Thursday, 10 September 2015

Mucking about in Marble Bar, Part I

August 29th -  September 7th.

Due to the picture heavy nature of this trip, I have decided to split it into two parts. The first being the section to Marble Bar, the second being Marble Bar and return.

Very early in the year, Trevor, of Team Ellie fame (see Mud, Mountains and Mines), suggested we take a week off together to do a trip somewhere. And that we did. As I planned the last trip (M,M+M), Trev decided to organise this one. As time drew on, he suggested Marble Bar as the destination. Not having been there, and loving the little bit of Pilbara I had seen prior, I was all in agreeance with this. Only drama, 10 days away to get to Marble Bar and back would be a fair push. So lets see how it pans out.

Unfortunately Trev's plans were just dots on a map and notebook. Nothing even semi formal. So this could be fun. Adding to this Trev was away the week prior and I decided to meet him at his relo's farm about 3 hours North of Perth. That made day one for me a toddle. Rocking up at the Dalwallinu Hotel at 6pm, I was surprised to see all 3 of TE arrive just after me. The plan was to have dinner here, but as he was away for a week prior, he couldn't commit. As luck would have it, they got back in time and we had a pleasurable steak and a beer. Then it was off to the farm, about 20 minutes away. There I met Mick and Lyn (the relo's), whilst TE did what chores they had to accomplish, I poured another drink and chatted for a while. Soon enough it was time to roll out the swag under the veranda to keep the yearly tally forging ahead.

(Well that was embarrassing. Somehow I got Kim's name in my head as Mick. Where I got that I have no idea. Maybe too many glasses of goon?  Anyway I have left my mistake as Kim thought it was hilarious. Poor old Mick would have to endure Lyn from now on!)

In the morning, Mick and Lyn decided to feed me and the others a hearty bacon and egg breakfast. Thanks for that. Then they decided they needed to take the model T for a run:

Sure was different trying to drive that old beast - hand throttle, double press clutch for gears etc. Soon after the female half of TE headed for Perth and we made a leisurely start North at 10am.

Stopping at Paynes Find, I put some lunch in the oven under a heavy drizzle and got fairly well wet and cold. Trev countered this by buying me a coffee. Then back on the road, heading for Mt Magnet where we would fuel up and have out hot lunch. Gotta love a chicko roll.

Fed and fuelled, we headed off for the nights camp at the old ghost town of Big Bell. Spotting a breakaway, we headed over for a look around. A couple of roo carcasses in different holes in the face.

We continued on to the site of the Dalgaranga meteorite crater. I have seen pictures of this before and it was as unimpressive as the photos I had seen. But hey, we are now exploring, be it spectacular stuff or not.

Continuing on through the road that traverses Austin Downs station, we turned East. Time was getting away and the massive expanse of Walga Rock comes into view from a considerable distance away from it. Here we poke our heads in to view the deteriorating rock art:

Time now getting away from us, its 1730 and we still have some distance to go to get to camp. The billowing dust seen pouring our the rear of the Paj against the backdrop of a setting sun. So glad we were not driving into it:

15 minutes up the road and we are getting closer;

And finally we get into the old ghost town of Big Bell at 1800. Then we need to decide a site and gather wood before nightfall hits us. Which we do, just in the nick of time and proceed to get the fire going for our Chicken Mingon's for dinner.

The first full day done and we added 500 Km's to the odometer.

In the morning we cook breakfast and pack the gear, then tour around the old town and its ruins.

Most of the ruins are quite decayed and the spinifex scrubland has reclaimed a lot of the structures. Which to me is a bit surprising, seeing as at most the structures are only 80 years old at most. One has to think that maybe the site was demolished or the materials reclaimed at some time in the last 80 years. The old Church adjacent to out camp is an example of one of the structures standing the test of time:

The pinnacle of longevity and the hub of the town though is the Hotel. What a magnificent place this would have been in its hey day. The mine started in 1935 and by 1955 its job was done and the large town that sprang up to service the mine, declined to the point that it ended up  a ghost town. The size of the hotel alone is testament to the size of the town as a whole. We found evidence of a railway siding buffer, and white ant infested sleepers where the track for the railway station once stood. There is no evidence of this station at all now.

