Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200509 2 Australia-NT SA

FRIDAY 16 SEPTEMBER – Head into Katherine and complete our business and shopping as quickly as possible.  Newspaper headlines say that this is the hottest year on record in this area and we can believe it.  At Knotts Crossing you are supposed to be able to swim but the crocodile warning signs put us off.  On the other side of town at Low Level Crossing there are also croc warning signs but dozens of people bathing in the water so we reckons it’s safer.  Almost all the people are aborigines and most of the men are drinking cans of VB beer.  The river bank gum trees are absolutely full of fruit bats and they don’t half make a noise.  I sit in the water near the edge of the river and a couple of aborigines come past with an esky (cool box).  They wade out to the middle of the river, put the esky on a rock and take out their beers.  It makes for a good photo so Steve wades over to ask permission.  They introduce themselves as Kevin and Darren and invite Steve to partake in a beer with them.  It’s a sad sign of the times that many of the aborigines get into trouble through drink and these guys seem to have the same problem.  They have stopped going to Katherine hot springs as it is down a lot of steps and they can’t get themselves back up them after they have drunk their slab of beer!  Back on the Stuart Highway heading south we pull off at the Kings River rest area where there is a bit of shade.  We are joined by Ken & Debbie from Perth and have a good chat to them.  One of the things we talk about is how you can say just how good something is and that’s the point when it goes wrong.  They have just told us about their cheap 12v light when it begins to fade and then goes out!  Late at night we hear men talking loudly and sounding drunk.  Having just told Ken & Debbie that we have had no trouble at night it makes me more alert than usual.  Steve investigates and reckons it’s a couple of white Aussies in a caravan.  Manage to snatch a bit more sleep in spite of the heat.



SATURDAY 17 SEPTEMBER – First stop of the day is Mataranka thermal pool.    It’s much cleaner than when we last visited as they have got rid of all the bats.  There must be a tour bus full of youngsters fooling around in the main pool.  We manage to find a quieter spot at the far end.  Our skins smell horrible after bathing but there are showers in the toilet block to rinse off.  Along the Stuart highway there are loads of WW11 airstrips and we pull over at the Gorrie airfield for lunch.  Good for an overnight stops as it is well off the road.  At Larrimah I pose for a photo by the big “Pink Panther” before the “cold beers at the pub” sign tempts Steve. It’s a bit of a quirky old pub and looks rather neglected, as does the whole town, but they do have a few interesting caged animals in the garden.  Behind the pub is the old railway and we see camels lying down beside the track.  Further down the road we return to Daly Waters.  It’s rodeo and camp draft weekend and Don & Maddy, whom we met at TENRR, are running their “Snow Cones” stall.  Admission is $12 (£5.50) per day but Don arranges for to get into to the showground free and to park up by them with electricity.  Don & Maddy sell snow cones (slush puppy), popcorn, ginger beer, bungee balls and lollipops.  We are really glad to cool down with an ice-cold cone and a drink.  Today it is the rodeo and we watch a few of the events, much the same as at Mount Isa but with mainly younger contestants.  People come from as far a field as South Australia and this amazes us, as it doesn’t seem to be such a big event.  The bar is the most popular place around and a few lads can be seen flaked out on the dusty ground.  It finishes around 10pm when most people drift over to the pub.  I have spaghetti bolognaise waiting for when Maddy & Don shut up shop. 



