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Gunbarrel Highway Expedition - 1985

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#1 Spider


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Posted 08 January 2024 - 04:55 PM


From The Sarg's Collection

This is a draft of a chapter from our up coming book 'That Can't be Good'. It will read differently in it's final published form.

I've posted this here in response to a few requests for our trip through the first Atomic Bomb site on mainland Australia. While I was reading through that chapter it occurred to me that there was in fact a prelude to that adventure and that's this one I did back in 1985.

While this is obviously an Australian based trip, it does have VERY strong and relevant ties back to the UK and the cold war. In the 50's the UK was developing Rocket technology and Atomic Weapons, which they needed to test somewhere,,,,,

Here's a clip I managed to find of the very first Bomb Test that was done on mainland Australia at Emu Field

After a scout about the various colonies of the Commonwealth, initially Canada was being considered, but found to be too populous for the secrecy that was desired. Australia fitted the bill perfectly as the population was low and just about zero across the various deserts while offering huge open spaces. A Test Range was decided upon, which was and while shortened considerably over the years, still remains as the biggest Rocket Test Range in the world.  

The 'draw back' though of the test area being unpopulated was that there was no township or roads throughout the site. The job for surveying and building these tracks or 'highways' as they were dubbed, fell to Len Beadell. Starting in 1949 he first Surveyed for the very Pin Point start of the Rocket Range around which he drew up the then secret township of Woomera. From this Pin Point he put in a network of highways through previously unexplored territory. It also included the establishment of Giles Weather Station, needed not only for the Rocket Tests but also for the Bomb Tests. As well as the weather station, the Test Site includes two Atomic Bomb Test Areas, Emu and Maralinga.  Len is considered to be the last Australian Pioneer. His work of building some almost 4000 miles / 6300 km highways was completed in 1963, though by that time, the overall project had been through many changes.

Today, some 60+ years since they were completed, the area they traverse is still extremely remote.

Len published a series of books that cover the survey and building of these highways. Due to their popularity, they are still printed today. I've read them all and found them a hilarious account of this most remote and unique  works.

SECOND South Australian Moke Club EXPEDITION across the Gunbarrel.

By The Sarg  with Spider

Cast and Crew;-

The Sarg and Big Al                1275cc Moke
The Shearer and his wife Lyn  1275cc Moke
Stefan and his wife Jenny         998cc Moke
Nick and Fred                          998cc Moke
Spider and The Derro             1275cc Moke

The Sarg kicks off the story;-

In my younger years, I spent 15 of them serving part time with the Army Reserve in fortnightly training stints, many of these were held in the Cultana Training Area, near Whyalla, SA. Some exercises were also conducted in more northern regions of South Australia, these led to a deep love affair with the Outback, a love affair to has continued to this day.

At this time, I was working for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Government Dept. (CSIRO) and five of my work colleagues had Mokes and were active members of the SAMC. I had been hearing them all talk insensately about the various outback trips they had done with the club in their Mokes. They often spoke very enthusiastically about the Moke's off-roading abilities and how they could conquer just about any obstacle the outback could throw at them. Finally, after a few years of listening to these stories, I felt I wanted to be a part of them and this enticed me to buy a Moke. In 1982 I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase one of the last new Mokes available and this was a beauty of a Yellow Devil Californian model with the fabulous 1275cc engine. This was much cheaper than any of the 4x4's available at the time and by the sounds of it all, I could see I would be guaranteed a load more fun.

My new Moke was a far cry from the 12 tonne Tracked M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier, Land Rovers and five tonne 6x6 Trucks I was used to from the Army Reserve. I knew only too well what these vehicles were capable of, having pushed them to their limits and often beyond. My experience with these vehicles and the conditions through which we pushed them gave me a very good idea of what was needed and in what type of conditions. When I seriously looked at my Moke and pictured how this would fair in true off road conditions, I started having second thoughts about my new 'life' in the Moke Club, I really wasn't too sure and was a little concerned that I’d been led up the garden path.

One of my work colleagues from the CSIRO, Greg Bwana Rinder began organising a trip to cross the Simpson Desert in June 1983, I was invited to partake in. If nothing else, it would show me first hand what these Mokes could or couldn't do. Of course, the trip was highly successful. I came away from that trip with new and high respect for my recent purchase, it never failed to surprise me at just what this 'cheap' small car was capable of.

At the SAMC annual general meeting following the Simpson Desert Crossing, Australia's last Explorer,  Len Beadell gave the most enjoyable and impressive audio/visual presentation I had ever attended, his talk that night left an impression on me that has last to this day.  That’s it I thought, the Gunbarrel Highway is a piece of Australia I just have to go and see. While the desert bug had bitten back in my Army Reserve days, I was now absolutely infected.

Following this talk along with my burning desire to travel Len's most famous highway, I volunteered to organize the 1985 Gunbarrel Highway expedition through the club and in the space of a few days had four other Moke Club Members enlist for this trip. This would be a three-week 4,400 mile / 7,000 km trip, leaving Adelaide on the 1st June 1985 and returning on the 21st June.  The trip would be run in the reverse direction of the previous SAMC 1980 Gunbarrel Highway expedition, and would also differ by travelling up the Oodnadatta Track from Marree to Oodnadatta; onto Finke and then Chambers Pillar via the track that followed the old Ghan Railway line track; then across to Ayers Rock via Idracowra station and finally the start of the publically accessible section of Gunbarrel Highway at Giles. It was an ambitious schedule and timeline, but then, this is what the Moke Club was built upon, all the same, I got down to business and as the day got closer, I had nervous but unwavering feelings about what we were taking on and my responsibility as trip leader.

Spider: Being Sydney based and in those days, the main source of communication through the club was via our monthly newsletters, I always waited in great anticipation that first week of every month for the 'telegraph' to arrive. I read all of them cover to cover, some over again. On receiving the November 1984 Newsletter, plastered on the cover was the 'rumoured' Gunbarrel Highway Trip for June of the following year. Before reading any further, I had the telephone lines from Sydney to Adelaide smoking, I couldn't get my hat in the ring fast enough, was I too late?? Would I be accepted ?? I spoke with Big Al Rayner who assured me there was a place open for me. I then started reading the Newsletter when a huge flood of thoughts and emotions ran over me, just thinking about what I'd signed up for. There was only a few months to June, 'plenty of time' I foolishly thought, " what do I need to do, how do I get ready ? ". At this time of my life - I was only in my early 20's and still somewhat wet behind the ears - while I had done many road trips, I'd only done one previous outback trip, which was fairly short and only on main tracks. I appreciated these were very much a different kettle of fish to black top trips. My only 'familiarity with the Gunbarrel I had at the time was from Even Green's Book 'Journeys with Gelignite Jack'. Where to start with my preparation ??

At that time, I had a 1979 model 1275cc Californian Moke, and though it was still somewhat standard at that time, I had fitted a Navigators Light, driving lights and made the passenger's seat into one that could be folded down flat. As my Moke came standard with a small 27 litre fuel tank, I fitted a second tank inside the rear subframe (I later discovered that the earlier Export models were fitted with such tanks), along with a jerry can rack on the back bumper bar and a temperature gauge. But, I wondered, what else did I need ?? It all seemed rather overwhelming. For me, coming from the Eastern Seaboard, this would end up being over 6,200 mile / 10,000km and around 5 weeks away. This would be no walk in the park.


Cover of our November 1984 Club Newsletter showing the proposed route.

The Gunbarrel Highway runs from Giles in the east to Wiluna in the west. Technically, the Gunbarrel Highway is the section to the east of Carnegie Homestead through to Victory Downs station (via Jackie Junction, Docker River and Yulara).

