The Canning Stock Route 1997




It could have been much worse. But July 24 dawned fine, the car had been largely packed the night before, even the extra useful box didn’t seem to cause too much trouble on top of the frig . It was already providing a convenient receptacle for any last minute oversights. With this help we got away not too long after 8.00 am. Our route was via Harden and Junee to Narrandera to top up fuel and join the Sturt highway and from there to a convenient stopping point. We reached Ganmain and the first serious problem by lunch. Here the GPS started to misbehave, refusing to acquire satellites. We camped by the Murrumbidgee at Balranald. It proved a pleasant spot with the only negative the closeness of the highway. The second problem was detected here. The 20 litre flexible water container was definitely leaking.


Our intention on day 2 was to reach Clare, but first we had to do something about that water container in Mildura. G. was quite impressed as I drove more or less directly to a large camping and recreation shop which proved to have one last container of appropriate type. We had been planning breakfast at McDonalds, but they looked at us rather puzzled – it was 11.20 am and we hadn’t realised the time. Our route continued through Renmark and Morgan, but we stuck to the bitumen rather than continue onto Clare through Burra. We had an interesting visit to Sevenhills (the church as well as the winery), took some photos of glass, and bought a bottle of red in anticipation of G.’s birthday. We camped in a caravan park on the road into Clare (another pleasant site), and treated ourselves to a pub meal. It started to rain as we watched the Friday night AFL match on TV.


Next day started wet. This provided us with an excuse to have a breakfast of coffee and pastries on the road. Clare provided the right kind of bakery as well as a good price for fuel. We got to Whyalla in time for lunch, and Ceduna by late afternoon. It was still pretty bleak (both windy and cold, although the rain had abated) so we decided to stop at a motel on the foreshore, and to indulge in another pub meal.


Ceduna also gave us a good fuel price. From here the highway finds its way onto the Nullarbor plain. We stopped off at the `Head of the Bight’ where there is a national park with lookouts for observing the southern right whales who use the area for spawning. Also, the park does `Senior’s discounts’. We were told there were over 30 whales in the area, and we had good views of quite a number of these. From the Head of the Bight large sand dunes stretch away to the east while the long western cliff line starts here also. A lunch spot was sought that gave some shelter from the wind. It was an unpleasant shock on entering WA to discover that the plant quarantine is no longer at Norseman but has been moved up to the border. We were given the once over - so much for the vegs for that night’s dinner. Fuel at Eucla was getting distinctly more expensive. The rain was setting in again so we decided to spend the night at the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse as the Camp ground was exposed and muddy. Terry and I had agreed to try and contact each other on the Alice Springs RFDS frequency. We were not successful in making contact, but we both heard transmissions from the Tanami track. The behaviour of high frequency transmissions can be mysterious!.


Our next destination was Kalgoorlie which we reached after stopping for fuel at Baladonia (our most expensive stop), and for lunch at Norseman. The NRMA guide listed four caravan parks in Kalgoorlie. After a tour of inspection we settled for the fourth (G. decided she liked the sound of a `Big 4’ park, we should have remembered the connection with Alice Springs two years ago). Just as we were checking in Lyell arrived at the office to fill a gas cylinder. He had seen the heavily laden Discovery with the ACT number plate and jumped to the right conclusion. By accident we had found the group. They had finished the Anne Beadell early, had to wait around for a replacement tent for Terry, had decided very quickly that Leonora was not congenial, and were filling in time in Kalgoorlie.


There was still a day before the guaranteed delivery of Terry’s tent in Leonora, but there was distinct interest in getting under way. We decided to move off to Niagra dam. This was built in the last century to provide water for the gold rushes but appears never to have been used. The group stocked up in Kalgoorlie. Terry sent us for fuel to the Shell depot which gave a discount for cash. Also, we would be without Woolworths for quite some time, so some last minute checking out – including reconciling divergent calculations about our capacity to consume chocolate – was in order. We reached the dam easily by lunch time to set up camp. The afternoon was spent exploring the country around the dam.


