Moved to https://citizenmo.blogspot.com.au/

I have now moved to  https://citizenmo.blogspot.com.au/  (that’s if you are remotely interested of course:)

Moving…..

I have moved back to Blogger at https://m-stephens.blogspot.com.au/ See you there 🙂

 

Here we sit …………….

Here we sit, awaiting Balranald’s finest and only mechanic to return from a funeral across the border in Swan Hill, bringing with him the part that Nitro Nellie Nissan requires to restore her to health. As luck would have it, the boot and general shearer’s wardrobe store had a sale on Redback Boots  this was fortuitous as my own ever comfortable and sturdy pair have sat close to one too many campfires and walked one too many miles and are ready for retirement as their blessed but melted soles squeaked with the sound of split soles.

sue was also able to purchase a mighty fine ‘Hilltop Winter’ proof coat – no doubt developed for shearer wear.

Our buddies and loyal comrades have forged a path towards home ( as we are only really 800 km from home on blacktop).
Shades of 2012 with five relaxing but dusty days in Birdsville, but with one important difference – we should be driving out not flying , this time.
This gives us the opportunity to walk Balranald’s street – which we have done – and to learn about the heyday of Balranald. There as a time when the bars were filled with shearers, the wharves filled with Merinos and the Murrumbidgee chocked with paddle Steamers carting wool, livestock, supplies and people throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town was first gazetted in 1851 but has a much longer history as part of the Mutthi Mutthi Nations.
The first telephone to be used in Australia was installed in the nearby Yanga Homestead. James Cromyn, nephew of Alexander Bell installed it with instructions from his uncle, to allow communication between the homestead and the shearer’s quarters.
Burke and Wills crossed the Murrumbidgee here on September 15th 1860 and set up camp XX just outside of (what is now) town. A mere 20 years later, the town was a riotous throng with a population of 400 soimage image image imageuls, 5 stores and 6 hotels.
More later …….. should we remain…………

Twice in a lifetime

Yesterday we completed the Oodnadatta track – refuelling & gassing up at Oodnadatta as the Branding championship was over. Steve cabled tied his sullage outlets together and we elected not to replace the gaping hole in the dash created by the non-compliant UHF mic holder.

As we cruised south, stopping only to salute the cairn to Ernest Giles, attempt to resurrect a reclining Old Telegraph Line pole and trace the footsteps of the fetters along the old Ghan for a bit, we made camp at Coward Springs. Here we enjoyed a dip in the balmy, opaque mineral waters of the Great Artesian Basin as the popped up to say hi. In the water it was divine – exiting had two challenges however ;1) the mineral water provides an awful lot of buoyancy which is only really evident when attempting to climb out on narrow ladder rungs – this is when one’s body mass and gravity come together to play a cruel trick; and 2) the water is wonderful – the kind of temperature that you get at the end of a perfect bath – but as you drag your great mass up the ladder and back into the wintering South Australian desert – the wind whips in bringing icy tendrils which wrap around every damp part of you.  Some time later, following a beer, hot shower and a successful fire creation project – all was well. The setting sun, moon and stars once again provided an amazing astronomical backdrop. We headed to Marla and then Hawker the next day, stopping to pay our respects and gaze in awe at Lake Eyre – some folks never see water in herimage image image image image image image but we have had the privilege of seeing this spectacular sight twice.

At Hawker, a very cute and old town with 490 residents, we learned that schooners are really pots and pints ( which are metric and not pints at all) are S.Austtralian for schooners. We worked it out and embraced the local culture!

Today we enjoyed a day trip in the Northern Flinders, taking in Gorges, chasms, Emu bath time.

The ancient ( as in 5-600 million years old) rusty red rocks speckled with bright green foliage rise above the grey boulder end river beds guarded by tall white glowing ghost gums.

Tomorrow we return to bush camping on the banks of the mighty Murray at  Overland Corner, then onto the banks of the beautiful (Murum) Bidgee at Hay and then Jugiong.