Originally, the Gunbarrel Highway ran from Victory Downs Station in the Northern Territory, past Surveyor Generals Corner to Giles and Jackie Junction, before heading west to old Carnegie Homestead in central Western Australia, a distance of approximately 1300 km. Ironically, Len used to say after completing it, it should have been called the Cork Screw Highway. These eastern sections of the highway are no longer accessible today or indeed in 1985.  


Map of the original Gunbarrel Highway.  Yeap, straight as a Gunbarrel !

As previously arranged, the Gunbarrel crew assembled at the crack of dawn on Saturday 1st June at the club's traditional northern launching point, Lloyds Timberyard at Gepps Cross on the outskirts of Adelaide. We were greeted with the good omen of a heavy fog that cool morning, though anticipation was still high, with all parties eager for the next 3 weeks. All that is apart from Stefan and Jenny who, loaded with profuse apologies, were 1/2 hour late. Nick and Fred would not be meeting us here as he had, as always, pressing work to complete before he would be set free, they would eventually meet up with us 2 days later just south of Oodnadatta. Our first day would be a 350 mile / 570 km bitumen drive to Leigh Creek via Port Augusta, Quorn, Hawker and Parachilna.

Spider: I had come over to Adelaide a week before the trip was due to depart, with gearbox issues developing on the way. This wasn't getting off to the start I had hoped for. Shortly after arriving, I headed over to see Big Al and mentioned the gearbox issue to him. He swiftly suggested I get in touch with Nick Bradshaw as there was every chance he might have a spare. A few minutes on the phone confirmed that he did, and I was soon on my way. I ended up spending a couple of days at Nick's swapping out the gearbox, it was very kind of Nick to not only give me free access to his great workshop and for the gearbox but also for putting me up for those days.

I had it finished late on Wednesday night and returned to Big Al's Thursday morning. The Derro had already arrived sometime earlier in the week and this was the first time I met my travelling companion for the next three weeks. After exchanging pleasantries, there was no time to waste as we needed to do 'the big shop' for our supplies to last us for most of the trip. Big Al departed that evening to The Sarg's so they could finalise their packing to get off to an early start, leaving The Derro and myself in charge of Moke Club Headquarters for our last night in 'the big smoke'.

Getting up early on 'the day' The Derro and I had breakfast and I noticed an envelop on the kitchen table, The Sarg had that with him the previous evening, then I realised these were our Permits " you're coming with us " I said, as The Derro and I departed about 06:30 hrs headed for Gepps Cross. We fuelled up on the way and arrived a few minutes late. The Sarg, Big Al, The Shearer and his wife were already there.


The Crew starting to assemble at Lloyds Timberyard. The feeling of anticipation and some added 'nerves' was running moderate I have to say.

With the crew “chomping at the bit”, we were off with supreme enthusiasm for lunch at the Transcontinental Hotel in Quorn.  Situated in a valley of the Flinders Ranges, Quorn was established as a town on the Great Northern Railway line in 1878.  The line was built by Chinese and British workers and operated it for over 45 years (closing in 1957).  The many long abandoned farm houses dotted throughout the surrounding area tells the harsh story of trying to farm successfully on very marginal land at the edge of the desert north of “Goyder’s Line”.  

In 1865 George Goyder, the then Surveyor-General of the colony, was asked to map the boundary between those areas that received good rainfall and those experiencing drought.  After traversing an estimated 2000 miles / 3200 km on horseback (not including the Eyre Peninsula) in late 1865, he submitted his report and map to the state. The map included a line of demarcation, the areas north of which being those Goyder judged "liable to drought", with the areas to the south deemed arable.  Goyder’s line follows the 10 inch / 250 mm rainfall isohyet – the line linking places of equal rainfall.

Spider: I was in slightly familiar territory for much of the day as 3 years earlier, I had come through here on my first outback trip to Birdsville, the trip so far had been uneventful, The Derro and I were making some chatter, getting to know each other and thankfully, he smoked as I did at the time, so that argument was put to bed before it started. I do distinctly recall getting VERY hungry, I had no idea what time of the day it was, it felt much earlier, but as it turned out, it was lunch time, a chance for a break and to take care of my groaning guts, I don't recall where we were at that time, but I'll never forget how damn nice that Hot Dog was.


Flinders Ranges

Our first camp was at the Leigh Creek South caravan park.  Coal was first discovered in Leigh Creek in 1888, but it took over 50 years before large-scale mining began in 1943.  In 1976 the decision was made to move the old town of Leigh Creek 14 miles / 22kms south, as there was a large coal deposit beneath the original.  In 1982 the new mining township of Leigh Creek South was completed.

Spider: I quickly learned that this was a much better place to stop for the night than Marree, for as I found out a few years earlier, it was a rough town in those days.


Daybreak after our first camp.

After our pre-trip dinner at the Leigh Creek Hotel and a good night's sleep we were ready to hit the dusty Oodnadatta Track from Marree to Oodnadatta and then on to Dalhousie Springs on the edge of the Simpson Desert. When checking in with the local constabulary, I was informed that Nick had just rung with the news that he was about to leave Adelaide.  “That Can’t be Good”, I thought to myself, “Ah well – one more day late leaving Adelaide, better late than never!


Hand painted sign as there were done in those days. I can't imagine anyone making one today with this kind of detail.

Following a quick lunch at Marree, we were off to the ‘Bubbler’ at Coward Springs.  This mound spring is so called because it famously erupts every so often.  It reputedly once rose 3 - 4 feet / 1 -1½ meters into the air before current extractions rates of water by mining enterprises in the area substantially reduced groundwater reserves in the Great Artesian Basin.  Mound springs are formed by mineralised material rising to the surface with ancient subterranean waters, geologists believe could date back 4,000 years.  The height of the mounds vary, depending on factors such as the water discharge rate and concentration of minerals.


From The Sarg's Collection: The Bubbler, one of many in a chain of natural springs along the Oodnadatta Track.

It was here that Big Al updated me on the bad news of the day!!!  The entry permits for Docker River, he’d left them on his dining room table whilst picking preferring to pick up a six-pack of beer.  He then hit me with the good news;- Spider had noticed them on his way out the next day and had brought them along!  On top of this my CB radio was starting to play up. Sods Law says that the trip leader’s CB always plays up just when you need communication!

Into Strangways Springs for a look at the old repeater station and onto our first bush camp by the side of the Oodnadatta Track just short of William Creek.


From The Sarg's collection. Starngways Spings Telegraph Station.

Strangways Telegraph Repeater Station is on the pastoral property of the same name (now called ‘Anna Creek’, the biggest pastoral station in the world).  Strangways was sold to the South Australian government in 1870, and became a repeater station on the original Overland Telegraph Line.  At its peak, it was a small village with a number of buildings.  The site was selected as it was next to a flowing mound spring  which unfortunately is now dry. The station was closed down in 1896 and the Telegraph Office moved to William Creek.

Previous club trips had seen track conditions range from wet and boggy through to dry and dusty.  So far, the trip was blessed with crystal clear skies and great track conditions, though as we pushed further north, they started to changed dramatically as earlier rains had flooded long stretches of the Oodnadatta Track resulting in some ‘interesting’ driving sections. Luck was on our side however, as considerable amounts of soft mud had been compacted by heavy semi-trailer lorries presenting a very smooth drive for many kilometres along the track.


William Creek Hotel

Part 2 to follow

#2 Steam


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Posted 09 January 2024 - 03:03 AM

Brilliant. Great trips. I have done them but not in a moke, you guys have mucho balons.
Len Beadle's books are well worth a read also.

