Wooroonook Lakes …

Worth a visit if only to say you’ve been there. But practice first …

The lakes are 263 km north-west of Melbourne.

There are three lakes, the middle and east lakes are in the care of Parks Victoria and are frequently and presently dry. The other lake is managed for recreation, water is purchased when needed to keep the enterprise afloat. No prize for guessing where the wildlife can be found.

Camping is inexpensive, powered sites are available for the softies. There is a playground for the kids, a boat ramp and clean toilets and showers. It’s a popular spot with the fishing fraternity, families and the grey nomads. It’s close enough to my home to use as a picnic spot. I have just camped there for the first time.

I took my cue from this guy and spent a lot of my time sitting quietly on the bank.

Australian Shelduck

It’s amazing what you see …

Black-fronted Dotterel

Then for a moment they stand side by side

Then a quick shower and back to work as if nothing happened …

All very familiar, really.

Entertainment was also provided by the Musk Ducks. The males have quite a peculiar appearance with something resembling a scrotum hanging from their chins. At this time of year they are extremely intolerant of other males. When one wanders into their territory there is a rapid rush from the owner. This guy is the victor …

Musk Duck

and this the vanquished. His “scrotum”  has ended up plastered on the side of his face in his rush to get to safety …

Australasian Grebes are in their breeding finery.

Australasian Grebe

The freshly returned summer migrants were calling loudly. Rufous Songlarks and the Australian Reedwarblers (formerly known as Clamorous) were making themselves known by calling almost continuously. This guy just makes an occasional “kek kek kek” but then he has the benefit of good looks …

Sacred Kingfisher

The White-browed Woodswallow is another stunner. Or at least the male is.

White-browed Woodswallow

And the influx of inland species into Victoria continues. Crimson Chats at Wooroonook, who’d have guessed?

Crimson Chat
Tree Martin

 

I noticed that some Tree Martins were  collecting nesting material from one particular spot at the water’s edge so I took my chair and sat with the sun behind me in the hope that they would continue despite my presence. After a while they did.

I was keeping very still with the camera always raised, they were landing practically at my feet. While this was going on a Baillon’s Crake emerged just a few degrees to the left. These birds are so cryptic and so nervous that even a glimpse is unusual. A photograph like this is an absolute bonus.

To cap off the day the late afternoon sun side lit the River Red Gums right in front of my camp site. All I had to do was put down my glass of red and raise the camera one more time.

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.

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.