29 January 2012

Davenport Range National Park

Friday, 20 January 2012

Northbound. We left Alice Springs for good at about 10:30AM (admittedly a tad late – but we had to make a couple of phone calls and stock up on food and fuel for the next few days) to hit the North Stuart Highway.
But instead of following in John McDouall Stuart’s tracks we veered off the Stuart Hwy after just 68km.
We weren’t done yet exploring, we were eventually going to join the Binns Track again!

Towing the trailer and the fact that we were running a bit late meant we had to improvise slightly.
That's why we didn’t stay on the Plenty Highway to join the Binns Track near Harts Range, we opted for the shortcut and turned onto the Sandover Highway instead. The Sandover Hwy is a major unsealed road in pretty impressive condition, better than most sealed highways we’d encountered in Queensland! Almost 250km we pushed on in a northeasterly direction, past Utopia and through Aboriginal land to ‘Ammaroo’, a cattle station in the middle of nowhere. 

After throwing in a quick (and improvised) picnic lunch we left the Sandover Hwy and finally joined the Binns Track again, heading north on a minor unsealed road now. This road, connecting several Aboriginal communities and cattle stations with the Sandover Hwy, had it all: corrugations from the regular to and fro between outstations, bull dust, washouts, the remnants of blown tyres, ditched wrecks in various states of decay, local families camping next to their broken down cars…
100km further on, near ‘Murray Downs’, we turned right yet again.
The Davenport Range National Part was our "piece de resistance" and we were in for some fun four-wheel driving! One minute the narrow track would run along atop a rocky ridge, some tufts of Spinifex only sprinkled on its flanks, next minute we’d be at the foot of the range and crossing the Frew River, its water tannin-stained and stagnant but picturesque just the same.

There was quite a bit of birdlife around, we saw a Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus), White-faced Herons (Egretta novaehollandiae) and lots of Spinifex Pigeons (Geophaps plumifera) among others.

Around another corner and the ruins of the old ‘Hatches Creek’ tungsten mine appeared on the horizon. Tungsten (also known as wolfram) from this mine played an important during wartimes.

We had to keep moving though, no time to fall into any of the deep shafts, it was still another 40km to go to the Old Police Station Waterhole – and it would take us at least another 1 ½ hours to get there. The weary explorers started wondering if they’d get to camp before dark.
The donkeys and cattle couldn’t have cared less…

We made it to the waterhole with a few minutes of daylight to spare. We even had enough time to examine all the camp sites along the waterhole to pick the best one of the spacious sites – for once again we were the only travellers around and the only complaints about our arrival were coming from a young bull, a few Australasian Darters (Anhinga novaehollandiae), Little Black Cormorants (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)and a flock of Australian Wood Ducks (Chenonetta jubata) that took off rather noisily.

We set up camp somewhere halfway along the waterhole under the gum trees, built a neat little campfire and placed the camp oven on the coals a little while later.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The temperatures hadn’t dropped much over night and it warmed up again quickly in the morning. As much of an oasis the Old Police Station Waterhole was, we were still surrounded by harsh desert country in the height of summer.
Steve and Flip decided to jump into the waterhole right opposite the ruins of the old police station, a quick swim in lieu of a shower. Not much left of the old building and what little is left of the old stone walls these days can easily be overlooked (hint: there's a little spec of red in the centre of the image below).

Standing on the edge of this tranquil waterhole in the remoteness of Davenport Range National Park, a million miles from civilisation (or so it seemed), it was hard to imagine how back in the old days this place could have possibly been in need of a police constable to restore order among a bunch of unruly miners and put a stop to quarrels between early pastoralists and local Aboriginal people.

We left the national park mid-morning, bypassing Wutunugurra and Epenarra, to enter it again in its northwestern corner at Whistleduck Creek.
Irrmweng (pronounced: Ear-moong-a) Waterhole proved very popular with Little Black Cormorants, the Toms family outnumbered yet again!

We learnt that local Aboriginal people frequent places along Whistleduck Creek for rain making ceremonies to this day. In the 1930s, an old man named ‘Lame Tommy’ was well known for his rainmaking skills and Aboriginal people as well as pastoralists would ask for his help to break periods of drought. Lame Tommy could make the rain stop too.

We had considered camping here for the night, but the water was the colour of black tea and didn’t look too inviting. It was still pretty early in the afternoon, so we backtracked to the main road. At this point we were only about 70km away from the Stuart Highway. After passing Kurundi Homestead the trip turned into something like a rollercoaster ride for a while, the road rather narrow at times, sharp corners, unpredictable turns on top of steep crests, dips with shallow water ove rthe road – holy moly!

We reached the campground at Devils Marbles less than 2 hours after leaving Whistleduck Creek coming full circle.
Steve and Flip had soon gathered enough firewood from the side of the Stuart Highway. Tonight’s dinner would be the last one cooked on an open fire: beef rump steaks, jacket potatoes topped with cream cheese and vegetables.

Boh boh!

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