Day 22. Saturday 19 August.

Today was Henley on Todd regatta day in Alice, the 56th year that this iconic NT water(less) event has been held. The three Rotary clubs of/around Alice combine in a FUNdraising day in the dry sand of the Todd River. A parade through the Todd Mall kicks off the craziness and we got a taste of the vibe as we downed a coffee.

1  2


These guys were raising money in support of two cyclists, who were riding across the Simpson Desert to raise funds for Beyond Blue.

The town turned on perfect conditions, mild with a breeze. After all the preliminaries, the anthem and “I Still Call Australia Home’, the thank yous to the thousands who had travelled from afar, the first race got under way. The ‘boats’ run a course through the sand to a positioned 44 gal drum, turn and head back to the finish line – distance about 30 metres each way. Depending on undisclosed criteria the MC may decide to handicap a race, any amount of sledging is encouraged, runners are interviewed, cheered, and winners awarded medals by the Commodore. The crowd is suitably worked by the MC and a highlight ‘battle event’ happens around 1630, with flour-bombing and hosing. It is a day of total frivolity and significant funds are raised. This was a ‘taster’ session for D&T – we didn’t stay for the whole day.


These boys from Yirrara College won the Grand Final – and were excited!


And the Maxis.

In the early afternoon we departed Alice and the HOT event, heading for Hermannsburg, the home of the Finke Lutheran Mission of historical importance. We’d arrived at around 3.30 thinking that would give us adequate time to look over the little late19th century settlement. Half a day at least would have been more realistic. We spoke to Rod who was on duty that afternoon, and he was delighted to discuss the history of the place, as well as other issues such as the 2007 Intervention, the Basics card, the Stolen Generation and so on. The tone was non-judgemental – just a balance of pros and cons. He’d been at Hermannsburg since at least 2007, when he arrived as the Assistant Store Manager: we assume he liked the place and consequently had stayed on, but we didn’t quite get to interrogate him about his personal life.

The Mission is now a Heritage site and tells the story of Lutheran missionaries who came to spread God’s word and reach out to the aborigines, who initially thought they were devils because of their pale skin, long necks and small ears. Amongst the many horror stories of the times (1860s onwards) this seems to be one of the better ones. There were no Stolen Generation from Hermannsburg, as the missionaries protected, and even hid, the children. They also protected them from the pastoralist settlers, who apparently in one ten year period murdered about 700 natives. They also took action to have a SA policemen charged with murder due to his complicity but the case was dismissed because the witnesses didn’t speak English and the interpreters couldn’t tell the story. But apparently the Police Commissioner was aware enough to remove that policeman from that area. Rod mentioned that there is a street in Alice named after him and periodically there are moves to have it renamed.


7  8

Hermannsburg is of course the home of Albert Namatjira and the gallery space displays a collection of watercolours by several artist-families who formed the Hermannsburg Artists, including Namatjira’s 5 sons. Interestingly, it seemed that watercolour painting was only done by males. Women’s artistic skills were displayed in pottery and, from earlier times, in needlework.


The day was running away from us, so it was time to head for our camp destination at Palm Valley, on the Finke River. Little did we know that our own sand event was in store. All was going well on the gravel, corrugated track to the gorge. The first of the major sand patches caused a bit of a heart flutter as the car & van swung, grounded and slipped but got through. Then came the clincher…in lowest range we ventured in…squeal, spin, stop…we were stuck. Tyre pressure was too high and clearance under the Pajero not high enough. The afternoon was fading, the location remote and the travellers somewhat stressed. However, the temperature was not at 40 degrees, we had water, food, a shovel, traction mats, warning triangles and, if the worst happened, we could wait till a Samaritan came along…..which did happen and he did the digging while D lowered and lowered and lowered the tyre pressure. So we reversed out, decided to give the Palm Valley idea a miss on the advice of another traveller who stopped to check we were alright (the track apparently got worse, and the Pajero does not have sufficiently high clearance for this track), did a U-turn and decided to head for Wallace Rockhole (34 km of bitumen and 20 km of gravel back towards Alice). We discussed how many sandtraps there were on the return route. At a certain point, D felt confident that we had managed them all (just), T kept thinking there was one more but we were out of danger after renegotiating that first one again and agreed it was time we re-inflated the tyres. Our very own HoT event…thank goodness there was no crowd of onlookers!

