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Australia 2006

Alice Springs - Great Central Road - Gwalia - Kalgoorlie

Leg details

Date
September 25 - October 17, 2006
Leg
Alice Springs - Owen Springs - Yulara - Gilles Creek - Parallel Rd Nr. 2 - Cosmo Newberry - Laverton - Leonora - Gwalia - Niagara Dam NR - Menzies - Kalgoorlie
PDF




Leg map (click to enlarge in separate window)

Being back in Alice Springs means that we are back in the real world and have many things to organise.

So on Monday morning, September 26 2007, the first and most important thing is getting a date for the 10'000 km service on the OKA.
We will have this done by Don Kyatt, the official OKA dealer in Alice Springs. Rob Clarke, himself an OKA owner, is please to at last have a chance to have a close look at the first vehicle of the new series.
He missed out on his chance last year, when the transport of the OKA to Alice Springs went wrong because the wrong truck had been ordered.
As it is the first service of our OKA Rob inspects the vehicle before we clean it so he can have a look at traces of oil or other liquids that could be important.
Then we give the OKA a good wash. With day-temperatures close to 40C it is nice to get a bit of a sprinkle of water every so often.

Once the work is done we visit the Alice Springs train station to have a look at "The Ghan".
From previous visits to Alice Springs we know that the train on Saturdays arrives in town at around 12 PM and leaves town again at around 4 PM.
We study the timetables to have the exact departure time to be ready for some "train spotting" from the James Orr bridge, situated approx. 20 km north of Alice Springs.

In 1878, work started on a planned 1800 mile railway between the southern and northern shores.
Slowly, the line was pushed up from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta, where it stopped for nearly 40 years.
In that time, camel trains run by hardy Afghan worked the country to Alice Springs, ferrying passengers and freight up from Oodnadatta.
When the railway reached Alice Springs in 1929, the train became known as "The Ghan".

The story of how the train received its nickname is in doubt.
Throughout its long service the train has been known as The Afghan Express, The Afghan Special, the Royal Ghan and The Flash Ghan.
All stories have one thing in common: the name derives from the Afghans who ran the old camel communications network in the Australian Outback.

We liked the small booths for the tour-operators and car rental agencies.

As the train can carry passengers and their cars at the same time we look at the prices .... but it is way off our budget.
We are a bit surprised about the high prices because coming from Switzerland and being used to the trains over there we wouldn't call the Ghan spectacular.
Still, we enjoy having a good look around and soon we head of to the James Orr bridge.

That long stretch of railroad tracks is quiet impressive.
The Ghan leaves Alice Springs at 4:10 PM but only arrives at the bridge at 4:35 PM.

We head back to our site in the "Stuart Caravan Park" and settle down for the night.
We had decided to check out other caravan parks in Alice Springs and this one is the closest to town.
But we don't like it because the amenities block is a bit run down and the traffic can be heard all night.
Luckily it is a cool night with 16C and we can close the windows.

On Tuesday morning the OKA is inspected.
Besides the leaking axles the mechanic finds some more things that need to be fixed and will have to be claimed under warranty.
We decide that best is to take pictures of all and send a mail to OKA asking them on how to proceed.

The sunny afternoon is filled with shopping ... "Mitre 10" for material ... "Broken Spoke" for bicycle spares ....
We find that we can get almost all the material that we require in Alice Springs, not too much has to be postponed to Perth.
This is good news as Alice Springs will be one of the places we will visit on regular bases to stock up before heading out bush again.

We enjoy the afternoon with pleasant 29C, quite a difference to yesterday's heat.
In Alice Springs the temperature depends a lot on the wind direction; wind from the north makes it hot, wind from the south cold.
But in both cases it never really gets sticky as the humidity in Alice is extremely low, usually only 25 % during the day.

On Wednesday we check out of the "Stuart Caravan Park" and go back to the "MacDonnell Range Holiday Park (Big4)" where we feel more at "home".
Even though the caravan park is at least 3 dollars per night more expensive than the other ones its little things that just make the difference and we appreciate that.
But it is one of the few luxuries we allow ourselves.

