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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #028

Editorial

Yes yes I know, it's been a while since the last GRAYnomad chronicles. It's not that I haven't been writing, it's mostly that we're in central Australia, and there's just nowhere to upload the site. I've been lucky to be able to read some email on one of those internet booth things.

Roll on high-speed and cheap satellite communications.

We haven't been entirely out of touch though, we did watch some of the royal wedding between Tasmanian girl made good, Mary Donaldson, and her Danish prince.

On the surface this looks like a real fairly tale, and of course in many ways it is, but what a life she's signed up for. From now on her time is not her own, she'll be expected to be patron of this, sponsor of that, and benefactor to something else. She'll have to say the right things, to the right people, at the right functions, about subjects she probably has no interest in. In general she'll have to be "Royal" and perfect all the time, for the next 70 years.

Yuk!

Now I'd love the kind of money and resources she'll have access to, but not at that price.

Living on the road is not all beer and skittles, but nobody ever tells us what to do (well maybe the occasional ranger), we can walk along any beach we like without bodyguards, we can wear old tracksuit pants without being slammed in Who Weekly, and we can sleep in without missing a function and snubbing the Royal Society for the Preservation of Royal Societies.

Ours is a lifestyle that's about as free as they get in western society, and we aren't swapping it for anything.

Good luck Mary, send me an email and let me know how it's going. Of course I may be out of range, but I'll get back to you eventually.

 

 

Mon 24 May 2004

It's a beautiful sunny day over our campsite,


The truck in our campsite in a field, with the Elder Range in the background

but we can see that the weather is not so good towards Wilpena in the north, and the forecast is not great, so we sit tight.

Tue 25 May

Having thought that there was nothing much to photograph here, I find a meat ant nest. These are largish ants, about 6mm long.


An overview of the area around the ant nest. Note the lug marks from our tyre, we drove right over them.


Ants emerging from the nest hole.


This ant is carrying an unfortunate termite. I'd say that termite is on the menu tonight.


While this one has some rubble, presumably from recent excavations in the nest (nothing to do with the fact that we drove over the nest I'm sure). Note the tiny particles adhered to the larger one.


And this one's burden is a tiny ant grub.


Ants greet the nest's door guard.

I must say it's fascinating to watch these tiny creatures go about their business. I spent several hours, over three days, with my camera shoved in their faces. They are incredibly cute, but look at the chompers on them, I'm sure glad they're only 6mm long.

Wed 26 May

Today I go for a walk along the nearby creek bed. It's totally dry, as are all the creeks around here, but there are some interesting plants growing here nevertheless.


Who says plants ain't got brains. Note the tiny mantis.


Cracked mud on the creek bed.


Looking towards the Hawker airfield and Wilpena Pound.


The Hawker township nestled at the base of the hills

Sat 29 May

After a somewhat late start, and a quick drive back to Hawker, we decide to camp somewhere along the road today.


Strange conical hill without a single stick of vegetation. The Elder range appears blue in the background

Most lookout areas here nave "no camping" signs, but the best one of all doesn't, so we pull in.

The site is about 20k from Wilpena, on the banks of the Arkaba Creek, although, as I've mentioned before, all the creeks here are dry at present, despite the rain.

With plenty of gum trees and mountains in the background this is classic Flinders country.


A typical Flinders Range gum-tree-in-front-of-mountain shot.


An old farm building in the evening light, with the mountains in the background.


A dead emu and some thistles, with the mountains of Wilpena Pound in the background.


Trees on the banks of Arkaba Creek.


Wothahellizat catches the last rays.


The evening light changes quickly on the hills. These shots taken just minutes apart

Sun 30 May

We meet a nice young couple from the Sunshine coast.

Michael and Jackie are their names (hereinafter referred to as M&J) and we get on well. Michael is a photographer but, like me, has worked at many things over the years. Jackie is a chef who does a marvellous impersonation of the stereotypical arrogant French chef.

"There only one difference between God and a chef", she say's with a guttural voice and mock French accent, "God knows that he's not a chef".

By the time we've chatted all morning we decide it's too late to go into Wilpena.

Instead I go a wandering.


Cute little heart-shaped plants, only about 15-20mm high.


Up close to a bur. It's no wonder these little suckers get stuck in your socks.

I find a dead kangaroo, the poor thing appears to have become tangled in a fence, and starved to death.


A dead kangaroo trapped in fence. This must be the saddest scene I've ever encountered.

Mon 31 May

We learn from fellow campers, who have a newspaper, that the rain is due to continue until Friday.


More conventional camping, compared to us that is

Wed 2 Jun

We've had a serious slack attack for the past week or so. It's taken ten days to get the 50k from Hawker to Wilpena, and we're still not there.

