Great Victoria Desert (Hann's Track) Trip July 2008

Sunday, Jul 27, 2008 at 18:41

Life Member - Duncan W (WA)

Great Victoria Desert Trip 08 with Campfire Escapes

(The route we took is now part of the "Hann's Track" as detailed in Ian Elliot's Hann's Track Book launched on 23 April 2013 )

The preparations started some months before the 28 June departure date. Permits had been obtained from the Dept of Indigenous Affairs. The car had a full service by Robson Brothers of Welshpool, new stereo fitted (one that has a USB port), UHF radio relocated and a 9db aerial fitted to the roof rack with a switch so that I can switch between the 6db aerial fitted on my front bar; and had my 14 ply cross ply rag tyres and splits fitted. Mate and I also got a good lesson from Kewdale Second Hand Tyres on how to safely strip a split rim and reassemble – using my own gear. Finally all participants in the 16 day trek following part of Frank Hann’s tracks through the Great Victoria Desert were subject to a vehicle scrutineering by Robson’s on the evening of 29 May. This was also a greet and meet for us all. I had previously travelled with a number in the group so it was great to catch up.

Day 1 – Sawyers Valley to Kalgoorlie (600+/-km)

All bar 3 vehicles and occupants met at Sawyers for the trip to Kal and the start of our 16 day adventure. One party was joining us in Kalgoorlie from Boyup Brook, one party forgot it was a Saturday start and would meet us there, and another party were having problems with their preparation and would ultimately drive through the night to reach us at dawn on Sunday. In total there would be 13 vehicles, 24 adults and 2 children.

Trip was uneventful, except for resident historian and Frank Hann expert Ian Elliot’s troopy having electrical problems within the first 5 minutes. A quick stop and he was soon fixed and we were on our way again. Lunch stop was at the ruined site of Yellowdine. Only the dam and some ruins left. A pleasant albeit cold lunch stop.
Arrived in Kalgoorlie at about 4.00PM, and refuelled and filled the 60 litres of jerry cans, boy was I glad of the 20 cent Woolies discount voucher. Fuel, with the discount was 131.9c/L and took on board 139 litres so saved $27.80. This leg I averaged 7.11km/L.

Motel not bad and had a pleasant meal and met 2 of the other crews. Bed by 10.00PM a bit worse for wear.

Day 2 – Kalgoorlie to Hann’s Camp via Menzies, Leonora, Laverton (378 km)

Up at 6.00AM and breakfast at 6.30. The couple who had driven through the night were there to meet us all. Departed at about 8.45AM
Road to Leonora is all bitumen and we travelled in convoy and chatted away on Channel 18. We were all amazed at the amount of carnage on the road with dead roo carcasses everywhere, and the number of dead Wedge tail eagles was also disappointing.

Lunch stopped at Gwalia which is an abandoned town site, however the old buildings have been restored for their historic significance and tourism. The old State Hotel is a magnificent building being used as offices by the management of the Son of Gwalia Mine. There is also a museum overlooking the mine pit, unfortunately we didn't have time to visit.

So, after an hour or so of exploring the old buildings it was off to Laverton for our final refuel for 11 days and what would be our last sign of civilisation and other cars for 10 days. Fuel here (ULP) was 191.5c/L.

Couple of aboriginals tried to sell us wood carvings, snake sticks ($3), and carry bowls. They didn’t get any sales.

We hit the dirt and White Cliff’s Road and the real start of our trip just outside of town and first stop was Frank Hann’s camp and the site of the burial of his dog Scamp. Only evidence is some coloured stones and some old rusted pieces of metal. A sign identifying this site as being Frank Hann’s camp has been fashioned out of metal and hangs in a tree. There is also a hand dug well that held water but getting some out could be a bit dangerous as the well timbers didn’t look that safe.

Camp was a welcome relief after the days drive. Hit our first snag the new air mattress I’d bought just for this trip refused to inflate so lucky for me I’d packed our old air mattress. Slower to fill but reliable.

Had a good feed casserole that I had pre cooked and Cryovacced. Had a few drinks and a good laugh around the campfire and in bed by 9.30 or so.

Day 3 – Hann’s Camp to Point Sunday via Yamarna (215 km)

Woke at dawn after a bitterly cold night and hadn’t realised that I’d managed to push my jeans outside the tent. Breakfasted on eggs and bacon and on the road by 9.00AM. Mind you Ian and I were all packed before 8.00 AM.

The White Cliffs Road soon becomes the White Cliffs Yamarina Rd and in places was very corrugated.

Stopped at a gnamma hole that was close to the side of the road. Some damp soil and that was about it. The camel’s had fouled this hole with their droppings. One of the guys dug out some of the sand and got some water.

Had a wander around a breakaway at Point Kidman and came across a bower bird’s bower. Didn’t know we had bower birds in WA let alone in the desert. Lunch was on the side of the road as we waited for one of the team to get back from Leonora. They’d left early to get some drinks from the bottle shop as they had come away without any. Gave the two children on the trip a frisby to play with which was a big hit with them.

The White Cliffs Yamirina Road soon became the Anne Beadell Highway, however this road is now officially known as the Serpentine Lakes Road on some maps. The AB is pretty well cut up and corrugated and trying to find the sweet spot was hard.

Stopped at the abandoned and ruined Yamarna Station with its dam and windmill still intact. Great spot for photos or an overnight camp with its cleared stockyards and crystal clear dam.

The sun was slowly setting and the road got worse as we approached the Yeo Conservation Reserve, which is surrounded by Marble gums with their mottled and flaky bark.

Not much further away we stopped and made camp for the night at Point Sunday. This was a fantastic spot with the setting sun bouncing of the cliff face. A steep climb got you to a bit of a ledge which had eroded shallow caverns. A great spot to watch the sun go down from.

Set up the tent and had a few beers around the camp fire before dining on chicken and veg for tea.

Ian Elliot read Hann’s diary for this evening at Point Sunday which was enjoyed by all. I then moved my car up behind the circle of chairs and we all listened to Len Beadell’s speech to Rotary which played from the cars stereo. Bed reasonably early.

