Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria, Pajero Club and the Range Rover CLub of Victoria
29 JUNE-9 JULY 1998
PARKER Jim TOYOTA TRAY LROCV/RRC
BARTON Frank Land Rover DEFENDER 110 LROCV
PANAYI Nick Land Rover SeriesII WAGON LROCV
HALL Norman Toyota Landcruiser 80 Series RRC
BERGMAN Paul RANGE ROVER RRC
COLLYER Phil Land Rover Discovery RRC
VENDITTI Steven NISSAN SWB RRC
MCARTHY Brian PAJERO LWB PAJERO
SAFFIN George NISSAN LWB PAJERO
LOWE Roger Land Rover Defender 130 LROCV
BLACKMAN John NISSAN Pathfinder RRC
MCCLAREN Bruce Land Rover 110 LROCV
JEPSON Ken Land Rover Defender 110 LROCV
Day 1 Monday 29th June 1998 319km
The start of the trip to the Simpson Desert was to be Port Augusta. Most participants made their own way and arrived by Sunday night. Heavy overnight showers were replaced by a sunny morning. After assembling the group outside the Caravan Park and introductions and briefing on the days activities, John and Jim led the first group out. They were followed about 15mins later by the second group led by Norman and Gerard.
The country nearby is mostly flat with saltbush the dominant plant. Occasional claypans shone from the overnight rain and the flat topped hills - one known locally as Tent Hill - broke the flat horizon. Behind us receded the rugged skyline of the Flinders Ranges.
Later the vegetation changed to taller trees known as Western Myall and later Gray Mulga. A large yellow sign beside the road had warned of oversize vehicles transporting equipment to Roxby Downs.
Not far down the road we caught up to a couple of these with their escorts. While considering the time and location of a coffee break we were waved past and a couple of kms further up the road turned off for a cuppa. Well off the road and next to the Transcontinental Railway line. John was hopeful of seeing one of the long freight trains but it was a case of "you should have been here yesterday". There was plenty of socialization and an opportunity to look at the trees and shrubs, some of which were in flower.
Time to get back on the road again, with Norman's group leaving later. Not far up the road we caught up with the oversize vehicles again. By now we had passed the turnoff to the Mt Gunston Mine and were in some hilly country so there were few opportunities to overtake. Steve called up to say he had broken a fan belt so Norman stopped to assist.
Finally we were able to overtake the wide loads and ran ahead for a while until we turned off to the lookout over Island Lagoon (a picturesque conical hill in a flat lake bed). We were back on the road and managed to stay ahead of the trucks then turned off the Stuart Hwy at Pimba and headed to Woomera.
Here we planned a visit to the rocket museum, the outdoor display and lunch. If you visit, allow a couple of hours. In the local town square was a memorial to Len Beadell - the surveyor responsible for the rocket testing range as well as roads giving access too much of Central Australia.
Soon we were back on the road and up ahead again were the oversize loads. Eventually we were able to overtake them. For some time we had been following the power lines and it was remarked that the pylons were different from those of the SEC. These were a mast not unlike a radio mast supported by a single pointed foot and steadied by 4 guy wires. Perhaps easier to erect, uses less steel or some other reason. This line supplied power from Port Augusta to Roxby Downs for the town, smelter and mine. As we approached Roxby we were looking for the Andamooka turnoff. For some time now we had been traveling through red sand hills with cypress pine and western myall. We had planned to camp in these dunes so we were close to Roxby for next day.
Norman did a slight detour along a track over a few dunes and reported a satisfactory site for to night's camp. We continued into Andamooka and after looking at the Information Board decided to go our own way and meet back here in half an hour. Andamooka is an opal-mining town and has its share of open cuts, dugouts, museums, gem cutters etc. Most had a look around then headed to the local to quench the thirst.
On the way back to the meeting place some of the vehicles were held up by the local fire truck traveling slowly. Someone remarked over the radio that it looked like a coffin on top and the tanker crew confirmed that one of the local youngsters had died and his wish was to have the red hearse.
It was a short drive back to the camp Norman had selected and by the look of it, the participants were seeing how big an area they could occupy - I must admit they did move in a bit closer as they got to know one another as the trip progressed.
After setting up camp and preparing tea, everyone gathered round the communal fire for social chat and to have the trip leaders outline the plans for the next day. During the evening John contacted the bases of the VKS-737 radio network to report our position and to check for messages. We also attempted to contact the Vintage Land Rover group but were unsuccessful.
The clay pan where we camped had many trees known as western myall and beneath these were observed nests made with the needles of these trees. Later inquiry revealed that they were ants nests although we hadn't seen any even though we searched with torches.
Most retired early and there was some speculation if the heavy clouds we had seen to the north would affect our plans.
John Hasler and Jim Parker Toyota Landcruiser Tray LROCV/RRC
Day 2 Tuesday 30th June 1998 198km
Decamped Normans campsite at 9:10 am (S 30* 32.858 E 136* 55.836') and headed into Roxby Downs for our tour of Western Mining's operation at Olympic Dam. The minerals produced are copper, uranium and gold. This is a big operation and to explain it all would fill a book so briefly here is some information.
Roxby Downs population 3000
Housing costs $120,000 to buy, $150 / week to rent
Landscaping is by way of native plants - no lawns - no spare
Water or sufficient rainfall to sustain it
Average wage $1000 + bonus per week
The Company has an emphasis on Health Care, Occupational Safety,
Recreation and Social requirements.
