Hay River Track


Hay River Track – Simpson Desert 2016

A Journey into the heart of Australia


Completed between 2 – 10 July 2016

Birdsville to Jervois Station on the Plenty Highway

710km total including approx. 80km on tours at Batton Hill

4WDing – 2 half days, 5 full days, 1 full day at Batton Hill

150 series Prado 3lt diesel – 87 litres fuel used (190 litres carried)

Fuel available at Birdsville and Jervois.

Water – approx. 5 litres per person used. Prado carried 120 litres, Landcruiser carried 80 litres. Water available at Batton Hill.

Track conditions – sand was quite firm and cool due to prior rain (may have improved fuel economy). Although Eyre Creek was in minor flood south of Bedourie it was dry on the QAA line. Many sand dunes between Birdsville and lake north of Poepell Corner. Also dunes east of Beachcomber Oil Well. Track is very well defined. Only corrugations are between Batton Hill and Jervois. Track was dry. Much more fuel would be necessary in wet conditions due to mud driving.

The tours at Batton Hill are excellent – Both Bush Tucker and Sunset tours are driving based and give guided access to hilly country which is spectacular, different to the rest of the track and not accessible unless on a tour.

Recommend – DO NOT GO anywhere in the Simpson adjoining the Big Red Bash unless you like traffic.

Permits for the Hay River Track are available from Jol Fleming on (08) 8952 3359 or email him at jol@direct4wd.com.au.
You will also need a Deserts Parks Pass from the South Australian NPWS.


A journey into the heart of Australia

(Warning – this story contains the names of Aboriginal people who have passed away)

After the Birdsville Track reopened following rain our drive from Mungerannie to Birdsville coincided with The Big

Birdsville Track June 2016
Birdsville Track June 2016

Red Bash – a 3 day music festival of good old Aussie rock (Jimmy Barnes, The Angels, Christine Anu, Paul Kelly…). It seemed like all the owners of four wheel drives were on the same road, mostly in more of a hurry than us. Selfish hoons sped past spraying stones our direction. Muddy sections and water crossings painted our car brown.

Birdsville was almost out of control. People and cars were everywhere. The wait to pay for our precious diesel was 20 mins. 600km away Maree had run out of fuel. Bakery, (quick chat about Eyre Creek), last minute groceries, info on the tracks, water top up, bump into an old friend. People, rockers, cars, vans. “Let’s get out of here!”

On the “town” perimeter we passed lines of camper trailers parked in the dust. Then on to Little Red. Tyres deflated. Cruised to the top among the day trippers. Out along the QAA Line for an hour then we camped on the edge of a clay pan surrounded by fields of yellow and white flowers. Solitude, quiet, isolation.

2-west-of-big-redStars. We chatted about aboriginal people and culture in the fire’s warmth – this followed on from three days of travel listening to a talking book called “The Red Chief” by Ion Idriess which was a story passed on to Idriess about the life of a leader of the Kamilaroi nation near Gunnedah before the coming of Europeans, and my reading of “The Short Long Book” about Michael Long and Stan Grant’s “Talking To My Country”. It seemed right sitting under the river of the Milky Way and looking up at the Emu In The Sky to be trying to open up to indigenous Australia. I was already anticipating our sojourn at Batton Hill at the north end of the Hay River Track.

It was election night. Updates were texted in to the satphone.

Oncoming traffic on the dunes was headed in to The Bash Bash.

At morning tea I noticed a crack in the windscreen. Game over? Charles had the same but smaller. Must have been from stone impacts driving up the Birdsville Track! It was frustrating to think that our trip could have been compromised by others when we had prepared so thoroughly. I pulled out the windscreen repair kit. Charles’ opinion was that it shouldn’t be catastrophic – laminated glass cracks should only be in one layer. I had visions of the whole thing splintering from the torsional stresses placed on it from the dune driving. And driving through the dust with no windscreen, and the rain!? We squeezed resin into the cracks and decided to keep going and monitor and repair further as best we could. The prospect of return to Birdsville was horrendous.

More dunes. Like a fun roller coaster drive.

Traffic radio calls. “Party of 5 heading east on QAA cresting”. As the calls got louder and clearer we slowed and made contact to avoid dune top meetings or collisions. Tall sand flags mounted on bull bars which appeared above the crests were an early warning system. All the latest 4WDs, some old ones, camper trailers small and large, big vehicles, some looking way overloaded. One landcruiser with a tray top camper slowly made his way past with a broken rear axle – in front wheel drive. Apparently he needed several goes on the bigger dunes but only needed the occasional assistance!

“The Simpson will catch you out when you least expect it” had warned a guy at the Bakery whose whole roof rack had sheared right off.

Fields of white, yellow and some pink lined the track.

