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.

What comes around goes around …

All good things come to an end. So too did our stay in Merredin. The boys from Carr Care fitted a freshly minted axle mid morning and we made a late start en route to Albany.

This phase of our journey was essentially a quick trip around WA’s silo art trail separated by some nice campsites where we might trip over some of WA’s special birds. Our first camp was at Cosy Corner at Kronkup, about 26km west of Albany. This is by the beach in coastal heath and although the wild flower season is well short of its peak  it’s already very pretty.

In the morning we visited the silo in Albany. Artists The Yok and Sheryo present us with a Ruby Sea Dragon which given its jockey cap might be somewhat whimsically interpreted.

Albany – The Yok & Sheryo

Then on to Pingrup where the Miami artist Evoca1 has turned 230 litres of paint into scenes of local life.

Pingrup – Evoca1

It seemed to me that the standard of art work and presentation had picked up considerably since Merredin and Northam (not to take anything away from Phlegm, from London where else -it’s probably the smog, whose flying machines had me thinking.) It was about to reach new heights.

At Newdegate Brenton See (from Perth and with a real name) has given us a water droplet, half fresh, half salt a Malleefowl, a Red-tailed Phascogale and a Western Bearded Dragon. Beautiful, accurate, evocative. He gets my nomination for best of the WA silos …

Newdegate -Brenton See

… although Amok Island at Ravensthorpe gives him a run for his money with charming depictions of Banksia baxteri, only found between Esperance and Albany. A cheeky little Honey Possum on one side and a New Holland Honeyeater shown on the other are its principal pollinators.

Ravensthorpe – Amok Island
Ravensthorpe
Ravensthorpe

You can learn more <HERE>.

Northam, another day out …

Northam is a town of about six and a half thousand people situated just under 100km from Perth on the very picturesque Avon River. When we had a camper-trailer with wheels it was on our itinerary for its silo art. Instead we made it a day trip.

The silos get mixed reviews which they thoroughly deserve. Parking and visibility are not good. At one end there is a collection of coloured blobs that are very colourful and the very epitome of blob whilst the other end is much more quirky and does engage the intellect more thoroughly.

We had a picnic lunch down by the river and admired the plastics. This is an Australian twitcher term for introduced species. The Mute Swan was introduced to Australia in 1886 and on further occasions until 1920. It has persisted at some of the sites to which it was introduced including the Avon at Northam. We hadn’t seen it in Oz before.

Mute Swan

The Laughing Turtle-Dove was introduced to Perth from about 1898 and has been a much more successful immigrant having spread throughout the Western Australian wheat belt and beyond.

Laughing Turtle-Dove

The pleasant gardens along the river were also home to some real Aussie birds including Ringneck Parrots and New Holland Honeyeaters.

For a Ha’porth of Tar …

… the ship was lost. On this occasion it wasn’t a ship or even a sheep it was the wheel bearings on the trailer and they became so warm that the assembly was welded to the axle. We discovered this about 30km west of Merriden on a Friday.

In an impressive display of alliteration the trailer was loaded onto a tilt tray tow truck and was delivered to the Merriden caravan park. A mechanic was kind enough to come and take off the axle. The search for a replacement could begin on Monday. But was fruitless and abandoned on Tuesday. On Wednesday it was decided that a new one would have to be fabricated. Thursday’s child has far to go. So do we and we are looking forward to it. Maybe Friday.

Merriden is located in the wheatbelt of Western Australia. It is a pleasant little town of just under 3000 people. It’s on the pipeline, the noisy rail line and a busy road, the caravan park especially. It has it’s own big granite rock collecting water by a system of walls, aqueduct and dam. There is a conservation park adjacent to the rock. The streets have well maintained grass verges and the Roy Little Park speaks of civic pride. It would be a worthy entrant in a tidy towns competition.

It has a painted silo.

The surrounding country side is green presently, it being winter. What was once mallee and Salmon Gum woodland has been cleared for wheat. People have to eat. The various rocks have escaped the clearing and most of them are busy collecting water. Some natural vegetation has survived around the rocks. From a conservation perspective it would be nice if there were more connecting vegetation. So far we have visited Karalee Rock, Bruce Rock, Eaglestone Rock, Elachbutting Rock, Wave Rock, Totadgin Rock, Baladjie Rock and Beringbooding Rock where the water is stored in the largest concrete water tank in Australia. Oh, and the Humps.