Electricity for the town, refinery and mine comes from Port
Augusta using coal from Leigh Creek
Refined gold is flown out as required with maximum secrecy
Uranium is transported by road convoy, which makes the journey from Roxby to Port Adelaide non-stop with maximum security
The main water supply is from bores in the Great Artesian Basin. This is pumped via two pipelines from 120-140 km away. Usage is 15 megalitres per day, 5 ML for the town, 15 ML for the mine with further 5 ML recycled. Following the completion of the expansion program this usage will exceed 27 ML per day.
The original Olympic Dam was a dam and windmill on Roxby Downs station named for the Olympic games in Melbourne 1956.
The exploration of the area involved sinking 10 test drillings. Only 2 of these intersected the ore body so it very nearly went undiscovered.
Our group was accommodated in two mini buses and we traveled, first to the visitors centre to watch a video of the history and metallurgical processes and then to the various sections of the plant dodging construction vehicles and gaining an appreciation of how large it will be when the expansion is completed.
All production is to the final product and no further processing is required (contrast Mt Isa where the copper is refined in Townsville or Broken Hill where the lead is refined in Port Pirie.)
After lunch we headed up the Borefield Road - running in two groups again, separated by about 15 min. It was here in the dunes that we saw our first Sturt's Desert Peas. Periodically along the way we noted the pumping stations on the water pipelines. We left the sand hills behind and traversed some stony plains with the dry watercourses white from salt staining. On the horizon we could see the flat topped "breakaway" hills of which we were to see many more.
After a couple of hours we reached the Oodnadatta Track (unbeknown to us and only 30 km off to our right was the phenomenon soon to be revealed - the "Marree Man") The Track follows the old Ghan line, closed in 1980, and some of the decaying bridges were still visible.
A diversion to the Lake Eyre South lookout gave an impressive view of the dry lakebed. Back on the track and now close to the edge of the lake with several more lookout points along the way. During the big filling of 1974-6 shore break waves had eroded the rail embankment necessitating the dumping of rock to form a breakwater and over the years the road has been rerouted to avoid the water.
Our next stop was Curdimurka Siding. Under the care of the Ghan Preservation Society is the fettlers barracks, the equipment sheds, a water tank, a desalination tower (leaning like the tower of Pisa) and a couple of km of track including the bridge over the Margaret (they don't call them rivers up here because most of the time they are dry watercourses) Due again this year is the second yearly Curdimurka Ball - a black tie affair in the middle of nowhere.
Back on the track we headed towards Coward Springs and turned off to the Mound Springs, which act as relief valves for the Great Artesian Basin. Now enclosed within a new Park, with the road now an in/out rather than a drive through, is situated the Bubbler and the Blanche Cup Springs. The artesian water percolated up through cracks in the rock and on reaching the surface deposited the salts as it evaporated. Plant debris helped to build up the mounds as we see them today - lowering water pressure means that many are no longer active.
We found a relatively sheltered spot amongst the hills to camp and were joined by a couple of other campers during the night. Impressive views of the sunset and sunrise were obtained from the nearby hills.
Frank and Bev Barton Land Rover Defender LROCV
Day 3 Wednesday 1st July 1998 269km
We awoke to a typical early start and everybody was packed and ready to leave at 8:30, a few people woke up extra early to go and watch the sunrise from the top of Hamilton Hill, fortunately I was one of the clever people and stayed in bed until the last possible moment. Our first stop for the day was at Coward Springs Historical Railway Station, which is now a privately owned camping area. Our next stop was Beresford Bore and an old historic railway site. The fettlers cottages, flowing bore, desalination tower and water tank as well as dam are starting to show the ravages of time. The running water allowed some to wash their faces and numerous birds were noted further down the stream.
After a bit of a drive up the road there were the remains of an old rocket tracking station, there was a lot of concrete. For morning tea we turned off the main road and parked at the start of the track to the old Strangways Telegraph Station ruins. A walk up the hill took us past many mound springs, mostly dry and to the partly restored stone built cottages. Stone fences had enclosed sheep when this area was inhabited.
The road from here took us straight into William Creek. We noted skid marks along the way, as it had been very wet only a day before when the Vintage Land Rover group had passed. We had to watch out as sightseeing planes were using the main street as a landing strip. We all headed into the Hotel for the obligatory "collide" and some stayed for lunch - what an atmosphere and such friendly staff. Outside some had a picnic lunch and looked at the old machinery in the park - including part of a rocket from Woomera which was recovered from one of the local properties
As we were driving along the road to our next destination everyone was noticing the nicer weather and the number of wrecked cars along the road. Everyone was having fun trying to work out what make and model the cars were. Beside the stone ruins of the fettlers cottages were located the remains of an old bullock wagon. Some of the creeks in this area had dense stands of gidgee trees - something we were to see more of later.
We arrived at a Giles memorial plaque and turned off to a 4WD-only track. About 20 mins down the track Nick realized something was wrong with the brakes on the Series II. A stone had bounced and broken one of the rear lines. Together with Norman and Gerard they clamped off the brakes and we continued for the rest of the day with front brakes only. At the end of the track there were some graves and the ruins of the Peake Telegraph Station and Homestead. A walk up the hill brought us to the old copper mine and smelter.
We headed back to the main road and continued to The Neales (River) and camped near the Algebuckina Waterhole.
