Trek 2006 – Northam to Normanton
Dispatch 1 2006 Tractor Trek Northam to Normanton
Day 1 – Saturday, 8 July 2006
Excitement filled the air as the trekkers readied themselves in preparation for the commencement of the 2006 trek on this cold and frosty morning. With diesel in their veins the boys had their toys purring away bright and early. A good turnout of visitors and local people were in town to see 20 tractors and 13 support vehicles, a total of 68 members on the start of our trek to Goomalling, Dowerin, Wyalkatchem, Trayning, Kununoppin and an overnight stay at Mukinbudin.
Ray Head, Mayor of Northam town council welcomed the trekkers to Northam, wished us well for our trek and gave us a letter of greeting to deliver to the President of the Shire of Carpentaria. The Rev. Cedric Jacobs, and representative of the Noongar people gave a blessing of the tractors and supports and prayed that the aboriginal spirit would go with us. Trekkers were flagged off by Ron Bywaters and Jeff de Pledge and escorted out of town by Northam police and fire brigade. We had a brief stop at Goomalling and Dowerin for a chat to locals who came out to support us. Unfortunately, one tractor had a major engine malfunction and had to be assisted into Mukinbudin for repairs. A group of volunteer trekkers stayed to assist in replacing the engine. We would like to acknowledge Avon Precision Engine Service for working after hours to enable the tractor to be back on the road with the minimum amount of delay, the Mukinbudin Caravan Park for waiving the fees for the trekkers that stayed behind and Mick Walsh for the use of his workshop in Mukinbudin.
Day 2 – Sunday, 9 July 2006
Trekkers departed after a brief meeting at 8.30am for Bullfinch. A very light shower of rain fell (much to the delight of the locals) as we entered Bullfinch for lunch. We then continued on the Bullfinch Evanston Road, our first gravel road, for the trek where we spotted a few wildflowers and some old gold diggings of years gone by. Brenda, Peter and Matt entertained us with a sing-along in the evening around the campfire.
Day 3 – Monday, 10 July 2006
Our morning meeting was touched with a tinge of sadness as we said farewell to two of our members. As we headed for Niagra Dam, our camp for the night, the sun came out for the first time. One of our younger trekkers, Sam performed a few magic tricks as entertainment for the night.
Day 4 – Tuesday, 11 July 2006
On leaving the picturesque Niagra Dam heading for Laverton the countryside looked in good condition. We passed Mt Remarkable, Lake Raeside, Kookynie and Malcolm where we hit the bitumen, which lead us into Laverton arriving at lunchtime which allowed us to get all the housekeeping jobs done. We received news that the trekkers back at Mukinbudin had fixed the tractor and were on their way to join us.
Day 5 – Wednesday, 12 July 2006
We awoke to a bitterly cold wind and light drizzling rain. We saw magnificent Sturt peas in flower, a mob of camels, emus, a wedge tail eagle and galahs. Travelling out on the Great Central Road, passing motorists were generous with their donations as we traversed towards our bush camp. Although the light drizzling rain made conditions uncomfortable at night it helped to settle the dust when travelling.
Day 6 – Thursday, 13 July 2006
The wet and windy conditions during the night created a few problems resulting in some of the tents collapsing. On arrival at Tjukayiria Roadhouse we were advised that the road to the west and the east had been closed earlier in the day and we were to wait until they were reopened. The trekkers who assisted with the mechanical problems at Mukinbudin were stranded at Laverton.
Day 7 – Friday, 14 July 2006
The road to Warburton was still closed so we were able to catch up on tractor repairs and housekeeping. In the evening we celebrated Christmas in July. All the ladies contributed to a feast of various dishes. This was followed with plum pudding and custard. Brenda Dowsett entertained us on her piano accordion with her singing of Christmas carols and other songs. A great night was had by all.