SUNDAY 18 SEPTEMBER – We are rudely awoken at 6.45 by the tanoy announcing the first camp draft event.  These are timed horsemanship competitions where a beast has to be steered in a figure of eight around posts then through a gate.  Within minutes music is blaring through the speakers and horses are stamping past not 6 feet from our window.  Ringside seat doesn’t come into it, any further over and we would be in the ring itself.  It’s really dusty and we end up having to turn the van around in order to keep the door open.  Many of the young lads do not turn up for their events, the commentator says they are probably suffering from the beer and jokes that one of them must have swallowed a piece of barbed wire judging by the amount of rum he was supping to wash it down!  It’s quite bizarre sitting in the van and seeing horses fly past one window and others walk past the door as the competitors return.  The cattle often escape and at one point a cow comes stampeding towards where Steve is sitting beside the van.  He and other spectators jump out of the way as it tears past inches from them.  Cowboys on horseback follow in hot pursuit but it takes a long time to round it up.  Behind us is “Circle B” saddlery shop in the back of a 5th wheel trailer.  Owner Steve tells us that at one rodeo a bull escaped and charged up the ramp and into his trailer.  All the customers jumped up to grab the ceiling beams but one lady got trapped, had her stomach squashed and broke her leg.  Seems like it can be nearly as dangerous for spectators as competitors!  The camp draft is a much smaller event and it all winds down around 4pm.  “Circle B” owners Steve & Bernice join Don & Maddy and ourselves for an evening meal.  Steve tells us that he takes his trailer around the stations selling everyday gear needed by the cowboys. ).  The people on outback ranches are often over 1000km from the nearest town so a “Circle B” visit is about the only chance they have to stock up on gear. 

On a lunch stop whilst passing through one town he had customers knocking on the door.  They were students from the agricultural college and asked him to open up later so they could buy goods.  Between 4pm and 6pm he took $18,000 (£8,000).



MONDAY 19 SEPTEMBER – Steve’s 51st birthday and we are far and away from the hurricane storm in Dominican Republic where we were just a year ago.  By way of celebration we join Don Maddy for a cooked breakfast.  The big clean up begins with everything needing either dusting down or hosing off with water.  It would drive me crazy living on a station if they have to suffer this much dust as a way of life; it’s bad enough for just 2 days.  We head off our separate ways and pull into the Hi-Way service station for fuel.  Since coming through a month ago the price of unleaded petrol has risen from $1.37 to $1.56 (£70p) litre.  Australians are going crazy as people in the outback are now paying a previously unheard of $2.00+ (£90p) per litre.  Holidaymakers are reconsidering their journeys and it’s having quite a knock on effect on many things.  Pull off the highway to Newcastle Waters, a small town with a drover’s statue and an old corrugated iron pub.  The story tells that it was built from pieces of corrugated iron brought in by customers to pay off their bar debts.   There’s also a corrugated iron church for the aborigines and despite it being completely empty it says that it is still in use today.  Not worth the turn off in terms of interest but would be good for a quiet overnighter.  On the northern outskirts of Elliot we see an Aboriginal housed community and driving around we notice the inhabited homes look very neglected and have lots of junk in the gardens.  The centre of town has 3 fuel stations and then we get to the southern Aboriginal community that looks much the same as the other one.    Renner Springs is a servo with the most expensive fuel we have seen this trip.  Less than 10km south of town we turn off to a repeater station where Ken & Debbie stayed.  There’s a locked gate in the middle of the track but they told us the track that veers off to the right emerges at the other side of the gate.  It’s about 500m up the lane then over a hill to the tower where we find lots of good level parking, little shade, friendly flies but a cooling wind.  It’s so cool in the night that we have to swap the top sheet for the duvet.



TUESDAY 20 SEPTEMBER – Steve wakes me up before 8am to say the fridge gas has blown out in the wind.  He suggests we move off straight away and have breakfast down the road.  I’m still half asleep when I pack up to set off.  Once we hit the main road and build up speed we hear strange noises in the back.  I’ve forgotten to drop the pop-top and it’s flapping like crazy.  Luckily no harm done.   Abut 10km further on we see a track on our right, opposite a stockyards.  This leads us to a gravel pit where we are hidden from the road and in fact an even better spot than last night with few flies whilst we eat our breakfast.  (From the south the track is just north of Helen Springs station signpost and the second of the two tracks on the left).  Just over a week ago there was a motorbike rally where thousands converged on Uluru to ride around the rock in convoy.  We see many of the riders heading north in groups; many on 3 wheel Harleys towing mini trailers.   It’s obvious there are lots of cattle roaming here as we see many dried out hides at the side of the road.  They look rather like uninhabited pantomime costumes.  We’ve been advised that fuel is cheaper at Three Ways but at $1.60 (70p) we are not impressed. Turn off to visit the Pebbles down 6km of very rough corrugated road.  We plan to stay overnight so think it’s worth it, wrong.  The Pebbles are not very impressive, there’s no shade and it doesn’t feel like a good place to stay.  On the opposite side of the main road we turn in to the old Telegraph Station.  To enter the buildings you need to get a key from Tennant Creek but you can use the printed guide sheet and see enough through the windows to get a feel for the place.  A much better detour than the Pebbles in our opinion.   Just north of town we visit Mary Ann dam hoping for a swim.  The dam is nearly empty and very uninviting.  Stop for lunch and make use of the free showers.  It’s frustrating to find fuel at $1.48 (65p) in Tennant Creek!  Internet at the library is $1 (45p) for 10 minutes and very slow.  There’s nothing left to detain us in town and when we see some Aborigine women fighting and swearing in the street we make a quick exit.  The local paper reports that it’s all down to the drink problem and as it gets nearer to the bi-weekly Thursday payday there is even more trouble.  With no money left the Aboriginals are accosting white people in the street and demanding money.  4.5km north of the Devils Marbles northern entrance (and 1.2km N of the Tennant Creek 100km sign) there’s a turning on the west side of the road and this takes us well off the road to a gravel pit.  We have wind to keep the flies at bay, a bit of a view over the Davenport Ranges but unfortunately no shade.  Another cold night after a hot day, typical desert conditions.