Straight after setup and tea had finished the boys set to work on fixing Nick's brakes. As firewood was scarce a few people went looking for railway sleepers, but they only came back with the story of the old burnt out EJ Holden under the bridge nearby. Frank came up with the idea to go and see if the Holden still had a brake line - surprisingly it did - so it was removed and after a bit of " surgery" or was it "butchery" was adapted to fit the Landy. Everyone spent the rest of the evening around the campfire while John explained that tomorrow was our visit to Oodnadatta and the last chance for mechanical repairs, fuel food and water before heading into the Desert.
Christine Panayi Land Rover Series II LROCV
Day 4 Thursday 2nd July 1998 198km
It's 4:30am, it's extremely cold, the sun has not yet arisen and all are asleep (including the scribe for today). Now 7:00am and I finally awake destined for a day of travel, exploring and my turn to bore everyone senseless with my accounts of the day. Plans had been made that we break camp at 8:30am from our camp on the banks of the picturesque Neales with a quick stop at the Algebuckina Bridge. Well, everyone except our illustrious leaders, John Hasler and Jim Parker break camp on time with them finally meeting us at the bridge some 20 minutes late (not a problem since the bridge is only 1 km away)
The Algebuckina Bridge was designed by HC Mais and built in 1889 as part of the Central Australia Railway. The bridge is approximately 12 metres above the river at its deepest point and has a span of some 578 metres, which made it the longest bridge in South Australia.
Near the southern end of the bridge we saw a train had hit the old Holden while the driver was trying to cross the rail bridge when the road causeway had been flooded. He had miraculously escaped from the car before the impact. (This wreck had been the parts donor for our work on Nick's Land Rover).
We lead the first group away towards Mt Dutton while John searched for the fettlers graves near the northern end of the bridge.
Mt Dutton siding consisted of the typical stone built barracks and water tank. A pump house still contains the vertical boiler and pump and the nearby dam shows an interesting example of a sediment trap designed to prevent siltation of the dam because the rain mostly falls as a result of thunderstorms and the local soil is readily eroded.
Along with those who have arrived early we headed into Oodnadatta for our last top up of fuel and other supplies. Everyone had free time to sort himself or herself out. Nick and the Panayi tribe visited the Pink Roadhouse in an attempt to get the rear brakes on the Series II Landy repaired and at a cost of only $25. The Collyers and some others occupied the caravan park showers for quite some time. John and some intrepid explorers visited the local museum (housed in the former railway station) and other sites. Gerard (my navigator) visited the pub to find Kerri-Anne Kennerley and the Midday Show on whilst I was filling with fuel, water and some much needed food supplies.
After a 2 1/2hr stopover we headed north with the group who were ready to go heading towards Hamilton Homestead and Pedirka. Pedirka was the last railway siding we would visit on this part of our trip. From the sand hill country of Hamilton the track began to deteriorate, as it had not been maintained since the rain damages a couple of months earlier. There were several "dry" river crossings, sandy sections and the stony tablelands.
Johns group waited patiently for their departure. The boys had ordered Oodnaburgers - now they are whoppers and as such take a long time to make and a correspondingly long time to eat. Nick had finalized the repairs to the Landy brakes and the group headed off, pausing at Angle Pole, where the plaque commemorates the Overland Telegraph Line completed in 1872. Just north of Foggartys Claypan, Ken reported a flat tyre - the first for the trip. Many helping hands soon had the change made - Cheryl resting in the cabin with a migraine wasnt aware of the activity. Back on the track and as they traversed the red dunes before Hamilton, John spotted some Sturts Desert Peas so a photo stop was called and after a bit of a search more were located away from the track.
They say that Pedirka Siding must have been one of the loneliest places on the old Ghan Line as it was built on such a barren stony landscape. Our entire group agreed with the summation. The vegetation was very lush and green on our way in due to the recent rains the area had enjoyed. We had been rotating our convoy at 5km intervals and all appreciated the opportunity to "lead " for a while.
We waited at Pedirka until John's group caught up then we headed out to look for a campsite amongst the sand hills. John pointed out the differences in the buildings here compared with those south of Oodnadatta. There the fettlers cottages were constructed of stone whereas that north had been built after 1929 and were of cast concrete. The water tanks had been built on low tank stands and the water had been pumped from a well nearby. Most of this had been bulldozed by the leaseholders in 1992. An Athel pine stood in front of the barracks and provided shelter over the years (now regarded as a noxious weed in the catchment of the Finke) and today provided just a mournful sighing as the breeze blew through the branches.
We found a very nice and sheltered campsite in the river area between Pedirka and Dalhousie Ruins before we entered the Emery Range district. That night Bruce McClaren decided that he needed some tyre changing experience so volunteered to fix Kens puncture. Well he did ask and since Ken didn't really need the tyre (he had another spare) Ken agreed. This provided much amusement for all as the repair process took roughly 3 hrs and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Having removed the tyre, fixed the puncture, put it back on the rim and blown it up again, Bruce discovered he had pinched the tube and had to start all over again. Good experience and at least it kept him (and some others) occupied and out of the way of the serious drinkers.
During the evening John had been busy with the HF radio on the VKS-737 network trying to get the latest information on the rain approaching from the west. Contact was also made with the Vintage Land Rover group - they had been advised by the Ranger to move on from Dalhousie because of the approaching weather, one vehicle had become bogged in Lowther Creek bog and a Series I has broken an axle when climbing a rocky ridge.
Well that was the end of our day as tomorrow we hand over the reporting to Paul and Suellen.