Sighting the huge tailings dumps in the distance, we ventured over to see if we can find the huge hole this must have come from. Locked gates, rock mounds and modern signage kept us from doing so. However we did climb a tailings mound for a better vantage point, only to be disappointed. We could see on the horizon where the pit was, but there was no way we were getting there. We did spot a large, modern dwelling half way to the pit. Obviously built within the last 5 or so years by a mining venture looking to restart the operations here as the gold price peaked a few years back. There was no evidence that it was currently occupied.

By now it was 1100 and we hit the road for Cue. At the junction with the Beringarra Rd, we came across one of the largest road signs I have ever seen. Very out of place in such an isolated area.

Into Cue and we stopped off at the Tourist info centre for a quick look. Trev got chatted up by an elderly female local who I think wanted to take him home. Lucky bugger.....

We drove out to the old Great Fingal Mine Office and was surprised to see it completely fenced off. The picture below was taken through gaps in the Fence. Rather odd, as you could see information plaques near the building, meaning that once upon a time, you could venture right up to it.

We could see structure like an old battery in the distance to the rear. So we drove around a bit and found out how to get there. Not climbing under a do not enter sign posted gate, and not climbing some tailings, we didn't see the pit, nor the wall that extended right up to the back door of the mine office. So we now deduced why the fence has been erected around the old building.

Arriving in Meekatharra at 1415, we decided we had better pull another chicko roll out of the oven.

A quick 1/2 hour stop and we ventured out to "The Granites". A large area of smaller boulder type structures of granite, as opposed to large granite single piece outcrops. I ventured further in and Trev back tracked to the start. I had lost radio coms with Trev at this stage and when I came out to the main road, I continued the way we had come in. Some 15 Km's down the road and still with no coms I pulled over. Not being privy to the plan for the trip, apart from destination Marble Bar, I was a bit miffed as to where the hell Trev was and if he was going to wait at the next road junction we turn onto. So to be sure, I pulled out a map and spied a certain "Peak Hill" he had made mention of in regards to camping at that night. Of course, this was in the opposite direction to what I was now heading, so I returned back to town. I eventually got coms and he told me he was waiting at our lunch stop for me. I muttered some comment about needing a bit of trip leader practice.

Back on the highway, we headed North and crossed the 26th Parallel. Now we are officially Nor' Westers.

And not long afterwards, we turned onto a gravel road towards Peak Hill. Marked on the map was Bilyuin Hotel Ruins. so we veered off onto a track to see if we could find it. Trev and I went different directions and up different side tracks. I got the GPS marker directly over the dot on the map and there was nothing to be seen. Trev wasn't having much luck either. More searching around and I get the call over the radio "I have found camp for the night". With a bit of hit and miss directions I eventually found Trev and our camp at 1715.

Firewood was  scarce, but rubbish was aplenty. 44's obviously placed by the station owner, overflowing with rubbish, led me to believe this place is a bit popular. I cant understand why they cant carry it out like we did. There was one other camped here when we entered. I shot off about a kilometre to get some wood for the fire and settled in for the night under the Southern Cross and a full moon. Shutting down the puter, I discovered the place is Bilyuin Pool and on the banks of the Murchison. I would have love to have seen it in April when I camped on the Murchison in full flow at Kalbarri.

After dinner, we had a little visitor as well:

330Km's for the day done, we retired to our swags to hit Peak Hill in the morning.

Day 4 and Trev decided he would pull out the shower tent. He was a little concerned about getting it folded back up. The poor bugger failed on 3 points.

1. He set the tent up too far away from a 12V source to use his shower and had to revert to a chux in warm water.

2. He couldn't get it back into the bag and it lived partially unsprung in the back of the Dmax (more on that later)

3. He told the other half of TE. She is a gun at dunny tent folding, Trev is not. He is in for some curry when he gets home.

At 0930, we pulled out of camp up the Ashburton Downs Rd. Soon afterwards we turned East up a rocky strewn track and just followed our nose. With a new minelab on the back seat, I mentioned I was getting a bit excited at the chunky quartz ground we were covering. I think the term chubby was used.

