Exploring inland from Geraldton to Carnarvon. Week 8

Tuesday, Jun 04, 2013 at 07:59

Member-Heather MG NSW

Monday 27th May.

We said farewell to B & D this morning when we left the park in Greenough Rivermouth, and turned inland towards Mullewa, interested to see the landscape, explore small towns and learn about early exploration of the district while hoping to find some bush camps where we could have a fire.
We were not disappointed when we arrived at Tenindewa Pioneer Well, a picnic area and camp spot only a few kms. off the Geraldton Mt Magnet road, on dirt road, approximately 20 kms. west of Mullewa. With one tent set up sheltered and partially hidden by scrub and trees, we found a lovely level place to park, with views of the small salt lakes with a sheen of water in them, below us. Partially in front and to our right, there was a rocky outcrop which looked inviting as a lookout and for a short walk. There was also a good fireplace with hook and BBQ plate, some firewood too, and a table and bench seats under the shade of a tree. The ground is very rocky but we soon cleared a small area to put out the awning mat and set about getting the camp organised.

There were two information panels and signs close by and I was eager to have a look around but we waited until after lunch to do this, instead enjoying a pot of coffee while sitting outside, enjoying the view and the quiet. The flies were very persistent and we were forced to apply liberal amounts of aeroguard but somehow there always seemed to be one which crawled under my glasses and around an eye! (It’s a small price to pay for such tranquility and beauty in my opinion).
It was wonderful for me to be back on the red dirt and I hoped the sun would shine so there would be opportunities to photograph the contrasting deep blue skies, red earth and rocks, and the lakes with their reflections however as the day wore on, the chances of that happening became more and more remote.

We walked to the Well (covered with strong metal grate for safety) to read the history of this precious source of permanent water, then to a dam maybe 100 metres away which had a low level of murky water in it, before walking back down the road approximately a km. to the site of the Tenindewa school. No traces of the building survive, or at least we didn’t see any traces. A board lists the names of the School teachers posted to this (then remote) tiny community and we were intrigued to see that all but two names were female, and some only stayed a month. Why? Well sending a young single woman out to teach meant that there was one single woman in the district for a potential wife for the local men, as apparently it was (and still is) difficult to attract young women to here. As to why some only stayed a month? Not sure, maybe it was unbearable for them to stay longer and a month seemed a lifetime, or maybe they met with accidental death, or maybe they married in a hurry. We don’t know the answer and it wasn’t stated. We did find out that a local man had built a rocky path/bridge across the lake so that the children who lived on the other side could still get to school after rain and it is still there. We walked the short distance to it and took photos.
Our return to the van was via a detour and. we thought. a short cut back through the scrub, and we collected some firewood as we went. I also stopped and took photographs from on top of the rocky outcrops close to the camp and struggled to carry the wood for the last bit. It was surprisingly hot and sweaty work, and those flies…….
John was keen to get a fire started around 3pm so we could slow cook the osso bucco in the camp oven and busied himself with this while I prepped the meal inside. As the afternoon wore on, the clouds threatened to dump rain on us and every now and then there was a sprinkle, increasing to light showers requiring us to abandon our position around the fire, dragging our chairs to the cover of the awning, while the meal still bubbled away. We were so glad that John had gone to the trouble to put out the awning. Around 5pm the rain intensified and absolutely bucketed down. The camp oven was retrieved and our outdoor cooking plans abandoned while we stood and watched water pour off our awning (and was collected in a 20 litre tub) and the red dirt turn to sheets of water. I took some photos as it happened as it was amazing to watch the change. We could have filled 20 of them or more and we needed to re fill our van water tanks we could have easily done so.
Glad to have extra water we were also very pleased to discover that the leaks we had repaired in Perth to the van were finally successful, although we did find another small one which I have noted and it will need to be looked at when we get home. (Should have named our van ‘Titanic’!!
We boiled the billy over our outdoor gas cooker and had lots of water for washing up and hot all-over body washes while standing in the shower cubicle. It was a bonus when we don’t have any idea just where we will be able to refill the tanks again or how many days we will be getting to there.
Tuesday 28th May.
During the night there were frequent freight trains in the distance and every now and then when we woke we were conscious of the sounds. There was also the moons reflection on the lake, a lovely sight.
The morning was clear and sunny and I finally had the weather I wanted for photographs. After breakfast, we walked down to the lake and then around to where the school site was, making our own track and finding the nest of a wedge tailed eagle in a dead tree.

