In the footsteps of Carnegie - Day 6 Into the Tanami -The quad expedition begins (Mulan - Mt Wilson)

Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 05:00


29th July, 2013 - In ranges east of Mt Wilson, Tanami Desert WA

Up good and early and enjoyed breakfast by the fire before squaring everything away and deciding on our course for the day. Returning to yesterday’s track, we continued our trek to the ruins of Bronco Yard where the murders of Condren and O’Sullivan occurred.

Situated on a broad flat only several hundred metres from the Durbai Creek, the yards were of Mulga post and wire construction. Although most of the timber had long been destroyed by ants and fire, the outline of the rectangular yard was clearly visible with several larger posts remaining, tilted forlornly and wrapped in coils of rusting wire.

Searching the area we could find no remnants of the grave of either man. Photos of the graves exist taken within months of the murders, and also in 1990 captured in the book recalling the events and life of Jack Bohemia, a Police tracker famed in the area (Nyibayarri – Kimberley Tracker PPs 84-85) but it seems the graves have subsided back into the ground.

Here we were twelve straight-line kilometres north of the Mulan Road and a further five to Mulan itself. With Al leading, we followed an old shot line southwest towards a distant hill and when that petered out after eight kilometres, we headed south across country, the quads scouting ahead. It was rough and dusty going but the distant communications tower at Mulan was beckoning, kilometres to the southwest. We took morning tea on a laterite rise, the elevated position providing great views of the Condren Pinnacles further to the south. The last couple of kilometres were bit tricky as we negotiated laterite ridges, creeks and rocky outcrops, eventually reaching the main Mulan Road near Condren Pinnacles.

We enjoyed a high speed quad run into Mulan where we were given directions out to the tip where Larry had headed earlier with a community elder. In what could only be described as a stroke of luck, we found a late model falcon ute, partially burnt and upturned. Hallelujah. While Larry salvaged the parts he needed, Alan spoke to the Mulan elder about our route and was provided with advice about tracks and landmarks along our route.

Bidding farewell to the spare parts depot, Larry went off to see “Dingo Waterhole” with the elder while we proceeded to the Mulan General Store for some supplies then heading out towards Lake Gregory. Veering right in to Bungabiddy Waterhole, we regrouped, had a bite of lunch and packed quads for the first of the overnight trips. The waterhole had a tiny amount of scummy water in it. Damage to the surrounding banks and vegetation a sure sign that the soak was a favourite of wild stock and camels.

Our departure from Bungabiddy represented the start of the quad expedition along Carnegie’s route. From this point we would need to be self sufficient, resupplying only when conditions and need dictated. Back in late April 1897 David Carnegie, having spent a week exploring the northern sections of Lake Gregory, left the north-eastern shores of the lake and commenced his journey into the desert. What courage it must have taken to leave the relative safety of known environs for a country the harshness and danger of which he was already well acquainted with. Did he and his party feel trepidation or fear gnawing deep in their gut? We can only wonder. We knew that we were heading into country that many consider to be a land forsaken by god, yet there was a rising sense of excitement in our little tripartite. Like Carnegie, back on the 21st of April, our immediate destination was Mount Wilson, the region first visited by explorer Augustus Gregory in 1856.

Our plans involved the vehicles returning through Mulan and heading towards Balgo before cutting south down the Kiwirrkurra-Balgo Road to meet us somewhere along its length in the next day or two. They were also to head in to Gunawarrawarra Rockhole south of Balgo. We would continue south down the Lake Gregory Road before cutting twenty kilometres south east to reach Mount Wilson.

Our course took us onto the wide, flat expanses of the Tanami desert where much of the spinifex was regenerating after a recent fire. On occasion we crossed an old survey (or ‘shot’) line. As we pushed south east, the horizon eventually gave up a view of our destination, the flat top of Mount Wilson and distinctive surrounding hills. In an odd twist, in the absolute middle of nowhere I came across a spade head half buried in the sand.

There were only two low sand dunes to be crossed and we spent much of the journey investigating the creeks, rocky outcrops and other features. We located a sizeable dry rock hole in the bed of a creek, damp sand a tell tale sign of recent water. Unfortunately, the lovely young spinifex gave way to thicker scrub as we closed on our destination slowing us down.

Reaching Mount Wilson we scaled the eastern flank on the quads, locating a cairn of loose stones on the north eastern edge of the Hill. Alan knew that a cairn existed somewhere on the Mount and we were very pleased to discover it so quickly. Carefully deconstructing the cairn, we located an old wine bottle containing a note left by Kieran Kelly and a group in 2005. Kelly has published two books covering his expeditions across the Tanami. The first, “Hard Country, Hard Men: In The Footsteps Of Gregory”: traces his 1999 expedition along Gregory’s 1856 route. The second, “Tanami: On foot across the desert” is an account of his epic journey across the width of the Tanami with camels in 2002. Examined and photographed, the note was careful returned and the cairn rebuilt incorporating the shovel head as an addition.

In 1856, Augustus Gregory described the view from Mount Wilson:

"From the summit of the hill (Mount Wilson) nothing was visible but one unbounded waste of sandy ridges and low, rocky hills, which lay to the South-East of the hill.
All was one impenetrable desert; …the vegetation on this part of the country was reduced to a few stunted gums, hakea bushes, and Triodia (spinifex), the whole extremely barren in appearance… The remaining portion of the horizon was one even, straight line: not a hill or break of any kind, and except the narrow line of the creek, was barren and worthless in the extreme, the red soil of the level portions of the surface being partially clothed with Triodia and a few small trees, or rather bushes, rendering the long, straight ridges of fiery-red, drifting sand more conspicuous."

The journal of Augustus Gregory, 1856.

We had left Halls Creek nearly a week ago and after days wending our way south along the many fine pools of the Sturt Creek, we three found ourselves atop Mount Wilson, the quiet moment spent reflecting on the task ahead.

Unlike Gregory, I found the country ahead both attractive and exciting. Peering to the south, fort like ramparts of nearby ranges beckoned investigation and looked to provide an excellent place to camp. The few kilometres between them proved to be picturesque country as we rode through outcrops that resembled ruins of medieval castles. The rocky ground did not produce a suitable camp site so we continued on finding an elevated plateau, sheltered to the south and south east with stunning views back towards Mt Wilson and the surrounding hills. We had to clear a little bit of spinifex but with ample firewood, we soon had camp set-up and were enjoying the sunset by the fire.

It was a moonless night which made for a brilliant night sky. We were also rewarded with an excellent view of the ISS drifting stately above us. We climbed carefully to the top of a nearby outcrop drinking in the starscape with the warm breeze at our backs. A lovely place to spend our first solo camp out on the quads.

Authors Note; Our recognition and thanks to the Tjurabalan People for permission to access their lands.

''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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