30 Sep 1998 - Station country east of the Flinders

Wednesday, Sep 30, 1998 at 00:00

Mick O

Being up before the sun is becoming a part of our routine. It was certainly no different this morning and it’s the best way to beat the flies. I awoke to the strange site of a make shift tent above Scott. It reminded me of one of those cubbies you used to make in the loungeroom when we were kids using blankets and bedspreads. A haven to protect you from the monsters that lurked in the hallway cupboard. In this instance, Scott had hung a sheet up to protect him from the blood sucking varmits that attacked he and Cam all night. Seems like my display of “unmanly” behaviour may have paid off. I certainly didn’t need a blood transfusion. The only thing that disturbed me during the night were the cry’s and howls of the wildlife, oh a distinct “munching” sound as several horses that meandered along the creek through our camp during the night, gnawed on the top of my tent. These beasties gave Cam a bit of a fright actually.

I had a refreshing swim in the Cooper before breakfast to wash away the dust and the last vestiges of sleep. I don’t know if the water was muddier before or after I splashed in but at least I felt better for it. Alas no fire meant no jaffles so it was cereal and toast. As the first rays of the sun peaked brilliantly from the low hills in the east, we were packed and ready to begin our return assault on the Strzelecki. As we pulled out of town, it seemed as if hundreds of Corellas were following us. These cockies were flying out into the countryside to begin their daily feeding rituals before returning to the waters of the creek in the evening. It was most interesting to watch them slowly strip the seeds from the native grasses. Being a communal type bird, they travel and feed in flocks. When on the ground feeding, one bird is always in an elevated position acting as a sentinel watching for danger and ready to screech an alarm should any danger be spotted. As a result it was easy to tell where a group of birds were feeding on the plains by the single, brilliant white bird, perched in a bush or small tree.

The amount of wildlife we’d seen on the trip so far had been pleasing. Many times our vehicle was passed by mobs of fleet footed emu. The roos and euros were plentiful in the mountainous areas but somewhat scarcer out on the arid plains. There were ample reptiles with the Blue tongues and Bearded Dragons in profusion along the roadside. Bird life was plentiful, especially around water and the only thing we hadn’t seen in our travels, was the dreaded underground chicken. It was amazing that the rabbit, an animal that has always been a significant part of any trip into the outback, was almost totally missing. And good riddance to I say. God bless the C.S.I.R.O. and Calysi. One of our most incredible encounters with indigenous wildlife happened only half an hour into our return journey.

While traversing the dune country on the road to Moomba Scott pointed out a dingo standing beside the road watching as our vehicle passed. We turned the car around and sure enough, there by the roadside was a fairly healthy specimen of the native dog watching warily. As we watched, the dog made no real effort to retreat from our presence so I got out of the car and grabbed a couple of rashers of bacon from the esky in the rear. Well once the dingo got a whiff of the fragrant, succulent offering of pork, it slinked warily to within several metres of me. I threw it a rasher which was promptly wolfed down with out so much as a single chew. After that taste, all caution was thrown to the wind. The dog took the remaining meat almost from my hand. If only we’d had a few babies on board. I reckon that with a bit more food we’d have just about had the dog in the car coming home with us. Wouldn’t that have been a thrill for Rebecca! If that wasn’t enough, the damn thing proceeded to chase us down the road as we drove off. We left it standing in the middle of the road watching mournfully as our car disappeared over another dune. Cam duly captured all of this on video for any doubting Thomases.

Somewhat further down the track we broke the journey by climbing one of the roadside dunes for a look out across the desert. Although quite green now, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the landscape would be in several months. All those shallow pools of water would soon be gone and I’m sure that the sunblasting heat of high summer would soon brown off the vegetation. I wonder how our dingo would fare then.