Day 4 – Pt Sunday to Lily Rockhole via Yeo Homestead, Pulpit Hill & Bishop Riley’s Pulpit (140km)

Woke at dawn after a good night’s sleep, night was a lot warmer than previous nights. Broke camp as usual just before 9.00am. Arie and Kris last as usual due to packing up their kids and all their associated clobber.

Travelled down the Anne Beadell Highway or as it’s called these days on some maps as theSerpentine Lakes Road, which was extremely corrugated. Not sure, who is right but OzExplorer has this section of road list as the AB but my Travellers Country Street Directory has this section of road as the Neale Junction Road. Who knows, other than the fact it goes West to East and it’s all one road. Ian drove from Yamarna homestead and just about lost it on some of the corners. You had to keep the speed up because of the corrugations and the corners suddenly were upon you; and in some cases quite slippery especially with the tyres we have. [

Encountered our first feral camels about 20km West of Yeo. Counted 11 in total but there may have been many more. Managed to get a few photos. Vehicles in front had only seen 2 running down the track in front of them, and by the time we had got to that spot they had gone; so I was quite please with spotting this larger mob.

Arrived at Yeo a few minutes after the lead group.Yeo Lake Homestead is an abandoned station which has some now restored buildings close to the side of the road. WA’s DEC (Dept for Environment & Conservation) which is the old CALM, manage the buildings.

There is also a good well with a well maintained hand pump. The water apparently is excellent. There is a stick and rope ladder leading down the well but this is to allow snakes to escape.

The buildings are in good condition and an overnight stay in the shack is permitted. Fire rings are close to the verandah and bench seats and table have been provided. Well worth a stop for lunch or an overnighter.

After morning tea we hit the corrugations again after a short drive the convoy halted to take photos of Pulpit Hill. Pulpit Hill is a mesa type formation that dominates the scenery for awhile. During the stop, I went for a bit of a wander and found a steel jerry can in good condition. I had no need for it or the extra weight so I gave it away. The guys in the Jeep gladly accepted my offer.

Lunch stop was at Bishop Riley’s Pulpit which is another mesa type formation. A parking area is provided amongst the scrub with good views of the rock. Had a climb to the top, which is a couple of hundred metres high, and enjoyed magnificent 360 degree views. Found some native tobacco, which by the way stinks, in one of the crags near the top and also some other interesting plants that I have no idea what they were. Saw a mob of camels heading our way but about 200m shy of us they veered away to be lost from view amongst the vegetation.

One of the group in a 100 series had suspension problems and it was decided to replace the front shocky. Unfortunately after stripping it all down it was found that the replacement shock absorber had a different thread to the old one and thus the nuts would not fit. So the old one was put back in. Fortunately it was only the bushes that had collapsed so the guys had to suffer with a banging but operable shocky.

As we drove out from Bishop Riley’s Pulpit a dead dingo was spotted in a puddle of water. No idea what killed it but it must have been very recent as the crows and eagles hadn’t had a feed.

About 1km South East of BRP we turned North East onto what is shown on some maps as the Cleared Line. This track was pretty much over grown in places but after the AB was a dream to drive. The track was formed by an exploration survey team and is now abandoned. This area is very picturesque and we crossed our first sand dune. After travelling down this track for about 6km we turned into virgin territory.
In the main, we would run parallel to the countless thousands of dunes that dominate this area. Spinifex in places was high, being above bonnet height in places. Every opportunity was taken to inspect under the vehicles for smouldering Spinifex. Due to the stupid design of the Terracan’s catalytic converter Spinifex can get wedged into the small 10-15mm wide gap. I had to spray water into this area a couple of times due to smouldering grass. Odd thing was we also encountered a patch of lovely green grass which no doubt the local animals would be feasting on. One consolation for all the Spinifex rubbing under the car is that the chassis and other bits got nicely polished.

Arrived at Lily Rockhole, which is in the Wilkinson Range, late in the afternoon and walked up the short valley to the head of the gorge. On the right hand side is a shallow and high walled cavern that has many aboriginal rock paintings. Considering their age, the art is in surprisingly good condition obviously protected from the elements. 30m away is the end of the gorge and a small pool of water was found and evidence of a wet season waterfall. On the wall just above the puddle were a couple of initials scratched into the rock.

These initials belonged to members of Hann’s exploration team. 2.5m above this spot was found a basin/pond of water about the size of an office desk. The water is in a depression about 1m below any foot hole and is crystal-clear and lilies grow. Being so deep and inaccessible to animals other than the smallest or birds, the water wasn’t fouled. Our resident botanist, Dr Kris, was wrapped especially as she was able to get samples of the 2 types of lilies for studying later back at ECU.

We walked across the top of the plateau looking for signs of aboriginal camping; we found some spearheads, cutting tools and some grinding stones. What we also found was a blaze tree with a large “H” still visible in the long dead trunk of the tree.

We made camp nearby and soon a roaring fire was lit.
After dinner (chicken and noodle casserole), both Ian and I used my sat phone to phone our wives. Usual yack and drinks around the fire, and I no doubt drank way too much. In bed by 10.30.

Believe it or not but my Global Star sat phone worked every night and I was able to have a good talk to Kerry which really pleased her as she had not been well prior to and during our trip away.

DAY 5 – Lily Rockhole to Winterbottom Rocks via Sunday Surprise Rocks (53km)

After breaking camp we headed across country in an Easterly direction heading for Sunday Surprise Rock. The Spinifex was for most of the time above bonnet height and fortunately very soft.
After a patch of mulga we encountered the first of 2 punctures for the day. Steve & Michelle in there 80 series was fitted with Hankook light truck radials. Unfortunately for them they had taken the advice of the tyre shop and ended up with the wrong sort of tyres. I gave Steve a hand to change his tyres. He has a 12v electric wheel nut removal torque drill which is fantastic and really made the job easy. After 10 minutes or so we were on the road again.

Had to transfer fuel after only 335km and I was down to nearly empty. At this rate I might be short of fuel. At this stage I’m getting about 3km/L so it’s a bit alarming. Problem is we are only travelling at 10km/hr in high range and at times up to 2500 RPM. Oh the joys of owning a petrol car.