We found the site at 1015.  Lots of "good" condition ruins to examine, A Telstra Coms building and a caretaker residence. The residence was fenced in and had a patrol and van in the yard. We sang out, but got no reply. We meandered through the ruins and tried to make sure our "boys" didn't touch the supposedly electrified fence we had to hop over to see the pit.

From Wikipedia:

Peak Hill is the name of a goldfield, locality and the site of a gold mining ghost town in the Murchison Region of Western Australia. The gold mine covers 2,162 hectares and consists of four open-cut mines, titled Main, Jubilee, Fiveways and Harmony.
In the adjacent region to the locality there are considerable non auriferous mineral deposits. Adjacent fields included the Horseshoe field.

Early exploration at the site occurred in the 1890s, when gold was discovered by William John Wilson in 1892. The townsite was gazetted in 1897, and the field has had varied fortunes even in early years. Before 1913, the mine produced some 270,000 ounces of gold. Peak Hill was also included as a location in a regional newspaper network of more outlying mining communities in the 1920s and 1930s.

The population of the town was 190 (180 males and 10 females) in 1898.
A Walker was the proprietor of the Peak Hill General Store up until 1954, when he retired to his Daughter's Farm, Peppermint Grove Beach, South of Capel. Mr Walker was the last full-time resident of Peak Hill.

In the 1970s it was reduced to a ghost town with a few remaining residents, however in the 1980s activity resumed, producing around 650,000 ounces of gold. The mine became dormant again the 2000s.

Montezuma Mining Company Ltd purchased the mine from Barrick Gold and Rio Tinto in August 2007 for $1 million cash and $600,000 of environmental bonds. Montezuma negotiated an underwriting agreement with Cunningham Securities, a Perth broker, in January 2008 to raise money for further exploration. Montezuma is seeking up to $3 million to drill at four priority zones, hoping to recommence mining in an area that has historically produced over 900,000 ounces of gold.

So many photo's of classic ruins here to share, but so little room due to the size of this blog entry, I have to limit it to achieve a balance. So, so different in both construction and condition to the much newer Big Bell from a couple of camps prior.

Aligned on a concrete pad of one of the ruins, was a collection of old stuff that had been found in the area. What caught my eye the most (after being pointed out by Trev), was what I believe to be an old baked enamel water bottle:

We spotted what we believed to be more structure to the East and again followed our nose. We came across a quite recent drillers camp. Transportable Donga's, Office, large genny and lots of racked core samples. No doubt, they will be returning soon:

At 1145, we ventured up the Three Rivers Rd for the highway, crossing the Gascoyne River:

At Three Rivers Homestead we had a choice to make. Stay on the marked track, or take a station track, which would come up further up the highway and save us some 30Km's. After some deliberation, we chose the latter and hoped it didn't deteriorate. At the start, it was in reasonable condition, with the occasional water washed rut to slow down for. When we got to a tributary of the Gascoyne, things slowed a little. We had lunch in the shade of some Gum Trees at one of these crossings.

We came across an amazing patch of wildflowers at one point:

And a bit further along, we spotted a sole Sturt's desert Pea in the middle of the lonely station track:

Out of the water run off country, the track turned back to reasonable and we made the highway via a closed gate. Back to highway speed and Trev calls on the radio to be wary of a Dingo that will probably cross in front of me. I slowed and it did. I come to a stand and managed to squeeze a shot off:

We Stopped in at Kumarina Road House to stretch the legs and whilst there had a drink at the bar. We then pushed on to Capricorn RH for fuel, arriving at 1700. They have certainly spent some money here (no doubt due to the FIFO workers from Newman just up the road). I suggested we find a bush camp nearby and have dinner at the bar and grill. Which we did. The Chicken Parma was bloody huge, and with that and a few pints I was over content. We made our way to the "bush Camp" and retired early, about 2030.

A productive day of about 350Km's, getting us closer to the destination of Marble Bar.