Day 8 – Saturday, 15 July 2006
After another very cold night the morning began with welcome sunshine. All the tractors and supports were assembled in front of the roadhouse for departure when the (delayed) group started rolling in. After a brief meeting, President, Max Smith welcomed them back into the fold. The Managers, Mark and Sandy, of the Tjukayiria Road House were thanked for their hospitality. The trek was heavy going with badly corrugated roads after the rain. The camp spot was at the junction of the Sandy Blight Junction/Rebecca Hills.
Day 9 – Sunday, 16 July 2006
Trekkers travelled into Warburton and refuelled ready for departure. This was a scenic drive through the Warburton rangers with undulating country side, sparse shrubs, casuarinas and yellow flowering acacias Trekkers saw several camels as we traversed through the Barrow and Robinston Ranges. As the orange Chamberlain 9G’s trundled single file along the road it made an impressive scene. We had another bush camp under a magnificent night sky.
Day 10 – Monday, 17 July 2006
We had a reasonable run to Giles where some trekkers visited the weather station and were given an informative tour around the base. We viewed the grader that was used by survivor Len Beadell to make all the roads in the area for the atomic test and the Woomera rocket range. We also viewed another piece of history from ‘Sky Lab’. The tractors and support vehicles refuelled at Warakuna. There was a great improvement in the road after leaving Warakuna as we travelled parallel with the Peterman Ranges on the right and the Schwerin on the left. We saw some magnificent stands of beautiful dessert oaks. Close to the ranges we came across the explorer Ernest Giles tree along with the names of Len Beadell’s road crew. We crossed the WA/NT border after lunch with much exhilaration and anticipation. The ranges were breathtaking with their various hues and shadows. We set up camp at the base of the hills at the Docker River campsite where we had flushing toilets, cold showers and barbeques.
Day 11 – Tuesday, 18 July 2006
We had a dry night but woke to very bitter cold winds. After a brief meeting we headed to Lassiter’s Cave for morning tea. After lunch the spectacular Olgas (Kata Tjuta) came into view. Depending on the weather conditions the Olgas (like Uluru) change dramatically. As we drew closer with the sun shining on the Olgas they appeared with soft shades of pink and blue. The south side of the rock is very marked from the prevailing weather and you can notice where the rain has formed waterfalls over the rock. Most of the trekkers visited the Olgas whilst some went ahead to Yulara to set up camp and others went to Alice Springs to sort out mechanical problems. Back on the bitumen again it seemed very strange after so many days of corrugated and dirty roads. Fifty kilometers from the Olgas stands the great Aussie icon, the monolith, Uluru/Ayres Rock.
Day 12 – Wednesday, 19 July 2006
Day 13 – Thursday, 20 July 2006
Trekkers did their own sight seeing around Yulara and the Olgas.
Day 14 – Friday, 21 July 2006
After an early departure we were all excited about being on the road again. Still on the bitumen we travelled to Curtin Springs for morning tea. From where we were able to view Mt Connor with its impressive flat top, the height being only four meters smaller than Uluru. Lunch stop at Luritja Road turnoff on the way to the Palmer River were we planned to camp for the night. The scenery along this road was great with masses of various scrubs and desert oaks. We camped under a beautiful starry sky (without any wind).
Day 15 – Saturday, 22 July 2006
It was an absolutely beautiful sunrise this morning. We travelled along the Palmer River until we hit the Finke River. This was one of our most spectacular travelling days with diverse scenery and road conditions (from stoney river bed to sand) . We stopped for morning tea at Boggy Hole where we unexpectedly came across a flock of pelicans and other bird life. The group was in absolute awe of the countryside we travelled through. On our way to Alice Springs we stopped off at Hermansberg Mission where we viewed paintings and aboriginal artifacts. We travelled parallel to the MacDonnell Ranges before stopping at John Flynn’s memorial stone for afternoon tea and a photo session before arriving at Alice Springs in the late afternoon.