We camped in a delightful vale among small mounds topped with mulga trees surrounded by flowers. “Narrow Leafed Hopbush” Camp. Magical gardens lit up all around in the afternoon light. A salted clay pan lay almost hidden nearby. We’d been drawn back into this iconic landscape. Any trip into “the desert” can be a profound and spiritual experience if you open up to the place. We were making a journey deep into the country’s heart.4-camp-in-flowers


Some hoons nearby shot off 2 distress flares for fun into the still night sky. Sounds of their drunken carousing and muffled music broke the silence.

A last short section of hectic dunes led us to a lake where we left the crowds and started north on the Hay River Track. Not far away was Poepell Corner where three states meet, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia. For some this point is the centre of Australia. In 1845 Sturt set out to find the centre where he hoped to find an inland sea. His party carried a boat but discovered only a sea of endless sand dunes and searing heat – The Simpson Desert. Our plan to miss the crowds and start this trip into the Simpson Desert at the Warburton Crossing and then go up the K1 Line to the Hay River was thwarted by the rain and a flooded crossing which had been closed by National Parks SA.

It was a pleasant change to travel between the dunes instead of across them. Past Poepel Corner Oil Well we entered spinifex country. Then we turned east for a delightful section of dune crossings. 3-east-of-beachcomberA smaller and more intricate track threaded its way rather than the dead straight of the QAA line made by oil exploration parties to transport drilling rigs and where the tops of the dunes had been dozed. Here the dune crests were more intact and steep. Cath drove, gained confidence and loved the challenge and fun nature of the action without the stress of traffic.

The crack had extended slightly so Araldite was added to strengthen the repair – a hopeful act if ever there was one.

Regional ABC QLD radio news drifted in and out of reception with election details. (We are from Canberra!)

We reached “The Glove” and headed north again mostly between the dunes. Red, red soil was a different colour and drier, finer and softer than the QAA. Past “Claypan” we camped under a dune with the world laid out. Threatening showers dissolved into an orange and pink sunset.5-dune-camp

Stunning starscape in the early hours.

Another brilliant clear day.

We packed up in the fine red sand considering what the process would be like in the wet. The crack had not extended out but had side-split in a jagged line to the base of the screen. We met our first other party so far on track. Seeming to be grumpy and stressed they complained about the cost of camping at Batton Hill and being ripped off on the Bush Tucker and Culture Tour as there wasn’t much tucker (in the middle of winter).

Then north east into the faint drainage line of the Hay River. We met two more parties, one from the Madigan line. Madigan crossed the Simpson in 1930, establishing a series of camps as he sought the geographical centre of the continent. The Madigan Line tracks leading into camps 15 from the west and out of camp 16 to the east looked well defined. Another passing group told us the people at Batton Hill were all away on men’s business. I couldn’t quite discern whether they were just disappointed or maybe angry as well.

Another beautiful camp nestled under a dune. “Dragon Fire Camp” – a hollow log spouted flame through both ends. Stars. We talked about Land Rights, health, the Apology, why New Zealand and other countries have treaties and not us, the Preamble – the little we knew and the lot we didn’t. In 1992 we had cheered as Mandawuy Yunupingu, principal of Yirrkala Community School was named 9-dragonfire-campAustralian of the Year. In 1991 his voice had rang out through dance clubs around the globe as front man of Yothu Yindi. “Well I heard it on the radio and I saw it on the television. Back in 1988, all those talking politicians. Words are easy. Words are cheap. Much cheaper than our priceless lands. White promises can disappear just like writing in the sand. Treaty yeah. Treaty now.” He had died prematurely, like many of his countrymen, aged 56, of renal failure.

We reached the spot on the map named “Aboriginal Midden” and parked in the shade for lunch. It’s a large open beautiful spot on a bend in the river bed. Holes in the channel would hold water. It would make a great camp site. Tuned in to the country Fiona quickly found the stone tool midden. Fragments were spread over a wide area. I imagined ceremonies there, large gatherings of people in the past. Stretching back past the end of the last ice age when maybe the ancient Hay River flowed with more regular water. I considered camping there but felt weighed down with too much history and sadness and story. Were they massacred here too, or poison water holed or just pushed off by pastoralists? Some places have a “feel”. I couldn’t have been comfortable there overnight.8

Birdwatching along the way. Bustard, red backed kingfisher, little eagles.

We called Batton Hill on the sat phone and checked our tour booking. All seemed well.

I turned on the radio again. We could only get one station. Of course it was NAIDOC Week. The country’s heart was spilling out towards me.  In and out of faint reception we listened to snippets of an interview with Timothy Bottoms who has documented the killing of tens of thousands of Aboriginal people on Queensland’s frontier as “new” land was opened up. And the “Conspiracy of Silence” that has taken place as the authorities in Brisbane and Sydney were not interested, and the pastoralists had every reason to keep it quiet.

Delightful driving, landscape, slow and winding, flowered, spinifex, grassland.7

A side track led us across the bed of the Hay River which was by then a wide expanse of soft sand. At camp we found rocks that looked like asteroids – “Asteroid Camp”.