10  11

And here we are, safe and sound at Wallace Rockhole, a tiny community which we visited in 2007. We arrived in the dark to join just one other campsite. D reckons that it is exactly as he remembers it, but given it is now dark that will

Win some, lose some

Day 21. Friday 18 August.

There were some wins today and the day was thankfully milder, as T has been melting in the 30+temps.

The first was gas. D had called in at several service stations to swap an empty 4 kg gas cylinder, to be told they didn’t deal with those, only the 9 kg ones. The ladies at the reception desk at the caravan park initially directed him to Bunnings – yes, there apparently is one – but then realized that he didn’t want a new cylinder but just a recharge, so said ‘we can do that here’. Problem over.

D then dropped T off in town; she wanted to look at a fabric shop (and a tattoo parlour was right next door) and went chasing spare drawer catches: three have been broken, two repaired but one is not repairable so we’re down to one spare. The caravan dealer highly recommended by the park was actually more of a detailer and builder and didn’t hold a big range of items: when asked, his wife looked at the catch suspiciously and gave an emphatic ‘No’. The builder, however, said to wait a minute, went behind a bench, rummaged around and produced a box with half a dozen catches. My kind of guy! He had ‘wrecked’ a Kimberley Karavan that had overturned (as they all do, said his wife!), so passed on two almost- new catches for free.

And thirdly, to the Beaurepaires Tyre Centre on Stott Street – recommended if you ever need tyre assistance in Alice Springs. The slow leak was due to a large crack in the tyre – shudder to think what might have happened if we’d kept driving on it! Tyre (and its partner) replaced, so all good to go. 1

T had wins at the fabric shop and Salvos (and bypassed the tatts).

But it wasn’t all good news. Back to the park to drop off the van – and noticed that the bumpy road conditions had caused the roof rack to move backwards, and out of alignment. So……off with the jerry can, the tyre traction mats and the spare, spare tyre to reposition and tighten the rack, and then put everything back.

Time for lunch.

Having sorted all the vehicle issues, T suggested a little drive!!!!!! n this ‘rest’day to take in once again the outstanding vista through the West Macs…words cannot describe the landscape.

Along the way we passed the mademoiselles pulled up about 40 kms out of Alice. They were re-filling from jerry cans. D didn’t stop to offer advice.

Last visit was to Ellery Creek Waterhole. Spoke to two young lasses who were enjoying the quiet (until we came by) who remarked that they’d started to swim to the other side but abandoned that and stopped at the sandbank about 10 metres away because it was so cold!


That’s T on the sandbar – they swam from just to the right of the bushes on the shoreline.


We also spoke later to Chris, who had just finished Day 12 of his Larapinta walk: he spoke of the beauty of the country, something we could readily agree with. Easy to understand ‘connection with country’ when you stop to let it take you in.


Day 20. Thursday 17 August.

First task is always to write the blog for the day, a job T has more and more taken on, nudging D to an advisory technology role.


Last night there was a beautiful sunset light on the hill behind us. Then again, every evening has a glorious sunset. Someone had kindly left a stack of firewood on the creek bed, so we were able to enjoy a very pleasant camp fire with dinner – after the ferocious flies had departed after dusk.

Into Alice, to come to terms with: what next? Decided to stay two nights and try to catch the Henley on Todd on Saturday and then head west again. After checking in, went in search of the Mitsubishi dealer to book a service: nothing available until 29 August! We’ll defer that to Adelaide (that’s the current thinking). Then it was looking for a tyre dealer to repair the slow leak in a van tyre: either they couldn’t do it, needed us to bring tyre to them, or no availability until Tuesday! Finally found a laid back dealer happy for us to bring the van to him in the morning.

Alice is a bit like Anchorage, Alaska that we passed through last year (it’s an earlier post on this blog). This is clearly a town full of those passing through on adventure tours, a very visible indigenous presence and shop after shop of canvases calling to the tourists. Visited a few galleries, and amongst the bulk found some really lovely art pieces that ‘spoke’ to us. T remarked on the prolific output of indigenous art, given the relatively low proportion of the population who are indigenous. But we later reflected that this aboriginal art form is actually fairly recent – the early 1970s (as opposed to traditional aboriginal art in rock paintings and so forth that goes back ten of thousands of years).

Ended the afternoon with a beer in the mall, then a short walk through the Thursday night markets which, perhaps because we were there early, were fairly low key. The Swiss Indian food stall had us intrigued.






More from Alice……

Day 17. Monday 14 August.