We are planning to cross over to Western Australia on the Great Central Road.
We have seen on the map and also read in the guide books that we have to organise some permits.
Some Aboriginal communities reserve the right to know who is crossing over their land and therefore request people to get a permit before travelling there.
Theoretically any Aborigine can stop you on the community land and ask for this permit.

As we have not yet done this and don't really know how to do it we are a bit nervous when we visit the Land Council in Alice Springs.
What if they don't like our faces and say "no"?
We are surprised about the friendly and efficient staff.
Within a few minutes they have checked all and hand the permit over to us to access the Northern Territory part of the Great Central Road.

They also explain to us that for the Western Australian permits we have to go to the web.

But again all is explained and even for first time users like us it is understandable.
Just a few hours later we receive the permit per email.

In the afternoon some clouds start showing up and the temperature over night stays up at 20C.

On Thursday morning it is cloudy and raindrops fall on and off during the whole day.
As the weather forecast announces nice weather for the rest of the week Ruedi starts working on an anchoring system for our sunshade. The wind is a bit of a problem for the large sunshade.
Ruedi also installs some strong cables at the wind visor. This will in the future prevent tree branches being caught there and will important on narrow tracks like the Holland Track that we intend to travel in the future.

In the afternoon Fredy and Monika announce their arrival at the Big4 and we reserve the neighbouring site for them.
This is unexpected but pleasant surprise as after the last get-together at the Butterfly Springs they were heading north.

As forecasted the Friday morning is a sunny one, the temperatures soon rise into the thirties.

Ruedi sets up the sunshade to test his installation.
It works, the setup holds the sunshade in place even with strong wind gusts.

The ladies enjoy two days of working on photos, chatting, having fun ...
It's always the same, as soon as Fredy shows up Ruedi gets the urge to get into technical things ...
The old grease gun is taken out and both men crawl under the trucks greasing points.
Then the men need a bit more excitement and decide to take a wheel apart and exchange a valve that Ruedi had bent with his boot.
This is a challenge as the OKA has bolt-together rims with bead-locks fitted, and both men have no previous experience. But they manage.

The evenings are passed with good food, vine and more talking.
Time flies when you are having fun!

During that time we also receive a mail from OKA, saying that they would like to do all warranty work at the factory in Perth so they can analyse what is wrong.
This does only leave the regular service work to be done in Alice.
We inform Rob and confirm the service for next week.

On Sunday mornings the free pancake breakfast is a MUST at the Big4.
The pancakes are so yummy we virtually stuff our faces with them.

On Monday Fredy and Monika head south. It is already October 2nd and they soon will be flying out to Switzerland from Adelaide for their Christmas break.
We also clean up our act, get all the spares organised and get the washing done.

The weather changes and it rains again but the temperature stay in the high thirties.
We are surprised that it rains that often in Alice Springs.
When we ask the locals about the weather they just say "We take the rain when it comes".
We just hope that the rain does not ruin our plans to travel the Great Central Road ....

On Tuesday we pack up and move to the "Wintersun Caravan Park" that is close to OKA garage.
Should the service take all day we can return here and work on our PCs.
This is the disadvantage when your vehicle is also your home. You have to find a place to stay during a service.
But on Wednesday we can stay at the garage and work there which makes life so much easier.

Thursday October 5th is departure day.
We collect our mail that has been sent post restante to Alice Springs by our mail service in Queensland ( www.passthepost.com.au ).
Then it's time to upload the web page, do the last shopping and head down south to Owen Springs Nation Park.
We had been here earlier to explore the park and found that the camps sites close to the south entrance are quite convenient to stay for a while and work on the computers.
As there are no facilities provided it is free.

On the way to the National Park we see some clouds hanging around and some rain fall out of them. But the rain never reaches the ground ....
We also realise that the MacDonnell Ranges seem to be blurred, out of focus.
We wonder if it is because of the rain or what.


At the Owen Springs Nation Park we find ourselves a spot in the sun.
The first thing we realise is the huge amount of flies .... unreal! We have never experienced something like that.
But with our fly-screens on the windows we are pretty save from the friendly crowd and if we have to leave the OKA we just wear our hats and fly-nets.

Ruedi realises that on the corrugation on the way in (only 5 km!) the tighteners for the "anti-tree-wires" had loosened and one had fallen off.
He walked a long way back in hope to find it but had no luck. So he fixes it as good as he can and secures the other one so it can not loosen itself anymore.
We learn every day ....