Singing honeyeaters.

Stars, small fire.

We tried to encapsulate and explore more aboriginal culture issues – remote camps, dispossession. Cath told the story of how we had met the Mayor of the Laverton area in WA when we were crossing the Anne Beadell Track a couple of years before. We had crossed paths about 400km along the track. He was returning from a meeting at Tjuntjuntjara which must be one of the remotest Aboriginal communities in Australia. 680km out and south of Ilkurlka it took him 2 days to drive there. The people were his constituents. They wanted to remain on their own country. The Mayor had met there with the people and politicians had flown in for the meeting. He wanted 5 million bucks so he could fix the water supply, improve the health services and the school. To get these things to a standard nearer to those of his other constituents, the white people who lived in remote small towns in WA and also wanted to stay where they were on their land as they had grown up there and had a history going back some generations. Basic human rights in Australia really – health, water, education. Tjuntjuntjara is in the Great Victoria Desert Nature Reserve. I wondered about their rights to the land.

Fi is a counsellor. We talked about cultural genetic inheritance of trauma. “Doctors talk about epigenetic inheritance: the experiences of parents and grandparents passed directly to their offspring. Some families carry genetic illness, passed down through generations. My people inherit the loss of our country. It has proven as incurable and potentially lethal as any cancer”. Stan Grant (award winning international journalist)

The Lake Caroline Claypan is huge and flat and desolate.

I walked alone out into the middle. Enormous space. I felt like running. Cracked, intricate texture.

Flocks of budgies.

Dingo Well is a permanent water bore made by Elder Lindsay Bookie and a conservation organisation. 10-friendsThe aim is to reintroduce dingos by providing a permanent water source of the sort which would have been in place pre contact and which would have been maintained and cared for by the Aboriginal people. Zebra finches flocked in great numbers. A small lizard comraded with Cath as she used its hollow log as a luncheon seat.

Afternoon radio played Emma Donovan singing songs of her aunty Ruby Hunter. Ruby had been life partner of Archie Roach having met as homeless teenagers on the streets of Melbourne. Her deep soul voice and words echoed through Emma’s singing as we drove. “Down city streets I would roam. I had no bed. I had no home. There was nothing that I own. Use my fingers as a comb.”  Both Ruby and Archie had been forcibly removed from their families when they were young children – part of the stolen generation.

12The track became less windey in the afternoon. The gearbox was changed into third gear for the first time in a week. Two large white barked ghost gums provided a gateway into Aboriginal land at the edge of Batton Hill. Lindsay Bookie’s daughter (and now custodian),  her daughter and “Puppy Dog” welcomed us, showed where to set up camp and confirmed arrangements for the following day’s tour. We settled in for an afternoon of welcome hot showers, running tap water, clothes washing and relaxing. Groups of noisy cockatiels flew about the camp. We felt a sense of accomplishment and relief at having crossed the Simpson Desert and reached civilization.

Sunset, zodiacal light. Stars, fire.

Charles, an energy scientist, felt strongly that at this time in our shared history we need to have a custodian style of care for the land.

Our guide (permission is being sought to include his Lindsay’s daughter’s names in this narrative) led the “Bush Tucker Tour” from the front in his black 4WD ute. He was quietly spoken, reserved, gentle and sheltered under a beanie and hoodie and big dark glasses. He took us through landscapes we had not seen, hills, mini eucalypt woodlands, rocky mesas, past jagged ridges. The first lookout gave wonderful views in all directions. We chatted a little. When I mentioned I had just finished reading the book about Michael Long he became animated and told me Long was his hero. Also that he had played AFL as a boy and young man. It seemed that in many ways events and our journey into the desert had conspired and led me to this conversation. I told him we were from Canberra and asked if he was from around Batton Hill. His father had been a close friend of Lindsay Bookie. He pointed out his home country on the map – a little over to the west. When his father fixed his hilux they were going to go over to the station there. He proudly told me his father had taken him to Dalhousie Springs on the other side of the Simpson for Land Council business. Where you are from and who you are related to – these are important points of connection.

Talking about country
Talking about country

Further on he showed us some bush bananas which would be in season in summer.15-on-batton-hill-tourAt the next lookout he took off his hoodie and showed me his footy team shirt from Santa Theresa. 14-footy-shirtLtyentye Apurte the team was called. The traditional name for Santa Theresa. The colours were the same as the Saints – St. Kilda. He’d played under 17 at age 12 and then went straight to A grade. Later on he played for the Plenty Highway team.

“Across the Northern Territory this game we love brings hope to thousands. It’s something that I’m really proud of. Every week remote development managers are delivering football programs that improve the quality of life for entire communities. We need a focal point for these life changing projects. My dream is a simple one. To build a learning and leadership centre to encourage children in remote communities to attend school, to develop leadership skills and above all to develop the self-belief so that they can and will succeed in life no matter what. The centre will have a focus well beyond elite athletes. It will provide a sporting and educational model available to all territorians. Using the power of football, the sport that means so much to many, the centre will help young territorians to be all that they want to be. This is our opportunity. These are our children. This is their future and this is my dream.” Michael Long – Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre website.

