Note: Many things have changed since we took this trip, so some statements and links are out of date. We’ve updated many of the links to other information sources, but we haven’t (yet) attempted to add notes on all the other changes.
Continuing the story begun in Part 1. Further installments are in Part 3 and Part 4. A map of the whole trip is here. The map below shows the route covered in this newsletter, from Charleville to Innamincka.
This episode was originally written in Marree, South Australia, not far from Lake Eyre. We’re continuing to have a wonderful time, assisted by perfect weather (though a bit cold at night, for us anyway).
The only bad news so far is that the viewfinder part of my digital camera broke, so I can’t see what I’m photographing. Despite this, I’m getting photos at least as good as those I got before, so at least the essential part of the camera is working fine.
Sunday 22 July 2001.
Last issue we forgot to mention the Vortex Guns, a (failed) turn-of-the-19th-century experiment to produce rain by exploding gunpowder in vertical cone-shaped guns. One of the smaller guns is on display in Charleville.
Historical note: The area around Charleville was explored by Edmund Kennedy around 1847, but the town wasn’t named until 1868 by surveyor W.A. Tully, who named it after his Irish home town.
We left Charleville in the morning, having decided not to take the interesting-sounding but too expensive (for us) 3-day air tour to Lake Eyre, Innamincka, Birdsville and other outback places. Since we are planning to drive to all those places (road conditions permitting), we decided to skip it. If we hadn’t had the time or the vehicle for the drive, we’d probably have taken the air tour; it looks like good value for money – especially now that we’ve made the trip and seen the places they go to, and the roads we had to drive on to get to those places. If you’re interested, check http://www.outbackairtours.com/
We stopped halfway down the road to Cunnamulla at a little town called Wyandra for a lemon squash at the pub. The public toilets in town had showers, as in many of the outback towns.
We got to the service station at Cunnamulla about 1 pm but couldn’t easily reach the regular diesel pumps (our motorhome was too high to fit under the sun shelter), and a road train was blocking the truck bowsers (pumps). Half a dozen other road trains were clustered in the truck parking area; must be lunch time for truckers.
We went to the uncrowded Cunnamulla caravan park and were easily able to get into a nice site. To our surprise, both CDMA and GSM phones worked here. We talked with some grey nomads who were headed for Karumba for a month of fishing. We’ve met many people from Victoria, heading north for the winter months to the warm tropical weather. No wonder Victorian number (license) plates have the motto “On the move”. We started on our bottle of champagne, since we were not sure it would survive the next part of the trip over rougher roads. We sealed it up after one drink, which may not be the best idea we have had. Photo: Warrego River at Cunnamulla.
According to the map, in town there is an artesian pool, a blacksmith shop, and free barbecues.
The Woolshed Restaurant at the Warrego Hotel had a pretty decent roast chicken or roast lamb, and a nice bottle of Jacob’s Creek chardonnay, all for a reasonable price.
Monday 23 July 2001.
We left the caravan park early, and refueled at the now empty service station. The high speed pump at the road train area was a nice change, and I didn’t have to stand around freezing for long to top up with 112 litres. The garage owner said it was to help in summer, when the sun temperature reached 57 C, and no-one wanted to stand around awaiting 1000 litres of diesel. He also said that when people in small 4WDs ignore the “trucks only” sign, they often end up covered in fuel as it overflows their small tanks so quickly and splashes out on them.
Heading west, and still on two-lane bitumen roads. Although we checked the sign to the Leopard Wood Opal Mines, we decided the minor detour wasn’t worthwhile to us, given our lack of interest in or knowledge of opals.
We did stop at Lake Bindegolly National Park for photographs of this wonderful lake system, even though we didn’t have the lenses necessary to get close ups of the waterfowl, but there were a lot of birds there. You can (but we didn’t) walk a circuit of the lake, about 9 km, but vehicles are not admitted.
There are three lakes in the park, with Lake Bindegolly and Lake Toomaroo saline, and Lake Hutchinson freshwater. Each is in a separate basin, joined by a thin ribbon of water after heavy rain. We never did identify the Acacia ammophila, a tree now found only in two locations.
We stopped at the small town of Eulo and bought local honey at the general store. Although intriguing, the local date farm wine sounded just too strange to worry about.
