Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Caning on the Canning, Part II

So day 7 we leave Wolf Creek at around 0830. In the 6 preceding days I have covered 3200Km's and am looking forward to a bit of a break of big mile days. The plan is to get out to Bililuna well before the 11am closing time. With 65Km's to travel, and at 0830 in the morning this should be a piece of cake.

However....on the Junction of the Wolf Creek entrance and the Tanami Rd, A solo fella in a van has broken down. Well, the independently sprung van has spat one sides pivot bolt - so he was going nowhere. In the spirit of helping a fellow traveler, we stop to assist. Miles from anywhere, we offer to call his roadside assistance on Steve's sat phone. 10 minutes of "please press 1 for...." - at sat phone call rates, then finally onto a person, it has taken well over 20 minutes to find out Halls Creek don't have a truck big enough to extract the van. One will have to come from Fitzroy - it will be 2 days.

In the interim, Peter, being a dab old hand  is an excellent bush mechanic. Whilst we waited for RAC to call back to find out the score about the Fitzroy truck, Peter has removed the jockey wheel clamp bolt, inserted it into the pivot bolt hole, banged the ends over like a bent nail and had the van mobile again. When RAC finally rang back, we said don't bother, he will now limp into Halls Creek for repairs.

I should mention, if you are going to travel solo you should have a basic understanding of some principles. No offence to the retired teacher of 40 years, but he didn't have a clue how he was going to get out of his mess. With no money or way of contacting the outside world, it was his lucky day we gave a toss. He did throw Steve some loose change for his +20 minute call @$2 P/minute on the sat phone. Mind you, we nearly all fell over laughing when he said he was going to write to the dept about the woeful state of the road into to a world class facility. It became the brunt of many a joke for us on the canning. Whenever we hit a rough patch, someone would repeat the statement over the uhf. We even did it when we hit one of those rare smooth patches, Why, I think I will be repeating it for years on the radio now. I would hate to be the letter opener at the dept.

We got a voice mail on the sat phone some days later from the RAC. The gentleman wanted us to know he made Halls Creek ok. So we felt a bit warm and fuzzy over that.

We had wasted nearly an hour and a half and were concerned we would miss the cut-off for fuel at Bililuna. We arrived with 20 minutes to spare. Only to find about 1/2 dozen vehicles all lined up for the bowser...bloody great.

A stupid fuel delivery system is to purchase a pre-paid card from the shop with a $5 deposit on top. So we bought our cards, explained our dilema and the store owners assured us they would wait till we got our fuel. Mind you, at least 2 of the pre-paid cards were void, mine included, so this slowed the procession somewhat. But by 1115, we were on our way, the start of the Canning Stock Route.

Now, it wouldn't be worthy not to mention Alfred Canning at this point. The Wiki link below should explain better than my ramblings:


It should be noted, whilst Canning basked in the glory of a little used route, there were plenty of others well before him that he owes a lot of gratitude to, such as Carnegie, Forrest and the black fella's of the region. Not to take away the efforts of Canning and his team on the work they did, but history also needs to record the work he picked up on to do this initial survey. He didn't just wander into the desert and say, by George, I think this is a good place to sink a well.

And we are off down the Canning. And a few hundred meters in, the corrugations begin. A quick detour to Stretch lagoon was in order:

A large body of water in an otherwise arid landscape. We had travelled near 25Km's before the state of play raised its ugly head. Just prior to Bloodwood bore, Steve's bullbar mount for his aerial broke its bolts and the aerial now rested on the bonnet. He would stop at the bore in about a Km to fix it. Who would have thought, that kilometre could rub so much paint off a bonnet. Not a happy chappy, but rummaging through our spares we got it going again:

Then to top it off, Steve, in his Japanese safety boots, didn't see the strand of barbed wire in the grass and managed to impale toe skin on the rusty barb. Ouch.

By 1400, we headed over the first dune and onto well 51. I have nearly 700 photographs to select from, so I wont bore you with a picture of every well on the CSR. Stopping every so often, we temp measured our rear shocks. Steve's new ones were alarmingly up to 180 degrees. later, he stopped when he could smell something. It was the plastic boot on the left shock starting to melt. So we had to adopt a new strategy: reduce tyre pressure some more and stop more often to let them cool down. My Dobinson remotes at this stage were working brilliantly, recording temperatures under 90 degrees. At 1615, after 120Km's of CSR, we stopped for the night at well 50, just a depression in the ground with some rusty relics lying about the place. The camp site, a massive area, well shaded, in a large dry clay pan. A day of about 185 Km's:

Day 8 begins at 0800. We are into some desert dunes now and the start of the Great Sandy desert:

Unfortunately, we are only on the road for an hour and at well 49, bad news prevails. The smoking left shock from yesterday has now spat its oily content on the desert sands and the underside of Steve's vehicle. So we spend an hour replacing that unit with a well worn, second hand Billie Steve had brought along. Another change of plan - reduce more pressure from the tyres and make more cooling stops.