 I couldn’t help thinking that Michael Long would have been extremely proud of this young man who had been inspired as a youngster to take up sport, continue his education and now to be generously sharing his story and country. Lindsay Bookie, buried adjacent to the Camp, was an Eastern Arrernte member of the Rain Dreaming clan. He had led the native title claim for this now freehold Aboriginal land, had set up Batton Hill Camp and established the Hay River Track. These initiatives provide income and employment for his extended family group. Our guide and the small group who run the camp and tours stay at Batton Hill during the tourist season.

In his book about Michael Long Martin Flanagan imagines “that being denied your chance to stand in the Law, to be initiated, would cut a warrior type deeply. So what happens to a proud man who goes back to the Aboriginal place he was stolen from, his country, and no-one knows him?”  Martin went back with Michael to Ti Tree where his father was stolen from. He could not find the right places. “He accelerates down one of the dirt lanes, a plume of red dust behind him. He says, ‘Look out the back Martin! That’s what my grandmother saw when they took my father away on the back of a truck.’ Billowing red dust obscures my vision. He flicks on the CD player. It’s no coincidence the song that plays – he’s programmed it. The song is Archie Roach’s anthem to the Stolen Generation, ‘Took the Children Away’, played loud with his car window down, like he’s broadcasting to the place, telling them why he’s come, and I sit there, white mouth clamped shut.”

Late in the afternoon he took us out to Goyders Pillar on the private property station next door. This is a very special area of small peaks and ragged scarps that catch the changing light at sunset. At the base of the Pillar, almost hidden under a low bush, is a large grinding stone. I could sense the possibility of important dreaming stories in the landscape.18-batton-hill-sunset-tour

Sunset, stars. A warm night. Crescent moon over ghost gums.

In the morning we paid our respects before departing. Thanked Lindsay’s daughter for letting us travel the Hay River Track through her property on what must be one of the most delightful, remote desert 4WD touring routes anywhere. And for sharing her country.

As we walked back to the cars I wondered if the guide’s and Lindsay’s daughter’s missing front teeth were a sign of deep cultural knowledge, were evidence that against all odds they may have been able to keep their culture alive and walk in both worlds, that they had been able to continue their connection to their country that had lasted hundreds of generations. The oldest living culture on the planet. I marveled at their open generosity. And resilience.

16On the last two hour section of corrugated straight line dirt to Jervois I found a remote settlement on the Hema map that we had heard about. It’s a community about 300km from Alice Springs up the Sandover Highway. Cath had randomly met the school principal from there while drinking coffee in a café in Alice. They got talking and she told Cath about a program where people like us volunteer for a couple of weeks in the school listening to kids read. Apparently it makes a huge difference. We started pondering the calendar for the following year.

At Jervois conversation returned again to Aboriginal Australia and we told Fiona and Charles about Elspeth, our daughter, and her work in Roebourne. Her two years with the indigenous community culminated in the premiere of the “Hipbone Sticking Out” theatre show at Canberra Theatre. The community development show was based around the story of John Pat whose death in prison resulted in the Black Deaths in Custody royal commission. In talking about this I could barely hold back tears as I described how at the end of the first performance Archie Roach had sung his song “John Pat” to the boy’s mother who was in the audience and the crowd. The whole show, which featured members of the community including the children that El had worked closely with, was like a barbed spear into the heart or our cultures in collision.

On the long drive home we stopped at Cunnamulla for a break and to stretch the legs. Across from where we parked was the courthouse. Small groups of indigenous people were the only people that waited conspicuously outside. And then back home I read in the paper that apparently Eddie Maguire had regretted his very public racist comments about Adam Goodes, another Australian of the year.

In a fit of nostalgia back home I Youtubed “our” Cathy lighting the fire for the whole planet at the 2000 Olympics and running in that race when all of Australia held its breath for her. Then Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil sang for white Australia to about 4 billion people worldwide at the closing ceremony;

“Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty five degrees

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?
How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

Their black costumes were emblazoned with the single word SORRY. It felt like a collective sorry for the stolen generations, sorry for black deaths in custody and sorry for disposession and massacres.

Can we heal what’s in our country’s damaged and broken heart by properly and honestly acknowledging our black and white history, by saying and being sorry, by making amends? Is it even possible? To respect and value? To connect? Batton Hill shines for me now like one small beacon of hope.

