Gunbarrell Highway WA - 1985 (How things have changed since then)

Tuesday, Jul 09, 1985 at 00:00


Tuesday 9th July, 1985
Gunbarrel Highway,
Western Australia.

Tonight we are camped at the intersection of the Gunbarrel Highway and the Eagle North-South Road. It’s a glorious evening. As yet there is no real chill in the air and the stars are fairly blazing. There is just the faintest glow on the horizon, A perfect evening to end a great day.

It was decidedly chilly when we awoke this morning at 6.00a.m. The sun was just coming up and it was damn cold. The car was covered with a thin layer of ice as was Bill and my top blanket. My nose in particular, suffered all night. Bacon and eggs made a nourishing breakfast though and we had stored all the gear and were on the track by 7.30. We didn't get far on our way to Warburton as a few kilometres on we discovered an interesting little range of hills that enclosed a large grassy valley. This warranted a quick photo stop. Quite a few sandy patches were encountered, in the dune country prior to Warburton all of which were negotiated safely. It was impossible to get lost, All you have to do is follow the car bodies that were left by the side of the road every few kilometres and that's exactly what we did until ten o’clock when we reached the settlement.

The first thing that assaults your eyes at Warburton are the hundreds upon hundreds of deceased motor vehicles that are stacked in ten to fifteen graveyards on the approach into town. The community itself seemed to be much better organised than that of Docker River yet it could still only be classified as a slum area. We were attended at the town petrol bowser by a toothless chap who knew only two words of English, “Petrol or Diesel”. He rushed out to us from inside the Warburton General Store carrying his official attendants money pouch which he was sure he put on before serving us and then continually adjusted and fondled while he did serve us. Petrol came to $32.00 so I handed him $35.00 to which he replied, "sanks". I had to remind him about the change and even then he only gave me back $2.00 instead of three. Oh well, I wasn't going to push the point.

We left town in a cloud of dust. “West to the turn off” was the cry. 41 kilometres later we were back on the genuine Gunbarrel and boy did it live up to its name. Some stretches were 35 to 40 kilometres without a bend. It was dead straight with only Sandhill’s to break the monotony. I (knowing full well what was on the other side (another straight section and another hill and so on and so on), I didn't bother to slow up much for one hill. It turned out that the crest hid a sudden drop into a creek bed with an even steeper rise on the other side. We really lost our stomachs on that one. (Bill sounds pretty funny trying to stifle a scream).

We saw several sets of camel tracks cross the road but failed to spot any beasts. For the first time we had to back track but only 5 kilometres or so. At the intersection with Steptoe Camp Rd,(Fair dinkum) we were supposed to head north but this didn't concur with what our speedo said and the road that we were on was much better defined than the other. Still after about 18 anxious kilometres we were reassured concerning the correct route as the landmarks tied in with the map again. We followed the Heather Highway until it intersected with the Gunbarrel again. Yet another pilgrimage was made to the second Len Beadell Plaque a short time after we got back onto the Gunbarrel. Lunch was at Mount Beadell and quite an impressive view was obtained from the top even though it is only about 30 metres high. Lunch time brought about the discovery of our second major mishap of the trip. Upon opening the esky, I found that the bottle of cooking oil had ruptured and that its contents were now well and truly spread throughout the esky.

The highway became nothing more than a track for the rest of the afternoon. The surface was in good condition. The negligible amount of traffic using the road no doubt being responsible for the lack of the track's surface. Shrubbery had encroached over almost all of the road in a lot of places and the spinifex was often as high as the car roof. Real savanna country. There were a lot of sandy patches alternating between gibber plains and the occasional low sandstone ridge. Absolutely amazing country. We followed several more sets of camel tracks on the road but the dromedaries remained elusive and we failed to sight any. Shortly prior to our lunch break, we came across our first eastbound vehicles. Two short wheel base land cruisers who were from Perth and heading for Yalara, We were still hot on the trail of the old blokes from Mildura who we gathered were about 2~ hours ahead of us. Their tracks we had been following for most of the day until we reached the Everard Junction where the Gary Highway Intersects with the Gunbarrel. Here they turned north to head up to the Canning. Brave Men. The track, sorry “Highway”, looked frightening.

Pulled into our present campsite at about ¼ to four. I left Bill in charge of the tent and tea etc while I changed the oil in the car and fuelled up. Billy Boy performed another true classic in the kitchen. While draining the vegies, he scalded himself and promptly dropped two thirds of then into the spinifex. I wasn't about to waste them so we managed to pick most of them out of the shrubbery and remove the grass from same. It still tasted O.K. with snags and rissoles. We're still a few kilometres from Wiluna. We should make it through tomorrow although we have been told that the last 150 kilometres into Carnegie is pretty rough. Today was an excellent day for our trip. After looking forward to traversing the Gunbarrel Highway, neither of us were disappointed. Great country.

It's now 7.30 p.m. and the chill is starting to set in. The fire is blazing and the kettle is on the boil. The desert evenings are so clear. I always thought that the night sky at Ouyen was clear but out here it just blows you away. I've never seen so many stars. Bill has been just sitting back in his chair looking up. After the bright lights of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, It must come as a hell of a shock to the system. What a life hey? I'm hooked.

''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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