2001 Troopy’s First Trip to the Red Centre – Part 2 Tibooburra to Beltana

Friday, Aug 31, 2001 at 18:32


Going back into Tibooburra, we went to the NPWS office to pick up brochures and have a look at some wildlife and historical displays. From Tibooburra we headed west towards Fort Grey, arriving at the campground about lunchtime. As we stopped we heard a hissing sound – air escaping from our “new” tyre. It was nearly flat – we just had time to get the jack under it before it went right down. We had just come about 140km travelling at about 90kph. Our second lucky escape in as many days! So a quick change-over; we’ll look into repairs at Innaminka.
On the way to Fort Grey (which was close to where Sturt had a base camp for some of his expeditions) we stopped at the Waka claypan – an amazing sight but difficult to photograph, with flat red mud, dried into regular shaped blocks. The road ran right across it – probably impassable after rain. The rest of the road ran through sand dunes covered with bright yellow daisies. With the sun out the colours are spectacular, especially the contrast of the flowers with the bright red sand. The difference between grazed areas (some of the road ran through pastoral land) and the National Park was very marked, especially in the quantity of wildflowers.
At the NP we set out to walk to Pinaroo Lake. This is a substantial area, Ramsar listed, where the water level is currently rather lower than its record flood level in 1974. Then it was maybe 10m higher flooding the Fort Grey homestead which was built in the ‘50’s. Many mature trees – river red gums and coolibah mostly, which were growing on the lake bed (which is several km across) had died due to flooding. New growth was evident in distinct bands around the edges of the lake as seeds germinated at the edge of the water as the water level fell. We eventually arrived at the water, which was well out across the clover covered and sweet smelling lake bed. Signs indicated that there is a walking track right around the lake, and also across it when the water is lower. These would have taken rather more time so we relaxed for a while watching some of the water birds in the distance. On the return trip we passed some signs pointing to aboriginal cooking hearths that would have been close to the water if the lake had been fuller. These were just small circles of stone, though there were a few of them. Our cooking that evening was done in daylight on a gas BBQ at the campground, so we were able to turn in early after a long day and some real exercise.
Leaving Fort Grey we headed for Cameron Corner about 30 km away. Went through and across plenty of red dunes with patches of flowers. The border gate is a large structure with lots of warnings about penalties for not closing the gate etc. We checked out the local facilities and the corner post - which is a few metres away from the fence. The fence was initially built to keep rabbits out of NSW; that didn't work so now it is maintained for dingos. Anyway, it's an impressive fence - rabbit netting along the bottom then coarse netting topped by about 5 barbs - about 6' high on heavy steel posts.
Then on to Innamincka via Bollards Lagoon - $10 to use the private road, which saves about 100 km. This took us across an extensive dry "lagoon" area, into dunes and past a big windmill (now not used) to the property boundary about 65 km away. Stopped and climbed a dune to take photos of the first spinifex we had come across, its very prickly.
On leaving the property the road became known as The Bore Track - narrow, corrugated and with lots of junctions and bends. It seemed to go on forever - driving required a lot of concentration. We came out onto a good road but shortly afterwards the Innamincka signs suggested that the Bore Track was the way to go. (Subsequent consultation with the map showed a main road a few kms further west.) We followed the Bore Track however as it degenerated into two wheel tracks and eventually we ran out of signs at an unmarked junction. Which way do we go? We finally came out onto gibber and clay country, pretty rough before joining the main road about 20 km from Innamincka.
Innamincka consists of little more than a pub and trading post, plus the NP office/museum in the restored Australian Inland Mission hospital. We got the tyre repaired and checked out the conveniences. Camping is on the common beside Cooper Ck. As Desert Parks pass-holders, we were entitled to use the other side of the creek, so had plenty of room. The creek is very muddy and local water seems to come directly from here - at least it's a similar khaki colour. Nevertheless we used it to wash our clothes.
The next day we went back into "town" for bread, water and to check out the display in the parks office. (Opening hours - "when the ranger is in".) Displays are a series of informative panels about the history of the area - Bourke and Wills, aborigines, pastoralists, AIM hospital and its restoration in 1994 after being a ruin for almost 50 years.
Rubbish has to be taken to the tip which is heavily populated by crows and black kites, which we had seen earlier and wondered at their numbers.
Then we headed for Coongie Lake. The road at first was pretty good across flat country, but the last 50 km (where we passed a string of camels) were heavily corrugated with sharp gutters and with soft sand approaching the lake. The lake is beautiful (if muddy) with pelicans, spoonbills, ducks, kites and friendly crows. There are snail shells and big mussel shells.
We found a great spot to camp out on a point with water on both sides. It’s very still and calm - we could hear the sound of the air flowing over the pelican's wings as they glided. There are only a couple of other campers.
Next morning there was some cloud that built up during the day, consequently we decided to head back to Innamincka in the afternoon, rather than risk crossing wet areas. Spent a leisurely morning and early afternoon exploring dunes and the lake shore and seeing a big variety of birds, though not in large numbers. Found a cluster of swifts' (?) mud nests. Galahs and corellas were nesting and loudly warned off intruders. Crows checked out campsites for crumbs. Plenty of black kites; watched spoonbills feeding, pelicans etc. Wind whipped up small waves on the lake but later died down. We were reluctant to leave such a beautiful spot.
