2023 Big Trip Blog 6 Tuesday 20 June 2023

Tuesday, Jun 20, 2023 at 20:51

Member - Matwil

Well, it has been more than a week again till I have got around to doing a blog. Too much to do and see.

We left Kalgoorlie early Monday morning and headed north towards Leonora. It was a fairly uneventful drive except for the huge loads heading south. One load coming towards us was 8.5 metres wide so we had to get well off the road to let it pass.

There were two wide loads. Wide loads are part and parcel of the roads around this area as mining equipment is moved from mine to mine. And there are many. Gold, Nickel, Lithium and other precious metals are mined out here and it seemed at every corner in the road there was a road off to another mine. We also passedm any road trains (4 boggy) carrying ore so needed to always be alert. We arrived at a little town called Menzies which is almost a ghost town, except for the Shire Chambers built back in the 1890’s and still used today. We then headed out to a place we had heard about, Lake Ballard which has sculptures in the Lake. We arrived out there mid-afternoon. What a wonderful place to camp. We picked out a campsite down near the lake and went for a walk as the lake was dry. There was enough firewood around our campsite for a bit of a fire. Full sun, i.e. no cloud meant cold nights and mornings, but the days were fine. Next morning, we set off to go to Leonora.

On arriving at Leonora, we found it was is an essentially frontier mining town. It didn’t impress us much but Louise found that we could free camp at Gwalia, of the Sons of Gwalia fame. That sounded good to me as I was pretty sure there was a story worth pursuing about Sons of Gwalia. Are we glad that we did. The Sons of Gwalia Mine was started in the 1890’s by three Welshmen. It operated from 1896 to1963 and produced over 2.5 million ounces of gold. Herbert Hoover was appointed the mine manager in 1897. (PS he became the 31st US President). He built a substantial house on the hill overlooking the mine which today is part of a museum and also a B&B.A large part of the workforce for Gwalia were from Italy and the former Yugoslavia. In 1911 the town had a population of 1,114. In 1963 there was a bad accident at the mine that closed it down. This had an immediate affect on the workers, who immediately upped digs and set off to find work elsewhere. The population of the town dropped to forty almost overnight, and it became an instant ghost town.

Some volunteers have now started the recreation of the original town, finding old houses out in the bush which they are rebuilding in town as a museum to what went before. Also in Gwalia is the first state owned pub. It was built by the WA government because no private group would do it. It still stands today, but is a pub with no beer.

The other amazing thing is that the Gwalia mine has reopened. It happened in the eighties with the mine reopening as an open pit. But it soon closed down as a result of scandal and the Sons of Gwalia NL went into receivership in 2005 when another company, St Barbara Limited purchased all the mine assets and began underground mining again. The present open cut mine is claimed to be the deepest in Australia at 1700 metres. But exploratory drilling shows a lot more gold below to be mined. In fact there are now tunnels that go 2.7 kilometres underground, with the eventual depth to be about 3 kilometres. Within the cavens they process the ore before it comes to the top. Mind boggling. While the present town of Gwalia only has a population of 12 to 15 people, Leonora is different. However, most of the workers at the mine are FIFO or DIDO, drive in drive out. The free camp at the top of the hill overlooking the open cut mine was a great place to camp and we enjoyed our stay here. The people who are continually working on the museum should be congratulated for the work they have done.
Next day we moved onto Laverton to get ready for our trip across the Great Central Road to Alice.

Laverton is really another frontier mining town. The pub is quaint, and the centre of attention after hours. We ate there before our trek across the deserts as we were camped up in the local caravan park.

Next morning we headed off. About 30 to 50 klms of bitumen before we hit the corrugations. Pleasant scenery and most of the drive was uneventful. We arrived at our first stop which is a small aboriginal community at Tjukayira where we were going to refuel. When we got there we found that they were totally out and had been for a couple of days despite ordering the fuel 2 weeks previously. We were told that while the next community had fuel they were getting low. We went out of town a short distance and camped at a free camp we found in the bush. You can do that in WA as there are no restrictions. Up early next morning we headed off to Warburton the next stop and a refuelling point. We got there and were able to refuel which was great, because if we couldn’t we would be stuck till fuel arrived. (PS they ran out next day). On the way in we had found a great camp 10klms from town called the bat caves. We found a sheltered spot and set up for the night. One of the best camp sites we have stayed at so far this trip, and we have stayed at a few beauties.

Warburton works on SA time so that day we lost 11/2 hours of time. Up early next morning we set off for the next settlement which is Warakuma. This had the best stocked road house we have so far come across, and had a camp ground out the back, so we camped there along with about a dozen other campers. These communities are ‘dry’ so no consuming any alcohol, and it was one of my drinking days. Oh well. Next morning we moved off. An old friend of mine who had worked in this country years ago messaged me to the sites to see from here to Alice Springs. We found all of them. At one point travelling along the road you come to a huge stand of desert sheoaks. He told me to stop get out and listen to the desert breath. As the wind going through the trees, it makes an unmistakable sound like someone breathing.Also, along this section we came across a Len Beadle Plaque. Len Beadle had built most of the roads out here during the 1950’s. My mate also pointed out a camp ground near a river (dry that is) where he had built a tripod many years ago and wondered if it was still there. Well you can’t camp there anymore but we went in and found the tripod and took photos. As you drive along the topography of the land changes with mountains appearing on the horizon. Spectacular. We found a little known lookout and took a lot of photos. After driving through basically flat country for two weeks where an undulation of 50 or 100 metres is a hill suddenly seeing these mountains appear really grabs you. And the scenery is spectacular as well. The deserts have had a lot of rain over the last two years or so, so there is a lot of greenery and the landscaped is colourful as well as spectacular. I am only posting iphone photos at the moment but have taken a lot on our big cameras which will be processed when we get home.

We were going to stay at Docker River, but had been warned that that may not be a good idea. As we arrived there in late morning we pressed on and made an aim of getting to Curtain Springs, which is just the other side of Uluru. When you come in from the west you don’t have to pay to enter Uluru which was a plus. But what we didn't expect was seeing Kata Kjuta from the west. It is another view I had not seen when we visited here before 10 years ago. We made Curtain Springs where we stayed the night at the free camp they provide before heading off to Alice next morning, which is just up the road…. 300+ klms.

We are now camped in Alice for two nights, stocking up before we head off to Newhaven Wilderness Conservation park 250 kilometres north west of here off the Tanamai Track. We are camped outside Alice at Temple Bar a lovely little caravan Park next to a dry creek. They are all dry unless it rains. We were a day early but the owners squeezed us in. Today we went into town and stocked up. Alice is the same as I remember but all licensed premises are now closed Monday and Tuesday which appears to have had a sobering affect on the town. We walked through the central plaza and there were some locals selling their art. Some of it amazing. Louise found a piece she liked and it is spectacular. We bought it from the painter and so had photos taken as well. She explained the meaning of the piece. She comes from the Central desert up the Tanamai. Her husband and I chatted for a while and kept trying to sell me one of the other painting as well. We joked for a while and then bid our farewells.

People ask me how was the Great Central Road. It really is not a hard drive. There are some corrugated patches but nothing difficult. The main bug bear is the dust. It is like talcum powder and finds every opening in your vehicle and caravan. We will be cleaning up dust in the years to come. But that is the fun of adventuring out here.

Well that’s the end of this blog. We will be totally off air for the next four days before we return here to restock again. Until then…
Wanting to explore our vast wide land
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