Gibson Desert - Mulgan Rockhole & Mc Phersons Pillar (30 km east of the Gary Hwy W.A.)

Tuesday, Aug 01, 2006 at 00:00

Mick O

Tuesday 1st August
Bush camp, McPhersons Pillar
30 km east of Gary Hwy W.A.
S24.34’10.8” E 125 19’ 28.9”

Today was certainly a travel day as we made it to the Gary and a good way south covering over 200 km for our 8 hours on the road. We added to our photo collection of bush signposts and Len Beadell markers and managed to break the monotony with the odd burnt out vehicle and the occasional camel. It was a frustratingly late start despite an early rise at Midway Well. Breakfast was taken by the fire and then the packing up and of course,somewhat inevitably, I had to take care of the fuel tank. 7:00 a.m. saw me under the rear of the vehicle again having taken out the spare tyre and cleaned out the accumulated spinifex. Examination revealed that the tank was weeping again but from the top front seam this time. To alleviate the issue, we spaced the tank another 2mm from the underbody using washers and then sacrificed a bit of Johns closed cell mat to try and cushion the impact of tank and vehicle body work in the offending area. Thus we were somewhat dirty and frustrated by the time we got away at 8:45 a.m. We again took the opportunity to check our handiwork at the soak to find a good-sized pool of better quality water already being utilised by the local birdlife.

We had some 70 km to cover to the juction of the Gary Highway and the Talawana and it passed reasonably quickly, the road being of realatively good quality. There was plenty to watch for though with the spinifex became long and overgrowing the track in many places. We passed two burnt out vehicles within a kilometre of each other the first, possible a Holden Jackeroo looked fairly recent whereas the second was an earlier model Landover. They broke the boredom and encouraged us to clear the spinifex from the undercarriage a bit more frequently. After 40 odd kilometres we broke away from the bigger dunes into open, flat country. It was still sandy and spinifex covered but it eventually led into the laterite and mulga flats of the Gibson Desert.

We stopped for morning tea just after 10.00 a.m. on a small rise populated by members of the allocasuarina (desert oak) family. I failed to see a stump on our way into the trees and drove over it thankfully square (front on), with the front right hand tyre. Once back on the track it was less than an hour to the Windy Corner junction which was innocuously marked with a 44-gallon drum and a Len Beadell plate. Some wag had placed a pilfered sign indicating the route to Roebourne as being along the Talawana (which it is I might add). For us it was a right turn of exactly 90 degrees and a heading of 180 degrees, due south and that’s exactly what we did.


The Gary is indeed over-grown and often hedged in by plant life in many places. Its lack of use also means that at times the road is in great condition even if it is only two wheel ruts. Erosion and plant life have taken their toll in many sections but you can maintain a reasonable travel time. Speed is always balanced by the need for vilgilence. Lunchtime saw us on the hilltop marked as McDougall Knoll on the map. There is a geodetic marker on a small rise providing splendid views of the surrounding plains. We lunched a bit below the summit in the shade offered by a few spindly acacia trees.


From here it was again on at a bearing of 180 degrees. The road ran in dead straight lines for many kilometres with the only deviation from true south being the occasional twist or turn around an obstacle or wash away. We spied several camels all of which appeared in excellent condition. One big fellow refused to get off the track giving us a bit of a laugh for a minute or two as he trotted in their ungainly fashion until he decided to try and escape his pursuers by pulling off to the left. About 79 kilometres south of the Talawana turnoff, we came across the forlorn wreck of a camper trailer, stripped and abandoned by the track. It had been a “Kanga-Camper” brand. Another excuse for us to stretch the legs and exercise the camera skills.


At 2:45 pm and at a point 100 kilometres south of the junction, we reached the shores of Lake Cohen. This impressive stretch of water is nothing more than a clay-lined depression that holds a fair volume of water after good rains. It is a haven for migratory birds although we were only able to spot nothing more than a Willie Wagtail and the ubiquitous flying mice of the outback, Zebra Finches. The surrounding countryside is mulga and acacia woodlands, the spinifex taking a back seat for a change. These conditions continued as we headed south to our turnoff to McPherson Pillar and the Mulgan Rock Hole. Once on the track we travelled the 30 kilometres east to find a shallow hole on top of a rocky hill. The surrounding gibber offered little in the way of campsites so we continued on to the McPhersons Pillar. There, at the base of the pillar we cleared a little rick in the spinifex to provide space for the tent. Wood was at a premium so we had to take a little drive back along the track finding nothing but ant-ridden mulga. No eucalypt at all and any that did bite the dust was soon eaten by the local termites. In fact Johnno was almost mugged by the local termite homeboys as he heading back to the ute with a piece of eucalypt. What timber we managed to sevure burnt very hot and fast but left no lasting coals. It’ll do though.

Both Mulgan Rockhole and McPhersons Pillar were discovered and named by the Explorer David Carnegie in 1896.Carnegie, while heading north from Warri Well unexpectedly crossed the tracks of a man and his camels. Perplexed, he followed them to the east for about twenty kilometres.Carnegie presumed them to be that of Gilles McPherson, a prospector who followed Ernest Giles' route east across the continent to the telegraph line in central Australia. Amongst the nearby hills Carnegie found an interesting hill that he called Mount McPherson but later changed it to McPherson's Pillar.


As a result of our long and exhausting day, we were both tired and testy by the time of our return from the wood hunt. Time to sit and enjoy a horses-doover (cheese & bickies) and a refreshing beverage (scotch) by the fire. A snappy BBQ meal tonight with a shower and then dessert. We needed the shower as we were both filthy from crawling about under the car to fix the tank at the days start and from clearing spinifex from the undercarriage of the car during the day. You can never underestimate the therapeutic effect of hot water. It’s amazing how it can dissolve the tension of a long and dusty days travel.


A funny aside…About 8 o’clock this evening, we were sitting by the campfire enjoying the serenity…ahhh, the serenity. We’d had a freaky moment earlier in the evening with grey clouds looming above and a fairly stiff breeze blowing from the east when all of a sudden, and I mean instantly here, everything stopped! Yep wind, noise, everything. It was if there was a pregnant pause in reality for a couple of minutes, not a sound could be heard. No birds, evening insects, wind, nothing! Even the crackling of the fire seemed to deaden. It was so noticeable that I mentioned it to JT, which didn’t mean a lot as he’s bloody deaf anyway. After a minute or so, the chirping of a lone cricket bought sound back to our little world in the outback. Freaky stuff. Anyhow, it’s not the matter that I wanted to mention. There we were at 8:00 p.m. sitting quietly by the fire when there was a guttural groan/roar from behind us. We looked at each other as we sat in the chairs when an almighty roar many times louder than the first, bought us both out of our chairs and looking for implements of defence! It was a camel sounding off nearby and it frightened the bloody bleep out of us both. I took the torch and walked up the track to disturb two large dromedaries at the top of the rise. Being down wind of them, they got just as bigger shock to see me as we got in hearing them and plunged off the track, crashing through the surrounding brush and shrubs. Beasties vanquished, we would be able to sleep in peace. The overcast conditions made for a warm night.
''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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