East of Carnegie

Get off my road!Saturday morning filled up with fuel at Carnegie Station. You can understand why It costs $2.50 per litre as it comes by road train over a thousand kilometres from Geraldton. Carnegie Station is for sale so if you have a spare $3.2M you could purchase this one million acre property. It carries approximately 6,500 head of cattle.

I.D. and Wendy, the caretakers at Carnegie told us that they had not seen another caravan traverse the Gunbarrel during their time at the station however I know we are not the first to take a caravan across the Gunbarrel. We have an article from a magazine written by a retired couple who took their 19 foot van across the track two years ago. They experienced no major issues apart from the track narrowing in places and having to squeeze through foliage. I.D. who has crossed the track several times said we should have no trouble if we took it slowly. Therefore I don’t believe it is risky or foolhardy to tow a van across. Also I can of course always turn around and go back if the track should become dangerous, this is the desert after all and there are plenty of places to turn around.

For those who may not be familiar with the names Gunbarrel or Len Beadel a little bit of Australiana. In 1946 the Australian Government needed isolated sites to set off atomic bombs and to test missiles. Len Beadel was tasked with finding the atomic testing sites and pushing roads through the Central and Western Australian deserts into virtually unknown country. Len was a surveyor and with a small road making crew he pushed through about 7,000 kilometres of roads. He called his team the Gunbarrel Road Constructions Party because the roads they made were as straight as a gun barrel as he would find a high point and signal his dozer driver with a mirror who would then push the road straight towards him. He mischievously called his roads “highways” when in fact they were actually tracks but the name highway has stuck to all that he named. Most of his roads still exists and can be driven by well equipped vehicles, indeed they form an essential part of the outback road infrastructure. A lot now require permits to traverse from  the indigenous land owners. Len wrote seven books about his time in the bush and they are a great read. He is often referred to as the last Australian explorer, sadly he passed away many years  ago.

The Gunbarrel deteriorates the further east you go. From Carnegie it becomes a one vehicle width track. Stopped for a cuppaI.D. at Carnegie told us that the road was good for the next 200 kilometres as the Wiluna Shire run a grader over it every year however the Warburton Shire haven’t graded it since 1991. We made about 150 kilometres today over varied road surfaces. Some loose sand, some corrugated and some rough gravel however as yet it is still a fairly good outback track. This section of the road traverses many sand hills.  Thankfully we have had no more tyre punctures. We didn’t leave until 9AM and we made camp about 3PM so it has not been a long day.The wildflowers along the way have been spectacular and we have lost count of how many different kinds we have seen. This year this country has had twice its normal rainfall so growth is prolific.

Mangkili ClaypanMade camp at Mangkili Clay pan which unusually for this time of the year has water in it. Just before making camp we came upon a footy oval, the most isolated in Australia. It was originally made so that teams from Wiluna and Warburton could meet half way and play each other. Probably not much of a success as it hasn’t been used for a long time.

Didn’t see any other vehicles on the road during the day but two have pulled up since we made camp. Once again plenty of firewood so we are doing all our cooking over a camp fire.

I have a well rehearsed sequence for checking the vehicle and the trailer in the morning. First we check tyre pressure on the van and car, then under the bonnet and check all fluid levels, then a check under the car and van to see if anything is obviously wrong. Ever since I left the West Australian coast we have been on dirt and I have had all tyre pressures reduced by 6psi over normal.This is much easier on the tyres. We also stay in four wheel drive whilst on dirt. Whilst four wheel drive may not be “needed” it is much safer on the tyres and vehicle.

Wiluna Warburton Shire boundarySunday morning and the weather is getting warmer. No need to get rugged up for breakfast but it is still cool of a night. We broke camp and headed the 25 kilometres to the Wiluna/Warburton Shire border. At the border you could see the track that the Wiluna grader had made as it turned around and after that the road really did become a track. Wash outs and monster corrugations, in some places the corrugations seemed to have corrugations on top of them.

Several sections of the track had up to three parallel tracks created by vehicles trying to escape the corrugations. It was difficult to detect the best track to use and consequently we diverted between them a lot, sometimes making our own track. Bob reckoned they weren’t as bad as his farm road but I have my doubts about that!

BustardCorrugationsHave seen several Bustards this trip. Very difficult to see in this country as they hide in the spinifex. Our bird book lists them as uncommon so it is great to see them.

Arrived at Geraldton Bore about 11:30 and decided to camp here for the day. We only averaged 22 kilometres per hour today and the track apparently gets worse. Just before the bore is one of the trees that Len Beadel affixed a plaque too. This has since gone missing but a replica has been made and erected by his daughter Connie-Sue Beadel who with her partner now runs tours into this area.

Geraldton BoreThe bore goes down around 40 metres and delivers delicious drinkable water via a hand pump for travellers. Seeing as we had time I filled our solar shower up from the bore and put it on the car bonnet to warm. Although the van does have a gas heated shower, which is very convenient it is a bit cramped in the shower cubicle so it is great to hang the solar shower in a tree when we can.

Once again did not see any other vehicles on the road today but two have since visited the bore but kept going to make camp further down the track. What a contrast this road is to Cape York with its thirty thousand plus visitors a season. Much more pleasant, and no crocodiles either!

Geraldton Bore, Gunbarrel Highway – Sunday 7 August 2011

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