A few days later while waiting for the NRMA house call to fix the windscreen Radio National aired a program examining the indigenous rangers caring for country program across the north of Australia. And its struggle for funding. Mine was the last booking of the day. Andrew arrived at 6.00pm, having started the day at 7.00am, his tenth and last job. He worked with consummate skill and patiently answered all my questions while waiting for the primer and glues to set in the cold weather. I took photos of a heavily vandalised smashed screen in the back of his van as he pointed to the inner vinyl layer that had kept it in tact. All this info could be passed on to my 4WD club. He said he didn’t mind if his (black) finger featured in a photo in the club magazine. I searched for a final metaphor in the smashed glass, the careful fixing up and the sharing of knowledge.

Noticing, opening up, tuning in. Maybe this is where it starts. To each other and the country.11Talking to My Country                   Stan Grant     2016

The Short Long Book                      Martin Flanagan      2015

Conspiracy of Silence – Queensland’s frontier killing times    Timothy Bottoms      2013

The Red Chief                                      Ion Idriess      1954




Post script – At the 2016 election more indigenous MPs were elected to federal parliament than at any other time in Australian history. Ken Wyatt, Pat Dodson, Linda Burney.

Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers


Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers – 2 weeks

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) sanctuary 15 – 30 June 2016img_0076

Having kept an eye on the SA Outback Roads website for a month it was clear that with the recent rains we were lucky to make it to Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary’s gate on schedule. All the way up the Birdsville Track was green. Sanctuary Manager Tess met us at the gate with a welcoming smile and instructions on driving carefully in her tyre tracks. Over the first big dune a large claypan opened up. Over the next was the homestead and nerve centre for the property. Arid desert country at the meeting point of the Tirari, Sturt Stony and Simpson Deserts and bordering Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre, the old grazing property now provides a continuous reserve system linking the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve and Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre National Park. Cath and I, both recently retired, had committed to a two week volunteering stint.

On the first day we settled in to our extremely comfy cottage. After an induction Tess drove us out to a beautiful place on the Warburton Creek, Stoney Crossing. The birdlife was plentiful on the strongly flowing floodwater. Sunset across the enormous sky was stunning.img_0111

The property is managed by a couple, Mark and Tess, who are employed by Australian Wildlife Conservancy. On our second day we cleaned and tidied up the Saddlery which is set up as a base camp for scientists and research survey groups. Tess drove out to the remote part of the property to escort back in a couple of palaeobiologists who were investigating 100,000 year old egg shells of Genyornis, a large emu-like bird – now extinct. Showers were threatening. Mark had been stranded in Leigh Creek by closed roads and rain further south. We started a cleanup of the workshop and garage area and unpacked some new air conditioning units. As rain started the scientists just made it out to Mungerannie before the access road was closed again. Apparently when the big rains came on New Year’s Day (180mm) Tess and Mark couldn’t get out for 4 months due to floodwaters coming down from the Channel Country and the damaged roads. Over sunset we watched black kites in groups cruising over the dunes and swales.img_0047To minimise damage to the internal tracks we restricted ourselves to the homestead area. Next day we tidied up garden areas and removed bushes that could have been a fire hazard. Cath did some caulking of the cracks in the cottage while I made up some bed bases and tops for work benches. It was a wonderful change to be doing work that at the end of each day you can look over what you have achieved and actually see the results. We drove over to the next door air strip and collected the mail.

img_0088Our days took on a pattern. Start work at 8.30am and go thru till 4.00ish including breaks then go for a sunset walk over the dunes and along the claypans birdwatching, exploring and photographing. Dinner, catch up on emails, read. Be in the landscape, experience the weather changes, live on the property, learn about all sorts of things, do physical work.

On day 4 we continued gardening and carpentry. Mark finally got through with his load of solar panels and batteries and food supplies for him and Tess. Amazingly a fuel tanker arrived and filled up the diesel and generator tanks and dropped off some helicopter AV gas drums. There was heavy rain in the Channel Country in the Cooper and Diamantina catchments. We got the TV going in the cottage and discovered that the one station we could get broadcast AFL during prime time 5 nights a week. A shame those games last so long!

img_0140Mark burnt the piles of brush that we’d removed from around the buildings. Then we drove out together to check on the campsites in readiness for a couple of small groups of ecologists and volunteers – to “Pretty Place”, “The Island”, “Stoney Creek” and “Boat Ramp”. Yellow flowers were starting to carpet the landscape. Mark spotted a red backed kingfisher. After lunch I helped unload the heavy solar gear at the airstrip hanger and washed down the vehicle that had been in to town. It’s quite a job to remove all the mud to ensure all the weed seeds are removed. Kalamurina is mostly weed free but a few species are knocking at the fence to get in.

On day 6 heavy morning fog lay in the home claypan. I cleaned up and fitted a new battery in the tilt trailer hydraulic unit and finished the bed bases. Cath got the plum job of “tyning” the outer part of the airstrip which involved driving slowly and carefully up and down and round in the landcruiser ute towing a heavy meal square which scraped the ground smooth and free of weeds – all while listening to the only cd in the cab – Slim Dusty. I started fabricating some signs and working on a mobile workbench.20160620_121102

Day 7 we worked on the airstrip together, driving and hoeing the round markers. The strip is used for visiting tour groups and emergencies mainly so must be maintained to RFDS standards. The property strip is clay based, next door’s is sand based and 60km away at Mungerannie on the Birdsville Track there is an all-weather gravel strip. We had the afternoon off and went birdwatching at “The Island”.