Terry was in a hurry next morning. By now the replacement tent was due in Leonora! He would go direct (bitumen), while the remainder would detour (dirt) to inspect the (almost) ghost town of Kookynie. Leonora proved to the nearest thing to a wild west movie set we were to encounter. Terry obtained his tent, not without some procedural difficulty, and we were off to the north at last. We stopped in Leinster which rumour reported had a better supermarket than Wiluna. The rumour is probably correct. Not good enough however to provide us with the hand held pump-up spray dispensers which were already proving their worth for washing hands etc. Leinster provides the last reasonably priced fuel after Kalgoorlie The bitumen starts to run out fairly soon after Leinster, and we passed an enormous mining operation as we closed on Wiluna which was to be the last contact with approximations of civilisation for a while. The Caravan park is famous for locking in its patrons after dark, but does provide them with a key to a back door to the adjoining hotel. Actually it is not too bad a park! We tried to get the GPS working here by rechecking the electric leads and improving the connection to the power take-off. In vain - despite Graham’s soldering iron, the first of many goodies that were to emerge from that pandora’s box of a tool chest! Here G. and I met John of white Discovery fame (notoriety!). He was having frig trouble (Oh those 14 frozen dinners!). Clearly he needed a kindred spirit to talk to! Result, while the rest enjoyed the last draught beer for 1800 kilometres and wondered what had become of us, G. and I were doing duty as instant counsellors. The denizens of the Wiluna caravan park seemed to be made up almost entirely of those who had finished the stock route, and those about to start it. The former, of course, were trying to offer gratuitous advice to the latter. Fortunately, they were not too sure how to handle Terry once they found out he had come down last year and was returning this. That appetite for punishment proved something the recent survivors found difficult to come to terms with!


On the Stock Route


Day 1: Next morning, even with the bit between the teeth, G. and I found that the other calls on our time, the inadequate and frantic few days of preparation, and (worse) joining battle hardened travellers, left us badly exposed. We were barely finishing breakfast when we found ourselves in a ring of curious fellow travellers wondering what was taking so much time. Clearly they had forgotten that it takes practice to remember where (and especially why) item A goes obviously in location B. Also, this kind of pressure can only make things worse. Dam it all, it really was only 8 am. All this talk about how many pegs it takes, how somebody else could put up a tent in 30 seconds, etc and etc is not guaranteed to help! Despite all this we soon found ourselves heading up the Meekatharra Road. The route to well 1 turns off along a narrow corrugated track to a ruined well, then returns back along the same track. The only significance of the well is a function of its position. Well 1A proved a more interesting detour being a sizeable lagoon and a popular local swimming hole. The stock route proper leaves the Meekatharra Road just before well 2. It proceeds through cattle country until well 12. After that it becomes increasingly remote. Having the CB’s on scan lead to some interesting eavesdropping. For example, it informed on a small group from Canberra deciding to let those turkeys (us!) pass. I think they probably came to the conclusion that it was a tactical error to provide us with that kind of ammunition. The major obstacle in this section is Lake Nabberu. Crossing this involved us in two quite deep crossings of about 20 metres or so each. This section is frequently closed. It had recently reopened, and was to be closed again after subsequent rain a few days later. At the first crossing muddy water splashed on the windscreen, I missed the exit and bogged the Discovery in soft mud. At least I verified that the winch was working!. The second crossing splashed even more water but this time we did find the exit even though I couldn’t see it. Note: sunglasses probably were not a good idea, and why not use the wipers. The characteristic feature of the track to this stage was corrugations and more corrugations. That wasn’t going to change except in the sandhill country. We called a halt at Bore 7 which had good water intended for cattle and thus was not a recommended stopping point for stock route travellers. Our excuse (apart from the time – 4.00pm) was that urgent repairs were needed. Our pineboard storage box was collapsing, and Lyell was having problems with petrol leaking from his new long range tank. In our case the cause was easily diagnosed and remedied – a plastic container was too large for the space allocated it, and was forcing its neighbours sideways as a consequence. The storage box was reassembled – Lyell’s cordless drill made this a relatively painless operation. The


First Lake Nabberu crossing

box caused no more trouble. It was even easier to get at the culprit after the rearrangement. The petrol leak was a harder problem. This was found to be a stress fracture in the newly fitted long range fuel tank. Probably it was caused by surge forces on an interior baffle. Graham came to the rescue with an adhesive putty which stuck well after a temporary closure had been forced into the crack. It was still holding happily at the end of the trip. I think we all slept very well.


