We have both always wanted to see the Birdsville track and last year the track was flooded by the Winton flood waters, so we had to miss it. We have returned to this area to do the track now. Most people do this track in the winter months of June July and August because it is too hot (for normal people) but we are looking forward to doing it out of season and we prefer heat to cold anyway. Marree is a tiny town at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks and once called Hergott Springs. Once a thriving centre for transport and communications, relics of bygone years remain. Afghan Cameleers, Aboriginals and Europeans lived in relative harmony as the fortunes of the town came and went over time. We arrived in town on a Sat and we saw only one person out on the street. It felt like a ghost town. Also it was cold. Not what you would expect! M
Before the railway line camel transport was widely used in central Australia and most cameleers were from the middle-east (although they were often called Afgans, apparently many came from India). A replica of the original mosque used by the cameleers still stands in Marree.
Marree was the home town of the legendary outback mailman Tom Kruse who features in the movie “back of beyond” which follows the challenges he faced as the mailman on the Birdsville track in the 1940s and 1950s. One of his old trucks is on display in Marree.
Some of the artefacts, signs and murals in Marree including some diesel locomotives from the old “ghan” railway line that closed in 1980 after the rail was re-aligned about 300km westward. Also a camel shaped sundial made from old railway sleepers
We left the lovely town of Quorn and headed north stopping briefly in towns of Leigh Creek and Copley before a brief stop in Lyndhurst to visit Talc Alf’s gallery. Cornelis ‘Talc Alf’ is a famous local character who uses cast off slabs from the Mount Fitton talc mine to sculpt statements about politics and religion among other things. M
We spent our next night camped on Farina Station where the owners and a bunch of Grey Nomads are slowly fixing up the old Farina township. It is an amazing place and a lovely campground. There were only 2 other campers and we visited the old town by ourselves. In the season (June-August) this place is a hive of restoration and visitor activity. The underground bakery has been restored and it operates with the volunteer ‘grey nomad’ crowd each winter. A new visitor’s centre has been built as it is so busy in the winter the old bakery can not keep up with the demand, so there is also a new bakery! I would love to have seen the old bakery operating but not the packed campground that goes with it! It is so nice that a group of travelers felt so strongly about not letting this little bit of history go to ruin! M
The sunsets in the desert are always so beautiful. This stumpy tail is trying to look scary.
OK, we don’t usually say too much about caravan parks in this blog mainly because we don’t stay in so many but also because we generally don’t like them. They are usually a place to do some housekeeping before getting back on the “road” as it were. There is one that stands out for me though and it is the one in the lovely town of Quorn. It is my favourite for the entire trip and this should have been mentioned on the Milestones blog. I mean if there were a Van Park travel contest then Quorn would be the winner!!
Essentially, the park has the feeling like somebody cares. There is serious drought on out here and yet you can see there is a garden around you. There are pots around the park filled with flowers and dishes under every tap to give the birds a drink. The facilities are immaculate- as clean as at home- OK maybe more even! The owners do all this without using toxic chemicals too. They think about their customers and the earth. This is hard to find anywhere let alone in remote Australia.
Quorn is a lovely town in itself with a lot around to do and see. The amazing Pichi Richi railway brings the people in, but there is so much more to do and see in the area. The Caravan Park is for sale we understand and it will be sad when it is sold, because I can’t imagine anyone doing such a wonderful job as Bronwyn and Gary. Thank you to you both, for giving us a home away from home!!
So here we are in Quorn after crossing the Nullarbor and about to head north to the famous Birdsville Track. However today marks exactly 1 year after starting our big trip. We have another 6 weeks or so to go before returning to Sydney to resume “normal” life, but worth a quick reflection on what we have done so far.
40,000 km driven; 32,000 km towing Keddie and about 10,000 on unsealed roads (6000 towing). Below is a map of our route and camp spots, but a more readable picture can be seen by clicking the following link Travelmap 2.
We have stayed in 168 different locations: three times in a tent, once under the stars, 6 nights on a boat, once with friends, 23 nights at home in Avalon Beach, 9 nights in a cabin/motel, 15 on a plane/back in South Africa (for Steve) and the rest (nearly 300 nights) in our now very familiar caravan, often with $500 per night resort views like this.
We have had temperatures up to 44 degrees C and down to 0.5 degrees. Two or three rainy days, a few too cold or too windy days, but mostly warmth and sunshine.
We have also spotted 333 different species of bird (I hope to get to 350 before the end of the trip), accumulated about 850 hours of driving time, put about 20 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (plus whatever the boat and plane trips contributed) while the tax man lost out on many tens of thousands of dollars in income tax 🙂
As mentioned in the last post our plan was to rush across the Nullarbor pausing only at the Eyre Bird Observatory. As can be seen on the map below, it is quite a long way so most of the time was spent driving, but we did have a couple of stops along the way and there were some interesting things to look at.
