Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 1 Canberra to William Creek

Monday, Apr 23, 2007 at 19:18


In early 2007 we responded to a call for three volunteer radio operators to participate in a scientific expedition to Batten Hill in the NE of the Simpson Desert. We had done the Hay River Trek the previous year with our Canberra 4WD club and we, along with other couples who had participated in that trip, expressed an interest and duly applied. A long time passed without any reply, and we had almost given up hope of being selected. Then a few weeks before we would need to leave, we had word that we and our friends Kevin and Megan had been chosen. A third operator, Mike, was coming from somewhere near Sydney.

The expedition was organised by a popular magazine. It aimed to bring together a range of scientists and volunteers with an interest in aspects of Australia’s natural history, for a couple of weeks field work in the Simpson. While such excursions had apparently been successful in the past, all participants had been located together, camping and working in one place. This excursion though, aimed to cover a very large area, so two out-camps were planned as well as a main camp. The idea was to use HF radio on the VKS737 network to maintain contact between the camps, as well to call for assistance in the event of an accident or illness.

It was also intended to give everyone who participated an enjoyable experience. Catering was included so that for the two weeks that the expedition was out in the field good food would be enjoyed every day. As radio operators though we were told initially that we would need to provide our own food. So we duly stocked up with enough food to sustain us for 2 weeks in remote country – only to be advised a few days before departure that we would be included in the catering. That arrangement made sense – but it would have been good if we had been told a bit sooner.

This late change of plan should have rung warning bells. However in our enthusiasm to get back into the desert we ignored any apprehensions and continued with our preparations. Nor was that the only sign that the logistics of organising a group of 40 to 50 people for a couple of weeks in remote country might have been a step or 3 too far for the organisers. We found it difficult to get hold of the relevant organisers to discuss and answer our questions about what our role would be, what equipment we should bring and all the myriad other things that crop up as one prepares for a remote trip. But we did manage to ascertain that our main role would be to co-ordinate an out -camp and maintain contact with both the base camp via HF radio and with scientists in the field via UHF radio. Specifically we would NOT be required to cook for the scientists and other volunteers – that was to be arranged as a group activity.

Then a few days before we were due to depart, when our vehicles were all but finally packed we were asked to help transport equipment to be used by a Canberra based scientist. Could we collect the gear from their home in Canberra? Could we fit a couple of extra cubic feet of fragile glassware and chemicals into our vehicles? Could we …. well, no not really, but somehow between us we managed to shoehorn it in.

Finally we were ready, and excited and maybe a bit apprehensive, we left home in late June 2007. We planned to take our time getting to the jumping off point, Alice Springs, doing some exploring along the way. We would travel through western NSW, head up to Marree then travel the length of the Oodnadatta Track, before heading up the bitumen to Alice Springs. There we would meet up with Kevin and Megan and the rest of the expedition. On the return journey we would travel with Kevin and Megan across the Simpson from Dalhousie Springs to Birdsville before going on home our separate ways.

We had an easy run to Rankin Springs where we spent our first night in the state forest there. There was plenty of cyprus pine wood for a lovely scented fire – just as well, as it was a very cold night with a heavy frost in the morning. But inside Troopy we were snug and warm. Back on the road we followed the track that we had carefully plotted in OziExplorer. The road after Goolgowi to Booligal is a dry weather track only, but on this day it was good, as was the road from Ivanhoe to Menindee, despite signs of being churned up in earlier wet weather. Just a few rough patches at the western end.

The country was very green with water lying in a few places. We found a good spot to camp at the Menindee Lakes, although the lakes hadn’t had water in them for several years. That night was not so cold. John checked the solar panels and found and fixed a fault in one of the connectors on the roof.[Image not found]

Before leaving next morning we drove to the main weir/regulator where there are two large areas for camping each with tables and toilets. They would be a good camping area for a larger group.

Approaching Broken Hill the country was still green. In town all was very quiet – it was a Sunday and they had had a very heavy frost. Massive heaps of mining waste dominate the town, which seemed otherwise neat and tidy. The surrounding country is quite hilly, with the Barrier Ranges more extensive than we had expected. Heading west we stopped for lunch at Thackaminga, the site of the first mine in the 1870’s. It was windy and there was little shelter.

From there the country was fairly flat and saltbush covered. We found a good camp in a big clump of trees on a back road just north of Oodla Wirra. We were totally alone to enjoy another cold night, with a bit of wind and a few showers towards morning. Next morning we went via back roads across to Black Rock, through Orrorroo where we saw the massive river red gum on the outskirts of town, then up to Hawker, beckoned on by tantalising glimpses of the beautiful Flinders Ranges. However we would only be passing by on this trip so we continued on to Leigh Creek where we refuelled again and bought a few groceries.

Near Farina a belt of mulga along a dry creek provided another good camp, and that spot, like last night’s, showed signs of frequent use, although it was clean. The next morning was warmer and the road continued in good condition. At Maree we turned west onto the Oodnadatta Track, which was also in good condition. We stopped at the sculptures, at Lake Eyre south and the mound springs, those fascinating spots where warm artesian water bubbles up from its long underground storage.

As we pulled into William Creek we found that we had a slow leak in a tyre, so there was a slight delay while we changed wheels. Our camp that night was well off the road along a dry creekline where a belt of mulga provided some shelter from the persistent easterly wind.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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