Day 2: I suspect G. started waking very early in order to avoid further inquisitions. This was a pattern I was going to have to get used to. As a strategy it wasn’t too successful because the noise as she opened the back door of the Discovery was equivalent to setting off a very effective alarm for the whole group. (Lyell recommended motorcycle chain lubricant). At least it replaced tent pegs and tardy starts as a principal topic of conversation. But the fact remains that whenever there were other groups camped near us we were always very easily the first away. The other shock for G. was the walking. The ladies lead by Jan had decided they needed to start each day with a walk for exercise. Only occasionally was this example copied by the men. Our first stop was Windich Springs, a most attractive lagoon surrounded by white trunked gums. It was good for photos of reflections as well as a morning coffee stop. Well 5 is a deep one. The site provides one of the access points if the Nabberu crossing is closed. The going rate for crossing the station land appears to be $20 per vehicle. There was nothing much else to report except corrugations and rocks until we reached well 6 just before lunch. This is one of the productive wells in a splendid setting of tall gums. It is perhaps the best campsite on the stock route. The area proved one of the richest for wildflowers, and the climb up a nearby small hill proved particularly rewarding. Here we were joined by several other groups. Disco John had got away – but without a frig – in company with Dave and Jim. That was where the problem started because that guaranteed confusion between our Jim and their Jim on the CB’s. Their Jim became little Jim for convenience. There was no such confusion when Dave tried to chat up Gloria. For dinner Jan cooked the first of her virtuoso roasts in the camp oven. Bruce and Shirley joined us round the campfire. They had come down the stock route on their own in what had started as a shiny new Pajero. They proved not to be a source of very accurate information. We had the distinct impression they would be glad to be home.


Day 3: Everyone had some exercise next morning when we climbed Mt.Davis. The most productive of the wells in this section of the track is well 9 which is fitted with a windmill and provides a reliable water supply for cattle. Here there are remains of a tiny fort built by Forrest and his men as a protection against attack by hostile aborigines. Wells 9 and 12 are the remaining access points if the Nabberu crossing is closed. After that, the cattle country is left behind. The first sand hills were met in the early afternoon. The very first took us by surprise (a case of the passenger distracting the driver who didn’t even see it until too late). Concentration proved to be the secret. The CB kept giving us evidence that the other parties were not concentrating as hard as we were. We camped among tea tree at well 14 (dry).


Day 4: Next morning even the men had to walk. John, Dave and little Jim were keen to offer explanations which seemed to amuse them. There were plenty of sandhills in this section. We got our first views of the Durba Hills shortly after lunch. Canning built a cairn on a prominent point to serve as a landmark. After scrambling up the reason becomes apparent. The view seems to go on forever over sandhill after sandhill with just the occasional low mesa providing any interruption. The next stop was at the bottom of the canyon leading up to Biella Spring. Some perseverance proved necessary before we found the spring in quite an idyllic setting, a sheltered rockhole fed by a waterfall after heavy rain. There were two other parties at the Durba Springs camping area when we arrived in late afternoon. One proved to be an Australian Adventure Tours 18 seat unimog bus carrying the first tourists to make the trip. The Camp site is at the mouth of a canyon running back into the hills for quite a way, and there is a succession of water pools under the canyon walls. Most of the floor of the canyon would be a raging torrent after extended heavy rain. In addition to the evidence of potential heavy use as evidenced by the tour party (should these tours be able to exploit such fragile natural resources for gain without some regulation to ensure that they contribute to the provision of adequate conservation measures?), there is another jarring note in the form of a pit toilet. This has been installed by the WA Land Rover Club, presumably on their own initiative. Not only was it proving inadequate for the purpose intended, but also I have an uneasy suspicion that it is positioned in such a way as to maximise its potential for pollution of the ground water and thus the succession of soaks that provide the water supply. Otherwise it is a great Camp site.