Norman Hall / Gerrard Toyota Landcruiser 80 RRC
Day 5 Friday 3rd July 1998 122km
Another rising in the dark at about 6:30 (the wood cracking bird had been noisily preparing his nest, which usually awakens the camp) so one drags oneself out of bed to the other sound of a light sprinkle of rain, but this diminishes as one becomes more active.
It had been a pleasant sheltered camp in a sandy creek bed with plenty of firewood, a tributary of Stevensons Creek just past Pedirka. By 8:30 we were on the road and finding the countryside turning more to sand. At several of the creek crossings, John points out the Red Mulga with its red bark peeling in narrow strips which gives it the name of "cat scratch bark" also called "minniritchie".
Soon after crossing the Witjira National Park boundary we are back on the stony country and have passed several vehicles coming the other way. Ahead someone spots a herd of camels so we stop to get a better view. Someone counted 24 although being further back in the convoy we counted only 18. They came down off the ridge and disappeared into the forest of gidgee surrounding the creek. This part of the track had been badly affected by the recent rains and some deep gullying had occurred as well as a couple of bog holes.
One of the big bogs was crossed by a couple of vehicles, and then our leader decided to circumnavigate the bog. Well circumnavigate we did. We circumnavigated half the country and ended up where we had started, on the same side of the bog, so we took the side track and all got through (John denies that he lost the way). We crested a ridge and spotted the date palms of Dalhousie on the horizon.
The ruins at Dalhousie were fascinating, the isolation incredible and one wonders again how it must have been for the first settlers. (The settlement dates from 1872-1885 until abandonment in 1925.) Some of the stone buildings have been stabilized and the date palms, burnt several years ago are regenerating. We return to the cars to escape the drizzle, Jim pumps up a leaking tyre and we head to Dalhousie Springs.
The main spring area has changed much over the last year as camping is no longer allowed close to the water, the area has been rehabilitated and revegetated and the camping area moved further away. Here most of the group went for a swim in the warm water. Unfortunately we had forgotten our bathers so went exploring in the bush, looking for fauna, and came across a rare beast in grey overalls with a video glued to its paws, pointing to various bushes and making strange muttering noises.
After the swim, lunch, while Jim fixed the second flat tyre for the trip (and here I am with two spares plus two inner tubes). Flags were fitted to the vehicles as we were starting to approach the sandy country.
We were heading for Lowther Creek, which was the biggest boggy area, encountered and had been the cause of the Desert access being closed for several weeks earlier. We had expected some difficulty and had allowed plenty of time for recoveries if necessary. Two vehicles were stopped (I can be bribed to tell) and required snatching out. Video cameras were out to record any incidents. As we continued across the Spring Creek delta area we were impressed by the amount of green herbage - a result of the earlier rains.
The low hills to the north eventually gave way to low dunes and we passed the turn off to Oasis Bore and Mt Dare, which had been used as an access route when Lowther was closed (this passes through Aboriginal lands but access has been negotiated but no camping was allowed)
Onwards we proceeded to end up at Purnie Bore, and what an absolute haven this was, water, birdlife, in the sand hills proper and with plenty of daylight left to look around. I will be back, only next time it will be for 2 nights so we can have a full day to look around.
As the rose has a thorn, even one must be wary at Purnie. We slept next to Norman and Gerard. Be warned - Norman SNORES and when we finally were asleep I was awakened in the wee hours to be told I had been called. Gerard talks in his sleep.
Paul and Suellen Bergman Range Rover RRC
Day 6 Saturday 4th July 1998 157km
After the rain in the evening, we awoke to clear skies and a beautiful sunrise for those who climbed the dunes. John had told us about the steam rising from the Bore and some had positioned themselves to photograph the sun rising through billows of steam. In the past there was a swimming hole fed by the water from the bore - about 80C - this had been closed and there is now a shower provided.
We were allowed an extra hour to explore (or just sleep in) the Purnie Bore surroundings. The birdlife around the bore is prolific with the crimson and golden chats being the most spectacular.
Heading east along the French Line the convoy stretches out when the Range Rover reported auto transmission problems. It turned out to be loose hoses on the oil cooler. Those at the head of the convoy spotted a dingo in quite good condition. In the bright sunshine, the red dunes were beautiful with plenty of greenery and wildflowers (mainly the yellow senecios and the poached egg daisies) everywhere.
Jim and John suddenly come upon a camel on the track. The convoy tried to keep up but it was too fast - the track was the easiest course for the camel but washouts and corrugations limited the speed of the vehicles. At the junction with the Rig Road we lowered our tyre pressures for the more sandy sections ahead - the French Line to this point had been clay capped but ahead was raw sand. We waited for the Range Rover to catch up and after making final adjustments we split into two convoys with John leading a group south via the Rig Road to the Mokari Airstrip where the memorial to the local transport operator Peckanek is located. After turning east the Rig Road follows the WAA Line to the Colson Track where they turned north.
The second convoy under Norman's leadership continued east on the French Line. We were part of this convoy. Along this track were many dunes, some quite soft and very winding. This is quite a contrast as when the track was cut 35 years ago it was a straight line. Traveling with the Vintage Land Rover group were some of the Friends of the French Line - men who had worked on the Line back in 1963. Unfortunately we never caught up with the group so didn't have a chance to hear some of their stories. The humps on the track slowed the convoy but no one had any problems.
When our convoy reached the Colson Track we turned south -, the north south tracks in general run between the dunes and the tracks allow for faster travel. After a while we met the other convoy now heading north - lunch was had together on a claypan near the turnoff to the Oolarinna well site. There was time for Perdie to have a driving lesson.