Lunch stop was at Sunday Surprise Rocks. Found a small gnamma hole that had about a bucket of water in it near where we had lunch.

After lunch Ian Elliot (the Hann historian) took some of the group along the river bed looking for a larger waterhole. The rest of us headed in the other direction following camel tracks.

We found evidence of aboriginal camps but no significant finds. On the Northern side of the rocks we came to a wide Spinifex plain which we crossed on foot dodging the sharp spines was the order of the day.Young Aiden was suffering as the spines came higher than his gaiters so his knees copped a fair bit. After about 20 minutes of walking we came to a low dune and from here we scoured the surrounding area for any signs of a breakaway or other rock formation where water could be found. All we saw was more Spinifex and a couple of roos.

When we got back to the cars, we again headed East, this time passing cork trees, and brightly flowered grevilleas and acacia trees. Many of the marble gums were also in flower.

It wasn’t long before Steve had another puncture.

Due to the extended stay at Sunday Surprise Rocks and Steve’s punctures the sun was soon setting and we were nowhere near camp. To add to this on one of the dunes Peter in his new Hi Lux got stuck at the crest. After a bit of digging and a shove he was soon mobile again.

It was quite spectacular driving through the Spinifex with the sun setting over the dunes. The colours of the marble and silver dollar gums, backed by the golden Spinifex and red dunes was truly magic.

Arrived at our days camp at about 5.30PM and the sun had well and truly set. Set up the tent etc in the dark. Considering that this was the first time I’ve ever had to do so we managed it easily.

Tea tonight was porterhouse steak and veggies.

Came down with a sore throat and Nick gave me a bottle of gargle to use, which worked a treat. Didn’t put me off my whiskey though.. Bed by 10.30PM.

DAY 6 – Winterbottom Rocks to Millar Range via Amy Rocks (35km)

Woke to a spectacular sunrise and cool morning, although the night was quite warm. A few spots of rain and a bit overcast hence the good sunrise.

After breakfast (pancakes), Ray helped Steve and Michelle repair their punctured tyres, (split rims). Steve had no gear so we used my irons. The patches he’d been given were the wrong sort so again used my patches. Fortunately, I’d been given a handful of patches by the tyre place I go to. Turned out one of the tubes had 2 punctures in it. Typically only discovered the 2nd puncture after he’d inflated the tyre.

Departed camp at 9.30AM and headed East North East towards Amy Rocks. Terrain was through Spinifex country as usual flanking medium to high dunes. Vegetation other than the Spinifex was again acacia, cork trees and marble gums, with some mulga in the rockier sections.

Had to traverse 2 dunes which required a bit more right foot. Also travelled through some large areas of burnt ground. As no vehicles had been through this area since Ian’s 2007 reconnaissance trip the only cause would have been lightning strikes.

Stopped for a look around a small breakaway. Found a stick rat’s nest and almost came a cropper when I grabbed a rock to pull myself up to the top of the rock outcrop.

No signs of any waterholes but evidence of animals nesting.

Encountered our first camel sand bath today. Just like horses, it appears camels like to wallow in soft sand. After crossing more Spinifex areas with some lovely examples of thriving marble gums, we came to Amy Rocks.

Amy Rocks was our lunch stop. Nice spot with the numerous rock holes, small caves and overhangs. The numerous rock holes were all dry but you could see where animals have tried digging for water.

There was one deep rock hole but like most, there was no water. This one looked promising as it was in a ravine and well shaded. Ian showed us another Hann blaze tree with his initial “H” still showing quite clearly after 100 years or so.

After lunch, we had to drive up and over the rocks to get out of there. This required low range for one steep jump-up. As there would be no tracks visible for future travellers through this area we made rock cairns to mark our path.

Not to far from Millar Range we stopped at a couple of rock formations that may or may not be Pilot Point.
These rocks are the only visible high formation within eyesight but are not in the location shown on the maps. This is also the spot where, on his previous trip, Ian Elliott was stalked by dingos. After a bit of a nosey around I found a nice big stick rat’s nest that was still intact. Most stick rat nests have been burnt out years ago by foraging Aboriginals or bush fires.

Track was all through rock and gravel and at one spot low range was selected to descend a steep rock jump-up or in our case drop-down. Just past here we stopped and collected a huge pile of fire wood for the night’s cocktail party.

Arrived at Millar Range about 4PM and set up our tent below the imposing but spectacular backdrop of a duel pillared rock formation that was just begging to be climbed.Cooked up a roast lamb in the camp oven and it tasted great. Fancy dress & cocktail party tonight was too say the least inebriating. Sue, Nick, & Ray acted as bar tenders and waiters preparing and pouring a multitude of potent cocktails. We had all brought various predetermined spirits to be used in the concoctions.Mine was Blue Curacao to be used in Blue Lagoons.

We were all entertained by each others drunken antics but best of all was Nick telling the old “when a fly falls 6 inches you get a wet pussy” joke with Ray acting out the various lines.

I staggered to bed at about 10.30 or so and had a great deal of trouble undoing the laces of my sand shoes, not to mention the zip on the tent. I slept like a baby and mustn't of snored as I wasn't abused by Ian. (Very confusing all these Ian’s we had 3 of them on the trip).

DAY 7 – Rest Day at Millar Range

After last nights festivities we woke to hear rain on the tent. Only to be expected considering what the weather looked like yesterday. Just before dawn, it stopped raining and I ventured out to capture the morning’s sunrise on camera. Pretty much the best sunrise so far with a nice rainbow gracing the morning sky.
The heavy drop drizzle soon came back so Ian and I hastily put up a tarp awning from the car’s roof rack. It looked like the day would be miserable. Made a cuppa and considered our breakfast options, cooking in the rain had knobs on, so we just had a cup of soup. While Ian basically just pottered around young Aiden and I decided to climb to the top of the rocks and have a look around.

When we climbed back down I made up some bread dough and proceeded to kneed the dough for about 30 minutes.

Well the rain came and went as fast as it came and the sun came out. Day would turn out to be quite warm.

