This trek lies wholly within one of the most amazing and substantially intact ecosystems in the world – the Great Western Woodlands
(GWW). The GWW covers 160,000 sq kms, ranging in extent from Southern Cross and Hyden in the west to well east of Balladonia; bounded to the north by Kalgoorlie and south to Ravensthorpe.
It holds vast eucalypt woodlands and is one of the last temperate climate regions to have largely escaped land clearing for agriculture. The only major impacts have arisen directly from mining (the GWW is covered by major geenstone ore bearing rock belts) or, as indirectly as a source of supply of wood fuel and pit props in support of mining. This area, including the extent of this route is often characterized as salmon gum (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) woodland. However salmon gum is restricted to generally west of a line from Kalgoorlie to Esperance and the tallest gums seen on this trek are more likely to be merrit (Eucalyptus flocktoniae).
The extensive clearing of the woodlands for fuel has largely been remediated through regrowth. In many heavily cut over areas, as in this trek, it is impossible for a layperson to now ascertain the clearfelling damage that had been done although it is likely that species mixes will have changed. For a comprehensive account of this wonderful area see Wilderness Report
The tracks traveled on the trek range from good roads at the Widgimooltha end (near the northern end of Lake Cowan) to mainly firm sand/clay wheel ruts of generally good traveling but with some washouts (plenty of ‘chicken run’ detours) at the Eyre
Hwy end as well as occasional burnt timber lying across the track from a bushfire perhaps having occurred about 2007/8? The only serious obstacle would likely be if Salt Creek was flowing or if good rains occur, following which these soils would rapidly soften to mud. The route largely skirts to the north, then east of the major Lake Cowan system but which is not at anytime within view.
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The climate in the area of this trek is cool in winter and hot in summer with rainfall generally low and falling irregularly during the year with a winter bias. Thunderstorms are common and can result in heavy localized rainfall dumps. There are no permanent streams although granite gnamma holes retain limited water for variable periods.
Given the relative aridity of the GWW observers could be surprised by the richness of tree species diversity and tree heights; the overall impression being of fairly dense tree canopy overlaying the red soil structures. This woodland phenomenon is partly possible because of the unique mallee root structures favoured by many eucalypts which allow efficient extraction of the limited near surface groundwater. The richness of the eucalypt diversity is clear from the 350 species occurring in the GWW; representing approximately one third of the Australian total!
The tallest trees seen on this trek are usually merrit with diverse other eucalypts forming a lower canopy. The very common dense green compact small tree which typically mixes with the woodlands as a lower structure is Melaleuca pauperiflora – borree. The icon bluebush (Maireana sedifolia) and old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia) are frequently seen as ground level structure.
The massive extent of the GWW, which is the largest substantially intact temperate woodland on earth, and its location as an ‘interzone’ between the much dryer mulga north and the wetter temperate south will likely mean that the woodlands will function as a refugium and connectivity corridor for species movements resulting from climate change.
The trek lies over the eastern extent of the geologically stable and very old Yilgarn craton which is topographically fairly flat through millennial erosion which but holds occasional emergent hard rock outcrops. The large granitic domes so common in the west of the GWW are largely absent from this route although a spur travels to the relatively low Moochabinna Rock.
Current theory holds that Aboriginal occupation of arid Australia
began about 22,000 years ago and a consensus has developed that it is likely that the species mixes found in these areas, including the GWW, have resulted in part from decisions by occupants over thousands of years to favour certain species of animals through selective burning of vegetation. There are currently 18 native title groups with claims to the areas of the GWW.
Discovery of gold near Norseman in 1892 had a major effect on the landscape attracting thousands of prospectors and major mining enterprises, given rise to townships of various scale including at Widgimooltha, the start of this trek.
One major enterprise, centred on supplying mainly Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie but also Norseman was the Woodlines operation which supplied fuel for water distillation, power generation and for pit infrastructure
to the major mines. Radiating from Coolgardie up to 500 workers extracted an average of 1000 tonnes per day clearfelling all large timber along the lines which were simply relaid as supplies were exhausted. Estimates are that during the 65 year working life of these operations something approaching 30m tonnes of wood was taken.
This trek partly follows some of these alignments with material evidence common. There is also much evidence of old sandalwood cutting operations to be seen, including current operations at Madoonia Downs Station.
The major land tenure categories for the area of the route is for some pastoral use (cattle) at the north end with unallocated crown land and the large C class Dundas Nature Reserve covering the remainder.
Don’t miss the interpretive short walking trails provided by the shire of Dundas at Norseman on your way back to Perth. These provide a wealth of information on the rich ecology and history of this region.