First stop this morning was Kathleen Springs, for a short 2.5 k walk to the waterhole at the head of the gorge. By the time we started it had reached about 30 degrees, but parts were in shade. Very frustrated by the bird life, which invariably flew away just as the binos were focused. But we did see, and hear, the tiny zebra finches in their dozens, as well as white plumed honey eaters, and black faced wood swallows, to add to the Butcherbird, Port Lincoln ring necked parrots and the ubiquitous yellow fronted miners and top knot pigeons seen earlier at the campsite.

Kings Canyon was next but the long walk around the rim was not on – we were able to justify that by having done it in 2007. Instead we took the short walk up Kings Creek, enjoying the flora and fauna.


2  3  4

The walk was shorter than in 2007, as the viewing platform at the end of the track had been destroyed in 2016 by huge rocks falling from the base walls after heavy rain. It was apparently reassuring (for the Rangers) that they hadn’t come down from the top, and the walk will be reopened after repairs.

Kings Canyon resort replicates Yulara, so we weren’t going to stay there. The road on from the resort requires a permit, but none were available, so we were advised to just drive through like everyone else. Instead we paid the very modest fee ($5.50) and held on to the receipt to show we were honest citizens (the money goes to the traditional owners of the land through which the road goes.)

We were told of a free campsite about 30 km up the road on a jump up, so that’s where we are spending the night, perched on a bluff overlooking the plains all the way back to Kings Canyon. And we’ve just been joined by a dingo for sunset drinks.


D has walked to the end of the campsite to let the French girls (who’ve gone into the scrub to find firewood) know of the yellow visitor. And now he (and some other new arrivals) are advising the girls about the fuel tanks on their roof. A third piece of advice (no, they don’t mind) is about firewood and he’s loaned them the bow saw. Wonder if he would have been so helpful if they were a couple of French blokes? They’re probably thinking that the flies aren’t so bad in comparison!


The girls are doing the backpacker thing and having finished the requisite period in ‘farm, construction or mining work’, have bought a 4wd Mitsubishi van and are celebrating the free roaming scene. And we’ve been given the French seal of approval for tonight’s vino…we don’t believe that we are into the emergency supply – a Yalumba cask red!!!! D hasn’t yet lived down the 2007 fiasco of running out of red in Alice and it is very close to history repeating. To add tragedy to pathos, the cask sprung a leak, so D has decanted most of it into two bottles that hadn’t yet made it to the rubbish. We may quite involuntarily find out what an AFD is.

Day 18. Tuesday 15 August.

Not a lot to report on this day, which started with 120 km of rough, corrugated, sandy gravel road until we hit the bitumen on the inner loop road. The drive took about 4 hours, which gives some indication of the conditions. We did a quick recce of a camp spot at Ipelora indicated in one of our guide books but apart from some yards (possibly for horses – there was a lot of evidence that they’ve been around recently all the way in on the 13 km track) there was nothing much to offer, so we headed to Redbank Gorge, a well set up bush camp site in woodland. We were the only visitors when we arrived, but shortly after at least four others drove in.

The day was hot, plenty of flies and native bees which swarm around the water outlets of the van. Birds twittered: finches, honey eaters, wood swallows. T ambled up to the Ridgetop at sunset (without a camera!) The sun was a red ball, dropping behind the gorge. A magic moment without a photographic record.


Van and vehicle holding up well after some pretty horrendous roads – one broken drawer catch, but we were carrying a spare, so easily fixed. Other than that, one van tyre has a slow leak, and some rivets have popped their heads, but nothing structural.

Day 19. Wednesday 16 August.

Before leaving camp we had the delight of seeing fairy wrens and the brilliantly red mistletoe bird darting around our site.

The morning promised another warm/hot day and because we are slow risers, our walk into Redbank Gorge was done at midday. Signage misled us and we did the return route, clambering over slippery boulders in around 2 hours, not the 40 mins indicated on the noticeboard, and we had not carried water. The gorge has a permanent waterhole, is swimmable but very cold apparently but the last of the quartz rocks defied T with her gammy feet (and the young lass heading toward the pool, in crocs and with swimmers would have been seriously/dangerously challenged).



Nonetheless, spectacular colours once again and even some little native fish, no doubt the dinner the Grey Faced Heron was patiently looking for.


Small birds sang for us as we travelled: Zebra Finches, parrots and a couple of varieties of Honeyeater and they didn’t seem overly fussed by our passing.

