Sunday, 4 July. We left Broken Hill around 08:00, after breakfast at the hotel. Usual country breakfast, with bacon and eggs from the buffet. Our first stop was Packsaddler roadhouse 200 km north of Broken Hill, where we had morning tea.
Milparinka, a former gold rush town, was our lunch stop. The town’s colonial buildings, including police barracks and cells have been lovingly restored as part of the Milparinka Heritage Precinct. They now provide an insight into life in Milparinka in its heyday during the gold rush of the late 1800’s.
No Roads Go by Myrtle White is a book that John, our driver, recommends.
Along the way we stopped to look at a grave and Green Lake with actual water in it, 100 km south of Tibooburra. 13 km from Tibooburra, we visited Depot Glen, named by Captain Charles Sturt on his 1845 expedition to find an inland sea. The stranded expedition team camped at this waterhole for months on end, waiting for the summer heat to abate.
We were staying at the Family Hotel/Motel in Tibooburra, the self-styled “capital of corner country”. Eric walked through the town, taking photographs. There was a park with a longboat such as Stuart rolled across the continent. Eric got as far as the fuel station where John and Maxine were shopping for supplies. There was a massive log of petrified wood in display, across from the screen of the former open air cinema. Soon it was beer o’clock at the hotel, followed by a roast lamb dinner. That was very pleasant.
Monday, 5 July. We departed Tibooburra this morning to venture into the vast Sturt National Park. We made our way west through the park over about 130 km of gravel road to Cameron Corner, where QLD, NSW and SA all meet. The day was cold, with clouds. During the entire drive, the landscape was greener than one expects. There were flooded areas and lakes all over the place.
We had morning tea at Cameron Corner. Naturally the sun came out when we entered Queensland. Lots of photographs were taken. There is now a small store there at Cameron’s Corner. We had saved our newspapers and a few books for this isolated outpost. John and Maxine had also brought tomatoes to the store. There was a great accumulation of 4WD vehicles, mostly belonging to the wedding party we had seen in Silverton and again in Tibooburra.
The area of Cameron Corner was first surveyed by James Cameron from the NSW Lands Department in 1800. The area is also home to the longest fence in the world, the Dog Fence or Dingo Fence, stretching from the Great Australian Bight to Jimbour near Brisbane (5,600 km).
We then continued heading west towards the Strzelecki Track. We stopped atop a sand dune along the way. The idea was to see birds, but what we mostly saw was a variety of desert plants. Our bird watchers did much better.
About an hour or more further up the dusty road, we stopped at the Strzelecki Creek for lunch. The water had obviously been way outside its banks recently, with flood debris all over the place. There was still a reasonable amount of water in the creek. We continued on towards Innamincka around 14:00.
We stopped to view the Moomba gas field that Santos run, and take photos of the large site. (There are no tours available.) A bit belatedly, Jean recalled that gas fields and mining sites often have a cellular phone connection. As the bus pulled away, we hauled out phones and iPad, and downloaded as much material as we could manage before we got out of range.
After unpacking the bags at the Innamincka Hotel, where we were staying, we walked to the Cooper Creek Homestay bed and breakfast, to say hello to Geoff Matthews. He tells us he is looking to retire and sell off the place. We last saw it in 2001, when he was still building it, and the improvements are incredible. Larger, the kitchen is very fancy. It has 40 solar cells in a large array, which is a great idea in an area that would otherwise need diesel for all power. Update May 2011: their website says they retired at the end of October 2010 and are still looking for a buyer.
Dinner at the Innamincka Hotel started with herb damper. Eric had barramundi, Jean had steak. Dessert was ice cream.
Tuesday, 6 July. Innamincka is a small village with a population of no more than 50 people. The township once played a major role in early explorations of Australia’s unknown interior. With its reliable water source, it made an ideal base camp or resting place for expeditions and cattle drives from the east and the south.Today the town services the ever busy tourist industry and local pastoralists.