We decided to take a drive to Mullewa to check out the town, as well as the dirt roads to the north where we intended to travel from here. Our camp site was so lovely it was worth staying in a second night and that would also give our ground mat and awning a chance to dry out. The ground was surprisingly hard and not a bit like the black soil country we have been caught in in the wet which turns to 30 cms of mud in an instant!
In Mullewa we bought a paper and had a look at the historic cemetery, also drove to the start of the Carnarvon Mullewa road to see ‘Road Open’ signs. We had planned to stay in the town for a couple of nights but decided where we are is much more appealing.
Our day was a quiet one, spent reading, walking, and, for me, photographing, listening to and watching the birds and particularly enjoying the melodious call of the butcherbird. John worked his way through the sodoku and crosswords in the paper. All in all a very relaxing, good-for-the-soul day!
A successful campfire tonight with a perfectly cooked damper to accompany our meal was a great way to end the day. There was no hint of rain and after a lovely hot shower we watched a couple of episodes of ‘The Wire’ before going to sleep.

Wednesday May 29th.
A leisurely pack up at Tenindewa saw us on the road after 9am. We stopped briefly in Mullewa to top up with diesel and buy a paper before setting out on the road to Murchison Settlement. A last text message was sent to our daughter to let her know our whereabouts for the next few days and then we were without phone signal.
My research had found a few possibilities for camps, the preferred one being the Ballinyoo Bridge over the Murchison River as a camp on the water is usually very scenic. At the end of the bitumen, where the sealed road continued to a mine, and our path turned to dirt, John dropped the tyre pressure although the surface was like a dirt highway. The red road stretched ahead, above huge brilliant blue skies and clouds. We crossed numerous cattle grids, were halted while a flock of emus ran across in front, and crossed the Vermin proof fence. I found it just as beautiful as the usual dirt, little travelled roads and revelled in the drive. We saw two other vehicles after the end of the bitumen but before then there were frequent huge road trains with 4 containers, all going to and from the mine.

When we arrived at Ballinyoo Bridge, approximately 130 kms. north of Mullewa we took the time to walk around and explore where the best campsites, accessible with our van, were. There was no one else around so we had plenty of places to choose from and eventually settled on a site with views up and down the river and at such a distance from the road that we were hidden from view. The stagnant water was covered in patches of a black looking thick sludge and did not look appealing at all but the banks were lined with beautiful white trunked river gums and it was quite beautiful.

Ballinyoo Bridge was built in 1932 and is the oldest remaining concrete bridge in WA. We took some time to walk over it and around and underneath later in the afternoon and there were some great photographic opportunities with good reflections in the big pools of still water. It looked to be long time since the water flowed here and the red ground was parched and dry, with grasses brown and dead looking. There were birds around including one lonely white elbowed crane, galahs and towards evening a large flock of some kind of ibis arrived, predominantly black with a white throat and grazed on the bare looking ground. When we went for a closer look they took off and flew overhead in circles, landing further away and then walking around, foraging for food.
Around lunch time a small bus pulled in and a group of young Aboriginal men spilled out. I introduced myself to a couple of them who walked close to our van and found out that they were a Year 12 group from a school In Geraldton on their way to camp a couple of nights on a station near Murchison and do aboriginal stuff. Their teacher grew up there. They were very friendly and happy, obviously having a great rapport with their teacher,and, after lunching and having a bit of an explore on (bare)foot, they got back on the bus and we were left with silence once again.
Late afternoon a couple in a camper trailer arrived and set up on the river bank not too far from where we were but screened a little by bushes. With close to a km. of river bank to choose from, even more if the area on the Western side of the bridge was included, why they decided to stay so close to us I don’t understand. We could hear them and I am sure they heard us as we watched three episodes of ‘The Wire’ after dinner and it was quite late when we went to sleep. If you are not familiar with this series, it contains frequent high level language, violence, sex scenes…..lots of words beginning with f, usually preceeded by ‘mother’, the occasional ‘c’ word…….about the black Baltimore drug trade! Produced by HBO, the same company which made ‘The Soprano’s’. We need to have the subtitles on so we can understand their language and even then its difficult to understand the meaning!

