Alice Springs – Sun 9th to Tue 11th Aug
A busy time catching up on schoolwork and preparing for Hils, Charlotte and Bonnie to leave for the UK. Leaving Monday lunch Bonnie surprised us, with lots of tears at being parted from Pippa.
On Tuesday the Defender was due its 48,000km service. I couldn’t recommend Suttons more highly, Neil is a wealth of experience and happy to talk through things – old fashioned customer service, the world needs more of it.
Chambers Pillar – Wed 12th Aug
Chambers Pillar is reached by taking a dirt road south to Maryvale Station and turning right. Along the way are the Ewaninga rock carvings, or petroglyphs, symbols of the Altyerre, the laws of Arrente culture and dreamtime. The meanings of most of these have not been shared, the Arrentre regard them as sacred and too dangerous for anyone not initiated in Aboriginal Law.
It is impressive to think the Arrente people were so well adapted to the environment, which to us appears uninhabitable, they had leisure time to make these intricate carvings.
After Maryvale the track becomes rougher, but still a fairly easy drive. The first glimpse of the pillar is from the top of a ridge which runs across the road. From here it is easy to see why for the early explorers the pillar was a navigation mark – it clearly stands out from the landscape. Reduced to photo size it loses its impact, it is a third in from the left.
Approaching the campsite the road first passes window rock, of course you don’t know that until you get to the information station – first reaction is “if that’s the pillar it is disappointing”.
To the local people the pillar is Itirkawara, an evil knob-tailed gecko spirit ancestor; for killing many and living with women forbidden to him he was banished. Bringing a girl relative with him he stopped to rest and turned to stone. The girl, crouching and with her face turned away in shame, became castle rock, a long thin outcrop near to the pillar. A reminder of kinship laws, much like Narmanjolg’s feather in Kakadu.
The name Chambers Pillar, was given by John Stuart. Arriving on 6th April 1860 he named it after his financial backer, James Chambers; nothing like a bit of sucking up to the man writing the cheques……
The best time to see the pillar is at sunrise or sunset, when the light highlights the contrast between the reds and whites of the rock.
Many of the early settlers who came after Stuart left their names carved into the rock to let others know they had travelled through. Funny how a hundred years or so renders graffiti historically significant. Possibly “Nigel & Shaz 11-11-86” (bottom right) may not achieve such acclaim.
Lamberts Centre – Thu 13th Aug
South from Maryvale the track follows the Old Ghan line, however from a heritage perspective it is a disappointment. The little left is in poor condition, the siding ruins covered in graffiti and rubbish strewn – hard to look past this and imagine what it looked like in its heyday. Also hard to imagine why people would travel all this way just to destroy things.
The only glimpse we had of the old railway sleepers was where a grader, at the north end, had gone deep enough to expose a couple. The track was in dreadful condition, evidence of the thousands of spectators for the Finke Desert Race a month earlier, the racetrack for which runs parallel. Alternating between rutted deep sand and hard packed corrugations this was not a pleasant drive.
The only other reminders of the past were the dog spikes, constantly unearthed along the track, and where the track narrowed through an old cutting
Along the track the landscape changes constantly. At the start it is red dirt country, with yellow grasses and shrubs, travelling over small ridges. Halfway is a very unexpected area of green beyond which the trail travels between mesa type outcrops, including the descriptively named Nipple Hill.
The trail ends at Finke, an aboriginal community. Apparently you can camp there but it is not an inviting place. Okay there may be more to the situation, but it is hard to travel through communities like this and not question, in some cases, how the traditional owners view the land.
Lamberts Centre is the geographical centre of Australia, and lies just off the Finke / Kulgera road. There is not much there apart from a scaled down version of the flagpole over parliament house and a bush camp; a very peaceful place to watch the stars.
The road in was interesting – essentially 2 tracks that continually crossed like skiers making powder 8’s – very confusing and you had to be alert, the track was rough with washouts:
Dalhousie Springs – Fri 14th Aug
Driving towards Dalhousie you are heading towards the Simpson desert, so things get more remote. Turning off the Finke Road it seems like you are in sand country already, the track a twisting thread of red sand amongst the scrub. However once onto New Crown Station the sand disappears and things turn barren. It is hard to imagine anything living here, but then you are surprised by water (OK very muddy water), evidence of recent rains.
Eventually the road takes you to Mt Dare, South Australia’s most remote pub. Its also the most expensive diesel we have seen at $2.35 a litre, but given the distances to get it here there is no cause to complain.
Heading south from Mt Dare the landscape remains bare and rocky, aad rough driving. Not low range driving just very slow picking along the rocky track.
Further south, entering Witjira National Park the rocks disappear, but the corrugations reappear; also returning are the grasses and shrubs – with the farmed animals not present it starkly shows the impact they have had elsewhere.
Although in places very barren, almost like a moonscape, it was by no means an unpleasant drive, watching the landscape change from place to place.
The springs themselves are fantastic. An example of a mound spring; fresh water rises at 34-38 degrees, from deep beneath the surface. It takes millions of years for the water, from the Great Artesian Basin, to rise to the surface. When it does it brings minerals with it which solidify around the spring, eventually forming an encircling mound.
For thousands of years mound springs, which can be found throughout the NP, were the only source of freshwater, and have come to support various unique specie. Perhaps the best known, to bathers, are the little fish which nibble at any dead skin – ticklish in an oddly pleasant way.
For us the best time to see the springs is sunrise, with the sun rising through the mist steaming off the surface, just magical.
Also a pleasure to meet another 110. Peter, Meg and their little boy Jack just in from the Simpson desert, great effort.
Old Andado – Sat 15th Aug
Leaving Mt Dare it is worth taking the shot detour to Dalhousie Ruins, the remains of the old homestead. 9km down the Pedirka track the drive is not hard, although the rock hard clay corrugations are unforgiving.
Built 1872-85 it was the most northern Pastoral Lease in South Australia, but was eventually abandoned in 1925 when various leases were amalgamated. In the late 1890s a boy called Essington Lewis, then 15, was sent here by his father “to make a man of him”, makes modern parenting look rather soft….
A fascinating place to wander around and try to imagine life in such a remote place. Water for the homestead came from another mound spring, which remains today. The palms were a crop experiment, as a pest species only a few are allowed to remain for their historical significance.
Passing back through Mt Dare the Binns Track, which is the most direct route, is a few km along the road. The first 25km or so of this was not exactly pleasant, bull dust hole after bull dust hole – even the side tracks had become bull dust holes; car and trailer were covered. Then a surprising patch of green, presumably the cattle had been kept from this area.
The homestead itself is a wonderful step back in time. It has been left exactly as it was when Molly Clark moved to Alice Springs in 2006 and is now run as a charitable trust both to preserve the property and allow people to see what life was like.