A strong wind is blowing, which is good against the flies but also blows very fine sand into the cabin.
Now we understand why we could not see the Ranges clearly earlier on the way in: this is sand being transported from the desert and being dumped here!

Susi is busy pre-cooking all the food. Especially the vegetables don't last long in these high temperatures.
Also with the temperatures in the high 30s every day we eat mostly salads and cold meats.
The flies go completely nuts at the kitchen fly-screen .....

We set up camp as we want to stay for a few days.
Ruedi has a few things to be fixed on the OKA and then we want to take pictures of the OKA-specific web page .
Once this has been done we will inform the Overlander 4WD magazine, the largest 4WD magazine in Australia ( www.overlander.com.au ) and work on an article with them.
Taking all those pictures takes a few days as we have to take them a few times until we content with the light, colours, etc. of them.

In between Susi wonders off to have a look at the local flora.
It seems that the recent rainfalls have not been enough to get the river flowing but enough to start a blooming cycle with the flowers ....

Will's desert fuchsia or Sandhill native fuchsia (Eremophila willsii) Broad-leaf parakeelya (Calandrinia balonensis) Native or wild hops also known as Rosy or Ruby dock (Rumex vesicarius) billibutton (Calocephalus knappii)

.... Will's desert fuchsia or Sandhill native fuchsia (Eremophila willsii), Broad-leaf parakeelya (Calandrinia balonensis), Native or wild hops also known as Rosy or Ruby dock (Rumex vesicarius), billibutton (Calocephalus knappii) ...

Poached egg daisy (Myriocephalus stuartii) small yellow button (Helichrysum
  apiculatum)

... Poached egg daisy (Myriocephalus stuartii), white paper daisy (Helipterum floribundum), small yellow button (Helichrysum apiculatum) and a hard to identify daisy ...

Interesting is also to watch the re-growth of paddy melons (Cucumis myriocarpus) in the dry riverbed.
It must have a much deeper root system than the surrounding grass.

Ruedi feels sorry with the thirsty insects and creates an "insect water-fountain".

Soon we realise that the bees have taken full control of it.
It us unbelievable how many bees come, most likely to carry water away to the beehive.
Ruedi constantly tops up their water supply.

On Sunday, October 8th, we wake up to a very windy day.
Dust gets blown into the cabin as soon as one opens doors or windows.
As the temperature warms up to 32°C during the day we decide to keep the windows open and live with all the surfaces being dusted with red sand.

We are making good progress with the pictures for the web-page.
But it is lots of frustrating work. It is difficult to get the correct light because the incredible strong sunlight spoils many pictures.

The storm continues through the night and into Monday.

For us it is time to hit the road again as our permits to cross the Great Central Road will expire soon.
On the way back to the bitumen we search the dirt track for our lost equipment ... we don't find it but find a spanner, and some parts of a shackle ... looks like we are not the only ones that have suffered loss of equipment because of this corrugation.

Because of the strong wind lots of sand is in the air.
Even though the sun is shining Uluru can hardly be seen, it looks like hidden behind a curtain.

We stay at Yulara over night and stock up with diesel, water and food.

On Tuesday morning we leave towards the border.
At the Uluru National Park entrance we have to show our permits to get free passage.
Shortly before the Olgas we leave the bitumen and turn into Tjukaruru (Peterman) Road towards Docker River.

The corrugation is pretty bad but all the flowers compensate for that. Spring has started and Susi is busy looking at flowers ....

... the country is very pretty too.

We find this grass so interesting.

We pass the Peterman Ranges.
Reading in the guide books we are reminded of all the ill-fated people that lost their lives out here ... Lasseter's Cave being one of the reminders .....

