Birdsville Track-Marree

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

map birdsville
This sign makes it look pretty easy. Just skirt in between a few deserts and some salt lakes and sand hills and you are there!

road sign birdsville

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

lake eyre yacht club
The nicest building in town was the Lake Eyre Yacht Club. Lake Eyre is a salt lake that floods every 10 yrs if you are lucky! That’s looking on the bright side!
kidman info
Kidman- Australia’s biggest cattle baron and rural property owner had property  all around this area. He used to drove his cattle on horseback across the Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks and load them on the train to go to market. Now it is road trains that do all the work. It is one of these old stock routes that we will now drive across. M

 

 

Heading North

 

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

talc alfs joint

alf zyn spiel
‘Alf’ is a Dutch born self taught talc sculptor in Lyndhurst.

alfart

talc alf sign
He designed an Australian flag that I really like.
talc alfs stuff
Some of his art works for sale. Some looked a bit Picasso to me.

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

entry farina stationfarina town signnorth of goyders line

old bakery farina
Inside the old bakery which operates in the winter

underground bakery

faina bakery sign

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The sunsets in the desert are always so beautiful. This stumpy tail is trying to look scary.

Thank you Quorn Caravan Park

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!!

 

Maddy and Steve Norman

Kalgoorlie and the Super Pit

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.

kalgoorlie mine info

superpit lookout
The Kalgoorlie-Boulder Super Pit where many underground mines were opened up into one great big hole in the ground. It’s amazing and horrible all at the same time.

golden mile info

kcmg trucks
Big truck and little dozer? Even the dozer is huge!
superpit shovel
It takes 4 scoops of this to fill one of those big trucks!
young hoover
Our old friend Herbert Hoover also used to hang out in Kalgoorlie, where he was smitten with a bar maid at the Palace Hotel, where he stayed. She was not to become the first lady, though he certainly had fond memories of her! He even wrote a poem about this time! We understand he was engaged at the time to Lou Henry, but they an “understanding”.
palace hotel picture
The Palace Hotel where Hoover used to stay in it’s hey day.
hoover mirror selfie
The mirror Herbert Hoover had made for the Palace Hotel as a “thank you”.
hoover poem
The  poem written by Herbert Hoover remembering a summer spent with one of the barmaids at the Palace hotel where he stayed while in Kalgoorlie. We wondered when he wrote this?

 

 

 

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.

gimlet
Gimlet gumtrees has nice shiny bark

lemon flowered gumpink flower gummore pink flower gum

yellow plumed honeyeater
Steve found this yellow plumed honey eater in the caravan park. It’s number 329.

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.

 

 

norseman
A life size statue of the horse Norseman who this town was named after. The story goes that he was found by his owner “pawing’ at a rich gold deposit which founded the town last century. Steve and I had seen the Michelle Payne movie “Ride like a girl” in Geraldton and I was trying out the jockey position.
norseman camels
Camels on the roundabout Norseman
Hoary headed grebes
Hoary headed Grebes on the sewage ponds just before the sun went down.

Lake Ballard and Sir Antony Gormley’s ‘Inside Australia’ exhibit. Australia’s largest outdoor Art gallery.

Sir Antony Gormley is a Turner Prize Winning British sculptor who managed to convince 51 Aboriginal and white people from the town of Menzies 51 kms from Lake Ballard to strip naked and have their bodies laser scanned. He then shrunk these scans by two thirds but left them life sized in height. He then made metal sculptures from these and placed 51 of them on Lake Ballard. Because lake Ballard is so flat you can see 360 degrees around it. There is also a big hill to climb to give you another vantage point of the sculptures. You can see them for miles and they really feel like people out there on the lake. It is strange how you don’t feel alone out there. You walk from sculpture to sculpture leaving foot prints in the soft crust of the lake between them. Gormley saw these footprint tracks between the sculptures as part of the work. Not really sure what is all means but it was interesting to see and you really feel like you are not alone out there. They also make the lake have even more of a presence. Maybe this was it!  M

the woman on the lake

keddie from the hill
We were camped on the edge of the lake
lake ballard from the lookout
Lake Ballard from a lookout. The centre has more of the white salt crust that is normally seen at the edges too, when there is more rain. They lake only gets enough rain to be wet every few years and then there is an huge influx of Banded Stilts that come to eat the Brine Shrimp that have hatched from eggs that were laying dormant and waiting for the rain.
lake ballard camp view
This was our view from camp. You can see the first figure close by but it takes many hours to get around to all 51 as they are spaced far apart and they look in all four directions. It was in the high 30’s this day and the flies were epic!
feeling fat and flat
First contact and we are friends already!
lake ballard friend
Trying to make contact with this one. I’m jealous that there are no flies on him while I am covered!
even they hate the flies
Steve liked this one so much he gave his trusty fly net up!
little boy
This little girl was the smallest of the sculptures we saw.
three figures
Friends of E. T. perhaps?

perkyfigure in the distance

sunset with flies
Sunset on Ballard
back in the fly zone
I just have no words!!!!

