Last Saturday we headed to Marree via the Outback Way, stopping for lemonade scones and quandong jam at the legendary Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, with its friendly dog.
We stocked up at Leigh Creek supermarket and drove on to Copley, only to find the bakery closed. Undeterred, we proceeded across saltbush plains to the historic village of Farina (established 1874), where fellow campers had reported buying bread a few days ago.
It turns out the old underground bakery is only in production when the volunteer restoration team is in residence, and they had left. We checked out the beautifully conserved buildings, including the disused pub and cattle loading yard.
Finally we met up with our friends at Marree, where it hasn’t rained properly since March, yet the desert is blooming with solanum (nightshade) and blue bush.
We left Marree with its Lake Eyre sailing club and “luxury” accommodation with a disused railway carriage next to the ad. Starting up the dirt Oodnadatta Track, turning off along the Boreline Track via Roxby Downs mine, through Woomera rocket range land to the Stuart Highway. We free-camped by the salt Lake Hart, where nine trains came through – each pulling around hundred carriages of ore or containers.
We spent the first half hour getting rid of the dust from the van
On 17 July, 1974, racing car driver Donald Campbell broke the world land speed record by driving his Bluebird racing car on Lake Eyre at xxxkpm. At that time our brother-in-law, Tim Kendall was chief timekeeper with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sports. The Melbourne University Car Club, of which Tim was a member were contracted to do the actual timing.
Last Sunday, eight of us drove out from the outback town of Marree to the Lake and held a picnic to commemorate the landmark occasion. We took champagne, smoked salmon, a silver candelabra, a cake in the shape of Bluebird and the MUCC banner. Unfortunately Donald himself was unable to join us as he died a few years after his Lake Eyre triumph, when tackling the water speed record on Coniston Water in the Lake District, UK.
We walked on the vast salt lake and marvelled once again at its arid crunchiness, amongst bones of dead animals, before retreating to coffee at the bird-filled waterhole near Muloorina Homestead. The setting sun brought out the warm colours of the outback scenes as we drove back to the campground.
Last Monday we drove up the Oodnadatta Track to Coward Springs for lunch and a spa bath in a bore in the desert. On the way we passed an open air sculpture park – “plane henge”.
Our return was via mound springs and Curdimurka siding on the disused Ghan railway line. We returned with the setting sun behind us.
Starting at Wilpena Visitors Centre at 8.45am, well equipped with boots, water, sunscreen, walking poles, lunch and snacks, we registered our details in the trail book and headed out on the direct route to St Mary Peak (1171m). This walk is 14.6km in length and walkers are advised to allow six hours return and leave prior to 9am. Well. All started deceptively simply, just a walk in the park, watched by a ring neck parrot. Until we started our ascent, which proved to be up a steep rock face. By the time we got to Tanderra Saddle, about 1.8km from the top we were all in and the thought of making the steep descent, never mind continuing to the top, was totally daunting, given the state of our wobbly leg muscles.
After an early lunch admiring the view, we decided that it would be safer to return by the longer inner loop route. We knew we were supposed to allow
nine hours for the return version of this walk, but getting in late was preferable to the risk of falling off the cliff face. In actual fact, the return by this longer route proved quite doable and we completed it in good time.
After pegging out the washing, we drove to Wilpena Pound where I bought fingerless gloves to facilitate working the camera in 10 degrees temperature with a massive wind chill. We did a two hour walk to a lookout, before driving up Bunyeroo Gorge for a picnic lunch. We then continued on a loop up to Brachina Gorge and Moralana Scenic Drive, arriving home to the van at sunset.
We are in the campground at Rawnsley Park Station. Forty years ago we introduced our baby to the Flinders Ranges, by staying in the shearers’ bunk rooms. The owner, Clem Smith drove us about in his ute and let us try shearing a sheep in the woolshed.
Clem has long passed on but the property, is still a holiday destination, now with swimming pool, store and a recreation room alive with families enjoying the term break. A restaurant is attached to the shearing shed.
A coloured brochure suggests half a dozen walks, so yesterday afternoon we followed the one to Clem Corner. The euros and us were treated to 360 degree views of the surrounding ranges as the sun lowered. With such far horizons, we are glad to be back in the outback. There are abundant native pines and white-trunked gums along dry river beds this winter – much greener than in previous years.