Next day we were homestead bound again due to rain so I assisted Mark prepping the area for the solar installation. On the property nearly everything is recycled. I spent time stripping the plastic off various bits of copper wire to take into town for recycling. Cath assisted with stocktaking the RFDS emergency box. In the afternoon I continued with measuring up and routing the signs while Mark did several jobs. He’s a super talented guy with immense skills developed over intensive time in the bush. He welded, backhoed, fenced and road maintained like an artisan. He and Tess must be some of the hardest working people in the Southern Hemisphere. They have amazing attention to detail and safety and deep care and concern for the property. We drove out to “Stoney Crossing” and saw pelicans, kites, spoonbills and a host of others. 4.8mm of rain fell overnight and in the middle of it I inexplicably received a text message.

20160627_103123I finished fabricating some metal signs and together we painted a stack of survey pegs. More showers fell during the day and Cath had an afternoon off. In the evening we watched a video from the collection, counted out our supply of teabags and rationed our remaining fresh vegies.

On day 10 we did more signs – I routed and Cath painted. We sorted and cleaned the sheds some more. In the afternoon it fined up and in the evening we walked west to a large claypan through the now blooming desert.

20160625_151023At last next day the roads had dried out so after lunch by the Warburton we spent the afternoon out at “Mia Mia Camp” dismantling and removing broken rural structures and old building materials – tin, timber, logs, poles, wire. The rechargeable angle grinder worked a treat along with the shovel, mattock and rake hoe.

Day 12 was Sunday. We had the day off. More rain overnight so a group of campers were brought in from “The Island” camp to base themselves in the Saddlery.

On day 13 we finished the sheds and continued on with the signs. Day 14 the weather cleared again. I washed down the vehicles that had been into Mungerannie and back the day prior. We continued routing and painimg_0030ting then walked out to “The Island” to stretch the legs. On day 15 I washed down the wash down pad before the drying mud turned to concrete. We finished the set of signs which stood proudly against the back wall of the super tidy and clean sheds. We walked parallel down the dunes to where they dropped steeply into the Warburton. Wildflowers profused in white, pink and yellow and a variety of birds sang the sunset.

On our final day we packed up the “Saddlery” after the visitors left, cleaned the cottage, pulled out a line of star pickets in the home paddock and packed the car for a crossing of the Simpson Desert. The tracks on Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary were still muddy so the annual July bird survey had to be cancelled. More rain was forecast. We departed and made it out between closures of the access road.




Black kite

Willie wagtail

Crested pidgeon

Fairy martin


Brown song lark

Red capped robin

Zebra finch

Red-backed kingfisher

White-necked heron

Whistling kite


Rufous songlark

Black-shouldered kite



Magpie lark

Gull billed or Caspian tern?

Black-faced woodswallow


Royal spoonbill

Great egret

Yellow-billed spoonbill

White-faced heron

Nankeen kestrel

Masked woodswallow

Black-fronted dotterel

Diamond dove

Crimson chatimg_0125


Horsfields bronze cuckoo

White-winged fairy wren

This was a pretty good tally for us beginner birdwatchers.

Special thanks to Mark and Tess and AWC for the opportunity to live in the desert and make a small contribution.

Thanks to Dr Phil Tucak (AWC) for corrections and to AWC for permission to publish this narrative and photos.img_0034

Swiss Alps Hike

67            Swiss Alps Hike


3 days in the Grindelwald area – in the company of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

Absolutely 3 of the very best days of hiking in the world.

 Above Interlakin is the Grindelwald Valley which is a base for skiing, farming, touristing and climbing. The countryside which makes up the forehills of the high mountains and the winter ski slopes are accessed by a network of small mountain trains. Summer hiking trails criss-cross and thread together into a wonderful network offering numerous possibilities of single day, multi-day and shorter walks.

 img_1363Schynige Platte to Faulhorn

 “If there’s a walking heaven this is it”. Cath, after an hour.

 “This is the best hiking I have ever done”. Me, after two hours.

 The trail started 1500m above the valley floor. The Panoramaweg Trail wound along a wide ridge. Up and over small rises and boulder fields. Alpine grasslands, small conifers, low shrubs. Rounded peaks. Across the deep valley in the south the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and a host of other mountains thrust skywards with snow fields and hanging glaciers perched precariously anywhere the cliffs weren’t quite vertical or overhanging. These were our companions throughout the day. Away down below the precipice and plunging forest on the north side of ridge top path Interlaken nestled between two jade green lakes. We crossed steep scree slopes and zigzagged our way steadily upwards. Cow bells rang out on small hanging fields below.img_1376

Everywhere the mountain scenery was superlative. We were both overcome with the beauty of it all at various points and a feeling of deep happiness that we were able to experience the landscape, to be in it, to walk through it, to feel it, to wonder at it. Eventually at the peak of the Faulhorn was our mountain hut, a sort of low key hotel really with dormitory style bunks and a restaurant – luxury.

img_1389As the sun set on a perfect day wisps of mist rose from the valley at times obscuring and then clearing from the giants of snow and rock and ice across the valley.

