We left Alice Springs after being told the only water around the area, after so long without rain was the West MacDonnell Ranges, so we headed out that way. Animals and birds need water. The West Macs branch out like ribbons of red quartzite rock for over 150kms west of Alice Springs. Here there are the highest mountains found west of the dividing range. Most of these are protected in National Parks. Many of the best places are gaps in these ranges where rivers have cut a pathway through, creating some stunning gorges and water holes. We also found out pretty quickly about the fires from Jan this year. They burned huge areas along the road and into the national park. Worse still they were not lightening lit, which is often how fires start out here but deliberate by some fool looking for a thrill. M
First stop Ellery Creek Big Hole. The Hole was not as big as when we were here 9 yrs ago in Jan after some rain. Big difference too were how many people were here. Last time there was nobody around most places. There are so few birds around but Steve managed to find a new bird here the golden backed honey eater but he was unable to get a photo even though we both saw it each once. It was one of those that was not into posing. M
Next we headed up to Ormiston Gorge and did the Ormiston Pound walk. There was nobody else on the trail and when we entered the Pound it was like coming into a lost world. It is a valley enclosed in mountains with Ormiston creek running through it. It was a stunning walk and one that doesn’t seem to be done by most people. It is here in 1997 that 2 endangered mammals were rediscovered here. The long tailed dunnart and the central rock rat. So it’s an important refuge. They are nocturnal so we won’t be seeing them, but it is nice to know they are still here. M
The beginning of this walk followed the Larapinta Trail a 231km multi day iconic walking trail taking 12-18days. We will be doing bits of this as we go along.
We exited the pound walking back through the gorge to the main water hole and camping area. Most people don’t venture too far from the camping area so we had the place to ourselves mostly.
We were in Alice Springs for a few days to de dust and have a couple of days without flies. It seems they don’t like the “big” city of Alice Springs. Alice has a population of 25,000 and we wonder what so many people do out here in the middle of the country. It looks like a lot of it is tourism. We were there for Anzac day so went up to Anzac Hill to get a view over the city. M
We also went to the Olive Pink Botanical garden. Olive was another real territory legend. An anthropologist, a lover of art and flowers, a botanical artist, an advocate for Aboriginal rights. She was a woman very much ahead of her time. She also promoted the cultivation of native plants, which was very out of fashion at the time. The garden is in Alice Springs but feels far away with wallaby’s living in the rocky hills behind. It was founded in 1956. Olive lived in the garden in a tent until her death in 1975 aged 91. She was known for always being impeccably dressed in long skirt, long sleeves and trademark brimmed hat.
“she pinpointed the most controversial issues of her day and highlighted them in ways that other anthropologists did not….these issues continue to be important today. Miss Pink is buried near the Aboriginal section of the Alice Springs Cemetery. All headstones face east except hers which faces west, towards the important sacred site, Alhekulyele (Mt Gillen). She was a rebel even in death. ( ref from the garden guide booklet).
We also found 2 good city quality eateries for some good food/cocktails/coffee and went to see a movie since the next town is very far away.
We also had a look at the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame founded by Molly Clark. It is housed in the old jail. We were told Molly was unhappy about this as it wasn’t the right place to honour women. It was offered to them for free though and they had to take this location. The jail visit was actually interesting as well and it showed a jail at the time when there wasnt much business and there was an attempt at some humanity inside. M
There was a lot of interesting woman to read about in Molly’s museum but these 2 ladies stood out for me. They were nurses doing house visits last century on camels! They were midwives going wherever they were needed to help deliver babies and making the outback a safer place for women to live! Just look at the clothes! Can you imagine working in that garb!Imagine having to wash that blouse after delivering a baby hand washing with minimal water! M
And how about being the only immunisation nurse in all of North West Western Australia having to fly yourself to your patients! We have it easy on the school team girls!
Not far from Old Andado on the Binns track is the Mac Clark (Molly’s husband) Acacia Peuce reserve. Mac(and other farmers) was concerned for these rare trees which led to this reserve being formed. These trees are very rare, the hardest wood in the world, and only occur in three places only in Australia in small stands. You can also see them in Boulia and Birdsville in Qld. Aboriginal people used this “Birdsville Waddy” wood to make clubs (waddy). Early farmers used these to make fence posts and stockyards as it is durable and termite resistant. it is now an offence to cut this wood. Some of these trees are estimated to be 500yrs old. They are special enough in themselves but they are also crucial to the survival of a unique group of bugs, reptiles,mammals and birds.