#3 Spider


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Posted 09 January 2024 - 05:42 AM

I should apologize here in advance ! 

I know this story and the last were quite long winded, not really in this form suited to a forum, however these are both the basis for book chapters.

All I can say is stick with them ;D




Brilliant. Great trips. I have done them but not in a moke, you guys have mucho balons.
Len Beadle's books are well worth a read also.


Ah OK - cool !!! 

So when did you guys head out on Len's 'Highways' ?

His books are a scream to read !!

#4 Steam


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Posted 09 January 2024 - 06:23 AM

Late 80's early 90's. Also traveled up and across to fitzroy crossing as well as Robinson river amd the tablelands area.

#5 Spider


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Posted 12 January 2024 - 11:23 PM

Part 2,,,,,,,

As always, Nick had done an excellent job as trip mechanic by inspecting all vehicles and reporting defects or required Moke Club modifications, prior to departure. However, with all defects and maintenance diligently performed, the first of our vehicle breakdowns nevertheless occurred just north of Strangways.  Although this was a common occurrence during Moke Club trips into the Outback of Australia, the ability of the Club’s resourceful ‘bush mechanics’ on these journeys, kept the mighty Mokes mobile and able to complete all adventures.

On this occasion, with Big Al behind the wheel, Spider's rear Hilo suspension had bent into the shape of a ‘U’ bolt whilst Big Al was negotiating an unexpected spoon drain in the bed of a shallow creek crossing on the Oodnadatta Track just north of William Creek ("hopeless bloody driver")???.  These extension struts (in lieu of standard Moke non-adjustable cast aluminium rear trumpets) were designed to lift the rear of the Moke (by means of an adjustment screw), in order that suspension travel and ground clearance be preserved.

Riding a bit low. Bent Struts as used in the rear Hilo setup.

The veterans of the Club had found after numerous trailing arm pin failures, the Club's mechanics had designed and manufactured ‘jack-up rings’ which fitted between the rubber cone and sub-frame of the Moke’s standard rear suspension, delivering a respectable 2 inch / 50 mm lift.

As jack-up rings were not carried as spare parts on this trip (as all other Mokes had them fitted as part of the pre-trip modifications), Big Al assessed that a standard trumpet would not provide the necessary lift required.  However, there was no choice but to fit these trumpets as Spider’s Moke was now totally immobile and incapable of completing the trip.


The Sherer, Darro and Big Al look on while Spider effects some temporary repairs.

The convoy drove off the road to the banks of the Neales River, close to the Algebuckina Bridge, to carry out repairs.  The Algebuckina Bridge is over half a kilometre long and is the largest bridge ever constructed in South Australia.  It was built in 1892 to carry the Ghan Rail track across the flood-prone Neales River.  Nearby lies the rusting remains of a 1948 FJ Holden that collided with a train when half-way across the bridge whilst attempting to traverse the flooded Neales River. Whilst the driver survived, Spider's Moke was looking like it may be joining the old FJ before two rear trumpets from the Club's spare parts kit were located and repairs commenced.  With the rear suspension re-assembled we noticed that the Spiders Moke was now sitting dangerously low at the back end and knew this would certainly generate more broken trailing arm pins. Just as we were about to reluctantly continue our journey, Nick and Fred caught up with us.

Spider: For a change of scenery, I swapped seats with Big Al, he taking my Moke, with The Derro for a while, while I rode shotgun with The Sarg, it was while Big Al was behind the wheel that these struts had bent. Having been a keen owner of Minis for a number of years, it was a rather well known rally modification to fit adjustable struts, that are normally used in the front, with extension bars to the rear suspension. Thinking I knew enough at the time I was preparing, I had fitted this same set up on my Moke. I hadn't had the means to make or obtain Jack-up Rings as the other in the Club had and I figured this being adjustable, it would be better anyway. It was very deflating to have such a breakdown so early in the trip, not just for the issues of it, but that this was time taken from my travelling companions, I was worried that they may not take to this too well, but none of them were phased in the slightest. I really felt bad for doing this to them. I also instantly gained a high respect for the 'elders' in the club, their advice and experience. These guys really knew what they were doing and clearly I was a rank amateur. I was and still am grateful that parts and help came from nowhere and before long, we were back on the road, though, I was sitting much lower than I needed to be and something further would need to be done here, I was none the less, mobile once again.

Stopping at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta we tried to repair the bent suspension by straightening and then sleeving with 3/4-inch galvanised water pipe.  After two hours of swearing, sweat and toil it became obvious this fix was not going to work.  To pay for the parts and labour, Spider then realised that his total trip fund of $35 was NOT going to be sufficient and last him to cover any further incidentals for the remaining three weeks of the trip. “That Can’t be Good”, I thought.  I pressed Spider ring home and have some money wired through to the Post Office.  Spider rang home and had $300 wired through to the post office.  On receiving the cash, he went to walk out the door, when the postmaster suggested to check the money while inside and put it away before walking out the door!  This advice was heeded.  Once outside, we were confronted by a significant line of local aboriginals and it was only then we understood what the postmaster was on about. They had a 'look' about them, and for all of us, it was confronting.  These days, I believe we have a better understanding of these local outback town's folk.

Spider: I had hoped that we could effect some repairs at Oodnadatta and was rather disappointed when that just wasn't going to happen, it would mean that we'd have to come up with another 'fix' to get us through the trip. I let it ride at the time, however in regards to just how much money I had, the Sarg's recallection wasn't quite the situation. The Derro and I had done our shopping for food stuffs to last us most of the trip. We also had done a rough fuel and cost calculation before leaving Adelaide and that money went in to 'the tin'. With the essentials covered and few places to spend money, I thought I'd had it covered. However, as the trip progressed though, I did find that The Sarg was right and $35.00 (even in 1985) wasn't going to cover other incidentals. I did lash out and get an extra roll of 35 mm film ! What do they call this ? Learning on the Job !


Part of the Hamilton Station Track on the way to the Dalhousie junction


Water Bore for local cattle, though looking at the bottles, it could have equally been for a brewery.


The make up of the tracks and countryside varied considerably. This was section made for a rather bone jarring ride all the way out to Dalhousie. I don't think we got out of 2nd gear all afternoon.

At this point we were headed for Dalhousie Springs for our next camp. We were warned that the Macumber road was flooded and our best route to Dalhousie was via Pedirka.  The CB had now called it quits and refused to transmit, but could receive.  Spider had very suspect rear suspension and Nick had low riding front suspension; a noisy alternator bearing; a noisy water pump; a suspect front wheel bearing and a leaking 20-gallon drum of fuel – all things that required attention before embarking on this very arduous trip.  At least a bath in the very warm springs was glorious.  We spent the next day getting the Mokes back into shape interspersed with talks to a scientific expedition mounted by the Adelaide Museum and various South Aust. Govt. departments.

Spider: We had a rest day at the Springs, while early in the trip it was most welcome. A dip in the hot springs was quite a novelty for me and certainly refreshing. It also gave us, being Nick and myself, time to sort our Mokes out. I was stumped as to what to do with the rear suspension. Nick was well underway and seemed to have everything in hand on his Moke, it seemed a wonderful, if odd, setting in which to carry out Trip Preparations in. During the course of the morning while chatting with Nick and Big Al, it was suggested to fit some 1/2" drive big sockets on the ends on the trumpets that were loaned to me to get the extra height that I needed. On checking what I had with me for fit, I found that 1" AF socket was made for the job, while I had one, I needed another. The Shearer never didn't hesitate, before I could ask, he had given me another from his set. Bingo, my suspension problem fixed, I was where I needed to be. I did ask Nick if he wanted any help to finish the work on his Moke, but he was happy to carry on. I was really taken aback at the genuineness, generosity and " the lend a hand, get me out of the **** " of these guys. I really was with the best group to travel with.


