The Great Victoria Desert – Our Return Visit August 2014 Part 4

Tuesday, Oct 07, 2014 at 20:54

Stephen L (Clare) SA

After looking through and signing the Visitors Book again at Voakes Hill Corner, we all departed and travelled south on the Cook Road. The very first thing that any traveller will notice when diverting away from the Anne Beadell Highway is “hey presto”, the corrugations have disappeared as you snake your way through the sand dunes as you head south. Once clear of the dune country, it opens up and Black Oak is now the dominant tall tree species. Our first stop was to show everyone the site of Waldana Well that was marked by Len Beadell in 1961 and timbered up in 1962 when the National Mapping of outback roads was undertaken. From this location it did not take long to arrive at the junction of the BMR 3 road and it was then time to turn left and continue our journey along this very wide and well-constructed road.

Next morning as we headed out, I took up the rear position and the group was now spread out for the first time in quite a while, as this lower section of the BMR 3 was in first class condition and we were all able to travel at a reasonable pace, compared to the quite slow speeds on the Anne Beadell Highway. Stopping for our morning smoko while still on the BMR, the countryside was still looking in peak condition and there were a number of wildflowers in this area that we had not seen anywhere else during our travels. The closer that we travelled to the junction of the Anne Beadell Highway, we could hear new radio chatter from a group of travellers that were traveling west along the Anne Beadell Highway.

Once back onto the Anne Beadell Highway, our speed of travel was now quite slow again and again, we could hear more chatter over the UHF Radio, and we met another group of travellers that were heading west. After the usual exchange of information, we were on our way again and found a spot for lunch just inside the boundary of the Maralinga Tjarutja Lands, where there were 2 men travelling on motorcycle, also having their lunch stop. Doing the usual exchange of information, the men were on a twelve-day dash from Brisbane and during the conversation, I asked if they had back up vehicles of extra fuel. They had intended to refuel at Ilkurlka and when I advised that they only had diesel their mood dropped instantly. After countless Satellite phone calls to Maralinga, Ilkurlka and then Tjuntjuntjarra, I had organised for them to travel down to the remote Community of Tjuntjuntjarra where I know that they had large supplies of Opal fuel.

After our lunch stop, it was again time to leave the corrugations of the Anne Beadell and head north onto the Camalco Track and again, the lower sections were another great experience to travel along. Rain had reached well into this northern area, and again there were vast areas covered in wildflowers adding to the enjoyment of travelling through this country and to see it at its very best.

There were however many times where the track was completely overgrown and it was a job to pick the easiest way through the at times dense vegetation. At a point were we were closest to Lens 300 Mile Marker, it was time again to head bush and we slowly made our way south to bring us slightly west of the actual marker, where we set up camp. For the first time in the trip, you had to be very careful where you walked, as the ground was covered in Parakeelya and to walk on the very fleshy leaves was like walking on mud, as the large amounts of moisture would turn to a very mushy paste that stuck to the bottom of your boots like……..

Next morning with our names added to those that were already there in the Black Plastic tub, it was time to head south to Dingo Claypan and then even further south to the Anne Beadell Highway again. Being still reasonably early in the morning, the low sun made the surface of Dingo Claypan look very wet, yet it was as dry as concrete and as smooth to drive on. A few of the members blew out a few cobwebs out of their vehicles as they made the most of the long, smooth airstrip that was on the dry lakebed. While inspecting the area around Dingo Claypan, there was a pair of graceful Wedge Tailed Eagles circling above, and were being continually harassed by crows, despite the size difference.

The drive south to the Anne Beadell Highway was most enjoyable with large areas covered in Wildflowers, and then as quick as the flowers appeared, you would drive over a dune into an area that had missed out completely on rain and was as dry as the moons surface. We arrived at the site of Camera Site ‘C’ and this meant that it was time to get back onto the corrugations. While John and David were trying to locate a track that would take us directly to the Totem 2 Site, I got out of our vehicle to take to more images of the Sturts Desert Pea that were quite prolific along this section of the Anne Beadell Highway. I was too busty taking photos of the plants along the side of the track and as I turned around to walk back to my car, I could not believe my eyes. Straddling the wheel tracks in the middle of the Anne Beadell Highway and right in front of our vehicle, I spotted some unreal specimens of Pink Sturts Desert Pea growing right in the middle of normal Red Sturts Desert Pea. I was as excited as a kid in a lolly shop and it was great for Russell to see these colour variations, but John and David were not able to turn around and witness this special event.

Once the track had been found, we headed along this seldom used track and was very surprised for the higher country on the way to Totem 2 that is not seen from either the Anne Beadell Highway or the main track into the Totem sites. There were a number of large towers along this track, as well as others on the surrounding hills, and we all wondered what these towers would have monitored during the testing at Emu. On top of the large towers were large round open cylinders, so curiosity got the better of Russell and he climbed up one top see if or what may be inside the open cylinders, and as you guess, there was nothing. Inspecting both Totem sites in the reverse manner, it was then off to Observation Hill, the site where the tests were witnessed from and the one where you see all the Officers with their backs to the blasts, then turn around to witness the first Nuclear tests on the Australian mainland. Still being the last vehicle, I stopped a number of times to get even more images of the vast display of Sturts Desert Pea, and again I was rewarded with another colour variation in colour, with the Boss, or the middle of the flower that is usually a very dark shiny black being a claret colour. From Observation Hill, it was back to the Anne Beadell Highway and we made our way to the Emu airstrip. After looking around the area, it was up on the Emu – Maralinga Road where we made camp at Observatory Hill. Next morning would be a special day for a number of reasons and our first stop was to inspect the Gully country around Cooks Creek, with its very eroded gully’s and layered stone formations.