Thursday 30th May. (Our sons 36th birthday. With no internet or phone signal, I am glad I sent an early greeting).
I was out of bed early to catch the first light on the river and maybe take some good photographs. It was chilly but not cold enough to put on the gas heater although my hot pot of coffee was very pleasant. While I waited for the sun to rise I had another look at our plans as we had discussed maybe heading to Gascoyne Junction and Carnarvon instead of across the Butchers track to the coastal Highway. We would have a look at the maps together once we arrived in Murchison.
After it warmed up and we had eaten breakfast, we took a final walk up the red track which led to many more campsites along the river. Some were suitable only for tenters and camper trailers but there were a few great ones for caravanners as well. It would be fantastic to see the river running.
We packed up the final bits and drove back out onto the road, surprised to hit bitumen not too far north of the bridge. It continued all the way to Murchison some 80 kms. away, a pleasant surprise. There was a brief stop at Stock well No 9, part of the historic De GreyMullewa stock route, which runs between Mullewa and the Fortescue River and which eventually had 52 wells and several waterholes. It was pioneered by ET Hooley in 1866 when he left the Geraldine mining town with 1945 sheep bound for the Fortescue River and arrived three weeks later in the newly established town of Roebourne with a loss of only 8 sheep.

The well has been restored and preserved by a group in Geraldton and it’s an interesting place, reminding us of the hardships and remote location which were endured by early settlers. It would have been a great place to spend a night had we arrived later in the day, however being only mid-morning we continued.
On arrival in Murchison we were delighted by the appearance of the Oasis Roadhouse and Caravan Park with its green, grassy patch of lawn and red earth surrounds, neat red garden beds and various pieces of historic machinery and vehicles placed around and along the road. We were met outside by the friendly Managers and paid for two nights for power…$20 ($10 unpowered). We were also told that the water, although from a bore, is potable, an unexpected bonus, and that we could park anywhere, as the place was vacant. There is a gazebo shaped undercover BBQ area with scrupulously clean gas BBQ’s and a sink with hot and cold water, even utensils, plus plenty of seating. As well there’s another table and bench seats with a cover which would be great for anyone with a tent. Fireplaces are dotted around too, some with firewood or kindling but because of the wind we didn’t see much chance of lighting a fire.

Although the amenities block is close to the road we eventually chose to park as far as we could back which entails a bit of a walk (along a cement path) but it is lovely to be parked among small trees and it’s also very private, with the awning side facing the sun. (Sun is very welcome with a cold wind blowing.) Having power and water gives us so many luxuries….I hand washed our undies and other small light items and hung them under the awning so that we won’t be desperate to visit a laundry anywhere soon.
After lunch, and in cloudy conditions, we set off to drive to Errabiddy Bluff, some 11 kms. From town, where there is a climb to the top for great views over the countryside. It is one of very few places that isn’t flat. The track was good although there were a couple of sandy places where it followed or crossed a creek bed and they could get interesting if it rained. On the way there we managed to pick up a small stone which lodged itself in the driver’s side front brake and necessitated John pulling off the wheel to find and remove it, on our way back out to Murchison. It made a horrible scraping sound but was a tiny ‘grain of rice’ size or smaller. John was relieved to find that the noise was so easily fixed. It would not be the best place to require mechanical assistance and we joked about having to phone Mitsubishi 24 hour roadside assist!
The closer we got to the Bluff, the more the weather worsened and by the time we picked a path through the rocks to the top, it had showered on us, surely an unusual occurrence out here! I managed to get a few photos on the way up but it was a bit of a struggle to keep the camera dry and to find my foothold on the damp rock surfaces and was slow going for me. The reports were correct about good views from on top though and we walked around the rocky, red surface which must be inhabited by literally thousands of goats. Their droppings almost carpeted the ground but despite our efforts, we did not see any live ones. There were remains and bones of more than a few dead animals, and the odd kangaroo and bird but it was otherwise uninhabited and there were no signs that other people had been there.