It’s not the style of camping that we enjoy and Merredin is not where we would choose to stay. If anyone had actually heard of the place it would be the butt of jokes like Christchurch (spent a week there one Sunday) or Blackpool (first prize a week in Blackpool, second prize two weeks in Blackpool).

Aside from the shower the nicest thing about caravan parks is the people. The salt of the earth stay in caravan parks and are almost always willing to engage in conversation and swap travel yarns. Almost no one stays more than one night here so every day brings new friends. The missing axle is an excellent conversation starter and the conversation always improves after they finish chiding me for my ha’porth of tar.

Gold and Water …

Our most northerly point on the journey through Western Australia was at Wyndham, a little port on Australia’s challenging north coast. It rose briefly to prominence as the entry and exit point for WA’s first gold rush at Halls Creek.

A string of other places on our route have also been gold towns, Marble Bar, Meekathara, Wiluna, Leinster, Leonora, Coolgardie, Southern Cross and of course the big one – Kalgoorlie. Rushes and even towns have come and gone but gold is still a very important money spinner for WA. In 2015-16 it was the third most valuable export behind iron ore and petroleum.

As Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie rose to prominence in the 1890’s insecurity of water supply became a significant issue. The Irish born Engineer-in-Chief, Charles Yelverton O’Connor came up with the solution – build a pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie. It would be more than 500km long, involve lifting water 390 metres over the Darling Escarpment and the cost would equal WA’s annual budget. Debate was fierce, the project was condemned as madness by many but the premier Sir John Forrest threw his weight behind it and work commenced in 1898. Water flowed out the other end in Kalgoorlie on January 24 1903.

Sadly, Mr O’Connor never saw the successful outcome of his great project. He committed suicide in March 1902.

The pipeline runs through the wheat belt and is still delivering water, 40% is used in Kalgoorlie the remainder is used along the way.

A busy railway follows much the same route. In the days of steam water was essential to drive the engines and they were very thirsty beasts. After Gayle’s encounter with the skimpy barmaid the night was spent at Karralee Rocks where an excellent example of water harvesting, although in urgent need of some conservation, is still just functioning.

Rain falling on a large granite rock is directed into a small dam by carefully contoured walls running around the perimeter. The dam overflows into an aqueduct that conveys the water into a large holding dam. From there it was pumped to the railway. We had 15mm of rain overnight and we were able to watch the process in action the following morning.

Kalgoorlie, Here We Come …

Farewell to Broome. Until next time.

We’d spent longer than we’d planned because of vehicle problems but we were still sad to leave. In any case it was the ideal place to wait for repairs. What if it should be Merredin or some place like that.

We turned right at the Roebuck Roadhouse and headed south. Our destination for the first night would be the De Grey River. It is the only self respecting river in a very long way so it was the obvious over-night spot for a lot of folks. There were more than enough stars to share …

Sadly access to the river bank is not allowed presently in an effort to stop the spread of Noogoora Burr.

… a native of the south of North America, Mexico and the Caribbean. It aliawas first noticed in Australia on Noogoora Station, Queensland in the 1870s, where it was probably introduced as a contaminant of cotton seeds. It has since spread over much of Queensland and New South Wales. Other infestations occur in Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and certain sections of the Kimberley in WA. The total infested area in Australia exceeds two million hectares.

We turned off the Great Northern Highway and the bitumen so that we could take in Marble Bar, a small mining town that has the unenviable reputation (not undisputed) of being the hottest town in Australia. It wasn’t quite as we had expected. They had gone to a lot of trouble to water the grass verges and a small park softening the impact of unrelenting aridity on the soul. And the Iron Clad Hotel had run out of stubby holders so no souvenir!

The scenery between there and Nullagine is truly beautiful. It’s well worth taking this back road, the landscape more than compensates for missing Port Hedland. Actually a week in jail would compensate for missing Port Hedland.