Through the back of the wardrobe

Having made camp at Agnes Creek on a large and flat expanse of dirt dotted with Mulga, we cooked snags on the fire and enjoyed the warmth as the air temperature made its way to zero. Wiping ice from the cars, we headed on south and turned left at Marla onto the Oodnadatta Track and aired down. The track was in good shape with rocks and corrugations in places but largely smooth. We bush camped again at Kathleen Creek – the creek was dry but lined with trees – an oasis in the desert as you wouldn’t need to dig deep to find water. There were deep ruts in places and some pooled water just off the track – evidence of the recent heavy rain and difficult track conditions.
Steak and Jamie Oliver Chicken, cooked on the Biji as he probably hadn’t imagined.
The sky was amazing – vast and dotted with a million stars or more. The sliver oimage image image image image image image image image image image imagef new moon sat close to Venus and sank quickly beyond the horizon. The night was cold and the temperature dropped below zero again. . Happy that we were in vans with gas central heating, we slept well.
Next day, closing in on Oodnadatta, we were privileged to see two Wedge Tailed Eagles having a mid morning snack. We watched them for a while and moved onto the Angle Pole. This bent piece of Mulga wood is a memorial to the pioneers who built and maintained the telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin, allowing ‘rapid’ communication to London and opening up the centre. Ernest Giles, John Forester and Stuart passed this way.
We filled up with fuel and tried to get gas but the National Bronco Branding Championships were on and the Gas Man was there – so no gas.
We pass back this way in two days when the event is over so we will try again.
We now sit relaxing in the afternoon sun at Ackaringa Station. The station stretches out over 2,745 square in and can house 2100 head of cattle – we saw 14 of them but some may have been counted twice. The landscape is desert with little for the cattle to snack on – although there were patches of green thanks to the recent rains. The drive here took us through stunning vistas – the landscape a 360 degree painting that we had stumbled into as if through the wardrobe and into Narnia. The Painted Desert is an ancient inland seabed with hills and mesas rising from the desert adorned in brightly coloured cloaks of orange, red, yellow and white.
This triumph of nature comes about as the top layers of soil dry out, erode and reveal their rich and colourful under coats – more undies than cloaks I suppose.
Once again, like almost sprightly three legged mountain goats we crawled, clambered, slipped and slid over boulders, gravel and rocks to enjoy the magnificent views at the top.

Ghost Gums, bent mufflers and lost antenna

We made camp at the Ross River Station campground. A wonderful setting on the Binns Track. Nestled among Ghost Gums and guarded by the East McDonnell Ranges, the setting was peaceful and perfect. A roaring fire each night, damper and the strains of didgeridoo- so called when Barkley first heard the sound – thiimage image image image image image image image image image images is not the Aboriginal name for the instrument. Our neighbour here was a man from the far north of Arnhem Land who is a maker of the instrument.
We gorged again – first driving along river beds, through wet and dry creeks and across rocks to N’Dahla Gorge and then we retraced our steps back along the Binns Track to Trephina Gorge. Deep red cliffs rising high above the white sand floor – the river forging a path over millions of years with ghost gums standing both tall and crooked, lining the route. We walked through the gorge and fought the sand as it grabbed our feet. Then someone had the bright idea to return via the gorge rim. Off we set like mountain goats – clambering – on hands and knees at times – up, down and across the rock face that guarded the gorge.
We gazed at the majestic 300 year old Ghost Gum that had its own signpost.
We visited Ruby Gorge – so called by the early miners who were extremely disappointed to find that they were worthless garnets. The miners headed west to Arltunga where gold had been found. This desolate mining community struggled and worked to eventually provide a reason to develop a settlement in the Northern Territory of South Australia – Alice Springs.
The road to Ruby Gorge started with corrugations and progressed to rocky paths, large rocks, and sandy river bed. The River Hale provided much of the route and we floated along on the wide sandy bed, dented mufflers on the large rocks as we climbed over them and lost an antenna on the low hanging branches – a big day out taking in 150+ km of tracks and wonderful, stunning vistas. We saw very few people and loved it. This side of the ranges is far less visited than the popular west.
We are now heading south again, and will be off the bitumen and into the Oodnadatta track tomorrow.

The stalwarts and pioneers of the road

We spent some time paying homage and reflecting on the ways and means of transporting goods and chattels across Australia before bitumen or even roads at all. The Road Transport Museum is home, rehab hospital and graveyard to road trains, trucks, buses and all kinds of “road” transport from the first days of the motor vehicle.

Sponsored by Kenworth, the Hall of Fame housed a large number of very shiny and very large trucks from them across the ages. Theimage image image image image image image image ‘toughest truck on the road’ and it certainly looks like it. The cab requires an elevator to access with an abseil on the way out. Behind the space shuttle interior is a small suite for the driver’s every comfort – well, the Director’s 2914 model has this, most are much more basic.

The very first Road Train with tracking wheels ( like a tank) sat worn but proud  Steve found fond memories of painful backs, fatigue and little sleep came flooding back as he looked at the mighty beasts.