Durba Springs was a great campsite.

Day 5: We had planned to spend three nights at Durba Springs, but this had been revised to two to fit in with the timing of an eye operation for Helen. Still, one opportunity to take it easy was better than none. Of course the phrase is relative. For example, the gums by the water holes were right for hanging up the bush shower. But then, for some people, modesty required that the shower be used when no one was even in the far distance. You are right – that required getting up very, very early. But that meant that the Discovery’s squeaking rear door woke everyone anyway! The main project for the day was a visit to Killagurra Spring, another permanent water hole a few kilometres back along the track. This proved another attractive oasis. On returning, I noticed that a rear tyre, which had been losing pressure fairly slowly but consistently until now, had given up any half measures and had to be replaced. In the afternoon G. and I climbed up onto the canyon rim and followed it back into the hills. It proved to go further than we expected, and it was not until a rock fall created a major block up that we negotiated a path back down to the floor of the canyon. The block up had formed a dam with several substantial water holes above them. Several of the others had reached this by walking up the canyon, and recommended the swimming. It was good advice. We then followed them back down the canyon. This proved easy walking after the boulder field that formed the block up had been negotiated. The tour party was preparing to leave early next day. Of course they were heading north as well! John, Dave, and little Jim arrived with nightfall having detoured to the Calvert range.


Day 6: The tour party left very early even by the standards G. was setting. The track notes suggested that the next ration of sand hills would be the most difficult, even if not the highest, because of the softness of the sand. While we did not have any serious problems, there was clear evidence that the tour bus had been forced to use sand mats. It appeared that rolling these out was a job for the customers. The track follows a standard pattern in that it weaves between the dunes searching for low crossing points. The often tortuous result is inherited from the original (series 1?) Land Rover expedition that did a lot to define the route. The next major obstacle in the afternoon came shortly after well 19. This was a wet but relatively shallow crossing of Savory Creek. A better name might be `unsavoury’ as it contained concentrated salt water on top of a layer of unpleasant smelling black ooze. Fortunately the ooze was not deep and the sub layer was firm enough. The creek rises in Lake Disappointment with its spectacular white salt crust extending to the horizon. We set up camp only a few kilometres after the crossing just as the weather, which had been threatening, decided to break. It cleared briefly while dinner was prepared and Helen produced Wendy’s birthday cake for Jan to decorate. It returned to cut short the celebrations and sent us early to bed.

A most unsavoury creek.

Day 7: The rain had cleared by morning. It did most of its damage further south where it forced an extended closure of the Lake Nabberu crossings. Then the excitement started. First Terry noticed his alternator light was on. The alternator on the Land Cruiser does not seem to be located for convenient access. So the application of WD-40 and several blows of a hammer were about as much as he could manage. Graham had room in the big Ford to accommodate Terry’s frig, but this had no sooner been installed than Graham too noticed his charging light on. The Ford’s alternator is accessible, and he was able to remedy the problem by cleaning the salt from the brushes. Terry’s problem cleared itself after repeating the procedure with the hammer for each of the next several days and following it by bouncing over the corrugations in the corridors between the dunes. These seemed capable of shaking just about anything loose. The only way to handle them and retain sanity was to skim over the top at speeds of 50 kph or faster. This demanded intense concentration because anything could be round the next bend, but also it provided a certain exhilaration. The best water on the track is found at Georgia Bore between wells 21 and 22. This is a deep bore sunk by mining companies, and the water is obtained using a hand pump. It is relatively warm as a consequence. Thus it lends itself to washing (even water fights) as well as drinking. Well 23 is the location of the fuel drop. The filling of tanks and jerry cans was greatly helped by Lyell’s compressor driven pumping system. The Discovery proved to be right on its fuel target and barely took its allocated 80 litres. We had a very good campsite at well 24. Darwin Telstra boomed in on the radiophones once the red warning flags had been removed from the aerials.