WEDNESDAY 21 SEPTEMBER – Heading back to the main road we see a fallen sign beside the track.  Steve picks it up and reads “Aborigine freehold land. No entry. Penalty $1000”.  Call in to the Devils Marbles to take a few photos; camping fees are now $3.30 (£1.50) pp.  We plan to stop at Wauchope (pronounced walk-up) where the caravan park is $6 (£2.70) per person unpowered and they have a swimming pool.  Unfortunately the campsite is just a huge gravel car park with no shade so we continue. Wycliffe Well is famous for UFO spotting.  There are alien figures and paintings outside the building and lots of info in the restaurant.  The Big4 campsite is $20 (£9) unpowered, again rather bleak and the swimming pool is indoors.  Their fuel is a bit cheaper than Wauchope at $1.57.  120km N of Ti Tree we see a sign pointing east to at WW11 staging post.  It’s a good dirt track taking us well away from the road then veering off to the left.  The signboard explains that this site was used for vehicles travelling from Alice to Darwin.  There would have been mess buildings, ablutions blocks and a canteen.  All that remains are the concrete pads; just perfect for parking on and there’s even a bit of shade.  We take the old Sergeants Mess block, in between the Officers mess and the recreation room!   We’re on the banks of a very wide river but it’s completely dried up leaving just a sandy bed with trees growing.  Spend a very pleasant day at our own naturist retreat with surprisingly few flies.  With absolutely no light pollution the stars are magnificent, don’t think we have ever seen so many, and the Milky Way is really clear.



THURSDAY 22 SEPTEMBER – Wake to hear cattle nearby as they pass across the camp.  Roughly between here and Barrow Creek is where a bloke flagged down two Brits in a campervan and murdered them.  We are happy to make it to Barrow Creek without incident.  It has changed a bit since we last passed through.  A cyclone 2 years ago too the roof off the building and also blew away many of the antiques that decorated the outside of the building.  A bit further south we see a campervan pulled over.  It’s a Swedish couple with a flat tyre and not a clue how to go about changing it.  We can see that they have the jack in the wrong place for starters.  They are glad of a bit of help but the biggest problem is that they can’t loosen the wheel nuts.  They tell us it’s a slow puncture but Barrow Creek had no air to pump it up.  They have water; food and shade so we suggest they wait for someone to come along with a compressor then drive on to Ti Tree.  A few kilometres further on Steve realises that the lad was trying to turn the nuts in the wrong direction!  We stop at the town of Ti Tree and check onto the caravan park. It’s a grassy site with a few trees for shade but unfortunately the swimming pool is closed due to an algae problem.  The Swedish couple turn up having only had to wait a few minutes for assistance.  The garage here can do no more to help them but once Steve has explained about the correct way to loosen the nuts they manage to change the tyre and head off to Alice.  It’s amazing that if you have a tyre problem here you still have to drive hundreds of kilometres to get it sorted.  In the afternoon we see a mob of Aboriginals walking across the field and soon afterwards they are sat outside the bar getting drunk, no cheap pastime with beer $4 (£1.80) a can.  Steve drinks the last of our supply of beer.  Tomorrow we are going out to the dry Aboriginal community at Willowra on the edge of the Tanami desert.  Sue, a friend of ours, is teaching there and it will give us a change to see how they live.  There is a strict ban on alcohol and Aboriginals found in possession may be thrown out of the town and white people fined heavily.