Left the dough to rise in a warm spot while Ian and I set off to explore the gullies, break-aways, and dunes that make up the Millar Range. We set off on foot with water, compass, hand held UHF, whistle and some snack bars, across the dunes to meet up with the track we had made coming in. It was amazing to spot fresh camel tracks over our wheel tracks from the afternoon before. Just goes to show how silently they travel.

We walked in and out of each gully as we came to them looking in any rock hole, cavern, cave, or overhang we found. Didn’t find any rock art or scratching/carving or any other sign of human existence. Some of the formations where quite amazing and it just goes to show what nature can produce.

We had intended to find a hollow rock face that we had seen near where we had stopped to collect firewood the day before and walked for miles searching for it. Turns out, we had come at it from the rear so it looked very different.

Many of the caverns and caves had many mud bird nests on their roofs the birds most likely would have been either sparrow or martins.

After walking about 5km or so we came to the drop down that we had to negotiate yesterday in low range, and then walked about 600m past this point when we decided that we must of walked to far. Turning back I spotted a plume of smoke go up in the direction of our camp. So taking a compass bearing and a landmark fixing we headed back across the Spinifex via this short cut which must of saved us at least 2km of walking; not that I didn’t need the exercise.
Arrived back at camp at about 11.30AM and the smoke we had seen was the group burning their rubbish.

A group walk had been organised in our absence and was due to leave in 30 minutes. Lunch would have to wait; the dough had risen nicely though in the morning heat.

Nick lead us in the direction that Ian and I had walked earlier and headed up a small gully that we had also nosied around in. In a small innocuous looking hole in the side of a rock face Nick showed us some Aboriginal art. We had walked straight past it and not noticed. In another spot we found initials carved into the rock. The SH was Sam Hazlett a member of one of Frank Hann’s expeditions.

Walking further afield, we came to the gully with the hollow rock, which had been termed ‘London Bridge’ by Ian Elliot. I took a group photo.

From here we crossed over into the dunes at the base of the breakaway looking for signs of previous habitation. We found some grinding stones and grinders, but unfortunately the grinding stone’s had all been broken.

When we got back to camp, I re-kneaded the dough and put it in the oven. Hot bread sure smells good. First attempt at making bread in a camp oven so it wasn't a bad effort although the dough hadn't cooked all the way through. Needed a more uniform heat; will know better next time.

Spent the rest of the afternoon just sitting around talking and watching an eagle flying by. Ah this is the life.

Day 8- Millar Range to Saunders Point Saunders Range via Lake Millar (28km)

Sitting round the camp fire last night, we could hear dingos howling at each other around the range. Didn't see any though or their tracks in the morning.

After breaking camp, we all drove a short distance to a spot where there is a huge Spinifex ring with another large ring inside the outer ring. The outer ring must be about 15m across and the inner circle about 10m across. We all positioned ourselves inside the rings for a group photo.

This done we headed eastward.

We came to a spot where a low dune splits a mud pan called Millar Lake. Stopping here for morning tea, we had a bit of a wander around the 2 lake beds and in the Northern side one I found a grinding stone which must of either been dropped or thrown by its ancient owner. This lake showed heaps of camel tracks and some were the camels had been sliding on the slick mud.

Skirting the edge of the lakes, we drove parallel to low dunes and through vast areas of Spinifex stopping occasionally to clean out under the car.

After driving through a thicket of mulga, we came out quite close to the Western end of the range. We travelled parallel to the range through what could almost be classed as a savannah plain. The area was dead flat crossed here and there by wash-a-ways that helped keep the speed down. It was so flat and devoid of high grass that there was a real temptation to plant the right foot. A couple of roos watched our passing with interest and a mob of about 20 camels close to the far tree line continued their slow path in total disdain.

We stopped for lunch in a small ravine what Ian Elliott had christened Big Rock Toyota Gorge due to the large boulders littering the far reaches of the ravine. As we drove in 4 camels made a hasty retreat. Their presence suggested that there might have been a waterhole nearby.

After lunch, we all had a good wander through the gorge or ravine. (What is the difference between the two?). Didn't find any water or signs of previous human habitation. Mind you, there was plenty of evidence that camels like this spot. Found a dead bat though, which was unusual?

Back in the cars we proceeded towards the Eastern end of the range and made camp in an area surrounded by low rocks and scrub.

Cooked over our personal campfire tonight and had chicken and mixed vegies. The fridge is set as a freezer with a polystyrene insulation sheet above the frozen food so that we effectively have the upper portion as a fridge. Unfortunately, I had my beer close to the air holes in the polystyrene sheet and thus my beer froze. Bugger!
Sat around the camp’s camp fire as usual and only had the one drink so to bed early and sober.

Day 9 – Saunders Range (rest day)

Rose at dawn even though we were going nowhere today. Morning is very cold so we had egg and bacon cooked over the open fire and boiled the billy likewise. Fire warmth was welcomed.
Intention is to travel back to the Northern end of the range and have a good look around.

So far since Laverton we’ve gone through 1.5 tanks of fuel and travelled only 406km. Basically, this equates to about 130 litres of fuel or 3.12km/L which is a good 30% more than I had allowed for. We’ve still got 60 litres on the roof and about 60 litres or so in the reserve tank and ½ a tank in the main, so about 150-160 litres. Based on current consumption and driving conditions we will only get at best 450-460km of travelling and we have 500km before the next refuel at Tjukayirla Roadhouse in 5 days time. A bit of a worry to say the least.

Half of the camp decide to stay at camp and do nothing or do a bit of exploring on foot. Ian Elliot heads off elsewhere to do a bit of exploring further south. Six vehicles of us decide to head north with Nick leading. Camels again watched our progress as we headed north.

Near where we entered the range yesterday and if we had of turned left and not right we would have had to of climbed the jump up that now confronted us.

Looked a little daunting from a distance but not needing to slip the car into low 4 –drive Ian easily drove up the rocks. As we rounded a bend, we startled a mob of camels and they scattered before us. Getting out of the car, we spotted some roos perched amongst the rocks.

Given that these camels where at the head of a ravine it looked promising that we would find a waterhole. Following a number of promising tracks, we found no signs of any waterholes. We did however find a small cave and overhang with some petroglyph's and other scratchings.