The original Dalhousie Homestead. There have been moves in recent years to remove the Date Palms.


This would have to be the long way 'round to Birdsville !


The temperature of these most wonderful springs can best be seen first thing in the morning.

Off again to Abminga siding on old Ghan railway line and then via the access track to Finke.  But first we had to cross Christmas Creek.  A small (but flowing) artesian creek (up to the tops of the side boxes deep) to negotiate.  Big Al driving, it was "go for it" with constant revs (not too many) and a speed just high enough to create a minimal bow wave so as not to flood the motor.  We made it to the other side with a huge sigh of relief.  Now it's their turn -- grin, chuckle, guffaw.  Nick (back on the other side) took charge and ganged the four Mokes together while a long tow rope was brought across to us to pull all ganged four – or individually - if the convoy should stall.


Not one of our finest moments,,,,,,or smartest moves,,,,


The near disastrous creek crossing.
Tip: Don't chain the vehicles together

That can’t be good I thought – if the any of the Mokes, especially the on in front, stalls…. All was going well when Nick (First Moke with Fred riding shotgun on the bonnet) lost power, thought he had stalled, and took his foot off the accelerator causing my Moke to shudder to a halt with front wheels spinning furiously on the soft clay capped road trying to pull the convoy through.  Nick suddenly realized he hadn't stalled and planted his foot on the accelerator.  

Warwick (behind Nick) copped the full force of two Mokes “chomping at the bit”.  The steel rope attached to Nick's Moke snapped with the proverbial twang while my Moke shot out of the hole she was trying to bury herself in as if "Old Nick" himself (but it was really "Young Nick") was after us.  The others drove out with looks of total disbelief.  After emptying the water from side bins, interior of the Moke etc. and drying out the electrics it was push on again.  As with all experiences there was a lesson to be learnt: don't gang the convoy; constant revs; slow steady speed with minimal bow wave; a bit of nerve; a lot of luck and then pull out those that stall individually (even though the water may be deep and cold).


High Tide receeding,,,,

Spider: It looked somewhat deep, at least for a Moke, and worse it was stone Cold ! I was well back in the convoy when the order came back that we were hitching the Mokes together to get across, in one way, it sounded a good idea but in another not such a good idea. "Oh well" I thought, "these guys know what they are doing". We got around half way across when it all stopped. I was looking at the cold water just there, on the lapping up high on the sidebox, I said to The Derro " that looks cold mate", he sat back and lit me another cigarette, I think he was wanting a coldie (beer). After what seemed to be 10 minutes, we were hauled out. We then spent a bit of time emptying our sideboxes and drying everything out. OK, so ganging the Mokes together, I'll be sure to take that off the list of things to do. 



It had been wet a few weeks prior to us traveling through !

Part 3 to follow,,,,,

#6 Spider


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Posted 19 January 2024 - 09:25 PM

Part 3


Parts of the track were not only muddy (as previously seen) but also still quite wet.

We were heading north west-ish along a significant track via Bloods Creek and should (according to the map) have crossed the old Ghan line at Abminga, which we could then follow using the access track through to Finke via Walls Creek and Duffield sidings.  When we finally did cross the old Ghan line, we were in fact heading due west.  

Spider: Oh, so now I find out all these years later - we were lost !


Abminga. Deserted at that time and almost in ruins today.

Somehow, we missed the intersection at Bloods Creek and took a westerly track.  Nothing for it but follow the old Ghan line access track cross-country until we reach (hopefully) Abminga.  After about 1-1/2 hours we reached a fairly intact (surprisingly as all other sidings had been stripped of wood, corrugated iron rooves, and anything else of use) Abminga.  Back on the right track again it was off to Finke where we obtained the cheapest fuel (outside of the city) for the trip -- 60c per litre, for comparison, the price in Adelaide at that time was 45 - 47 cents and Sydney was an extortionate 54 - 56 cents.

Spider: This was my first time being to an outback Community Town, I have to say, I found it confronting and intimidating, very much 'don't speak unless spoken to'. After we had filled up, I had a look in the general store for some snack options, only to be bitterly disappointed. The Derro found a tin of bully beef and got stuck in to that, I wouldn't have given it  to my cat ! Going back outside to the Moke, a dispute had erupted between one of the local Aborigines and Stefan, who had gotten his camera out to see how many shots he had left on that roll. It seemed the local fella was sure he wanted to take some photos and hadn't asked for permission, it was getting rather heated, when Jenny pointed out to the local that the lens cap was still firmly in place and the camera doesn't work with that still on. The dispute ended about there, with the local chap, walking off sething. This has stuck with me for over 40 years.

Now to cross the fabled (and dreaded) Finke River.  All of Bwana's horror stories of previous trips flooded back.  This time, however, we chose the correct time of year to attempt the crossing. With the sand compacted and "moist" and a bit of the old "2nd gear, give it heaps and don’t spin the wheels" our intrepid Leyland Mokers drove straight across.  Unbelievable and absolutely breathtaking.



The Finke River is reputed to be the oldest river in the world at some 4,000 years old.

Our route from here was to continue up the old Ghan line to Maryvale where we were to turn off to Chambers Pillar. On the other side of The Finke I was almost cleaned up by a pair of bikers before hearing the we heard the “good” news from them. In two days’ time (Queen's Birthday long weekend - 10th June) the Ghan abandoned rail line (railway lines and sleepers had been pulled up a few years earlier) between Finke and Alice Springs would be used for the "King of the Desert" trail bike and dune buggy race: and that bikers would be practicing along the disused line.  That can’t be good I thought. We all had visions of a mean and nasty something or other coming along the line and then, over us.  Get off this track and line as soon as possible was the unanimous decision.  Actually, this section of the Ghan access track was to provide the most exciting, picturesque and testing driving of the trip.  Warning -- don't try this track unless the sand is firm and moist as the Ghan line itself is no longer useable.

(In later years, the King of the Desert Bike Race evolved in to the now world famous Finke Desert Race, open to all manner of off road race vehicles)


Chatting with a biker about the King of the Desert Race that was being used for practice

At Bundooma Siding (another reasonably intact Ghan fettlers railroad siding) Big Al's impending demise got too much for him and his constant pleadings for his life forced us to use the Bundooma Siding - Alice Well - Maryvale pipeline access track to get to the Chambers Pillar - Maryvale Road. This Alice Well Road was notable for just one thing!  About half way to Maryvale we were cruising at a comfortable 80 kph when we encountered a severe reverse camber (sloping down around the side of a hill) S-bend with loose stone rubble emanating from the hill.  Both features ensured very little grip.  Alarmingly, the hill dropped off the graded edge of the track down a substantial embankment.  That can’t be good I thought.  With white knuckles and clenched teeth in anticipation of sliding down the embankment we were by now steadily approaching sideways, sliding out of control.  Big Al - with the steering wheel on full opposite lock, down shifted into second gear to slow down and NOT braking to avoid an uncontrollable skid - said a few well-chosen words and reached for a can to steady his nerves.  

Luckily, I had repaired my CB radio at Dalhousie, and quickly informed the convoy of this very dangerous situation.  “Watch out and slow right down”.  Unfortunately, Nick did not believe in CB radios, and refused to entertain one.  He therefore did not get the message!  Not sure of what happened or the choice of words chosen, but he was not a happy camper at our next stop - Maryvale.  All others were smiles and laughter at the incident and had slowed to negotiate the S-bend safely.  The event confirmed the necessity of inter-convoy communication.  At Maryvale we were surprised at the condition of the graded road and followed the signs pointing to Chambers Pillar.

