Hunt for Hunt’s Wells 2021

The Plan

A mid week Trip to confirm the location of Koorkoordine Well, find Hunt’s Well Boorabbin Well, find a secondary well/soak at Boorabbin, visit Yerdanie Well, confirm a section of Hunts Track from the east of Gnarlbine Rock to the west, and find a lost soak on the west side of Gnarlbine.

We achieved everything we set out to do, plus more, making it a very successful Trip.

Heading East

Scott Overstone, Kerry Davies and I headed east on Sunday morning, stopping just east of Burracoppin at the site where the No. 1 Rabbit Proof Fence crossed in days past.

We turned off the Highway at Noongar, to head to Moorine Rock.  In June 2021 we refurbished Hunt’s Wells at Moorine Rock and Kodjerning and this was a good opportunity to check on them.

Local roads took us to Lake Kookoordine, seven kilometres north of Southern Cross. We wanted to confirm that the location of Hunt’s Well at Kookoordine was correctly identified. Hunt described the well as being “(8) chains from the base of a granite rock, eastern side”. Our investigations confirmed this to be reasonably accurate. A more detailed description of a rock two chains to the north-west of the well was also confirmed as accurate.

We left Southern Cross and refuelled at Yellowdine before turning in to the pumping station at Karalee. A newly-made track allowed access to Hunts Track adjacent to Morlining Rock. Two kilometres east we located a very overgrown track that took us south towards the south-west extension of Karalee Rock where I had pinpointed a pioneer well from reference to satellite images. The drive in was tough and once adjacent to the predicted position of the well we got out and walked.

At Karalee we checked on the two signs that we positioned/repositioned in early August 2021 and then continued on towards Koorarawalyee.

 

We spent some time between the Vermin Proof Fence and the Gilgai Pumping Station searching for evidence of the wooden pipeline that was in use around the time of the Great Depression. Concrete plinths, wooden staves and loops of thick retaining wire are in abundance. Daylight was slipping away and it was time to head to the planned overnight stop at Boorabbin.

At Boorabbin

Early in the morning we searched for an overgrown well/soak in an area identified for us by researcher Eric Hancock.

We then walked to the top of Boorabbin Rock.

It was time to find Hunt’s Well, again in a defined area. We gridded the search area and spent a few hours thoroughly dissecting it.

Hunt’s Track follows the current day pipeline from Koorarawalyee to within about four kilometres of Boorabbin Rock, at which point the pipeline deviates due east. The Track enters Boorabbin Rock at the northern end. We decided to follow it to the west.

Our tasks at Boorabbin were completed ahead of time so we packed and headed to the highway.

Hunts Track

After checking out Hunt’s Well at Yerdanie Rock we continued east along Hunts Track. A directional sign at the Rock was missing, as were a few others along the way. Not many vehicles have been using the Track between Yerdanie and Gnarlbine.

Gnarlbine Rock

As we approached Gnarlbine Rock West the way was blocked by two fallen trees which in any case was of no import because the Track finished just beyond them. We turned around and drove to Gnarlbine Rock East where we followed the Track west around the base of the rock and found a pleasant campsite.

Next morning we set about finding Hunts Track between Gnarline East and Gnarline West. The path from Point A to Point B depicted on the map below was not immediately clear but after plenty of effort and driving backwards and forwards from the known Track to where we thought the Track was routed we eventually were able to connect the two parts of the Track and an additional 1.4 kilometres was added to the known, usuable Hunts Track. After repositioning the directional sign a kilometre west of the rock we retired to camp for lunch.

After lunch we determined to find Hunts Track to the east of Gnarlbine. We found a way through a disused quarry to where an overgrown track was faintly visible. We followed this east for 1.3 kilometres (looking good) and then north for a further 1.5 kilometres before deciding that it was not going to take us in the direction we required. We retreated to a Y junction noticed on the outward journey and headed south-east. After two kilometres this, too, was abandoned.

It was time to head back to camp.

Scott Wilson arrived from Kalgoorlie after dark and lively conversation ensued around the campfire.

Next morning we headed to Gnarlbine West to locate the historical track Scott had described the previous night. That was relatively easy and there are now two ways ‘onto the rock’ (or ‘off the rock’ depending on direction of travel).

Pioneer Well at Gnarlbine West

I had plotted the location of a pioneer or native well at the western edge of Gnarlbine West from a map shared with me by researcher Eric Hancock. It was in very solid thickets in the usual band of vegetation that surrounds granite outcrops. Granite outcrops have their own ecosystem and act as island sanctuaries for a whole range of wildlife. In the south-west of Australia they are characterised by a belt of thick vegetation around the base of the rock. In many cases, due to the large amount of runoff from the rock, this vegetation is swamp-like, even though they are located in semi-arid country.

In an open area away from the rock we noticed a gully leading off the rock. Scott followed this up. Not easy. The thickets are almost impenetrable. After some time but only 20 metres he shouted that he had found a well. Time for Scott W, Kerry and me to crash through the thickets. Tough work. The thickets rip clothes and skin.

The well is quite large and of dry stone construction. The dense thickets and the ‘matting’ effect of the vegetation make it difficult to see and properly discern its shape and size. It has been hidden for some time – at least 50 years quite likely up to double that time.

Banks Rock

We left Gnarlbine mid morning heading south on Victoria Rock Road, intending to check out Banks Rock before finishing at McDermid Rock. The track into Banks Rock is difficult to find and is actually off a woodline that sort of parallels Victoria Rock Road.  The 3.5 kilometre access track is full of twists and turns.

Lake Johnston

Leaving Banks Rock we detoured a few kilometres along the Hyden-Norseman Road to have lunch at Lake Johnston.

The directional/informational sign at the intersection of Hyden-Norseman Road and Victoria Rock Road is incorrect albeit ultimately helpful. The distance to the next available fuel is correct. However, it is at Hyden, not Kondinin.

McDermid Rock

McDermid Rock is an interesting inselberg 2.6 kilometres south-west of the intersection of Victoria Rock Road and Hyden-Norseman Road. Although we had climbed it many times in the past we considered the view from the top to be worth the effort. Unlike better known Hyden Rock (Wave Rock), this granite outcrop has three ‘waves’.

We were way ahead of our schedule so we decided to camp at Emu Rock on the Holland Track, 140 kilometres further west of our original planned overnight stop.

On the way to Emu Rock we visited The Breakaways. Intrepid campers have extended the camping area 1.5 kilometres south of the ‘official’ area. It’s a huge camp area.

Emu Rock

We were still ahead of time and pushed on to Emu Rock to camp the night. There was plenty of regrowth in the area after the devastating fires a couple of years previously. Emu Rock is a good, flat campsite overlooking the lake with enough room for 20 or more vehicles. It is on Holland Track south of the Hyden Norseman Road and 1.7 kilometres south-west of the State Barrier Fence.

 

The drive out to the big, wide, open Hyden-Norseman Road was easy and then it was an uneventful trip back to Cockburn.

Text and layout – Kim Epton
1802 words
Photographs – Kim Epton, Scott Overstone, Scott Wilson
46 photographs, four images.

© Cockburn 4WD Club and Kim Epton 2021
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Rescuing Explorers’ Wells in the Yilgarn

Cockburn 4WD Club is aligned with the Wells and Tracks Project and actively pursues the objectives of finding, refurbishing and protecting explorer and pioneer wells.

In June 2021, in conjunction with three Members of the Mitsubishi 4WD Owners Club of WA, we travelled to the Yilgarn to rescue Kodjerning Well, one of the 26 wells built by explorer/surveyor C.C. Hunt in 1865/66 to secure a track from York to the Hampton Plains. It had been degraded since 2015, and possibly before, and was in danger of imminent collapse.

We set up camp at Moorine Rock and on Thursday afternoon refurbished the well there.

On Friday our convoy of nine vehicles travelled to Karolin Rock and removed the incorrectly placed Bicentennial plaque from there. It will be relocated to Karalee Rocks in the near future.

As part of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations in 1988, plaques were placed at each of Hunts Wells as part of the York to Goldfields Heritage Trail. For unknown reasons but probably because of the similar sounding names, the plaque destined for Caroling Rocks was placed at Karolin Rock, 90 kilometres away. Bush historian and keen follower of Hunt’s exploits, Gary Arcus, noticed the out-of-place plaque when he visited Karolin Rocks in mid 2020, not long after Covid19 travel restrictions within Western Australia were lifted.