Day 16, 17, 18 – Sunday 23 July, Monday 24 July, and Tuesday 25 July
Trekkers all enjoyed the facilities at the Stuart Caravan Park and the opportunity to see some of the sites in and around Alice Springs eg Cultural Centre, Desert Park, National Transport Hall of Fame, Ballooning, and Royal Flying Doctor Service (plus many more).
Monday evening was spent at the Heavitree Gap Outback Lodge where we dined on scrumptious seafood – crayfish and prawns supplied by George and Ann Bass of Dongara and oysters supplied by George Baldwin of Smokey Bay with delicious salads donated by the Lodge. The meal was followed by a club auction where we raised over $3000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Children’s Hospitals. A large amount of goods had been donated by various businesses and trekkers ranging from jewellery, electrical, mechanical, hand made craft and even a gold nugget. Chris Callaghan entertained us with his music and the club video of the first trek across Australia was played on DVD.
Day 19, Wednesday 26 July
Leaving Alice Springs, we travelled to the East MacDonnell Ranges via the Ross River Highway to the 19th century gold mining settlement of Arltunga. On the way we visited Emily and Jessie Gap and had lunch at Corroboree Rock which rises forbiddingly in front of the main range and is of great importance to local Aboriginal people. Onward to Trephina Gorge which is noted for its sheer quartzite cliffs and River Red Gum lined watercourses. Some trekkers went on to Ross River Homestead, which was originally constructed in the early 1900’s, and is set amongst some beautiful scenery. A restaurant and a bar have recently been added to homestead out of material from the Old Ghan railway (sleepers and tracks). We made camp at Arltunga Bush Hotel and campsite.
Day 20, Thursday 27 July
As we left camp heading to Huckitta Station we drove through Arltunga Historical Reserve with a beautiful view of the ranges ahead of us, and diverse scenery – changing from dry river crossings (and a wet one), river gums, and high country with soft green shoots.
A support vehicle broke a king pin but with many willing and able hands and the correct equipment the problem was soon fixed. The road was very dry and dusty but the magnificent Harts Ranges we passed through lifted our spirits. We were all pleased to reach Huckitta Station where we camped for the night.
Day 21, Friday 28 July
Another beautiful day as we headed to Cockatoo Bore. We passed some large termite mounds and two graders (which we were delighted to see as they made a great improvement to the road). We stopped at Jervois Homestead for morning tea and refuelling and had another bush camp.
Day 22, Saturday 29 July
We have now been on the road for three weeks and all trekkers seem to be enjoying ourselves. Not far from the Queensland border as we head for Tobermorey Station for morning tea. The station, with a beautiful green lawn for campers was a very welcome sight after the long dusty drive. Most enjoyed an ice cream for the shop. We passed through a couple of very large bulldust holes which gave a couple of trekkers quite a scare. We only saw one road train and one car until we reached Urangandi. All had a great night as we mixed with the locals who had been anxiously awaiting our arrival.
Day 23 and 24, Sunday 30 July, Monday 31 July
Leaving Urangandi we passed through some excellent pasture plains for cattle and then hit the bitumen for 88 kms to Mt Isa. The scenery became very picturesque as we neared the town. On arrival at Mt Isa, the tractors formed up outside the town and did a parade through the main streets.
Monday was free for sight seeing and shopping.
Day 25 – Tuesday 1 August 2006
After a scenic drive through hills on a narrow bitumen road we arrived early at Cloncurry. Some of the members enjoyed a fish BBQ at the Caravan Park.
Day 26 – Wednesday 2 August 2006
Chumvale Station were mustering cattle and some of the members enjoyed watching the muster by helicopter, motorbike and horses. Morning tea, at the homestead was enjoyed by the trekkers as they looked around at the colourful gardens.
The local sights of Cloncurry including Mary Kathleen Centre, John Flynn Centre and the Original Qantas hanger were visited by most trekkers.