When Harold Lassiter explored the area between the Gibson Desert and Blackstone Range in 1900 he claimed to have discovered a 23km-long gold reef.
It was not until 1930 that an exploration company was formed, with Lasseter as a guide.
The expedition was well equipped with an aero plane, trucks and wireless, but the plane crashed near Uluru and Lasseter, after arguments in the team, went out on his own, heading west through the Peterman and Rawlinson Ranges.
Lasseter states in his dairy that he found and pegged the reef on 23 December. On the way back to the Uluru, his camel bolted when he was about 50 km east of the present-day Docker River Aboriginal community, running away with all his water and provisions.
Realising he couldn't make it back to the Olgas and safety, he stayed in a cave on the edge of Hull River for a few weeks, waiting in vain for a rescue party.
Despairing, he finally set out on the impossible task with only 2 lt of water, assisted by a local Aboriginal family, but he collapsed and died a few days later besides Irving Creek.
Lassiter's body and diary were later recovered and the legend of Lasseter's Reef was born.
In his diary Lasseter states that the reef is less than five days on horseback away in western direction from the cave. Many prospectors have since attempted to locate the fabled reef, but to no avail.

Getting closer to Docker River the corrugation gets so bad that we turn off the navigation PC. We don't want to risk a disk-crash.
In Docker River we refuel the last time. With two full 110 lt tanks of diesel we should have enough fuel to reach Leonora.

We are a bit nervous to drive into the Great Central Road.
It will be at least 3 days before we reach Laverton.
We ask ourselves if we are really prepared like we should be but decide that having 200 lt of drinking water and food for 4 weeks with us should be plenty.
And besides that, there are roadhouses on the way.
And should we break down on the road we can always call for help on the satellite-phone, all relevant numbers are on the Hema Desert Tracks map.
So we hit the road again.

One thing comes to our attention as soon as we cross the border into Western Australia: the road is freshly graded!
Bliss!!!!

We pass the Beadell Tree, a tree that was blazed by Len Beadell when he came through here while building the Gunbarrel Highway.
As the Great Central Road and Gunbarrel Road start at the same location we have the chance to follow Len's steps a bit.

Len Beadell must be one of the unsung Australian heroes and probably one of the last true explorers of the Australian outback. He died a few years ago.
A whole network of tracks was built by Len and his Gunbarrel Construction Party during Len's time at the Department of Supply, carrying out surveys for the establishment of the Woomera Rocket Range.
One of the reasons for these tracks was nuclear research and later on nuclear tests.
To be able to perform nuclear tests a whole lot of weather stations are required to ensure the weather is fine and the wind blows in the correct direction.
That way any radioactive fallout would come down in the desert.

First Len studied maps and defined the base route (his aim always was to make the tracks as straight as possible ...which proved to be theory and did not always work out that way ...).
Then he conducted a reconnaissance survey of the proposed track.
Once he was happy about it he had his crew bringing the heavy machines in, bulldoze the scrub and few trees out of the way and the grader finishing the track.
This way Len and his crew over the years have opened up some 2.5 mio km2 of the Gibson-, Great Sandy- and Great Victoria Desert, building some 6'000 km of tracks.
Many of these tracks have names of Len Beadell's family members: the Anne Beadell Highway was named after his wife, the Connie Sue Highway after his oldest daughter, the Gary Highway after his son and Jackie Junction after his youngest daughter.

We find ourselves a spot for the night close to Gilles Creek. We always try to find a spot that is not visible from kilometres away. That's sometimes quite difficult in these wide, flat plains.

After another balmy night with 16°C we continue along the Schwerin Mural Crescent.
The country looks very pretty in the morning sun. It looks like it will be another perfect but hot day.

Because we did not read the Lonely Planet before driving through this area we miss the Giles Meteorological Station built by Len.
Well, we will have to visit next time we come through.

We start seeing wild camels. They, like many of the wild animals (e.g. kangaroos, emus), have the strange behaviour of running along the car and trying to cross in front of it.
This makes them very dangerous as hitting them with the truck would be rather unhealthy for us, the truck and the animal. So we slow down until the camels make up their minds and cross.

On the map Susi sees Kutjurntari Rockhole on a side-track just some 1,5 km off the main-road.
Curious as we are we try to find. Even though it is only approx. 500 m off the track, we cannot see anything.
As it is inside the Warburton Aboriginal Reserve we don't dare to explore by foot and decide to try our luck later on.

Then we can't really believe what we see .... bicycles-riders in the desert ... and that with day-temperatures in the mid-30s!
But we are informed that this is the Gunbarrel Challenge and they only ride the bikes in the early hours of the day and relax for the rest of it.
Still, that is quite a challenge!