Apart from the fact that Karolin Rock was not on Hunt’s Track, it is clear that the wording on the plaque referred to Carolling Rocks not Karolin Rock.

Both Karolin Rocks and Caroling Rocks are in the Shire of Yilgarn, which made coordination of the relocation of the plaque hassle free. However, the plaque will not be relocated to Carolling Rocks. The rock Hunt referred to as Caroling/Karolling in 1865-66 is actually current day Karalee Rock. However, the name Karalee wasn’t used until 1890 when recorded by surveyor N.M. Brazier. Present day Carolling Rocks are 3.4 kilometres south-south-west of Karalee. It is likely that Hunt never visited these rocks.

I had made made arrangements with Robert Bosenberg, Executive Manager Infrastructure at the Shire of Yilgarn for our IBC to be filled with 1000 litres of water at Moorine Rock (the tiny town on Great Eastern Highway). We had to meet with the Shire team there at 1100. The IBC was filled and we headed to Kodjerning Well, 13 kilometres to the north.

The fence had dropped, the gate wouldn’t open, the well was overgrown with vegetation, trees had fallen on the fence and other vegetation was crowding the area. More importantly three large holes had formed behind the wall of the well and it was unstable and unlikely to withstand many more exceptional rainfall events.

On Saturday we spent all day at Kodjerning to complete the task. Joanne and Tracey worked as hard as the men with Tracey assisting in creating a new oxymoron for the lexicon – “light mattock work”.

After two days of hard work we decided a Road Trip was in order. On Sunday morning we travelled to nearby Keokanie Rock where C.C. Hunt established a depot in 1865 while trying to find a way through to Lake Koorkoordine, north of Southern Cross.

Next stop was Sandford Rocks, a huge granite outcrop along Hunts Track.

We left Sandford Rocks to see the most recently-worked open pit at the Edna May mine at Westonia – just as they were about to blast.

It was then onto Boodallin Soak on the Westonia Commons.

We drove through the Reserve, removed a few trees from across the track, and headed to Burracoppin. Hunt’s Well at Burracoppin is at Lansdowne Hill, where a motocross track has been constructed. A sign with “Hunts Well 1865” painted on it is located at the carpark. Hunt’s Well is not there. Nor, now, is the sign.

Eight hundred metres east of the well is an Information Point about the 1800+ kilometre long Rabbit Proof Fence, surveyed and built 1901-1905. This was early but failed attempt at biosecurity – the rabbits reached the fence before it was finished. The gates and wells along the Fence are numbered from Burracoppin.

We continued along Goldfields Road to Carrabin. A great drive. Andrew’s need to refuel there created a serendipitous moment for the car lovers in the group as we were able to look in a car transporter with a difference – full of exotic and expensive automotive machinery.

On Monday we headed back to Karolin Rock to start clearing access to the well before returning home.

Scott had an appointment at Mukinbudin for a few hours hence so he stayed at Karolin, continuing to clear away overgrown vegetation. In the process he found a third well.

Clearly the three structures are linked, however, until the overgrowth is removed, how the system operated is unclear.

Thanks to Anne Brandis of Mukinbudin for coordination assistance in the planning stages of this Trip/Project.

Thanks to Club Member Steve Cook for valuable advice on how to refurbish Kodjerning Well.

 

© 2021 Cockburn 4WD Club and Kim Epton
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Esperance-Balladonia-PeakCharles-Lake Sharpe/Lake Hope-Corrigin

A seven day, 1750 kilometre Road Trip out to Balladonia, returning along the Old Coach Road/Telegraph Track to Dundas then Peak Charles before exploring the remote Lake Sharpe Track and Lake Hope Track.

We took Goldfields Road and then Fisheries Road out of Esperance to Condingup.

Condingup

A tour of the township revealed that Condingup is more than just the tavern and general store. With a population of more than 400 it is quite a bit bigger than one would expect when driving past.

Mount Ragged

Forty seven kilometres along the Track we turned east onto the access track into Mount Ragged. Scott, Howezit, Andrew, Joanne, Peter and Lone elected to make the climb up the Mount. It started raining as they were preparing and continued throughout their walk.

Greg erected his popup gazebo and those who chose not to climb had lunch under the shelter.

We left Mount Ragged and headed north. The track was easy enough.

Further on we searched for and found Juranda Rockhole.

Sixteen kilometres further on we turned into Balbinya.

Balbinya

Balbinya was settled in 1884 by John Paul Brooks, his mother Emily Henrietta and sister Sarah Teresa. They had walked from Albany to Israelite Bay in 1874. Brooks was the first linesman at Israelite Bay Telegraph Station from 1877 to 1883. He managed Balbinya till his death in 1930.

We left Balbinya and continued north. The Track changes markedly from where it intersects with Parmango Road.

The cleared thoroughfare was about 100 metres wide north of from where the Balladonia Track and Parmango Road intersect. The reason for such a wide clearing of vegetation is unknown although it is likely to be the ploughed-in Telstra cable parallel to the track and 50 metres to the east of it.

We turned off the track and drove into Booanya Rock. It was late in the day with rain threatening when we arrived so we continued past the Rock, searching for a suitable campsite, which we found 600 metres along the track.

Booanya Rock

Next morning it was a short drive back on our track to Booanya Rock.

The building at Booanya Rock is being restored.

We headed north and stopped at a dam (empty) where there was plenty of evidence of human activity. One corner of the cement-lined tank and water trough was in good condition.

The next sign of habitation  was Nanambinia, however, the ‘No Trespassing’ signs did not encourage stopping to look around or even take photographs so we continued north towards Balladonia to refuel.

Large Land Snail

As scientists are finding out more about these molluscs, they are more clearly identifying them and allocating them to more precise geographic regions, with resultant name changes. This looks like the Bothriembryon toolinna, however, the location where it was seen is quite a few kilometres from Toolinna Cove. Perhaps it should be known Bothriembryon balladonia. There were thousands of them on the Balladonia Track.

Balladonia

Balladonia was really just a ‘refuelling diversion’ – off our Route and not scheduled for any other activity.

The ‘Road Closed’ sign confronting southbound travellers at the junction of Eyre Highway and the Balladonia Track is an example of bureaucratic laziness. Anecdotally, it is said to have been there for a long time – possibly years. It is totally inaccurate and could cause angst for respectful, law abiding travellers unsure of the ramifications, however, there shouldn’t be ramifications for travelling on a perfectly safe, acceptable road that has no reason to be closed.

Yadadinia Rockhole

Rather than just return south along the Balladonia Track 12 kilometres to the Old Coach Road I decided to take a station track to Yadadinia Rockhole. The decision was the start  of a long and tedious drive that should have taken no more than 20 minutes but in actuality took nearly two hours.

The devastating fire of 2020 that caused the Eyre Highway to be closed for 12 days had caused many trees to fall across the track, necessitating numerous diversions. Nothing if not different.

Old Coach Road/Telegraph Track

After Yadadinia we turned west onto the old Coach Road/Telegraph Track. Today it still serves a vital function as the corridor for the Optus Fibre Optic Cable that connects Western Australia with the eastern states.

The 195 kilometre (Coolgardie Esperance Highway to Eyre Highway) dirt road is in reasonable condition, if a little dusty at the eastern end.

Abandoned Dundas, 21 kilometres south of Norseman, has a rich mining history that is well explained by a series of information plaques.

We pushed on south-west along the Coolgardie Esperance Highway for 33 kilometres and turned onto the Peak Charles Road.

After one false start (and a staked tyre on Jo and Andrew’s Prado) we made our way into Moir Rock and Tank for the night.

Moir Tank

This is a great campsite. Little visited, numerous sites and a good view of Peak Charles from the top of the Rock.

The next morning we drove to the top of Moir Rock. One can see Peak Charles 35 kilometres to the south-west.

Moir Tank was an important water source during the goldrush years.

Peak Charles

The weather was more friendly for climbing than what we had at Mount Ragged.

Scott, Greg and Pete climbed to within 30 metres of the peak. The last stretch requires more specialised gear and, in its absence, the risk was considered unacceptable.

On the way back from Mushroom Rock I came across some Processionary Caterpillars. Said to be dangerous.