The water at Georgia bore was very good.


Day 8: The salt was beginning to get to the Discovery next day as the handbrake was reluctant to release when we started off. What was suggested as a difficult stage proved straightforward - perhaps the rain had made the dune crossings easier. We had intended an early stop at well 26, but a party with three vehicles had spread themselves over most of a large campsite. As they had obviously used what was left as a toilet we pushed on to well 29. One advantage of the dry wells is that there seems no shortage of firewood. The dominant landmark here is Thring Hill. It is further from the campsite than it looks. I found this out by walking out in the late afternoon and barely getting back by dark. I did meet a snake that appeared not to like the look of me, but it made a change from camels. Dingos were heard at several of the camp sites, but despite Wendy’s efforts, were hardly ever seen.


Day 9: Next morning the ladies set off in the direction of Thring Hill, but it was quicker in the cars. We detoured at well 30 to have a look at Mudjingerra Cave. However, only Jim braved the narrow tunnel leading down to the famous pool. The next section was slow over a succession of rocky stretches. This was followed by extensive corrugated sections which were crossed quickly, if not comfortably. These were probably the worst we encountered. There really is a phone box on the stock route at the point where it crosses the Kidson track.. From there another 5 kilometres of corrugations brought us to well 33. Here, equally incongruously, there is a bath to collect the flow from a continuously pumping windmill. I found the bath most suitable for finding the puncture (of all things a nail possibly collected as far back as Canberra), but others did put it to more socially acceptable purposes – even if this did require some display of bare flesh.


There really is a phone box on the stock route.


Day 10: This well was planned for a lay day to permit such chores as phoning home, the washing of clothes, and the baking of bread. Gloria did go a bit overboard by washing the Discovery, and Jim and Wendy did a good job of clearing up the site. They carted rubbish a few kilometres to the tip at the Kunawarratji community to find it abandoned, brand new houses and all. This probably explains why the `dingos’ we were warned about were not in evidence. John, Dave, and little Jim arrived in the early evening, but not obviously together. However, Dave, and little Jim, and spouses did join us for a drink. They had survived a certain amount of barracking when using the bath.


Day 11: The next day saw us back on the stock route for what was just about the typical day – lots of dunes and corrugations. One feature of interest was Bungabinni native well. This is a soak, and the water was visible courtesy of some recent excavation. The notorious haunted well 37 was reached at lunch time, and Wandabunni rockhole in the early afternoon. This is a sizeable pool under a spectacular rock overhang in a mostly dry creek. The water is supposed to be polluted, but this did not appear to deter the large flocks of budgerigars, finches, and other birds that provided a further spectacular feature. Later we detoured to a lookout and watched a procession of Army Defenders pass – the first of several contingents. Returning to the track Terry found he had ruined a tyre. I went on ahead to recce possible campsites while he changed his tyre. The idea was that the radiophones at relatively low frequencies would provide effective communication over longer distances than the UHF CB’s. Don’t you believe it! The opposite was true on this occasion. These things were continuing to prove unpredictable. Also, we still had the flags on the aerials. One of the recognised campsites, not far after well 39 and in a cluster of casuarinas, proved convenient. We were just settling in when there was more Army activity. The implication would be plain next day. The main remaining task was changing a tyre for Terry. The big tyre went onto the rim easily enough, but getting it to seal proved much more difficult. The cool beer was very welcome after the job was done.