After lunch our convoy headed south and turned east along the WAA Line whilst the other convoy went north then turned east on the French Line.
The stretch of the WAA Line we were on was much rougher than the French Line. Later we would reflect that this was probably the roughest part of the whole trip. The flowers were still prolific but a different mix from those seen earlier.
Traffic in the desert was scarce - we saw one vehicle come the other way and passed two vehicles camped for the evening. Occasionally from the top of the dunes we could hear snippets of conversation from the other group coming over the UHF radio. As the convoy approached the Erabeena Track, Nick reported some unusual noises coming from the Land Rover. After inspection he found that both his rear shock absorber mounts were tearing away from the chassis. Nick removed the rear shockers and actually completed the journey home without the rear shock absorbers - "hardly noticed the difference".
By now it was getting dark and we headed up the Erabeena Track to join the other convoy near the junction with the French Line. The day's travel had revealed very little wildlife. Quite a few chats but few reptiles or mammals. That evening John took an interested group looking for animal wildlife - we disturbed a bird from a tree and found a few spiders. We arrived back to find some hi-jinks going on. Norman's and Gerard's swags had somehow moved, and somehow Paul's tent had collapsed (with Suellen inside!) Both Norman and Paul protested their innocence, each blaming the other around the campfire. It was left to Suellen to sort out the naughty children.
John had contacted the Vintage Land Rover group on the HF radio to say we wouldn't need their welder and that we planned to go to the Lone Gum Tree and not directly towards Poeppels Corner
Phil, Jane and Perdie Collyer Discovery RRC
Day 7 Sunday 5th July 1998 120km
The day started bright and early as usual with a 9:30 departure heading for the Erabeena #1 well site. There is only one thing an enthusiastic and intrepid explorer likes better than heading off in the early morning. That one thing is, of course, a sleep in. The drive seemed quite easy compared with the previous days journey. When we arrived at the well site the group had a brief look around the rehabilitated drill site. The drilling information had been written on a steel plate mounted on a steel post using a welder.
O.D.& E RIG #6
No oil was found and the drillers had moved on.
Next we lined all the vehicles up for a group photo and moved back past our overnight camp to the French Line junction. We continued south along the Erabeena Track - so this is what we missed last night in the dark. We crossed the WAA Line and continued to the Rig Road. We paused to inspect an abandoned wedge tailed eagles nest and noted several other nests in the trees at close proximity including two crows and a Willy wagtails. We took the opportunity for a cuppa break before resuming. Norman kept our minds alert with geographical questions from his GPS facts book.
The Rig Road was quite rough and soon we came to the Lone Gum Tree - a solitary Coolibah tree located well away from any watercourse. The area had recently been fenced by the Friends of the Simpson Desert as vehicles driving too close can lead to soil compaction and an adverse effect on this unique tree. Since John's last visit a couple of juveniles had become established so now it is the Lone Gum Tree plus Two.
Heading north then east on the Rig Road, it was not long before we stopped for lunch. This was on a claypan, where we took some time out to relax and admire the view. Back on the road again and as we descend a large dune there is a salt lake ahead of us. We pause to inspect it and John points out the pink flowers of the Frankenia plants usually found around these lakes.
After passing another track junction we head south to the Poolawanna oil well site. Here there was an airstrip, two oil search wells and water bore. The remains of a couple of dams were still visible but most of the area has been "rehabilitated". We turn around and head north past the junction and along the Knolls Track. Bruce makes contact with his cousin over the UHF. They were a few km behind us and caught up to us at camp. We had been continuing our rotation of the convoy. John and Jim traveled in second position and the others in the convoy took it in turns to lead for 5km before going to the end. We passed the end of the WAA Line and continued north. The angle the track made with the dunes was close to parallel and we would gradually climb up the side of a dune then cross it and move into the next valley.
Several claypans were suggested as campsites but we continued until we found a spot with many gidgee trees that suited everyone. Plenty of firewood (the best) allowed the community fire as well as several cooking fires.
Bruces cousin had passed and set up camp further up the track. About dark we had a radio call that Alice had been out walking and had arrived back at that camp by mistake. Bruce headed off to the rescue. Meanwhile it was noted that Belinda was missing too. Ken and John had seen her while they were photographing the sunset and she was heading west. Some concern was expressed for her and the boys went up to the top of the dune to provide a beacon for her safe return. Not long after she returned.
This incident highlights the danger of wandering off in an area where most sand hills and claypans look the same, especially after dark.
A few late stayers around the fire were witness to the sudden change in weather with strong wind and heavy rain causing confusion to the campers.
Steve Venditti / Teena Thomas Nissan Patrol RRC
Day 8 Monday 6th July 1998 75km
"Every event an adventure"
Todays adventure started in the very early hours of the morning when a very violent desert storm passed through the campsite and flattened John and Judy Blackman's tent and sent others out into the rain to bang in more tent pegs.
After the packing up was completed we headed off under clear blue skies. After traveling 10km, Paul radioed that he was stopping as he had a noise coming from the front of the Rangie. The bush mechanics got to work and after a shock absorber transplant, we were off again. The Knolls Track was fairly flat and clay based and soon we stopped at the Approdinna Attora Knolls - small gypsum hills that stand out against the dunes. We walked to the top for a great view of Lake Tamblyn - a dry salt lake - and the surrounding view - never ending dunes in all directions. We headed off after morning tea and were soon turning right onto the French Line. At the junction is a plaque commemorating the journey of David Lindsay in 1885.