Namatjira Drive took us east toward Alice; we called in at Glen Helen resort for water and hoped to buy a beer for this evening, but of course we were denied, as alcohol can only be sold if you are staying at the resort. Frozen yogurts were the consolation purchase.

Tonight we’ve set up camp on the dry Hugh River, about 60 kms from Alice and will decide on the next move, taking into account the Todd River Races event coming up on Saturday.

Postscript.  We decided to go into Alice to spend a day or so looking at the sites, and to restock (yes, red win, but also other stuff) and to clear some laundry.






After a few days without Internet…..

Day 15. Saturday 12 August.

Surprise of the day was prices at the Yulara IGA: 65 cents a kg for spuds (D saw no reason not to stock up), $1.69 kg for a good size head of broccoli, and other items were comparative with Canberra or better. Perhaps it’s us at home who are being ripped off? The carrots will have some serious companions and it definitely means we can delay going into the Alice (although we are planning to be there next Saturday for the Henley on the Todd Regatta.

To Uluru, and the same spiritual feeling as a decade ago. What is a decade when time is measured out here in millions of years? It’s not difficult to appreciate and share the connection to this land and to the symbols it provides.

A 50 km drive took us to Kata Tjuta, which in some ways rivals ‘The Rock’.


As well as viewing from a distance, we walked up the Walpa Gorge track, again awed by the majesty.

2 1

At the risk of being narky, just a comment about some of the tourists (from overseas). There are signs requesting that visitors remain on the pathway: these were frequently ignored. A billboard explained the significance of the place to the indigenous people, and how it is considered sacred, and that they approach it in silence and with respect. We visitors are asked to do the same: apparently some had not read that request, as their chatter and carry on was anything but respectful of the place. Rant over.

Back on the Lasseter Hwy to Curtin Springs (150 kms to reflect on the beauty of the day) with D on a promise. Once there, a quick set up and he received his reward: a cold Coopers Ale – and T had a Coopers Light. We took the opportunity to introduce ourselves as friends of Sylvia, a member of SWUC, whose daughter is married to the original owner’s son, and manages this place, which is just a small part of the 1 million+ acres of cattle station. At the bar we met ‘Irish’ (Sylvia’s grandson-in-law, Dave Allen) and chatted to the cheeky patriarch Peter Severin who immediately pulled out several non-pc jokes upon seeing D and drawing an immediate likeness to another famous (infamous) Aussie, Rolf Harris!

We didn’t need much convincing to stay for dinner, outside, under the thatch roof courtyard, and shared home -made chilli and ‘plain’ sausages. The history boards in the courtyard tell the story of the transformation of the station: from sheep to cattle and the arrival of Peter and Dawn Severin in 1956, through drought and flood, the arrival of helicopter mustering and satellites, then the addition of accommodation for tourists to Uluru. Tourism complements the cattle business. The kitchen had Chinese chefs busy; we were served by a young girl from Nanking doing work experience. It is a wonderful set up, with free camping out the back, relaxed and welcoming and we shared the balmy evening with a motorcycling couple who were riding their bikes from the West (Shark Bay) to the East (Byron Bay) coasts, an expedition in the dust and sand over about 6 weeks. They were relishing a steak meal after 2 weeks of dehydrated food and before the next session of the same. With their kitchen limitations they had no use really for some extra carrots.

 Day 16. Sunday 13 August.

Started the day with a visit to the office to catch up with Lindy, Sylvia’s daughter. T duly made contact and fetched D from refueling duties to join the gang in the kitchen for a cuppa and freshly baked muffins. Peter was peeling spuds (his everyday chore), T was chatting with Emma (Lindy’s granddaughter, age about 11), the usual stuff: school, home, friends etc. What a confident, engaging girl she is, describing her classroom with School of the Air, household chores, her best friend who lives 100kms down the road….Lindy was preoccupied with some friends who had dropped in, explaining the plans for renovation and extension of the proposed bathroom facilities, but checked in with Sylvia to let her know we’d arrived: Sylvia instructed her to show us the paper making operation.