Day 27 – Thursday 3 August 2006
The tractors visited the Cloncurry public state school and the catholic school before heading off to Quamby where we had morning tea. We called into the Burke and Wills Roadhouse for drinks and ice-cream on our way for a bush camp on Cowan Downs Station. Here we enjoyed a community dinner around a large campfire. The Daley’s on their tractor caught up with us that night.
Day 28 – Friday 4 August 2006
Had a good run to Normanton with the tractors, arriving at the caravan park at 1.30pm after doing a circuit around town. Three more members joined us for the rest of the trek. A photo shoot with all the tractors outside of the train station was held before an official welcome from the Shire CEO, Lee Farrell. We then joined the local bowling club members for a fun evening of barefoot bowls and BBQ fundraiser.
Day 29 – Saturday 5 August 2006
Several members started the day with a great trip on the Gulf Lander Train and a delicious morning tea at Critters Camp after being held up by a bush ranger on horse back. A great fun morning was had by all. On arrival back at the railway station an auction was held amongst the tractor drivers for the privilege of towing the old RM60 rail engine to start it and some members then took a short ride.
Day 30 – Sunday 6 August 2006
Trekkers were hosted by the Gulf of Carpentaria Shire with very informative walking and bus tours around the town and surrounding area. We were given a talk by Diane Reeves a Commonwealth Gold Medal Winner in skeet shooting. Kris the Croc was a great attraction being a replica 8.27meter crocodile shot by a female hunter in 1957. After a formal welcome by the Mayor, Ashley Gallagher, President of our club then handed over a letter from Ray Head, Mayor of Northam Town Council. We were then treated to lunch. Joining us was a cyclist who had ridden 14,000 kms around Australia whom we had passed previous days along the road. Some members enjoyed a sunset croc cruise.
Day 31 – Monday 7 August 2006
Some of the tractors visited the Normanton Primary School to give a talk to the students. We then stopped for morning tea at the bakery before heading off on a short trip to Karumba enjoying many Brolgas and other bird life along the way. After lunch trekkers enjoyed a bus tour of the town and a visit to the Barramundi Discovery Centre, once again organized by Lee Farrell the Shire CEO. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the mouth of the Norman River and BBQ provided by the local Lions Club at Karumba Point. An Auction followed with an enthusiastic and entertaining auctioneer, Lee Farrell raising $2,000 together with a donation by the Lions Club of $500. The evening was enjoyed by all.
Day 32 – Tuesday 8 August 2006
Some members had an early start going on fishing trips while a few tractors visited the local Karumba Primary School and Day Care Centre giving a talk to the students and teachers. During the afternoon a few fishy tales were told. All trekkers filled in their census forms this evening.
Day 33 – Wednesday 9 August 2006
This morning we said a fond farewell to twenty three trekkers who departed to return home. Nurse Donna gave us a talk on the sand flies, mosquito’s, drinking water and where we place ourselves in the bush. After handing in our census forms we headed off together parting ways after morning tea. After a lunch stop at Gilbert River we were visited by a helicopter in the middle of mustering. There were termite mounds in the thousands along the way. Wallabies, herons, geese, ring parrots and plenty of woodlands and billabongs made the drive very interesting. We called into Dunbar Station homestead and then carried on to camp near the Mitchell River.
Day 34 – Thursday 10 August 2006
We camped not to far from the Mitchell River crossing but unfortunately because the river was too deep we couldn’t cross so we had to take an alternative route through Chilligoe and Palmerville crossing many dry river beds. We saw a lot of cattle in good condition with plenty of water in road run-offs. We had lunch at one of the many lagoons filled with water lilies and saw a small crocodile. The termite mounds are getting bigger and increasing in number. We camped on the grassy banks of the Palmer River.
