Great Victoria Desert Expedition 2014 - Day 1 The station country south of Kingoonya SA

Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 15:58


Saturday 2nd August
Tomato Rocks SA

Bloody hell it was a cold night! Minus 2C to be exact. Even in our motel room the chill seeped through forcing us to get up and put the heater on. By 08:00 a.m. we were down at the agreed RV point of McDonald's and caught up with tour organisers Stephen and Fiona, and the rest of the crew travelling with us. With the introductions made and a quick breakfast under the belt, we were on the road at 8:45 a.m. our plan being to head north up the Stuart Highway to Glendambo. At Woocalla,130 kilometres north of Port Augusta, the road splits a series of long salt lagoons. Here we turned off the road to seek out the ruins of some long disused manganese and copper mines.

Copper oxides were discovered on the surface at Mount Gunson to the north of Woocalla in 1875, with mining in the area continuing sporadically to the present day. Known as the "Pernatty Lagoon show", both manganese and copper were hand hewn from a group of shallow workings on the floor and shore adjacent to a bay on the western side of the lagoon where ancient weathering of the soil had resulted in development of irregular pockets of high-grade ore.

Tucked in behind the Sweet Nell Dam that give this group of diggings their name, on the rise above Monalena Lagoon, we found a series of rough shafts dug down into the stony earth. It was with great care that we inspected the hand hewn mines in awe of the hardy miners who had scraped out and hand dressed tonnes of copper to be bagged and hauled down to Adelaide. Oh and by the way “Woocalla” means “crow” in the local aboriginal dialect!

We had morning tea overlooking Pernatty Lagoon, one of the many vast salt lakes hereabouts and then an uneventful run up the highway to Glendambo where we topped off tanks, aired down and had a quick bite before headed west on the Trans-Australia Road to Kingoonya and a meeting with young Matt and Karl. Matt is the Manager of North Well Station, a property that stretches across most fo the country around Kingoonya. These gents became our guides leading the convoy along station tracks to an area known as Tomato Rocks, on the north west edge of Lake Harris. The station country is predominantly blue bush and salt bush vegetation with a loamy base. White limestone also prevails.

The larger vegetation is largely confined to Mallee eucalypt and stands of a stunted native cypress that grows on the higher rocky regions. We negotiated quite a few fences and the many shallow creeks that drain the surrounding country drifting down towards the north western corner of Lake Harris. As we approached the lake, I could see a worn silicate sandstone rise off to the south, with quite a few caves and caverns visible. I was quite excited as these run off areas always mean secret pools and rockholes. Because of this they were always a favourite of the natives so there is a high likelihood of artefacts to be found in the area.

Parking in a clearing at the base of the exposed rock, I’d only walked 60 metres from my vehicle when I located a really good gnamma hole over which a slab of rock had been placed as a cover. Years of heat had cracked the cover stone but both halves were still there, one half still covering the hole. The abundance of stone chips and chirt around the place reinforced the notion of habitation and discovering several good quality adzes, the most common stone implement of prehistory (simply a roughhewn, stone cutting edge), put the notion beyond doubt.

Searching for a cave rumoured to have art within it, we explored along a shallow gully. The cave was not quite what we were expecting and was nothing more than a horizontal slot at ground level some 4 metres wide and 60 cm high at its widest point. This cavity extended into the rock a good 7 metres but we humans could only penetrate a short distance as the confines became to restricted. It was certainly somewhere you could crawl to escape the elements but didn’t leave much room to light a fire. Crabbing in on our back we located some fine spiral circles and other lines painted on the ceiling of the cavern. Knowing these to be a universal symbol for water, I scouted the gully and found a couple of pools where the excavation of several feet of dirt and debris would make a deep lasting rockhole. Perhaps this had been the case many hundreds or thousands of years past. It was certainly a beautiful piece of country covered with Native pine, grass and of course the views across Lake Harris.

Retreating about 500 metres downhill to the edge of the lake, we are camped on an arm of Lake Harris at its north west corner. It’s quite cool with the wind deepening the chill factor. It’s Russ’s first night in the tent so he’s getting himself settled in. A BBQ dinner and a few wines with young Karl and John the publican from Kingoonya, who have returned to enjoy the fellowship of the fire.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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