Day 12: The highest dunes on the stock route were next on the schedule, but the excitement started rather earlier when the Discovery's starter motor was distinctly unwilling to perform. With this problem, plus punctures to fix, it was decided to make the next day a lay day at well 46 which was the next improved well. This meant we were in for a long day. The dunes crossings continued to be relatively easy, but we made a sloppy approach and missed our second crossing just when Lyell and Helen required this for the video record. Early in the afternoon what appeared to be a base camp for the Army was passed. They had a sign up suggesting a stop for tea and cakes. We assumed this applied to the Army and pressed on. However, it turned out that a unimog supply vehicle had clutch problems (this explained some of the comings and goings of the previous evening). Its crew just wanted people to talk to! The worst part of the day followed our arrival at well 45 just in time to see the AAT tour bus pull out onto the track. We were forced to follow in its dust, and to proceed at its pace over the corrugations , for a long while despite a number of perfectly feasible pull-offs. It was very unpleasant, especially at the end of a long day. There was no advantage to be gained - well 46 has ample space for camping and good water. More than that, they too had an alternator problem, and the driver had to borrow tools from us to fix it.

Sand dunes are better than corrugations

Day 13: Day 13 on the stock route was spent at well 46 as planned. I was still picking up Meekatharra RFDS in the early mornings, and the news was followed by a message for help from near well 29. Apparently a solitary vehicle had exhausted its supply of spare tyres. It did not even have long distance communications, and the message was being relayed by another vehicle that just happened to be passing. Terry found two punctures in his remaining spare. Both were fixable by inserting plugs. The Discovery starter motor was not so easy. First it had to be removed, with the heat shield proving to have significant nuisance value just for starters. It took the combined efforts of Graham and Lyell to finish the job. Once removed it showed distinct signs of being in need of care and attention. The salt had reached here too! The workshop manual suggests that only an experienced auto electrician should attempt to dismantle the motor. Graham had not seen this particular brand before but did not let that deter him for an instant. Apart from pausing to borrow 4 extra hands to reset the brushes he proceeded to clean, lubricate, and reassemble the motor without a single hesitation. It passed its tests with flying colours. Putting it back was no harder than removing it. The Discovery obliged by starting first time. So much for the morning! After more bread baking Jan cooked another of her roast dinners in the camp oven. Little Jim came in during the afternoon, but there was no sign of John and Dave.


Day 14: The sand dunes become noticeably smaller and further apart after well 46. The major feature in this section is the spectacular Breadon Hills. Those who knew compared the area to the Bungle Bungle’s. G. and I will have to check that one day. We met John and Dave again as we followed the track to Godfrey’s tank and Breaden’s pool. A fascinating feature was the massing of very large numbers of butterflies at the margins of the pools. Well 49 was reached in the early afternoon. This is supposed to be a deep one, but we bucketed up good water from only about 30 feet by my rope. It provided another opportunity for water sports (the weather was almost hot!). The vegetation changed again with larger shrubs and trees crowding in on the track. The AAT unimog clearly had had clearance trouble, and on one occasion had even ripped out a small tree. We camped at well 50 in a treed area that looked to flood regularly because the surface of the ground had cracked in a hexagon shaped tile pattern. .


Day 15: Next day we were back in cattle country again. We passed a stock route party coming in from Hall’s Creek with the most extraordinary load on one of their roof racks. It seemed to be made up almost entirely of slabs of beer. It would be interesting to watch on the serious sand dunes. Also we met a maintenance truck coming in for the Army unimog. It was not a military vehicle, and its crew seemed to be distinctly unprepared for the task in hand. They asked Graham how far down the track the vehicle was. They brightened when he suggested it was about 4 hours, and looked decidedly concerned when he added `and 2 days’. Well 51 is the last on the stock route, and thus made a mandatory photo stop. We were now on the Billiluna Station property, and the road improved noticeably. A stop was made at the store in the Billiluna (Aboriginal) community for certain essentials (for example, Magnum ice creams). Here we joined the Tanami track and headed to Hall’s Creek, but we intended to detour to the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater on the way. The Discovery started to loose power as the turn off was approached and clearly was in need of further attention. The water trap and fuel filter were inspected without anything major showing up. The air filter also was pretty dirty and was replaced. It then appeared to behave normally. After the detour to the crater we made it to Hall’s Creek by about 4 pm and checked into the caravan park. This was to be our last evening all together, and we adjourned to the Hotel for beer (even at $3.50 for a stubby of VB). Night in Hall’s Creek is none too quiet it seems, but some of us slept through it all.