After the friends had departed we were taken on the tour – which lasted for a couple of hours. We felt truly grateful that this time had been made available in an obviously full-on schedule. In addition to an explanation of the paper-making process, we were also treated to a discussion about life on the station and the attached businesses (campground and paper making) which are all part of a ‘system’ that provides a leveling or some surety of income when conditions are bad. Lindy noted that the combination of the GFC, the dollar exchange rate, a drought and the ban on live meat exports to Indonesia had combined to create a dire economic situation some years ago. Many of the cattle destined for export became too big during that period – over 350 kg – so were redirected to the domestic market, creating an over -supply. Ashley (Peter Severin’s son & Lindy’s husband) had been offered the same price for his cattle as he’d received in the 1970s – he queried this, with the agent stating that he already had more than he needed – ‘take it or leave it’. Ashley left it. Interestingly, each head of cattle requires 250 acres, so the million+ acres supports about 4,000. Lindy said that at times they could carry much more, but had to husband the land so that it could survive the bad times.As Dianna, one of the staff, with a degree in Environmental Science remarked, they are true ‘greenies’ because of their care and maintenance of the land.

A couple of years ago Lindy and Ashley had ‘run away’ to Tasmania for a holiday and had visited the fantastic paper making operation in Burnie. A germ of an idea was planted! Ashley came on board, and the disused abattoir at Curtin Springs gained a new lease on life. As an aside, the abattoir was built many years ago to approved standards and certified for use, but ‘due to local politics’ the abattoir closed in the 1980s, so that now beef is sent to Adelaide for slaughter and then sent back to Curtin Springs for consumption. Anyway, that meant that this new paper-making business had somewhere to start, which was almost a perfect fit. Most of the equipment was built by the lads, apart from a Hollander beater and some deckle boards obtained from Burnie.

Having started this business, the question was: where to from here? Enter Lindy’s daughter Amy, who has a creative streak that bemuses her mother: ‘I gave birth to her, but I have no idea where she came from!’ Amy has developed a line of jewelry made from the paper, but more intriguingly has also created ‘wearable art’, last year gaining second place in a competition. This year she is exhibiting in an international expo in Perth later this year. In addition to these products, paper made from local ingredients is sold. The primary ingredient is Spinifex Grass, but other grasses are also used such as Woolly Butt Grass, as well as colouring and texture agents such as the red soil, bark, clay, flowers (eg. bottlebrush), bangtails, and cow poo. The result is fantastic, and is a visual and tactile reminder of this country. Lindy explained that they are not into the commercial paper field, it’s about providing an activity that keeps the tourists in the area for another day…business is really about beds and meals, so an activity that leads to this end is what the paper is about.

Have a look at

And it seems that there’s a lovely Maya everywhere we go!


(PS. A bangtail is the tail of a cow that is cut off close to the rump during counting (about every three years). Those that have been counted will have had their tail cut off, so only the ones still with a tail are added to the tally – and that tail is then cut off).

We departed in the early afternoon, heading for King’s Creek and the canyon, with a quick stop to take a look at Mt Conner. 1

T reflected on this family business community, the 4 generations living and working together 24/7, the challenges involved in diversification, the time/labour/creative output equation, how to meet the needs& wants of tourists while keeping the staffing levels appropriate…

Something we did notice was the absence of Indigenous workers and the presence of overseas staff, some working toward permanent residence and others here for the short term work experience.

Kings Creek is a different version of Curtin Springs: far more organized and controlled, and expensive! We are wondering why we stopped here tonight: we have a rig with power and water that can easily free camp for at least a week and we have reprovisioned. D recalls that we dropped in here in Gloria at night in 2007 to refuel and possibly to stay the night. Two things put us off back then: the price and the attitude of the Irishman serving us. He almost refused to provide fuel once we told him we were going to keep driving, because he said that meant we would almost certainly die by hitting wandering cattle. Anyway, we drove on to a rest area about 40 km up the road crawling along at 60 kph – and yes, there were lots of dark wandering cattle on the road, hard to pick up against the bitumen. We’re wised up now and will be on the lookout for those free bush sites from here on in.



Day 14. Friday 11 August…..and into Day 15. Saturday 12 August

Friday morning.

A quiet night, despite the proximity to the Stuart Highway – and our only near neighbours were a couple of ladies, who parked a respectable distance away. What’s not to like about a campfire in the Outback at dusk?


A long drive – straight and straightforward. At the border T chatted to a traveller who was returning south after a month doing a volunteer stint with a school at Warmun in the Kimberley. She has been going there every year for the past 9 to provide music education. She drives 7 days straight from Victoria, sleeping in her station wagon vehicle. The community now has a variety of instruments, thanks to an insurance grant after the 2011 floods swept all away. She said she plays everything, being self-taught on trumpet and drums. As a school music teacher in her career life she had strings and keyboard licked. Reminds us of someone else back home who has such skills. To cap it all off she gave T some fresh carrots, declaring she was now a ‘bit over carrots’. T thought this is the start of our next dinner (one onion, 2 potatoes and some bacon still in fridge).