Our next stop was Thargomindah, population 280, headquarters of the Bulloo shire. Bulloo is said to be an Aboriginal word meaning “slow”. We had lunch at the Oasis hotel motel, where we had the usual gigantic salad rolls. The owner told us about the Matthews family’s Cooper Creek Homestay at Innamincka, a day or so down the track.
Thargomindah is said to be the first town to have reticulated bore water, although the bore was a late one, in 1893. The water temperature was 84 C, and the high water pressure was also used to drive a water turbine for electricity until 1951.
We topped up the fuel again at a truck stop, with 48 litres, as it was still (just) under a dollar, and we knew we wouldn’t see those prices again for quite a while. Indeed, it was nearly a thousand kilometres before we next filled the tank. Even at less than 4km per litre of diesel, our motorhome can go a long distance on one tank of fuel, and we have a second (slightly smaller) tank as backup.
By the time we were 1600 km from home, we were finally encountering roads that were single lane, so you had to pull half way off (onto the wide dirt shoulder) whenever another vehicle approached. To our delight, the turnoff to Noccundra from the main road was bitumen, not the 20 km of dirt we had expected from our maps and guidebooks.
We reached the Heritage-listed Noccundra pub, built around 1892, in good time. We were happy to see the public facilities in the tin shed there next to the community hall and tennis court. The community hall is used during the annual racing carnival on Queens Birthday weekend (usually the second weekend in June). These are now the only buildings in town, apart from the pub, although the town plan shows five streets and about 40 blocks allocated. The permanent population is four, all at the pub.
We had decent showers at least, fed by a tank of river water, and a camping area a few hundred metres away at Noccundra Waterhole on the Wilson River. We parked in a deserted area. There were a few caravans a hundred metres away, and more places further along the enormous waterhole. As in many country areas, the local community asks for a contribution to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for the use of facilities.
We walked up to the pub when it was dark, and joined about 17 people there for a roast beef dinner and a few drinks. Interestingly, the sound from the pub’s generator wasn’t apparent while we were within the thick sandstone walls, but it carried a great distance across the plains while we were walking back to our campsite (although it was too faint to bother us where we were camped).
Tuesday 24 July 2001.
It was real cold in the morning, so we got up late and made a hot breakfast on the gas cooker. The British backpacker who was the pub cook came down the track to the windmill on a little 4-wheel agricultural bike before 9 am. She refuelled the engine on the water pump and set it to pumping water into the tank at the pub.
More people arrived, including three utes (pickup trucks) with swags (bedrolls), beer, food, and a goodly amount of firewood. One went out twice for more firewood. They were a bunch of men who do an annual moving party, with a different man selecting where they would go each year. The excuse is the fishing.
We were lazy, and sat around reading newspapers and books, wandering up to the pub for lunch and dinner. It got pretty warm during the day, but the evening turned chilly very fast.
They do a set meal each night, served at 7:30. If you don’t like the set meal, you are out of luck. No, that’s not quite true – they did cater for vegetarians, though we suspect it was just the rest of the menu minus the meat. We inspected their wine selection, all seven bottles of it. In keeping with the area, they had a fine range of Bundaberg rum on hand.
Wednesday 25 July 2001.
We backtracked the 20 km to the Cunnamulla-Innamincka road, called the Adventure Way. Less than 100 km later we finally reached the dirt road. Luckily it was mostly in excellent shape, with minimal corrugations (washboarding) most of the way. This is probably because the Jackson oil fields and Santos are out that way. The dirt started at 2024 km from home by our odometer, so we had done much better at finding bitumen roads than we ever expected.
The land was much greener than Eric expected, and along the bitumen road we sighted emus (alive) and kangaroos (mostly roadkill, as well as 2 or 3 live ones) as well as cattle (alive). After we came to the dirt road, we went 100 km or more without seeing a single animal, dead or alive. The only carcasses on the road were dead tyres.
We turned off 55 km short of Innamincka and went about 20 km to look at the Dig Tree. This is where the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition left their supply depot and then continued in a dash for the Gulf of Carpentaria. The supply party gave up waiting after four months and started their return just a few hours before Burke, Wills and King (Grey had already died) reached the depot. The whole story of the expedition is an interesting example of incompetence and bad luck. (Burke and Wills later died within a few miles of this spot, but King survived by living with the Aborigines until rescued by the next expedition sent out to look for them.) Photo: Cooper Creek near Dig Tree.