Spider: I remember that down hill off camber bend very well. The Derro was behind the wheel on this section, he asked me if I understood what the garble on the CB was, before I could reply, I was on the Jesus Handle, sky out one side and a gully on the other. We quickly worked out what the call on the CB was. A few minutes later after the nerves settled, The Derro lit up a smoke and asked me " how do you recon we would have gone back there if I'd slipped it in angel gear ? " It wasn't a question that needed a reply.


Entrance to Chambers Pillar


Nick taking the opportunity to get some household chores done.


From The Sarg's collection. Chambers Pillar in all it's glory.

The pillar of sandstone towers 50 metres above the surrounding plain. Sandstone sediments were laid down in the area 350 million years ago. Since then, wind and rain have eroded away the softer material, leaving this solitary sandstone column. John McDouall Stuart first recorded the pillar in April 1860 whilst travelling north on his first attempt to cross Australia.  He named it after James Chambers, one of his South Australian sponsors.  Until the coming of the railway in the 1920s, the Pillar was a landmark in the desert on the long overland journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs. Many of those early travellers have left a record of their visit in the soft, white sandstone including John Ross and Alfred Giles both in 1870.  What a pity modern day visitors can't stop themselves from graffitiing the Pillar?


From The Sarg's collection. Some of the original 'graffity' from our early explorers and some much later day ones too.

The approach road to the Pillar crosses a low range of hills covered with loose, flat slippery rocks, deep sand drifts and steep jump ups.  Jenny von der Borch drove up skilfully without any problems and put the more experienced drivers to shame.  The Pillar is something all should see for its beauty and historical significance.

Spider: The first time I'd heard of Chambers Pillar was when I read the proposed trip route in the Newsletter a few months before, I didn't give it much thought at the time, I recall seeing a spot on the map with that name beside it. Earlier on that day I asked Big Al " What's this Chambers Pillar ? ", he replied saying " It's a monolith. ". None the wiser, I felt I'd find out soon enough. I recall first seeing it after rounding a small bend, it was hidden behind some of the scrub and trees, I couldn't believe that something so magnificent had been - from my perspective - not widely known about, if fact, on return back home, everyone I spoke to about the trip, many seasoned travellers, had never heard of it.

It was around this time that I was settling in to the outback, appreciating all these hidden jems, while we had come some way already, the overall trip was still in the early parts of it. I then  realised I was in for some sensory overload in the weeks to come.


From The Sarg's collection. View back east from Maryvale Range.

After camping the night at the Pillar, we heading off west over Idracowra station tracks * to the New Ghan access track.  Down to Impadna Siding and then on the Idracowra - Stuart Highway station track to the Stuart Highway.  Onto Erldunda and then Ayers Rock.  On 19 July 1873, the surveyor William Gosse sighted the landmark and named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers.  Ayers Rock is one of the most impressive landmarks in Australia.  A huge chunk of sandstone and a ‘true’ monolith, it resides in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  The rock is huge, jutting up about 350m from its barren surrounds, and more interestingly, extends even further than this amount below ground. Although there are other, similar entities to Ayers Rock – most notably the nearby Olgas and Mount Augustus in Western Australia – it is the only singular monolith with its composition.

* Idacowra Station Tracks are not a PAR and closed to travellers. As part of the early trip planning, permission was asked to use these tracks which was granted to us.


Stefan and Jenny tackling part of the track through Idacowra



Sometimes, the track just isn't on the map !


There be dragons beyond here !

Spider: It was going to be a long day, we had a fair haul ahead of us to Ayres Rock, before we had gotten to the Stuart Highway, while on the New Ghan Track, Nick developed an issue with his Moke at the second Finke River crossing. We stopped while Nick attended to his Moke, this was also the point of the Millionth Railway Sleeper used on the new railway line.



Our second Finke River crossing with the (new) Ghan Line going over it.


The One Millionth Railway Sleeper on the (new) Ghan Railway.

Spider: It was also at this stop that Jenny, our resident Nurse noticed that I was hobbling rather than walking about. While the repairs were undertaken to Nick's Moke, Jenny had the other lads restrain me and whipped my boot off. I'd cut my foot back at Dalhousie, just a small nick that I'd otherwise thought nothing more of. It'd become infected, Jenny soon had it sorted and pulled it al together with a couple of stitches.


Spider receiving some TLC from our resident nurse, Jenny. A couple of stitches and good and gold.
(apologies for the particularly poor photo - it's actually takes from an 8 mm movie frame)

Part 4 to follow,,,,,


#7 Spider


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Posted 26 January 2024 - 11:00 PM

In this part, a short way in, we start on the Gunbarrel Highway. This trip to here so far had been just to get to The Highway.

Part 4.

About 90 miles / 150 km from our second crossing of the Finke, we hit the bitumen again, this time, the Stuart Highway. Here were turned South to Erldunda then west once more. It was a long grind on the bitumen and late afternoon when we got in the Ayers Rock Resort complex “town” of Yulara and headed for the camp ground.  After setting up tents and enjoying a well-earned cold ale we all moved on into the town for dinner and dined on a delicious pizza.

Spider: When I was told the prices for a camp site - $16 per site per night - I was too tired to kick up a stink and just handed over the cash from our tin. The Resort of Ulara had only opened the year before and for them, it was 'hunting' season, I thought it would have been tourist season, silly me. The price rather outrageous, considering our camp at Leighcreek was $4. I braced myself for what else we were going to be robed of. While there was a few offerings for tea in the 'town', Pizza looked the best offering, I don't know if it really was good, or if it was the first bit of junk food we'd had in just over a week, but it was nice. And yes, it did have pineapple on it. 

On returning to our campsite later in the evening, we just managed to catch a dingo exiting Warwick's Moke.  It had gotten under the Moke’s rear compartment flap as it was not secured via the external press-studs. The dingo managed to open the esky, unwrap the meat in there - it was in aluminium foil - and taken off with it.  Just how well the animal was able to do this, with no noise at all and without clawing or chewing through anything, other than the aluminium foil, was an enlightening (and un-nerving) revelation.  This was around the time of Lindy Chamberland incident.  Up until this time, none of us were really too sure about her story, but after realizing what we had just seen most of us had little doubt what had happened to her baby Azaria back in 1980.

Spider: I too was 'on the fence' regarding the Chamberland's tragedy, when I saw the dingo take off out of The Shearer's Moke and just how stealthy the creature was and that it had unclipped Warwick's easy lid, then unwrapped the fresh meat that was in alfoil, my first thoughts were
" that poor woman ". I really felt for her and the family since.


From the SAMC Photo Album. To give an idea of the enormity of 'The Rock', this photo is taken from about 11 miles / 18 km away

We had a planned rest day so we could do some local exploring and of course, climb The Rock. The size of this monolith cannot be appreciated from photos!  We all climbed the Rock (except for Big Al and Derro who adjourned to the bar) and had a pleasant day "touristing".  Except me.  I pulled the nail off my right big toe coming back down the rock when my foot slipped inside my right sneaker.  I was in agony for the major part of the remainder of the trip.


From The SAMC Photo Album. Look closely - you can just see the 'Ants' walking up !


After an hour and a half's slog, you can see forever. You can just see some of the white dashed line that was painted on top of the Rock. This was done as due to the Rock's size, people would actually get lost, a few had even fallen off or perished.


SAMC Group Shot on top. Big Al and The Derro had adjourned to the bar and missed this spectacular opportunity.