$6 (£2.70) pp unpowered site


FRIDAY 23 SEPTEMBER – It’s a long and dusty road out to Willowra so we put all our bedding in plastic bags and seal up as many holes as we can around the van.  Bob arrives in the afternoon and after a quick drink in the bar we set off at 3pm on the 150km journey to the community.  Bob has a 4wd and travels ahead of us stopping from time to time to point out things of interest.  We pass Mount Stuart, the central point of Australia.  The first part of the track is really bad corrugations and we try to get up to the preferred 80km speed but it really doesn’t feel safe.  Areas of the road are muddy from recent rain and we have to cross a number of sandy creek beds.  The middle section of the track is reasonable and we do manage to “float” over the corrugations at 80km but have to slow down often for various hazards, stray cattle, road dips, and changes of conditions.  One of the cattle grids is really bad and you have to pick you way across.  Lots of burnt out cars can be seen at the side of the track.  We are really happy when after 2 hours we see a signs for Willowra 25km and others warning of the alcohol ban and consequences.  On the outskirts of the town there is a huge pile of wrecked cars.  Aboriginals often buy cars and white goods but abandon them as soon as they break down and usually set fire to them.  The “town” has a few sealed roads but it’s mainly dusty tracks.  The few white people live in conventional but basic houses near the school.  The Aboriginals, of the Warlpiri tribe, live in huts or humpies – rough houses built from natural materials.   There are lots of wild donkeys in the area and a “donkey proof” fence has been erected around the town but is breached in a number of places so donkeys, wild horses and lots of dogs roam the streets.   Sue returns from work and we catch up on their news since last visiting them in Melbourne 5 years ago.  She receives a phone call with a message for one of the villagers.   We join her when she goes to deliver it.  Barefoot children are playing and the younger ones soon come over to us, grab our hands and chatter as we walk along.  It all looks and feels very much like the 3rd world Asian countries we have visited.   It’s a quite primitive in some ways but they have power supplied by generators and water pumped from a bore.  There’s a shop that sells everything from groceries to washing machines but at hugely inflated prices.  Sue is headmistress and teacher at the school and Bob is an all round “Mr Fix it”.  During the course of the evening they tell us lots about how the Aboriginals live and of the many problems and frustrations.  Basically they cannot go back to living how they used to do as “white man” has altered the structure of much of the land.  They don’t want to live as we do but are trapped in limbo.  Even without the alcohol induced problems there are still other problems with tribal warfare and other disagreements.  Even within this village there was a riot recently that went on for 14 weeks with lots of fights taking place.  However much progress has been made especially in the school.  A hygiene programme is in place and the children all have a shower and wash their hair on arrival at school.  They then put on a supplied school uniform for the day whilst their own clothes are washed and dried.  At the end of the day they change back into their own, now clean, clothes and then school washes the uniforms.  Breakfast and lunch are provided at school and within the school grounds they have to clean up rubbish after themselves.  Incentives are offered to children who have good rates of attendance.  Children as young as 2 years old attend school and certain goals are set.  Between the age of 4 and 6 years they should be able to cook a lamb chop on an open fire, the next age group should be able to make up a small cooking campfire and boil a “Billy” whilst the oldest kids are expected to make a fire and cook their home made damper in it.  No doubt all a sight more useful than some of the things our kids learn at school.  It’s preferable to call the locals either indigenous people or “yapa”, their word for black fellow, we are known as "kardya" – white fellows.  Aboriginal people are preferable to Aborigine and Abo’s is really derogatory. 



SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER – It’s been a noisy night and this is explained when we wake to find a bull and lots of donkeys in the garden.  They bull has charged the gate and forced it open.  Late morning we set off with Bob & Sue for a tour of the area entirely on narrow tracks.  Pass the airport on the way out of town.  Once a week mail is flown in and it’s also used for medical emergencies.  The Mount Peake topographical map of the area shows numerous tracks and all the bores. We stop in an area near a Smokey Bore water tank.  Many of the villagers moved out here during the riots.  At the time Sue drove out to check on them was amazed to find they had a washing machine rigged up to a generator, lines of washing hanging out to dry and even a clock hanging in the tree.  What remains now is a real mess.  Torn blue tarpaulin, wrecked cars, the remains of humpies, sheets of corrugated iron, the boarding bases used for beds and oddments of shoes and clothing.  Nearby Bob shows us an area of “dreamtime” significance where a symbol on the rocks indicates a permanent water source under the ground nearby.   Sure enough as you dig into the depression the earth becomes damp.  Another hour or so along the track is the ghost town of Barkly, in decline it was eventually abandoned when their bus broke down!  There are lots of quite substantial houses, toilet blocks and other buildings.  We break for lunch and after boiling the “Billy” Bob cooks us sausages over the fire.  Throughout the day we are learn lots about bush tucker and Aboriginal customs.  All really interesting and a brilliant experience.  By the time we get back we will have covered around 150km and not seen another soul or car.  Sue gets a steady stream of callers late afternoon, Word has gone out about her visitors and natural curiosity gets the betters of many people who come up with all sorts of excuses to call.  Sue says this harassment is known as humbug and they do it amongst themselves also.  Possessions are usually up for grabs by anyone and all shares money.  Family is the most important factor and comes before work and all else.  Sorry business occurs when someone dies and goes on for many days accompanied by much wailing.  The funerals are held at the school.



SUNDAY 25 SEPTEMBER – Bob and Sue have lots to do so we relax and even watch a video on Yorkshire sent over by Sue’s parents.   I cook up a curry for our evening meal.



MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER – The school siren sounds at 8.30am and this means the bus is on the way to collect the children.  This is also our cue to walk over to the school to observe things.   Bob pulls up with the school bus full of kids.  Although most live within a 1km radius they would be unlikely to come to school if they weren’t collected.  They range in age from 4 to 14 years and all know the routine.  First they queue up for a breakfast of 2 weetabix.  Once they have finished eating they rinse their bowls under the tap then wash them in the soapy water.  Next they collect a towel and the school uniform shirt and shorts.  These are stored in a filing cabinet with the approx sizes marked on the drawers.  Shampoo is squirted on their hair before they head off to the showers.  They emerge to drop their own dirty clothes and the damp towels into special baskets.  Throughout the day the towels and the dirty clothes will all be laundered.  A few really tiny tots are given a hand with combing their hair but the rest cope alone.  Sue calls the children to assembly.  There are just over 20 of them and she talks about the week ahead.  One of the highlights of the year is the Croc Fest in Alice and first thing today is for them to practice the dance routine.  It’s based on their culture and shows the boys hunting with spears whilst the women gather bush tucker and then cook the food.  Once this is over they split up into different age group classes.  Sue takes the 11 – 14’s, Hannah the 7 – 10 and Manoli the under 7’s.  I wander round the classrooms and notice that the under 7’s seem to be at about the level I would expect but the older two groups seem to have made little academic advancement.  Spend the rest of the day washing and pottering round.  In the evening I’m sat at the dining table working on the computer when I hear a crash and feel the house shake.  Steve & Bob investigate and find a bull running into the corner of the house!