They are easily disturbed by cattle trampling the ground around them so these have been fenced in to save them. They are a strange looking tree and stick out from very far away here on a plain of black gibbers.
We left Dalhousie Springs and headed to Mt Dare which calls itself Australia’s most remote pub. It did rather feel like this. It is in the Simpson Desert National Park and has camping and basic accom and meals, as well as car repairs and recovery. We had seen one of their tow trucks when it had to come out to Dalhousie Springs to rescue someone who’s oil pump had died on the horrible corrogated road out to there. We nearly lost the boat on that same road and had to tie it back down. We filled our water tanks with their bore water after filtering it and set out on the Binns Track towards Old Andado. M
We were told the road to Andado was “good” by one of the locals but I wondered what it was like when it was bad?! It was the worst road we had been on so far on this trip with long, wide stretches of soft sand and ruts left behind by the big cattle trucks. Also a very long soft sand Finke river crossing that just kept going. We stopped and further lowered our tire pressure and the van got through with no problems. I did have my fingers crossed at times even though Steve is a great driver on the rough roads. We had to keep the van moving, so we wouldn’t get bogged but we also had low tree branches to avoid suddenly. We crossed the Northern Territory Border and the terrain changed with trees at the sides of the road. I had the image of digging the car/and or van out of the soft sand in my mind, in 30+deg temps and millions of flies. There were some horrible sections of bull dust too where we could not even see the van behind us! We saw nobody else on this road that day. We quite like this but not so good if you get bogged. Out here if you are pulled over on the road someone always stops to check on you, even if you are looking at a bird. This is one of the nice things about rural/remote Australia. M
One of the most interesting camps on a property this entire trip, was this one at Old Andado Station. Nestled in between pink sand dunes at the edge of the Simpson Desert. Part of Andado Station is 18kms inside the Simpson desert. It was the final home of Molly Clark who was a real character and is a bit of a legend out here and for good reason. M
Molly Clark was born in 1923 and wanted to be a wool classer but this was not a job for a woman at the time, so she took up nursing. In her first year she contracted TB and that ended this career path. She ended up working on Mungerannie Station as a Governess. It was here she met her husband Malcolm (Mac) Clark and they married and had 3 sons. They managed a number of stations together and by 1969 owned their own place- Andado Station. They lived in the old 1920’s homestead but built a new one a few kms west. In 1972 Molly and her family began to restore the old homestead to it’s former glory and she started a tourism business showing people what life was like in earlier days in the outback as alternative income during drought years. M
In 1978 Molly lost Mac to a heart attack after crash landing his light aircraft. In 1979 she lost her oldest son when his semi trailer was hit by a freight train at night. Andado station was one of the first cattle stations to undergo Brucellosis and Tuberculosis testing and because it bordered South Australia they had to de stock the property (slaughter all the cows) and as a result of this loss Molly had to sell the property in 1984 for less than it was worth.
Molly did manage to secure a crown lease on 45 square kilometres around the old homestead, renaming it Old Andado. She lived there until she was forced to move into Alice Springs due to frailty and failing eyesight. The homestead today is just how she left it, when she retired to a nursing home in Alice Springs. Well nearly. Molly lived to 89yrs.