The scenery between Warakurna and Warburton is very barren and dry.
Elber Creek near Warburton still has water but it is not flowing anymore.

Shortly before the turn-off to Mitika we find this nicely decorated rest area.

After Steptoe´s Corner where the Heather Highway joins the Great Central Road we reach an area where there seems to have been some recent rainfall.
The country is covered with flowers.

And we also find this .... we hope that the trainee has been able to continue his retirement training ....

Endlessly the road goes on and on and on through this dry and flat country.
Well, we are after all travelling through the Gibson Desert!

Like many places the Gibson Desert has a rather sad story behind its name.
After being defeated many times by nature in 1874 Ernest Giles tried to explore the area west of the Peterman Ranges one last time.
He left with a young stockman named Alf Gibson.
About 140 km west on Gibson's horse broke down. Giles gave him his own horse and, knowing that is was impossible to continue, sent Gibson back to get help.
Gibson lost his way and never made it. Giles, alone and on foot, with hardly a drop of water, did!
Giles named the desert in memory of the stockman.

We find a good spot for the night close to Parallel Road Nr. 2.


On Thursday morning there is not much change in scenery .... flat, dry, there is no end in sight ......

Then we reach the next waterhole that according to our maps is "close" to the road: Muggun Rockholes

We drive up to it as close as we can.
We take a GPS position of the position of the waterhole on the not too accurate 250'000 map and hope that it will lead us close enough to the waterhole that we can spot it and find it from there.
It should be some 400 m away form the track into the bush ...
As it is only some 400 m we don't take the hiking gear along, just a GPS with a waypoint with the position of the OKA, spare batteries for the GPS, hat, sunnies and the cameras.

We hit the bush and follow animal tracks (especially camel tracks) hoping that they lead us to the waterhole.
Like animals do, the tracks go all over the place, following grass here and flowers there.
Its quite funny to look at the track on the GPS, the waypoints being all over the place, once heading north, once heading south ... it looks more like a piece of modern art than a track.

After having ventured approx. 300 m away from the OKA and into the bush towards the waterhole the GPS complains that its batteries need replacing.
No problem, Ruedi gets the spares ones out, puts them in and ..... they are as flat as batteries can be!
Ruedi puts the old ones back in and hopes that they will last until we are back at the OKA.
He informs Susi about the unexpected change of plans and we head back, this time in a straight line, no more deviations or photo-stops.

We are surprised that we cannot see the OKA, not even as close as 50 m!
But we make it back to safety before the GPS gives up its live.

The pictures above are taken 50 m, 45 m, and 40 m distance from the OKA.
Only on the last one the outline of the OKA is starting to be visible through the thick Mulga scrub.

One thing was really surprising. Even though Susi was not thirsty at all, the moment that Ruedi told her about the small emergency she was thirsty ....

What happened was not really dangerous. Even if the GPS had given up completely, Ruedi still had his compass and new in which direction the road was. Once reaching the road we would have known in wich direction to walk, depending on if we can see the very distinctive tire tracks of the OKA on the road or not.
Also it was noon and the sun's position was exactly north, which would have been our walking direction, as the road was heading in south-westerly direction.

But we had been pretty thoughtless, almost stupid because:
- we had deviated from the main road in an area where tourists are not expected to deviate
- we left the vehicle in bush area and had walked into the bush without leaving a note at the OKA where we had gone and when we are supposed to return to the vehicle
- we had not told anybody about this "looking for waterholes"-thing
- we had no equipment with us. Even if you go on a short hike, the Satellite-Phone, some water, emergency and first-aid kit have to be taken along.

One thing is now very clear to us: Out bush, where all looks alike, where there are no points of reference and the visibility is below 100 m because of the scrubb, one looses its bearing in no time. As in such areas usually no people can be found for hundreds of kilometres, situations like this can become lifetreatening quickly.
We have heared of people getting lost in the bush when they went for a wee - today we know how quickly this can happen.

Also as a consequence will buy a second GPS to take along too, as backup for the main one, to ensure the position of the OKA is always available.
Lessons learned ....

