Great Sandy Desert - Into the unknown and an unexpected discovery.

Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 00:00


Tuesday 16th June, 2009
A stand of white trunked gums 300 metres north of Suzettes Rock Hole,
Great Sandy Desert W.A.
20 34 32.8 S 123 5 1.45 E Od 208139

Up early this morning and got the fire going. The washing had all but dried in the couple of hours before I went to bed last night such is the dryness of the desert wind. It was a cold night. The neighbouring camp was also stirring early as I got a billy of water on to finish off the only washing I had left, yesterdays socks and jocks. It was a hearty breakfast of jaffles and then into the packing up. I broke out the Maverick Bond to fix the sand flag as it had sustained a heavy knock during the previous days driving and split from the base for length of 25 cm. I've put on a couple of hose clamps as well to help hold it together. Hopefully it will see out another rough days travel.

The neighbours had kindly offered us their left over timber which we recieved with thanks and was soon strapped to the roof of John's vehicle. By 8 o’clock we were on the road again. The track deteriorated somewhat but in saying that, there was still nothing serious involved. Great swathes if the country had been burnt out in the recent past making it quite barren in appearance. At times the swales were kilometres across. Climbing another gibber highpoint, I saw the four vehicles of our last nights neighbours heading off across the plains to our left. On the map this area is marked as twin gums hill. I saw a fairly new looking plaque there so alighted from the vehicle to find a Beadell family plaque indicating that the Callawa Track crossed our path in either direction. The plaque was erected by Connie Sue and Anne Beadell in 2004 to commemorate the GBCP Callawa project in 1962.

In one area the road had become a stream during a tumultuous downpoor and had been totally washed away as a result. In other sections it was very overgrown by shrubbery but again, it was not difficult to negotiate. When we hit the dunes we found that the WAPET construction party way back when, had cut the tops of the dunes and topped the crossings with gravel . In many places on both sides of the track, the runoff had caused deep washaways so you had to negotiate the crests of the dunes slowly in case there was a large gully on the other side awaiting your vehicles front end....nasty!

We reached the bore and tank marked on the Hema GDT north west sheet to find the windmill inoperable and the water tank empty and unserviceable. From the looks of the junk and implements laying about, it was obvious that this had been an active outstation in the past. It was like stepping back in time and gave a good indication of the rudimentary living conditions in the stock camps many years ago. While the windmill was unserviceable, we located a bore casing nearby and could see water about 4 or 5 metres down.John managed to raise some of it using a length of poly pipe and a foot valve to all of our amusement.

Exploring we found that the half tanks lying about the country nearby had in fact been shelters for the aboriginal stockmen. Each end had been filled in to provide a rudimentary shelter. Only one of these huts remained intact but all the steel remained on the ground about the other huts, their collapse and neglect due to the removal of the star pickets that had held the steel walls in place. In the old silver caravan, the graffiti went back to the early 80’s. “Johnny Ginger” and some great names adorned the walls and roof. I added ours on an Exploroz sticker to one wall panel. Nearby an old 1 tonne ute sat rusting and fallourn. Well to the other side was an even older tractor slowly subsided into the surrounding countryside. I salvaged an old tail shaft that is going to be a marker for any confluence we manage to locate in the coming days.

It was a further 35 km or so to our turnoff, which was punctuated by continuously changing country and vistas. One dune to our south was massive in size and deep red in colour. Astonishingly the map revealed that it was 11 km away but we could see it clearly in the distance. It must truly be a monster and I’m glad we’re not crossing it at its peak. We reached our intersection at 1.00 p.m. stopping for a roadside lunch and billy boil. We left markers so the captain could find the turn easily enough.

Well the adventure certainly began after lunch. When Hema designate a track on their maps as “Overgrown”, bleep you better believe it! The track while discernable, was often the bed for thicker growth of plant life than that which was off track! As a result, we ended up more off road than on, picking our way through thickets of Acacia and Hakea scrub. In other places, the road had been replaced by washaways two metres deep! I had suggested that I lead at this stage as not towing a trailer it was easier for me to be able to back up or to duck in through the bush and check the status of the track. We had a distance of 55 km to make to the turn into the sand hills and the cut line that would take us north but my expectations of making that point on the map our nights camp soon evaporated as our pace dropped off. Never a worry though as it’s always fun making your own way. In some places the old growth spinifex pulled at the car like glue while in others, the dense thickets of scrub clawed at the car in vain as if trying to pull every attachment (and the duco) from the vehicle.

Thanking my lucky stars at one point as we ploughed our way towards the Grabowsky Range, we encountered a wide swath of burnt out country. We crested the top of a rise to get a great vista of the country in all directions. The Grabowsky Range, while it impressed us (as does any feature out here) was small and consisted of a low range with a few scant westerly facing bluffs. It left us wondering just who you had to bleep off in exploration circles to get such a poor excuse for a mountain range named after you. We stopped briefly at the only eucalypt we’d seen in two hours travel, a gnarled old survivor, in an effort to trim off a few dead limbs using the old rope and shifter trick. While not too successful it was hilarious to watch as no doubt Suzette will attest.

At a point some 32 km east of the Kidson (20 34 59.9 S 123 04 56.1 E), the track took a turn to the north to meet an ancient cut line. As we turned we noticed a small grove of gums a half kilometre to the north. To the east there was a low rocky hill and the track seemed to parallel a shallow water course. The conditions seemed right and as we were still reasonably high along the course of the rill, I decided to drive closer and see if I could find any water. Almost immediately I noticed a large flat slab of rock under the twisted stump of a long dead tree. I was out of the car in a flash and running to the gully was rewarded with the most magic little waterhole just below the rock slab. It was about 3 metres across, 1.5 metres wide and 60 cm deep. The water was clear and sweet and there were no recent camel prints about. The few signs of green algae further reinforcing the quality of the water. I was stoked and quickly flagged over John and Suzette. It was just a great moment. It’s these sort of rewards that make travelling this country so fantastic. We were all chuffed at our discovery and any fatigue from the days travels just melted away. Suzette tasted the water and pronounced it sweet. While John and Suzette explored further along the creek for more possible rock holes, I scooted down and checked out the grove of nearby gums declaring it a most suitable camp site. Returning to the others, we filled our available water containers and idled down to the chosen camp area to set up. It was again, a magic spot to cap off a fantastic days travel.

John and I went to secure some timber from dead trees by the creek while suzette got the fire started. We found that the first tree we approached, although standing tall and appearing to be a solid, dead eucalypt had all but been devoured from the inside by fat, white termites. We could physically shake the tree and find that the branches would drop. They were hollow inside and no good for burning. Thankfully there was another dead tree nearby which we dropped a solid limb from, recovering an almost black coloured gecko from the fallen branch and returning him to the tree.

We were three happy explorers at sunset as we downed tools and upped refreshing beverages by the fire to toast a fine days travel. By group consensus we have named our water source Suzettes Rock Hole and thus it will be forever recorded in the annals of our travels. It’s marked, logged and named, the explorers right. To cap off a perfect day, I was able to introduce John and Suzette to the bird call that had so captivated me over the previous years visits to the western deserts. We sat listening to at least one, if not two of the warbling crescending call in the early evening. Thank god someone else had now heard it and I believe we have actually managed to capture it on our video cameras.

''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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