Great Sandy Desert - The GDEC quest for Dragon Tree Soak Begins (& not without a few dramas!).

Wednesday, Jul 07, 2010 at 00:00


Wednesday 7th July, 2010
Great Sandy Desert (McLarty Track)
19°14'18.05"S, 122°10'25.11"E

I was out of bed before the Corella’s this morning and over to the shower block. Had a bit of brekkie one-up at the camp kitchen and then took care of some final chores and preparation including pumping the water tank full of water. I arrived back after breakfast to find Scott hanging round my trailer looking worried. “We’re not going anywhere man” he says pointing to my trailer, “You’ve got the same problem......front of the axle”. Knowing that I had already spent considerable time re-engineering the trailer prior to departure on this years trip, I was incredulous. Never the less, there was a certain sphincter factor associated with his claim and I could see a dark, sinister line along the edge of the frame where Scotty was indicating. Examining the scene I quickly discovered some clever art work with a black marker pen. Damn Canadians! Last time we ever save them from speaking American! It seems the four of them had been in on the giggle. I reckon the people around us in the campground must have thought us a bit crazy with all the maniacal laughter emanating from of site. Hmmm can’t dispatch death in a crowded caravan park so I wouldn’t suggest that Scotty D will have to watch his back out in the desert lol.

We departed 80 mile at exactly 8:30 a.m. and negotiated the sandy track back to the Northern Highway. The devestation wrought by this years cyclone was evident in the kilometres of flatened bush in the coastal fringes surrounding 80 Mile. We filled the tanks off at Sandfire and then thundered north up the highway to our intended RV point just north of Shelamar. We were to meet Dave and Pauline G there. To paint a picture for you, I crossed paths with Dave during my research on the western deserts for this year’s trip. Dave had also been interested in my trip to Joanna Spring in 2009. As it transpired, there wasn’t a road, track or cut line that Dave probably hasn’t driven in the Great Sandy throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. “Pommy Dave” as he was known in the north west has spent a good deal of time throughout the Pilbara and Kimberley and has a volumous knowledge of the area, it’s people and the history, particularly of the exploration and mining efforts and of the cattle and station people. A very handy man when it comes to planning a trip such as this and the contacts he provided had a good deal to do with the successful planning of this portion of the GDEC expedition. Pauline, the better half of the dynamic duo, well she has just suffered admirably bless her heart. Dave and Pauline had been on a trip themselves and as we were going to be in the same area at roughly the same time, wanted to catch up with us and spend a night in the Great Sandy. They were going to see us right on to the McLarty Track before heading back down to Perth.

So it came to pass that some time later that morning we met Dave and Pauline by the side of the track in the vicinity of Shelamar. The big green Oka was parked on the track and the billy was boiled. Time for tea and cake what else. As it was Dave’s first trip back along a route he travelled often many years ago, it was only fitting that the Oka led us out. Off we went on a well made and sandy road. That a bit of water had fallen in this area was evident from the large pools of water held by the road surface. This was do doubt due to the rain we had heard fell while we were up in the Hamersley (Some 100mm in this area if our information was correct). Amazing how selective it can be with us not having a drop and yet a fair bit falling in this area. The puddles were deep but the solid road base made them easy to negotiate though.

About 80 km down we came across a mine in shut and maintenance mode. Not wanting to intrude, we backtracked looking for our turn off to head on a more southerly route down to the McLarty. What we presumed to have been the track soon petered out so while discussing our options over some maps, the mine caretaker arrived. He was a very affable chapand we were soon back at the site having a chat over some survey maps. He was familiar with the track we were looking for but advised us that it was long disused. He was only aware of one group who had been down that way in recent memory that group being a detachment of Army Reserve Nor-force from Broome about 18 months back. They claimed to have made the soak area in 19 hours but the caretaker was a bit dubious of these claims. He has a lonely existence of 2 weeks on and two off maintaining the site while the lease holders try and drum up a Billion dollars for ther mine start up. Apparently the site is sitting on $30 Billion worth of Zinc, lead and silver. Is there anything not buried under the sands of this desert?

Bidding farewell, we backtracked a few kilometres and found the long overgrown track we were looking for. It was thoroughly overgrown and hardly discernable . The grading of the main hall road to the mine had pushed up heaped earth along the verges covering what had once been a track intersection. There was absolutely no sign of any vehicular use what so ever. Walking some distance down, I was able to finally make out the remnants of a track but it was a none too pleasing sight that faced us. If this was to be the standard of the track, we were in for a long and difficult trip believe me. Leading, the Tuck Truck plunged through the growth and our trek to the south began. I had done some mapping on Google Earth so I knew that this route was to be a winding course through the dunes and into the desert proper where we would hopefully find the track leading east to McLarty.

The bush was extremely thick and on several occasions we had to get out of the vehicles and scout about for any signs of a track. At times a simple ridge of mounded earth was all that indicated that a grader blade may have pushed this to the side. As we progressed, the country became sandier and the first of the longitudinal dunes of the desert became apparent and then prevalent. On crossing one large dune, the Sensatyre alarm started sounding and I could see one tyre dropping rapidly in pressure. I pulled over onto a flat area in a large bowl in the centre of the dune and alerted the others to my predicament. Grabbing the tools of the trade, the trusty squirt bottle and puncture repair kit, I commenced spraying down the tyre and found…..nothing. Compressor out and tyre pumped up, nothing again. Turning on the monitor to check, I again found that air was definitely leaking. No obvious sounds of escaping air were emanating from the tyre. “Check the rim” says Dave, which we do and find a fine crack right on the main section of the rim. The crack is about 25 mm long and extremely fine. Now that is not something I was expecting. Checking the rim I can find no obvious signs of damage so can only assume that it is possibly a manufacturing fault. This is reinforced when I turn on the ignition to find that a second tyre is also leaking, again at the rear. Incredulous, I spray this rim to find another fine crack in the centre of the rim but different location. What the! I have been reduced from 2 spares to none in a matter of minutes. Plenty of rubber in sound condition but with two defective rims, it looks like some serious welding will have to be done tonight.

With it getting late in the afternoon and the need to repair some rims on the immediate horizon, a camp site was becoming a priority. Unfortunately we were in a very scrubby area and a suitable clearing was not to be found. In the end I called a halt in a scrubby area that while supporting a heavy cover of spinifex, also had plenty of dead timber about and a big enough area to get a fair sized communal fire. Thus camp was spread about this central location and the men got down to work. The MIG was out for the 3rd time on the trip. Not having tackled the somewhat more delicate task of repairing rims, the boys decided to get a bit of practice in first on some thin steel to ensure that voltages and amps were appropriate to the job at hand. While the test was successful they also managed to set fire to Scott and Gaby’s borrowed camp table. The scorch marks added a certain ruggedness to the equipment I thought (Gaby didn’t agree though lol).

The boys managed to get one of the rims successfully welded and I pressure tested it to 55 psi with it still holding air. We left the tyres on so have only welded from one side. A good lick of silicone on the inside of the crack would also have been an advantage I reckon. Hopefully I won’t have to find out. It was a fantastic night spent around the fire with Dave recounting many of his stories about driving in the bush and the GSD in particular. He reckons he’s done about 3 million kilometres in his driving career and has about the same number of stories to go with those travels. bleep I laughed, we all did in fact. It was 10.00 p.m. before we knew it, a late night indeed by or normal standards.

''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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