Summing Up …

The big trip west was a big success. A lot of places on the journey we had visited before, some of them only by flying and then renting a vehicle. The route joined  a lot of familiar dots and it was the first time that we had driven across the Nullarbor.

We chose to take the dog which excluded us from National Parks and some other reserves that we would like to have visited. More on that later.

We were 43 days on the road and covered 14,243km (8,900 miles).

The total cost was in the order of $9,000 which includes our food which we would have had to buy if we’d stayed home and a couple of bits of camping kit which we will enjoy for a while longer. So in comparison to a 6 week trip over seas for two it was a cheap holiday.

The planning for our trips is usually done by one of us working largely on their own. On this occasion it was me and it was a pretty detailed plan which we were able to stick to quite closely. There were a couple of unscheduled stops for repairs. We were able to resume where we left off, we did skip a couple of our intended campsites to make up a little time.

Flexibility is a great asset, we substituted some intended campsites for others for three reasons, to shorten the day’s drive, to extend the day’s drive or because Gayle found better options (on the net or in a book that she recently won in a competition … Camps Australia Wide, edition 10, by Heatley & Gilmore which came in handy).

Too much flexibility though can lead to raised tensions in the vehicle at 4pm, middle of nowhere and no idea where to camp. We know from past experience that this is best avoided. It didn’t happen on this trip.

The kit we took was a Toyota FJ Cruiser and a Kwik Kampa by Stockman. Into which went the necessities that have been honed by years of experience. Overall I’m very satisfied with the performance of both major items.

The hole in the transmission cooler was probably due to impact with a stone and might have been avoided if I’d driven slower on a corrugated gravel road. Just one of those things. I love my FJ.

Total fuel cost was $3,390.37 which bought us 1,897 litres of petrol. That works out at 13.3 litres per 100km. In remote places fuel is expensive. Mt Barnett on the Gibb River Road holds the record at $2.15 a litre, we paid $1.99 at Ceduna on the Nullarbor. The cheapest fuel was in the settled districts of South Australia, a mere $1.35.

The Kwik Kamper, one of the pod campers to come out of the Stockman stable has been with us for a while. It’s the second one we’ve owned. We bought it for the ease and speed with which it goes up and down. The other great virtue that it has is its light weight, it doesn’t greatly affect the handling of the car and it has only a small impact on economy.

Camping gear choices are by necessity a compromise. The Kwik Kampa tends to accumulate a lot of water on the roof  when it rains and inside when the temperature drops below the dew point. If you are considering a camper-trailer and you are usually on the move rather than staying in one place for two weeks you should put it on your short list. It’s a case of continuing evolution at Stockman and the present offerings may be even better.

Fifi McGee came with us. She is a Fox Terrier. She adds something to our lives every single day. On the odd occasion something has to be left out. She travels and camps really well and is no trouble at night. She’s noisy when we first arrive at our campsite but soon settles.

We try to give her plenty of exercise first thing in the morning before the drive and we stop for her benefit every 90 minutes or so. And it’s not to our disadvantage to have a short walk and a stretch at the same time. She has a strong attachment to the car and camper but doesn’t seem to care where they  are … so long as they’re in the same place she is.

It means no restaurant meals, no national parks and some places just have to be left off the itinerary. We weigh up the pros and cons for each trip. This time it seemed a good idea to take her along and it was.

What will we take forward to future trips? Number one is take more time. Number two is match the destination to the season. Our next trip to the south of WA will be in spring for the wild flowers. Future winter trips will be spent north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Home Sweet Home …

Home looked beautiful. In the winter the surrounding country turns so green that it would give Ireland a run for its money. OK I exaggerate a little and on close inspection the foot high grass surrounding the house was Cape Weed. And it was cold.

First job was to cut some wood and get the fire going then it was onto the mower for a first run round.

The creek was flowing and debris in some lower branches showed that it had almost overflowed its banks while we were away. One of the deeper pools had a couple of platypus swimming around. In summer you only get to see them at sunset and sunrise. In cold cloudy weather they can be seen during the day as well. In either case the light is never good. I’ll get a respectable photo one day.

My first visit to this property was about 30 years ago when it belonged to my in-laws. The creek is one boundary. Beyond that there is a nature reserve. On an early visit I saw an Eastern Yellow Robin in the reserve. That wasn’t entirely unexpected so I thought little of it.

Despite regular visits I didn’t see another one until this past summer when I encountered a pair on a number of occasions. One even had the audacity to venture briefly to my side of the creek and onto the birdlist for the property.

Thirty years ago the driveway was an avenue of flourishing wattle trees. The millennial drought and old age, wattles only last about thirty years, saw them die off. My father-in-law was talking about planting olives in their place. That spurred me to volunteer to plant some native trees instead (which may have been his underlying intention). I left the skeletons of the dead trees as perches and as an insect supply for the birds and planted Red Ironbarks in between. These are indigenous to the area and have deeply indented barks that are much liked by Brown Treecreepers. The Treecreepers were common enough in the reserve but rarely bothered crossing the creek. As the trees have grown so the Treecreepers have moved in.

And so, too, has an Eastern Yellow Robin. For the past few days he or she has been watching me at work in the driveway. I hope that the habitat is good enough that they stay and hope that they find a friend to join them. I wonder if this is the offspring of the pair I saw in the summer.

Eastern Yellow Robin

Watching me at work in the driveway?  Well yes, there are these bloody wattle trees that keep falling over and need to be cut up! There are still a few more to go.

