GDEC 2011 - We reach the Stuart

Thursday, Apr 14, 2011 at 20:25


Thursday 14th April, 2011
Camp – A prickly location just of the Stuart Highway.

We got a good start into a beautiful day. We were up early again in an effort to beat the flies and we were largely successful on that count. We were not the only things on the move early this morning as great flocks of budgies flew overhead trilling, the wings whirring as the flew overhead, east into the sunrise. The road continued on in good form with occasional sandy patches. In many places, grasses had covered the road surface but the raised shoulders allowed us to easily define the road. The occasional acacia of substantial size had also managed to get a foot hold but the overall lack of use meant that the road surface remained in good condition subject to erosion by water here and there. The further east we got, the better the road became with some sections as good as any many of the outback tracks such as the Oodnadatta track. You had to be careful for the surprise washaway or rutted section but other than that, it was great driving. The countryside encompassed patches of mallee-like eucalypts, which was a first on this trip but the rest was acacia and mulga woodlands with sand and spinifex areas as well.

We were passed by an emu who was nonchalantly strolling along oblivious to our intrusion. He seemed hardly worried by our presence. A little distance further down the track we surprised a mob of camels on the track who actually approached us and our vehicles as we got out to photograph them. They came to within 30 metres before getting the wind up, posturing, tail flicking and urinating all designed to intimidate us. We had a great photo session before they ambled off to the north and we continued our trek east. We paused for a billy boil on the track pulling the roof of the Ulty over to provide us with a bit of shade. The sun certainly had a bit of bite in it.

We had a lunch break on a bend in the road, pulling off to secure some shade in the nearby acacia. It was here that I noticed a good sized flock of zebra finches gathering in the shrubs around us. No ordinarily I would associate this with water but I knew there was not a drop to be found anywhere near us. Fascinated I paid close attention to what the birds were up to. It didn’t take me long to realise that they were swarming down onto isolated pockets of a portulaca type succulent. They appeared to be grazing on the plant. Investigating further, I found that the birds were actually crushing the succulent stems with their beaks and extracting moisture from the plants. Some actually trimmed the tops off each stem as well. Previous damage and regrowth indicated that this was not an isolated occurrence. By total accident we had identified yet another way for these little creatures, normally never far from water, to survive in the harsh outback conditions.

An hour after lunch we reached a major intersection with our track continuing east and another road heading north. This marked the boundary of current cattle country and we came across the remains of a Bore. The iron tank had long since rusted but the bore tripod and pump foundations were still present. Soon after we encountered our first tyre tracks, obviously those of a station vehicle out checking the bores or for stray cattle. Sure enough it wasn’t long before the signs of cattle and grazing became more apparent. It wasn't long before each bore we passed was surrounded by well fed bovines.

[The last of our days trek bought us onto a climb up onto the saltbush tablelands and the site of the main rail line. We passed through a farm gate and then crossed the rail lines several hundred metres further south and joined the Stuart Highway. The incredibly good condition of the tracks saw us back to the highway days earlier than we anticipated. With days to spare, we already had plans formulating in our head. First things first though, it was time to head to the an oupost of civilisation and fuel up.

Our plans emerge.

With days to spare a decision was made to complete the Oodnadatta Track. Not the current iteration of this iconic track that ends at Marla, but the original track that meets the Stuart Highway close to Granite Downs Station some 20 kilometres further north of Marla. This long forgotten section, while still marked on original NatMap sheets, has long been overlooked. The other sweetener for us was that there was at least one unclaimed confluence out there, one with our name on it. Suitably fuelled, the tyres aired up and our bodies sustained with a pie and sauce, we hit the highway north.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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