TUESDAY 27 SEPTEMBER – Take a final drive around the community and find most of the houses have broken windows and don’t seem lived in.  The gardens are full of rubbish and most people seem to be sleeping out there on platforms.  We discover more wrecked car dumps and find it all quite depressing.  Sue is making great inroads with the kids in school but their families show no signs of changing habits.  Head out on the track and Billy does us proud getting us out without hindrance; we even have very little dust inside.  It’s good to be back on a sealed road and near to civilisation.  For us the community would be too remote for comfort.  At Ti Tree roadhouse we pump the tyres back up to normal road pressure and indulge in an ice cream.  A few cars are pulling up with slogans on them.  We learn that they are part of the Darwin-Adelaide solar challenge.  One is an electric car trying to make the journey using as little additional petrol as possible.  Another is a new Toyota and they are road testing for fuel consumption figures.  They have passed a number of solar cars about 40 minutes back.  We’d like to see these so make a lunch stop further down the track.  The solar cars are very small and flat and difficult to see so each has a warning car in front and behind.  We set off and soon see one in the rear view mirror giving us time to pull off and get a photo.  Arrive in Alice Springs mid afternoon.  It’s grown a lot since we were here in 1999 with more shops and a bigger industrial estate.  Don’t remember there being a fly problem in the town last time.  A chance for some major shopping as this is our last big town for over 1000km.  Walk through Todd Mall then out to Bojangles bar and restaurant.  They have web cams and we contact Claire and tell her to check out, she’s quite amused to see us having a drink and waving to her.  Walking back through the mall we see an exhibition and many of the race cars.  They are offering free sausage sandwiches as an incentive to get people to stay and learn more about natural energy.  Late afternoon we drive out to visit Rosemary and Peter.  They have moved to the Eastern suburbs and have a big garden where we can park up.  Throughout the evening we catch up on their news.  They managed to buy one of the cheap houses up at Pine Creek and only paid $20,000 (£9,000) for theirs.  Rosemary has recently done a big 4wd trip around the top end so it’s good to look at her photos. 



WEDNESDAY 28 SEPTEMBER – Steve gets up at 6am to watch football on TV.  Rosemary is out at work all day and Peter is busy so we head back into town.  It’s really hot so as soon as we are finished we head out to Rosemary’s son Peter’s place as she says we can use his swimming pool.  His German shepherd dog “Sasha” doesn’t know us but is happy for us to enter the back garden and use the swimming pool.  Peter drives the Ghan train and is often away for a few days at a time so we have the place to ourselves.  There are bougainvillea trees at the end of the pool and lots of the coloured petals have fallen into the water, very romantic for swimming.  Rosemary calls round late afternoon and we follow her out to the Senior Citizens centre.  They are putting on a meal tomorrow and she wants our help setting out and laying the tables.    Return to their house where I cook us an evening meal.



THURSDAY 29 SEPTEMBER – Steve is up at 6am to watch his beloved Liverpool draw with Chelsea.  Head back into town and out to the railway station.  The Ghan is due in this morning around 9am.  It’s a massive train with 35 really long carriages and very impressive.  The train stays in town until mid day so tour buses are waiting whisk off the passengers.  Just outside town we overtake a solar car.  This one obviously isn’t doing too well as the winner has already reached Adelaide.  It’s a much cooler day and perfect for travelling.  Stop at Stuarts Well, a good roadhouse with free camping.  The star attraction is Dinky the singing dingo but we are too late for the morning’s performance.   Saltwater Creek makes a reasonable lunch stop and would also be acceptable for overnight.  We’ve just got back on the highway when we see one of the solar convoys pulled over.  The solar car is having a tyre pumped up and we can see in to where the driver is lying almost flat with just his head stuck up in a little bubble, no doubt extremely uncomfortable.  Around 3.30pm we cross the border into SOUTH AUSTRALIA.  Immediately after the 5kim to Marryatt rest area we see a track on our left.  Exploration reveals a big area well off the road with lots of tracks taking us to shady spots under trees.  op[e Hop out and manage to get the fly nets in place before they realise we have arrived.   After 2 early mornings we are glad that it’s cool enough for us to have a late afternoon siesta before tea.   The night is actually cold necessitating two duvets to keep us warm.



FRIDAY 30 SEPTEMBER- We slept well during the quiet and cool night.  As soon as we hit the road we notice that it is going to be a hot day.  Just over 100km further down the track we pull up at Cadney homestead.  Unpowered camping is free and showers are $2 (90p).  The Leeming school solar car is parked up as they are having problems.  We chat to them about the race and learn that the first cars have already finished.   This is the first time the school has entered and they will be just happy to get to the end regardless of position.  Their car has cost $50,000 (£22,000) to build whereas the winners are commercial projects costing over $1m (£450,000).  This is one of the check in points for the race and the University of Western Ontario car pulls up.   They are in last position and also having problems so end up staying for the rest of the day to recharge their batteries.  After a hot day we get a pleasantly warm evening.

CADNEY HOMESTEAD                                                                               


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