We departed Peak Charles through Annes Pass and along Dunns Track (actually an old shotline) looking for the obscure track to Lake Sharp. Special care is needed at the five way junction 10 kilometres south of Peak Charles to ensure the correct track is selected.

Lake Sharpe Track

The turnoff to Lake Sharpe is difficult to see, being partly overgrown, and I needed to travel along it for a few hundred metres to confirm we were on the correct route. Just over two kilometres along the track the margin of the lake appeared. Saltbush and bluebush country. The track follows the edge of the lake for 14 kilometres. Classic outback Australia.

In a number of places the track was difficult to follow and it needed a bit of investigation on foot to find the way forward.

As the track leaves the lake it merges with a recently made two blade firebreak/containment line. Closer to the Lake King Road it narrows to one blade width. The uncertainty of following this firebreak increased when it made a diversion to the east. After a kilometre it again, reassuringly, turned north towards the Lake King Road.

North of the lake much of the country has been burnt out and we surmised that it was to combat this fire that the firebreak/containment line had been made. Our convoy of vehicles was very clearly the first to travel this track since it had been made – probably by a loader. In some places it disappeared or was very difficult to follow.

Surveyor T.A. Ellison named Lake Sharpe in 1929 while doing ‘classification surveying’, however, he failed to record after whom he named it.

After a couple of Y junctions where we guessed at the direction to take we came out onto the Lake King-Norseman Road.

Lake Hope Track

After 20 kilometres of westward travel we turned north onto the Lake Hope Track and a short time later stopped for lunch under a solitary stand of trees.

This remote track leads through the Bremer Range, along the Honman Ridge and past Lake Hope to the Maggie Hayes mine on the Hyden-Norseman Road. There are numerous shotlines crossing the track along its length.

Lake Hope was named by explorer Frank Hann in 1901 after Joseph Hope, Chief Draftsman of the Lands and Surveys Department, 1896 to 1919.

The Breakaways

We turned on to Hyden Norseman Road and I started to look for a suitable campsite – and 23 kilometres to the west we turned into The Breakaways. As per usual we collected firewood just before arrival.

Hyden

Hyden was an opportunity to refuel and regroup after a stoppage for a mechanical/electrical issue.

Mulkas Cave

Mulkas Cave (previously known as Bates Cave, after an early sandalwood cutter) is one of the most significant rock art sites in Western Australia. A total of 452 motifs have been recorded in the three chambers. Most other sites in the South West have fewer than 20. This is a clear indication of the significance of this site.

The Best for Last

From Mulkas Cave we headed west on Billericay Road – into the rain preceding Tropical Cyclone Seroja. As we progressed westwards the roads got steadily worse. Slip Sliding Around! Scott and Howezit had left us by this time – taking a more northerly course home.

It was time to head for the bitumen. We headed across Lake Kurren Kutten to get to sealed Bendering Road. Like ballet – but no control! Two kilometres later we all reached the bitumen without sliding off the road. Phew!

The expedition finished at Corrigin.

© Cockburn 4WD Club and Kim Epton 2021
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1971 words, 64 photographs, 5 images.

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Lone Neilsen
Graham ‘Howezit’ Howe

Bremer Bay to Esperance

This first leg of the ten day Remote South East Road Trip was from Bremer Bay to Esperance along the beach (as much as possible) – 520 kilometres over three days.

Departing Bremer Bay our route took us through the Fitzgerald River National Park, a reserve unique in this world but unfriendly to vehicle adventurers – being designed and managed more for walkers.

Fitzgerald River National Park

After a false start trying to find re-aligned roads we made our way through the Park, not intending to visit any of the features/attractions on this western side. Near the turnoff to Quaalup Homestead I stopped to get photographs of the spectacular Royal Hakea shrub/bush. Worldwide, it is found only between Albany and Esperance, concentrated in the Fitzgerald River National Park.

Hopetoun

From the Lookout we drove down to the beach at Culham Inlet, looking to get to Hopetoun on the sand.

The 700 metres of beach to the groyne at Hopetoun was inaccessible and we turned around and found a way off the beach. We aired up in a car park and drove into town to regroup with those who had left the beach earlier.

We took Southern Ocean Road out of Hopetoun 30 kilometres to a track that led to the  coast. Two kilometres later we came upon an installation nestled among the rocks. Without confidence – and mainly because of substantial power lines feeding in to the installation – we tentatively proclaimed it as a desalination plant.

We continued on Southern Ocean Road, dropped in to Mason Bay Campground to check it out, and drove on to Starvation Boat Harbour Campground, where we stayed the night.

Starvation Boat Harbour Beach

We left camp and made our way to the beach. After four hundred metres the way was blocked and there was only one, sketchy exit off the sand. Inconveniently positioned rocks at the beginning of the exit made it more difficult. However, with a bit of care, judiciously-placed wheels and application of the right foot at the appropriate time all vehicles made it up the narrow track with ease and with no damage.

Eight hundred metres along a bush track we were again able to access the beach via a rock ledge.

We headed east for nearly five kilometres. The beach narrowed and as it did so its angle increased, both factors mitigating against further eastward travel.

Turning around was easier said than done. With an incoming tide on an already narrow beach it was a hazardous proposition. Ultimately, it required the deployment of four MaxTrax and some confident driving all the way to the water’s edge by Aaron to extricate the heavy Patrol from a precarious position.

Graham was bogged but managed to get unbogged reasonably easily. Joanne reversed the Prado along the beach to a break in the dunes to where she was able to turn around. Peter, Graham and Scott had also turned around at this point. Not easy but also no panic. The MaxTrax were deployed to good effect.

 

We returned along the beach, drove up the rock ledge and took a bush track out to Springdale Road.

We retreated to Springdale Road and headed to Munglinup Beach to check out the campground. It is small and not suitable for groups. We left, retraced our tracks for a few ks and turned east on Washpool Road. This took us to Washpool Beach (WA Beach 209). We drove all but the last 600 metres of the beach before returning and finding a track off the beach back on to Washpool Road.

The track led to a large area of flat rocks.

Deciding that the beach going forward (east) from these rocks was too hazardous we retreated to Washpool Road, hoping that we could drive through Lake Shaster Nature Reserve. It was not to be and we had to head out to Springdale Road to allow us to find our way back to the coast.

Munglinup

An unnamed track off Springdale Road took us down to  East Munglinup Beach. We drove down to the beach along belting-covered tracks. With a mental flip of the coin we turned east.

We drove carefully around the point on a rocky beach and continued for about 1.5 kilometres. The beach was narrowing, getting soft and looking altogether too hazardous. We made our way back to the beach entry point.

It was time to tackle the 5+ kilometres of the beach to the west.

Within 600 metres a washed away beach forced us up into the vegetation. We were two metres higher than the beach – a steep, unstable drop off. The track was rough and was causing the vehicle to bounce around radically. With each bounce the Patrol moved closer to the drop off. One, two, three, four bounces and the vehicle was right on the edge of the drop off. The fifth bounce could have taken us over the edge or forward to safety. Aaron drove the Patrol back down to the now firm, level, benign sand.

We were presented with a dilemma. We knew that we couldn’t get off the beach by going forward – however good the beach looked – because we had seen at Munglinup that it narrowed and became impassable. We certainly weren’t going back the way we had come.

Our best option was to climb a steep sand dune off the beach and then work our way through the dune system back to where the others were waiting. Easy to say. And after a few anxious moments, successfully completed. With two ‘on the limit’ experiences this was one of the scariest day of my 40+ years of four wheel driving.

We returned to Springdale Road, seeking a camp for the night. At Lone’s suggestion we turned into Skippy Rock and found a perfectly acceptable camp.

Roses Beach/Quallilup Beach

Between Skippy Rock and Roses Beach the coast is accessible at only four points at the end of four tracks. The uncertainty of access due to track closures as a result of disease was a factor in us choosing to travel direct to Roses Beach – 85 kilometres from Skippy Rock.

On the way out we had a look at the Torradup River Inlet that leads into Margaret Cove.

Access to Roses Beach is via Murray Road past a lime quarry. With road trains constantly on the road it is both dusty and very corrugated. On approach to the coast there are tracks everywhere. A headland at the end of the main track provides sweeping ocean and beach views but no hint of how to get down to the beach. We took a track north (away from the beach) that eventually led to the dunes. It was then a matter of finding a safe way through and across the dunes down to sea level.