Day 35 – Friday 11 August 2006
Today was a challenge for all concerned. One tractor and trailer jack-knifed and caused some concern but with the usual team work was soon back on the road none the worse for wear. Crossed a couple of big rivers with flowing water and stopped for a well earned break and lunch at the Hann River. Traversed the Great Dividing Range and the rest of the day was spent on a rollercoaster ride crossing many creeks and rivers. Arrived at Coen, an old gold mining town, and set up camp behind the Hotel. Most of us enjoyed a great BBQ at the hotel that night.
Day 36 – Saturday 12 August 2006
Headed for Weipa today driving over roads that were badly damaged by cyclones during the year. There were many road works in progress. Saw our first grass trees, different from West Australian ones. On leaving the Archer River roadhouse we crossed the Archer River in convoy blowing our horns for the entertainment of campers along the river (the thought of crocodiles don’t seem to worry some people). We camped at the Weipa Camping Grounds which is right on the beach. We were invited to put the tractors on display at the local Rodeo which is only held once a year. An entertaining night was had by all who attended.
Day 37 – Sunday 13 August 2006
We were invited to play a game of cricket with the local cricket club members this morning. So with usual flare our members turned up in full force and provided a great mornings entertainment. Recognising members under coloured wigs and costuming was a challenge in itself. Thanks to the cricket club members who provided the sausage sizzle to finish off our mornings activities.
Day 38 – Monday 14 August 2006
Ten members headed for Mapoon to experience first hand the research of turtles. Some females were spotted laying eggs on the beach that night.
The rest of the members spent the day sightseeing and relaxing in Weipa and watching the lovely sunset.
Day 39 – Tuesday 15 August 2006
The group on Flinders Beach helped in the removal of nets washed up on the beach as a conservation activity, and was also fortunate enough to be able to handle a freshly hatched baby turtle before heading back to Weipa. Tractors also lined up on the beach at Weipa for a photo shoot and helicopter rides were organised for those who wanted to see the area by air. A bit of excitement was caused when a rather large Python visited the caravan park.
Day 40 – Wednesday 16 August 2006
After a relaxing few days at Weipa we headed off for Bramwell Station arriving in the middle of the afternoon. Two cyclones this year have done a lot of damage to roads, repairs couldn’t commence until the middle of June. After we set up camp the owner gave us a very interesting talk on the running of the station and the history of the area. We also enjoyed a roast dinner on the verandah of the open style bar.
Day 41 – Thursday 17 August 2006
After a very enjoyable overnight stay at Bramwell Station we left full of excitement for the day ahead with one group of tractors and support vehicles taking on the old telegraph line track and its many creek water crossings and the rest of the vehicles taking the safer option of the by-pass road.
The first crossing (Palm crossing) created an air of excitement and trepidation but everybody managed to get through except one support who nose dived his vehicle into the first dip and had to be pulled out backwards. Trekkers visited Fruit Bat Falls and enjoyed a refreshing swim and Twin Falls. It was a day of great achievements for those who had never attempted anything like the challenges we faced today. We camped on the banks of the Jardine River ready for crossing on the barge tomorrow.
Day 42 – Friday 18 August 2006
Vietnam Veterans Day today. A moving dawn service was held by one of our members who also had an Australian flag of a deceased Vietnam veteran hanging from a tree with the Jardine River in the background making a wonderful setting. By 7.30am tractors were lined up ready for the ferry crossing. Two tractors with trailers were transported across the river each trip. One of the caravan axles snapped and lost a wheel on the way into Seisia. Once again everyone worked as a team. A stub-axle was welded onto the broken axle and a wheel off one of the support vehicles tandem trailer was put on the van and we were back on the road again, making it into Seisia in time for arrangements to be made for a new axle to be flown in the following week. While repairs were under way passing traffic was brought to a standstill and quite a few donations were collected. Some timely advice and help was also given by some of our members to passing traffic highlighting unrealised problems on their trailers.
