We stayed at the Big 4 Riverbend caravan park in Renmark, perfectly located besidethe Paringa suspension bridge which opens twice each day to allow river cruisers and houseboats to move up and down the Murray River. The range of houseboats is amazing - both modern luxury style and older restored types. Little driver training is required, so now we want to go house-boating, or even better see if we can do a home/boat exchange in Europe or USA ... who wants to come with us?! The Chook Man was in town for the premiere of a documentary that has been made about him. What a character. Over the years he has graduated from a minibus to a "water vessel"- we use the term loosely! Worth reading about. A lovely afternoon river cruise on the MV Barrangul included Devonshire tea, and great birdlife photo opportunities for Ian. The owners are just starting off in Renmark after running a similar enterprise at Murray Bend for many years. We were impressed by their range of activities for children - good to see a varied age range getting right into solving intricate puzzles and games, and the big kids helping the littlies... not an i-Pad or phone in sight! The restored paddle steamer 'Industry' steams down the river occasionally - not inour time frame sadly. We have many beautiful red river gums in our back garden, and had heard about an artist in Lyrup who specialises in pen and ink drawings of them. After some detective work, we tracked Tony Smith down in his back yard, and spent a wonderful30 minutes yarning about fine art, the meaning of life, trees and ships. He was the Master of the Murray Princess for many years, and has spent 25 years regenerating native bush around his home. Tony's sight is failing due to glaucoma so we felt especially happy to have seen his finely detailed work, and have 2 lovely prints to remind us of our meeting. Sadly we were disappointed with the promise of fresh fruit in Berrie, Loxton and Renmark - wrong time, wrong place probably. Next stop, Mildura!
These days the Nullarbor road is in very good condition and includes several emergency airstrips for the RFDS.
However Ian recalls his first experience driving from east to west in 1966 when it was mostly dirt from Port Augusta to Balladonia.
“I was doing a favour for Wilf, one of my Army mates who was in hospital with appendicitis. He had a Vauxhall Velox (obviously pre-1966 model) and pleaded with me to drive it home to Perth… 3000km! I wasn’t keen at all as it would eat into my 2 weeks of pre-embarkation leave before leaving for Viet Nam. At least 5 days! My condition was that I couldn’t do it alone … Did he know anyone else willing to join me? Ian McKeown put his hand up, so I had to do it.
We set off from Puckapunyal in Victoria and managed to get through to the difficult Adelaide hills where we were held up with traffic. Onwards into the night – stopped at a pub and bought a cold slab of Southwark beer. Then headed up through Port Augusta and on to the westward road – after one can (disgusting!) the rest went out the window.
Well down the track we swapped drivers. After a bit of shut-eye on the back seat, I was awakened by a horrendous thumping noise – just in time to see the car straddling the debris left by the grader on the edge of the road! Ian had gone to sleep and luckily the noise woke us both! Just out of Nundroo…
The damage was considerable. The flywheel housing had been belted up against the flywheel which had proceeded to cut a nice slice out of the housing. My immediate concern was the sump – luckily it had not been punctured though it was well and truly corrugated.
A minor problem were the gear linkages – now non-existent and we were stuck in top gear! I managed to stuff some rags in the flywheel housing but had to wear the rest of the damage… Slow starts in top gear were the go!
So we headed west hoping nothing else would stop us. Ivy Tanks a was compulsory fuel stop and it was about 20 feet above the surrounding plain, We had to do a couple of circuits of it before we had enough speed to climb the hill….
It got worse. We intended to drive non-stop, so we just kept heading west. I was driving along one of the side tracks that seemed reasonable and we were about 100 km short of Balladonia. I was barely able to keep my eyes open and Ian was asleep too. So we stopped and put our heads down. Woke up at daybreak and stepped out to have a pee … Walked up to the road and had a look – it was bluddy bitumen as Far East as I could see!
My Dad came out to meet us as we approached Perth and we took the Vauxhal to Wilf’s home. I was sorry it was in the condition it was, but glad that ordeal was over. It had taken us 48 driving hours and I was bluddy exhausted”.
So now we are back in SA. During our last visit here in October 2012, we focused on travelling extensively in the Flinders Ranges and eating the best seafood all around the Eyre Peninsula. This time – who knows?!
After going through quarantine in Ceduna and stocking up on fruit and veges, we picked up 6 dozen freshly caught oysters for $42 at Smoky Bay, and headed south to Elliston to meet up with friends Jan and Jamie for a few days R and R. This will involve fishing, camp fires, eating oysters, quaffing a few ales and sipping a few SA wines. Yes, it’s tough but someone has to do it!
BTW, the first sign we saw in SA was this one….