The track turned sandy and the dunes were getting higher - more air was let out of the tyres and the going became easier. The wildflowers covered the dunes in great profusion. We were making for Poeppels Corner for a lunch break when disaster struck. Frank and Beverley were crossing Lake Poeppel on the clay pan when the Defender sank in the soft mud and ended up on its roof. Thank goodness they were only shaken but not hurt. The Landie was a mess. Norman had contacted the RFDS in Alice Springs to notify the accident and obtain a checklist for injury assessment.
Using a couple of vehicles as anchors, Norman slowly winched the Rover back onto its wheels. Bruces winch steadied the descent. The bush mechanics then took over and after a couple of hours the motor roared into life. We then drove over to Poeppels Corner and stood in SA, NT and QLD. Camp was set up nearby in the gidgee trees. According to the dune counters (Perdie, Richard, Andrea and Christina) we had crossed 288 dunes.
Also the "fish flag" the Collyers were taking across the desert on its second trip came to grief against a tree but with a lot of TLC from Perdie, it was flying high again by the end of the day.
Liz and Brian McCarthy (676) / NK Pajero LWB / Pajero 4WD Club
Day 9 Tuesday 7th July 1998 118km
Our alarm this morning was the warbling magpie before daybreak. All up early and ready to leave by 8:30am as we could have a slow journey today with our "disabled" vehicle. East from Poeppels Corner to the K1 Line and run north along the dry salt lake edge from SA into QLD and then NT until the junction of the QAA Line, which leads to Birdsville. Turn east onto this track, which first crosses the lakebed and then heads into the red sand dunes again. After a few kms we are back into Qld (John had asked us to look out for the marker placed by Les Richmond's group in 1987 but we couldn't locate it - perhaps souvenired since 1996).
Very overcast day but at least we aren't driving directly into the morning sun. Morning tea stop at 10:15 - Franks damaged vehicle is traveling well except for blowing smoke - we put him near the back. A few dunes further on we encounter the two young Tasmanian men on the Southern Desert Crossing Trek - walking and pulling their gear in a two wheeled cart for 12 days from Big Red to where ever they get - raising money for a University Scholarship so a Tassie student can come to the mainland to complete an Arts Degree. We wish them well and go on through the dunes now steeper and longer but with a longer flatter plain in between each.
Some of our vehicles are having trouble on the dunes - Brian and Liz now have to dig themselves out with a spade before reversing back down - Brian later tells us he was driving in overdrive - in the desert if you please!! Some take the "chicken run and receive much heckling over the radio. John and Judy met an oncoming vehicle head-on - on top of one of these by-pass tracks - the others werent giving way and John had to reverse down to let them pass. As we came further east the country is much drier, the wildflowers disappear - most gone to seed in their short lifecycle.
During lunch break at 12:40, time for the younger set to have a game of mini golf while others enjoy a cuppa and a chat.
Off again - same red dunes on and on, but after traveling 93km under its own steam, Frank's Defender breaks down completely and will have to be towed out. An "A" frame system was used to tow until this failed then chains were lashed through a tyre. A slow trip ensued with scout vehicles leading the way to relay back the condition of the dunes ahead. Norman, Gerard, Frank, Roger and Gerald were the recovery team and they did a fantastic job.
Passed the old vermin fence and out of the National Park and then 15 km on through the Eyre Creek flood plains - the landscape changes quickly here to eucalypts and green bushy growth with lots of bird life. (The Eyre Creek crossing has been recut and John tells us it is nearly unrecognizable from 1996).
Push on as long as we can while the towing team is coping well - some spectacular lighting on the dunes with the late sun and black sky - and finally pull into an area for camping at 5:45pm - just before dusk.
Just as we settle round the campfire and Christina puts the damper in to cook, down comes the rain - all disperse - but the stalwarts return later for our chat and supper.
Linda and George Saffin (639) / Nissan Patrol LWB / Pajero 4WD Club
Day 10 Wednesday 8th July 1998 271km
Well, its my turn to write the days proceedings and what a day to pick - BIG RED. The morning started slightly overcast with the rain from the night clearing. We had camped about 11 kms from the big dune. But that meant another 11 kms of possibly hard going towing the Defender. With a bit of luck the rain during the night had compacted the sand making for an easier tow.
I will say something about our campsite - it produced some big insects. The first was the size of the spiders - they were huge, about the size of a dinner plate - well that's what you would think, given the speed at which my father dispatched the little bugger. I would say though, having seen how big his mum was, swags would not be my first choice of sleeping quarters. Next to appear was a guest Ken and Cheryl had under their tent - a massive yellow centipede - 2cm wide and 15cm long.
We set off at 8:30am, which had been the traditional starting time (I really hate early mornings). George and the Nissan first, then Bruce and the County, the 130 again being driven by my father (who was getting all of the big dune driving) then Norman in the Toyota towing the dead Defender with me "driving" and assisted by George my intrepid radio operator. We had moved to another radio channel to give us better control of the towing operation. The rest of the convoy followed behind. By this stage we were getting the towing technique down to a form that was not resulting in both vehicles being jerked around. It required only the occasional slow/slack and easy message being sent over the radio. Assistance from Frank in the form of radio messages advising the conditions of each dune.
At last Big Red! Everyone gathered around the base as we looked at this pile of sand deciding whether we would take the Defender around the bypass or just tow it straight up and over and be done with it. We decided to at least tackle the dune singularly before making the final decision.