Heading back to camp, we spotted Peter and Ria walking our way. They had walked over the top of the range from our camp and were heading into the same ravine as us. Stopping at this ravine, there is a huge rock that has split from the side of the cliff face.

Quite an impressive area with some stunning formations and holes. After about an hour or so of exploring, we headed back to camp leaving Peter and Ria to continue their walk.

Arriving back at camp Ian decided to have a full body wash while I made some dough for bread. I hadn’t realised Ian’s wash was going to be a full Monty wash until I heard one of the woman call out about his bare bum. Scary sight. Needless to say, I didn’t take any photos of that little escapade. After his wash, Ian proceeded to wash all his dirty cloths and the nearby bushes became cloths bushes.

At about 4.00 PM, Nick took us on a walk near our camp to where there is some rock art, very old aboriginal rock hides and a perfectly preserved grinding stone and grinder. Quite amazing considering that the site would of last been used as an aboriginal camp in excess of 100 years ago.

That night around the camp fire, we each told what really pees us off about whatever. A prize was awarded for the best story and Ria & Ash both won a Black Wolf sleeping bag each that had been donated by Black Wolf and compliments of Ranger Camping.

Day 10 – Saunders Range to Point Waulfe via Wallaby Rocks (36km)

Had a freezing night in the tent where I had to put on an extra shirt, socks, and track pants just to get warm. Dawn wasn't much warmer. Baked the bread, and it looked and smelt good.

All packed and on the road by 8.30.

Moving maps failed to work for the first couple of waypoints but pressing Control s got it working again. Damn technology.

The track this morning was through high Spinifex, which caused us to stop a bit more frequently to check under the car for hung up Spinifex stalks. At one point got a large stick wedged under the car with the end grinding against the inside face of the wheel rim. Lucky it was the rim and not the breaks or tyre.

Transferred the last of my reserve tank at 453km and that at least got me a near on full tank. Yet to empty the jerry cans.

We stopped in the lee of a line of dunes on the edge of a mulga thicket that showed promising signs that this may be where Hann’s Dinner Gnamma Hole is located. The OziExplorer Nat Map only gives a general position for the hole and Hann’s diaries are somewhat vague as to its actual location. While we all stood around and talked, Ian Elliot and Nick went exploring the thicket. After about an hour they came back without finding any signs of a gnamma hole.

Continuing on to Wallaby Rocks we skirted some high dunes and had to traverse a couple of long shallow dunes. This deep soft sand with relatively hard (35psi) skinny tyres was playing havoc with my fuel supplies.

Arriving at Wallaby Rocks we had a good look around the various small caves and rock overhangs, where we found some minor rock art that was too faded to photograph. We did find a ceremonial dancing circle of rocks and cairn and some dry waterholes.

In one of the rock faces, we also found a decent stick rat’s nest. Pretty surprising given that this area had been an Aboriginal camp site. The rat must have come into the area in relatively recent times.

Given that, we had wasted a fare amount of time looking for the Dinner Gnamma Hole we didn’t make it to Pt Waulfe but ended up camping some 2 km or so South of that point.

That night Phyllis and James joined Ian & I around our cooking fire for a drink and a natter while I cooked casserole for tea. After which we joined everybody else around the main fire and Ian Elliot continued his readings from Hann’s diaries. It felt like it was going to be a very cold night as we all told dirty jokes, (the kids had gone to bed early), and then each of us told what had been the highlight of the trip so far.

Day 11 (Tues 8 July)– Way point R69 being about 2km South of Point Waulfe to Point Lilian via claypan camp (57km)

Well to say last night was cold is an understatement more like freezing, and how much below freezing I’ve no idea other than to say we had ice on the car bonnet, windscreen, spare wheel, anything that we had left out overnight, including water bottles, and my toothbrush.

The toothbrush bristles where all frozen like a slushy, so I poured water over them and I had an instant ice cube around the toothbrush. Yep it was cold all right.

Breakfasted on baked beans, ham & eggs and my nice fresh bread all cooked on the open fire. We needed the fire to get warm anyway.

Amazingly within an hour of getting up I was down to just 2 shirts and my jeans. All packed by 8.15am and the GPS and laptop all fired up and ready to go.

Our start to the day was through rocky terrain inter spaced by mulga thickets. Amazingly, we have not had any more punctures since Steve and Michelle’s some days previously. At times, the terrain has been through some very thick scrub and over burnt ground and punctures is an ever-present danger.

Our first sign of wildlife was a lonesome camel standing on top of a sand dune. We all stopped to try to take a photo but it was too far away. It looked very iconic standing above the dune surveying his or her domain and wondering what these funny things were on the track below.

Arriving at Waulfe Creek we all walked up the main creek line in the hope of finding a waterhole. After about a 500m walk all we found was a small puddle of water in the middle of the creek and in full sun. We jokingly suggested that it might have been a puddle of camel pee. 30 minutes later we were again back behind the wheel and headed East towards Pt Lilian, which is only a short distance from the Connie Sue Highway or as it is called today the Rawlinna Warburton Road.

At one point, we judiciously put the car into low 4 as we crossed a couple of steep and rocky river beds. Not that we needed the extra gearing, but the low ratio is very nice when you’re crawling over the rocks letting the car do all the work and not having to use the left foot on the break. This section was so rocky that we built rock cairns to mark our route for future travellers to follow.

We lunch stopped at a small clay pan that had been used by Hann and others as a camp site. Not much there really other than the clay pan, some rabbit burrows and some shade trees. Pleasant spot though for a lunch break.

The terrain has been ever changing from rocky outcrops and rock trails, through thick mulga where we have to stop and move branches and fallen trees, to wide open Spinifex plains scattered with patches of majestic marble gums, grevilleas, and corkwoods, to stunningly red dunes covered in Spinifex clumps, marble gums and silver dollar gums.

It wasn't long after this that we found ourselves on more established tracks, obviously made by mining or oil exploration teams as we found a survey marker at the side of the track.

We arrive at Point Lilian at about 4.00PM and camp on the Westerly side in an excellent spot so that we can witness the setting sun bouncing of the beautiful cliff face of Pt Lilian.Our camp actually is on the edge of the tree line that is about 400m from the cliffs with a grass plain between us.