We were able to follow this beach for many kilometres. Satellite images showed an indistinct track around Buttty Head but no connecting track from the beach. About two kilometres from Butty Head we left the beach and spent considerable time trying to find a way round this headland.

Peter put up his drone and found the track I was looking for. We worked out a possible route through the dunes, did some spadework to even out the track at a pinch point, and started the climb.

A rough, dusty track leads down to Butty Harbour, allowing a further 3.5 kilometres of eastward travel along the beach.

The beach was looking less and less inviting – it was time to find a suitable point to exit. Just over two kilometres further on we were on bitumen – Twilight Beach Road. This coast-hugging road took us into Esperance.

Esperance

The seven caravan parks in Esperance were all full (school holidays) and we were directed to the Sports Ground. Great facilities and plenty of room.

 

 

© Kim Epton 2021
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1806 words, 61 photographs, 11 images.

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Kim Epton

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Kim Epton
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Graham Howe


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Outback Trek 2020 – Mt Palmer Track

We finished the Gus Luck Track at Yellowdine.

The weather was foul. A strong, cold, south-easterly was blowing. The sealed Great Eastern Highway to home was tempting and  three crews chose to take it.

Kim, Steve, Aaron, and Brad and Jane continued on the planned route along the unmaintained Mt Palmer Track. Hardly worth a mention for most of the year but after prolonged rain it was a challenge. It seemed like a never-ending series of long stretches of water, bogholes and slippery, muddy dirt track. And, just as we thought we were through the worst of it – a lake across the Track!

Leaving Great Eastern Highway from the Yellowdine roadhouse there is fair warning that the trip to Mt Palmer may not be all that easy.

As matters eventuated it was the most difficult part of the entire Trip. The 12 kilometres to Palmers Find was one stretch of water after another, some up to a hundred metres long, most about 30 or 40 metres.

The depth varied with the deepest being about level with the headlights on the Rodeo. Water in one of the last bogholes caused electrical damage in Steve’s BT50. Later sketchily diagnosed as a faulty alternator, it caused us ongoing issues all the way to Narembeen.

The bogholes ended and we arrived at the historic Mt Palmer fields.

The track we wanted was to the west and we figured we were out of the worst of the flooding and bogholes. Not so. As we crested a hill two kilometres from Mount Palmer we were presented with a challenging sight. An unnamed lake blocked our way. About 200 metres across and nearly a kilometre in width. How to approach this obstacle? It was clear that the water level had fallen slightly since the peak of the rainfall event and the littoral of the lake was exposed.

After a number of minutes of consideration I decided that the best course of action was to drive around the edges of the lake rather than drive through it. There was little water present but how boggy was it? Here goes nothing.

We snuck around the northern edges of the lake. As we headed back onto the main road we found a hut and a grave.

Steve’s vehicle was causing problems. The alternator wasn’t charging and he could drive for only 21 kilometres before the vehicle would stop and need a recharge. We repeated this stop/start procedure for quite a number of hours to get the vehicle into Narembeen. Nobody is left to fend for themselves.

Our route took us 80+ kilometres south on the Emu Fence Road before we turned to the west on Soldiers Road. By this time all fears of bogging on a flooded road had dissipated and it was simply a matter of trying to staying warm while Steve’s vehicle was being charged.

Narembeen was effectively the end of the Outback Trek. Steve had to wait for a flat top to recover his BT50 and the others continued home.

The Outback Trek
10 days, 3100 kilometres

Kim Epton – Rodeo
Aaron Howell – Patrol
Brad O’Neil, Jane Dooley – Troopy
Michael ‘Mushy’ Orr, Ray Dowinton – Navara
Paul Byrne, Andrew Hall – Pajero
James Hay, Tim Jones – Wrangler
Steve Cook – BT50
Santokh Gill – Prado
Scott Wilson – Landcruiser

 

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© Cockburn 4WD Club 2020 and Kim Epton
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Kim Epton
Jane Dooley

 

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Outback Trek 2020 – Gus Luck Track

Day 8 Gus Luck Track

From the now-non-existent town of Goongarrie on the Goldfields Highway to Goongarrie Homestead, a DPAW Conservation Reserve about 14 kilometres west,  the track is wide open and good travelling. It deteriorates after the turnoff to Davyhurst. The way we went.

We emerged at the boundary of Goongarrie Starion about 30 kilometres later and the track I wanted to take wasn’t visible. After a bit of consideration we headed west on a good track that we hoped would eventually get us to Siberia.

We had arranged to meet Scott Wilson, well known Kalgoorlie prospector and President of the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society, at Siberia. He would join our Trip for a couple of days.

I was hopeful that the track that we were ‘forced’ to take would eventually connect with the Daveyhurst Ora Banda Road, however, halfway to that expected junction, we arrived at a pipeline and powerline access road. It looked to be a good track and I was reasonably confident it would intersect with the Daveyhurst Ora Banda Road. It did – seven kilometres south. We continued on to our rendezvous with Scott at Siberia.

Scott gave us a guided tour around Wangine – a place he has been familiar with for most of his life. The breakaways here are spectacular and extensive.

After lunch we tried to find the Gus Luck Track leading west from what, in the late 1890s, was an important depot and stopping place. Despite a concerted effort by at least six vehicles the way west remained elusive.

We speculated on the course of the Track entering and leaving Wangine. Clearly the Track from Goongarrie accessed the hotel and other facilities below the breakaway. It would appear that it was on top of the breakaway before continuing on its westward course. Did the Track keep high on the breakaway with a spur to the depot and lodgings below or did it dip below and then make its way up to the high ground. Difficult to know.

As we determined during a follow up Trip in late October, the Track to the west exists but passage for motor vehicles is not possible. We made the decision to skirt the impassable country by going south to Siberia and then west across former pastoral country (ex Credo). As we were heading west Scott recognised some mining exploration tenements that he held in this area many years ago.

We were not certain that the track would connect with Coolgardie North Road but it did eventually bring us out to our destination on that road. A short drive to the north on this major dirt road brought us to the track to Coonmine.

Although it was getting late in the day I figured we could get a few kilometres along the track towards Coonmine. We eventually found a great campsite a couple of kilometres in.

Day 9 Gus Luck Track

This day we would cover most of the Gus Luck Track.

First stop was Coonmine Rockhole, also known as Frost Soak.

The next soak/rockhole along the Track is Turturdine. The location of the water at this rock is not immediately obvious, however, an arrangement of rocks in the shape of an arrow points to the soak.

Throughout the day we were fortunate enough to have Scott share his knowledge of the geology and history of the area, among a number of other subjects. We stopped a few kilometres before Urdardanging and Scott explained the process of coppicing.

Next stop was Urdardanging Rock where there is a covered soak with plenty of water and a grave 100 metres distant. This rock and Turturdine were often confused in official records. Urdardanging was also known as Dookie Rock.

Pilarning Rock is 1.7 kilometres further on. We didn’t stop.

A huge fire had devastated the country last season. A seven kilometre swathe of bush was gone.

Ten kilometres before the Mount Walton Road we lost the Track – without realising it. It was only after a few hundred or so metres that I realised we were not following the planned route. But there was no turnoff or junction. Very deceptive. I radioed to Scott at the rear of the convoy and he was able to pick up the faintest of tracks off to the left – the real Gus Luck Track. We turned around and retraced our route. Clearly most, if not all, travellers would follow the good, open track to the Mt Walton Road turn left, drive south for five kilometres and pick up the Gus Luck Track  again. And the situation is little better for those doing the Track in the opposite direction, from Yellowdine. As we discovered on our follow up Trip in October travellers are led away from the real Gus Luck Track to this more open roadway. Very few, if any, travellers are driving the actual Gus Luck Track for the 20 kilometres east of the Mount Walton Road – as evidenced by the lack of tyre marks and the overgrown condition of the real Track.

Apart from the navigational challenges in this stretch of the Track, there is a 100 metre washaway that could present a few challenges in the wet.

Not far west of the Mount Walton Road is 71 Mile Rock – an important stopping place in times past. Today’s track does not led directly to the rock and well. The narrow, rough, and overgrown offshoot, while not obvious, does lead directly to the base of 71 Mile Rock.