I will put the cars in order of approach and how each person went up. Each was given one go; if they failed they would have to go to the end of the queue. The only point here was that Norman was very quick in unhooking the Defender. He was even suggesting to Bruce that he should trade places, as Bruce had been careful to park in a position that would at least make Norman third in line.
George and the Nissan
Georges approach was cool; he approached the dune as he had approached all the other 1199 sand dunes. Slow and steady, unfortunately this resulted in the Nissan halting a few metres from the top. George was successful on his next run.
Bruce and the County
Bruce was still undecided about what gear to choose for his first attempt. But the County launched forward and set off up the hill. A sloppy gear change mid-way up the dune resulted in wheel spin about 15 metres from the top. Bruce and the County managed to get up on the fourth attempt, to the astonishment of the crowd. All I can say is that the ISUZU never gives up, it must have been doing 1 rev a second when it went over the dune on its fourth attempt.
Norman and the Land Cruiser
Norman had been running 20psi in his tyres for the tow. The big car set off and was up and over without a second look, totally easy. A point to note - was it the driver or the car? - As Gerard, who was new to four wheel driving also was up and over the dune with little effort. I will say that Norman did try and show his excellent driving skills by reversing up Big Red. He almost made it, BUT he did not, and to make matters worse his video battery gave up the ghost mid-way up.
Phil and the Discovery
Phil set off with enthusiasm; it's a shame that the dune was that extra metre high as he might have got over first go. With only a little more out of the tyres, he was up and over next go.
Roger and the 130
While all this had been going on I had been taking my tyres down to 20psi. We set off with a little run up and hit the bottom of the dune in third high. A quick shift down to second not far along and finally back to first near the top. And low and behold the old girl was over. Land Rover will not be disgraced today. A point to note was that the return approach was not as easy as it looked and needed a little bit of effort to get back for subsequent goes. I must say that I did not attempt the dune again as I saw absolutely no point in ruining a perfect record.
Steve and the Nissan
Steve took off with a very long run up but this resulted in the length of the run up being inversely proportional to the distance up the dune. It took Steve another 3 goes until he made it. He then continued on until the score was 4/3 in Steve's favour.
John and the Pathfinder
What can I say about this little beast, people tell John its a toy 4WD. well he was first to buy the sticker that said "I made it up Big Red first go" and he did. He did however have to back down the return route.
Brian and the Pajero
Brian was looking confident, tyres were down, engine running, 4WD ready to rock and roll. It's shame that the belly plate of the Pajero acts like a grader blade, as I am sure he would have made it if he were not pushing all that sand off the track on the way up. He was successful on the next attempt.
Paul and the Range Rover
Paul wanted to give it a go but Suellen did not want him to break anything. What the heck says Paul and off he went with the tyres still at around 30psi. He almost got there but alas the tyres let the big V8 down. His next attempt was more successful and he did not break anything.
Nick and the Land Rover
Well Nick was keen even with no shockers. He went up with vigour and bounce but was soon backing down for another go. Nick's decision was to reduce tyre pressure and discard some weight. The kids must go! It took Nick another 3 go but he did make it minus all the kids and whatever else could be left behind.
Jim and the Toyota
Jim set off with a puff of smoke. The old girl certainly had a load on board when it approached the base of Big Red. Jim impressed the crowd with a quick double clutch half way up. He nearly got there but the weight was too much. He did give it another go but in the end decided that he would go around the easy way and come down Big Red. This was Accomplished successfully, just, given that Norman was trying to do his reverse ascent at the same time.
Frank and the Defender
Alas Frank wanted to give it a go even if he was towed up but it will have to wait for another trip.
Ken and the Defender
Ken was concerned about breaking things and decided not to give the dune a go.
Once over Big Red by the new track (cut 1995-6) tyre was pumped up and the run into Birdsville commenced.
We arrived at Birdsville around lunchtime; we dropped Frank off at the police station to do some minor formalities while the majority looked for the Birdsville pub and some lunch. Some could not even wait for this and set off in search of their first shower in eight days. Birdsville seemed like a great place but John wanted to get moving by 3PM. This left very little time to look around and get cleaned up. But if you ever go there, go and have a look at the Working Museum. John, the proprietor will show you around first and then let you browse. He does have some amazing stuff. (Our trip leaders commented that its a worry when the stuff you grew up with is now heritage material)
We set off from Birdsville at 3PM leaving Frank and Bev at the caravan park to make their own way home. We did stop and have a look at the Burke and Wills tree beside the Diamentina River before setting off down the Birdsville Track. The early part of the journey took us past pale coloured sand dunes and later we passed the Sturt's Stony Desert. I must say that the plains of rocks are amazing to look at and the cattle seem to be in remarkable condition. My father has decided that he is going to put rocks in next year instead of grass given how good the cattle looked. Anyway we finally arrived at camp in the dark. The distance from Birdsville was 220km - finally Warburton Crossing. John had been saying it was not much further for the last 60km. It was like an episode of the Simpson's (Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? ) It was a most enjoyable evening around the communal campfire with a rendition of The Road to Gundagai from Richard finishing off the evening for some of our group. This would be the last camp for some of the party who would head home tomorrow.