The first stop was at the Balladonia road house near where NASA dropped some space junk back in 1979 when the skylab satellite crashed to the ground. The road house had a little museum, but there was not much original stuff to see apart from this bit of wiring loom.
20km from Balladonia we made the left hand turn onto the longest straight stretch of road in Australia finishing at the Caiguna blowhole – a small entrance to a large cave system that breathes in response to changes in atmospheric pressure.
As if the vast open expanses, a 50m drop and climb and the occasional bend in the road is not exciting enough, The Eyre Highway also features a unique 18 hole golf course – the longest in the world. Sporting astroturf tees and greens, the idea is that you play the hole, have a drink or even stay at the nearby roadhouse, then drive 80 to 150km to the next hole. The photo on the left captures the moment where Maddy lost grip on her 7-iron during the downswing and the club went spiraling off to the right narrowly missing a parked car.
The exterior and kitchen of the old homestead. The outer walls built from sleepers from the trans-Australian railway.
The old scrap heap out the back featured cars from the 1940’s to 1970’s that had obviously not managed to complete the journey across the continent; An old petrol bowser.
Koonalda also has a blow-hole, about 1km from the homestead. The opening is much smaller than the one at Caiguna, but when we visited, the rush of cold air coming out of the hole was far more impressive. It was like natures air conditioner it was so cool!
The big Galah at Kimba the second time around 7 months on. Doesn’t Steve look much more relaxed now? They did some renovations while we were away and I think even the Galah is looking better! Poor pathetic looking thing! M
From Norseman we turned East. We had done a trip along the south coast of Australia a few years back and we wanted to spend the last few weeks of our trip on the Birdsville Track and back on the east coast, so we decided to not spend too much time stopping across the Nullarbor with the exception of visiting the Eyre Bird Observatory as we had missed this on our last trip.
The Observatory is operated by Birdlife Australia and conducts regular surveys of the surrounding birdlife. It is housed in a 120 year old restored telegraph repeater station which has also has 3 rooms for guests. It is staffed by volunteer hosts who also provide 3 meals a day, making for an enjoyable relaxing stay.
The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way
Several interesting bones and skeletons have been washed up over the years including a turtle which must have been washed thousands of km beyond its normal range by a particularly strong Leeuwin current.
Out on one of the walks: a monument to Edward Eyre and his four companions: Baxter, an Irishman and 3 young aboriginals Wylie, Joey and Yarry. In the end only Eyre and Wylie completed the journey. Baxter was killed – allegedly by Joey and Yarry, who fled the camp taking two shotguns.
A distant view of the Eyre Bird Observatory nestled behind the dunes where Eyre found water on his 1841 expedition; one of the many old telegraph poles with rusty wire still hanging. Today the Eyre Bird Observatory is served by the NBN. Unfortunately the 150 year old telegraph line was found to be in poor condition and not suitable for even a fibre-to-the-node service, so they have had to fall back to a satellite service. However this is still better than the cutting edge wheatstone duplex morse system that was enjoyed by the original staff at this building.
And of course what would a bird observatory be without birds. There were heaps including 4 new species for my list: Chestnut backed quail thrush (too fast for a photo unfortunately); brown headed honeyeater; western yellow robin and blue breasted fairy-wren.
Other birds included (from top to bottom) hundreds of singing honeyeater and new holland honeyeater; brush bronzewing; fantailed cuckoo; inland thornbill; white-browed scrubwren; dusky woodswallow; and unidentified fledgling; white-eared honeyeater; and the spectacular Major Mitchell’s cockatoo.
Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.
Kalgoorlie started a couple of years before Gwalia as a gold mining town. The difference between Kalgoorlie and many of these old mining towns we have visited on this trip, is that it has never stopped mining. The underground mines of old have been turned into one big huge super pit and they continue to find gold to this day. It’s one of the richest gold deposits in the world! The good thing about this (for me who is not crazy about mining) is that there is money in town to restore all the beautiful old architectural gems that in many places go to ruin in towns that began last century. We only stopped here very briefly as we had been here a few years ago.
There are many beautiful buildings in Kalgoorlie and it’s old sister city Boulder. Many of these are pubs which much money has been spent on. It’s a funny place full of men wearing the high visibility clothing of the miner. The standard pubs hardly had a woman in them, except the barmaids. The “skimpies” which many pubs advertised on the door outside, were barmaids that served in sexy underwear! It is quite amazing that there is a place where this still exists. Not so many years ago these same women were topless!
We took a quick walk through the arboretum looking for birds. Unfortunately it doubled as a dog walking area, which is not good for seeing wild animals/birds. Though the spring flowers were finished there were some nice flowering gums.
It was a brief stop in Norseman the next night at our next free camp with a couple of others on a quiet green paddock next to the sports field.