Karlamilyi (Rudall River) - DISCOVERY - The reward for research, perseverance and a stiff walk!

Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 at 00:00


Saturday 7th July, 2012
DQB, Rudall River

Today was simply a great day, a day of discovery and the feeling of elation that comes with it. Karlamilyi/Rudall never lets me down and proves once again that time spent scouring maps and satellite images is never wasted. Certainly today was a highlight on which to finish this years desert sojourn.

I had a torrid night with the rash and eventually succumbed lathering up with steroidal based cream from John’s first aid kit. It certainly eased the itching enough for me to get to sleep. The damn thing has gotten inside my ears though and I can feel the side of my face beginning to swell. It was a late and reluctant rise into a magnificent wind free morning, as crisp and clear as only a desert morning can be. Pretty quickly bacon and eggs were sizzling on the BBQ plate followed by a bit of quad maintenance and preparation. Loading waypoints into John’s trusty old Garmin GPS, I prepared a bit of a mud-map with distances and turns gleaned from cached Google Earth images and we were off again on another voyage of discovery.

It took us a while to find a place to negotiate the creek that runs from the DQB gorge to the north of our campsite but when finally across we had a relatively easy run along the northern ramparts of the Broadhurst Ranges. Our route would take us to the end of the range where the rugged sandstone gives way to the remorseless parallel dunes of the Little Sandy Desert. It was a journey of roughly 4.5 kilometres from the DQB camp area and while this might not sound like a great distance, it does take some negotiating due to tough conditions. The way is punctuated by many creeks, rills and washaways chaanelling the runoff from the ranges out into the thirsty sands. Finally, with all these obstacles carefully negotiated, we cut between the last line of the low hills we were out onto the grevillea covered dunes. Again we had to push through thick scrub to negotiate our way to the gorge mouth. Had it not been for the high rock walls of the gorge mouth, we may have missed it entirely due to the explosion of young eucalypt saplings choking the creek and entrance.

It was time to trade the mechanical conveyance for boot leather. Leaving the quads at the gorge mouth and we followed the rocky creek bed south into the gorge and immediately encountered a large pool of brackish water which we were unable to negotiate. forcing us to backtrack and attempt to locate a less congested path on the other side of the creek. Crossing the creek well out of the gorge, we moved through an area of Spinifex and then dropped back into the gorge just after the end of the brackish pool and began navigating the rocky floor. Within 100 metres we made our first discovery. Hidden behind a stand of broad leafed wattle was a large, deep cave disturbing an owl from his resting place as we entered. It was some 30 metres deep and of sufficient proportions to allow me to easily stand in areas at the back of the cave. It was warm and fetid with the roof stained black, a sure sign that it would have been an excellent place for the earliest inhabitants of the land to escape the winds of the desert.

Moving on we wound our way deeper into the gorge and the Broadhurst Range. At times we were hemmed by rocky walls over 30 metres high. The gorge floor supported many large white gums, wattle trees and Spinifex grasses. The first evidence that permanent water was to be found in the gorge was the astonishing amount of birdlife within the confines of the gorge. Each time we stopped to rest, the birds would gather. Sitting quietly we spied Painted and Zebra Finches, a hovering goshawk, honeyeaters squabbling and martins swooping and diving as they annoyed a drifting hawk. Dry pools in many areas of the gorge were ringed in deep black indicating water had often sat there for prolonged periods. Rounding one particular bend, I noticed a rock face through the trees ahead and caught the glimpse of reflected light rippling across it. It was obvious that the reflections were caused by water but not knowing exactly what to expect I kept the possibility mum from my companions until we arrived to find that the high rock wall protected a pool of crystal clear water. Sheltered by rocky walls on three sides, the pool was well protected and fed by water slowly seeped from the surrounding rock. The water was clear and sweet with a sharp tang of granite. It was a truly beautiful spot. The sheer wall expanded across the gorge and was a good six metres high. It would have made for an amazing sight with water cascading over it. Such was its height that we were forced to climb up the rock face on the southern side of the gorge clambering along narrow ledges to reach the rocky floor above to continue.

As we progressed higher along the gorge, the floor often widened lulling us into the belief that we were reaching the tablelands at the top of the gorge yet we were constantly surprised to round a bend and be confined by high, sheer walls once again. In some areas, wide sheets of brown conglomerate crossed the entire floor of the gorge. Huge tumbled boulders bordered long pools of rank water, an obvious source of moisture for the local animal population by the number of wallaby and animal and bird tracks in the sand around its edges.

We finally arrived at the head of the gorge to find a magnificent pool over six metres deep and sheltered on three sides by high walls. The main drop face of the pool was eight metres high or more. Finding a shady spot by the pools edge we took a break and absorbed the peacefulness of this amazing place. I climbed around the eastern wall above the pool to take pictures of the surrounding tablelands. The rugged stony rises are no country for the feint hearted let me tell you (as I know from bitter experience). From this elevated vantage point I was also able to get an accurate assessment of just how deep the pool was which I put at as least six meters in depth and even deeper in the south west corner. All this indicated that it was a source of reliable water for the early inhabitants.

It seemed incredible to me that given the significance of the water hole we had located, that there was no art evident on the surrounding rocks. It is usually something we keep an eye out for. On taking our leave of this remarkable place and commencing the trek back to the quads, we had only walked a hundred metres or so when my attention was drawn to weathered patterns on some of the rock faces on the eastern wall of the gorge. I stopped to stare at striations in rock and realised that something wasn’t quite right. The marks in the rock didn’t look natural and indeed they weren’t! We’d located some petroglyphs and figures carved into the rocks. Most exciting for me was that the style of the work was directly comparable to the spectacular etchings I had seen in the Calvert Ranges where the patterns have been worn into the rock rather than scratched. While this work appeared to be incomplete (a supposition on my behalf) or didn’t represent any specific ‘thing’ that we could identify, it was done in a completely different manner to the etchings around it. Surrounding this motif were cruder peckings of emu, kangaroo, emu eggs and their respective tracks. It was a fantastic feeling to identify something that spoke of a direct link to the ancients. These very different art styles as also witnessed in the Calvert’s, perhaps speak of a style of art that has been forgotten perhaps over a period when the land was empty, much like the theories around the gwion art of the Kimberley. Perhaps climatic conditions made it too harsh for the people to live in the area for generations. After all, a gap of a thousand years out of a known history of forty thousand years is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Whatever the reason, the difference in the two art styles is pronounced.

We cautiously retraced our steps down the rift towards the valley floor. I was not cautious enough and took a tumble on the way back banging my knee heavily. We were tired but elated when we reached the quads immediately heading back to camp and collecting firewood along the way. I was fairly peeked so had a quick poppy knap in the RTT before commencing the pack up of the camp and equipment. This meant trailering the quads. Poor old Squeaky was a bit leaky in the tyre department so I quickly effected repairs and also found a minor nick in the back right boot. A bit of Maverick bond will see that right as it was far too small to allow dust to get in, a small amount of grease being the only thing indication the location of the hole on the boot. Suze prepared a magnificent dinner of roast lamb with all the trimmings with me providing the desert of an apple surprise with custard and cream, all washed down with a bottle of champagne to toast our success.

This marks the turn around point for us. As of tomorrow it is all homewards bound as we take the long road to the south east.

''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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