Staffed largely by volunteers living in caravans to restore the vehicles and with little sponsorship , this temple of yesteryear should be federally funded for without those brave and resilient men and women (yes indeed) of the big wheels Australia may look quite different today.  So thank you  .

Rocks, River Beds and Ancient Gorgeous Gorges

We have been without signal for some days but have enjoyed the most amazing vistas and got the trucks a new shade of “Dust”.
We got close up and personal with the sacred and big rock, Uluru. We watched the sun set and colour it magnificently – always finishing with a magical glow – from afar and from near. The show she put on was simply spectacular. We walked around the base and gazed at the changing colours and shapes up close. We saw her at sunrise from the back of camels – Diesel, Jill and Barnaby – and we flew in a scary chopper to see her in splendid isolation, rising high and in from the desert wilderimage image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image imageness. In the front seat, I kept hold of GoPro and camera so as not to touch anything – all those knobs, dials and buttons and no good handholds – not a good scenario! P kept things under control in the back, slapping hands if anyone’s paw looked like moving towards the ‘open/lock’ slider. Having gazed down in awe at the Rock, we flew over Kata Tjuta ( the Olgas). Mystically they sit, again, an isolated group of smooth, rounded rocks – not unlike a very large bunch of haemorrhoids from a distance!
I also saw the rocks at sunrise taking one for the team as they stayed warm in their beds – just sayin’). Fingers of sunlight first tickled and then touched the rocks – gradually lighting them up until they shone in the early morning light.
Next we headed around the Mereenie Loop to test the vans on rocks, dirt and corrugations and all parts remained in place. Helen Gorge was our next camp – situated towards the western end of the West McDonnells. The gorge was gorgeous and has a permanent waterhole ( one of six in the Finke River). The rock face rising majestically behind the homestead glowed with an orange hue evening and morning.
We visited Palm Valley and Boggy Hole – both all day adventures driving in sand, across boulders and rocks and along the Ellery Creek and Finke River beds. Palm Valley is home to West McDonnell Cycads – ancient and only found here. The rainforest is alive and well. We walked through ancient valleys and clambered across oxide stained boulders. We ate pies in the Finke River ( courtesy of the magnificent pie oven) which now needs a sports bra in the form of strapping following some deeply corrugated tracks.
Boggy Hole, a remote spot seen by Giles on his travels, lived up to its name as Steve provided a demonstration of how to best use MaxTrax in deep sand recovery. Moira simply drove straight across.
This day provided a wonderful stream of beautiful vistas, one after another as we made our way south along the Finke. White Ghost Gums shone brightly against the luminescent red rock faces rising high above. This ancient land is majestic and the art of Albert Namitjera was evident at every turn.
We drove and walked and clambered into stunning gorges, carved by the mighty Finke over the last 700 million years.
We sit in Alice now, awaiting the coldest night in their history!

The very Centre – the gravitational one

On Friday we continued north across more saltbush scrub, desert and gibber lined road stretching on and on eventually disappearing into the horizon.
Crossing the into Northern Territory brought about a different landscape. The Buffer grass, so carefully plucked and eradicated strand by strand in South Australia, covered every spare bit of ground. The grass was originally thought to be an effective dust dampener but has proved to be a fire hazard and bullies the other vegetation into submission, recognised by SA conservationists and a source of contention between the two states.

Stuart crossed what would become our path on 11th July 1861 and again on July 14th 1862, so he picked the right time of year to travel.

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We pulled into Kulgera- the first and last roadhouse/pub/fuel in the NT. A sandy, dusty campground with solar showers and no water but serving our purpose well for a couple of nights stop. The Bocce Championship of 2015 commenced with Sue taking out the first night’s competition.

On Friday we continued north across more saltbush scrub, desert and gibber lined road stretching on and on eventually disappearing into the horizon.

Crossing the into Northern Territory brought about a different landscape. The Buffer grass, so carefully plucked and eradicated strand by strand in South Australia, covered every spare bit of ground. The grass was originally thought to be an effective dust dampener but has proved to be a fire hazard and bullies the other vegetation into submission, recognised by SA conservationists and a source of contention between the two states.

Stuart crossed what would become our path on 11th July 1861 and again on July 14th 1862, so he picked the right time of year to travel.

We pulled into Kulgera- the first and last roadhouse/pub/fuel in the NT. A sandy, dusty campground with solar showers and no water but serving our purpose well for a couple of nights stop. The Bocce Championship of 2015 commenced with Sue taking out the first night’s competition.

