Great Sandy Desert - Success in the desert - Joanna Spring, a goal achieved.

Friday, Jun 19, 2009 at 20:00


Friday 19th June, 2009
Joanna Spring, WA

There is nothing like the feeling you get when realising a goal achieved. For the three of us sitting round a campfire some 400 km east of the WA coast, the feeling of achievement has been paramount.We’ve slogged it through 4 days of treacherous terrain through thick scrub and often arduous conditions to reach our intended destination, Warbuton's "Joanna Spring". While the actual location may not be as spectacular as one could wish for (I’m sure the brochure said resort and casino just over the sand dune!), there is a real feeling of achievement in getting to a place that holds a significant place in the exploration of the Australia, and a location whose remoteness ensures that it is visited by very few individuals in a year, if not a decade.

The day began like many others, an early rise and a cup of tea as we packed. I awoke to the vehicle being absolutely level (much to my surprise) having woken at 3 am and convinced myself that I was on an angle. What an idiot. I had the light on convinced I was leaning in some direction I shouldn’t be. I climbed down from the Taj to find all six pneumatic conveyance facilitation devices in good order, not so John whose front left was still leaking slowly to its preferred equilibrium point of 19 psi. By climbing on to the RTT, I was able to identify a route out of the thicket ahead of us. Unseen last night, the edge of a small dune was only a couple of hundred metres to our south. The track ran at an easterly direction towards the dune, the triangle formed by this eventual union being a nursery to the thick Hakea. By heading out north, we could skirt the thicket and negotiate less dense scrub. Thus it was as Mr. Magic headed out this morning with the Pootrol following up.

We had some 54 km to complete to the intersection of cut lines where we had to turn north. The track closely paralleled an area of densely spaced dunes making the going interesting. The track was often overgrown and our path was a constant weaving in and around dense scrub and fallen timber. I must confess to shuddering every time we crunched over the dead stuff bearing in mind the 6 km horror stretch of yesterday.

Our first hour saw us achieve 10 km. Our second the same. Mind you in the second we cleared the bottom of our vehicles several times and replaced two lengths of breather hose for the Nissan gearbox breathers. The third hour the same but this included me spending 7 minutes plugging a stake in the rear left tyre ably assisted by my pit crew. We’re down to 7 minutes for completion if it doesn’t require jacking! I’m pretty sure a F1 pit crew would be green with envy! Go team. At one point we reached a right hand turn intersection topped with good gravel. I turned right to check it out from the top of the next dune to find the good road progressed for several more dunes at least before returning to our easterly track. We later realised that this was probably the turn to access Aub’s Bore. Bugger.

We did however reach the airfield near the Pegasus bore, driving down its near pristine length. Apart from the occasional tree growing here and there, most of the infrastructure was still in place. Half drums for strip delineation, windsock, night burner tins, and numerous white painted tyres. Using one of the waypoints from Willem’s post, it showed a memorial to the members of the ill fated Calvert expedition of 1896 as being present in a swale just across from the airstrip. It proved a lovely hike but no luck. The co-ordinates we had been given were incorrect. Reverting to some old hand written notes, we dragged off some other co-ordinates and played with the cached memory of Google Earth to actually find it located at the end of the strip. With that in mind, it took us no time to find it and take obligatory photographs. The marker had been left by the Land Rover club’s Calvert Centenary Expedition in 1996. It commemorated the deaths of the two members Charles Frederick Wells and George Lindsay JONES who died within several kilometres of this spot.

In 1873 Peter Egerton Warburton was financed by Sir Thomas Elder and set out to make a crossing from the Overland Telegraph Line to Perth. He was equipped with 17 camels and accompanied by two Afghan cameleers, Richard Warburton (the leader's son), JW Lewis and Dennis White as cook and Charley, an Aboriginal man. Pursuing a route to the north of the MacDonnell Ranges he discovered less water than anticipated and turned north (away from the direction of Perth). The explorer were continually forced north in the search for water. Heat and lack of water were their greatest problems, as well as their dwindling provisions. The camels were dying, and Warburton famously provided a recipe for cooking a camel. By early November Warburton was forced to make a dash for the Oakover River.Joanna Spring was found and the expedition had only five camels left.John Lewis was sent ahead, both to search for water and seek help. On Christmas Day 1873 the expedition ate its last camel, weak and helpless in the rain that came too late to save them. Lewis arrived with a relief party several days later.

Warburton named the Spring, which had saved the lives of expedition, after Joanna Barr-Smith, the wife of his sponsor, Thomas Elder. The Spring, however, had been wrongly located on Warburton's map, and had dire consequences for members of the 1896 Calvert expedition when Charles Wells and George Jones (mentioned above) were lost trying to find it in the fearsome heat.

Not long after Pegasus Drill Site turn off, the track condition improved somewhat as we continued east on greatly improved tracks to the next intersection and turned left to head north for the 7 km run to Kalunngalong. I should say that “greatly improved” means you could determine where the cut line had been and you could twist and turn between trees and shrubs rather than bulldoze through them. The seven kilometres north was fairly straight forward with some thick turpentine and hakea thickets to be negotiated. The dune tips had severely eroded around many of the crossing points so we often made our own way over the dunes as close to the original cut line as possible. After reaching the area referred to as Kalunngalong, in essence just a wider swale which expanded into a flatter plain as it extended to the south east, we fruitlessly attempted to locate a track leading into Joanna Spring. Frustrated we turned off the track and headed in of our own accord and as luck would have it, found the faint remains of a track almost immediately. Talk about luck!

The winding track took us four kilometres through dunes, spinifex and tee tree before eventually arriving at a wide, open area punctuated with by small salt pans, patches of tee tree and native grasses rather than spinifex. In the very southern corner, at the base of a small dune was a patch of bulrushes. We had reached Joanna Spring. We found the commemorative plaque at 3.45 p.m. Investigating the area we found a jar at the base of the plaque with well weathered notes. Carefully reading through the deteriorating papers, I was surprised to find the business cards of people from Mildura that I had known all my life but who had passed away some 5 years previously. I didn’t even know they’d been out this way. The notes went back to the 1990s but had been left sitting exposed to the sunlight and more than one fire over the past few years. As a consequence, they had deteriorated badly were extremely brittle. We photographed those that we could before carefully returning them to the jar.

We investigated the swale to the south of the spring in search of the fabled bore reputed to exist there again with no luck. Another mystery for the solving at a later date. I dug a shovel sized hole in the bottom of the spring to have it fill with rancid water. No doubt it would have been a great site for a thirsty man. We set up camp 150 metres to the north of the spring in the shelter of a thicket of Tee Tree and then celebrated with a few beverages. Steak and veg for dinner. The timber was of very poor quality but we had a great fire none the less. Confluence chasing for us next.

''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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