Dinner in the highest and oldest mountain hotel in the alps. Dorm beds among the soft night sounds of 20 other hikers.

The half of a day walk took us all day due to the time spent filming and photographing. Accessed by cog railway from Interlarken to Schynige Platte.

11 km, 700m ascent overall.

 Faulhorn to Grosse Sheideggimg_1373

Down, down, down. To twin alpine lakes that reflected the high peaks on the opposite side of the valley. Postcard picture perfect. Lunch by a stream. A marmot sat on a perch and squeaked a warning to his mates of a lurking fox in the tussocks below. All nationalities wandered past. Mountain bikers, para gliders lent a playful colour to the backdrop and the sunshine. We grazed on wild blueberries as the trail flattened and sidled across alpine grasslands. All the time the Eiger stood powerful and shaded flanked by grey rock towering peaks that grew even bigger as we approached.

Bus down to Grindelwald at the end of the day

 Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg

We climbed steeply up the “Eiger Trail” from another cog railway station and along a series of shelves close to the foot of the Nordwand – the famous north face. My climbing passion had been kindled, sustained and fired by stories of early trials and ascents of this fierce wall. It’s one of the three classic north faces of The Alps, the Matterhorn, the Grandes Jorasses and the Eiger. Facing away from the sun they are iced, cold, prone to grim weather and sudden storms. 64 people have died trying to climb the Eiger so far. Terrible tales of tragedies and accounts of “heroic deeds” and climbing narrative hold a revered place in mountaineering literature.img_1416

When the track reached its highest point I followed a faint climbers’ path up to the base of the wall. I retraced the steps of Heinrich Harrer, Hinterstroiser, Dougal Haston, Ulli Steck, Toni Kurtz and the cream of the world’s climbers. I stepped slowly, taking time and paying my respects. I reached a snow field that rose to meet the wall at the start of the first ascent route then turning round I found a cairn of stones with some sticks nearby and a few pieces of old climbing gear. Closer inspection revealed the timber to be a broken cross wired together. I fixed it and replaced it into the small rock pile. This day the weather was perfect but still the place felt cold and foreboding. I could make out the original route and even imagine myself onto parts of it lower down. Higher up the hidden snow slopes, the scale of the wall and hanging glaciers were a terrifying prospect. Being with the mountain that I had read about and conjured from the stories for so long gave me a powerful sense of acknowledgement – that it was real, that I was here, that this was a special place for people with a love for the mountains. I didn’t need to climb it or anything even like it but I felt deeply connected to the place and the history and climbing in general.img_1427


The next day we caught the cog railway train that runs up through the Eiger to the shoulder of the Jungfrau. On the journey down we were accompanied by two young Americans who had just finished climbing a route on the east ridge of the Eiger. They had spent a cold night out on a small ledge the previous night before topping out. They were over the moon about their exploit and we yarned and chattered all the way down.

The next day was cloudy, windy and raining.

 Post postscript

I surfed the internet looking for mountaineering boot suppliers in London. Perhaps now life times were right for me to start getting some skills for some trips and easy climbs in the higher mountains of the world.img_1397

Cycling the Danube – Part 3 – Vienna To Budapest


66      Cycling the Danube

Part 3 – Cycling the Danube – Vienna To Budapest


Through the Iron Curtain

Vienna to Bratislava

After a section through forest the end of the old “Western World” could be picked out by a few hundred meters of road sided by some old, unused buildings – no man’s land. There were no border controls at all, just a small police car, a 24hr gambling place on the Hungary side and an old derelict building sprouting grass. I wondered what it was like living under communist rule. A little further on was an outdoor border museum with trenches, gun placements, concrete sheds and antitank constructions next to a line of barren land.

The Old Town was not that well preserved but was thronging with tourists.

Police were everywhere in the ritzy part of town for a meeting of the EU on security.

The river current was pumping.

75 km

Horse klub

During the day we bumped into the NZ couple again.

Our booked accommodation on web turned out to be a horse riding club on the very outskirts of a small town, with brand new facilities next to a sheep shed with a thatched roof.

It turned out that Hungary has quite a strong economy – manufacturing electronics and cars and agriculture. The well to do would come out to the horse klub for weekends of riding and training.img_1306

65 km. The total ticked over 1200km


A short day was necessary to juggle accommodation on the route. Some sections have no accommodation so we had to do either longer or shorter days.