Molly was disappointed when she visited the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach and saw how few woman were mentioned, so she did something about it. She started the Pioneer Woman’s Hall of Fame in Alice Springs. M
Visiting this house was so interesting. Yes it was covered it red dust as the verandas were only enclosed with shade cloth and the charitable trust seems not to have been able to get a caretaker for some time. But you could really get an idea of how hard it would be to live out here and get an idea of the woman that Molly Clark must have been. The royal flying doctors radio was still on the desk and her prized salt and pepper shakers inside the glass cabinets. There was her perfume bottle on the dressing table ready for a special occasion. Books on birds and Aboriginal culture on the coffee table. A tea pot covered in a tea cosy. It would have been lovely to sit down at the table and have a cup of tea with her. She even looked a bit like my Gran. Molly won numerous awards and her last home, Old Andado was finally listed on the Heritage Register in 1993. Molly died in 2012. M
After a lonesome night at Foggarty’s Claypan we pushed north to Dalhousie Springs in Witjira National Park. These are the largest complex of natural springs on the great artesian basin and it is estimated that 43% of the naturally flowing waters of the whole basin emerge here. Today there are also many artificial bores mining the waters of the great artesian basin. As this happens faster than it recharges, flow rates are dropping and several natural springs have dried up however, however there are steps being taken to reduce the wastage and the flow from man made has reduced about 25% since it’s peak of 2000 megalitres per day (ref Wikipedia)
After many dusty kilometers, arriving at Dalhousie Springs is truly remarkable – with trees, reeds and general greenery emerging from the bright white desert sands. To cap it off, it is possible to swim in one of the spring fed lakes in water that varies between 34 and 39 degrees C. For the first 2 days we were there, the air temperature reached the low 30s and with the sun baking the surface of the already hot pool, it was probably near the top of its range. So while it was very welcome to wash off the dust and get away from the flies, which don’t seem to like venturing out over water, it was not at all refreshing and one soon overheated and had to get out. However for night time dips and on our third day there, which was significantly cooler, the pool was lovely.
On the road into Dalhousie Springs we stopped off at the old Dalhousie Station homestead ruins. These were established near some of the southern most springs of the Dalhousie complex in the late 1800s and operated as a cattle and sheep station, but eventually abandoned – first by the European settlers, then later by the aboriginal workers who remained behind for several years and continued to run it as a cattle farm. The date palms that were planted around the springs have become a bit of a problem, crowding out other species and altering the nature of the banks of the springs and propagating themselves to other springs in the area. Eradication programs are underway, but a couple of male trees have been left at the homestead ruins for historical reasons.
On our first full day at Dalhousie Springs we went for a walk to another set of springs about 3km away called kingfisher springs. These did not have good swimming access and if it were not for some feral cows which had trampled down an access route to the biggest pool it may not have even been possible to see it because of the dense surrounding vegetation. However, apart from this benefit, it’s sad to see cows in National Parks as they damage the ground and vegetation and foul up waterholes. We seem to be seeing cows in National Parks all over the country, it’s surprising that one does not hear about this issue more.
Views from around Kingfisher Springs. There are also some date palms infesting these springs. Although some of the larger ones have been removed, there are already many smaller ones growing back.
Some interesting vegetation and dingo footprints on the walk. The night before we had heard dingos howling, and even on the walk we heard a few in the distance. The following night we caught a brief glimpse of one walking past our campsite, but by the time we got the torch out, it had disappeared.
Dalhousie Springs lies on the western edge of the Simpson Desert. As it isn’t feasible to take a caravan across the the Simpson Desert we decided to take a day trip into the western edge of the desert to Purni Bore. This was a bore drilled in the 1960’s in a search for oil, but instead it struck artesian water. Although the oil company capped the bore before leaving, after a few years, it corroded and water started flowing out freely at 18 litres per second creating a permanent lake between two dunes and an oasis for birds, animals and travellers. However in recent years, the bore has been recapped and now only a trickle has been left which still attracts some wildlife.
Purni Bore is east of Dalhousie Springs, so to avoid driving into the sun, then spending time there in the heat of the day with no wildlife active then driving back into the setting sun, we decided to set off 2 hours before sunrise to get there shortly after sunrise. After the initial shock, it was lovely driving first by moonlight, then watching the sun rise as we approached the dunes. Then after a couple of hours at the bore, we headed back with the sun overhead and returned to Dalhousie for a dust-off in the pool in the early afternoon.
Flowers on the dunes at first light before they have woken up on the left and on the right: a few hours later after they have had their morning coffee.
Purni Bore info signs (click on the images to read)
We left Coober Pedy and drove through the Dog Fence. This is supposed to be the longest fence in the world. It stretches for 5600 kilometers from the Great Australian Bight in South Australia to the Darling Downs in S.E. Qld. It originally started as a vermin proof fence in the early 1900’s to stop rabbits getting into farmland. It didn’t work for this purpose but was found to work for Dingos or wild dogs. South of the dog fence is sheep country and north is cattle country. Dingos will attack sheep but not cows. We were now in Cattle country and going further into the desert and hoped to see a Dingo.