We passed two graders on the road. One grading the rough patches back into some semblance of order whilst the second was high tailing out. What a guy. It’s a lonely existence for the grader drivers out here. They tow several trailers behind their machine. One has their living quarters, water tanks and tools. The second usually has heavier equipment and a huge diesel tank. The driver sets up camp somewhere along the route then works back and forth along that stretch of say 10 kilometres until done. Then he moves on. When he gets to the end of his track, he usually turns round and starts all the way back again. You’d have to enjoy the solitude. By 1.00 p.m. we’d reached the turnoff to Mount Hopeless Station which is some 195 kilometres north of Lyndhurst.

The explorer Edward John Eyre named Mt Hopeless during one of the first expeditions through northern South Australia in 1840. It was from this and nearby summits that having spied Lake Frome, Eyre considered the entire Flinders area to be ringed by an impenetrable salt flat. 1856 saw an explorer Babbage wander aimlessly through the region in the searching for gold. Less than a year later, the surveyor George W. Goyder (of Goyders Line fame and later to become surveyor general of the colony), passed through the area completing the first official survey and mapping expedition. Hardly had the ink dried on the survey maps than would be pastoralists were signing up the land with unseemly haste. By 1860, the areas of the Northern Flinders and Gammon Ranges were divided into huge pastoral leases of which Mt Hopeless was one.

Bourke and Wills, trapped and certain they had been abandoned & given up for dead at the Cooper Creek, decided to take what supplies they could carry and trek overland to Mt Hopeless Station. The only pocket of civilization existing in the region at the time. This exercise would have been a test of stamina for a group of fit men with pack animals, let alone three starved and dying men. It was a brave and futile attempt, which ended in defeat as the oppressive heat and lack of water, drove the men back to the Cooper. The effort was too great for Wills who succumbed to the strain and died alone on the banks of the Cooper whilst Bourke and King struggled on. Situated as it is, some 100 kilometres north of the Gammon Ranges, Mt Hopeless Station is surrounded by the stark expanses of dry, red gibber. These arid plains with their sparse stunted vegetation appear to support little life and yet the bluebush and grasses support not only an impressive amount of wildlife, but substantial numbers of fat cattle. The main road is little more than a two-wheel track which at times, was so badly cut up that it was necessary to abandon the track altogether and drive around the obstacles. Scott was most impressed with the occasional herds of fat, sleek Hereford and Santa Getrudis

Lunch was had by a set of dry dams beside a long dry watercourse. The acacia trees provided enough shade but did nothing to deter the ever present flies from trying to make off with the tin of Camp Pie. Being the ever-vigilant detective, Scott managed to uncover the scene of a recently committed crime. Beside a burrow lay the bodies of two recently killed rabbit kittens. They were still quite warm and had a triangular depression across their middle. The conclusion, a goanna was hunting and had been pulling the bunnies from their burrows one by one for a later feed. They were some of the first rabbits we’d seen on the trip.

As the kilometers rolled by, the ramparts of the Gammon Ranges slowly reared up in front of us. The open plains gave way to low foothills that saw us rolling through many a dry creek bed. At Balcanoona Homestead (Now the National Park Headquarters for the area), the road to Arkaroola splits in between two distinct mountain ranges. It’s a further 32 kilometres in but a journey we had to make for fuel and supplies. It is a wild landscape of rugged, splintered ranges. One high point is known as the devils pass and it is from its heights that you descend to the Arkaroola Creek. The Arkaroola Creek itself follows a torturous route through these ranges and it was this route that led us the last few kilometres into the Arkaroola Tourist Village. Whilst the place appeared to be thriving, it has lended itself more to the new “Eco-tourism”. This allows it to get away with the dated and somewhat dilapidated facilities. In fact I think it makes it “Trendy”. There were four wheel drives and towed pop-up campers in abundance though. Whether they were staying or just passing through like us remained to be seen. It didn’t take us long to take on supplies (including ice to chill this evenings wine) and fuel before back tracking again out to Balcanoona.

We had deceided to continue southwards towards Lake Frome
''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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