[Note in 2007:
Had we then read the guide "Reise Know-How" from Otmar Lind and Andrea Niehues "Australien Outback-Handbuch" we would have found the detailed position of Muggun Rockholes being 27°00'06'' S - 125°20'00'' E.
Now nothing will stop us from visiting it next time we come through the Great Central Highway!]

We find this pretty witty "road-sign" ... firstly it really draws your attention and secondly, one less wreck lies on the side of the road.

Then we find the GPS position of the Terhan Rockholes in the guide book and decide to go and look for it.
As we drive towards it the main road starts deviating from track on the Tracks for Australia GPS maps.
They must have moved the road. So we look for a track to get to the old road and find one, a bit rough but it works.

Once on the old road it is easy to find the correct position and we really find the waterhole.
The water in the hole is all green and smells pretty horrible. Also the twig placed into the waterhole did not prevent animals of drowning in it.
Still, we feel great having found it.

In the meantime we have learned that Aboriginis, before using such water, remove the soiled water, clean the waterhole and finally drink the freshly water entering the waterhole.

In the middle of nothing we find this Royal Flying Doctors Service landing-strip.
It is amazing where landing strips have been setup for the RFDS planes to be able to land and pick up passengers.

It is good to know that this organisation exists.
For people like us that like the remote areas this is just that extra security that allows us to travel where we are going.

We pass an empty dam and wander what the blue pole on the side of it could be.
Ruedi thinks that it is a bore or a well but we wonder how they get the water into the dam.
Looking at the flowers the dam must have been in use not too long ago.

So when we see one that is working we have to have a closer look.

The cap is removed from the bore and the water flows into the dam.

When the water is needed the generator is turned on and the pump run to pump water with the red hose.

Then we try to find the next waterhole: Pikul Rockholes

As we don't have the exact GPS position and the map is not very accurate we cannot find it.
But the views from the little hill are nice ... and we have had a bit of exercise too.

So we head back to the main road and continue on our way .... stop!
There is a road sign saying "Pikul Rockholes" right around the next bend ...

A well maintained track leads to the rockholes, but they are dry.
The marks on the rocks indicate that here the water flows for a long time.

As we get closer to the border to the Cosmo Newberry Aboriginal Community we encounter a small bus on the side of the road with an Aboriginal woman and 5 children.
The car had broken down yesterday. The husband was in the way to Laverton and one daughter was on the way to the Tjukayiria Roadhouse to get some help.
They had had no food nor water except a tin of spaghetti and 4 lt of water a truckie had left them last night.
So Susi prepares some sandwiches for them and we give them some of our water bottles.

Ruedi has a short look at the bus and decides to not even touch it to find the cause of the fault; the bus is in such a bad state with wires hanging around everywhere, the back window missing, just a mess and for sure not roadworthy according to Australian laws.
It also has no licence plate.
This is possible because Aboriginal communities are considered to be private ground.
On private ground one can drive what ever vehicle one wants and what ever age.
The farmers do the same on their stations allowing kids to drive a car to the borders of the station to catch the school-bus.
We have been told a story of a boy that was too small to be able to sit on the driver's seat and reach the pedals at the same time so his father removed the seat so the boy could stand to drive down to the bus-pickup-area.
Once again we realise how different some things are handled in Australia ... Swiss authorities would have a fit if they heard such stories!

As there is not much more we can do for them we get their details to be able to alarm the police in Laverton.
As we walk back to the truck Susi remembers to have seen the important phone numbers on the Hema maps.
We fetch the Satellite-phone and pass it on to the Aboriginal woman so she can make the phone calls on her own.
We are surprised to see the teenage daughter having no problem handling the phone. Soon they are busy calling up roadhouses and police stations.
Once again we are very happy to have chosen the Iridium Satellite-phone as it really works everywhere.

Even though we try to leave them alone during these phone calls we can hear the one or the other discussion. We find one of them quite interesting ... the call to the Tjukayiria Roadhouse.
The Aboriginal woman gets really upset when she is told that they would charge her 300 $ to pick them up.
We find that a quite reasonable amount considering that they are some 120 km away from the roadhouse ... only later we learn that individual Aboriginals don't "own" things, it all belongs to the community, meaning if one of them needs help or say a car the other ones provide it for free if they can.
This results in the situation that an Aboriginal that works and earns money basically must provide what ever he is asked for his community. So where is the incentive in going to work if at the end of the day all that happens is that somebody else uses the money ... in the worse situation to buy alcohol or a car that is wrecked afterwards?
Somehow we start to get a bit more insight and understanding on the problematic situation the Australian Government is in with regards to handling Aboriginal affaires.

