GDEC 2011 - The Anne Beadell & Beyond - Riding the Corrugations and Exploring Emu

Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 00:00


Monday 11th April, 2011
Just near Emu, Great Victoria Desert

The night grew cold despite the wind dropping off. Lying awake a couple of hours before dawn, I could hear a couple of nightjars hunting the night nearby, their characteristic calls a delight to hear and a harbinger of doom to any warm furry mammals to slow about their foraging. For me the distinctive call is proof that I’m actually out in the bush. I had to get the thermals on to get back to sleep.

The morning dawned brightly and with a clear blue sky. Outback Al had the fire going so it was a quick breakfast and pack to be on the road a little after 9:00 a.m. The corrugations started immediately and didn’t get any better as we progressed west. Thankfully we’d lowered tyre pressures and wound the Tough Dogs right down to zero. Jaydub, investigating a rattle he hadn’t recognised previously found that the two mounting bracket bolts on the rear sway bar had come loose. Thankfully he found them before they had worked fully loose so a bit of spanner work and he was soon back on the track again. The shockers and big Toyo’s soaked up the corrugations. The road surface varied from patches of mud and deep ruts through to sand hills interspersed with Laterite plains. These provided the worst of the corrugations and they were huge! It’s a shame but like many of the outback tracks, the integrity of the main track is being lost as people create side tracks along to avoid the corrugations. While this may offer temporary relief, in many cases, it is only fleeting as the side tracks soon become as corrugated as the main track and the ABH suffers degeneration and loses of integrity.

Stopping for lunch, our first disaster of the day became apparent. Thankfully on a scale of one to ten, it was only a two, but a pain in the butt none the less. The five litre sprayer we use as a fire extinguisher had slipped its lashings and managed to empty a full five litres throughout the back of the rear pod. Unfortunately a fair bit of it went into my clothes draw. We managed to sponge a fair bit out but the rest will have to wait till later in the day when I can hang the wet clothes out.

There was a dearth of wildlife along the way. Plenty of birds with finches, the odd bird of prey and a flock or three of budgies but no animals were seen. We also saw plenty of smaller dragons but didn’t manage to spot any thorny devils. The land has responded well to the heavy rains of earlier in the year and much of the area is a verdant green with new grass and shrubs. There were still the odd boggy patch and large puddles along the track but they were easily negotiated. Reaching the Tallaringa well, we found it dry but displaying obvious signs that much water had been lying around the area in recent times. The Beadell plaque was still intact on its yellow steel post. It’s interesting that we know of Len Beadell and his team creating the roads largely in secret to facilitate the Emu bomb tests but other Europeans had visited this area on journeys of exploration more than half a century before Len.

Richard Thilwell Maurice was one such intrepid explorer who, through his expeditions between 1897 and 1902, provided valuable detail of South Australia's far west and establishing with a degree of certainess, the locations of many rock holes and native wells. He also made valuable collections of ethnographic materials and photographed the Aboriginal people of the area. His observations of the flora and fauna of the area are greatly valued by biologists. In his 1902 expedition, Maurice travelled north via Tallaringa native well, to Oolarinna in the Everard Ranges. The expedition travelled through the Musgrave Ranges, to Uluru where dray tracks left by Gosses original expedition of the 1870's were still visible after nearly 30 years. From Kata Tjuta Maurice skirted the south side of Lake Amadeus and then to the Cleland Hills. In the Tanami Desert, six of his 14 camels died from eating the poison bush Gastrolobium and the remaining seven were badly affected. By abandoning some of the gear the expedition reached the Sturt Creek station on 25 August 1902 after four months travel. At Wyndham the party had successfully crossed the continent.