The dog fence may be good for farmers but not so for wildlife. These emus and many others we saw all along this fence are trying to find a way to get through.
We then turned onto the Oodnadatta Track famous for following the path of the old Ghan railway. It is also where the Great Artesian Basin, one of the world’s largest aquifers bursts to the surface in many places into springs attracting wildlife and birds. We would not be seeing the springs section of this track this time as we are headed to Dalhousie Springs on the edge of the Simpson desert to “take the waters” of the Great Artesian Basin. A new destination for us.
Aboriginal people showed explorers this route as it was an ancient trade route for them and the only safe way through this desert country with no permanent water. Little did they know this land would be turned into cattle farms and their springs turned into cattle watering points!
It is mostly dry out here but when it rains it dumps and takes out everything in it’s path which is why the old Ghan rail needed to be moved. It was never a good idea to build it here. The rail line was always out with sand covering the tracks or water destroying the bridges. A very silly decision made last century. The aboriginals must have watched this being built and scratched their heads knowing the outcome! The local station owners must have known it wouldn’t work either.
Birds were very hard to see out here and when we did they were always the same ones. Steve tried very hard to find something new. The Orange Chat was the only new bird on this track.
We were pretty disappointed we were not able to do the Birdsville track on this trip. The floods in northern outback QLD near Winton have flowed down and cut off/closed the road. Now we hear that cyclone Trevor has dumped more water and there is a second lot of water coming down. Never a dull moment in this country. But the good thing to come out of all this, is that Lake Eyre is filling up. Lake Eyre is Australia’s biggest lake but it is dry most of the time. It will contain some water 2 or 3 times in a decade, but only fills 4 times a century. When were there in Jan 2010, it was reasonably full, but the only way to really appreciate the lake is from the air as even getting to the water’s edge can mean walking some kilometers over the lake bed’s thin salty crust which sometimes breaks leaving you covered half way to the knee in black muddy ooze. At the time we looked all over the “town” of William Creek for the pilot Trevor to take us up to see the lake in flood as you could not see it from the shore. However he was nowhere to be found. So since we were relatively close (in Coober Pedy) we thought we would have another go at getting a scenic flight over the lake.
Things have certainly changed since 2010. The permanent population of William Creek has dropped from 4 to 1 and that one person happens to be the elusive pilot who now pretty much owns the town of William Creek (i.e. the pub and fuel station, the campground and the scenic flight business). However while the permanent population is 1, the town is certainly not quiet, as there are a whole host of pub staff, managers, admin staff and pilots, but all of them are itinerant workers. Trevor’s scenic flight business has grown and now operates well over 10 aircraft out of 3 airfields offering scenic flights over the Flinder’s Ranges and outback South Australia. Unlike last time when getting a flight meant trying to track down the pilot, now a scenic flight can be booked and paid online.
Another change since 2010 is that the lake has been renamed to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre to acknowledge the Aboriginal name. I’m not sure what it means, but in Zulu Kati Thanda means something like “love the middle” and since the lake is in the middle of Australia, it kind of works.
We selected a 2 hour flight which enabled us to see the full extent of lake Eyre. Starting from William Creek, we headed about 50km east over Anna Creek Station (the world’s largest property at over 2 million hectares) to the south western part of the lake. From there we headed north for about 80km following the main inlet channel (the Warburton Groove), then about 20 km east up the Warburton River towards Birdsville, before turning back south to the bottom of Lake Eyre north and back to William Creek. The Google maps images below show the features on the right hand side and our approximate track on the map on the left.
Looking out over William Creek shortly after take off. Close up on RHS
The SK on the left photo stands for Sidney Kidman, who owned a large cattle company that once held land covering over 1% of Australia.
Halligan bay camping area LHS and tracks from some idiot on a motorcycle that rode out onto the salt and got stuck.
Scenes over the lake
Pelicans have already started to appear even though the water reached the lake only about 4 weeks ago
The flooded Warburton River with trees lining the normally dry river bank
The green on the left is where grass and reeds have started to grow after just a couple of weeks of water.
We were not the only flight – spot the plane on the left (close up on the right)