After passing Cosmo Newberry we start leaving the desert. More and more trees and animal appear.
Because of the delay we have encountered with the stranded family we are still inside of the Aboriginal community at dusk.
We decide not to take the risk of driving during the night but to continue our trip tomorrow, even if this means driving on Aboriginal land with an expired permit.

We find an excellent little camping spot south of Cosmo Newberry and enjoy this beautiful sunset.

On Friday October 13th, 2006, we continue south and reach Laverton.
Now we are back on bitumen and in the civilization.

On the road from Laverton to Leonora we pass an area with abundant animal live.
This also means lots of road-kill, but the wedge-tailed Eagles are already taking care of that.

This Sand Goanna or Gould's Goanna [Varanus gouldii] takes its time to cross the road ... amazing animals.
Also an emu with his chicks runs away.
Did you know that the male emu takes care of the eggs and the young ones? The female considers her job finished after she lays the eggs ....
While sitting on the egg for almost 8 weeks the male looses up to 7 kg of his body weight.
After the young ones have hatched the father takes care of them for a full year.

We deviate to Malcom Dam but find it to be almost empty.
When full this must be an excellent place to watch birds.

Just before we reach Leonora we see a road sign saying "Truck operators please stop and dust your wheels before entering town".
We wonder what this means ... truckies dusting their tires .... not really ....
Later on we are informed that this means that truckies have to stop their road-trains so all the sand and dust they carry along in their tires falls to the ground.
Would they not perform this "dusting" outside of the towns the small dirt hills that remain on the roads after this exercise would be spread all over town.
We once looked at them doing it and were amazed of how much dirt fell out of it. A Road Train has up to 19 axles, 18 of them with dual wheels which adds up to 74 wheels.

Outside of Leonora we deviate to Gwalia (Gwalia is one of the Welsh poetic names for Wales), a very special ghost town ....

The "Sons of Gwalia" gold reef was discovered in 1896 and was the most significant reef opened up in the Leonora area. Seeking investments in the WA Goldfields a London-based firm sent a young American mining engineer, Herbert Hoover (later the 31st President of the United States of America), to Gwalia to evaluate its prospects.
Hoover noted, " .... No other lode country in the world presents such an array of severe conditions which must be struggled against to do cheap mining ..."

The Sons of Gwalia mine was the sixth largest gold mine in Australia's history and one of only two mines outside Kalgoorlie-Boulder's "Golden Mile" to produce over two million ounces of gold.

Today's open cut mine is almost 300 metres deep and almost 1 km across and follows around the original Sons of Gwalia shaft.
In 2006 the mine proceeded towards the Gwalia Deeps entering via a decline tunnel (the Hoover Decline) located 125 metres below the swimming pool, beside the viewing platform.
It is estimated that the Gwalia Deeps has a potential yield of over 1.5 million ounces of gold but it is located over 1 kilometre beneath the surface.

The steam winder came from England and was installed in 1913.
It is one of the larges steam winding engines remaining in Australia.

The headframe, designed by Hoover, was made from Oregon pine and built in 1899.
It is the only wooden incline headframe surviving in Australia.

The headframe and the winder formed part of the hauling system at the mine site, the headframe providing guidance of the hauling ropes between the steam winding engine and the skips in the shaft, which carried the ore. The winder elevated the skips up the incline of the headframe so that ore could be emptied into a storage bin for subsequent treatment.

Hoover also designed and built in 1898 the Mine Managers House (Hoover House), the Mine Office (Collection) and the Assay Office (office and archive).

Transport was difficult and expensive in the Goldfields and Sons of Gwalia constructed a woodline rail service to gather and transport the enormous amount of mulga timber needed to fuel the mine's steam and gas producer engines. The 20-inch gauge woodline ran west and south of Gwalia for up to 112 km, covering an area of some 1'280 square kilometres.