Heading west we began to negotiate the odd sand hill which was a pleasant change from those damnable corrugations. I can see how people complain about the condition of the roads out here but with the appropriate gear in the form of decent suspension, shockers and tyres, the conditions are quite manageable. Jaydub and I checked our shockers after a prolonged period of corrugations and found them to be operating between 40 and 45C where as the Konigs on the trailer were at 63C. All good temperatures when I recall the ARB-OME Nitro shocks at 150C in similar conditions on the Canning a few years back. We were going to detour for a confluence but on ringing our resident confluence expert Stephen L at Clare, we found it already claimed. As GDEC only goes boldly where no one has gone before....we decided to continue on our way.

We detoured in to the Totem 1 and 2 bomb sites just a short distance to the north east of the Anne Beadell. It was a pleasant break from the constant jarring of the corrugations. Just prior to the location of Ground zero, the warning signs start.No camping and no eating bush tucker from the area. The bomb sites themselves are largely rehabilitated with little obvious sign that men had unleashed the fury of the sun in a blinding flash some 58 years previously. The crafted concrete obelisk sits below the exact location the bomb was mounted on its high steel platform. I was amazed that despite all that fury unleashed, some of the steel anchor plates and points remained. Twisted and melted certainly but to be exposed toconditions similar to the those on the surface of the sun and leave any trace is remarkable in itself. Around totem 1, you could still pick up lumps of brown glass like globules where sand had fused under the extreme heat.

At the sight of the old Emu base, we tore along the airstrip which remains in fantastic condition and would comfortably service aircraft to this day. We drove the vehicles on to a mound of earth pushed up from the excavations way back when, getting an elevated view about the area. There were still traces of water in the clay pan to the west of the airstrip. Not much else remains other than some steel girders, unidentified pieces of engineering and a lot of old 44 gallon drums. It was getting late in the day so we didn’t linger hoping to get an hour further along the track before setting up camp. It wasn’t to be however. It was also very rocky in patches particularly on some of the rises. We were slowly climbing a rocky rise, when Al and I were thrust skywards as the wheels hit a hidden obstruction in the long grass. Coming to a sudden halt, the ominous hiss of escaping air was clearly audible outside the vehicle. I’d finally holed a Toyo and what a hole it was. I couldn’t get the bottle jack under the vehicle quick enough before it was down on the rim. It was a fair slash and had even shaved a lug off the tyre itself. $500 worth of tyre shot to a hell in a moment. I might have to let Mick Hutton have a dip at this one for me. While a tyre change should be an easy enough routine for those as well versed in the arts as the GDEC team, another problem became apparent as we tried to fit the new wheel on. Bearing in mind that this was the wheel that I had lost on the track to Mitchell back in August and had replaced all the wheel studs, as we lined up the wheel, it dislodged several of the studs, two of which fell back into the disc rotor. The knurling on the shoulders of the studs was not holding the stud in place as it should be..... bleep !!!

In swung Mr Magic. There was nothing for it but to get the brake callipers off and remove the disc rotors to reset the studs. It appears as if the knurling isn’t taking. We also had to undo the handbrake shoes to get a clear shot at the studs. I learnt another valuable lesson once removed. ALWAYS CHOCK OUT THE BRAKE PADS WITH SOMETHING SOLID BEFORE YOU CONTINUE. Thankfully Jaydub had popped a 12mm socket between the pads in the first instance so when I accidentallyactivated the brakes a little later, the pads didn’t shoot out...thank god! We used lock-tite and knocked the studs back in before re seating the disc rotor and then adjusting the handbrake callipers. The spare wheel was gingerly lifted into place let me tell you. The whole process took a little under an hour so we only got a little way down the road before finding a suitable place for a camp about 45 minutes before sunset. The ute looks like a Chinese laundry with all my clothes hung out to dry. We also mopped out the back of the pod and have various items scattered around drying. Hopefully the dry desert air will put things right overnight.

It’s a fairly rocky little area we’ve chosen but on a rise providing a view of the surrounding countryside. The sky was brilliantly clear and afforded us an excellent view of the ISS as it cruised overhead in a stately fashion in the early evening. It is amazing to watch this bright light move across the heavens above us. Dinner was steak and veg beside a great fire.

''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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