Wallangie is 15 kilometres further on. This was a large and important water point on Juardi Station.

We were approaching the Trans Australian Railway. Since the Mount Walton haul road we had been travelling through what was once Juardi Station, now a DPAW Conservation Reserve.

At the Trans Line the dirt track parallels the rail track for 200 metres before crossing over and then continues alongside it for a further two kilometres before turning away to the south. Darrine Soak is a couple of kilometres further on. Signatures/graffiti on the lid of the soak roof at Darrine date back to 1939.

We came across some potentially boggy parts of the Track after Darrine and took to the (burnt out) bush to get around it. Except for Brad and Scott who were determined to demonstrate Toyota exceptionalism.

The afternoon was wearing on and it was time to start looking for a campsite. Though there was sufficient time to reach Weowanie Rock I knew there would be insufficient wood there so I determined to stop just short of that feature.

By this time in the Trek, responsibility for campsite selection had devolved to Mushy and he soon found a clearing only 50 metres off the Track large enough for all vehicles and replete with plenty of firewood. In addition it was on high ground – away from the low lying Eva Lake and eastward portions of Lake Seabrook.

The weather was starting to look threatening. We were coming into range of broadcast radio stations and the weather forecasts for later in the night and early the next day were dire.

The evening passed as usual and everyone went to bed reasonably early. Some made preparations and packed their camp that night. The rain arrived about 1.00 a.m. It rained and rained and rained.

Day 10 Weowanie to Yellowdine

Without any urging, everyone was up before first light, packing away a sodden camp. The rain kept coming. There was no time for a cooked breakfast – just grab whatever was available. By 6.00 a.m. everyone was ready to leave.

The 50 metres from our campsite to the Track was looking problematic. Soft, sodden mud although it appeared as if the base was firm. I walked out to the Track. Water was flowing down it eastward towards Eva Lake. At least it was reasonably firm under the rivers of water. Maybe we weren’t going to be stuck here for a week.

I asked the lightest crews to drive out first and those with diff locks to come out last. As all made it to the Track without too much stress I suppose it was anticlimactic, however, there was still another 13 kilometres of potentially flooded track to get through.

Just over two kilometres along the Track we came to the Yellowdine Vermin Proof Fence at which point the track, obviously, T junctioned. After some hesitation and discussion over the radio I decided to head to the right. Within 700 metres we arrived at a gate through the Fence, a sign opposite the gate displaying ‘Juardi Station’, and the track clearly continuing on the other side of the gate.

I was pretty confident I knew where I was, having been here once previously – but on the other side of the Fence. We passed through the Fence and within a few kilometres arrived at Weowanie.

Track conditions had improved remarkably but I was still very concerned about the next seven kilometres (including a part that traverses a section of Lake Seabrook) before we would get to the (virtually) all weather Marvel Loch Road. While rough, rutted and torn up in places it was passable and did not present any real issues. We stopped at Duladgin Well.

The drive to Yellowdine was sloppy but without worry.

Cheap diesel at the roadhouse was a bonus. Mushy and Ray, Paul and Andrew, and James and Tim decided to head home down Great Eastern Highway. Kim, Aaron, Brad and Jane, and Steve continued on with the remainder of the Trek – the Mount Palmer Track.

Go on to Outback Trek – Mt Palmer Track

Go back to Outback Trek – Goldfields

 

© Cockburn 4WD Club 2020 and Kim Epton
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Outback Trek 2020 – Goldfields

Day 6 – Great Victoria Desert to Leonora

We left our camp at the top of Lake Minigwal heading out of the desert and towards Burtville. About 19 kilometres to the north we hit a wide, well maintained, 80 kph track. Clearly there is a mine nearby. As the road turned further to the north we turned off to the left into Mount Dennis. This is magnificent breakaway country.

Leaving Mount Dennis we returned to the main road. Another two kilometres further on we came onto a haul road. While trying to locate the track into Friday Gnamma we interfaced with some of the locals.

Friday Gnamma is just a kilometre further on from the haul road. Clearly important a century ago, or more, but underwhelming today.

We pushed on to Burtville, 33 kilometres distant on a good dirt road. Many signs of mining activity.

Burtville

Prospectors Billy Frost and J. Tregurtha found gold here in 1897.

In 1901 Surveyor J.H. Rowe recorded the aboriginal name for the district as Merolia and the settlement was shown on early maps and gazetted as such in 1902. However, the original residents determined upon calling the place Burtville in compliment to the Warden of the Mount Margaret Goldfield, then Alfred Earle Burt (1852-1945), a son of Sir Archibald Burt, first Chief Justice of the WA Supreme Court. The town was regazetted as Burtville later in 1902.

At its peak in 1903 the population exceeded 400 but by 1916 it had reduced to 45.

We spent some time poking around Burtville, looking at relicts, the cemetery and old shafts. It has been cleaned up and made safe. In the process a lot of history was destroyed.

Our desert interlude was coming to an end. Laverton was looming.

Laverton

After a few days out of contact our arrival at Laverton was an opportunity to catch up on a business, work, family and friends. Difficult to get totally away.

McOmish and Potts discovered gold here in 1896 and took their samples to Dr Charles Laver in Coolgardie. Laver established the British Flag Mine at the strike.

Surveyor J.H. Rowe noted:

“natives call this place ‘Buckanoo’. The residents seem unanimous in wishing the proposed T/S to be called ‘Laverton’.” (FB 23 p9).

Laver held mining leases in his right in the vicinity. He was a firm believer in the value of the large lode formations that were being worked at the British Flag. It was reported that “he had great faith in the district and was untiring in his efforts to attract the attention of capitalists to its mines”.

We were well ahead of where we expected to be at this time so we decided to check out Windarra, to the north of Laverton.

Windara

Windarra was the centre of the world famous 1960s nickel boom.

We drove to the Lookout and then walked a short distance to the top of the hill.

After leaving Windarra we picked up our original Route and headed to historic Mt Morgans.

Mount Morgans

Gold was discovered here in 1896 by Lilley and party, and their lease was later taken over by E.A. Morgans who became the Member for Coolgardie and later Premier of Western Australia.

The Westralia Mt Morgans mine was developed and in 1899 the Warden for the area requested a townsite be surveyed and declared at Mount Morgans.

The man after whom the area was named, Alfred Edward Morgans (1850-1933), was born in Wales, educated in England and came to Western Australia in 1896 as a representative of Morgans’ Syndicate Ltd. He was regarded as ‘the doyen of mining magnates’, and was elected as the MLA for Coolgardie in 1897. He became Premier on 21 November 1901 but when three of his Ministers failed to get re-elected he was defeated in the Legislative Assembly on 23 December 1901. This is the shortest term of any Western Australian government.

Until 1952 328,000 ounces of gold at 15 g/t were produced. The mine had a second period of activity from 1988 to 1997, producing 917,000 ounces at 3.2 g/t from open pit operations.

The mine then had five different owners before being taken over by Dacian Gold in 2012. It is developing into one of the largest underground gold mines in Australia and is expected to produce until 2028.

Leaving Mt Morgans we took the old dirt road that parallels the sealed Laverton-Leonora Road. Knowing that we needed firewood at Leonora, we stopped along the way.

Leonora Caravan Park was full – mainly prospectors but also a few travellers/tourists like us. It was fortunate that Tokhy has made reservations earlier in the day. Showers, pub grub, and fuel were all on the list of  ‘to dos’.

Leonora

The townsite was named after nearby Mount Leonora, which was named by explorer John Forrest in 1869 during his expedition to look for lost explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. Forrest named Mount Leonora after a friend, Phylis Leonora Hardey, daughter of John Wall Hardey of Grove Farm, Swan River.

Gold was discovered in the Leonora district in 1894 by a prospector named Morrissey and there were then further rich finds in 1895/96 by W. Booden and Edward ‘Doodah’ Sullivan at the Johannesburg lease just north of the current townsite. In the following two years a number of rich finds resulted in rapid development and drew attention to the area.

Day 7 Leonora to Niagara Dam

We headed north along the Goldfields Highway to Leinster, checking out numerous pioneer wells and landing strips along the way.

While looking for Kent Well we found a quarry, probably still used for road base.

