Hay River Run, June 2006. Part 1. Canberra to Birdsville

Monday, Oct 02, 2006 at 09:33


We were setting off to the Simpson Desert for the first time. Our house-sitters Vicki and David had settled in and were on hand to take some departure photos and wave us off at 7.30am. It was a cool, overcast winter’s day in Canberra and we were eager to leave it behind for warm, clear blue desert skies.

This trip was a 4WD club trip to the Hay River and we had eagerly taken the opportunity provided to see and experience this less travelled corner of the Simpson Desert. Not that we had been into any of the Simpson Desert either. It was a big convoy of 14 vehicles in total including five trailers, although the whole convoy would not assemble until we reached Birdsville. It was our first club trip and the first time that we had travelled in convoy, so were both excited and a bit apprehensive about this adventure. But we had some very capable folk along – Dave our leader has had a lot of experience with remote area travel so we felt that we would be in good hands.

In preparation for this trip we had invested in OziExplorer running on a little computer fitted in securely behind the passenger seat and displaying on a touch screen attached to the dash. We had used it on a trip up to Grafton and even on that trip its potential was obvious. We wondered how that little secondhand computer and the Chinese screen purchased on eBay would stand up to the rigours of this trip.

The convoy assembled at the ACT border and when all was ready we set off to Cowra, up the Lachlan valley Highway to Parkes and Narromine. It began raining and blowing after Cowra so we stopped north of Parkes in damp windy conditions for a hasty lunch. Our first overnight stop was at Nyngan where the caravan park provided good camping down by the river. A bus picked us up to take us into town for drinks at the pub and dinner at the RSL. There was a bit of wind during the night but we were snug inside Troopy.

Next morning we left camp early heading for Bourke along a long straight road. The country is showing the signs of a long drought, with plenty of bare ground under the mulga. At one point we had to stop for minor repairs to a strap over the still empty jerry cans that had broken. Arriving at Bourke mid morning we refuelled, then did a quick explore around town. We saw the wharf and a big old restored Crossley diesel engine. We had a bit of trouble rejoining others in our convoy who had been delayed at the bakery. Then it was off to Hungerford. The bitumen ended not far out of Bourke but the road was in good condition especially the well-used track on one side of the road. Saltbush, sand and gibbers are becoming common and we saw a couple of emus.

We arrived at Hungerford late in the afternoon, passing through the border gate at the edge of the little town. We set up camp, squeezing in behind the pub and enjoyed our ablutions in the quirky bathrooms. Dinner was in the pub, a good opportunity to get to know our travelling companions. Mine-host provided good-natured, humorous entertainment.

Next morning was an early start but although we had what seemed to be an efficient pack-up we were among the last to leave camp. It was a chilly morning. Our first stop was to have a look at the home of the publican whose garden boasts a “lava-tree”, a “bootiful tree” and a “pan-tree”. Then we were off towards Thargomindah on a fairly rough road. We were Charlie, which suited us as we could keep back out of the dust which was plentiful. We arrived for morning tea at the Thargomindah Visitor Centre then went across to the petrol pump to fill both tanks and the 4 jerrycans.

Out of Thargomindah we had single lane bitumen for over 100kms with long straight stretches and views all around of the flat horizon. The country varied between red sand and gibber and some low hills. Everything was very dry, even the mulga appeared dead in places.

Eventually we stopped for a late lunch on a braided section of Cooper Creek; no sign of water, mostly lignum and dust. Then back onto the gravel which was OK despite some corrugations and bulldust patches. We came into Nappa Merrie and the Dig Tree about 5, more than ready to stop for the day. There was plenty of water in this famous waterhole and fortunately there was time after setting up camp to do a bit of exploring and wondering about the history of this place. Tonight is the first night that we cook for ourselves so we are still working out how to fit in with overall camp routine – it’s mostly a case of trial and error at this stage.

In the evening after dinner there was a general gathering of the whole group around a big fire. This was a chance to air thoughts about our process and progress so far. There was quite a bit of dissatisfaction with radio procedures and while not a lot was resolved it was good to clear the air. In such a big convoy those at the back can’t hear transmissions by those at the front. The tendency for the convoy to spread out on dusty roads has compounded this problem.

Next morning was a later start, about 9.00am. We went towards the back of the convoy having explained to Dave that that position seemed to suit us better – less pressure to go as fast as the front vehicles and less dust. Others are like-minded, so there is a bit of a competition for these positions bringing up the rear.

We set off through gibber country and got a flat tyre just we stopped to take some photos. Our wheel was rapidly changed by about a dozen blokes all trying to contribute, so our embarrassment was eased by the speed with which we were on the road again. We saw a few camels and the country changed with a few green patches here and there. We stopped for morning tea in among some small dunes and shortly after stopped at an old windmill and trough system that with bigger trees and some birds would be a great place to camp.

We had lunch beside a pretty but dry rocky creek where we saw curly barked red mulga. Leaving here Jenny and Bruce staked a tyre and we stopped to assist. This delay saw 5 of us in our own convoy for the final 70km until the turn-off to Haddon’s Corner. From there it was 15km across a couple of small dunes to the corner post and more photos. We camped between the dunes but there was not much shelter. A tyre repair session saw some of the men happy doing their thing and much learning by others. As the breeze dropped so did the temperature after the sun went down. Today has been a much better day than yesterday as we adjust to the pace and rhythm of the convoy.

It was cold and windy next morning although we had slept well. We set out about 9 and started by driving over the steep side of the dunes we crossed yesterday on the way in. A couple of the trailers needed a couple of attempts to get over after adjustments to tyre pressures. Fortunately Troopy had no trouble. The roads out here were generally very good and we made good progress. We stopped by a creekline for morning tea and further on at the Deon Brook memorial where the lookout afforded great views over vast empty country, with just a tracery of trees along the drainage lines. Then Beetoota, no residents – and only one pub now closed. We had a good look around the old pub, trying to imagine what life might have been like here in days gone by. Lunch for half the group was at another dry creekbed while the rest went ahead to Birdsville. The country here is very stony with increasingly more sandhills. We arrived at Birdsville mid afternoon, settled into the caravan park and did a lot of washing. Then it was time for dinner at the famous Birdsville Pub.

The following day was a rest day, so a group of us, 7 vehicles, set out to have a go at Big Red. First we went over Little Red then over to the western side of Big Red. It is dauntingly big, with a lot of loose sand on the crest. Most of our vehicles did 2 or 3 runs some having to reverse down and a couple having to be snatched off the top where the drop-off is very steep. Val got over first go but John didn’t quite make it. Our tyres were down very low and were very baggy. While we were there several other vehicles had a go at getting over, quite a few were unsuccessful as their tyre pressures were too high. The charging run-up technique didn’t work either. Eventually the sand got too hot and dry so it was time to head back to town going via the famous bakery for fresh bread. We had hoped to do a bit of sightseeing but there was still a bit of preparation to do. There were tyre valves to be fixed, maps and photos to be downloaded and tidying Troopy. Val went for a walk with some of the other women along the river.

After dinner Dave called a meeting to put the final touches on the plan for the next few days, including allotting everyone a position in the convoy, spacing the trailers out between vehicles that can easily snatch them if necessary. Everyone is excited and a bit on edge. The adventure really begins tomorrow.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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