Day trip to Lambert’s gravitational centre of Australia. There is a bit of confusion and controversy about the precise location of the centre of Australia and in 1988 the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia decided that the centre is at the Lambert Gravitational Centre – about 142 km NE of Kulgera in the NT. The road from Kulgera is red dirt and was recently graded and the fun came after the turn off. We twisted and turned along a single track of deep sand and deeper corrugations – the rains had taken out parts of the track which almost resulted in a two lane one way system for much of the route – but not the bit where we met a fourby and trailer in tow. Luckily Steve and I both have the ability to drive the trucks at 45 degree angles along the piled sand at the edges.

The centre has a flagpole, plague, visitor’s book provided by the Toyota Club ( Victorian Branch) and a long drop toilet. All very handy items in such an isolated location.image

Stuart crossed what is now the Kulgera-Finke Road at a point very close to Lambert’s in his 1860-62 trip.

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Today we arrived at Yulara and gazed in awe as the sun set on the beautiful, magnificent, powerful Rock. Tomorrow we will get a up close and personal. In the meantime, the roast smells delicious as it cooks itself to perfection in the baby Weber as the sun set on the beautiful, magnificent, powerful Rock. Tomorrow we will get a up close and personal. In the meantime, the roast smells delicious as it cooks itself to perfection in the baby Weber.

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Uranium, saltbush and dust

Roxby Downs, a station in the desert transformed by, and arguably owned by, Bhp Bullitin. Shiny houses with stones and mulch for lawns ( in appropriate desert fashion) lining neat and quiet streets. Few people and only the odd trace of a dog. Houses are not cheap and the car wash/launderette is for sale. The water is piped from the great artesian basin and comes to the town via the desalination plant ( courtesy of Bhp who uses 35 million litres per day). Electricity travels from Port Augusta and the town gets the left over power after the mine has had its fill – in summer the mine is hungry and the town goes dark. The town council is appointed by the State Government, not elected. The mine itself is the size of a small town and includes the underground, bit down to about 1km, and gi-enormous above ground 7 step processing plants for copper, uranium, gold and silver. Copper is the big cash converter with uranium following up with the largest deposit, so far discovered, in the world. Silver and gold are considered added bonuses. The health risk management strategies for personnel and uranium dust seem comprehensive ……… but only as long as you are an employee of The Company. Long term follow does not seem to be an option. Watch this space Bhp.

We took a tour of the mine site – firearms, drugs and cameras not allowed on site the sign said – the scene was that of a b movie set with huge dirty brown tanks, vats and boxes, connected by a matrix of huge dirty brown pipes ……. times at least twenty – all connected. The skyline was dotted by piles of boulders ( all potential ore); huge, huge grey pipes feeding air underground; the three mine shafts silhouetted against the skyline; and dozens of dusty Toyotas with flashing lights, driven by men in hard hats, goggles and grubby orange uniforms carrying payloads in red metal boxes labelled ‘explosives’.

We then headed to the Arid Recovery – an arid ecosystem restoration project – http://www.aridrecovery.org.au – aiming to restore the ecosystem to pre-cat/fox/rabbit days. After lunch we headed to Andamooka – a small town populated by noodles seeking their evidently elusive fortunes and colourful characters choosing to not to live under the spotlight of government bureaucracy!

However, there were no people nor dogs nor any signs of life in this small town. Free flu vaccines were offered and the teeny tiny post office, it’s walls lined with yellow phone books, sat with its door open and a note to call a number if assistance was required. The shiny new building housing the health centre was closed – call this number – said the sign on the door. We moved on, crossing gibber plains, over dunes and through swales until we ran out of mapped track – well, onward until we met the edge of Lake Torrens – seemingly dry for the most part but with water shimmering in the distance and the tell tales ruts as others before had played in the clay pan.

 

We set of early and headed north across mile after mile of desert peppered with saltbush and the occasional Mulga tree. Wedge Tailed Eagles and their offsider Crows’ dined on roadkill of every variety. The long straight road and the beating sun ( yes, it is warming up) together with a Dan Brown audio book created a soporific effect broken by the crackle of the UHF and the chewing of gum. Endless gibber plains stretched in every direction – mounds 150 metres high are grandiosely called hills and ranges and almost break up the landscape.

Coober Pedy, where every drop of water is piped in and is liquid gold, provides our dusty abode for the night.