The curse of the Gary Junction Road - Some 'minor' mechanical difficulties - 2013

Thursday, Jul 04, 2013 at 19:00


Thursday 4th July, 2013 - Dovers Hills on the Gary Junction Road WA

We were all woken by bull roaring during the night and “The Dingo” snoring from a tent not too far west! Like most mornings south of the Tropic of Capricorn, it was somewhat bracing when we emerged from our respective accommodations. John had lost his billy hooker the previous day and was suffering severe HSA (hooker separation anxiety). This is also known as ‘Thomson syndrome’ after the illustrious parliamentarian but refers to a different type of 'Hooker' (It's OK, people reading this in 15 years won't know what we are talking about). I have suffered a similar state of anxiety over a jaffle iron left beside the GJR back in 2009. Opting for a “racing breakfast” we departed our campsite as the suns first rays were lighting up the bluff.

Papunya is the first large Aboriginal community of from Alice Springs on the Gary Junction Road, and unique in the street layout for the town. While not obvious from ground level, the town's streets are laid out as a series of interconnecting circles like a piece of indigenous art work. Mind you, this doesn’t mean anything is easier to find.

As we passed through the community, John radioed that he had broken a shocker mount on the trailer and he was going to have to stop and check it out. Having not mentioned it the previous evening, we did not think it was anything serious. Not wanting to lose radio comms for too long, we stopped by the side of the road a few kilometres west to await their arrival and waited, and we waited!

We climbed the nearby hills and still no sign of the mighty 80 thundering towards us. Concerned, we returned to Papunya to find John & Suze at the local maintenance depot welding up both the chassis and shocker mount on the trailer. The right hand mount had vibrated out and removed a great piece of the trailer’s main frame with it.

We had a lot of fun puddling with the MIG welder, cutting, shaping and reinforcing the mount and surrounding frame. It took several hours to complete the job but were on the road a little after noon. We took the opportunity to top up our fuel before leaving town at a wallet friendly $2.19 per litre. Having lost a half day at Papunya, we pushed on through to Dovers Hills for our camp spot, leaving us enough time to get to Kiwirr for fuel the next morning.

The Gary Junction Road was built by Len Beadell as part of a network of roads for the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, South Australia. In its original form, the Gary Junction Road ran from Liebig bore in the Northern Territory to Callawa Station in Western Australia. On present day maps, it stretches 852 kilometres from the Tanami Road to Gary Junction, just east of the Canning Stock Route. Len named the road after his only son, Gary.

The Gunbarrel Road Construction Party commenced work on the GJR immediately after completing the Sandy Blight Junction Track in August, 1960. The party suffered numerous setbacks along the way, all leading to delays in completion of the works.

On 8 November the grader broke down with a major transmission failure. Further road making came to an abrupt halt, and a lengthy towing operation of 800 km back to Giles began, using the bulldozer to tow the grader, with the water trailer attached behind it. The average speed of the bulldozer train was 3 km per hour. This operation was scarcely under way when the cook's ration truck with all of its food supply caught fire and was burnt out. It was 12 November and Len was forced to make an emergency dash to Alice Springs to obtain replacement food, a return trip of around 3000 km. Delays meant that the road was not completed until late in 1963.

Len marked astrofixes along his roads with aluminium plates on which latitude, longitude and other information was stamped. While many have been souvenired by less scrupulous travelers over the years, the Beadell family have replaced many with replicas. There are a few plaques fixed to poles and trees by Len, all of which we would pass in coming days, the first situated between Papunya and Mount Liebig

It doesn’t take long for the impressive ramparts of Mount Liebig to appear on the horizon, blue in the distance. At 1524 metres in height, Mount Liebig is one of the highest peaks of the MacDonnell Ranges. It was named by the explorer Ernest Giles after the German chemist Justus von Liebig1803-1873.

Some distance on, the lone Ehrenberg Range is another impressive band of rough hills emerging from the desert breaking the monotony of the spinifex plains. Mt Lyell-Brown being its highest peak. (photo)

At the intersection of the GJR and the Sandy Blight Junction Track, we paid homage to yet another Beadell plaque and then another marking then WA/NT border further on. From the border it is only eleven kilometres to Mt Tietkens, the site of my trailer mishap 12 months previously. All was holding together this year thank goodness.

Thirty five kilometres west of the border lie the Dovers Hills. I’ve always enjoyed watching the Dovers emerge from the desert, and witnessing the sudden change from the monotonous acacia scrub to the magnificent groves of Desert Oak that the range supports. It is a very narrow band of Allocasuarina, as if the isolated range nurtures its existence. As I’ve passed the area on previous occasions, I marked two tracks as worthy of investigation. A drive of a kilometre along the first track bought us to a disused brick dwelling and bore. On a separate track to the right, a large gravel pit. The second track also ended in an elevated gravel pit and it was here that we opted to set up camp. Not the most picturesque of camp sites but sheltered and well off the road. We enjoyed the sunset and dinner, retiring early to bed in preparation for flying start in the morning.
''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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