Roger and Gerald Lowe Land Rover Defender 130 LROCV
Day 11 Thursday 9th July 1998 552km
We awoke to a clear cold morning and another beautiful desert sunrise. Packed up and departed camp soon after 8:30 and retraced our tracks from the Warburton Crossing back to the Birdsville Track. Once again the countryside was flat and fairly bare, but not the vast expanse stone as the previous day. Vegetation consisted mainly of small shrubby plants with occasional taller trees. John pointed out to us the reserve for the Mt Gason Wattle (Acacia pickardii) found only here and further west in the Desert.
Considerable work has been done on the bores along the track with upgrading and some new ones.
Soon in the distance the flat-topped hills appeared and as we approached them in the morning light the colours were enhanced. The roadside sign said Mungerannie Gap and we know our cuppa stop was not far away. The Roadhouse / Hotel was another unique outback pub and featured some interesting items of local history and memorabilia. Located adjacent to a lagoon and wetland area of The Derwent, the water level is maintained by a warm artesian bore. This lush green area was very picturesque - framed by red sand dunes, with flocks of white cockatoos posing decoratively on the branches of the dead trees waiting to be photographed. The camping area backs onto this lagoon.
Parked near the roadhouse is an old truck which John and Jim told us used to be sitting beside one of the station tracks when they visited the area in 1989? It is an all wheel drive and typical of the vehicles used along the Birdsville Track for mail and supply delivery. Perhaps it will be restored one day.
After refreshments we continued down the track towards Marree. After passing through the Natterannie Sandhills we came to the broad floodplain of Cooper Creek, which is dry at present. We stopped to view the memorial to the punt "Tom Brennan" which had been used to transfer mail, supplies and cattle across the flooded Cooper in the 1950s and used by Tom Kruse the legendary mailman of the Birdsville Track.
The Track has a long history of settlement and the ruins of the old Mulka Store visible off to our right were a reminder of "faded hopes and forgotten dreams". Flat-topped hills heralded our approach to the dry bed of Lake Harry. Near the southern end is the ruins of the homestead of what was in the late 1800s and experimental date palm plantation and later a camel breeding station.
We arrived in Marree shortly after 2:00pm for a late lunch and refuel, and a quick look at items of interest in town, including the old diesel locos used on the Old Ghan railway to Alice Springs until 1980, the Great Northern Hotel, and the Afghan Mosque. Jim discovered he had a flat tyre while refueling and the local tyre repairer offered to fix it - seems the patches applied at Dalhousie had lifted.
Marree was the end of the trip and farewells were said as various cars departed. There was only 75km of dirt left between here and Lyndhurst then bitumen all the way home. The group traveling with John turned off to the viewing point overlooking the Leigh Creek Open cut Coalmine. Here an information board and a display of one of the dragline excavators gave some idea of the magnitude of the operation. The coal is hauled by rail to the power station at Port Augusta.
We met up with Jeff Sparks from the Vintage Land Rover group and pulled off in Copley to sample some of the local hot bread and Quandong Pies.
As we proceeded further south the late afternoon light enhanced the rugged outline of the Flinders Ranges, especially in the vicinity of Puttapa Gap. As we approached our turnoff to Brachina Gorge we were treated to the setting sun on our right and the rising moon skimming over the ridge tops to our left. Truly a memorable sight.
It was dark by the time we purchased our camping permits and John led us to the campsite he and Jim had stayed at a couple of years ago on their way home from Cape York. A flood meanwhile had washed away most of the beach so we had a very compact camp that night.
Ken and Cheryl Jepson Defender Tray LROCV
Day 12 Friday 10th July 306km
Next morning, with the temperature at 5 degrees, we departed at 9:30am (a bit of a sleep in). Some rain drizzle with clouds down on the hill tops soon gave way to bursts of sunshine to reveal the vivid colours of the ranges. The Cypress pines along the roadside and the rugged hills prepared us for the views from the Bunyeroo Valley lookout. Here the highest peaks of Wilpena Pound especially Mt St Mary were cloud shrouded. Many kangaroos were seen along the roadsides. We walked in to view the Cazneaux Tree and the adjacent "homestead" apparently a movie set.
A drive through the Wilpena Pound Camping Area brought us to a pleasant place for a cuppa. Back on the road and a pause at several viewpoints gave different views of Wilpena especially Rawnsleys Bluff and later the Elders and Chase Ranges. We turned off on the Moralana Scenic Drive - camping can be arranged at Arkaba Station - and proceeded to a sunny spot with views of both ranges for lunch. Once back on the main road we detoured to a viewing point, which looks into the end of Wilpena Pound. After a fuel stop at Hawker a further couple of cars departed.
We headed to the partly restored ruins of Kanyaka Homestead and after inspecting the area including the woolshed headed across to Craddock and toward Peterborough. By now only three vehicles remained in our group. Most of the area we now traversed is settled with fences right up to the road. Eventually we found a spot to camp.
Ken and Cheryl Jepson Defender Tray LROCV
Day 13 Saturday 11th July
Our roadside camp put us in easy reach of Peterborough the next morning. We continued to the historic town of Burra and spent several hours viewing the copper mining ruins and open cut.
Recently fully bitumized was the road to the Murray River town of Morgan, famous in the past as a river port. Here lunch under the trees and a look around the port museum saw the conclusion of the trip as Jim and John crossed the river by ferry and headed for home. The remaining two vehicles headed for overnight at Mildura and Melbourne on Sunday.
Congratulations to Jim Parker and John Hasler on a very well organized and well conducted trip. Party members were very friendly and displayed excellent supportive and helpful qualities very evident when unfortunately we had the vehicle rollover. A great trip - well done to you all.
Ken and Cheryl Jepson Defender Tray LROCV