Journal - Stage One

Bindii, TC & Morgan get their first view of the Indian Ocean, April 24th.

Dawn on Anzac Day, April 25th. As is the scene in cities, towns and isolated communities all over Australia, we commemorate those who had served Australia in war.

Photos: Nic Ellis, The West Australian

STAGE 1 - Let's Walk!

 

Indian Ocean to Newman - Western Australia

 

  • Warroora Station
  • The Pilbara
  • Beach sunset

 

 

25th April 1999 - Leaving The Indian Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac watches as I collect some seawater. Photo: Nic Ellis, The West Australian

 

The Tropic Of Capricorn crosses the west coast on Warroora Station, a sheep property midway between Carnarvon and Exmouth.The Expedition began on Anzac Day which is Australia's national day of remembrance for all those who fought and died in war, and the station owners had organised a brief dawn service to be held on the beach.

 

After the service and breakfast, it was time to take some seawater from the ocean and some sand from the beach.I had wanted to take the camels down to the waters edge but they were very suspicious of the crashing waves and the noise and wouldn't walk onto the soft sand close to the water. So Mac & I collected the seawater and then began loading the camels.There seemed to be rather more equipment to load today than when I last loaded them 2 weeks ago, but eventually I found a place for everything and off we went just after midday. As we were walking away from the ocean, all I could think about was how good it would be to go for a swim, as it was going to be another hot day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the road at last. Photo: Nic Ellis, The West Australian

 

We walked along the dunes for an hour or so then turned inland. I had decided to make the first day as easy as possible for the camels & Mac, so at about 4.00pm we made camp along one of the station tracks. It had been a huge day. In fact it had been a bloody busy four months at it was a great relief to be finally on the road. That night I thought about the seven months & nearly 5000 kms that lay ahead.

 

May 18th

 

After all the planning it is good to be finally on the road. The camels are doing well and as I begin to establish the daily routine the days are moving along nicely. There is certainly no time to be bored - If I don't do the chores, then no one else will. So far there have been only minor problems. On day 3, the girth on the riding saddle broke and everything went crashing to the ground with a huge thump. My Nikon camera was the first casualty, which means I cannot take any 35mm photos. Todd Morris from Mia Mia Station helped me out with some new leather for the girth and also sent the camera down to Perth to be repaired. It should be repaired and waiting for me by the time I reach Newman.

 

After I left Warroora Station, it was interesting to see the cyclone damage - especially the damage to windmills. (The winds from cyclone Vance were the highest ever recorded on the Australian mainland).

 

On Mia Mia Station they lost 21 out of 22 windmills. Todd has replaced these with solar pumps. The creeks I have followed have been jungles of broken and twisted timber - an indication of the force of the wind and the power of the water and due to the cyclone there is still plenty of water about. I have been lucky enough to camp on water every 2nd or 3rd night - something that will be in contrast to the desert country ahead. The country is looking magnificent. An abundance of feed and thousands of butterflies, locusts and a very healthy spider population spinning huge webs between the trees in our path. I've also seen a couple of herds of wild donkeys and one very large and old goanna.

 

Since the beginning of the journey I have been following station tracks or fencelines but as I get into the rocky country, near the Ashburton River, many of the tracks are now only faint marks through the scrub and following the creeks has sometimes become difficult. Yesterday we did a mere 12 kms for the day, as our path was often blocked by fallen trees or thick scrub, which meant much backtracking and detouring.

 

Mac has been wearing his boots and he has been trotting along quite happily. The country at home in the western Riverina is 'soft country' ( mainly clay) and his feet aren't used to the hard rocks. The camels are doing well in the rough terrain and are certainly enjoying rolling in the water when we camp on the creeks.

 

We are now walking about 27 to 28 kms a day but which equates to an average of 19 or so as the crow flies east.

 

May 19th - Ashburton Downs Station

 

One of the most difficult sections of this stage to Newman was going to be crossing the Capricorn Range. The way across was to follow the Doolgarrie & Irregully Creeks (on Ullawarra Station) through the range, then down onto the Ashburton River flats. There was a track marked on my map and eventhough it hadn't been used for many years, I thought it was worth a go. At the end of the first day I was camped high in the range with a superb view of the surrounding valley. I had followed a well cut track that seemed to be taking me in the right direction but in the back of my mind I was a bit suspicious as it may have been an old mining track that after many kms would only take me to a dead-end. The track soon disappeared so I decided to follow a creek down to the valley which was a risk, as half way down it could become impassable either due to large rocks or thick undergrowth. If I couldn't get through it would mean a lengthy detour.