Spider: When I was preparing for the trip, I met up with a fella who had been to The Rock in recent years, all he said to me was " it's bigger than you can imagine ", I found that an odd comment and didn't really understand I - that was until we got up close and personal with it. Most photos we see of The Rock in advertising, TV etc are from about 11 miles / 18 km away, even from that distance, it looks really big, but being near the base of this huge rock, I then understood that " it is bigger than you can imagine ".


A much younger 'bush man'  Spider signing the book on top of Ayres Rock

Spider continues: Ayres Rock and the Olgas were part of a very ancent river, in fact, Geoligests have worked out that The Rock itself was at the end of this river bed, that flowed between some huge mountains, bigger than the Hymalas. The distinctive red sands we all walk on for many km from The Rock are infact material that had eroded from the Rock as it once was.

The Sarg was in some considerable pain with his toe,  I did offer to fix it with a pair of bolt cutters but he never took me up on the offer. Strange man.

Leaving the sealed roads of Aryes Rock we were off again via the Olga's, Docker River, Lasseter’s Cave and finally Giles weather station.  Lasseter's Cave is located on the banks of the Hull River where the usually dry watercourse passes north through the Mannanana Range.  Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter was a gold prospector in the area who became stranded when his camels bolted in the heat of summer in January 1931 leaving him with no provisions.  He actually sheltered in the tiny cave alongside the running waters of the Hull River for 25 days waiting for his relief party to find him.  He encountered a group of nomadic Aboriginal people, who rendered assistance with food and shelter but after their Kurdaitcha man "pointed the bone at him" – he was condemned to be ignored and no longer cared for.  When the relief party didn't come, he set out to walk the 85 miles / 140 km to the Olgas.  He only carried almost 3 pints (1.7L) of water and made just 30 miles / 55 kilometres, before a weakened and blinded Lasseter eventually died of malnutrition and exhaustion at Winter’s Glen.

Spider: It was at around Lasseter's cave we finally picked up the Gunbarrel Highway. The trip to this point, while quite the 'tourist's trail' was just to get to The Highway.


Lasseter's Cave - his final resting place.


One of Len's original marker plates, dated 31st March, 1960. The original plates have now days all been 'souvenired' by other travellers. Replacement plates have since been fitted, but it's a shame one person's 'need' is greater that maintaining history.

Spider: What I saw of the Olgas was fascinating as we drove by, sadly, our pressing schedule didn't allow us to stop here. The trip that day was fairly uneventful, however despite being the middle of winter, it was quite warm, around 280C /  820F . We had crossed the state border and were now in Western Australia, my first time in this state. On arriving at the Wether Station, it was getting on dark and we were a little surprised to see another traveller, who had come from the west, making camp there. We chatted briefly. I was feeling rather bushed by the end of that day, I was looking forward to having a feed and hitting the hay, though I could see that wasn't going to happen without adjourning to the wet canteen where we were made to feel most welcome. The Station was crewed by a staff of six who were on a 6 monthly stint. We had our first taste of the Gunbarrel, it was a big moment for me.

At the Giles Meteorological Station we were made most welcome by the meteorology boys and girls who showed us a most hospitable evening in the bar.  The next morning we were given a guided tour of the station, watch the launch of a weather balloon and then observe its tracking by radar whilst being allowed to sit in the tracking radar compartment.  But most of all we were all very keen to look at Len Beadell's grader still sitting in the implement shed at Giles and contemplate the main purpose of this trip.  The Gunbarrel Highway.


From The Sarg's Collection. The Gunbarrel Crew lined up with Len's Grader. In that era, the Grader was still in active use doing maintenance around Giles Wether Station. We were able to get 'up close and personal' with it. Today, it's caged off.

Spider: I was impressed with the station and it's facilities, they made their own hydrogen on site for the balloons that they would put up twice daily. They showed us their Stevenson Screen, essentially a louvered box in the outdoors which housed instruments for measuring ambient air temperature, air pressure and other factors. Next to this they had two thermometers measuring ground temperature, placed at 20" / 50 cm and 40" / 100 cm below the surface. On the other side they had what looked like a crystal ball on a stand, now were really knew how the weather was predicted ! This instrument despite having the appearance of wishful thinking was actually used for measuring time of daylight. Placed at a set distance behind the ball and following it's curve for around half of the ball was a sheet of paper, it's operation was quite basic, the sunlight coming through the ball would burn a line in the paper and move as the sun did across the sky. Simple but highly effective.


The 'Crystal Ball' used for measuring daylight hours

For anyone who has watched the Leyland Brother's film 'Wheels Across a Wilderness', the station as it appeared there was very much how it was when we saw it, we were there only 20 years after they had been through, though thankfully for us, the weather we had was much more favourable.

Pressing on with the day, our destination was Warburton - for fuel and re-supply of essentials - via the abandoned section of the Gunbarrel Highway. The desert oaks in the swales between the big red sand dunes are one of the most beautiful sights of the desert (except for Big Al passing another coldie).


From the SAMC Photo Album. The Gunbarrel Highway in all it's glory, just 2 wheel tracks through the grass.

The “highway” was two-wheel track through the desert grass with spinifex mounds down the centre.  Each spinifex mound surrounded a small termite mound, between 6 to 8" / 15 to 20 cm high.  Now, all of the Mokes (except Nick’s) had front adjustable trumpets fitted to raise the front suspension high enough for suitable ground clearance.  Like the Jack Up Rings, these had been designed and manufactured by one of the old Club bush mechanics, Uncle Ray Davis.  So, fed up with hitting almost every termite mound with the Moke standard bash-plate and sending a shudder through the vehicle resulting in a very uncomfortable ride for about five kms, Nick had had enough.  Nick stopped - That can’t be good I thought as he did not have a CB radio fitted and could not inform me of any problems - fetched a pair of adjustable trumpets from his spare parts bin, and proceeded to replace the standard trumpets with the adjustable in the middle of the track.  All other Mokes had cleared the vast majority of the termite mounds and wondered what the issue was!

At Jackie Junction we all paid our respects to Len Beadell at one of his famous Highway Marker Plates and the previous SAMC Gunbarrel explorers while ripping open a beer.  I felt better now. Upon approaching Warburton, in the distance I was impressed to see a hill in the otherwise featureless landscape.  Upon getting closer to the mission, I realised the 'hill' was in fact composed of abandoned cars that the locals had left out in the scrub, recovered and crafted into a huge pile.

Spider: I too was impressed to see the hill off in the distance, it was the only land feature in an otherwise featureless landscape.


Approaching Warburton Mission (somewhere I have a photo of the infamous hill of cars too)

Part 5 to follow,,,,,

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Posted 30 January 2024 - 01:23 AM

Just breaking away from what's (likely) to be in the book, some additional information and photos of Giles Weather.

Giles was established as the main Weather Station for the Rocket Range and also the Atomic Bomb Test sites.

When I was there in 1985, they had a full time staff of 6 and they were on 6 monthly rotations. Supplies generally were flown in once a month, they had their own Airstrip that doubled as the local golf course when the planes weren't using it.


Some of the outbuildings


This is part of a (then) recently recovered Blue Streak Rocket.


What was usual on offer at the Wet Canteen


One of Len's more well known paintings



Weather Balloon Tracking Station

Interestingly, they'd let a Balloon go twice a day. They were making their own hydrogen on site for this from chemicals, using WWII technology. It wasn't made by electrolysis - the process didn't need electricity at all.

Sadly, while the weather station is still there and in use, it's been fully automated and there are no longer any staff on site.


