Trek 2002 – Tractors in the Outback – Week seven

Saturday, 17th we were ready to leave at 7am. Bullsbrook group headed off first, then 9G South (Albany), keeping in touch about the road conditions with Warren the Rabbit who was in the lead, together with Ron Baird. Continued along the sand hills going slightly east until we got stuck on Hill 4 after turning right.

The Esperance and Dongara crews were now nearly catching up with the front two groups. The sand hills became steeper and steeper. At the 20th sand hill, Jimmy Cole had to change his alternator as his pulley wore out.

Bill Taylor’s Rodeo caught fire on the exhaust of his car, due to the build-up of Spinifex. Bill had indulged in the ‘Three cardinal Don’ts’
1.    Don’t lift up the bonnet
2.    Don’t forget to switch off the engine and
3.    Don’t drink all your beer until an extinguisher is found!!!

There was real trouble at Sandhill 31. Bullsbrook had difficulty getting over the hill using double snatch-straps and cables. Zandra, Vicky and Faye and others were seen trying to help push a vehicle and trailer up the hill, while it was being towed by a tractor.

Videos were taken on sand hills 31 and 36 as the sand hills became steeper and steeper. On sand hill 38, the Siviours tailgate came open on their Rodeo, causing their fridge to break the straps and it slid out, along with the esky and the boxes. Their torch was found in the sand by Wesley when he came on by.
The Bullsbrook group made it to Well 43 by lunchtime, the weather was pleasantly cool although a little windy. Many stopped to have a look at Well 43, but it was in ruins with a salt lake next to it.

The terrain became a little easier to traverse, but we had to skirt around a boggy patch where Warren had placed a tag and sticks to identify some stony patches. There were more flat areas and still a few sand hills. Bullsbrook made camp first and Albany group caught up with them.

A message was relayed from Esperance to say that Jock would need some repairs when they arrived into camp. When Dongara and Esperance arrived into camp, there were hoorahs all round, as the four groups had been separated for a few days. Joan Snook tried her hand at bread making, cooking it on the open campfire. Jeannette Siviour had been hand making her bread since the beginning of the trip, and now there was some real interest in the results of the baking.

Sunday, 18th saw Bob King, Warren (Rabbit) and Jock Sturrock lead an extra special Dawn Service to commemorate the battle on Long Tan. These men are Vietnam Veterans and damn proud of it. There was not a dry eye to be seen, as the group participated in the short service.

The second sand hill of the day caused a major challenge for all the groups. Around mid-morning, a message was relayed from Dongara that Shane Fordham was very ill, with stomach cramps etc and had gone into shock. Suzanne Faulkes, a registered nurse travelling with the Albany group drove back down the convoy to assess the situation and administer drugs if needed.

A very slow journey, with many delays towing vehicles over the hills. Stopped for lunch just south of Well 41. Apparently Well 41 was under water and not very good. Caught up with a South Australian vehicle just after Helena Springs road.

All afternoon, the hills were still very challenging, with many vehicles being towed over. Wesley did an excellent job in the lead and towing his group over. We met up with contingent of 15 vehicles in a Tag-A-Long tour.

We called in to see Tobin’s Grave. Tobin was a surveyor who was speared to death by the aborigines in 1907. There were also unknown graves of aboriginals at the same site. Salt lakes surrounded the area.

Shortly after this, an unusual sight greeted us. An Oka Four Wheel Drive small bus was bogged up past the top of the tyres. The Oka was part of a three vehicle Outback Trekking group.

No one could work out why they had made a short cut and driven into the salt lake at all. The Esperance group broke snatch straps trying to pull them out. No one really knew what to do to get them out, given the depth of the bog and the location being unsuitable for any other vehicle to drive on. Eventually the Dongara crew winched them out, when they came on by.
An urgent radio message came through on the two-way radio to say that a rented Hertz van was approaching at a rate of knots. We all pulled off the track. The driver was extremely impatient, and just ‘ploughed on’ through the tractor convoy without any concern for anyone else that was in the vicinity.

He had apparently told the Esperance trekkers that he was looking for a parrot! Later, he doubled back and drove back to where we were all camped, and just sat on the sand hill staring at the camp. Then he reversed out and disappeared again. Very strange.

The chassis on John Henderson’s caravan was in urgent need of repairs again that night, and it was welded up, while we all prepared tea.

Geoff Faulkes (a.k.a. Boris) proclaimed himself KING, and instigated a special ceremony to honour Wesley for the outstanding job he had done towing tractors and four-wheel drives over the sand hills. The King was wearing a crown and carried a sword (shovel) to initiate Wesley and made him Sir Wesley, Knight of the Canning Stock Route.

Much fun was had around the campfire as the ceremony proceeded. Another early night, (knight) as we were expecting another early start and another big day the next day.
Monday, 19th got off to a stumbling start for Donald and Margaret McLaughlin who got a flat tyre only a few metres after leaving.

A few in the groups picked up water from Well 38, water very close to the surface. There were many finches flying around. There appeared to be some Cabbage Gums on the scene for the first time; small and rough leaves, with a good (dense?) foliage, and a lovely white trunk.