Leinster

Leinster is an ‘oasis in the desert’  Built in 1976, it is a ‘closed town’ — home to around 500 permanent residents, all employees or contractors of BHP. It was an ideal place to stop for lunch before heading on to Agnew.

Agnew

Agnew, 21 kilometres south-west of Leinster, is a ghost town.

South African based Gold Fields has underground operations at Agnew and nearby Lawlers. The 650-strong workforce lives off site and commutes to site from Perth (and elsewhere) on a fly-in/fly-out roster, being accommodated at Agnew Village.

Lawlers

Lawlers is another ghost town with the only part of the original town still standing being the old police station.

South African based Gold Fields operates the Lawlers mine in conjunction with its Waroonga Underground operation at Agnew, making the combined mines very low cost operations. The workforce at Lawlers is FIFO and separate from Agnew.

After a quick look around we continued on our way back to Leonora.

Most crews made a quick refuel and resupply at Leonora before visiting the ‘living ghost town’ that is Gwalia, three kilometres to the south.

Gwalia

Our late arrival (15 minutes before closing time) precluded a tour of the museum at Gwalia. Fortunately there is plenty else to see at the Historic Precinct.

The richness of the Gwalia and Sons of Gwalia mines brought Leonora to the attention of the world towards the end of the 19th century.  By 1902 Leonora and Gwalia were connected by a steam tramway.

We weren’t able to dally at Gwalia if we were to reach our planned overnight stop at Niagara Dam. Our route was initially south on the Goldfields Highway for 16 kilometres. We turned towards Melita and followed the railway along the Malcolm Road to Kookynie. An interesting drive with some unusual road construction techniques.

Kookynie

A drink at the Kookynie Pub seemed to be an outback custom, the expected thing, de rigueur, almost a right of passage – and we did not fight tradition, mine host, or the horse at the front door.

But the sun was dipping below the horizon and we needed to head off to Niagara so there was time for only one.

Niagara Dam

On arrival the campsite was self selecting – being the only spot vacant that was big enough for our group. The signs that warn there is no firewood at Niagara Dam are entirely accurate. We searched a few kilometres away and returned with enough for our normal bonfire.

Day 8 Niagara Dam to Gus Luck Track

The 1600 metre track, and accompanying information signs, at Niagara through the breakaways and to the dam is interesting and informative.

Although ironically named after the much more famous overseas falls, Niagara was a big drop for this part of the world. The falls operated only after heavy rain and flowed for only a short time. Not long before construction of the dam was completed, a good quality, underground water supply was found in Kookynie, making Niagara Dam somewhat of a ‘white elephant’.

We had time on our side so we decided to follow the old railway south-west rather head out to the Goldfields Highway and Menzies. Eventually the track we were on was heading too far from our destination and it was time to turn west and head to the Highway.

Into Menzies and on to Goongarie. At the time of the Outback Trek we weren’t entirely sure of the route of the Gus Luck Track, believing it to finish 13 kilometres east of Coonmine Well on the Coolgardie North Road. Further research revealed that this historic track finishes at Goongarrie and our current route to Wangine was along the Track.  Our follow up Trip in October re-discovered much of the uncertain and/or lost legs of the Gus Luck Track.

Go to Outback Trek – Gus Luck Track

Go back to Outback Trek – Great Victoria Desert

 

© Cockburn 4WD Club 2020 and Kim Epton
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Outback Trek 2020 – Great Victoria Desert

Into the Great Victoria Desert.

We refuelled and hit the bitumen heading east on the Eyre Highway. At Fraser Range it was a sign of the times that the leaseholders had locked the gates at the three possible access points to the Fraser Range-Zanthus Track. While we could have visited the homestead to arrange access it was all too hard and too far away so we continued to Balladonia from where we would take the Balladonia-Zanthus Track.

Whenever travelling the Eyre Highway I try to avoid outrageous fuel prices at Balladonia but on this occasion we had no option but to top up. We found a campsite at Afghan Rock.

Day 4 – Afghan Rock to near Queen Victoria Spring, Great Victoria Desert

The southern portion of the Balladonia-Zanthus Track is very sandy and deeply rutted. A standard dual cab 4WD ute would have difficulties maintaining forward momentum and even staying on the track. The deep ruts took control of the steering, the dirt was scraping the underbody and driving safely was a challenge.

Further north there were numerous shotlines on both sides of the track. There was evidence of exploration activity all around. IGO Exploration is searching for nickel.

Lightning strikes had caused numerous fires and much of the country was burnt out.

We met James and Tim at Zanthus.

This siding on the Trans Australia Railway was opened in 1917. The name is derived from the latter part of the genus name for the Kangaroo Paw – AnigoZANTHUS. The railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie opened in 1917 and was Australia’s first major infrastructure project. Western Australia had made the construction of a railway linking the nation’s eastern and western colonies a condition for joining the Commonwealth in 1901.

The track north out of Zanthus was in reasonable condition until we reached Ponton Creek. Substantial flow in the Ponton Creek used to cut access to the Cundeelee settlement and while it was not the main reason for abandonment of the settlement, it was a contributing factor.

A ration depot was established in the area in 1939. Cundeelee mission and school was opened by the Australian Aborigines’ Evangelical Mission in 1949. It was run by inter-denominational churches until 1982, when it became an Aboriginal Community.

Many of those at Cundeelee were Tjuntjuntjuara people from the Great Victoria Desert near Maralinga while the British Government was testing atomic weapons in the 1950s. These ‘Spinifex People’ were unhappy at Cundeelee and the majority moved back to their homelands in the Great Victoria Desert in 1984-86.

The original name of Cundeelee is Urpulurpulila, which means ‘tadpole’ in Pitjantjatjarra language, due to the large number of tadpoles found in the rock hole there.

It took some time to determine the correct track north out of Cundeelee to Queen Victoria Springs.

Ernest Giles and his exploration party of six had travelled with camels more than 520 kilometres from Boundary Dam (on the WA/SA border) without finding any water when they lucked upon this spring.

Late in the evening of 25 September 1875 Jess Young was navigating and was steering about 20 degrees off course. Giles had to intervene and correct the heading. Had he not done so the explorers would have passed three kilometres to the north of the water.

Whether foolhardy, brave, lucky or calculated the discovery of what is now known as Queen Victoria Springs certainly saved Giles’s party.

A major fire in May 2019 has totally devastated the Queen Victoria Springs Nature Reserve. It will be many years before it recovers.

A tree was blazed by the Elder Exploring Expedition in 1891, 200 metres south of the pool. Today there is an inscribed plaque on a concrete post and nearby a ground marker where the tree once stood.

This plaque is engraved “E.E.E. D.C.L. 60 23.9.91” and was placed there by the grandsons of Victor Streich, the geologist on the expedition.

We left Queen Victoria Spring, heading for Streich Mound.

Attempts to drive to the top of the Mound were unsuccessful and we settled on the ‘carpark’  partway up.

We left Streich Mound searching for a campsite. Everything on offer was burnt out. We passed the occasional patches of vegetation but no suitable campsites presented. The passage of time forced a barely adequate campsite on us – its main attribute being a reasonable supply of wood.

The pelting rain soon passed and we made a comfortable camp.

Day 5 – Near Queen Victoria Spring to Great Victoria Desert

Our camp was less than 100 metres from a break in the dunes – the reason the track was routed where it was. As the track wound its way north this method was used more and more. There were deviations of up to two kilometres to get around the end of dunes running east-west. The track would then be routed in the swale until the next break was found. About 32 kilometres after leaving camp we arrived at Argus Corner and turned right onto the Nippon Highway.

After we passed Lindsay Lake, 25 kilometres north-east, there were numerous shotlines and other signs of mineral exploration.

A Japanese corporation, Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), explored for uranium here in the 1970s. It is now  run by  Vimy Resources as their Mulga Rock Project. It is Australia’s largest advanced uranium project with an estimated 15 year production life. The further north, the more signs of exploration activity.

The name of the track on which were travelling – Nippon Highway – and the one to which we were heading  – PNC Baseline – were derived from the Japanese activity in the 1970s.

Vimy’s camp did not appear to be in operation and a locked gate across the track 22 kilometres north east added weight to that assumption. The arrogance of placing a gate across a public road with no advance warning is breathtaking. With only enough fuel to get to Laverton we had no option but to proceed forward. We couldn’t find the combination to the lock (we didn’t try the phone number reversed) and we didn’t want to interfere with the gate so Mushy found a way around it. Eight vehicles later it was a defined track.