Day 43 – Saturday 19 August 2006
Trekkers were invited to put tractors on display at the Bamaga Show and encouraged to take part in the mud track trials. Some intrepid members took their tractors around the very muddy track which had some quite deep water traps. A lot of fun was had by all watching the morning activities and wandering around the many different stalls. Some members stayed for the races which was quite a unique experience. Bare feet, thongs, halters instead of bridles and bare back were all the go. True bush horse racing events. This evening the Seisia Fishing Club put on a delicious meal and we danced to the local band.
Day 44 – Sunday 20 August 2006
THE FINAL LEG
An early start today was made to drive out to the ‘TIP’ of Cape York and dip our wheels into the waters of the Torres Strait where the Arafura and Coral Seas meet. Champagne corks popped as we all celebrated the completion of our drive across Australia, Cape Leeuwin to Cape York. By the time celebrations had finished the tide was starting to engulf the tractors, a merry procession then made dry land from where we all walked up over the rocky headland to the most northerly point of mainland Australia to continue our celebrations. Beautiful views over the surrounding islands and bays were a sight to see. The rest of the day was spent exploring every inch of the Cape with Chamberlain 9G tractors going in all directions.
Day 45 – Monday 21 August 2006
Today saw most of us boarding the ferry for an overnight trip to Thursday and Horn Islands. Our NSW members did a day trip as they were leaving early the next morning to return home. We passed a large number of islands as we travelled across the beautiful blue waters to Thursday Island where we all did the island tour by bus and then spent some free time wandering around the streets and enjoying the islands culture. Trekkers, then in their own, time caught the ferry across to Horn Island Resort. We had our first tropical thunderstorm today as we negotiated our way from the ferry to the Resort. A fantastic War Museum and Cultural Centre has been set up here and many hours were spent browsing and learning about the history of this part of Australia.
Day 46 – Tuesday 22 August 2006
This morning we were taken on a very informative bus tour of Horn Island seeing the many World War II sites including gun emplacements, trenches, WWII plane wrecks and camouflage network around the airstrip. Much work has been done by local people to preserve and restore this history. We then caught the ferry back to Thursday Island where we had lunch and did last minute shopping before boarding the ferry back to the mainland. An experience enjoyed by all.
Day 47 – Wednesday 23 August 2006
Today was spent doing last minute sight seeing, maintenance and packing in preparation for the start of our return journey. The axles arrived for the caravan and all was repaired in time to leave with the rest of the group.
Day 48 – Thursday 24 August 2006
After some discussion it was decided to cut out two days of our return journey and end our trek at Coen. Everybody headed back to the Jardine River for the ferry crossing where we were joined by dozens of motor bike riders sharing deck space. An almost uneventful trip was had to our next camp site at Bramwell Junction except for the ‘A’ frame on another camper trailer needing some reinforcing. It was then found that on tractor had water in the oil. After draining the oil and replacing it and pouring plenty of stop leak product into the radiator it was decided to carry on with fingers crossed. A biker that had fallen off and was in a serious state was taken to Moreton Overland Telegraph Station by a support vehicle so that he could be transferred to Cairns Hospital by Royal Flying Doctor. While awaiting for the plane to arrive another biker was also brought in by a backup vehicle to be flown out. We could actually see our fund raising efforts for the Royal Flying Doctor Service put to good use.
Day 49 – Friday 25 August 2006
Another early start with everyone keen to get to Coen for our final farewell camp. Called into the old Moreton Overland Telegraph Station, had lunch at Archer River roadhouse and arrived in Coen with plenty of time to set up camp and prepare ourselves for our last night together as a group. A great BBQ was put on by the hotel and after plenty of celebrations we had our last meeting with everybody expressing their thanks for a job well done and their appreciation for being able to be part of such a memorable event.
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL TREKKERS FOR TAKING ON THIS GREAT ADVENTURE AND ACHIEVING WHAT WE SET OUT TO DO.
WELL DONE EVERYBODY!!!!!!
Everyone arrived home safely with seemingly no troubles. So now we await our next adventure.