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

The 1 year milestone

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.

travel map small

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.

Cape northumberland view from keddie

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

The rush across the Nullarbor

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.

across the nullarbor

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.

weird time zone
Just east of Caiguna is a little known special timezone that applies to the tiny town of Eucla and 2 or 3 roadhouses along the last 400km of the Eyre highway before the border with South Australia.  Being on the extreme east of the state, I can understand why they would want to avoid the 3:30 AM sunrises in summer, but why they chose to be 45 minutes ahead of Perth and not a more sensible 1 hour is rather odd.
baxter plain view
At Madura, there is a bit of excitement as the road drops about 50m onto the Roe Plains.  Then about 250km further on it climbs back up again.

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.

border town big kangaroo and joey
At the border crossing to South Australia, this giant kangaroo holds out a tub of Vegemite.  One then advances the clocks another 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I am not sure which is more weird.
nullabor sign
On entering South Australia, one passes this warning sign.  After 88km there is another identical set of signs warning of camels, wombats and kangaroos for the next 96km, then another and another.  I suspect this approach was either chosen to provide regular photo opportunities for tourists, or perhaps the sign design software did not allow for 3 digit distances to be signposted.  After 400km, the camel sign disappeared, but similar warnings for just roos and wombats persisted for another 300 or 400km.
koonalda sign
Roughly in the middle of our journey, we spent the night bush camping at this interesting old homestead which also served as a roadhouse before the highway was moved 12km further south.   Today it stands deserted as if the inhabitants just packed their bags and left.  National Parks is undertaking some basic ongoing preservation work to the homestead, but the surrounding buildings, shearing shed and yard of old cars is slowly deteriorating.  It is an amazing insight into remote life in the mid 20th century.   One is free to explore the area, so hopefully it never gets vandalised.   While looking around I could imagine how this would still be a bustling hive of activity if the highway had not been realigned.

  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!

blue bonnet
A blue-bonnet, a type of parrot, spotted near Koonalda.
bunda cliffs selfie
Apart from the 250km or so of the Roe plains (where the land drops to sea level) most of the Nullarbor coast ends in these strikingly abrupt 50 cliffs. Here we are at the Bunda Cliffs.
nullarbor straight road
Yes there is another straight road picture a bit earlier in this post, but we did see quite a few of them.  Also this one is in a different state, so subtly different to the earlier Western Australian straight road.
outback wave
The outback wave, a cheerful excuse to exercise the finger muscles on passing another vehicle.   At this point we had re-entered the wheat growing area and had only about 500km left to go. S  As part of the big caravan family we belong to now, one must wave to another caravan coming the other direction. I always give at least a 4, sometimes 5 finger wave. It seems to be mainly men drivers coming the other direction though and they rarely give more than 1 finger. Is this case since I gave 5 fingers, I got 2 in return. M

 

 

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

 

 

 

Eyre Bird Observatory

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.

road to ebo
The last 12km to the observatory is along a narrow sandy track, so we had to leave the caravan at an old microwave tower.  While it felt a little wrong to abandon Keddie, the microwave tower was already 18km off the highway in what is already one of the more remote parts of the country, so the chances of an encounter with miscreants was extremely small.

The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way

ebo sign

ebo veranda
In addition to being a good birding spot, the Eyre Bird Observatory is housed in an old telegraph station building so there is an interesting historical aspect to the place.  The history goes back even further as the telegraph station was built at the location where Edward Eyre camped on his exploratory trip across the Nullarbor in 1841.
telegraph station museum
The current building dates back to 1897 and served as a repeater station on the line from Adelaide to Albany then on to Perth, linking the west coast settlements to the east coast and up to the rest of the world via Darwin and Singapore.   Some old telegraph equipment is on display in one of the rooms.

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.

old old telegraph station
The current 1897 building was in fact predated by an older telegraph station nearby from 1877.  Today only the fireplace remains.

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.

major mitchells cockatoo 2

Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.

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.