Hay River Run, June 2006. Part 4. Madigan Line to Batton Hill then on to Ruby Gap.

Saturday, Oct 07, 2006 at 01:55


There was a lot of sleeping in next morning, so camp was pretty quiet. A few in the group were quite under the weather with a nasty virus so this lay-day came at exactly the right time. It was another reminder of the need for flexibility when travelling.

For us it’s an opportunity for a bit of reorganisation and tidying up in Troopy, something that seems harder to do when there is a lot going on. So we transferred fuel from the jerrycans into the tanks and got some weight off the roof. John once again adjusted rear brakes. They seemed to be dragging but it was not until we were home again that we were able to pinpoint the problem. We also did some re-attaching of the GPS touch screen on to the dash. The Velcro had succumbed to heat and corrugations so we put a big sling of 100mph tape around the screen and back onto the dash. It looked unsightly but it did the job. Otherwise the system is working beautifully.

Then there were photos to be downloaded, both for ourselves and for others. And most important was the chance to do some washing, as both us and our clothes needed a good soak, so we did what we could with limited supplies of water. Dave carries an old hand wringer in his Troopy cum Tardis and this was very useful in helping to dry the clothes as well as being quite a talking point.

After our lunch when we ate our last bread, some of us went to have a look at a large midden about 5km up the track. We were able to find a scatter of chips of local stone and some grinding stones made from sandstone, limestone and granite, all rocks that seemed to have been carried in to this site. Another group set out for a walk off to the south, but by now they day was rather warm so we opted to relax in camp.

As the day wore on most of those who were unwell earlier recovered sufficiently to join in for a big relaxed gathering around the campfire that night. A day of rest and relaxation had come at just the right time.

We had another look at the midden the next morning while some repairs were being done on a tyre. Then we were on our way again through lots of coolibahs that were progressively getting bigger. At one point we saw some camels in the distance, and here and there we saw patches of wildflowers, mainly Ptilotus. There were places where the sand had slumped into big holes so care was needed. The track was still winding and bumpy but at times we were able to get into 3rd or even 4th gear. Finally we came to what actually looked like a dry river bed, the Hay River. There was no water in sight but it was lined with quite sizeable river red gums. And there were plenty of flies.

We gathered some firewood along the river, then after driving along and across the river bed headed out to Lake Caroline across big clay pans covered with very dark coloured gibbers. The track wound between low stony ridges until finally Lake Caroline came into view, extensive and very dry. The convoy skirted around the edges passing spots where vehicles had become bogged and where camels had spent the night. At the far side of the lake we found a spot to camp, set up and had time to explore before it was time for happy hour. It was quite a surprise to find some flowers in this very dry place, in the drainage lines but also up on the rocky ridges.

Next morning there was the, by now, standard walk by the girls following the edge of the lakebed while the men drove the vehicles around the other side of the lake. We met up close to where the track headed back to the river. Heading north from the river crossing the track became better defined but still rather bumpy. The river red gums are green and lush with new growth following the availability of water from when the river flowed earlier in the year. There were also some big bloodwood trees covered in bud. We saw a couple of dingoes and another group of camels. When we stopped for lunch beside the river we saw that there was flood debris a couple of metres up in the trees – its hard to imagine that much water in this now dry river. Some ghost gums start to appear and some Parakeelya, Ptilotus and yellow daisies.

Finally we arrived at Batton Hill only to find some confusion about when we were to arrive and how many there were in our group. Apparently we were double booked with another group so for the first night we had to squeeze into a parking area. We are a bit close to each other but the good facilites and the opportunity to have a hot shower made up for any inconvenience. There is a big camp kitchen with a big oven, stove and sink, flushing toilets and a donkey boiler to give hot showers. A couple more vehicles arrived later and they joined us around the fire and will be with us on the bush tucker tour tomorrow.

The much anticipated Bush Tucker Tour was led by Lindsay with Billy and another young man along as well. We drove south from Batton Hill along the way we came in yesterday before heading off to the east, doing a big loop through and around some beautiful flat topped hills (Mt Tietkins) that provided some spectacular scenery. Along the way we had various stops where we saw things like bush oranges, onions and cucumber (very tasty) bananas and tomatoes. The trouble was that we were in a big convoy and by the time those of us at the back had stopped and got to where Lindsay was explaining something, most of the explanation had finished. Also Lindsay and Billy speak very softly and didn’t really have a lot to say, so in many ways the trip was one of missed opportunities. Also we had expected that there was to be a bush tucker feed at the end of the day, but that didn’t happen either. Nevertheless we did see some beautiful country, some places where ochre was collected and got to understand something of how Lindsay’s people had lived in this country. We were pleased that Lindsay was able to join us around the fire after dinner and tell us more about his culture.

The following day we left Batton Hill after photos with the whole group arranged over and around Dave’s truck. Lindsay was on hand to say goodbye and Sally and Karen were there with necklaces to sell that they had made from local seeds. The road in to Jervois followed the fenceline through flat Spinifex and mallee country. At Jervois we refuelled and farewelled some of the group who were heading east. After a welcome ice cream we were back on the Plenty Highway heading for Ruby Gap, initially going west across plenty of corrugations, making communication difficult either in the cab or on the UHF. Eventually the flat country gave way to hills and some spectacular scenery. We finally stopped for a late lunch at the turnoff to Cattlewater Pass, a slow but reasonable track heading south towards Arltunga. Just north of Arltunga the track came out onto the floodplain of the Hale River where there are big grazing properties and sleek cattle. From there we went into Arltunga to camp as it was clear that we were not going to make it into Ruby Gap that day. The hot showers were welcome but it was a reduced group around the campfire.

For the first couple of hours next day we looked around Arltunga; we had been there before and marvelled at the isolation and effort and tenacity that must had been required to live there. No-one else in our group seemed to have been there previously which was a bit of a surprise. Finally we reassembled and headed out to Ruby Gap, a trip of about 45 to 50 kms that took us a couple of hours. The road as far as the Hale River was not difficult although it is winding with short climbs here and there. It passes through some spectacular country. The final section into the gorge and inside the park boundary requires driving along the sandy river bed, with care needed in some deep sandy sections or where there were sharp rocks and tight bends between trees.

Once camp was set up we set out as a group to walk to gentle Annie Gorge to see the grave of a prospector who shot himself when he discovered that the drum full of rubies that he had worked so long and hard to acquire were in fact garnets and practically worthless. It was hard walking over the loose sand and there was much to see so we let the more energetic members go on ahead while we took photos and explored the rocks and the waterholes.

Back at camp, hot and sweaty we were glad of the local hard water for a hot wash. Then there was dinner around the fire with the usual animated discussion. This eventually turned into an impromptu party, although not everyone was too happy about the amount of noise being made. The rest of the group are heading into Alice tomorrow but we decided to stay on for an extra day or two to do a bit more exploring and enjoying the solitude in this spectacular place.

So the next morning, after a final fossick for garnets our final farewells were said and we waved the rest of the group out along the track. Suddenly it was strangely quiet and we were on our own. The Hay River part of our trip was over.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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