Into the Great Sandy Desert - Lost and found...Twice! (Or...how we almost made it to Rudall River)

Friday, Jul 28, 2006 at 00:00

Mick O

Friday 28th July
Coolbro Creek, Sandy Desert W.A.
22 9 53.81 S, 121 58 39.72 E

As per our intentions, we were up and on the road well before dawn. The dawn bought a magnificent sunrise over the hills about Pananykarra. On we headed south along the Marble Bar road in the early morning gloom. At Marble bar, we had a bit of breakfast at the Marble Bar Roadhouse and had a bit of a look around. Also took the opportunity to top off the tanks before heading back towards Woodie Woodie. Our intention was to head into Carrawine gorge and then continue past Woodie Woodie to the vicinity of the now unused Mike Mine, taking the seldom used route south along the Oakover River to Christies Crossing.

An uneventful trip back through the Ripon Hills and it gave us a bit of time to have a better look about, the pressure of a leaking fuel tank now behind us and forgotten. The devastation wrought by the fire we encountered three days earlier was all to apparent, the hills now totally denuded, blackened and bare. Still that’s the outback cycle and it will regenerate in no time. At Carrawine gorge, we found mobs of cattle being mustered into temporary stockyards. There was much activity as they incoming cattle were drafted and loaded onto B-triple cattle trucks for a trip to destinations unknown.

It was a grey sky above Carrawine and a strong wind howled along the length of the gorge. That there had a been an amazing gush of water through the gorge in recent times was all to evident by the piles of timber and other detritus wedged against the surrounding trees. Some of it was 4 metres up the trees. Many of the hardy melaleuca had also been pushed over to a 45 degree angle by the force of the water. They did bloody well to remain standing that’s for sure. We had a bit of lunch here sheltering from the wind behind the car. A short time later we headed back out onto the mine road and then on to the Skull Springs Road before veering to our left and heading south along the best defined of the many tracks leading off the road. We did great for the first half hour but soon the track petered out before disappearing into a mass of gullies and washaways. It was impassable and it was obvious that we weren’t going to get any further south this way. We ran into a survey team who couldn’t help us and suggested we go back into the admin centre at Woodie and ask them. Retracing our route, we headed back to Woodie Woodie and straight to the Administration office to try and find out about the route south.

It’s amazing just how far you can get inside the mining complexes with a proper high visibly 3.5 metre mine flag on your vehicle and an embroidered motif of some description on your T-shirt. As I explained our predicament to the office girl, she passed me on to the surveyor, the mine engineer and eventually to Barry, the mine manager who, when he found out that we were just a couple of lost tourists with “The family Hotel – Tibooburra” motifs on the shirt, bleep himself laughing. Without making any enquiries at all, each person had assumed we were with a contracting geophys mob or something similar and passed us along up the line. Barry told us that all routes south along the Oakover had been washed out and destroyed the previous year by successive cyclones. That explained the water level in Carrawine alright! A cup of tea and a phone call later and we were off along the mine hall road to the Nifty Copper mine. There we were given further instructions for the route into Rudall by the mine para-safety bloke and we continued on.

The track east ran thru the narrow swales between dunes. It was extremely sandy and we had soon stopped to lower tyre pressures further. The tracks we were using were not marked on the maps and we were following the mud map directions given to us at Nifty. It wasn’t long before we realised that we were geographically confused and that landmarks hadn’t materialised as they should. There were a wealth of survey tracks and dozer cuts throughout the area causing further confusion. As luck would have it, I stumbled over a very recent set of vehicle tracks and followed them to a Barak Geology survey camp. It was deserted, it being a Friday. Obviously the end of the FIFO (Fly In/Fly Out) cycle. They did have a few satellite photo’s up on a board though and with a bit of work, I was able to establish our position relative to our destination. Taking a few notes we headed back east for 15 kilometres, eventually hitting the main Rudall Road a couple of kilometres south of Moses Chair about 5:00 p.m. From here we continued south only a few kilometres before finding a great deal of water in the Coolbro Creek, a cleared site for a tent and plenty of firewood about. With all those factors aligned, we opted to call it a day. It was a little later that we’d intended and still somewhat short of our destination but a good day none the less.

''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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