It's as though there's some subconscious reason we don't want to enter the Flinders ranges.

It has been raining a lot though, and the road is dirt after Wilpena, as is the Oodnadatta track after that. With all this rain it's possible the roads are closed, and we have no phone reception here to find out.

Chris points out that the trees look nice in the rain, so I head off with my camera and umbrella.


Great colours and shapes in the gum trees.


Abstract close-up of a single drop on the end of a leaf.


Refractions of other leaves in water drops.


Drops look like tiny jewels on the leaves

Thu 3 Jun

We drive into Wilpena pound resort this morning to be told that all the roads north from here have been closed by the rain.

Now what?

The most likely option is to drive down to Port Augusta and head up the bitumen from there.

Or we could sit for another couple of days in the hope that the weather clears enough for the roads to open.

TIP: When they close these outback roads they do so for a reason. So, even if you're a crash-hot mud driver, don't go on them until it's clear. The locals don't like having the road rutted by careless drivers, and you won't like the fine, last I heard it was $1000 per wheel.

We decide to sit, but not right here at $16.50 a night, so we drive back to our spot just outside Hawker.


The afternoon light on the Wilpena Pound mountains

Fri 4 Jun

The news is still not good. The police drop by today and informed us that the roads are still closed, with people trapped in William Creek and other places on the Oodnadatta track.

Lake Eyre, normally a dry salt pan, has spilled out over the road for a distance of nearly a kilometre.

Sat 5 Jun

We've pretty much decided to skip the Oodnadatta track and go up to the Alice on the bitumen, but just in case, we drop into the BP service station on the way through Hawker.

They have the latest road reports, and they're all bad.

That's it, we're outa here.

We head off to Quorn (pron. Corn), and from there will go to Port Augusta and up the Stuart Highway to the Territory.

Before long we encounter a roadworks sign, and just off to one side an encampment. It doesn't look much like a road gang's camp though, with tents and flash-looking cars.

About two-hundred yards past the camp Chris spots a graveyard in middle of the fields. We stop, and I leg it across the paddock to photograph the lonely cemetery.

There's no obvious reason for a cemetery to be here, but it was common for remote stations to have their own burial plots, and I assume that's what this is.

There's a strange mixture of ornate headstones and simple crosses made from star pickets. The majority of the headstones have the name "Pearce" engraved, the crosses have nothing but "RIP" painted on the rusting steel.


The lonely cemetery with a mixture of ornate headstones and simple crosses

Maybe the headstones belong to landowners, and crosses to workers.

When I return Chris is talking to a young fellow with a two-way radio. It seems that he is in charge of clearing the road for a film being shot by the occupants of the camp we just passed.

It's a horror film called "Wolfe creek massacre" or some such. As the name implies the film is set in and around the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, but said crater is way up in the Kimberley area of Western Australia, a long way from here.

Apparently the mountains around here look close enough though, and shooting here saves them moving the entire crew up north.

We drive past the cameras, waving and smiling inanely, well you never know, they may need some footage of happy campers.

Some time later we pull into Quorn for lunch, and wander around the town.


Quorn is a fairly typical outback town, with amazingly wide streets, and shop awnings nearly as large.


There are some immaculately restored buildings here

Then it's down the Pitchy Ritchy Pass and into Pt Augusta.

Apparently the local yahoos often remove the first character from each word on the sign that reads "Pitchy Ritchy Pass", creating a slightly different message. Think about it :-)

We buy some magazines in Pt Augusta, but there's nothing else here for us, so we hit the road.

Soon after leaving town we're passed by a road train, the first we've seen in a year or so. You only see these huge vehicles in central Australia, so we feel that we're finally on our way into the outback.


A road train, this one with three trailers.

We camp in a rest area about 30k up the Stuart Hwy.

Sun 6 Jun

We continue up the road today, pulling into Woomera for a short visit, then moving on to Lake Hart.

It's interesting to see most of the lakes around here actually have water in them. Most so-called "lakes" in central Australia are dry almost all the time. But with the rain we've been having, it seems they are filling up.


Lark Hart at sunset.

Mon 7 Jun

Up early to view the sunrise, then we drive.


A motorhome camped at Lake Hart

We've got no real plans, except to keep heading north.

At one point I think I'm hallucinating. Looking into the wing mirror I see a huge water tank a few hundred metres behind us. I'd swear we haven't passed any tanks. I look again. By now it's closer, and I see that the tank is being carried on a truck.

We pull into Glendambo for lunch, then carry on.


A sense of humour displayed at the entrance to the Glendambo community.


The tank I saw in the rear view mirror

An hour or so later we pull up again, this time for a cuppa in a rest area.