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Posted 03 February 2024 - 06:20 AM

Part 5

Spider: Warburton was the dearest petrol of the trip , an outrageous 70 cents a litre. It was also where we needed to purchase the most and fill everything to the brim. It was another 1000 km before we'd be able to have this type of drink again. It was here that I was grateful for the second fuel tank I had fitted, while it only held 25 litres, that was one less jerry can I needed to carry inside the Moke.


Good old Super Petrol, 70 cents a litre. 'Super' was a high grade octane fuel that was readily available at all fuel retailers in the day, it contained tetraethal lead (lead). Shortly after this, Australia went 'Unleaded'.

A short distance before Warburton, Stefan broke a rear lower shock absorber stud which Nick repaired with the loan of a few tools from Jack the Handyman at the Warburton Hospital.  We had met Jack at Giles and responded to his invitation to drop in on the way through.  Thanks Jack!  We couldn't have done it without you.  Time was pressing so we decided not to go back to Jackie Junction but use the Heather Highway to re-join the Gunbarrel.  We made camp in the dark just off the Heather Highway fully fuelled, watered and eager to go on Daybreak.  Next morning Nick's noisy water pump had given up and so had to be replaced.  Also, Warwick replaced Nick's Moke alternator as this was also making serious bearing noises.  During the morning repairs the following conversation was overheard:

Fred: "shouldn't you catch the radiator water and use it again seeing we could be short?"
Nick: I've thought of that Fred.  That's why I've put the washing up bowl under the car."
Nick undoes bottom radiator hose and releases cooling water.
Fred observing the red soil getting drenched: "Oh! That's what it was there for?"


Our camp off the Heather Highway.

Repairs completed and it was 'into it'.  Back on the Gunbarrel, Nick used the last of his fuel from the leaking 20-gallon drum.  Lunch at Notabilis bore, near Notabilis Hill, gave us the opportunity to wash ourselves, and Nick to replace a front wheel bearing.

After leaving the bush hospital location of Notabilis bore, We did have another breakdown (of sorts) along here.  The brakes on my Moke were slowly pumping themselves on and not coming off, with the corrugations and rough conditions of the track a likely source, but not confirmed at this stage.  Eventually, my Moke ground to a halt with a smell of overheated brake pads filling the car (even with the side curtains rolled up).  Nick opened a brake calliper bleed nipple to let some pressure off, but after a short distance over the corrugated road, they problem returned. That can’t be good I thought.


From The Sarg's Collection.

The convoy stopped so Nick could affect a more serious diagnosis of the issue and conduct repairs if necessary.  Nobody, including Big Al (also one of the club's bush mechanics), weren't exactly sure why this was occurring.  Nick removed the brake master cylinder and carefully disassembled it.  I was VERY impressed at how Nick was able to keep all the internal parts clean on a dusty dirt road in the bush.  He could find no issue with the master cylinder and so reassembled and began refitting it back into my Moke.  It was at this point, Nick discovered that the master cylinder was sitting too low in its normal position and hence - riding on the brake pedal - could not return to its brake fluid fully discharged mode when the brake pedal was in its fully released position.  A couple of washers were fitted under the master cylinder, brakes bled and the show was back on the road again to Mt Beadell.

Spider later discovered that this issue is more common than was appreciated at that time.

Comments from Spider: I too was very impressed by Nick's work in the bush. These parts need to be kept surgically clean, it's not the type of operation I would like to do in the bush, however, Nick in his usual no fuss approach to such things laid out a mat and some paper towelling before stripping down the cylinder and on finding no fault, reassembled it.


Nick in his usual no fuss way going about business.

Spider: As the Sarg was our fearless leader right the way across the Gunbarrel, in the true style of Len, also suffered daily punctures, sometimes 2 and 3. At one point we had run out of suitable spares that would sensibly match on The Sarg's Moke, so instead of the night time ritual of puncture repairs, this one needed to be done right there on the highway. After laying the patient on the ground we then ran over the sidewall many times before we managed to break the bead, that one didn't want to give, but once broken, it wasn't long before we were once again under way.

By this time Big Al was in a state.  The Gunbarrel Highway was three grader blades wide; we were averaging 80 kph. "Not like it used to be" mumbled Big Al as he passed me another coldie.  Tourism was the future and the Govt. of WA was in the process of upgrading the outback to safely allow “grey nomads”, and others, to tourist the area.  A two-wheel track to our left lead to Mount Beadell.  During survey work for the Gunbarrel Highway in May 1958, Len Beadell found the mountain which now bears his name. He was always on the lookout for high points in the landscape, necessary for accurate surveys.  At the top there is a memorial for Len Beadell, the self-styled last great explorer of Australia.

Spider: Mt Beadell was fairly easy to see from some distance away it is one very stand out feature in the otherwise billiard table of the Gibson Desert. I also noted that around here, while The Sarg and Big Al (and myself) sported the odd Army garment - a jumper, shirt or pants - this pair were now in full uniform, right down to the spit polished boots. I was starting to think they were taking 'getting in to the spirit' of the trip a bit far by then.


From The Sarg's Collection. Mt. Beadell.

We climbed Mt Beadell and while it didn't appear particularly high viewed from the roadside, it certainly provided the most commanding view of the Great Victoria Desert to the south - west and the Gibson Desert to the north - east.

It was along this here that the most surreal incident occurred.  Spider takes up the story:  “I think it was along this section of the track, while motoring along, two local aboriginal kids, probably around six and ten years old came running out of the bush onto the track. Keep in mid too, that the nearest 'anything' was around 250 miles / 400 km away in any direction.  The way they came running onto the track it appeared initially that someone was in trouble, so I stopped.  I had a packet of Milk Arrowroot biscuits on the dashboard.  I asked them if everyone was OK but "Gimme a bickie " was the only answer I got; cheeky kids.  I gave them a bickie each but then they had more to say; "Gimme another one".  At that, I was able to establish that everyone was OK and so drove on.  Darnedest thing I think I've ever seen”.


Made it to "Harry Johnson” waterhole where we made our last camp on the Highway.  Next day it was in to Wiluna and the end of the Gunbarrel.  By this stage Nick had rebuilt his Moke to the extent he considered it pre-trip inspection road worthy and ready to tackle the Canning Stock route, but unfortunately was starting to blow copious amounts of blue smoke!  "She's not dusted" said Nick but others who had seen similar alarming “dusted” motor signs on previous trips, were not so convinced.  From previous Club experience on bush tracks teeming with dust and long sandy and bull-dust stretches, “dusted” motors were a significantly real issue.  Big Al and other SAMC bush mechanics realized that the Leyland carburettor air-cleaning system was totally inadequate for outback travel, and needed a complete re-design.  The Donaldson Filtration System pre-cleaner with a custom designed and constructed manifold connected to the air filter; or the complete pre-cleaner plus cartridge filter connected directly to the carburettor was the solution.  All pre-cleaners do the same general thing; they keep contamination from entering the intake duct, which prevents large or heavy contaminant from prematurely clogging the filter - or worse - by-passing the filter-element, entering the carburettor and subsequently the engine resulting in spark plugs glazed in fused silica (sand) rendering them inoperable; scoured engine piston bores and piston rings allowing oil into the combustion chamber.  With either system, air intake was from outside of the engine compartment containing drawn - in road dust and sand, and hence significantly cleaner air.


From The Sarg's Collection. Harry Johnson Well.

All vehicles, except Nick’s, had one of the variants fitted and had no dirty air issues.  Nick, however, insisted that Leyland knew better and refused to fit a system.  He did, however, carry spare air filters which were changed as deemed necessary.  However, this procedure did not prevent the flow of copious blue smoke emanating from his Moke’s exhaust.