On the way back towards Innamincka stopped off at Kudremitchie camp area on the NW branch of Cooper Creek - a real surprise as it's not apparent until you're right on it. The creek is quite big and looks deep, and is lined with magnificent river red gums. Saw a water rat. It would be a good place to camp, especially with a canoe. Then back onto the road. Listened on the UHF to people mustering - we saw the gear - helicopter and gyrocopter, and them on bikes further on. The cattle were in very good condition.
Back in town we camped again on the common where we had the pass-holder's side of the creek entirely to ourselves. Cloud was thickening and some light showers made for a hurried meal and early night, though we did have a fire - a rarity so far on this trip.
The next morning was still grey and overcast and the forecast was for showers, so we were uncertain what to do. Val wasn’t feeling too well either. So we decided to head south to the Gammon and Flinders Ranges and take it easy for a couple of days. Before leaving Innaminka we visited the very small cemetery with graves dating back to about 1906. Quite a few graves are unmarked.
We followed the Strzelecki Track towards Moomba, passing some high and very red dunes. Big white paper daisies are everywhere as is parakeelya, making brilliant purple patches. Moomba is not open to the public but the viewing area has a good description of the oil and gas operation, and we were able to take some photos. The road south was very good but the country was quite open and featureless. We stopped at Montecollina Bore, an artesian bore dug to provide water for cattle. The bore certainly looked inviting as the water coming out of the pipe was quite hot. The country around the bore is made up of mounds of white sand, an amazing sight.
Further south we turned off the Strzelecki Track towards the Gammon Ranges NP and the road became rougher, especially where it crossed dry creek beds. The early part of this road crossed very flat salt plain country with distant ranges breaking the skyline. These ranges became more spectacular as we approached, reminding us that this is Hans Heysen country. If we needed further proof the dry creeks are lined with beautiful big river red gums, looking just like a Heysen painting.
By now the wind had got up and it was quite cool, but on the radio we heard that further south there have been storms with hail and so local flooding, so we can’t complain. We drive on taking care to avoid the numerous shingle-backs basking on the road. Finally settle into the Weetootla camp area, do a bit of quick exploration and turn in early. We are on our own.
Next morning it was still cool and windy but we walked for some distance along a walking track, admiring the local rocks glowing red in the morning light. Back at the Park HQ we had a welcome hot shower in the apparently new amenities block. Feeling clean and refreshed we continued driving south, lured on by he increasingly spectacular hills.
Chambers Gorge had been recommended to us as a place that encapsulated the look and feel of the Flinders Ranges. Although it is away from the main ranges it proved to be a real gem. The surrounding country is desert, but heading into the gorge the road follows a creekline with occasional pools of water, and beautiful big gum trees. There was great excitement when we found our first wild Sturt’s Desert Peas just growing in sand and gravel in the creek bed – a magnificent sight!
We drove as far as vehicles are permitted then backtracked a bit to find a more sheltered spot and set up camp before setting out to explore. We were fascinated by big thin sheets of slate in the creek bed below Mt Chambers. We found a sign pointing to an aboriginal petroglyph site, so continuing along below some big cliffs we began to find markings. The best were at the furthest end – signs indicating animal tracks, water, and a camp and initiation site. The whole place had a special feel about it and must have been a significant place for the people who once lived there.
The next day we went still further south to the small town of Blinman which is an old copper mining town dating back to the 1860s. The mine was worked in 3 or 4 stages finally closing about 1907. The remnants of old mine buildings, slag heaps etc are still visible and have been developed into a well signposted walking trail. The mine itself was worked by Cornish miners who dug out 200,000 tons of copper worth $30 million in current values – all by pick and shovel. The shafts are open and an adit (horizontal tunnel) goes into the main shaft at about the 70 foot level. The mine is open to the public – while we were there a tour bus came in and we tagged along.
The town has some old buildings built of local stone and a few post-and-daub cottages, one in particularly good condition. This is yet another area where we could spend more time exploring, but we are also eager to move on and see what is around the next bend.
So continuing on we stopped at various lookouts for increasingly close views of the walls of Wilpena Pound; they are misty blue in the afternoon light. Taking a quick look at the Wilpena Pound campground – its big and busy – we decide to move on to a bush camp at Bunyeroo. The views along this road are spectacular to the point of being a bit overwhelming. This is tempered by the knowledge that the road that we are on has been closed by flooding but is currently open to 4WDs, so we are OK but we hope that the rain holds off. We went out towards Brachina Gorge until we came to where the road ran along the flooded creek bed for about one kilometre – we continued on, not without some trepidation but all was well and we were able to make it to Acraman campsite, new, clean and quiet. Again we are on our own, with a Cyprus campfire to ward off the cold and damp.
We had been warned that the road through Brachina Gorge was rough, and indeed it was. The creekbed was again the road for several kilometres – it had been roughly cleared of big boulders, but that just left big holes behind. But the gorge was spectacular as it cut through very ancient rocks revealing rock layers laid down about 600 million years ago. These rocks are too old to have much in the way of fossils, there are just a few multicelled fossils in the younger rocks. It’s mind boggling to contemplate. The site is considered to be of world standard and one of the best “time slices” known. Interpretive signs along the track helped us to make sense of it all.
Finally we were through the gorge, emerging onto the plain at the western edge of the Flinders Ranges, and back into desert again. We headed north beside the railway lines, old and new. We did a detour into the historic township of Beltana which was a
“jumping off' point for inland explorers and was also used as a base for Afghan camel teams. John Flynn lived there briefly and it had an OTL repeater station. Now, while some houses are occupied by long term residents, many are ruins. But we did fund some quandong trees with ripe fruit so had our first taste of this truly Aussie fruit – dry and sharp but quite pleasant.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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