At 09:00 we headed out on the bus to the infamous Dig Tree, where explorers Burke and Wills tragically perished after returning from their expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1861. Burke and Wills missed their relief column, which had left only hours before. They had left supplies buried beside the Dig Tree. The expedition eventually perished, probably poisoned by some of the wild seeds they had seen the natives use. However they did not remove the poison by removing the husk the way the Aborigines had done.
At the Dig Tree we were greeted by the famous bush figure Bomber Johnson, who taught so many bush pilots to fly safely. He had some fascinating history to tell of the early days. He also had many historic photos and memorabilia. He has been working as ranger at the Dig Tree, employed by the Santos-owned Nappa Marrie station, which at 2800 square miles is one of the smaller stations. Another country figure who just can not manage to retire.
The Burke and Wills bridge was washed out last flood season. Well, the bridge survived just fine, but the approaches were washed away by the floods. We stopped to photograph the damage and Coopers Creek. Even at mid-morning the weather remained cold, with high steel grey clouds.
Our afternoon trip was to the Geodynamics experimental one megawatt power plant. They were basically in maintenance mode, with a staff of three or four. They had two drill holes, over four kilometres down, one for injection, one for steam. Pressures of 10,000 psi. The site had been selected based on readings from sensors in other deep wells nearby that Santos had used. They use a closed loop system, with a heat exchanger to the turbine. They do their own reverse osmosis water filtering for the heat exchanger and turbine loop (you could see the compact reverse osmosis plant tucked away in a corner). The deep well brine is full of impurities, so that can not be allowed to contact the turbine.
We visited the Cooper Creek crossing, and took photos of the weir. Amazing to think the water was four metres over the crossing last time the Outback Spirit bus was here. Plus the peak flood was 11.1 metres.
Eric wandered up to the Cooper Creek Homestay to take more photos, since our previous ones dated back to 2001. Geoff had some amazing aerial and ground photos of the floods earlier in the year. A lot of the photos were floods caused by local rain, not floodwaters from Queensland.
Dinner at the Innamincka Hotel. Eric had the lamb cutlet, which was very fatty because of the good grazing after the rain. Jean had the kangaroo, which was as usual lean. Pavlova of course for dessert, but it lacked fruit salad. We think Wednesday (the next day) is the fresh food resupply day. It is the day the mail gets sent out.
Our driver John reports we can get up late. The track to our next destination, Birdsville, is cut by unseasonable light rain. After a long phone session, he reported to the hangers-on at the dining room that the 740 km Boulia to Alice Springs track is also cut off by rain. At the moment our only way out is to take the Strzelecki track south, down to Maree, and then the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. However will there be any accommodation on the way?
Wednesday, 7 July. We were scheduled to head north up the Birdsville Track, through Arrabury and then Cordillo Downs, home to Australia’s largest shearing shed, arriving at the Birdsville Hotel, late this afternoon. Except that the track is cut by water!
Instead, we were away somewhat after 09:00, driving down the Strzelecki Track as far as Leigh Creek, where we now had accommodation at the Leigh Creek Tavern.
Our first stop was the Moomba gas fields. This was a new stop for John. For the first time he had been asked for a phone stop. The Moomba field has a Telstra 3G phone connection. We had our morning tea there also. Lunch was at the Strzelecki Creek crossing, where blue skies made the area pleasant looking. We sure seemed to have a lot of 4WD vehicles around us.
Eric could not get over just how green the desert was. There were lakes everywhere, many from overflow of Coopers Creek. We even spotted fat cattle in the Strzelecki desert. We have never seen that before. Arid area cattle are typically lean, and often gaunt. We stopped around 15:30 for afternoon tea at a dip in the road marking Koortanyanina Creek. Even that had water in part of the creek bed.
We reached Lyndhurst around 17:40, and pulled into the Leigh Creek Tavern just before our scheduled 18:30 dinner. Despite the short notice (that morning) they offered a printed menu, had the 18 rooms we needed, and put on a roast beef or chicken schnitzel, and a very nice double chocolate pudding or a limited quantity of apple crumble and ice cream.