Thermal pools provided delicious soothing to muscles that had been working. Trying to work out the etiquette of where to change and how to operate the security arrangements with extremely grumpy staff was not easy or intuitive.

In the delightful Old Town a street musician sang and played piano accordion, serenading lunchers with traditional tunes and love songs.


Adams Family

img_1307Further east we cycled beside the massive Audi factory, the biggest engine factory in Europe. A train nearby was packed with hundreds of freshly wrapped new cars awaiting delivery. A section of busy roads was full of scary fast cars and big trucks.

At the edge of a small town we headed into several kilometers of muddy, dirt roads that twisted through thick forest. Later a deer was spooked which leapt out of the scrub at the side of the track, heavily antlered, then galloped across corn stubble to leap over grass and disappear.

Kumaron seemed very East European – drab blocks of flats, poor houses and a bit run down but with a large new factory.

Our small hotel oozed with old communist world charm with a reception host straight out of the Adams Family. He was a little overweight, pasty faced with straight slicked hair. He spoke incredibly formal English with a deep Russian accent. We could have been in the heart of Transylvania.


A day in Slovakia

img_1326Over the bridge into Slovakia, Komarno was a ship building industrial town.

We followed the riverside dyke with the Danube on the right and green fields and small villages on the left. Often the land was at a lower level to the water in the river that was held in by the dykes. This was tough cycling – no bakeries or coffee shops! – small coop grocery shops and the occasional fruit stall.

A tower in a park gave a fine view of the sweep of the river. By now it was hundreds of meters across. A little further on a long narrow pebble beach stretched round a bend.

We took a deep gravel path for 5.5 km as an alternative to being on a busy road. This was hard going.

A later section had us back on busy roads with trucks. We found these roads nerve wracking. This was why we had not done much cycle touring in Australia. I had once done cpr on a cyclist near Canberra who had been struck by a car and later died. Mostly the route only included the occasional foray onto quiet country roads.img_1314

From Sturovo on the river bank we had a wonderful view across the Danube to the Basilica, the castle and the old town of Esztergom.

The bridge that led us back across the river into Hungary had been destroyed in WW2 and had not been rebuilt until 2001 with input money from the EU. The two towns had been separated by the river for 56 years.

img_1317We had a stunning world fusion dinner in a small new restaurant in a very down beat part of town with 4 American cyclists. Ah the treasures of the unexpected in travel!

62 km




With the peloton through Slovakia

The day started with Cath bumping into a very old friend who was cruising up the river from Budapest.

On the way to our first ferry across the river we met our America acquaintances again then joined poms, New Zealanders, a Mt Isa crew and a host of others as we waited for 20 minutes for the barge to come over.

On landing we took off in the middle of the peloton heading east. Soon the Mt Isa crew sidetracked while the yanks searched for a WC. We were distracted by the thermos and morning tea in the forest so the peloton dispersed only to meet up and reconfigure from internationals as the day progressed.

Forest trails, busy roads, delightful towns, riverside parks, floodplain meadows. There was great variety around the famous Big Bend in the river. Cycling surfaces alternated from the best to the worst.

Then another ferry back into Hungary. A couple of mean looking motorcyclists looking very wild and Germanic sat astride an old BMW. I asked if they wanted to swap bikes with us to be answered in deep Aussie drawl that they might think about it for the downhills only. I asked where his Triumph was (he wore a Triumph jacket) to which he replied that it was back in the garage at home in Australia. Looks are deceiving. He wished us a good journey with a big grin as he tootled past.

More busy nerve wracking road sides and forest cycle paths by the river led to Szentendre.

64km (seems like 63 and 64 have become our lucky daily numbers)

Finally Budapest

A sleep in and a short day.

We rode slowly to savor our last day on the bikes

Twisting dirt tracks in the forest, rough paved paths, complex linking back roads, beautiful smooth bike paths through deciduous trees past coffee and food stands – accompanied always by the strongly flowing river that had widened to about 250 meters across.

I felt sad to be finishing. The routine of getting up, having breakfast, packing the panniers and spending the rest of each day pedaling through the countryside, villages and towns, mingling with the locals and making friends with other cyclists from around the world had become our world. Simple, journey, ever changing, active, fun.

img_1328As we reached the series of bridges across “our” Danube our eyes spread with our grins. At every turn was a magical building in the distance or a stunning scene. The Parliament building like a Disney castle, tall steeples and high domes, turrets and cupolas, coloured mosaic tiled roofs. Budapest is a beautiful city full of liveliness and atmosphere.img_1332

On the famous chain bridge, over the strongest current in the middle of the river we photoed and videoed as it slowly sunk in that that we had finished, made it, reached the conclusion of our journey. We had pedaled across half of Europe, from the western world into the east.

img_1338We had immersed ourselves in the lanscapes, cultures and rich histories of the countries. The Danube had guided us on a journey deep into our own personal past and helped us confront our own cultural outlook.

25 km.  1452 km in total.img_1327