The Great Victoria Desert – Our Return Visit August 2014 Part 1

Friday, Sep 12, 2014 at 20:38

Stephen L (Clare) SA

My planned route that I had worked on for our return visit to Australia’s largest desert, The Great Victoria Desert, was very specific, and if I was not able to do just one section, it would have thrown my plans into dismay. Just like working on a delicate jig saw puzzle, each section was carefully researched and examined with countless phone calls to Government bodies, Pastoralists, the Department of Defence, and private individuals. The success of this great trip was made a success and would not have been possible without permission from the following people, and for this very reason I would again like to publicly thank them.

Andrew Lillecrap from Clare, a great friend and former Manager of North Well Station for over 10 years.

Michael Balharry, Dog Fence Board of South Australia

Mat Kerin, Manager of North Well Station

James Barry, Manager of Mulgathing Station

Ben Hammond, former manager of Mobella Station

Simon Robinson, Manager of Commonwealth Hill Station

Glenn Kay, Access Liaison Officer (Non-Defence access to the Woomera Prohibited Area) Woomera Test Range

My great mate and friend, Robin Matthews from Maralinga

The Maralinga Tjarutja Aboriginal people

Ian Baird, Coordinator for Tjuntjuntjarra Spinifex Aboriginal Community

Parka and Bruce Hogan, traditional Aboriginal Elders from the Tjuntuntjarra Spinifex Aboriginal Community.

All Aboriginal Community members from both Oak Valley and Tjuntjunjarra Aboriginal Communities, who welcomed us into their usually “Closed Communities”

Murray and Margaret Collins from Ceduna

Chris Jordan and John Voyzey from the Surveyors General Office, Adelaide

And last and not least, to Fiona, my great wife for putting up with me while I was either continually on the phone, or on the Computer while doing all the trip preparations and research over the previous 12 months.

The trip was divided up into four main sections. Section one would be from Port Augusta through private station country, following the Dog Fence from North Well Station, then all the way north as far as Dingo Flat Gate on Mobella Station, then onto the Nawa Junction Track and then down into Maralinga.

Section two would be from Maralinga through to Oak Valley Aboriginal Community, then travelling the BMR Tracks and the Aboriginal Business Road into Western Australia, including visiting the Forrest Lakes area and as far south as Decoration Cave, then finally through to Tjunjunjarra Community.

Section three would be from Tjuntjunjarra out on the Aboriginal Business Road to the Connie Sue Highway, then north up the Connie Sue to as far as Pt. Lilian. From Pt. Lilian, back down to Neale Junction, and then east on the Anne Beadell Highway to Ilkurlka and Voakes Hill Corner.

The last and final section would see us travel south from Voakes Hill Corner on the Cook Road, but then veer off onto BMR 3 that would bring us out just west of Annes Corner. From Annes Corner a little further east before taking the Camalco Track and then heading down to the Len Beadell 300 Mile Marker. From there to Dingo Claypan and down to Emu before our final run back down to Maralinga, with our small diversion to try and locate the wreckage of a fatal air crash from 1988 of a Cessna 310 that claimed the poor pilots life. Once back into Maralinga, we would then head home at our own leisure, as some had commitments while others were more flexible.

The Trip

As with any trip preparation, I started planning this trip before our last Maralinga trip had even finished and the phone called started, one after the other. Over the coming months, I was given permission for each section and then the hunt was on for any history on the areas that we would be travelling through. My friend Andrew from Clare was a great help as he helped to guide me to many sections of private station tracks where he once managed. Good summer and early autumn rains fell in most areas that we would be travelling through and as early as May, there were traces of wildflowers breaking through.

Months and weeks were slipping by very fast and before long, we were having our last sleep in our own bed before an early start and to officially start the trip at Port Augusta. As we had to meet Mat from North Well Station at Kingoonya around 2pm, we departed Port Augusta at 8.30am and headed north up the Stuart Highway. Our first stop was at some old Copper Mines near Ironstone Lagoon before travelling through to Glendambo and our lunch stop. With full tummies and fuel tanks, we started the first of our 4000 kilometres of dirt road and track driving and arrived at the former railway town of Kingoonya with time to spare.

After introducing my fellow travelling companions to Mat and Karl from North Well Station, Mat led the way out of town where he would take us to our first nights camp, out near the Lake Harris. It was great to arrive in time for an early camp and Mat showed us some special sites in the area. We said our farewells to Mat and thanked him greatly for showing us out to this special area, and Karl said he would be back, as he wanted to have a better chat with Larry.

The evening was cold and crisp and the campfire soon took all those chills away. After an early start to the day, we were all looking forward to an early night, then the dull drone and flashing lights of an approaching vehicle made it clear that Karl was keeping his word. Along with Karl, was John the Publican from the Kingoonya Hotel with an esky full beer and spirits, just so they would not go thirsty? John handed out some Stubby holders and Larry signed some caps that John was going to display in his Pub. One by one, people were moving off to bed and Larry and David were the last two men standing with Karl and John.

Next morning, vehicles and swags were covered in a crisp coating of frost and with the fire back into life, the usual slow rotation around the fire warmed everyone and once the sun had fully risen, you could see a slight mist as the suns rays thawed the frost. Before we left camp, we set off to explore the area around our camp and then it was out to Glenloft historic gold mining site. Inspecting many of the special sites to see in the area, it was then out to the Dog Fence for our next camp.

Over the next couple of days, we made our way north along the longest man made fence in the world before it was time to head west along the Nawa junction track. For many in the group, having permission to travel the Dog Fence was a real highlight of the trip, as were saw some very unique country that is only ever seen by Doggers or Station people. While we were heading north along the Dog Fence, we met Rob the Dogger, so just as well we had permission to be travelling along the fence, and goes to show that you never know just who you may run into when you least expect it.

At our pre-determined location, it was time to leave the luxury of bush tracks and to head out into almost virgin country and head north to the Wilkinson Lakes, a series of Claypans and salt lakes. Arriving at our great camping location, there was clear evidence that we were not the first people to camp in this area, with large sections of the sand dunes covered with countless stone chippings from when this area was home to local Aboriginals countless decades ago.

After nearly 2 days in the Wilkinson Lakes area, repairing lots of punctures that no vehicle escaped, we finally made our way back onto the Nawa Junction Track and our final run into Maralinga on a smooth and quite bitumen road. Those hot showers at Maralinga were something special and the washing machines got a real work out. The next day at Maralinga was spent fixing punctures and just relaxing while Robin had to head off early to Oak Valley with the supply truck and arrived back in the early afternoon. That night we all sat around the fire at Fort Maralinga and planned our next section of the trip, with the Oak Valley Community expecting us to arrive the next day around lunchtime.

In section two, we will leave Maralinga and make our way to the remote Tjuntjuntjarra Aboriginal Community.

Stephen Langman

September 2014
Smile like a Crocodile
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