John found us an easier path down the side, following probably goat and roo tracks, and then we made our way back to the car. All in all it took probably an hour and a half of not too difficult walking and was well worth the effort. I did wish we had better weather though.
On our return, we called at the site of the Errabiddy outstation where now the old chimney remains, along with a few other bits and pieces; a rotting wooden tank stand, rusty tank and fence posts, bits of household kitchen stuff, and read about Mary Watson, who lived here as a young woman and delivered two children (one of whom died and was buried here). It must have been a hard and lonely life but there was a photo of her as an 88 year old when she returned to have a look at the place and she said she had missed it after she had left, and that it held great memories for her.
We returned to the van and retired inside out of the wind, put on the iPod and listened to music, and I uploaded the photos to the laptop and then got busy with dinner. John returned from his shower with the verdict that they were very good but with water connected, I showered as usual in the van. Afterwards we watched more episodes of our’ Wire’ Series and despite the hum of the generator in the distance, both managed a very good and long sleep, although I did use earplugs.
Friday 31st May.
A cold morning after a clear night, it was 12 degrees inside the van and considerably colder outside. I put the heater on and let it warm the van up and only left its warmth to visit the toilet before 10am. I had a wander around the Roadhouse building to look and photograph the bits of rusting station collection of household items and machinery, then we braved the icy wind and took a walk around the Botanical walk which was severely damaged by flood in 2010 and is just now starting to be repaired. It’s a wander through very sad, dead looking shrubs and trees along a poorly defined track, with no information and requires complete reconstruction. I did photograph a couple of flowering shrubs. As well, it’s a reminder that although the land looks so dry and barren, sometimes it really does rain here and also just how fragile the flat environment is. I left a $5 donation in the honesty box at the Museum ($2 p.p. entry) and we had a look around, finding it more interesting than many we have been to. I always go to any displays of wildflowers and local animals and birds and enjoy viewing them and reading any information.
We have seen butcher birds, ring neck parrots, magpies here but no sign of the kangaroos which must frequent the green grassy watered patches of lawn in the powered part of the van park. Their droppings are everywhere!
On our way back, John had a chocolate longing and had to buy a cherry ripe at the roadhouse and we had a bit of a talk with the managers who have been here since December, before returning to the warmth of the van. It’s nice not to have to do anything much although we have had a re think and plan as to our route for the next three weeks and when we get an internet signal in a few days, I will update B & D and the family. Only rain will delay plans as much of the route is on dirt roads.
For the remainder of the day we stayed indoors, happy to escape the icy, biting wind. I occupied myself editing and organising photos, printing off and writing postcards for friends and family, charging batteries of the numerous bits of technology I have (printer, second laptop/back up) and watching episodes of ‘The Wire’ (we are up to Series 3) together. The small fan heater worked all day and the van was beautifully warm and comfortable.
The next two days at least will be unpowered somewhere between here and Carnarvon. With a long weekend in WA happening we are in no hurry to find a site in a van park or anywhere on the coast but will have to stay wherever we can. We are taking Butchers Track across to meet the Highway. As soon as there is phone signal I will book a van park in Carnarvon and I will also while there book a park site in Exmouth for the day or two before we are due in Cape Range N Pk, later in June. For once we will be somewhere with TV reception so maybe John can watch his beloved State of Origin rugby league game on Wednesday night, something he will really enjoy.