In the morning, we realised why our bush camp was cheap. 500m from the highway and 2Km from the airport had us listening to the 42+ wheeled juggernauts, choppers and avgas powered turbines going about their business whilst we tried to sleep. But it was cheap and the parma and pints helped a bit.

We drop into Newman and pick up some awesome intelligence from the helpful girl at the visitors centre. I spotted an incredible book here and just had to take a picture. PMSL big time. The Japanese outback survival guide. Worth its weight in iron ore, no doubt.

Then we purchase some bread and head out for Marble Bar. Stopping at Jimblebar Junction for an ore train picture:

The Sealed road up to Roy Hill was a toddle, but it was a bit of a rough ride from there to Nullagine. Hindsight is wonderful - more on that later. The country up here as Lang would say "Its Iron, Iron, Iron", as far as the eye can see. The new Roy Hill establishment has surely had some money thrown at it, and that's just the bits we can see. Pity the money ran out for the road from there to Nullagine. But the scenery between here is nothing short of the best the Pilbara can throw at one. (if you can see it clearly with rattling eyeballs that is). I get a good dose of Pilbara dust to boot:

60 odd Km's after Roy hill, we rattle into Nullagine at 1115 for some lunch and a few pictures:

We don't hang long though, as our target is now clearly in sight.The road from here to Marble Bar is much better. At 1246 we turn West for the Bar on the Rippon Hills Rd. 20Km's from town I spot some structure on top of an incline and the map indicates a memorial cairn is located here. So we find a track and drive in. Remarkably, we find a huge dam, hidden from view from the highway:

We then backtrack and find the track up the hill to the ruins.

No monument to be found and the dam can be seen in the distance. Obviously, it is the ruins of a long past mining operation. Whilst here we see a Toyota tray back making haste to our location. We were fearing the worst, but were happy no warning shots flew over head. Two young fellas got out and I greeted them. They were workers from the station "Limestone" upon who's land we were now trespassing. We had a good chat and as they could see we were not a bunch of knobs, they let us take our photo's but requested next time we call into the homestead and ask first. Fair enough I suppose when you know what station what land belongs to.

And finally we made the Bar at 1400:

Being so early, we decided to hit the old WWII Corunna Downs Airbase. A 35Km trek out on a dusty, winding road.

Taking a good high speed run down the North/South shorter runway, we checked out the old camp and gun pit. There wasn't much there. Then we headed back down to the runway intersection. Dust seen in the distance, we realised we were not the only ones here and eventually had a quick chat with a couple from Bussleton. They told us there was a bit of gear at the fuel dump, so we went to investigate. In reality, there was nothing too exciting here but remnants of prior occupation.

We shot down the East/West runway for the Bomb Dump and eventually we found stuff of interest.

The airstrip:

Lots of 100Lb general purpose bomb crates:

Thousands of what I believe are rifle cartridge belt clips:

Heaps of some circular clamp of some description. Obviously bomb related:

 And what I believe are spent munitions of some description:

It may have taken us a while to find some interesting bits, but find we did and it was a worthwhile venture out here. The surrounding scenery being nothing short of spectacular:

The most interesting bit of the whole trek was searching the bomb dump. Trev in a pair of thongs came within inches of treading on this Pilbara Death Adder. That would have made our Marble Bar trip one to remember:

Driving back to town on a setting sun was a pain, but once there we chose the convenience of the Caravan Park for the princely sum of 10 bucks each for the night. A no brainer really, flushing toilets, a hot shower (without a dunny tent to fold back up) and a more civilised camp than we had had to date.

420 odd km's for the day, we retired. and so ends part I. Part two, Marble Bar and return to come.


  1. Thanks so much. love reading your stories

    1. Thanks Violet. Its one of the reasons I put it out there. Glad you love reading them.

  2. As usual a great read. Hopefully I'll be able to experience it with you next time.

  3. Flash backs to a good couple of weeks spent surveying out that way, days of flying kites out at walga rock waiting for the laser scanner to finish so we could move it another 10m and wait another 2hrs for it to finish. Great write up, thanks BB

    1. I always wished I had the opportunity to work out that way, how lucky you are. Thanks for your comment BB, its appreciated.