Gwalia Ghost Town

Well here we are back in mining country. We are now dodging the dust, road trains, oversize vehicles and mine utes on the road again, but there are not many other people out here. While I’m not crazy about hanging out with modern mining again, I do like a good ghost town and Gwalia near Leonora was a bit of a special find and our next free camp.

This is probably our most unique free camp yet! Tonight we are camped on a hill 60 metres away from an old open pit gold mine that is now operating as an underground mine 24 hrs a day. Thankfully we can’t really hear anything, although there are plenty of lights. Apparently the mine shaft runs under the car park we are on and goes down 1660      metres!

Gwalia mine pit
St Barbara Ltd gold mine

About the same distance in the opposite direction is the Gwalia Ghost town. We are alone here, as it is too hot for normal people. We did run the generator (for only the third time this trip) for an hour, to cool down the caravan. It is 9pm and still 30deg!

using the gererator
The generator out behind the caravan cooling it down in the  37 deg  heat!
gwalia ghost town
Gwalia Ghost town view camp. It is so quiet here we can’t believe we are parked right next to an underground gold mine one side and an old mine ghost town the other.
gwalia mine 1898
The original Son’s of Gwalia mine opened in 1896 and closed in 1964. The town of Gwalia then became a ghost town overnight. In 1983 open pit mining recommences after Sons of Gwalia NL is floated on the stock market. In 2005 a new mining phase begins when St Barbara Ltd purchases Sons of Gwalia NL assets when it goes into receivership. This mine is now underground again entered from the old pit.
gwalia ghost town and museum
In 2010 the Shire of Leonora acquired ownership of  the old town of Gwalia and takes on the management of the Leonora Gwalia Historical Museum and changed the name to Gwalia Ghost Town and Museum.  2013 sees conservation work start on the Gwalia cottages.

Gwalia is one of the Welsh poetic names for Wales which signified the Welsh heritage of the original investors of the mine, which was started in 1896. This quiet almost deserted town is a unique heritage listed site, that was once the home of around 1000 people in the late 1890’s. The people came from all around the world for the gold and it’s promise of wealth. The population of around 1700 in 1963 disappeared almost overnight, when the mine closed. They left in a mass exodus to work on other mines. Many went to Kalgoorlie. In 2010 the Shire of Leonora acquired the old town site and started work to restore the cottages and improve the museum to the interesting place it is today.

young hoover
Baby faced 23 yr old American Herbert Hoover came over to manage this mine. I wondered how they could give such a responsible job to such a young man and then I read below. 

hoover info

Hoover was a hard worker and ambitious and made many changes to mine conditions to improve productivity. Seems he learned the lessons of immigrant labour back home and made changes to the work force here. Aussie’s didn’t work hard enough it seems!

 

This 23 yr old American mining engineer later to become the 31st American President- Herbert Hoover was appointed mine manager of Gwalia mine in 1898. He designed and built the manager’s mine complex and lived briefly in what is now called “Hoover House” before moving on to other ventures in China. It took 2 years to build due to conflicts with those that had to fund it. It ended up costing 6 times the cost of a house built in the day. You can stay in this lovely house today. M

hoover house gwalia
Hoover House cost 6 times the usual cost of a house at that time. Hoover liked to spend money! He was also the highest paid person of his age in the world at the time!

The dining room and the “Gold Bar” dinner that took place here. 4 gold bars sit on the at the front of the dining table!

hoovers bedroom
Hoover slept here.

Don’t you like the view of the mine from the veranda. One could have a cocktail in hand and check on your mine workers. In Steve’s case it’s scones, jam and cream!

hoover house and pit
Hoover House comes complete with “pit” view!

hoovers car

gwalia state hotel
The old state hotel was built to service the miners and help stop the “sly grog trade”.

Steve in front of the head frame and all the mine workers at shift change in front of it.