Saturday 1st June.
It was 11 degrees inside the van when I decided I had slept enough and got out of bed around 5.30a.m. The heater went on and stayed on until we left Murchison. I spent the early morning hours reading about the next places on our journey....Carnarvon, Quobba Station, Kennedy Ranges and Mt Augustus and am full of anticipation and excitement at where we will be. John apparently had a restless night due to my snoring, which I think I might have to seek medical treatment about when we return home, however I had a great nights’ sleep with ear plugs firmly in place to block out the big diesel generator which keeps the Roadhouse and caravan park powered, and which hums away in the distance. I have a second pair of plugs which I will encourage him to try…they are fantastic but take a bit of fitting to work effectively.
On our way out, we stopped at the roadhouse to say thank you and goodbye to the Managers…it is a great place to spend a day or two especially after a period of bush camping. I’m uncertain as to we will be ever back this way but it is sure to be one of the places we have fond memories of.
Just a km or two north of Murchison the road turned to a dirt highway and we followed it for a short while until we came to the signs to Shark bay and the Overlander Roadhouse where we turned left onto Butcher’s Track, a road named after the family who first made and used it. It was much like many of the dirt outback roads we have travelled during the past few years…patches of stony and hard surface with small corrugations and also hard clay and red sandy stretches. Basically it is in fantastic condition and we were able to travel at a speed fast enough to glide over the surface. All the way we looked out for a place to bush camp however early on there was signage warning of shooters culling animals and the danger of straying off the road. Later the sandy edges were banked up and there was no clear area until we finally found one suitable place, unfortunately not really as far off the road as we would normally park. Having not seen one vehicle all day we thought it should be safe enough and reversed the van in between some low bushes to try to escape some of the nasty, still icy, wind which has plagued us for the past couple of days. We were quickly set up, lunched, and have only seen one vehicle all day….a 4WD towing a van travelling West as some speed. Thinking, and hoping, it may be a very quiet night here, despite it being a long weekend in WA.

Sunday May 2nd.
Apart from a vehicle which sounded like a car, around 10pm, we did not hear or see any signs of other people last night on Butchers track. We watched a couple of episodes of ‘The Wire’ and John went off to sleep quite quickly, however it eluded me and I had to read for a while before I felt tired. Strangely enough ants were really the only living things I saw there, although I did hear a couple of bird calls.
I slept in very late (for me) and was out of bed a little before 7am, by which time it was daylight. The wind was still with us however we didn’t realise how sheltered we had been overnight until we got back on the red sandy track. Our fuel figures at 14.6 litres per 100kms were the best we have ever had while towing by a long shot, thanks to the very strong tail wind.
Once we turned North onto the highway however those figures soon disappeared and we were buffeted and rocked around pretty horribly. There was a brief stop at a lookout high on a bare, windswept mesa near the turn off to Gladstone beach campground when we could barely stay upright, and then we beat a hasty retreat and finally pulled up in a rest area about 80 kms south of Carnarvon to stay overnight. Plenty of sites were available as it was before 12 o’clock so we parked as far away from the Highway as possible with our door away from the wind and set up.
Since that time many others have joined us however it is so nasty outside that we have been very unsociable and stayed indoors, reading and watching DVD’s all afternoon. With no internet, phone or TV signal here, I can’t book us a caravan park site until we get closer to Carnarvon. Fortunately I managed to send a text message to one of the daughters to tell her our plans and as well received a lot of emails and other messages when we drove through a brief area with a signal further south. I will have to get in touch with everyone tomorrow when we reach the town, especially B & D, and tell them of our change of plans.
Hoping the wind will have dropped in the morning as it has blown now for days.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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