The shiny new paint from a day ago, now a blackened charred mess.

Whilst we thought our shock troubles were worrying so early into the trip, we didn't have long to wait to see how fortunate we really were:

By 11am, we come into view of the Breaden Hills and are absolutely blown away. As Steve would put it,it's like you have just been dropped into Arizona. I was in the lead this day, and every time I turned a new corner, the view just got better and better. Its hard to believe, but for my CSR experience, these hills were the highlight of the trip:

Joe Breaden was sure a lucky man. And Carnegie saw the value of the asset as he describes thus in Spinifex and Sand:

A fine specimen of Greater Britain was Joe Breaden, weighing fifteen stone and standing over six feet, strong and hard, about thirty-five years of age, though, like most back-blockers, prematurely grey, with the keen eye of the hunter or bushman. His father had been through the Maori War, and then settled in South Australia; Breaden was born and bred in the bush, and had lived his life away up in Central Australia hundreds of miles from a civilised town. And yet a finer gentleman, in the true sense of the word, I have never met with. Such men as he make the backbone of the country, and of them Australia may well be proud. Breaden had with him his black-boy "Warri," an aboriginal from the McDonnell Ranges of Central Australia, a fine, smart-looking lad of about sixteen years, whom Breaden had trained, from the age of six, to ride and track and do the usual odd jobs required of black-boys on cattle stations. I had intended getting a discharged prisoner from the native jail at Rotnest. These make excellent boys very often, though prison-life is apt to develop all their native cunning and treachery. Warri, therefore, was a distinct acquisition.

Carnegie honoured him with at least 3 naming rights that I know of. The hills as described by myself above, the pool in those hills which Breaden discovered in the search of water, and a set of caves and rocks, Breaden's Bluff,  just South of Empress Spring, which I mentioned in Part I.

So we detoured off the CSR for Breaden's pool and were not disappointed at the sight:

Here I climbed the cliff walls for a view of the deep rocky ravine that fed the pool. Finding nothing of interest, except a long deep channel that in times of rain must funnel a fair bit of water, I couldn't find a way down. But Willie to the rescue, showed me the way I went up, and with a bit of logic, I got back down unscathed.

From there we hiked the 20 minutes out to Godfrey's tank. Godfrey Massie, also a member of Carnegie's expedition, had set off in the opposite direction to Breaden and also found a great body of water, 20 minutes walk away:

On the south wall, to the right of the picture above behind the tree, many inscriptions had been made in the rock:

Here I got a bit excited. It looked like Wells 1885 had been inscribed. I thought at the time it was Lawrence Wells from the Calvert Scientific Expedition. However, that date was a bit too early for that. Manipulation of the photograph on the computer seems to show the date as 1985. So a modern day vandal, much like some of the other inscriptions, barely visible until you tweak the image. The Trotman inscription belongs to Canning's 2 IC. In the old days, explorers would blaze a tree or scribe a rock face, to show following explorers where they had been. Much like the great example at Chambers Pillar in the NT. However, I see no excuse for modern day people to be defacing such treasures, such like the woman, clearly trying to hide her actions, when I was at the pillar in 2013. Sad really. Carnegie scribes this rock face, the "c" circled around 96, being 1896. The other later inscriptions I need to do more research on.

Back to the cars we go, and Brenda adds a non vandalistic appendage to the landscape:

Its now 1300 and we hit the CSR once again. The short venture out to well 48 wasn't worth the effort, so we make our way to well 47 which was also the same. We decide to head for the restored well at 46 to make camp.  On the way, Peter calls up, he is stuck on a dune about 2Km away. So I stop on the next crest and wait till I ensure he is underway again. In the interim, I get out to take a picture. I reach into the rear door, and I am purchased precariously on sloping sand, and subsequently loose my balance. I go down hard, butt first, straight into a clump of spinifex. The first sensation was that of a native spear penetrating the back of my gonads. That was luckily just a puncture wound, no  travelling companion would be willing to pull that spine. Unfortunately, the second sensation was the mryiad of spinifex spines now embedded in both hands and the back of both legs. Some 3 weeks later, as I write this, I still have spines in the back of my legs. The next couple of days was torture, particularly the legs, whose broken spines would rub on my seat cover and give me some grief. Trust me, sitting on spinny is not a recommended thing to do.

Well 46 was a great choice. Clean water from a restored well and an awesome place to camp. Arriving around 1645. Peter getting down to duty with the chainsaw, supplying us with the 3rd most valuable product in these parts - wood. And an awesome fire it was too.

Day 8 ends up with a further 150Km's traversed. And I'm now about half way through my photographic record. I'll sign off for now and continue with the next part shortly.


  1. Your making me very envious, Looking forward to the next installments.

    1. Thanks again Dno. Hope you enjoyed them all.