Making camp, Steve offers me a 20 litre jerry can of Premium unleaded knowing that I’m a bit low. As a token of thanks, he will not accept any payment from me for the fuel. I had offered him $2.00 a litre for it but he said I had helped them heaps with their flat tyres and had used my patches so would not accept my offer of payment. It would turn out that I wouldn’t have needed his fuel, but I was extremely grateful of the offer and the safety net it provided.

The setting sun over the range was quite spectacular and I set the camera up on my mono-pod to take a stack of photos to join into a panorama.

Tea tonight was chops and mash cooked over the open fire. The camp’s campfire tonight was a quiet affair for no apparent reason. Good I suppose as you cannot party every night. It was still 10.00Pm when we hit the sack and oddly enough, the night was quite warm a surprising change from the night before.

Day 12 (Wed 9 July)– Point Lilian to Parallel Road No2 camp via Cooper Creek, Ryans Bluff & Henning Tank (120km)

Woke at about 4.00am for a call of nature and as I watered a bush I looked towards Southeast and spotted a weird light above the tree line. At first, I thought it was the security light of one of the cars bouncing of the tree canopy but it moved. The glow was quite distant and too large to be a plane’s navigation lights. Obviously a UFO of sorts. Bed had been to comfortable and the memory of that comfort dragged me away from the lights. They, whoever they were were not bothering me so I was not going to bother them.

Today would be a huge day with many wondrous sights being found at Pt Lilian. Considering the size of the place I think Pt Lilian had the most to see and was truly amazing.

We drove over the grass plane and parked at the base of the cliffs. Ian Elliot headed off on his own towards the Connie Sue in search of some other formations; he would join up with us just this side of the CS Hwy.

Leaving the vehicles, we found a suitable track up onto the plateau above the cliffs. Up here we found the unusual but stunning Minnie Richie plant, with its flaking bright red bark and weathered and twisted branches. The bottom side of many of the branches appeared to have died and new bark had grown on the upper side.

After a short walk we came to a ravine full of what looked like Cypress pines, which is oddly bizarre in itself. The rim around the ravine was littered with holes that provided a window through to the caverns below. These had more than likely been gnamma holes that had worn through.

The short climb down to the ravine floor was relatively easy but James managed to collapse a pile of rocks that fell on Peter. Fortunately neither were hurt.

The Western walls of the ravine contained many long galleries of Aboriginal art, providing ample evidence that this had once been a highly revered camping spot for the Aboriginals. Whilst we didn’t find any water there must have been ample supply.

We found evidence of white man’s occupancy in the form of an old fence post and fencing wire. These suggested either a place for corralling horses and other livestock or snares used to catch prey.

Leaving here mid morning we headed east along a well formed, track. It appears that Pt Lilian is a regular stop by some tour groups so the track is well defined. Not far from the Connie Sue Ian Elliot rejoined us. This track took us through a relatively large area of mulga and Spinifex that had been recently burnt. Given the close proximity to the road human intervention was suspected, as being the cause of this fire.

The Connie Sue was a welcome sight but it also heralded the start of the downward slope to civilisation and the homeward stage of our trip.

The section of the Connie Sue that we travelled north along was/is horrendously corrugated. The corrugations where so bad that my GPS fell out of the dash mounting bracket and all my power leads fell out of the cigarette point fittings. Needless to say, the GPS and laptop failed to work, and the inverter was screaming due to lack of constant power.

Due to the corrugations and dust, the convoy started to spread out over quite a distance. Nick called a stop for morning tea in the middle of the track to allow the convoy to regroup.

On the move, again we stopped at Cooper Creek, which is a wide and expansive creek system. It was near here that Ian Elliot, on a previous trip, had been bogged very deeply. A bore has been sunk and by the sound of a dropped pebble, it suggested that the bore was very deep. There is only the PVC bore liner so getting water out could be quite a chore.

We stopped at Ryan’s Bluff for lunch and I can’t describe it at all because as soon as we had finished lunch I checked all the electrical connections under the bonnet, and stripped the fridge out of the back of the car and anything else that was stopping access to my auxiliary battery. Found that a fuse had blown on the duel battery box that is linked to one of the cigarette points near the tailgate. Also checked all the cigarette lighter fittings and plugs used for the accessories that we were running. Had to jam the plugs into the sockets so as to help stop them from shacking out. I would later Velcro them in so that they couldn’t move. Based on this experience I would highly recommend that any cigarette lighter plug fittings be installed vertically so that the male plug is always pushing into the female plug fitting.

One consolation I found a dollar on the ground.

Moving on after lunch we turned off the Connie Sue, almost opposite the Parallel Road No 1, to look at the Henning Tank. Heading east along a rutted track and crossing a steep creek crossing, we spotted two dingos. One was your typical dingo but the other had more dog in it than dingo as it was jet black. Instead of running off, they just led down in the grass to conceal themselves while we drove past.

The Henning Tank is actually a waterhole in the side of the creek bed. There was some damp sand visible so Chris got a shovel and dug some sand out until a decent supply of water was got. No doubt, the local animal population would give us silent thanks.

Back on the Connie Sue again I stopped to take some photos of a mob of camels. Back in the car I realised that I had dropped my sunglasses. I 2 wayed for the vehicles behind to keep an eye out for them and Ray in the last vehicle found them. 9 vehicles had actually driven over the glasses. When I got them back later they were intact but the lenses scratched, but not too badly that I couldn't wear them.

When we got to the Skipper Creek turn off we found that the Indigenous landowners had put up a sign, (painted on the side of a 44 gallon drum), advising that access was now denied, permit or no permit. Turning around we travelled back about 5km to the Parallel Road No 2, and found ourselves a good camp site for the night.

When the main camp fire was roaring we all gathered around for pre-dinner drinks and a good feed of nibblies.

While everybody carried on around the fire, I phoned Kerry on the sat phone. After the phone call I tried to repair the power problems within the car and reinforce the connections. To add to the tail of woe when it comes to all things electrical, our fluro light failed to work I replaced a blown fuse and it still wouldn't work suggesting that the fluro had blown. The large battery operated duel fluro light decided to die and I hadn't packed the charger. The battery operated small fluro light had been crushed in the back of the car, compliments of all the corrugations, and wouldn't work either. Oh the joys, at least we still had torches, and the fluro at the back of the car was still working.