The last well.





The Discovery’s water trap most definitely had dirt in it when checked next morning. This confused the farewells with Graham and Cheryl, and Lyell and Helen. We just about got the car to the nearest mechanic, but he had enough similar business so an alternative was arranged. We needed a tow from Jim to reach this one. Hall’s Creek does not offer a great deal to the traveller on foot, but we got the car back in the early afternoon. The mechanic was concerned about a lack of power when he road tested it. However, we filled it up with fuel, and made ready to set off with Terry and Jan to Alice Springs via the Tanami track next day. Jim and Wendy were also heading that way, but they planned an early start and a hard drive. We got the last roast chicken from the baker for dinner, even though he was planning it for his own. He makes good pastries too! That night we had to contend with a prowler in the Caravan park as well as the noise outside. One group in the Caravan park had spent the day welding a crack in a long range fuel tank fitted to a Nissan Patrol. It was of the same manufacture as the one on Lyell’s Nissan.


Plans changed dramatically next morning. G. had been complaining of what she had thought was a muscle strain in her chest for a couple of days. This morning she found a lump in her breast. Trying to think clearly, we decided that the best plan probably was to head for the Mt. Isa Base Hospital as we had the advantage of having G.’s sister Nancy on the Gold Coast if tests had to go to Brisbane. The quickest route seemed likely to be the Buchanan highway, to the Stuart Highway, to the Barkly highway. Making a round of hurried farewells we set out. About 80 kms down the track the Discovery started to lose power again. We were making an effort to repeat the process that had worked two days earlier when a battered Rodeo with two of the most disreputable looking characters imaginable pulled up and inquired if we were having trouble. I had just checked the water trap and was about to check the fuel filter when they arrived and proceeded essentially to take over. They gave this a clean bill of health and then asked about the air filter. Unimpressed that I had changed this two days earlier (`that can be a long while in this country’) they disconnected it and demanded I start the engine. This roared back to life. When they discovered I had another filter insert they left me to fit it and were gone – ‘got to get to Hall’s Creek before the shops shut’. That reminded us it was Saturday. After that experience, and having just fitted our third – and last – air filter in two days, we decided we better get back to the bitumen and take the long way round through Katherine. The only problem with the drive through the Kimberley was that there wasn’t time to stop and explore. We reached Timber Creek by evening and camped in a very attractive caravan park obviously very popular with fishermen. We made an early start, were at Daly Waters by lunchtime, and continued on to the Barkly Roadhouse which was reached about an hour after dark. We decided to stay in the motel, but the camping also looked pretty good. We had the roast of the day for dinner, two of the biggest helpings of roast beef we had ever seen. Another early start was made. Being Monday the Alice Springs RFDS was operating and that provided the opportunity to send some messages about our change of plans. This time the communications were excellent with the signal loud and clear up to the Queensland border. Messages were picked up from a wide area (for example, Eyre Creek – a party approaching Birdsville). The Mt. Isa RFDS is not available for ordinary phone traffic, and the emergency switch must be used to alert them. We had them on one of the higher frequency channels. Although audible it was not nearly as good a signal as that from Alice Springs.

Wild flowers were everywhere.