For a couple of days now we've been seeing some very seriously "off-road" looking vehicles on trailers heading north. We assume there's something on, but don't know what. While in the rest area some of these vehicles pull in and park next to us.

We get talking. It seems that the Finke Desert Race is on next weekend. This is a similar, albeit smaller, event to the Baja race in California. It might be worth a detour to Finke to watch the action.

We carry on, still searching for the warmth, although, I have to say, we must be getting pretty close, having ditched both our jackets and jumpers. When the shorts and sandals come out we can stop.

The area is saturated. I've never seen central Australia like this, it's normally as dry as that dead dingoe's skull we saw in last night's campsite.

There's surface water everywhere, just lying around (which is what surface water does I suppose) as though the earth doesn't know what to do with it.

Eventually we pull into a rest area about 80k from the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy.

Maybe the earth around here doesn't know what to do with water, but Chris does. As soon as we've stopped she's washing tea towels, and within minutes they're strung up in the window, like so many Tibetan prayer flags, catching the day's final drying rays.


Emergency radio telephone near the rest area.


Sunset from the truck's roof

Tue 8 Jun

Chris is woken by a road train that pulls into the rest area. As she cannot get back to sleep, she decides we should be driving.

Good thing as it happens, I get some nice photos of the small lakes along the side of the road.


Typical Coober Pedy danger sign.


The land around here is saturated.


Wothahellizat and Chris wait for me to take photos.

Before long we pull into the parking area on the highway just outside Coober Pedy.


An old blower greets travellers to Coober Pedy

I get a bike out and we head into town.


There's some weird machinery here.


Ventilation for an underground motel.


Street scene around the town.


The Serbian Orthodox underground church.


Wind generator lies idle while diesel generators provide the town's power.


Almost a scene from Mad Max, you can see why they made much of the film here.


Building a new home, Coober Pedy style. Left photo, front entrance to the underground part and looking right through to the back. There's rooms inside to the right, behind the rock face. They have openings, as seen in the right photo.


None too friendly sign outside derelict house

While in the shops we encounter a family we camped with the other day. Apparently they pulled off the road a couple of days ago, just outside Port Augusta. Their bus immediately became bogged, but they knew that we were not far behind and waited for us to arrive, figuring that we could pull them free.

As well we could have, if only we hadn't pulled over for the night just a few kilometres away.

Eventually they received help from a nearby farm.

M&J have been in town all day was well, they park nearby just before sunset and we sit around with a few drinks.


Sunset from the rest area.

Wed 9 Jun

Leave Coober Pedy but only get about 7k when I spot the anthill-like piles of tailings that the area is known for.

I pull over for some shots.


Mine tailing heaps on the northern side of town look like ant nests

It's a pretty muddy off the side of the road, and I'm reminded of the people in the bus who became bogged.

Fortunately we have an extra four driven wheels, I engage 6x6 and we climb the bank and back onto the road.

Later, as the sun gets low, and just a few kilometres short of Cadney Roadhouse, we spot some eagles near the road.


Wedge tailed eagles perch in the trees near the road.


Eagle shows what he thinks of being photographed. To borrow a line from Monty Python, "I defecate in your general direction".

Arrive at Cadney just as the sun sets. There's free camping here for one night, so that's how long we'll stay. I do however go over to the bar for a $3 beer, just to support them.


The Cadney Park roadhouse

Thu 10 Jun


Corellas feed on the roadside melons.


These melons can be seen all along the highway.


A Solanum flower.

As we pull over in Marla for coffee we notice M&J leaving the caravan park.

They pull in next to us, three hours later we're still chatting. Looks like it's going to be another short day.

Eventually they head off. We have lunch and do the same.

After a while I find that I'm nodding off, so we pull into a Agnas Creek rest area for a quick wake-up walk. I get talking to some campers fixing a tyre. Their compressor is broken so we use ours to inflate the newly fixed wheel.

We continue.


Wedge tailed eagle on the side of the road

Just on sunset we pull into the Marryatt River rest area but, it looks too crowded, so we decide to drive a bit further.

As we cross the bridge however Chris points out a nice open area on the northern side of the river. Then we notice that M&J are already there.

We have a nice evening sitting around the fire with our friends.

Fri 11 Jun

M&J move on but we decide to stay another day.


Flying ant of some description

Sat 12 Jun

From Marryatt it's a quick drive up to Kulgera, crossing the SA/NT border in the process.

It's been nearly two years since we left the Territory, it's great to be back.

Lunch at Erldunda, then we turn off to Uluru (Ayers Rock).

After just a few kilometres we see a calf in the bushes just off the road. There's no sign of any other cattle, and we think that maybe the little fellow is lost.

We carry on, getting another 40k before pulling over for the night.

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