For most of the way the word “Road” is an understatement, but should be more accurately called “Track”. This section has never seen a grader at all and the track in from the Connie Sue would have started out as a true cross country affair and over time and the passing of more vehicles, a well defined track was formed that passes through the Plumridge Lakes Nature Reserve and continues further north towards Lake Rason, where the track changes to a well maintained, graded road that is now seeing a lot of interest from the mining industry. At this latitude on the Connie Sue Highway area, the vegetation is predominantly typical Nullarbor country, mainly covered in Bluebush, with small stand of Mulga.
As you enter the Plumridge Lakes Nature Reserve area, the county slowly changes with the bluebush giving way to Spinifex, Black Oak, Mallee and Marble Gum. In many places
the track is barely one car width wide, with constantly small vegetation running along the side of your vehicle. The Plumridge Lakes area was a very important area for the Sandalwood cutters, and there are a few remains of their activities to be clearly seen when passing through the area. There is only one track that gives you access to view the southern section of the actual Plumridge Lakes, and without a GPS, it will be very easy to miss this side track. As you pass the remains of the old Sandalwood Cutters camps, take your time to smell the remains of that very fragrant timber that was once Western Australia
major export industries.
Travelling further north the country opens up to wide open plains with constant reminders that there are many treasures waiting to be tapped from the ground, in the form of drilling sample for Gold and other minerals. The very large fence enclosure around the Tropicana Air strip keeps wildlife from wandering onto the air field looks very out of place in such a remote place complete with solar powered electric fencing, but the airfield and the mining camp are new additions to this area, as are the 60kph speed sign due to exploration activities in the area. At the end of this great road you have the option of two destinations, veering left will see you in Laverton in a couple of days, or turning back to the right will take you to Neale Junction and areas further afield into the Great Victoria
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A good part of this road passes through the Plumridge Lakes Nature Reserve, one of six “A” Class Nature Reserves
in the WA Section of the Great Victoria
Desert. The difference between a Nature Reserve and a National Park is the same throughout Australia
. The Purpose of a National Park is for wildlife and landscape conservation, scientific study and the preservation of features of archaeological, historic interest, together with recreation
enjoyment by the Public. Nature Reserves
are for conservation of flora and fauna and as described for National Parks, but without the recreation
component, so as to minimize the human impact.
On the 22nd April 1977, an area covering 308,990 hectares (or 43 x 73 kilometre rectangle) was declared the Plumridge Lakes Nature Reserve. There are four major plant habitats in the Plumridge Lakes area, ranging from sand dune plains in the west, limestone Black Oak and Mulga in the central areas around the Gwynne Creek area. Northeast of the Reserve is an extensive area of salt pans and ephemeral lakes, while south of the Gwynne Creek area is an area of red loam soil covered with Mallee and Sandalwood. During a 3 week period, commencing on the 23rd September 2002, up to 89 dedicated members from a group called “Desert Discovery”, a non profit group carried out valuable field work in the Plumridge Lakes Nature Reserve. The aim of the group is to find an area as remote as possible that had not been studied much and to find out what they can find about the area. Seeing that no such study had been carried out for more than 25 years, the group made some valuable finds in the area and was of great help for CALM. During the study, members carried out a range of work from checking the accuracy of maps of the area, track conditions to conducting scientific surveys about the range and numbers of plants and animals in such a remote area. One conclusion was the effect that the feral camel was having on seed eating bird numbers like Emu, Bustard and Inland Dotterels in the western part of the Great Victoria
Desert. The reason for this was put down to the simple fact that the large number of camels was causing available water to disappear at a much quicker rate than prior to their existence. At the end of the survey, members had recorded 32 species of reptiles, nine native mammals and 43 species of birds.
For many thousands of years, Aboriginals had traversed this region after heavy rains when wildlife was abundant and good surface water was available. Any water that did make its way into the Plumridge Lakes was not suitable for drinking, as the lakes themselves are very salty, making any collected water unsuitable for drinking.
The first Europeans to pass through this area were Explorers
Ernest Giles and his party of eight men, including William Tietkens. On the 27th July 1875 they departed Ooldea on their third attempt to cross the great unknown land that separated the farming districts of Perth with the outer boundaries of South Australia
. At one stage when they were desperately short of water, Giles’ Aboriginal companion
, Tommy found “a miniature lake lying in the sand with plenty of that inestimable fluid which we had not seen for more than 300 miles”. This place he “honoured with Her Majesty’s mighty name”, Queen Victoria
Springs and the desert that they had just crossed the Great Victoria
Desert. Giles and his group spent 9 days recovering there before heading further west and on to a hero’s welcome in Perth.
The next white people to travel through the actual Plumridge Lakes area were members of the Elder Scientific Expedition, being led by David Lindsay, and his second in charge, Frederick Leech. Passing through the area, they noted passing a large salty pan with banks 20 feet high and formed of crystalline gypsum, which would have been one of the many lakes that make up the Plumridge Lakes area.
The actual naming of the Plumridge Lakes was given the honour by Frank Hann on the 3rd September 1908 after one of Hann’s companions that was travelling with him, a Mr H Plumridge. Unlike other noted explorers
through this area, Frank Hann funded all of his expedition himself and named more Geographical Features throughout Western Australia
than any other Explorer.
Sandalwood cutters were the next people to follow in the footsteps of the early explorers
in their quest to make a living in Sandalwood pulling that was sort after for its highly valued aroma oil and timber. By as early as 1848, Sandalwood exports was earning 45% of Western Australia
’s export income. At the age of 14, Charlie Cable began his career as a Sandalwood Cutter, a job that supplemented his Gold income for over 60 years. In 1930, Charlie and his brother Douglas led an expedition to the Warburton Ranges looking for gold and pastoral country. They brought 2 tonnes of supplies, including a small boring plant, to bore for water, all drawn by a camel team. On their way from Kalgoorlie, the Cables discovered an outlying patch of Sandalwood in an area known as Plumridge Lakes. Charlie and his brother later returned to the area and the Cable family continued working in the area until 1992. Aboriginal people also played a key role in the Sandalwood industry. Bob Cable, son of Charlie employed up to 30 aboriginal people at any one time, uprooting and chopping the fragrant timber. While in the Plumridge Lakes area, the Aboriginal men did a lot of initiations and other things that were important to the Aboriginal Dreaming stories and tracks. The men were able to do these special tasks involved with their Dreamtime, as there were very few women in the area, and they were not able to do those sacred tasks in towns or on Missions.
Due to licensing restrictions, the Sandalwood trees would not be harvested if the diameter of the trunk was less than 125 millimetres in diameter, which meant that each tree removed was between 90 and 120 years old.