducked in to the large claypan not wanting to miss the opportunity of seeing it. It was an impressive lake in its own right being ringed by a wall of sand hills. It was just about completely full of muddy water. I took a few photographs and headed back out onto the main track to catch up with the others. The track followed the edge of the plain until ducking west into a small field of dunes that separated two plains. The plain to the west appeared to be open spinifex savannah punctuated by low cliffs and rocky breakaways. We stopped for morning tea on this westward leg only a short distance from where the track emerged from the dunes and again headed north on the edge of the plain, taking us towards Bilbarrd Outstation. It was often boggy in places and I had the Hummer in front of me. It, being a little wider than the other vehicles, often got pulled off track into the soft muck either side.

At about 11:15 a.m., and only a few kilometres short of the outstation, our forward movement was halted by the Hummer sinking to the floor pan in one bog. I was close behind and watched as Peter drove the hummer deeper into the quagmire in his efforts to extricate himself. "Don't come in....we've failed to proceed" was the cry over the UHF! In the end, with about 50 metres of deep crap in front of him and 50 not so crappy metres behind, we decided to use my winch to pull him backwards. There was a bit of shovel work required to clear the back wheels and it took me two sections of winch cable to winch him back to a spot hard enough to support his beast. At one point I was towing him backwards as well using the winch cable as a tow rope. The cavalry in the shape of John & Suzette had arrived back with Michael and George hanging onto the side rails of the 80. Once clear both Peter and I took a circuitaceas route through the bushes to get to the other side. Then on a kilometre to a low bluff and clearing for lunch. Willem, who had remained at the lunch site while the extraction was underway, located an old cross ply tyre lying in the dirt at the clearing site. He has salvaged this to be his “spare” for the upcoming desert crossing!

It was a lovely spot on a dry rocky creek that emerged from the low rocky range. The creek was flowing softly through the rocks on its all too short journey to the thirsty desert sands. Walking along the creek bed, I found several sizeable rock holes, the largest of which was a couple of metres deep at least. It was large enough to provide water well into the drier seasons I’m sure. I took plenty of photos and a GPS mark on the Garmin.

After lunch we crossed the creek bed and headed across the rocky hills the several kilometres to the Bilbarrd Outstation. Here we found several dwellings and facilities, a bore which was showing signs of recent repairs (all new taps were working) and a thoroughly destroyed battery shed and storage facility. The outstation showed no signs of recent habitation having become overgrown and damaged by recent fires. The battery shed appeared to have been deliberately set alight. How much money has again been wasted in facilitating access to country for our indigenous brethren. It all seems so futile and wasteful.

Continuing on we found that the track actually bore no resemblance to the tracks on the Natmap often making wide sweeping deviations. At one intersection of many shot lines and tracks, we found a bore and working hand pump which produced good, pure water. Here Peter filled his main diesel tanks from his roof top fuel bladder. As tail end Charlie (TEC), I was waiting when Willem called “snake on the track”.Well I was off to catch them at increased knots, finding a Woma of about 1.25 metres in length laying on the track. We gave him a prod and he moved off lethargically. I think he may have been a struck by Willem’s vehicle but saved by the soft sand into which he was pushed as the vehicle passed over. He certainly seemed a bit addled and sluggish, especially when compared to a second, lightening fast Woma Michael called a little further down the track.

The track north from the outstation was straight and although enclosed in many places by encroaching scrub, it was good going. Plains of anthills stretched into the distance on either side. We had one good creek crossing and finally reached a rocky rise which provided an excellent view of the countryside to the north and west. Only a couple of hundred meters before we encountered the third snake of the day, a 1.6 metre king brown. A whole different ball game compared to the Woma and one worthy of respect and a wide berth. He was not a happy chappy and discretion being the better part of valour, was photographed from a very good distance!

When a camp site location was located, I wasted no time in getting the wet tent open to the northerly breeze. Minimal effort tonight as I have forgotten to take food from the freezer, thus a can night. A speccy sunset, a great fire and some Muscat and Milo for desert. A good day with 150 km traversed through interesting country, both dune fields and the open spinifex savannah of the GSD.

AUTHORS NOTE: Sorry I've crammed so much into this blog in the way of photos and video. There was just so much great stuff happening despite the rain. So many little room! I have been bribed NOT to put in the extraction of the hummer video!

Here is a direct link to a blog containing photo's and video of the snakes we saw that day.

Western Desert Wriggle Sticks

''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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