Originally called "KEN" (an acronym for the names of three directors of the Sons of Gwalia Company) the name of this engine was changed to "Midland" during its period of use at the mine.
However it is still, and probably always will be, referred to affectionately as "KEN".
"KEN" was built in 1934 and ran until the mine closed in December 1963.

In the 1950s the company, very belatedly, recognised that one of the problems of its decline was that people were no longer prepared to raise families in the earth-floored corrugated iron buildings erected in Hoover's time.

Despite new facilities that were introduced (including a swimming pool), and despite support from the State Government, on Friday December 13th, 1963 it was announced that the mine would close on New Year's Eve.
The population of Leonora and Gwalia was about 1'700 at the time and a mass exodus to work on other mines began.
When on January 17th, 1964 the Gwalia Hotel closed its doors the town had only 40 resident left.

It is hard to believe that the quiet, almost deserted Gwalia town-site in the late 1890s was the home of around 1'000 people.
Today the town still has a small population of around 15 - 20.

The typical Gwalia cottages are gabled structures, constructed with timber frames and galvanised iron cladding.

Around 1910 the building that later became the towns general store was moved from Laverton to the "Gwalia Block", the thriving business centre next to the State Hotel.
Later on it was relocated to its current location.
For more than 50 years this store provided nearly all the towns supplied as it was truly a "one-stop-shop" which sold everything from soap to ammunition.

The "Little Pink Camp" is a good example of the resourcefulness of mine workers, who constructed their houses using whatever materials were available or cheaply obtained.
This tiny dwelling, built of timber and corrugated galvanised iron, is known for its decoration and the unusual construction of three rooms, and still has remains of its original hessian inner walls, papered with newspapers. Unlike many of the Gwalia dwellings it has a plank, rather than dirt, floor.

The "Patroni's Guest House" is a complex of several dwellings and a multiple-gabled main building. It was constructed with a timber frame and galvanised iron cladding and features a lattice veranda on the main building.

Most of the miners who came to Gwalia were single men and guesthouses such as this were built to accommodate them.
Even those fortunate enough to live in homes of their own frequently ate their meals here, as many of the Gwalia houses did not have kitchens or water facilities. The average cost of the meals was around 30 shilling a week - roughly one third of the average miner's wage.

A surprising number of personal objects including photographs, household implements and letters had been left behind when the miners moved on. The dwellings haven been lovingly decorated with them.

Almost reluctantly we leave this special place. There is so much more to be seen there ....

Following the recommendation of our friends Peter and Margaret we stay at the Niagara Dam Nature Reserve over night.

On the way to Kalgoorlie we visit Lake Goongarie.

On Saturday we reach Kalgoorlie. We are welcomed by Peter and Margaret, owners of OKA 196, and stay out bush in a lovely area of Salmon gums.

On Sunday we have time to explore the local animals including Trap-door spiders and other funny critters that close their entry door over night.

Also a Mallee Tree Dragon (Amphibokurus norrisi) lives there.

On Monday, October 16th, we get to meet Robin Wade of Kalgoorlie OKA. As we are still the only OKA of the new NT-series on the road Robin takes the opportunity and crawls right under the OKA to have a look at the changes.

Then it's time to turn into a real tourist and we visit the viewing platform of the Big Pit ...

.... and boy, is this big!

It feels like looking at a model railway!

They have 31 mining trucks on site each costing $4 million.
Each has 2,300 hp, weighs 166 tonnes and has a fuel tank of 3,790 litres.
Their payload is 225 tonnes and the maximum speed is 55km/h.

They have 4 face shovels on site each costing $10 million.
Each has 3,714 hp (2 engines), weighs 685 tonnes and has a fuel tank 11,000 litres.
Maximum speed is 2.1 km/h.

1 bucket full is 60 tonnes, it takes 4 buckets to fill one truck ....

On Tuesday we have an appointment with Robin. We will be visiting a drilling company to show them the new OKA NT.

It makes us really proud to see grown up man getting so excited about our vehicle and crawling all over and under it.
Due to the lack of new OKAs they used Ford F250 and Toyota Landruiser instead, but would like to return to OKAs, as the other trucks do not endure the continuous punishment.

We love our little truck!

 

 

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Last updated: Monday, 21.06.2010 9:23 PM


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