The Gunbarrel Highway
Jun 2, 2010
|Day 1 – May 31
With sad hearts we said goodbye to Jenni and Lee as we left Yulara. They have been great travelling companions and its fantastic that we could share this trip with such good friends. Lee and Jenni were catching a plane back to Brisbane while we were starting the ‘challenging’ sections of the trip. After re-fueling the cars, checking and rotating the tyres and stocking up on food supplies we were off. The Gunbarrel stage of our trip comprises 1420km of rough dirt road from Yulara in the Northern Terrritory to Wiluna in WA. We expect the road to contain washaways, heavy corrugations, stone, sand and flood plains. The latest road updates show the Gunbarrel sections to have corrugations, heavy corrugations and extreme corrugations on different sections.
At the Olgas we turned off onto the Central Highway that we followed for 350km to Warakurna. We passed the aboriginal settlement of Docker River, a herd of around 30 wild camels and enough wrecked and abandoned cars on the side of the road to stock a good wrecker’s yard back in Brisbane. The road was in top condition and for most of this section we sat on 100 kph. At Warakurna we visited the Giles Meteorological Station and saw a weather balloon launched. There is also a display there of Len Beadell’s original ‘Gunbarrel’ road grader. Len Beadell was a surveyor and roadbuilder responsible for opening up the last remaining isolated desert areas of central Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. Len is sometimes called "the last true Australian explorer". Working as a surveyor in the Australian Army Survey Corps, he was asked by the government to build a road across the interior of Australia in 1947 as part of the search for a suitable site for weapons testing. The main reason was to establish the weapons testing facility at Woomera, and also the place where the British atomic bomb was tested, Maralinga. These sites were surveyed and selected by Len. Beadell's first road was the Gunbarrel Highway, so named after the "gunbarrel crew" which was assembled under Len - he said he always tried whenever possible to make the road as straight as a gunbarrel.
Leaving Warakurna we knew that the Gunbarrel Highway diverged from the Central Highway about 16km out of town. In vain we searched for a sign for the highway and after around 20 minutes we realised we had gone part the track. Reg recalled a small side track that we had passed so we drove back to that point. There was no ‘Gunbarrel’ sign, no indication that this rutted track was our ‘highway’. Undeterred we started down it to reach a fork, and took the more obvious left fork that immediately lead us back to the Central Highway. Backtracking we drove into an old quarry. Further backtracking took us back to the fork and the right hand track which led us to a ‘road closed’ sign. A GPS check with the trusty Tom Tom confirmed we were on the right track at last. We travelled on for a further hour and finally reached ‘Len Beadell’s Tree’ where we decided to make camp for the night. Firewood for once was plentiful and the silence was amazing after the Yulara and King’s Canyon campgrounds. We dined on vegetable stew and an amazing damper made by Peter and cooked by Reg in his camp oven. A well earned early bed was then enjoyed by all.
Day 2 – June 1
We had a leisurely start to the day and finally left the ‘Beadell Tree’ at 9.30am. Of course we are still operating on central time while technically we should have moved our watches back by 1.5 hours as we are now in WA. We will leave the change to WA time until we reach Wiluna. Today’s journey of 350km took us into the true heart of Central Australia. We saw very little wildlife but did chance upon two wild camels just before our lunch stop. There are constant reminders of camels here in footprints and droppings on the road. Only last year thousands of camels were culled around Docker River as they had reached plague proportions.
During the day we passed two more blazed trees with Len Beadell’s plaques on them. We also passed two operating bores and one bore that was broken. We scaled the heights of Mounts Charles and Samuel, but Carol correctly referred to them as mounds. You really hardly knew the road was passing over them. On Mount Samuel and Notabilis Hill travellers have erected large stone cairns. We took the opportunity to add to them. Camp Beadell was to have been our stop for the day but the bore at the campsite was broken. It was while we were at Camp Beadell that we saw the only other travellers since we left Warakurna yesterday. The couple from NSW were towing a camper trailer and had come just 90km in a day. This gives you an idea of the roughness of the roads. You also know you are in a remote area when you can go for 24 hours without seeing another person.
We left Camp Beadell and continued on to Mount Beadell that rises to 532m. At least this is a good sized hill. On the summit is a memorial to Len Beadell and a cairn. The memorial is a theodolite created in aluminium. We camped at the base of the hill and soon had a roaring fire going. Peter and Reg are fashioning an extra bracket for the Troopie’s muffler. This morning they found that one of the muffler’s exhaust manifold bolts had lost a nut. This was replaced from our spare parts. The road is not kind to the cars with many sections containing corrugations that shake everything constantly. No wonder that nuts work loose. Tomorrow we are travelling on to Carnegie Station and showers for the first time in three days.
Day 3 – June 2
Today we travelled 300km from Mt Beadell to Carnegie Station. For most of the day the road was very rough and we averaged 50-60kph. As soon as we reached the Wiluna Shire boundaries the road improved immeasurably and we were able to sit on 80-90kph. The country was a lot more barren in this section. We passed through the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve during the day and saw a bustard, our first kangaroos since Charleville and some dingoes. Over the last two days we have passed two cars on the Gunbarrel, an indication of how remote this track is. A highlight of the day was passing the mighty Mt Gordon, a photo of which is included with this blog for Clive’s edification.
We are currently camping at Carnegie Station, a 1.5 million acre cattle station 350km from Wiluna. After two days without showering it was nice to relax in a hot shower tonight. When we got into Carnegie the boys checked out the Troopie’s muffler system (because it has got noisier) and found it was cracked at one of the muffler boxes. The station manager was happy for us to use their equipment to make repairs and so Barney re-welded the muffler system while Peter and Reg made up a new clamp to keep the muffler more rigid in the area where it cracked. The station mechanic, Macca, helped us with the repairs. We found out that Macca has just been on the latest version of ‘Famer wants a wife’ to be screened in August this year by channel nine. The girl he chose was with him on the station and later in the year they intend to move back to Perth. Tomorrow it is on to Wiluna and then the start of the Canning Stock Route. Hopefully I will be able to find internet access in Wiluna to post this update. Then it will be eleven days until I can do the next update.
Day 4 – June 3
Yes, we have Telstra wireless internet at Wiluna. We are also coated with dust, it seems to have crept into every crevice imaginable in the last three days. Dust has become our constant companion. The road from Carnegie to Wiluna was like a true highway after our last three days on the Gunbarrel. Apart from a couple of churned up areas from recent rain the road was wide and flat and very dusty. We made great time and are here for lunch, WA time. It is amazing that we have at last seen a profusion of wildlife on this stretch of the track including dingoes, camels, kangaroos (both red and grey), wedge tail eagles, emus and another bustard. We also stopped and had an interesting chat with the local grader driver who maintains the roads from Wiluna to the Wiluna Shire boundary (about 180km past Carnegie). He works for 21 days and then goes home to Northam for 7 days. Well I’d better upload this now. We are currently fuelling up (165c/l) and replenishing our groceries. Then it’s off to the Gunbarrel Larger to camp. Tomorrow…. The Canning Stock Route.