 

Heave away, haul away …

Bound for South Australia. Reference doubtlessly to the fact that it was such an awful place they had to tie up the settlers to take them there.

We made sure where we’d stashed the candles and crossed the border from WA. There was the minor detail of completing the Nullarbor crossing then we would be just a couple of silos from home.

First was Kimba. Once just a sleepy wheatbelt town with a big galah now it’s a sleepy wheatbelt town with a big galah and a painted silo. It’s become quite famous on the grey nomad circuit for its free camping at the recreation reserve. Free but a donation is expected and it seems a victim of its own success. You could not have swung a cat there when we looked. We settled for the caravan park.

As if to cock a snoot at the jokes about South Australia’s electricity supply the silo is lit at night.

Kimba – Cam Scale

The focal point is a child with an adult proportioned head. I find it slightly disturbing. Even more unsettling is that to my eye it bears a striking resemblance to Julia Gillard (before she developed the Pinocchio nose).

We detoured through the Adelaide Hills and Murray Bridge to reach Coonalpyn just after sunset. The grey nomads have not yet swamped the recreation reserve here. The donation of $21 is expected for an un-powered site. Very pleasant.

The silo here is cleverly organised so that you cannot see or photograph all of it from any one position. Some exercise is required.

Coonalpyn – Guido van Helten

Van Helten is also the artist responsible for the silo at Brim in Victoria which is one of my favourites. I don’t find this one quite as appealing but there are no mis-proportioned children here and their hair is portrayed exquisitely.

From there to home was just a hop, skip and a jump.

More than a few trees …

The Eyre Highway runs from Norseman, WA to Port Augusta, SA. It is very fittingly named after Edward John Eyre who was the first of the white colonists to travel the route.

He was just a young man of 25 when he accepted the chance to lead a party from Adelaide to the far west of Western Australia. Born in England Eyre had learned his bushcraft moving stock from Sydney where they were expensive, overland to sell in Melbourne and Adelaide where they were even more expensive. Following these trips he took cattle and sheep by ship to King George Sound – modern day Albany,WA, a fine natural harbour then overlanded them to the Swan River Settlement – now Perth. Whilst there he found considerable interest in the establishment of a stock route across the continent. When he got back to Adelaide he found a committee had been formed for that very purpose.

On 18th June 1840 Eyre set out as the leader of 6 white men including John Baxter who had frequently been overseer on Eyre’s previous ventures and two South Australian aborigines Joey and Yarry. A third aboriginal, Wylie, that Eyre had brought back from Western Australia subsequently joined the party.

The initial thrusts were to the north but were frustrated by lack of water. Progress, if it were to be made, would have to be nearer the coast. November found the party at Fowler’s Bay. Three attempts over the next few months won another 200 km to the Head of the Bight.

In February 1841 Eyre sent the majority of his party back.  He and Baxter pressed on with the three aborigines and 11 pack horses. It was to be do or die. In March they found good water at Eucla. By April the going was exceedingly tough. Their load had been lightened to the extent that they now had inadequate clothing. The aboriginal contingent had consented to the doing but had probably not been consulted about the dying clause in the contract and friction arose.

On the night of 29 April while Eyre was taking his watch over the horses he heard a gun shot. By the time he made it back to camp Baxter was dying from a gun shot to the chest and the two South Australian aborigines had decamped with all the serviceable firearms and most of the provisions.

A grave could not be dug in the solid rock. Baxter was wrapped in a blanket and left on the surface. Eyre and Wylie pressed on to the west. On the 2nd June they encountered a French ship near modern day Esperance and they enjoyed some relief from their hardship. Eyre insisted on completing the overland journey, accepted some supplies and the pair pressed on.

On July 7 Eyre and Wylie stood on a hill overlooking Albany, their journey just about over. Wylie was greeted by friends and family. Eyre was left to ponder “the embarrassing difficulties and sad disasters that had broken up my party.”

Eyre’s trek, Adelaide to Albany via the modern Eyre Highway is 2,695km (1,675 miles). The journey takes you across the Nullarbor Plain. Between Port Augusta and Norseman I don’t recall seeing any surface water whatsoever, a combination of dry climate (<250mm rain annually) and the limestone geology. Nullarbor comes from Latin and translates as No Trees but in fact much of the journey is through mallee and on the South Australian end there are even wheat fields by the side of the road. Only on the clifftop section near the South Australia border do you really have a barren landscape (although on foot that would seem more than sufficient).

Eucla
Telegraph Station ruins – Eucla
Bunda Cliffs

The entire highway is sealed (since 1976).

Norseman has a population of about 1000 people, Ceduna about 2,500. In between there is Caiguna (8), Cocklebiddy (19), Madura (18) and Eucla (53) for a total of 98 people spread over 1200km. Port Augusta is almost a metropolis at 13,500. Therein lies the challenge. This is not the place to breakdown or realise that you left your insulin at home.

There are two hills. Traveling west to east it seems as though it will be flat forever until the Madura Pass. Trucks are invited to take low gear and down you go. Off to the left now is a cliff that extends to the horizon, a reminder that sea level was not always what it is today. At Eucla you get to climb back up again.

Crossing the Nullarbor is on the bucket list for most Australians, it has an almost mythical appeal. Now that I’ve ticked it off I have to say

  1. it was nothing like I expected and …
  2. I’m looking forward to doing it again.