Left Kalgoorlie Thursday morning. Kalgoorlie may be the centre of an immense gold mining industry but the town itself does not show much signs of the considerable wealth this must generate. The once magnificent hotels are now showing their age and in the whole look decidedly neglected.The main shopping street has certainly seen better days. Perhaps like so much else of Australia the wealth is exported offshore!
Had the car serviced in Kalgoorlie and they found that the fuel priming pump was leaking air and needed replacing with a new assembly and so by the time I had paid for new tyres and the service we departed Kalgoorlie considerably poorer than when we arrived.
Headed north to Menzies from where we wanted to take a dirt road 300 kilometres further north via Lake Ballard to Sandstone on the Agnew Sandstone Road.
Just north of Menzies we found the “Road Closed” sign up on the Menzies – Sandstone Road so back we went to Menzies to enquire. The road was only open as far as Lake Ballard (60 kilometres) but we wanted to continue to Sandstone The information centre gave us a sheet signed by the Shire CEO stating the road was “Open for 4wd with extreme care”. Bit of a conflict here so we enquired at the Council Chambers where we were told that notwithstanding anything in the info sheet we had, if we proceeded past the “Road Closed” sign we could be fined. Seemed a bit like one part of the council didn’t know what the other part was doing. We decided to have lunch as the council engineer was presently inspecting the road and a decision would be made at 2:00. Finally we got word, the “Road Closed sign was coming down and we could proceed.
It can be difficult getting information on road closures on secondary roads as you need to contact the responsible Shire and unless you are a local it is almost impossible to know which Shire is responsible for which road and therefore which Shire to contact. There is no central repository available on the Internet for this information, this only applies to main road information.
Vicki and I had visited Lake Ballard before several years ago when it was about 40 degrees in the shade and it was difficult to see anything because of the heat shimmer. This time conditions where much more pleasant, the lake even had some water in it. During the Bicentennial Year 52 stainless steel sculptures of local people where erected on the lake and this tends to attract tourists who may not otherwise venture onto such dirt roads. Whilst you don’t need a four wheel drive to get as far as Lake Ballard you would need to be very careful in anything else so we were more than a little surprised as the afternoon drew to a close to see a sports sedan with almost no ground clearance come roaring in. Out came four Japanese who proceeded to walk out onto the lake in what looked to be very new and clean sneakers only to return with red mud up over their ankles, their once white shoes now red. They tried to clean off what mud they could, hopped back in the car and roared off. It reminded me of the Japanese in the Burt Reynolds “Smokey and the Bandits” film. We had a great camp there that night.
Friday morning dawned with a clear blue sky, fantastic we hadn’t seen such a thing in several weeks, then the sun came out which was even better. We headed north up the now opened 230 kilometre dirt road to Sandstone. The road was in good condition but there was no avoiding some of the patches of water and mud. It was easy to see why the road had been closed, letting traffic on it would have chewed it up terribly. The couple of clay pans that the road passes through just south of Sandstone would have been really “interesting” during the rain. Sandstone is a small but well kept town, just a general store, pub, information centre and museum, council chambers and primary school with about 9 pupils. There are some large properties in the area as well as being a centre for prospectors who work the region. The alluvial reefs have long been worked out but prospectors using metal detectors are apparently making good finds. However this is just hearsay as no one really talks about what they find and where they find it.
We decided to push on to Mt Magnet as “they who must be obeyed” had decided a hot shower with plenty of water and a pub meal was called for. This was a fairly long day’s driving for us of about 400 kilometres. Calling into the Mt Magnet caravan park (only the 2nd caravan park of the trip) I was amazed to see it was almost full, mainly with sparkly clean and shining caravans. We being covered in mud were immediately consigned to a far corner down the back. No, actually we asked to go down the back as because we don’t require mains power it is our favourite part of a caravan park. Apparently it is the heart of the tourist season and Mt Magnet is on the “bitumen express” taking caravans to the west coast.
Gas cylinders, used by almost all those who travel are getting increasing difficult to fill. So called “swap and go” cylinders are becoming more prevalent in the larger towns and facilities to actually fill cylinder scarcer. Now these ‘swap and go” cylinders are not all they seem as they are not the same capacity as a normal cylinder. For instance our gas bottles are 4.5 kilos but “swap and go” are 3.7 kilos. Apparently they do this so that “swap and go” are the same price as a refill however this 18% reduction in capacity can leave us running short of gas in the bush so I refuse to use “swap and go”. Luckily the smaller isolated towns have not adopted “swap and go”, because of transport issues I suppose and it is still easy to get cylinders refilled in them.
Everyone else in our party has gone to bed, contented after a couple of drinks and a pub meal, leaving me to try to write and publish this blog before we depart in the morning. It sometimes can be hard to find the time to blog when we are moving, different when we stop for a few days, so I hope someone reads this!
Mt Magnet, Friday 15 July 2011