When we got to Erldunda Roadhouse and had connectivity, T booked into visit Bruce Munro’s light installation Field of Light – not without some difficulties. We’d been warned by a fellow traveller in Mungo that no, you can’t just rock up to this gig. He had waited a week to get a booking! T was pretty excited that tickets were available for tonight. That then dictated that we do the next 250kms to Uluru for the night.

The campground and hotels are full, but we squeezed a last minute site when T declined the offer of a cheaper spot at the ‘overflow’ parking where the visiting Circus is staying!

7.45pm bus pick up and arrived at the installation location, and after a short ‘safety’ brief we were on our own. The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ as we stepped off the bus from overseas visitors marveling at the night sky – not the installation! Some things we just take for granted. Then we were let loose to wander the sandy pathways through the vast field. The terrain seemed to dip and rise gently (maybe it did) and with lights of varying heights, the effect was that it seemed to extend for many kms. It was a bit of magic (the long drive was definitely worthwhile). Earth and sky were one: 50,000 light bulbs and how many stars? Took lots of photos, but they simply couldn’t capture the scale nor the colours, which changed every 5 seconds.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 08.26.08

Photo courtesy of the Field of Light website

Now it’s Saturday morning and T figures that we can actually stay in the West Macdonnell region for another several days….those carrots will keep us going, if we can get milk and bread ( and a few more potatoes) at the Ayers Rock supermarket. The resort here is NT’s 4th largest town and of course there’s an IGA.


We’ll head for the bush, so no connection for another 4 days or so.






Day 13. Thursday 10 August.


The Painted Desert delivered a painted sunrise, then it was on the track again.

IMG_0143  IMG_0147

Coming through the Painted Desert was a fabulous drive, mesa after mesa, variegated colours of red, pink, ochre and the grey/green saltbush. Simply beautiful. It was an 80 km drive on a remarkably good dirt road to the Stuart Highway – something of a relief after four days of rattling along hoping everything was going to hang together.

Once on the bitumen it was smooth but pretty boring sailing with no natural features to marvel at. Pushed on to the Marryat Rest Area where we’d stayed the night in 2007, in Gloria. Two other vans, one of which was only stopping for a quick bite. T’s heart sank: the main area was filthy with rubbish, bins overflowing, baby nappies… so we opted to move about 200 metres along a dirt track to a clean spot just out of the creek bed, obviously much used judging by the number of camp fires, but no rubbish. 2.30 PM is the earliest we’ve stopped on our travels and we are just not used to the heat of the day, sweltering in high-20s temperatures and invaded by flies. We understand it’s freezing in Canberra.

By late afternoon we are surrounded by like-minded travellers. This takes us back to 2007 when we rarely had a quiet solo space.






Day 12. Wednesday August 9. Visual Feast Day.

Main course: Lake Eyre flyover with the delightful Gabriella, the youngest bush pilot in William Creek (22 years old d), a Kiwi lass doing the desert season. A ‘toy’ plane, (Cessna 182, second most popular small plane in the world), 3 passengers (D was not one of them) and the only little bump was on landing.

1  2

3   5

6-1  6

Entrée: the drive to Oodnadatta, a feast of pink, mesas, dry watercourses, the occasional groups of grazing cattle and the Algebuckina bridge.


7  8

Dessert: the Painted Desert, halfway between Oodnadatta and the Stuart Highway.

10  1211

After dinner treat NOT: Set ourselves up at Arckaringa Station with lots of space all round and within 5 minutes a pair of campertrailers park themselves right alongside and unload their firewood!!!! We did think of politely suggesting quite a few other suitable sites, but desisted. Presume that they will light the fire and have us smoked by 9pm. Anyway, they will share the pleasure of the vacuum toilet repressurising at whim during the night, as well as the water pump, both of which seem to be protesting about the cold nights.


Day 11. Tuesday August 8.


Overnight in Marree was very cold but the morning sky and sun were spectacular. Before departing we visited the Tom Kruse museum display within the pub and what a little gem. Tom had been a mail contractor and lash-up mechanic, driving in all weathers between Marree and Birdsville. A film called Back of Beyond had been made about his feats. The museum also had a collection of prints by the botanist Hergott who had accompanied McDouall-Stuart on his epic treks. The pub is a lovely building, in need of serious repair, but is the busy hub of Marree. The Ghan engines rusting at the station are a proud reminder of the original Great Northern rail story.