In bed by 9.15 PM the earliest so far. Had to laugh, Ian’s air mattress went down on him during the night. Fortunately, for him it was only a loose plug so he was able to stop all the air escaping.

Day 13 (Thur 10 July) – Parallel Road No 2 camp to Empress Springs via Tjukayirla Roadhouse (270km)

On the road by 8.50am. The Parallel Rd No 2 is a pretty good road that obviously doesn't see much traffic. Mainly gravel with some sandy spots and the odd wash-away. The track is pretty straight for long sections and because the track undulates up and down over dunes you can get a good view of the track and terrain ahead. Travelling at 80km/hr was easily done and a welcome change to the 10km/hr we had been travelling at for most of the previous days.

Met our first car in 10 days at about 9.30am, a Nissan Navara with NSW plates heading east. Nick stopped and had a chat to them. While he talked we all watched a mob of camels grazing on the south side of the track.

Not far past the NSW car we encountered a mob of camels very close to the side of the road. There was a couple of baby camels with white coats in the mob as well. I think we all managed to get some decent photos of them all.

The track was beginning to look like being good for wildlife watching as we came upon a large flock of pink and grey galahs at the side of the track. They were unperturbed about our presence and I had to sound my horn to get them to fly.

Stopping to let the tail-enders catch up in an area of burnt ground we were surprised at the number of different types of flowers growing and in bloom within the small area of our parking. Resident botanist Dr Kristina was having a field day.

We stopped for lunch at Devino Breakaway, which I suspect, could be the caves marked on the South West Desert Tracks map on the right hand side of the Parallel Rd No 2. This place is quite remarkable. The breakaway is littered with small caves that have collapsed roofs that you can look straight through to the sky from. After a good hour or more here we pushed on for Tjukayirla.

Having heard horror stories about the condition of the Great Central Road I was stunned to find that the section we would travel would be better than many sealed highways. The gravel road is about 30m wide and very well maintained. I suspect due to the number of Aboriginal Communities found in this region.

Ian and I started counting the number of wrecked cars that litter the sides of the road; by the time we reach Laverton we will have counted 109. It would appear that Falcon’s are the vehicle of choice.

500m or so before the turn off into the roadhouse the road is all bituminous as it is an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Arriving at Tjukayirla at about 2.00PM we joined the queue to fill our thirsty vehicles. Whist there was both Opal (ULP) & diesel the girl who worked in the store had to fill each car personally and then give you a docket to take inside for payment. Opal was $2.10/Litre (I put in $150 worth or 71.4L) & diesel $2.50. Needless to say nobody filled their tanks as Laverton was only a couple of hundred kilometres down this very good road.

The roadhouse it self is a well maintained brick and iron building with plenty of supplies on hand. Takeaway food is available, frozen bread and other supplies. The public toilets were also clean and in good condition. After a half hour or so stop it was on the road again heading westward.

The turn off onto the David Carnegie Road is only a few kilometres down the road from the roadhouse. The track in the main was good with a couple of corrugated sections and a patch of deep sand to keep you on your toes.

Empress Springs is 60km from the turn of and is found just of the track. There is a small carpark, visitor’s book, and commemorative plaque erected in 1996 to honour David Carnegie. The spring is actually at the bottom of what I presume is a sinkhole. Access is via a steel chain ladder with the floor being about 7m or so from the surface.

Climbing down I was surprised to find a large chamber with a sand bottom. Off to the left of the ladder is a steep, rock strewn passage that led down to where the spring supposedly is. Those who ventured down reported finding no water. Some wag has made up the symbol of a skull using old bones, which somebody said were dingo bones. Somebody has also written using bones the word “danger’ near the bottom of the ladder. Propped up against a hole in the roof are a couple of timber poles with footholds cut into them. These used to be the only access in or out of the cavern.

From here, it was back down the track to our overnight camp at the side of the road. We found a good spot amongst some desert oaks to make our camp and pitch our tents.

Had to laugh, as we had run out of fluro light power our lighting had resorted to torches. I have a headlamp, which is great but I had dangled a torch from the car’s tailgate to shine light over the gas stove and our cooking mince. You guessed it; the torch fell squarely into the pan of cooking mince. What a mess. After eating and cleaning up, we sat around the main camp fire as usual.

Weird cloud formation rolled in at about 8.00PM. It started as an almost perfect rectangle from the west and as it approached us, the sides squeezed in to form a perfect triangle. These clouds approached rapidly and went over our heads like a movie alien space ship. We suspected that a storm might have been brewing as Perth had had some bad weather in the preceding days. Fortunately, we experienced no inclement weather.

Day 14 (Fri 11 July) - Empress Springs to Great Central Road camp (280km)

Dawn heralded another clear and fine morning. Breaking camp, we headed back down the David Carnegie Road back towards the Gt Central Road. About three quarters of the way back down the road we turned of onto a partly concealed track. This rutted track took us to a Rockhole.

This area consists of a series of 4 rock holes. One was quite deep, Aiden climbed in, and it was nearly as deep as he is tall. The other three rock holes are nowhere near as deep. One had some damp sand in it though and we didn't bother trying to dig down to water. Grinding spots are evident around the rock holes.

Not far from here was a quite impressive breakaway.The breakaways are full of , small caves, and gnamma holes that were fun to explore. Walking over a series of plateaus and up and down small valleys, we came to an area where the valley floor had a number of rock cairns and on the upper slopes of the valley we encountered a series of dance lines that had fancy rocks placed as cairns or singular rocks stood upright like a tombstone. Each of these rock piles had a circle or heart shaped ring of rocks placed around them.
We had fun finding an easy path back to the cars as we had meandered in but wanted to walk out by a more direct path and finding an easy path back down the face of the breakaways was not easy.

Back on the David Carnegie Road again I soon stopped to take a few photos of a decomposing camel carcass. Seeing me stopped a number of the other vehicles stopped for a look also.

As we headed west, the sky became blacker and a couple of spots of rain fell. We all thought that we would be in for a very wet and stormy night.