We finally crossed the border from Queensland into South Australia a mere 2176 km from home. Another 30 km brought us to the little town (various listed as 13 or 30 people) of Innamincka, on the Cooper Creek. We quickly checked out the public toilets and showers (pretty good), and then looked at the National Parks headquarters exhibit. The pub looked interesting, and I bought a six pack of Coopers sparkling ale there – “have a Cooper’s on the Cooper” was the motto. First time we had seen this South Australian icon on sale since leaving home.
Wednesday evening was the Beef and Reef night at the pub. More tender steak than I could eat, and a heap of vegetables dominated by potatoes. Unfortunately, they did all this in their outdoor beer garden, and it was bitterly cold. Even with interesting talk with the many travellers passing through the area, it was just too cold for us. (We understand that on most nights, meals are served inside, but on Sundays and Wednesdays, a set meal is served in the Beer Garden. Probably quite nice on warmer nights.)
Although camping is available on the Town Common 1.5 km away along the Cooper Creek (a pleasant spot, but with only a few pit toilets and no showers closer than town), we decided to stay at Geoff and Julie Matthews’ Cooper Creek Homestay, where we could get a powered site, flush toilets, hot shower, and laundry facilities. They had space for at least a dozen or more campers and caravans, an outdoor kitchen area (shown here), and Julie also offers a home cooked evening meal.
In addition to the extra comfort, we had the pleasure of meeting Geoff and Julie and their daughters Miranda and Ali, delightful people all. The girls produce a newsletter, the Innamincka Bush Telegraph, and their second issue was very well done, especially when you realise they had no previous experience, and were using a borrowed computer. You can contact the family at Cooper Creek Homestay, PMB 12, via Leigh Creek, SA 5731, phone (08) 86759591.
The Matthews’ homestay was renovated by Geoff, who used older timbers and galvanised iron in a most effective manner, very evocative of older style farmhouses. The rooms looked so cosy we were tempted to stay in one. There was also a plentitude of ensuite facilities.
Geoff was willing to talk about travel in the area and all around Australia, as they had lived on the road for years. He told me that for a HF radio, I could look for an Icom 720 and remove the link that restricts it to ham frequencies only. Sounds a better scheme than the more restricted frequencies of the Australian HF sets.
Thursday 26 July 2001.
It was pretty cold in the morning, thanks to a cold wind, but once in the sun out of the breeze things warmed up nicely.
We spent our rest day doing laundry, as well as walking the long distance down past the town to the Town Common, to check out water-filled Cooper’s Creek. This was a lovely spot, with a wide variety of water birds, most of which we don’t know the names of.
The Strzelecki Creek was dry, but its bed is much higher than that of the Cooper. The Cooper has on occasions been lapping the town at over 11 metres, and has been a kilometre wide.
The trip on the river we had planned for the afternoon was off, because we were the only participants, and at least 4 were needed. We decided to stay on another day, and take the trip.
We had dinner this evening at the homestay, with Julie making a wonderful chicken and an even more wonderful minted lamb shank dish, as well as some great vegetables. I thought I would burst, and really want to learn how to do the lamb that well.
We sat around the campfire talking with some of the other people who had turned up this day. There were three pop-up caravans travelling together, an A-line, another caravan, and a group of 4 women tent camping. Great bunch of people to talk to, with many making this sort of trip every chance they got.
The most impressive group were the 4 women, who turned out to be two sisters (50-ish), their 86-year-old mother and her 84-year-old sister. They’ve been seeing Australia by taking a 3 or 4 week trip every year for the past 7 or 8 years. The younger women leave their children with their husbands (who don’t like travelling) and escape for a cheap holiday. We hope we’re as active and enthusiastic in our 80’s!
Friday 27 July 2001.
Peter Ware’s Cooper Discoverer Cruise was wonderful. He takes you from the Town Common to King’s Site. A great array of birdlife are pointed out and described in detail. We saw pelicans, Pacific Black Duck, Sacred Kingfisher, Yellow-billed spoonbills, egrets, darters, and Night Heron, as well as whistling kites.
We also saw several channels of the Cooper, showing how its course is all over the place in the flat countryside. We were taken to King’s Site, where the survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition was found. Contact Peter Ware on (08) 86752238 or via the Innamincka Pub.
Continued in Part 3, in which we drive down the Strzelecki Track to Lyndhurst, then head for Lake Eyre, taking flights over the lake from Marree and William Creek, and visiting other interesting sites.