Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 5: Trilby Station to Sturt National Park.

Sunday, Oct 09, 2011 at 11:15


Leaving Trilby we safely negotiated the 3km of slippery track back out to the main road. Once there we called Liz on the UHF to give her a road report – there was a minibus at the station wondering whether to go or stay and whether they could actually make it out to the road. Going back to Louth on the gravel presented no difficulties despite the light intermittent showers.

Once at Louth we sought and found the Celtic Cross memorial to one of the district’s pioneer women, an astonishing sight out in the bush. It was designed and sited with such accuracy that the rays of the setting sun are reflected back at certain times of the year to the house where she once lived.

After having a cuppa and talking to other travellers at Louth we decided to head west to Tibooburra via Wanaaring. The road out from Louth had just been graded so was in very good condition. After the turn-off towards Wanaaring it was corrugated and rough in places but there was little traffic. The country that we travelled through was mostly mulga covered, and under the grey sky it all looked rather monochrome. But there was a big stretch of Gidgee in flower, giving off its characteristic strong pungent smell. We had heard that drovers used to find fresh grass by detecting the smell that gidgee gives off during and after rain, but as we had never before been in gidgee country when there was rain about we had never smelled it before. So despite the miserable weather we had another new experience.

Near Wanaaring there was a big billabong where we stopped for a cuppa before moving on in search of a suitable spot for an overnight stop. Eventually we went down a side road and pulled into an open spot. We just had time for a quite scout around to stretch our legs and photograph some red Eremophilas, before it started to rain again. This weather is starting to be annoying.

So it was a looong sleep that night and it was still overcast when we set out again next morning. The road west had been recently graded but there were wet and slippery places where we threw up big chunks of mud. We stopped at one point for a cuppa and found a thick coating of mud on the underside of both Troopy and the trailer. As we set off again we disturbed a big flock of brolgas that had been feeding nearby. We also caught a glimpse of some Major Mitchell cockatoos, a beautiful bright spash of colour in this seemingly monochrome landscape. And some emus with chicks reminded us of how the rain has enabled many birds and animals to breed and build up their populations.

There were increasingly large open patches of grasslands and saltbush as we went west towards Tibooburra. We also passed some big lakes of water, with resident birds, and looking north there seemed to be a shimmering sea extending to the horizon. This was the Bulloo River Overflow – the Bulloo River drains a large catchment extending into central Queensland and drains into Bulloo Lake just north of the Qld/NSW border. In very wet years the Overflow takes the rest of the water as it spreads out over vast plains.

By lunchtime we arrived at the Sturt National Park in the NW corner of NSW, and as we saw no road closed signs, drove in along very sticky tracks to have a look at the display of old agricultural machinery at the Outdoor Pastoral Museum near Mt. Woods. The road wasn’t the only sticky bit – Troopy was covered with it and our boots quickly gained a couple of centimetres of mud on their soles making walking a cumbersome experience.

Sadly this collection of machinery is deteriorating and it’s probably the same old story – a lack of funds for restoration and protection. Still, despite its condition, these displays really do show the toughness, resilience and inventiveness of pioneering days.

We also drove around past the old Mt Woods homestead that is now used as a ranger station, to have a look at the Mt. Woods campground, thinking that we might spend the night there. However we found it too exposed to the wind and very sticky underfoot so we continued on into Tibooburra. When we reached there we found that all roads into town were closed or in the process of being closed. The caravan park and motel looked full to capacity so we headed out to Dead Horse Gap campground in the Sturt National Park, which was almost deserted. There was gravel underfoot and an opportunity to get some of the weight of accumulated mud off Troopy. We just had time to do some of the walking trail out from the campground before cold and darkness sent us into the relative shelter of our tent.

We had hoped to drive the loop road through the park that goes out to Olive Downs, but this road was still closed the next day although the road to Cameron Corner had been reopened. So we spent an hour or so at The National Parks office and had a long chat to the head ranger there who, sensing a sympathetic audience, had a lot to say about outback travellers who were unprepared for the conditions, and who wanted everything laid on for them, had to have destructive big fires etc etc. Eventually we set off for Fort Grey, still under very heavy skies. We were a bit concerned that the big claypan that the track crosses may have been wet and boggy but its surface was quite dry. The first half of the road was in good condition but closer to Fort Grey the corrugations were quite severe.

This campground too was almost deserted, but had good facilities including gas BBQs. We had been here a couple of times before and were keen to have a look at Lake Pinaroo which after the wet had more water in it than it has for the past 30 years. Lake Pinaroo, like the Macquarie Marshes and about 60 odd other lakes and wetlands around the country, is a RAMSAR listed wetland that is managed to protect its special wetland habitat and waterbird breeding sites.

As we approached Fort Grey we noticed that there were patches of a rattlepod (Bluebush Pea, Crotalari eremaea) starting to come into flower making bright yellow patches of colour on top of the red dunes. As we walked out towards the lake we saw more of it and some red flowered Eremophilas here and there. The old windmill and homestead ruins required some exploration, especially as the homestead had been almost destroyed by a big flood a few decades ago. All that remains now are some heaps of stone that once were homestead walls.

Then we caught sight of the water, lapping the base of the dune below the old homestead. This was an astonishing sight, as when we were here ten years ago we had walked one or two kilometres further on to even get a glimpse of the water. Now all the dead gums that we had passed then were surrounded by muddy water and waterbirds were perching in their branches. So we spent quite a while exploring along the shore before cutting across the dune to make our way back to camp. The damp sand revealed many footprints, mostly of kangaroos, but those of echidnas were particularly distinctive with their long claws for digging into termite nests.

Back at camp we found that a light in the trailer had been switched on for a while and had got hot enough to burn a hole in the covering of one of our big comfy chairs – we were lucky it only smouldered. Probably something had bumped the switch as we jolted over some of the corrugations today, so we quickly improvised a cover for the switch.

We were able to log onto VKS to learn that the Strzelecki Track was open but that there was more light rain to come. The wind which had been quite brisk all day, dropped at sunset and it turned very cold. Without a fire – not in this western national park - this was a 2 hot-water-bottle night.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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