A bush camp on the Amazing David Carnegie Road

Saturday, Jul 11, 2009 at 00:00


Saturday 11th July, 2009
Bush camp 30 km south of Empress Spring DCR,

Well the threatening skies delivered only scattered showers during the night. There was one brief but heavy downpour and then nothing but wind. Even that died off in the early hours. We awoke to a still, clear and cool morning with not a whisp of breeze to be felt. We decided on a late start to give the tents time to dry out so we had a leisurly breakfast by the fire before commencing the pack-up and meandering back to the track at 8.30 a.m. for the short hop down to the Gunbarrel Hwy.

Well if it was a dirth of wildlife yesterday, it was a feast this morning. We had only been on the road a moment when we spotted our first roo, a magnificent blue flyer sunning itself in the early morning light. Only a kilometre on and we encountered a family of camels who insisted on hogging the road with their ungainly gait for some distance. Thankfully the road was good and wide so when dad stopped weaving I was able to pass all quite safely on the right. We saw several more mobs in the 10 km to the Gunbarrel and had three watching us as we stopped a the Eagle/DCR/Gunbarrel intersection for a photo opportunity. The 30 odd km to Mungilli was fairly corrugated due to the large amount of traffic the sandlewood business is giving it.

Heading south on the familiar DCR, I was gobsmacked by the numbers of camels on the plains within the first 20 kilometres. We saw close to a hundred in no time. The largest mob was 17 animals with many a group of 7 to 10 individuals. Al also spotted a fleet footed dingo darting off the track into the scrub at our approach. The claypan area that was inundated on my last trip north in 2007 was dry this time revealing one of the reasons for the large numbers of camels. In the middle of the largest claypan, a scrape had been dug, no doubt left over from a time when the area was a cattle station. It still contained 10 cm or so of rancid water that no doubt tasted good to a camel.

The track was in excellent condition. When I say excellent, you have to remember that that is comparitively speaking. Although often just two well defined wheel tracks, it was largly uncorrugated and a good run. The odd obstacle and washed out section, particularly about the many stoney rises just needed a bit more caution and time to negotiate. Thank god this remains a well kept secret as an alternate route to the horrendously corrugated Gunbarrel. After the initial plains, the landscapes vary from sandy plains and spinifex to acacia woodlands and every now and then, eucalypt glades that offer an excellent place to camp. We had morning tea on a beautiful section of red sand track that parted a sea of tall spinifex fronds like a thin red ribbon. The view back along the track as we sat enjoying our cuppa was fantastic, the gold and green of the spinifex, red of the soil and sandhills and the clear blue of the sky. Complimented by the clarity and silence, it was an amazing way to spend a quiet half hour with a brew and piece of fruitcake.

Amazingly, one of the stoney rises topped out at over 555 metres giving fantastic views to the south and south east before dropping off. The following 10m km saw us drop down to below 400 metres again into an unsensed depression of massive proportions. Passing the small scenic claypan I had noted in 2007 as a possible campsite, I decided that it would make an excellent place for lunch so we headed carefully to the far end and had a quick bite in the shade of one of the mulga. While the sun had a bit of bite, it remained cool in the shadows, the hot weather seeming to be fading like an old memory now that we’ve slid under the tropic of capricorn. Lunch location to Empress Spring was only 40 odd km and we arrived about 2.00 p.m. Some wag had set up a mulga mail box with one side roughly cut flat and “RMB 1” painted thereon. You do need a sense of humour out here.

Empress Spring was discovered by David Carnegie in 1896 when his party were running desperately short of water. He named it in honour of Queen Victoria. Above ground the enterance to the cavern sits amid a rocky depression that catches and funnels rainfall into the spring.A chain ladder had been fixed atop the well now to allow access down. Climbing down into the bell shaped antichamber of the main cavern, I was better equiped torch wise this visit and decided to try and ease my bulk into the lowest (third) chamber to scout the water situation.Well that was a bit of excitement and in the warm, humid and stifling enclosure, I remembered why I didn’t become a miner!

From the main chamber, there is a crack running downwards stope-like into a second much smaller chamber. At the lowest point of this chamber there is a small cravasse at the very bottom. Running off from this is a small hole just big enough to crawl through on your stomach, pulling yourself forward on your elbows and hands, slithering snake like along the damp sand and rock. The ceiling of this choke point is quite wet but did not appear to be dripping down to the floor of the passage. This extends for about 4 metres into a small third chamber just big enough for a man to turn around in (remember that I’m 120 kilos of solid muscle....NOT,) To the left of the chamber there is a small pool shaped area about 40 cm across that contained nothing but damp sand. To the right, another small passage ran slightly upwards in ever diminishing dimensions. Disappointed, I managed to turn round and wriggle out into the second chamber and then up again.

The main chamber is bell shaped and quite large being a good 8 metres in height and large in volume. There are several long trunks of local trees leaning upwards towards a second, smaller entry hole. Wedges have been roughly hewn into the sides of the timber to facilitate the climb both in and out of the spring. The remains of long dead animals litter the floor in the form of bones. No bats were visible this year. Climbing up the chain ladder again and into the daylight, we signed the visitors book and I located my entry from two years past with one from Al McCall a page over. Satisfied, we mounted the trusty steed and headed further south intending to locate a bush camp closer to the GCR. We did so about half way down pulling about 600 metres off the road into the start of the dunes where there was a bit of shelter from the relentless south westerlies. Plenty of good timber about so I decided to empty the top water container knowing we’ll be in Warburton tomorrow. Nothing like a hot shower to wash all the troubles of the world away (as well as the diesel and dust of the past few days adventures!).

The vegies are in foil and are roasting quietly in the coals of the fire. The horses-douvres are being consumed as the day transitions to twilight. A band of cloud has moved in from the west and the evening is cool. Time to put a jacket on for the first time in several weeks, more’s the pity.

''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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