The Heather Highway
is a well signposted track from both the Great Central Road
and the Gunbarrel Highway
. The track descriptions for this track are from the Gunbarrel Highway
. Depending on which direction you have travelled from, the Heather Highway
junction is marked by a modern signpost, with distances of Warburton 126 and Wiluna 720, as well as a small sticker board, where passing travellers have added their stickers.
Some road maps state that this track has bad corrugations, but compared to some very serious corrugations further out, the Heather Highway
was an enjoyable track to drive, giving great relief of those bone shattering sections further west. The main thing that drivers should be aware of is the usual large washaways. As this track as far less vegetation that other tracks along the Gunbarrel, drivers have a clear view of the track most of the time, with advance warning of approaching track conditions and washaways.
After a short time of starting this drive, the only major track junction is reached. The main track that heads off further north goes to the Tjirrkarli Aboriginal Community. From here on, the track is a true outback super highway, very wide, well graded and generally in very good condition. The main thing to be aware of on this section is vehicles coming from the other direct, so care must be taken of the crest of some of the larger hills. Once onto the Great Central Road
, further good conditions will take you to Warburton, just 42 kilometres up the track, where fuel and a good store will give drivers the chance to resupply any goods that you make be short of.
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The Heather Highway
is located within the lower section of the Gibson Desert, which is Australia
’s fifth largest desert, occupying an area of 156,290 square kilometres. The Gibson Desert comprises vast undulating sand plains, dunefields and lateritic gibber plains. The vegetation is mainly mulga and other mixed shrubs over spinifex. The region includes Aboriginal Land, conservation reserves
and unallocated Crown Land. Because of the very low human density, the major Aboriginal Communities are at Kanpa, Patjarr and Tjirrkarli. The Gibson Desert has an arid climate with variable and unpredictable rainfall, with recorded rainfalls between 1890 and 2005 giving an average median of 163mm per year.
Seeing that the area has no reliable water reserves
, there is no known commercial grazing of domestic stock in the Gibson Desert bioregion. Also related with this is that there are no recorded weeds in the bioregion. Invasive animal species in the Gibson Desert bioregion that have been recorded include Camels, Feral Cats, Wild Dogs, Rabbits, Foxes and house mice.
With the introduction of feral animals, so has the decline in native species, with the following species just some of 21 species that are now extinct in the Gibson Desert bioregion including, Lesser Stick-nest Rat, Lesser Bilby, Short-tailed Hopping mouse, Crescent Nail-tail Wallaby, Long-tailed Hopping mouse and Desert Bandicoot. Today the Night Parrot is critically endangered, while the Marsupial Mole is endangered. There are three mammals, two birds and a skink that is all listed as vulnerable due by the pressures of introduced feral animals.
The Gibson Desert has been home for thousands of years for Aboriginal people, and as late as 1966, there were still a handful of Aboriginal families that had still no contact with white people and were still living a nomadic lifestyle. The first white person to venture into the Gibson Desert was explorer, Ernest Giles. While undertaking his second Expedition during 1883 and 1884, Giles and Gibson reached a point in the desert were they were very short of water and had they proceeded any further, after runner very low on water, would be past the point of no return and would have resulted in the death of all in the party.
The 23rd April 1884 was the last time that Ernest Giles saw his own horse the ‘Fair Maid of Perth’ and Alfred Gibson alive. Seeing distant far off hills that he named the Alfred and Marie Range, in honour of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and running very short of water, the party started to retrace their own tracks back to Circus Water, some 140 kilometres back in the Rawlinson Ranges. Gibson’s horse fell down, and the cob died where he fell. Giving Gibson his own mare and knowing that they were in a most terrible fix, Giles sent Gibson off to return for water, on a return journey that he thought would take about six days. Giles went on to drag himself back to water, while his companion
and the ‘Fair Maid of Perth’ were never seen alive again. In recognition of his travelling companion
, Giles dedicated this desert to Gibson who perished and no remains of his body or the mare were ever found.
The first road to be made through this area was built by Len Beadell and his Gunbarrel Road Construction Party. The Gunbarrel Highway
is now high on most four wheel drivers tracks ‘to do’ list. Built to link the Stuart Highway with Giles and Carnegie Homestead during the times of Rocket Research and Atomic Test in the deserts of South Australia
, this first east west road across Australia
was now set to see further exploration, but for different reasons. During the mid 1960’s the Gibson Desert area was like other outback areas in Australia
, and the search for oil was on.
An Australian Company was formed, with association with Placid Oil Company, Hunt Petroleum Corporation and Exoil Company N.L form the United States of America. This new Australian Company, Hunt Oil Company were granted permits to explore in excess of 202,640 square kilometres of Western Australian deserts, from the Tropic of Capricorn south through to the Great Victoria
Desert, with these areas extending to the South Australian Border in April 1965. During the previous 2 years, Hunt Oil of Texas had undertaken aeromagnetic surveys of the deserts and the survey had indicated a thick sedimentary section and basin which were the first requirements for oil exploration. Hoping to take about 18 months and expecting to spend around £446,500 to undertake four gravity surveys, only one well was ever spudded and bottomed out at a shallow depth and the site abandoned. Spending in excess of $2,000,000 during its exploration programme, Hunt Oil Company withdrew from further oil exploration work in Western Australia
in 1966. A number of north/south linking roads were built to give access for the mining plants and rigs. The naming of this particular road was named after the daughter of David and Margaret Hewitt, the then superintendent at Warburton Aboriginal Community. Outback legend David Hewitt is alleged to have said regarding the naming of the track, Heather Highway
, "If it’s good enough for Len Beadell, it’s good enough for me".