There are many buildings that you can walk through to get an idea of how people lived at the time the old mine operated. The many single men lived in single mens accom. and boarding houses. Whole families lived in these little huts built of whatever they could find. Most houses had gardens to grow veggies and chicken houses or a place to keep the goat. Despite these basic homes people still dressed up for special occasions. Many of the walls in these houses were made of hessian painted white to resemble a solid wall. Bathrooms were homemade. Plumbing was basic but still people were able to get themselves dressed up as in the photo  below. It was from many accounts a very happy place. Mgwalia people

One of the reasons so many people wanted to be involved in the restoration of this site is that most people have very fond memories of their time in Gwalia. It was a multicultural melting pot. Aussie’s and other nationalities working together happily and when the mine was doing well all prospered .M

gwalia horses underground
The mine used horses underground and even had stables down below. The horses eventually came up blind.

These photos of miners from different times and different decades all show hard and dangerous work.

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Most of the old gravestones in the cemetary showed many young men who died in the mine, woman dying in what looked to be childbirth and very young children or babies dying  probably to diseases we no longer see today.

Kalbarri

murchison house station
There was no camping in Kalbarri National Park so we camped close by on the Murchison river on this goat farm.
carnabys cockatoo
The first excitement was Steve finding a Carnaby’s Cockatoo near the river. Not so easy to find these guys. Number 328!

We had heard how amazing the Spring wildflowers were in this area, but we were a bit late. We got only the left overs from Spring but we were still impressed with the road either side of the car looking like a garden at times.

 

 

purple spikey flower with light yellow tipswhite petalled red flower with tiny yellow wormy bits

purple centred orange flower with white bits
Many of the flowers were tiny and just magnificent when you got down close to look. Works of art of nature.
thorny devil 2
How gorgeous is this guy!!!Steve had to swerve to miss him.
thorn devil 3
Would anything actually try to eat this guy?
thorny devil
We were both really excited to finally see a “Thorny Devil” . It was after about 15 yrs of looking for these in the outback. They are so well camouflaged that we nearly drove over it on the road. We pushed it off the road and then had a closer look. It was very cute and walked like a hesitant toddler. Hard to pick up though!
murchison river info sign
The Murchison is a huge river with many rivers emptying into it and the river mouth is at Kalbarri town so we knew we would get some swimming in here.
ross graham lookout
A bend in the Murchison River at Ross Graham lookout.

 

This was a weird huge dinosaur scorpian/crab thing with the sign being the actual size and it’s fossil tracks it left in the rock. Lots of weird and wonderful stuff here in WA.

z bend lo
The view at z bend lookout

 

 

99% of people that came to this part of the park walked only the 400 metres to “Natures Window” rock formation for a photo opportunity and then walked back to their cars. However, the best park of the park was the Loop Trail. It was a lovely varied walk that followed a big bend in the river walking both up on the cliff line for great views or down on the riverside for great swims. Since most people didn’t go down there, were had the pools to ourselves! Well not quite. There were heaps of black swans honking away at each other and Pelicans, Cormorants and Grebes. No new birds though.

loop walk panorama
Panorama from the start of the walk

 

loop trail info

ripplestone
Once again we are walking on an ancient sea bed and there was plenty of ripple stone to tell the story.

 

 

walking along the ledges of the loop

loop walk looking back

 

 

loop walk with happy maddy

 

 

black swan
There were plenty of these guys all along the walk.
loop walk with happy maddy
Enter a caption

 

 

Little Black Cormorant 2

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We did the walk down to Eagle Bluff Beach but with a huge swell it was not swim friendly. The pink lake near Port Gregory was amazing. The pink is caused by carotenoid producing algae Dunaliella Salina in the water. Beta Carotene is used as a food colouring agent,  and a source of vitamin A.

 

pink lake walk

pink lake salt crystal
The salt crystals were huge. Much bigger than any other salt lake we have seen.
pink lake view
The lake is below sea level so sea water seeps in and the lake gets more and more salty. They also breed brine shrimp in there for the fishing industry and the aquarium trade.
pink lake dragon
This dragon didn’t mind the salt.
pink lake stilts
Stilts seem to like salt lakes too as we have seen them on a few.
pink lake underwater
The disappearing pink lake sign.
gorgeous pink lake and gorgeous girl
Trying hard to fit in with the lake.
pink lake sparkle
Huge salt crystals shining in the sun like diamonds.