Turning down a gravel track we soon found a large desert oak grove that was perfect for a camp. Old camp fire pits suggested that we weren't the first or last to use this spot.

As the weather was looking so bleak, Ian and I decided to only set up the bare essentials for this night’s camp. Tea was also to be a basic affair, settling for sausages in bread. As it turned out we only had about six spots of rain and the breeze also abated to a mere zephyr.

Chris and Sue-Ella built a huge bonfire to farewell our last night bush camping. Sue-Ella had tirelessly built and maintained our camp fires each night. She must have shifted and burnt many tonnes of timber over the 13 nights we camped.

The burning pyre of wood attracted the rest of the camp around and we all had our photos taken with the flames roaring over our heads. As this was our last night on the road most of us stayed up later than normal and just talked and sipped our drinks of choice.

In bed by 10.45PM.

Day 15 (Sat 12 July) – Great Central Road camp to Kalgoorlie via Laverton, Kookynie, Niagra Dam & Menzies (460km)

The night had been very damp and the inside of the tent laid testament to that fact. I must have been tired as it was 6.50am when I dragged myself out of bed. The mood around the camp was somewhat sombre and most had delayed packing.

On the road again, Nick got talking on the UHF to a woman in a 60 series that we had just overtaken. Appears that a vehicle in their party was getting trucked back to Kalgoorlie after having major suspension and break problems. The flatbed truck had come from Noreseman, which was 1200km away. The cost of the recovery was going to cost in excess of $3000. We would see this vehicle later in the day when we got to Kalgoorlie.

Not to far down the road we had to stop for a convoy of mining machinery travelling under police escort. What a job that must be as the convoy of vehicles was only travelling at about 20km/hr if that.

Arriving in Laverton around morning tea time where we all refuelled. Travelled 428 Km since Tjukayirla RH & ULP was 191.5c/L so only put $100 worth in and got 52.22L. Bought our first junk food in a fortnight and the meat pie sure tasted good. The use of a proper toilet as well was a pleasant relief, to say the least.

From Laverton we headed via the Goldfield Tourist route through historic Malcolm and other old now abandoned or nonexistent towns following the old Laverton Kalgoorlie rail line. The formations and bridge buttresses are still evident but the lines and rails have long since been removed.

We stopped at Kookynie for lunch at the pub. The town is just about a ghost town these days with the only signs of life being the pub and one house. There must obviously be a bit more activity around the place but not a great deal was evident. The town is surrounded by a levy bank due to flooding problems.

The pub meal was good and the beer very cold. You can have any tap beer you want as long as it’s Swan draught. The owner of the place never smiled once the whole time we were there. The burgers that we had ordered took ages to arrive but were well worth the wait.

Those who had not had the pub meals went to Niagara Dam for a look around. I had hoped to do likewise but given the time we had spent in the pub we missed out. Meeting up with the others at the intersection of the Niagara Dam Rd and the road leading to the Goldfields Highway we all headed into Kalgoorlie.

Arrived in Kalgoorlie at about 4.00PM and got some wine for the nights restaurant meal (Chinese), and Sue-Ella gave me a six-pack of beer to repay me for all my wine and spirits she had drunk. This gesture was appreciated but not necessary at all. It would be a pretty poor day when a bloke won’t share a drink with somebody who had run out and you hadn’t.

Refuelled the car and squeezed 118 litres into the tanks. All up, I had used 329.4 litres of ULP travelling from Kalgoorlie to Kalgoorlie a distance of approximately 2100km. That worked out that on average I got 6.37km/L or 15.7L/100km. All things being considered that wasn’t to bad.

Arriving at the motel we find that Ian Elliot had got a puncture in the motel carpark. Go figure. Our motel room was next to the one we had on the way up.

Had to laugh everybody had been talking over the 2-ways about how they were all looking forward to a long hot soaking shower. They all dived into the showers at the same time and a number complained later that they had cold showers. Ian had a lukewarm one. I had a nice hot one as I waited until after 6.00PM to have mine. Turns out that the motel is on gas restrictions and hot water is one of the things that was restricted. This shower was my first proper wash since the night of the Millar Range cocktail party, on day 6 when I had a cold water shower, and that was nine days ago.

We all met in the motel reception and then went by mini bus taxi to the Chinese Restaurant for tea.

Nick and Ray had made awards for some of us who had done notable things. Steve and Michelle got the “Wooded Stake Award” for their two punctures, Sue-Ella received a present for all her firewood collecting and fire lighting, and maintaining, I got one for taking all the photographs. My present was a year’s subscription to Western 4WD magazine.

After a good meal, we all split up and made our own ways back to the motel. Ian and I walked back with Steve, Michelle, Nick and Sue. Splitting up as we did didn’t give us the opportunity to say goodbye properly as Ian and I would be on the road in the morning well before dawn.

Day 16 (Sun 13 July) – Kalgoorlie to Perth and home (600km)

Ian and I were up at 5.30 AM, showered packed and on the road by 6.15AM. Soon stopped at the side of the road to try to find where the squeak that had plagued us for the past 10 days was coming from. Unable to find the squeak we pushed on. As the sun rose the gimlet trees that line Great Eastern Highway near Kalgoorlie glowed a rich mahogany colour.

We stopped in Southern Cross for breakfast and ten minutes later we were on our way again. From about Burracoppin we started to experience thick patches of fog that would be about 5km or so deep and then we would get a patch of clear skies and then the fog would reappear. This would continue almost to Northam.

We swapped drivers at Merredin and Ian drove as far as the Lakes Roadhouse then I took over driving again.

Just outside of Northam, we encountered two hot air balloons silently sailing in front of us. We stopped and watched for a while, while I took some photos.

I finally dropped Ian of at his place at 1.30PM and I was home 5 minutes later.

The 16 days away had flown by and it was a trip of a lifetime shared with great people, seeing many things that had potentially never been seen before by man, and definitely not by white man. Hann’s trails that we followed give an insight into the hardships that explorers of days gone by must of endured. We had airconditioned cars, plenty of water, communications, and comforts; they had none of these.

Thank you to the people I shared these experiences with.

Make sure you give back more than you take
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