Canning Stock Route Well 38 to Well 33 - The Haunted Well (37) & Kunawarritji

Monday, Jul 24, 2006 at 00:00

Mick O

Monday 24th July
Kunawarritji Community W.A. (Well 33)

Six bells this morning and Johnno beat me out of bed. I must confess that I lay there in the hope that the fire would be roaring by the time I poked my head out. It was! A snappy breakfast of cereal and toast by the fire and then we were off at 8.15 a.m. Our first port of call was in fact Well 38 some 4 km east of us. The well was on the top of gibber rise and our track followed the course of a small creek till we reached the site. The well was built next to the Wardabunni Rock Hole that still had plenty of water in it when we arrived. The nearby creek bed was sandstone that had been worn and eroded into fantastic patterns. Deep holes disappeared down over 2 metres forming small wells in their own right. One had aboriginal etchings of straight lines in its lower reaches. The twisted ghost gums lining the creek made for a picturesque campsite although very windswept being located at the top of the rocky rise.

The track out to well 37 was a very stony run. We ran into two northbound vehicles 10 km south at a cave and apparent sight of aboriginal rock art though it was very hard to judge between what was old and what was new. We swapped a bit of info, this group having just come up the Gary from Everard Junction and then we were off again. Well 37 sat in the bottom of a salty depression. There was already a vehicle there when we arrived with a bloke doing his washing. The water was brown with tannins and a fraction salty but we judged it to be good enough for showers so twenty litres was pulled from the well for that purpose. Well 37 has a tragic and bloody past hence it’s reputation as the “haunted Well”. In 1906 an unknown number of local Martu people were killed by whites. There are four graves at well 37. One simply says “Chinaman RIP” and next to that, two persons are interred side by side marked as “J” & “S. George Shoesmith and James Thompson were two drovers who were murdered here in 1911 by local aboriginals while taking their stock along the route. Their aboriginal stockman was also killed but whether he was known as “Chinaman”, or as the name would suggest, an actual person of Chinese origin is buried there, I am unable to discover. The fourth grave is John (jock) McClernon's, a camel driver and oil prospector who suffered the same fate in 1922. We didn’t find the fourth grave before leaving. The immediate environs of the dunes around 37 support magnificent groves of desert oak that made fine campsites. The track though was something entirely different to anything we’d encountered previously in that the track on more occasions than not, followed the dune tops in a winding route for kilometres. This made for rough and slow going through often thick sand with the shocks getting a real work out from all the hummocks or “whoopty-doos” The twisting and turning was tough going especially for me who already had a saw and stiff back and the evil left shoulder and neck giving me grief also.

A small grove of desert oaks in a sandbowl depression gave as a perfect spot for morning tea about 10.50 a.m. (17 km south of well 37, GPS: S 22.07.966 E 125.19.182). There was a slight breeze sighing through the oak needles, my favourite sound.

Well 36 gave us some difficulty in locating it due to the profusion of tracks meeting and running off. Luckily there was a guy just leaving the well so he appeared on the crest of a dune as if from nowhere and showed us the way in before heading off into the unknown (the Ghost Jackaroo perhaps?!). 36 was complete in terms of the well frame and shaft and was full of brackish water just as at 37. It to sits in a shallow depression or soak now largely a saltpan. We could hear a group of Toyotas calling in so we waited for them to arrive and then had the obligatory 5 minute chat about track conditions before moving on again towards well 35.

The track south to 35 was again quite windy at the start and skirted the dune tops and sides before finally getting back to some semblance of order. The dunes are much more tight packed here again dotted with desert oak but very tall spinifex which made visibility to the sides impossible at times. The track was often hemmed by spinifex and the ubiquitous Xmas Tree Mulga. We reached the well at 1:10 p.m. and had lunch there in the shade of the tee-tree. A group had replaced the well with a capped bore in 1985 and there was plenty of signs of camels about. We were a half hour for lunch and then on the sandy track out, we finally got to spot a camel, much to Johns excitement. A large cow crossed in front of us and down the track for a short distance before heading to the west. It was good enough to get a few photos of and unlike Maccas Barra trips, at least I deliver on promises. As an aside, John had been keen to spot a camel all trip and keenly watched the countryside if we encountered, or followed fresh footprints on the sandy track. It’d been disappointing so far but I made the big statement just before lunch that I would definitely provide a camel for him before the trip was over. Thank god!.

Now I must admit that it was with no small amount of trepidation that we headed the 4 km to the Kidson Track turn off because we both knew what awaited us. Apparently the world’s largest and most untamed corrugations inhabited the track between Well 35 and our ultimate destination, Well 33 and Kunuwarritji. These veritable mountain ranges of corrugations had broken countless vehicles along the way and caused many a brave explorer to retreat nursing bleep tered shockers, coils, springs, front ends and bull bars. Getting the picture people? Well they were right. They did start pretty much straight away, and yes they were in fact nasty in some places (The old description of being “A foot high, a foot wide and a foot apart” being pretty accurate!). They were not however the Himalayas and were quite navigable if you adjusted your speed and driving manner accordingly. We made very good time over the final 39 nervous kilometres and JT’s engineering feats largely held throughout. On reaching the bore and windmill at 39, we let out a collective sigh of relief and quickly emptied out 20 litre of tea replacing it with the crystal clear, sweet water of well 39.

By 2.45 p.m. we were in the fuel line at Kunawarritji and only 4 back from the bowser. What a joint. Do I need to say more? The store is run by a white couple (ex-Victorians). We opted to stay in the campground (a graded area of sand out in the open) as we’d gotten to the single washing machine first. Diesel was a whopping $2.90 a litre and I’m sure I’ll laugh at how cheap, this was in later years (like January next year) but we had to have it thus 93 litres was taken on board to allow us to further our journey.

The community has just had a lot of new dwellings completed for the locals. Fantastic corrugated iron houses with double roofs, solar water heating and air conditioning. Damn, and I had to pay off a mortgage for 30 years to get something only half as flash. It’s a fun way to spend the evening, watching dust devils whip across the campground, betting on the numerous dog fights happening at regular intervals around us (and remember it’s not the size of the dog in the fight!) and listening to the pleasant discourses of our neighbours in those flash houses. The campfire at the back door is a beauty though. Thank god they’re steel homes! Can’t wait to get back in the bush.


''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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