We reached Mt. Isa by lunchtime and went straight to the hospital. People made every attempt to be helpful, but tests would have to be sent away with a consequent delay. Thus it seemed the best thing to do was to contact Nancy on the Gold Coast. Her husband Miles works in a pathology firm, and he set about arranging the necessary appointments and referrals for G. The Caravan Park recommended the Town Leagues Club for dinner, and provided us with entree and discount cards. The suggestion was a good one. The Club offers a very good `all you can eat’ buffet, and we had a most enjoyable evening. It was not the way we had intended spending G.’s birthday, but it could have been much worse. We had two days to reach the Gold Coast so another early start was in order. To save time we even had breakfast at McDonalds. Again we drove all day, stopping at Tambo at dusk. We booked into the motel, and had dinner in the hotel – a genuine old country pub. They must have good appetites up here because the dinner plates were totally inadequate to hold the servings. Another day of driving got us to our destination. In addition to the medical problems, we also had to arrange for a service for the Discovery, and to have some attention given to the handbrake. The problems we noticed on the Stock route had got distinctly worse. Miles was able to arrange for his firm’s mechanics to do this work, and by Friday morning both the car and G. had clean bills of health. Nancy was due to go to Melbourne on Friday afternoon. The weekend passed quietly. We caught up with the AFL football, and with two of our grandsons who live in Brisbane. We arranged to have dinner with our best man on Monday, and then to head up to Noosa where Canberra friends were holidaying. We decided to camp on the north shore where there is a wilderness park right on the ocean beach. We had a splendid site in the tea tree just behind the dunes. Our friends were more than somewhat surprised to see us, but we had a pleasant couple of days between trips into Noosa and enjoying the beach. Our intention had been to go back to the Gold Coast for the weekend, and we planned to spend Friday exploring the Cooloola area starting with a drive up the beach to Rainbow Beach. This did not eventuate. Just before starting I checked the compressor to find it dead. The problem would prove to be switch, fuse, and connectors – more side effects of the salt. Then I tried to start the car to see if that boost would help, and that failed too. There was nothing for it but to get a tow start and drive back to the Gold Coast a day early. We were surprised to find Nancy back. Her health had not been good, and had taken a turn for the worse in Melbourne. The Friday was a holiday on the Gold Coast so there was nothing we could do about the car until Monday. Just as well it was the first week of the AFL finals. On Monday the mechanics agreed to look at the car, and found that the cause of the trouble was just a loose connection to the starter motor. We packed up and left for home next morning, breaking the journey at Coonabarabran.

It is important to have the necessary skills and resources.


What were the lessons? The first and most important is to have a group that get on well together and have the necessary skills and resources to cope with the kinds of emergency we encountered. We did very well indeed on this score. Second is adequate preparation. Not only is good vehicle preparation required – that can be delegated, in our case Conron Auto of Philip did an excellent job, but it helps if it’s passengers are prepared too. As a result of arriving back from overseas, clearing my desk, writing reports etc, all I did was collect some maps that I did not have a chance to study in any depth. As a result I did not even realise we would have to make the water crossings at Lake Nabberu. It really did take time to get into the swing of things. The salt crossing of Savoury Creek produced a succession of problems subsequently. We may have had more problems than some others, and these may have been caused by setting up camp so soon after the crossing. A bit more heat and vibration might well have helped. Packing the car proved reasonably satisfactory apart from the one problem with the box. However, next time we are thinking about a roof rack to get the second spare wheel out of the cab and free some valuable space. Some of our tools were too inaccessible and some further thought is needed there. The air filter problems are also a worry. Maybe we will investigate a snorkel. We are gaining more experience in using our radiophone, and are starting to believe we are coming to terms with it. With the little Codan X2 transceiver this has a lot to do with presetting the right channels. But the freedom in doing this is also constrained by the flexibility in the possible aerial settings. I now believe the 13 tap aerial is just not versatile enough. Where we had only the relatively high frequency RFDS settings we had trouble getting reliable communications. This proved significant in the North West where Terry had successful communications with Derby and Port Headland on lower frequency channels not available to us. When we were using the same channels the X2 performed as well as its bigger brother – and both needed the flags on the aerials removed. Also, Telstra can only be accessed by voice on a limited number of their channels as an increasing number are being reserved for selcall only operation. I am increasingly happy with the 205R16 tyres. They haven’t seemed to lack traction, and we seem to escape many puncture problems. This was brought home by some gouging on a side wall. A wider tyre would have been gone, probably irreparably. The lay days in the North, with the temperature pressing up into the 30’s, provided an argument for the silvered fly on the tent, even given those extra pegs it requires. It did a noticeably good job in keeping the interior cool. Most nights, with no threat of rain, only the inner tent needed pitching.