 

At the narrowest part of the gorge, huge purple rocks were strewn around and it was boots off as we all waded through the water and over the rocks. Eventually the gorge widened and we were through. Then we were 'wading' through waist high grass alongside the creek as it meandered towards the Ashburton River.

 

That night, I joined 3 chaps at a small gold camp. I was the last person they had expected to see and when I awoke that morning I had no idea that I would be having BBQ steak for dinner!

 

A light shower of rain on the 14th and then about 20mm the following  morning. So it was a day off - well sort off. It was a good opportunity to catch up on some chores - oiling all the leather gear, sharpening knives, repacking and checking the stores, shepherding the camels whilst they grazed. (The camels are hobbled at night and when feeding & are tied to trees/shrubs at night). Rain can be one of the biggest obstacles for me. The rain had made the claypans very slippery and the small creeks had quickly filled. Camels will walk just about anywhere as long as the ground is firm. Walking through water is not a problem to them, but anything slippery can be dangerous, as the heavy loads make for difficult walking. Consequently, the next day I spent much of the time avoiding the clay and detouring around muddy water.

 

On Sunday afternoon I arrived at Ashburton Downs Station which, for me, roughly marks the half-way point to Newman.

 

Jan & Andrew have been expecting me and I was looking forward to meeting Jan as she was from Barham and went to school in Deniliquin. On Monday we went into Paraburdoo, a mining town which was only 140km away. I had never been there before and it was a great opportunity to re-supply with some stores and go to the Post Office, etc,.

 

I am spending a second day at the station which has enabled me to use a 'normal phone' and contact a few people back east who had been trying to track me down. I was also able to wash some clothes. Unfortunately the clothes bag I took up to the homestead also contained some of my maps and a torch and the whole lot went into the washing machine. Luckily the maps were in a plastic map case, so even though they got wet, they didn't disintegrate.  So they are now clean and smell of lavender.

 

From Ashburton Downs, it will be easier going. Tomorrow I continue following the river towards Mininer Station.

 

May 22nd

 

It was good to be on the road again after the short break. Walking along the stoney ridge above the Ashburton River meant I had a commanding view of the river flats and as has been the case so far this trip, there is heaps of feed everywhere and the cattle look in top condition. It is interesting to see how the 'locals' - the roos, emus and birds respond to us as we walk along. Emus tend to be very curious and walk just ahead of us and more than once have begun chasing Mac. Kangaroos will continue to lie under their bushes, perhaps only identifying the camels and not myself, as they make little effort to move away until we are almost on top of them. Quite often a flock of galahs will sit in a nearby tree and watch as I load/unload the camels. There have also been many hundreds of bright green budgies along the creeks and rivers usually flying in flocks of many dozens.

 

When I reached the boundary of Mininer Station there was a message on the gate from the owner saying that there had been poison baits laid. I put the muzzle on Mac and made sure he stayed by my side as we walked. The owner, Jack Harvey, suggested that I follow the gas pipeline towards Newman as it virtually goes in a straight line in an easterly direction.

 

May 23rd

 

Saw my first wild camel tracks today heading west. A herd of about 5 or 6. I am now walking about 27km a day along the pipeline track. Every second day or so we cross a small creek where there is fresh water and the camels and Mac have had ample opportunity to drink.

 

May 24th

 

When I made camp last night there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but by the time I was tying the camels up an hour and a half later, there was a huge storm approaching from the west. It looked as though it would pass around me but it would only take 10 points of rain to make things difficult, so I had to cover all the gear and put the tent up. As it turned out, there was some very strong wind but only about 3 drops of rain fell on the camp. It's been overcast for 5 of the last 6 days so the solar panels are only slowly charging the batteries that I use to run the laptop which consumes power at an alarmingly high rate, particularly when I preview the digital photos. I have one battery in reserve for emergencies to run the HF radio which is always kept fully charged.

 

All going well, I should be in Newman early next week.

 

June 1st - Newman, Western Australia - End of Stage One - 611km.

 

Although it is approximately 611 kms from the coast to Newman, the pedometer I have been wearing says I have walked over 820km. We arrived at the Capricorn Roadhouse, 18kms south of town, on Monday afternoon and spent 3 days in Newman. It's amazing how much there was to do. I met Nic and Vanessa from the West Australian and there were stores to buy, letters to post and phone calls to make. I visited the South Newman Primary School who have been following the journey via this site, and some of the students came out to my camp to look at the camels and ask questions first hand about the expedition. One kid asked why I didn't just drive across the country.

 

Another asked if I was mad.....mmmmm.

 

Go to the photos for this stage