Our last few days have been spent crossing the Nullarbor, a huge limestone plain that links WA with the eastern states.
Firstly though, please enjoy these early morning photos of Coolgardie’s beautiful architecture dating back to the 1880s – it is a quiet town these days, but it is easy to imagine the crowds and the vibe back then!
There was a minor delay when we left due to a long queue at the only garage in town (computer systems down so no fuel), so we headed for Widgiemooltha 80 kms down the track.
Surprise! The BP truck was late this week, so no fuel there either. Oops. We do have an auxiliary fuel tank, but hadn’t counted on missing two fuel stops completely! After a few rapid calculations we figured we could just make it to Norseman by driving very slowly – let’s just say it was nice to see that big green BP sign.
Ah then, now for the the mighty Nullarbor! The name is of Latin origin (Null = Nil, Arbor = tree) but we like the Aboriginal name as well (Gondiri = ‘bare like a bone’).
Some people just hate this drive across the Eyre Highway and drive it as quickly as possible; others are mesmerised by the huge landscape, the cliffs bordering the Southern Ocean, caves and rockholes and the beautiful sky-scapes. Perhaps it depends on how much time is available – No doubt about it, it’s a long trip along a very straight road!
We turned into the Nullarbor Roadhouse to see a sport aircraft in the queue for fuel! The pilot had flown for 7 hours today from Perth. Hmmm, 7 hours vs 3 days! Several planes a week land on the gravel strip at the back of the roadhouse which the owners maintain for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It was a case of deja vu for Ian as he ferried a Cessna 150 from Sydney to Perth in December 1968, and refuelled at Nullarbor as well!
These days the road is in good shape, and there is a never-ending procession of road trains and caravans travelling both ways. But people have very different memories of this particular stretch of the GAFA, with many injuries and deaths and little problems like cars disappearing into huge potholes.
In our next post, Ian will recall his first experience in 1966, so let us know your best (or worst!) experiences of the Nullabor!
Day 1 of our long awaited “Big Trip East” from our home in Western Australia went well – although maybe departing on April Fools Day could have been better planned!
Driving through the Wheatbelt region is always nostalgic for us, as it is an area we both know and love. There is a straight section of road where 3 essential ‘arteries’ run in parallel:
- The main railway east which links the Indian and Pacific oceans
- The Eastern Highway from Perth to Norseman, which then links with Highway 1 to take you all around Australia
- And in the middle is the Goldfields pipeline – now that is an intriguing and sad tale to follow, especially if you are interested in engineering feats. CY O’Connor‘s vision of pumping water from Perth to the dry Goldfields interior succeeded in 1903, but he sadly committed suicide 9 months earlier due to immense personal pressure from the naysayers of the day.
We crossed the markers for the two rabbit-proof fences built in 1901 and 1905. From all accounts they were not terribly successful in stemming the bunny tide. Releasing the myxoma virus in the 1950s was much more successful – for the humans, not the rabbits.
However “The Rabbit Proof Fence” for us will always refer to the movie of the same name where 3 Aboriginal girls ran away from the Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth, in 1931. They walked for nine weeks along the 2,400 km fence to return to their community at Jigalong. An amazing story of a bad, bad time.
3 crosses and a memorial near Boorabin reminded us of the awful events of 2007 when 3 trucks were incinerated. Poor communication between different emergency services led to incorrect information being provided to the truckies about which roads were open or closed.
Many court cases were held mainly to apportion blame in order for compensation to be awarded, but there were certainly no winners in that whole process – other than it being a dreadful reminder of the constant bushfire danger in Australia.
The distinctive trees along this route are outstanding. The Wandoo woodlands between Perth and Northam fade out to ‘parachute’ eucalypts then the very handsome ‘Salmon’ gums – as we call them because of their colour – which actually include a green and a cream… Whatever, they are very beautiful, especially when they have had a light shower of rain and the deep green leaves and trunks glisten.
As a kid Ian occasionally went with his dad when he drove to Merredin to carry out his Optometrist duties there. This is where he saw them first, so he has a deep seated memory of watching them while lying on the back seat of the car before nodding off … Priceless memories. Many years later as a conscript in Viet Nam, he came over a hill and looked down on a group of planted salmon gums which really sent a pang of WA homesickness over him.
Once we got into the Goldfields region, we settled into the Coolgardie caravan park by 4.30 pm, and wandered up to the Denver City Hotel, the only local hotel still operating out of 23 in gold rush days. This is our favourite occupation in any small town we visit. We get to stretch our legs, have a yarn with people in their front yards, chat with locals in the bar – plus have a cold beer and a wine before going home to our van to cook dinner!
Would love to hear what your favourite tree is in your neck of the woods?