Sixteen kilometres further along we came across the Tropicana Haul Road – a veritable highway leading to the Tropicana Mine 220 kilometres north-east of Kalgoorlie. This road provides easy access to Vimy’s camp which may have been part of the reason for the gate across the PNC Baseline.

At the Tropicana Highway we had to again pick up the PNC Baseline. The roadworks did not make this easy. Mushy put up his drone and soon located a track. It appeared that a vehicle or two had been along the track reasonably recently (possibly early August from the info left in the visitors’ book at Queen Victoria Spring), however, not many other vehicles had been on the track for many years. It was very overgrown and damaged the fittings on our vehicles. It was to be 25 kilometres before it opened out.

The PNC Baseline approached Lake Minigwal and we stopped for lunch at the intersection with an un-named road skirting the lake to the east. Lake Minigwal trends from the north-west to the south-east for about 67 kilometres.  It contains numerous islands. It was originally named ‘Ainslie Fairbairn Lake’ by Frank Hann in 1907 after one of his friends but the name was never shown on maps.

In 1935 Donald MacKay, the leader of the MacKay Aerial Survey Expedition, named it Lake Minigwal after an aboriginal word for woodspear.

We were skirting Lake Minigwal to the east.

Eight kilometres further on we turned into Surprise Granite Rockhole. These were named by that indefatigable explorer Frank Hann in 1907 but he did not state why he was surprised.

Unprepossessing Hanns Jasper Hill, close to the difficult-to-see Stella Range and the not-seen Lightfoot Lake, was a bit of a disappointment. We didn’t go to nearby Granite Hill either.

Our camp this day was off the track just beyond the northern extremity of Lake Minigwal.

We were nearing the end of our desert visit and tomorrow we would be heading to Laverton and a tour of the north-eastern and northern goldfields.

Go to Outback Trek 2020 – Goldfields

Go back to Outback Trek 2020 – Dunns Track

 

© Cockburn 4WD Club 2020 and Kim Epton
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Outback Trek 2020 – Dunns Track

The Plan for the 10 day, 3200 kilometre Outback Trek was to travel Dunns Track from Cocanarup to Norseman, refuel there and head to Fraser Range from where we would drive to Zanthus, a siding on the Trans Australia Railway. We would then head north to Cundeelee, Queen Victoria Springs and Streich Mound. We would then make our way across Australia’s largest desert, the Queen Victoria, past Lake Minigwal and abandoned Burtville to Laverton. We would then tour through the Goldfields, arriving at Goongarrie, the start of the Gus Luck Track. This would bring us out at Yellowdine from where we would tackle the Mt Palmer Track on the way to Narembeen and Beverley, before arriving back in Cockburn.

We managed to follow the Plan – with a couple of variations – more closely than on most Trips.

A patch of bushland at the site of the long-abandoned hamlet of Wogolin was the meeting place for the start of the Trek. The crews rolled in, the light faded and the temperature dropped. More wood on the fire. Steve managed to clock up quite a few extra kilometres before he found the camp.

Day 2 – Wogolin to near Dog Rock

A seven vehicle convoy left Wogolin in the morning. We were to meet Brad and Jane at Newdegate at 9.00 a.m. The drive through the Great Southern was to get to the start of ‘expedition proper’ at Cocanarup, just short of Ravensthorpe.

We hit the South Coast Highway and six kilometres to the east we turned onto Cocanarup Road, heading to the start of Dunns Track.

A small sign pointed to John Dunn’s grave. The story of his death is surrounded by controversy. The narrative suggests that he was ambushed and speared by the local Nyoongars because he raped a young aboriginal girl. The narrative continues that his brothers’ retribution resulted in the deaths of up to forty Nyoongars. The truth of the tragedy will never be known.

Leaving the grave we crossed the Phillips River. Though tame at the time, inspection of the river bed downriver from the crossing point shows that it can have a massive flow and would indeed be an obstacle to anyone wishing the travel Dunns Track from Cocanarup in the wetter months.

We continued about five kilometres through bushland. Partway along the stretch of bushland we came across a dam in a clearing. Difficult to understand its purpose.

Once through a ‘cocky’s gate’ it appeared that we were driving across paddocks instead of a track.

Ravensthorpe was our last chance to refuel before Norseman, 350 kilometres distant, and with 100 kilometres travelled since Newedegate most people elected to top up.

We headed out of Ravensthorpe, turned on to Carlingup Road and had lunch on the Track at a clearing just before the Jerdacuttup River. After lunch we took what was signposted as the Woodinup Track off Carlingup Road as I believe it more closely follows the original Dunns Track. Some doubted that we would be able to get through to Nindilbilup Road to enable us to get to the gate through the vermin proof fence but their fears were unfounded.

Through the fence Dunns Track has been given the moniker of ‘Coujinup Track’.

 

Eleven kilometres further on ‘the Coujinup Track’ diverted to the south-east and we continued on the singularly-titled Dunns Track to the north-east. The country had recently been ravaged by bushfire and was looking decidedly sad.

Two kilometres after Peters Soak we came across a boghole.

Just after Hewby Swamp Dunns Track crosses a shotline on the way to Northover Soak. Unfortunately the Track disappears around this point and we, like many others before us, had to return to the shotline, drive about two kilometres south-east and then turn left onto another shotline that parallels the original Dunns Track. A few weeks with a chainsaw might change the situation but we didn’t have the time.

We were looking for the track to Welcome Soak, north of our route. A suitable track appeared and we took it. This ‘road to nowhere’ actually took us to a desolate corner of Lake Tay. We speculated on its reason for being as it just stopped at the lake. It wouldn’t have been cheap to make and seemed to serve no purpose. Intriguing. This seven kilometre track had been rarely used (if ever), however, it was a fun drive with over 106 high speed bends.

The sun was dipping towards the horizon and it was time to find a campsite. Fourteen kilometres short of the Dog Rock turnoff we found our temporary home for Saturday 8 August 2020!.

Day 3 – Near Rock Dog to Afghan Rock

Not long after we started our Day Three adventure the rain sheeted in as we drove to Peak Eleanora.

While on his 1848 explorations in the area, Surveyor General John S. Roe named Peak Eleanora after the wife of then Governor, Charles Fitzgerald. He also named nearby Peak Charles after the Governor.

We left Peak Eleanora and rejoined the main track. A kilometre further along we hit a series of bogholes. Just when we thought we were through the worst Brad’s Troopy, Steve’s BT50 and Paul’s Pajero dropped the left wheels into a deep rut and put the vehicles over at an extreme angle – all three were very close to rolling. Although Santohk’s Prado didn’t lurch over as much as the others it was still enough to give him an early morning wake up call. But the rain abated.

After that excitement the drive through Annes Pass to Peak Charles was anti climactic. The wind was still howling when we arrived at Peak Charles and it was as lazy as it gets. Our planned assault on the peak and the lookout at the top (about two hours return) was postponed for a future visit. Mushy put up his drone but was unable to summit.

The cairn on Peak Charles was constructed by Arthur Hewby and Guy May during their survey of the track in 1910.

Dunns Track and Peak Charles National Park are towards the southern edge of the Great Western Woodlands, a national treasure and world-wide significant forest.

We pushed on to Moir Rock. After the disappointment of not being able to climb Peak Charles, a visit to this delightful place was a consolation. Great views, numerous good campsites, an interesting water harvest tank and a track that accessed everything.

Moir Rock is a hidden gem and would be preferable to camping at the over-used, DPaW campground at Peak Charles. The track  from Peak Charles to the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway is maintained in good condition and it was easy run to the bitumen. We stopped at Stennet Rock.

Although long since abandoned and falling into disrepair, the amount of work that went into the construction of the dam emphasises the importance of water supplies in this dry environment – before it was piped from the coast. A few kilometres further on, at McPherson Rock, the dam has been maintained. An outbreak of Noogoorah Burr next to the dam was quarantined.

We turned off the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway to the abandoned town of Dundas. Little remains of past glory days. It is an abandoned gold mining town 22 kilometres south of Norseman. Although all buildings have gone, the layout of the streets can be seen and occasional signs provide detail on the town.

The approach to Norseman signalled the end of Dunns Track.