Another group of four-wheel drives approached from the south. They were a group of three vehicles from Queensland. There were some very bad creek crossings with rocky ground in between. Some of the trailers had difficulty getting through them. Then later, there were more sand hills, with rocky parts in between. Finally made Well 37 where there were two graves.
There were a few very nasty sand hills. One that even Boris had trouble getting over and had to be towed! The Albany and Bullsbrook groups camped up together among some Desert Oaks and bulrushes.

Esperance camped just behind and Dongara camped about 12km further back. Ivan Siviour dug the ground among the bulrushes and found water not too far down. The nights became colder and the evening was quite frosty. A mere 90km covered for the day.

Tuesday, 20th August, it was decided to send help back to the other groups, especially to get over the last steep (and loose) sand hill, just before the clearing where Albany and Bullsbrook had camped. Gary, Warren (Rab) Cedar, Boris, Rosco, Max, and Donald rose at 5am to go back to the others with some tractors to help them.

Around 9:30 there was radio contact from Cumber (Hugh Campbell) to say they were about 6km from Well 37, and going nicely. “Scraggy” tractor tried unsuccessfully to pull them over. Kim in “Priscilla” went to the rescue, and eventually made a new track over the hill. The new track eventually caught up with the other track about half km further on.
Things got a bit easier after lunch, a few more steepish sand hills, before we got onto hard stony ground. We eventually reached ‘the highway’. From there to Well 34 the going was easy, but very corrugated. Albany Group caught up with the Esperance group and followed them into Well 34 to camp. A good opportunity for bush showers and more washing.
A few people drove into the Kunawarratji community for fuel and supplies.

Wednesday, 21st and the trekkers arrived at the Kunawarratji Community around 8:30am, most people needing fuel and water. The resources at the community were heavily overtaxed and it was bedlam for a while, trying to accommodate everyone.

The Dongara crew finally pulled in, late in the morning, quite relieved to have met up with everyone again. A meeting was held around lunchtime, some of the trekkers had decided to “call it a day” and left the trek at that time.

The Henderson family from Esperance left from the community. Also, Peter, John and Paul Nunn together with Geoff and Shane Fordham, and Connie and Terry O’Meara left to return to Dongara via Newman. The convoy headed out of the community, and back onto the Canning Stock Route.

After journeying about 17km, George and Anne Bass experienced trouble with their tow hitch. This was repaired, and then only another kilometre or so down the track the DePledge trailer experienced the same problem. This was also repaired, but by now, it was beginning to get dark. It was decided to drive on to where the rest of the trekkers had set up camp further on.

For those doing the repairs, and those who had broken down, it was another late arrival into camp, around 8pm. The nights were getting colder the further south we travelled.
Thursday 22nd there was more welding to be done first thing in the morning to ‘Scraggy’. Other general repairs and tyre pumping for other vehicles. The road was pretty rocky and rough until Well 30, where we stopped in pleasant shade for morning tea. There was plenty of camel dung around; maybe we had pinched their campground. Lots of different birds, some with blue plumage.

There was more corrugated road, and then the sand hills started again. The first few were quite easy and then some rough ones. We got stuck for a long time on a very soft sand hill, and we met some German tourists on the other side. They had to wait until we all got over.

At Well 28 we met up with Ron and Jean Baird and camped there the night in a burnt out area. Two light coloured dingoes came right up close to the fire and started circling around the camp. Jeanette Siviour cooked pikelets for everyone to share on a beautiful night without any wind.

Friday, 23rd and another vehicle approached from the South towing a trailer, it met us just before we left the camp. The Bullsbrook team made good progress, gaining a few kilometres every hour.

There were a few sand hills giving trouble, especially the ones with sharp bends at the top or the ‘double headers’. Some had S bends leading up the incline, which made it difficult to maintain speed with the trailers. Stopped at Well 27 for morning tea, and watched the finches ducking and diving around. They were probably nesting there because of the proximity of the water.

The 9G group replenished their water there and some washed clothes. The Bullsbrook group radioed back that there were four vehicles approaching; one Oka, two four-wheel drives and a maniac ‘going like the clappers’!

Wesley ran up to the top of one of the slate ridges and back, in the time it took most of us, just to have a drink and get ready to take off again.

There were a few ‘hairy’ creeks to cross on the way to Well 26. Cedar and a few others detoured slightly off the track to go up to one of the hills to appreciate the view. Bullsbrook’s Ken Taylor broke his steering column, which held them up for a while, but after that, they pressed on getting up near the 80km mark.

We arrived at Well 26, which was completely restored. The animal drinking troughs were also restored, and some of the trekkers hopped in and bathed in them as water flowed in. Some erected their bush shower, and others did their laundry. We stayed there and enjoyed a lovely, wet and refreshing break for about 2 hours.

After lunch, we moved on and shortly afterward we saw three camels on the left, standing on a sand hill, waiting “for all those strange animals” to get out of the way. There were a few more tricky bends and soft sand hills before we made it in to camp.