The Oodnadatta Track is a reasonable stretch of gravel with corrugated and smooth sections. After some of those rough sections D looked in the rear vision mirror to check that the KK was still attached – a useless exercise as the mirrors were vibrating so much, you could see nothing clearly – but the van remained connected anyway. It is an arid travelling route of salt lakes, mesas, railway sleeper relics, artesian springs, very little visible fauna and plenty of 4WD outfits.


Highlights were the springs which have guaranteed travellers a freshwater supply from the depths of the Great Artesian Basin for thousands of years and at one spot flocks of red-beak avocets were sweeping for lunch.


And a large field of sculptures that seemed to be a protest against unranium mining and Roxby Downs in particular: it had a very Mad Max feel about it!

1   2

And for Theo…..


Another highlight was accessing the shoreline of Lake Eyre South on foot where we marveled at the visual trick whereby a sea of salt actually looks like a body of water, reflecting the blue of the sky. And there were strips of white which could have been waves breaking on the shoreline. No wonder early explorers went crazy in this environment.


About 10kms out of William Creek we passed a cyclist (no, not Japanese) weaving his path – on the right side of the road. Forty minutes later T chatted to him as he arrived at the campground. He’d set out from Sydney 2 months ago and was heading for Alice. He confessed to being at an uncertain stage…whether to look for a lift for the last 600kms. He didn’t seem mad at all (but surely must be?) and explained his ‘weaving’ as picking his way around sand drifts. He has been surprised at how people and camels ‘have appeared out of nowhere’ in his desert ride and no, it’s too early for the Japanese cyclists; they tend to appear when the weather gets hot.

William Creek is a pub, a campground and an airstrip. T has booked a Lake Eyre flight for tomorrow morning. D will pack up and meet her off the tiny plane for Day 2 on the track. D has been informed over dinner of T’s cunning plan for Day 3 – more to follow on this one.


Day 10. Monday August 7.


The drive through Parachilna Gorge is exactly as the Heysen paintings show, but the dull light doesn’t do it justice. We set out in misty rain but by midday the sun was where it should be. Coming out of the gorge and onto bitumen it was all blue sky.

IMG_6221  IMG_6225


Leigh Creek was the re-provision stop but T had not realized that the closure of Port Augusta’s power station also meant the closure of Leigh Creek’s brown coal. It is now a flash ghost town.

On from Leigh Creek, road straight and long. Passed through Lyndhurst, where last time we were here we scrabbled beer cartons from the pub to cover the window in the van broken by a passing mine truck.1

We stopped off at a ruin of a railway fettler’s building at Farina – hard to imagine just how hard that life was, and for many it was their career.


The dirt road is giving us a foretaste of the track, but is surprisingly good. A bit unusual is that there are two sections in the 50 km or so that are sealed (17 & 8 km) and are smoother than the Hume Highway! The occasional emu strolls out as though it owns the road, requiring some driver consideration. Judging by the roadkill there are a few drivers and a few emus who haven’t reached that accommodation.

Into Maree, a much bigger community than we’d anticipated, not sure why. Jen settled us in at the Oasis Caravan Park, a bit awkwardly jutting into the roadway, but didn’t seem to bother and in no time at all we were joined by others similarly parked.

Off to the Marree pub, where the world got just a bit smaller, as the publican’s daughter, a former schoolteacher, had taught at Stromlo High School with our Jo! Bec has taken a break from teaching to discover another life. Needless to say, this was a photo opportunity.

6  7We booked into a braised beef and mash dinner at the caravan park, which was accompanied by Jen entertaining us with her renditions of old favourites.


And the second weird coincidence – joining us for dinner, also staying at the park, were Andrew and Irene from WCUC. He’s just taken over as Council Chair – D was delighted to be able to say he’s just handed over that role.

Just like the pub, the caravan park and connected roadhouse employ lots of backpackers. Two were at the dinner and after dinner fire – one from the UK (actually an Australian citizen as well, due to her Tassie Mum) and one from Germany. They were both loving the experience (and they talk to their mums each day). The outback is not so ‘out’ anymore, except perhaps for Aussie youngters who are probably doing something similar in the UK & Europe.