Over the past months with no community spread of Covid19 the relaxed, even casual approach to the virus in Western Australia was noticeable – but not at Norseman! Situated at the end (or start) of the Eyre Highway the town is acutely aware of its ‘frontline’ status in the battle to keep the virus out of WA.

Norseman provided the opportunity to have a shower and briefly play tourist.

Go to Outback Trek – Great Victoria Desert

 

© Cockburn 4WD Club 2020 and Kim Epton
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Kim Epton

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Kim Epton
Jane Dooley
James Hay
Michael Orr
Ray Dowinton

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Murchison River Expedition 2020

Heavy rain from Tropical Cyclone Damien caused the Murchison River to flood in early February. At Mt Padbury, 706 kilometres upstream from the mouth at Kalbarri, the river was as big as the record flood of 2006 caused by TC Emma. The difference with this event was that because Damien brought rain only as far west as Berringarra the amount of water in the river downstream would not be as much as in 2006 – with the bonus that the roads west and south of Milly Milly would be dry and accessible. Good news for the Support Crew ‘chasing’ the boats.

The plan was to leave Cockburn on Thursday afternoon, travel to Pithara, camp the night and continue to the river the next day. North through Cue and on to Berringarra Station to find where would be the best place to launch the boats. The plan was for the Support Crew to follow the boats to Minnawarra Crossing –an on-water distance of about 100 kilometres, depending on the start point. The next day was planned for the on-water expedition to reach Ballinyoo Bridge – a distance of about 82 kilometres.

As per usual on these types of trips the reality was somewhat different from the planning.

We arrived at Beringarra Station mid-afternoon on Friday 21 February and on advice from the station manager, travelled upriver towards Kalamunda Pool, about 20 kilometres to the east. Past cattle yards east of the homestead the track was difficult to follow, however, we were able to drive along a fence line heading generally in the required direction. Two attempts to find a way down to the water resulted in boggings both times. The entire country had been underwater only four days previously.

It was getting late so we decided to camp where we were – about five kilometres upriver from the station homestead. As matters transpired the next day it was fortunate that the Boat Crews did not start here – or further up – as this stretch of the Murchison River is very much a ‘braided stream’. A multitude of channels from which to choose, one indistinguishable from the next, some leading nowhere, others joining up, some shallow, others with sufficient water, together present a serious challenge to navigation.

The flies, mosquitoes and other bugs, combined with high humidity made for an uncomfortable night.

Very early the next morning we headed back to the Mt Gould Road Crossing where we were confident we could launch the boats.

Getting to the river was a challenge. The floodwaters had destroyed the road in one 50 metre section. The nearest we could get to the water was only about 200 metres. The boats were prepared and the crews dragged/walked to the main stream flow.

The Murchison River Expedition 2020 was off and running, 576 kilometres upstream from the mouth at Kalbarri and 46 kilometres further upriver than our previous record start.

The Support Crew moved to the first rendezvous at Milly Milly Crossing. This was on a side channel of the main river.

The entire Support Crew got out their camp chairs and sat on the crossing in the water, cooling off, waiting for the arrival of the boats and crew.

The boat journey was short lived. The crew were having a very difficult time finding the river proper. The myriad channels in this highly braided section of river all got too shallow, too soon. It quickly became untenable.

A sat phone message revealed that the Boat Crew were returning to the start point on the Mt Gould Road. They had navigated only three kilometres before the lack of water and confusing channels necessitated a return.

The Support Crew returned to the Mt Gould Road Crossing and retrieved the boats and crew.

The Expedition moved to Milly Milly Crossing where the boats were re-launched upstream with the intention of getting through to the main river.

Meanwhile the Support Crew drove to the Byro-Beringarra Road Crossing (the main channel of the Murchison) to confirm they could access the river. The issue was that while the boats could set off downriver from the Milly Milly Crossing channel there was no assurance the they could join the main river. It was way more preferable that they be launched into the main river (at some point upriver from the Milly Milly Crossing but downriver from the Mt Gould Road Crossing) and it was imperative that the Support Crew vehicles could get to the Byro-Beringarra Crossing to refuel them.

Aaron headed out from Milly Milly Crossing to confirm that he could navigate the seven kilometres to the main river. A short time later a radio message came through that he was bogged and was self-recovering.

The remainder of the Support Crew moved up to his location to help with the recovery. After varying opinions on the best way to extricate the vehicle it was decided to tow it out backwards.

The team carried on to the main river, confirmed access, and then returned to Milly Milly Crossing to await the arrival of the Boat Crews. The Boat Crews had radioed through that they couldn’t find a way through to the main river and would have to return to Milly Milly Crossing.

The boats were retrieved from the water at Milly Milly Crossing, loaded on the trailers and taken upriver to Cadjacootharra, a possible checkpoint identified in the planning stage of the Expedition. Earlier in the day Mushy had driven into the point and found it to be suitable for launching the boats. The new launching point for tomorrow was decided! And because it was so late in the day, the location of the campsite for the night self-selected.

The boats were offloaded at the river’s edge and tied to trees. The campsite was about two hundred metres to the south, just off the Byro-Beringarra Road.

A storm cell hit before we had a chance to set up camp. Lightning and thunder had been all around for 20 minutes. The ferocity of the storm was amazing. The temperature plummeted. Water was pouring off awnings. Anything not undercover was drenched. The flies persisted.

Some of the crew took the opportunity to have a wash or even a full on shower.

Next morning there was little evidence of the previous night’s downpour.

The ever-present, clinging bush flies were annoying in the extreme but could not detract from the accomplishment of putting power dinghies on a wild river 556 kilometres into the outback in extreme conditions (40+degrees, 98% humidity). Twenty six years after the first bold attempt, and six subsequent forays, the challenge is there for anyone else to surpass this achievement. I’m confident that any other power boating trips on the Murchison will be restricted to ten kilometres upriver from Kalbarri!

The Support Crew moved down to Byro-Beringarra Crossing to refuel the boats coming downriver from Cadjacootharra.

 

The boats were refuelled and a new coordinate was entered into the GPS. The crews were given strict instructions not to go past Manfred, 42 kilometres downstream. The inability of the Support Crew to get through to the boats, for any number of reasons, was a potentially serious issue.

The Support Crew followed station tracks south that would lead them to Manfred. A well-constructed fence blocked the way, forcing an unwanted deviation to the east to the Pindar Road.

Rains from the storm cell last night had extended many kilometres to the south and the runoff from the high ground to the north-east made travel along the fenceline treacherous.

A six kilometre deviation brought the Support Crew to the end of the fenceline. A quick dash through a recently-flooded creek got all vehicles onto the Beringarra-Pindar Road. It was then a 65 kilometre drive to the Manfred Road turnoff and a 35 kilometre drive into the river – if the rain from last night’s storms hadn’t washed out the track.

After ten or so kilometres I decided that it wasn’t wise to send all vehicles in to Manfred without knowing for certain that the track was open. We stopped, set up an awning and waited for information from the Boat Crew. Mushy headed off to find a way through to the river at Manfred. Fuel for vehicles was becoming an issue and I wanted to avoid unnecessary travel. A sat phone message came through from the Boat Crew advising that they had reached the rendezvous point at Manfred. Some time later another message confirmed that Mushy had got through. The remainder of the Support Crew were then able to confidently head to Manfred.

On arrival at the station it was revealed that the boats were still two kilometres away from the point the vehicles could reach on the flooded track. However, Steve was able to navigate the boats through some minor channels to get to where the Support Crew was waiting on the flooded track.

It was very hot and very humid. Eventually the boats were loaded and equipment secured. ready to head off.

The remaining range of the vehicles was a concern. The nearest fuel was at Mullewa, 186 kilometres distant. Steve was carrying jerry cans of diesel and was able to share it around before we headed south towards camp.

Camp was a clearing off to the side of the road. The flies were as bad as ever.

In the morning while re-inflating tyres road pressures Steve noticed he had a slow leak, caused by a staked sidewall. As soon as the wheel was changed the long journey home began.

 

Feel free to use any part of this document but please do the right thing and give attribution. It will enhance the SEO of your website/blog, and this website.


Text and Layout © Cockburn 4WD Club 2020 and Kim Epton 2020
Photographs Michael Orr, Kim Epton
2200 words, 73 images.

See Terms of Use