Pushing further south, our next special point of interest was the site of the Len Beadell Blazed Black Oak Tree. This time I had strict instructions from Robin to find that special Black Oak that has grown as if it was a creeper around its host tree, which is not the case. As we left the Len Beadell blaze tree behind, we were now searching for our next stretch of cross-country driving and hoped that the waypoints that we had were going to accurate. Our first clue was the old 44-gallon drum and small tree that had been marked with red tape, from when Murray and Margaret Collins from Ceduna walked into the site only a few months before our attempt at finding it. Around October 2013 after I had given Robin the full crash report of this air crash site, Robin and Murray went to the GPS Co-ordinates that were printed on the report, but arriving at the site, there was no sign of any wreckage what so ever. When Murray returned to Ceduna, he made further enquires and was given a clue where the correct location should be, which was around five kilometres to the south east from what the report had stated.

As we approached the turn off point, there would have been no way we could take a vehicle in off of the track without doing very serious damage to all the vehicles, the vegetation was just too dense. At a point when thought we could take our chances, it was time to slowly make out way into the correct Waypoint that Murray had so kindly given me.

On the 9th June 1988, a Cessna 310-R with Registration Number VH-DZH departed Ceduna on route to Emu to uplift a group of people that were waiting to be collected at Emu. After making a number of serious navigational blunders, the plane could not locate the runway fires what were going to be lit in the event that the plane arrived after dark. Noticing a camp fire in the vicinity of Len Beadell’s blaze tree, the pilot thought that it was one of the runway marker fires and banked to make the approach to what he thought was the Emu airstrip, and this very fatal error caused the fatal crash of the plane. With hours of the plane being declared missing, the Civil Aviation Authority advised the Coober Pedy Police of the event, with the then Officer in Charge of Coober Pedy Police, Senior Sargent John Reed being placed in charge of the search. The following morning on board of Police Aircraft, an official from the CAA arrived at Coober Pedy and a control centre was set up at the Coober Pedy Airport, with Detective Hunt and Sargent Talbot directed by road to Emu Junction. During that first day of searching by many fixed wing planes, no trace of the missing plane could be located, and it was not until PM of the following day that the wreckage was located. The Coober Pedy Police ground patrol was ordered back to Coober Pedy, while the Coroners Office flew in an office by Helicopter, landing near the fatal crash site. Because of the remote nature of the crash site, the body was removed from the scene by helicopter and taken out to the Emu Road, where it was collected my motor vehicle and taken to Coober Pedy. Around 10 days after the fatal crash, an Engineer from Adelaide flew up to the crash site by helicopter and removed the two engines, and one at a time the engines were flown out to the Emu Road, where Coober Pedy locals David White, Jim Reynolds and David Hunt loaded the engines onto a trailer, where they were returned to Coober Pedy and subsequently transported to Parafield in Adelaide.

As we arrive at the fatal crash site, the area had a very uneasy feel about it and as we looked around the site, we could not believe what we were seeing. Even to this very day, there is wreckage over a large area and our thoughts go out to the poor pilots family. While we were going wreckage, Fiona found an old Vegemite jar, and put a small posey of Native Wildflowers on the wreckage as our group’s mark of respect. Returning to the Emu Road, we headed south and set up camp, knowing that early the next morning, we would be on our final approach to Maralinga. The drive south was totally amazing with hundreds of acres covered in wildflowers and in some locations, looking to the distance one would think that snow was covering this desert location. Arriving at Nawa Junction, Mick and I made a small detour to show him Kite and One Tree test sites and then it was into Maralinga for a couple of vehicle repairs and lovely hot showers.

The next morning, Robin was feeling quite sicks, so he was off to Ceduna for medicine, the group said our final farewells to each other as we all departed Maralinga and made our own ways home. Fiona and I took the Caravan track to Cook, and then down to Nullarbor Roadhouse, detouring off of the main road and taking more two wheel tracks to see Kudna Rockhole that was full of water, then to Knowles Cave and finally the Muurrawijinie Caves where we met a man that Robin had spoken kindley about, TJ, the local Policeman from Yalata before dropping into the Whale watching Centre and locating a great camp less than 15 minutes drive east of the Centre. Taking more tracks the following day, Fiona and I finally arrived home early in the evening after spending just over 3 weeks in the Great Victoria Desert with a fantastic group of travelers.

Stephen Langman

October 2014.

Further to the four Blogs on the trip that I have written, I will create a new Blog showcasing many of the very special Wildflowers that were in full bloom during our travels throughout the Great Victoria Desert.

Smile like a Crocodile
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