Trip to Maralinga, August 2013 – 6. Maralinga to Canberra via the Gawler Ranges

Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014 at 14:55


Robin was now back from Adelaide and the final morning was taken up with refuelling and paperwork. Finally everyone was ready and with Robin leading us we made our last departure from Maralinga. Our first stops were to see the blowholes. Although they are not far south of the main gate they are said to be connected via underground passages to the south coast, many kilometres away. On hot days cool air pulses out of these holes. Further south we saw the Coffin blowhole so named because of its shape. The road across to Ooldea, put in by Robin, was in excellent condition, but in any case we were again being led by Robin, and at a sedate pace so it was pleasurable travelling.

At Ooldea we stopped beside the railway tracks where there is a monument to Daisy Bates. From there Robin led us through a maze of tracks to Daisy’s campsite where she lived for many years, studying the aboriginals as well as feeding and helping them as well as her meagre means would allow. All that remains now are a few rusting kerosene tins that marked the strictly enforced camp boundary. We walked up to her observatory, marked by the bases of a few posts and many stone tools. Robin has a lot of information about Daisy Bates and her work with the local aboriginals. Val first heard about Daisy Bates and her work when she was just a child, and had just read a book – “Desert Queen” by Susanna de Vries – about this remarkable and complex woman. She was in many ways a woman ahead of her time, although eccentricity and poor health made the story of her final years a sad one.

Ooldea was the site for more farewells as Ros and Allan departed. We elected to travel east with Sandy and Colin and left a couple of hours later. Having reluctantly decided that a hoped-for trip to the Head of the Bight for a spot of whale watching would be pointless because of the very strong wind, we all exited in an easterly direction.

That night we found a good spot to camp a short distance off the track, out of sight and sheltered from the still persistent wind. We made camp there, and had time to scout around before joining Sandy and Colin for dinner. The country thereabouts has many dunes, all thickly vegetated, so that from the top of one dune all that could be seen was an endless sea of mallee.

During the night we heard a few trains go past, sounding very loud despite being at least one dune crest away. After a quick pack-up we were back on the road and continued driving east, stopping for a cuppa where we found a spot of shade on a side track. The wind was still strong. About noon we arrived at the small township of Kingoonya where we had lunch in a quite well appointed little park, although it was very open to the wind that still showed no sign of abating. Here we separated from Sandy and Colin who were continuing east, while we turned south towards the Gawler Ranges. Before we set off again we were able to contact our family and housesitters, and as everything was good on that front we could plan the final stage of the trip.

The country south of Kingoonya is very bare and open to the wind, so we drove until we came to a little patch of dunes. There a tell-tale track turning off the road lead us to a pleasant, sheltered and obviously well used campsite. There was space for a number of vehicles but we had the place to ourselves. We decided to have a lay-day there, enjoying the quiet and just being on our own again. There were dunes, an interesting and unusual mix of trees (cypress, casuarina, mallees) and enough wildflowers to warrant a bit of exploration. It was very quiet, only a few vehicles passed while we were there and none came in off the road.

Finally the wind dropped and in its place we had heavy frost to keep us moving as we packed up. We continued south along a road that was in good condition with just a few patches of corrugations and very little traffic. The road meandered between big salt lakes and dunes, and across big pastoral properties. There were a few patches of Sturt's desert peas, and we stopped for photos at an especially good patch.

The country gradually became more hilly with outcrops of red granite contrasting with intensely green valleys and blue-green expanses of bluebush and saltbush. There were patches of wildflowers, particularly yellow everlastings. Despite there being abundant animal feed we saw very few sheep or cattle and no wildlife.

Once we found the Gawler Ranges National Park turn-off we headed towards the Kododo Hill camp area which we found quite easily. Again there was no-one else about so we were able to find the most sheltered site. There is a walking trail following old vehicle tracks that run up to the head of a broad valley so we were able to have a good walk, although this is not spectacular country and rather understated in character. Still it was a good chance to experience the quiet and isolation experienced by the early settlers.

More ice greeted us next morning; well it is the middle of August after all. We headed out on an adventurous track to see the Organ Pipes formed from red rhyolite rock and quite spectacular. Numerous rock wallabies could be seen bounding effortlessly between the rocks. The walk from the carpark up to the pipes is quite pleasant with plenty to see along the way, although down in the valley and out of the sun it was quite cool.

We had a look at the stone dam and Old Paney homestead with its big stone water tank. The homestead, which has been well maintained, has 3 bedrooms and a combined kitchen/dining/living room. A bathroom and laundry were later additions. There the McKenzie family of eleven children lived for over 20 years, something for modern families visiting the site to think about.

Cloud and wind had been steadily building all morning and rain was threatening. It was time to consider where we would spend the night. The next camping area offered only minimal shelter from the wind, so as light rain started to fall we decided to head for Kimba and a motel. It was a wet drive south, with the rain very heavy at times reducing visibility under an already dark cloud cover. So it was a relief to pull in to Kimba, to find a motel and something to eat, and to turn on a heater.

The weather had become too unpleasant for camping so our trip was effectively finished; it was time to head for home. There followed two long days of driving, some of it in light rain that became more constant as we went east. The hardest part of the homeward trip was the last 50 kms on the Barton Highway approaching Canberra, driving into the oncoming lights of a solid wall of commuter traffic. It was a relief after 6000 kms to get off the road, even if we were home earlier than we had planned only a week ago.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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