The next campsite was just after the Roy Hill mine. This time it was very nearly deserted. The early morning light was delicious …

We rejoined the bitumen and called in briefly at Newman. This is quite a large place with a nice modern shopping centre. A caravan park that we passed seemed to specialise in accommodation for single men presumably fly in fly out workers at the various mines.

Not far south of Newman you cross the Tropic of Capricorn.

At Wiluna the roadside art was a cut above the average. A sculpture celebrates a story of true love …

The Mandidjara were nomadic people living in the Gibson desert but had moved to settlements like Willuna. Warri and Yatunga met in the 1930’s and fell in love. They were forbidden to marry under tribal law because they were not of compatible “skin groups”. To do so would bring severe punishment perhaps even death. They ran off together and lived traditional lives in the desert for the next four decades. They had a daughter who died in infancy and two sons who survived them.

In 1977 there was a severe drought, the waterholes were drying up. The tribal elders had long since forgiven the couple for their crime and were concerned for their safety. They initiated a search for them. They were found alive although near starvation and brought to town. Where they lived until their deaths a few years later. They died within weeks of each other.

Large flocks of Cockatiels were seen along the way, impressive but mostly uncooperative. This flock permitted a tolerable photo.

Bilyuin Pool was our campsite that evening and again it was the morning light that demanded the photographers attention.

Our final night on this leg of the journey was spent at Malcolm Dam near Leonora. From there it was a morning’s drive to Kalgoorlie.

I knew from the media that Kal is a small rough town with a pub on every corner and is surrounded by desert. I was completely wrong about everything except the pubs. It’s situated in beautiful mallee woodland. It has a population approaching 30,000 people. We had lunch in the arboretum beside a nice pond. Then cruised down the main street.

Having been denied a stubby holder souvenir in Marble Bar I was keen to buy one here. Parking with the trailer was impossible so I dropped Gayle off outside the Exchange Hotel and drove around the block. In she went.

She was ill-prepared for the sight that greeted her. Behind the bar was a beautiful and very fit young lady, about six feet four tall and wearing a G-string and fishnet stockings. Nothing else (perhaps shoes and a wrist watch but Gayle was distracted). She asked if she could help but Gayle just gulped. She had by this time forgotten what she had gone in for and after another polite inquiry and another gulp she fled.

 

 

Broome …

My first visit to Broome was as a participant in an Australian Wader Studies Group expedition. With a bunch of other volunteers we caught, measured, banded and released shorebirds over a period of about six weeks. I made good friends on that trip and some of them decided to make Broome their home.

The power steering failure in the car was due to a cracked transmission fluid cooler. It was beyond repair. A replacement would have to come from Sydney via Perth and would take a week.

This was a good time to have good friends in town, especially since the Broome caravan parks do not take dogs during the tourist season.

I am unsure of the collective noun for ornithologists but I favour a clutch over a flock. So a clutch of ornithologists were quick to chide me for my ID of Grey Butcherbird in the Kimberley, it was split years ago and is now the Silver-backed Butcherbird confirming the description by John Gould in 1836 as Cracticus argenteus. My apologies, here it is again this time correctly labelled …

Silver-backed Butcherbird

Broome is one of my favorite places. Let me give you a taste in a few photos.

Sun Pictures is the world’s oldest outdoor movie garden. It was built in 1903 as an Asian emporium owned by the Yamasaki family, part of it was used for Noh theatre. Tod Hunter, a pearler, bought it in 1913 and converted it to a cinema holding 500 patrons. It opened in 1916 with a racing drama Kissing Cup. The first talkie was Monte Carlo in 1933.

Until 1974 when a levee bank was built Carnarvon Street and the theatre was flooded at very high tides. It was joked that you could fish as you watched the movie.

It’s still going strong.

The Japanese played a major role in the pearling industry. The Japanese cemetery is one of the tourist stops.

The highlights for me are the natural areas, Roebuck Bay, the mangroves, plains and lakes.

Black-necked Stork
White-breasted Whistler

And on moonless nights there are plenty of stars …

The car was fixed very efficiently by Minshull Mechanical Repairs in Guy Street otherwise known as the 4X4 MegaStore (the Toyota Dealership being too busy to book it in for at least two weeks.)

It was time to thank Kerry and Chris for their very generous hospitality and hit the road.