Spider: I have to this day huge respects for Nick's knowledge and approach to most things in life, however Nick's approach here always had me stumped..

Last day on the Gunbarrel.  As Wiluna came into view on the horizon, the track began to transform into a maintained graded road.


Spider: This sadly was our last day on the Highway, it seemed to be all over too soon. I can't say we rushed any of it and was thankful that we really did have very few issues with any of the cars while out there.

The Wiluna area was explored by Lawrence Wells in 1892.  Gold was discovered in the area in 1896, and within a few months over 300 prospectors were in the area.  The town of Wiluna was gazetted in 1898, the name Wiluna being the Wati (Aboriginal language) name for the area. By the 1930s, the town had a population of over 9,000 people, but World War II severely affected the gold mining industry, and many mines were shut down.  By 1963 the population had fallen to less than 100.  Gold mining resumed in the area in 1981.


We arrived into ‘town' just after midday.  It was a Saturday and after making camp in the caravan park, we all drove into the township hoping to buy some petrol - as the next day being Sunday - we weren’t sure what would be open.  As is the case in most aboriginal communities offering food and petrol services, they are closed on a Sunday.  We filled our Mokes and jerry cans as we weren’t too sure where the next fuel would be available.  

Spider: I was thankful to be able to obtain fuel here. While I had planned on having around 10 to 15 litres at the end of the Highway, I was down to my last 2 or 3 litres - driving on fumes.

Retreated back to the caravan park for a very welcome shower and a “cleaner” set of cloths and finally of to the pub for a cold beer and dinner.  On the previous Club Gunbarrel trip Bwana had described the front bar to be “white” while the rear bar was “black”.  As I was the last into the showers, and the others had already departed for the pub.  So, I strode straight into the front bar only to be greeted by a sea of black faces, with the only white face belonging to the bar tender (who I later found out was also the proprietor).  Undaunted, I walked to the bar and asked if I was in the “right” place as the aboriginal clients were pointing to somewhere out the back of the pub.

Spider: When I went to town on my own earlier, to get fuel, I was driving around looking for the Service Station or Fuel Depot, I ended up driving down the main drag, past the pub. I didn't get far before I was surrounded, probably 5 or 10 deep, by locals, and they looked very unhappy. While as a 20 something year old and my first time in such an environment, I was VERY intimidated. I had no idea if I was about to be snatched from the Moke, taken away and butchered in some Aboriginal ritual.  I kept my nerve and continued at a walking pace, eventually getting back out in to the clear again. I have never experienced anything like that before or since. I saw a Police Paddy Wagon heading down in the direction I'd come from, I pulled up a suitable distance away to observe what ever was about to happen, The Paddy Wagon pulled up near the crowd, two coppers got out, each grabbing two of the locals that were in easy reach, threw them in the back and drove off, presumably to the Station. There was no exchange of words, only the action I witnessed. I later found out that the football match was to be on the following day, which always bought deep emotions in the locals leading up to this event, the day before (that day) they'd often get themselves well under the weather, the Police take who ever than can grab, take them back to the Station Cells where they are placed in safety until they sober up. It all seemed somewhat routine. Maybe for them, but I had to pinch myself on witnessing this, it just seemed like something straight out of a B Grade Movie.

Informed that the bars had reversed order from the time when the mine closed - and consequently there were significantly more black customers than white - I began to proceed to the rear bar when the barman asked us if I would like to see some gold.  From somewhere away from the front bar, he produced an old wooded army ammunition box; and when opened I saw to my absolute amazement it was full of gold nuggets.  “Where did you get those” I queried.  “The local boys know where they are, and when they want a drink, they just go out, pick up a few and I sell them a carton of beer for a nugget or two.  I tried to follow them once, but they lost me in the bush” he mused with a quiet chuckle.  I was flabbergasted as gold in 1985 was worth $317.42 per troy ounce.  This is equivalent to $785.18 in 2021 dollars, but the real price now is
actually about $1865.  Needless to say, he made quite a profit and I have often wondered, at what price did he sell those nuggets?


Wiluna Power Station

Well, the trip was basically over and all that remained was 1,875 mile / 3,000 km of bitumen home.  Heading South via Leinster, a quick side trip to Agnew on the Sandstone Road, and Leonora where we hoped to camp at the old gold mining ghost town of Gwalia.  

Spider: There was a light drizzle that persisted much of the morning. It made for cool travelling, however before midday, that had lifted. I think by now, we all felt the trip was over and more or less we wanted to go home, that post trip let down !

Unfortunately, upon arrival we were greeted with the old "NO CAMPING" sign in the public park land opposite to the Gwalia Hotel and so it was agreed by all that we push on to Kalgoorlie where accommodation was more plentiful.


Gwalia’s story dates way back to 1896, when three prospectors hit the jackpot and found gold in this remote region during the height of Western Australia’s gold rush.  By 1897 there was a fully operating mine on the site, named “Sons of Gwalia” after the discoverers’ Welsh heritage.  Before long, the town caught the eye of up-and-coming young American geologist – and future US president – Herbert Hoover, who travelled there by camel from Coolgardie, 274km to the south.  Convincing his bosses in London to invest in the mine, Hoover was soon appointed manager and applied radical cost-cutting schemes that put the Sons of Gwalia on course to be one of Western Australia’s most profitable gold mines.

We arrived in Kalgoorlie at dusk, drove into the Kalgoorlie Caravan Park and organised an on-site caravan and a chalet for two nights so as to ease ourselves back into civilization.

Next morning, Spider and I performed an inspection service on our Mokes and I also cleared the sand and pebbles from the rear brakes as the rattling was getting disturbing to say the least.  A tour of the metropolis of 'Kalgas' - as I had christened it – culminated in a tour of the underground Hainault Gold Mine.  The mine was registered by Paddy Hannan in 1893 and went on to produce 200 kg of gold, one of the major mines on the Golden Mile of Kalgoorlie.  In 1931 the Golden Eagle nugget was found near the now abandoned town of Widgimooltha and officially weighed in at 1,136 troy ounces, it is by far the biggest nugget ever found in Western Australia.

Spider: Back in what felt like 'the big smoke'. Accommodation here at least was far more reasonable, the Van that The Sarg, Big Al, The Derro and myself was a very fair $4.00 per night - 8 bucks for our two nights, done deal. As The Sarg mentioned, there were a few checks to do on the Mokes, though, I felt that they had faired quite well, I don't recall there anything on mine or most of the others that needed any really attention of repair. I did an oil change there as it had been about 2,500 miles / 4,000 dusty km previously that it had fresh oil.

With the jobs out of the way, The Sarg and I headed off to see what Kalgas had to offer. We ended up at the Mine (long gone today, part of 'The Big Pit' now days) that was the only one open for tourists. We had a short guided tour on the surface before going down in the huge lift, there was 3 levels of this particular mine at 100, 200 and 300 feet. We stopped for a guided tour at the 200 foot level. The air was noticeably thicker and warmer underground, as we descended, The Sarg's breather became deeper and heavier. I had to ask him to stop for fear of him breathing up all the remaining air down there, I was worried we were all going to suffocate. The Sarg picks up the story from here with pretty much what I was going to say here !

This tourist mine is not operational anymore because its proximity to the Kalgoorlie Super Pit made it necessary to close the mine.  This huge opencast mine continues to grow and the historic mine was in the way, and so dispensable.  When the mine was still open to tourists, visitors were taken down in a lift cage to a depth of 300 ft / 60 m.  Beneath the ore bearing rock, the power station and the original machinery were the main sights.  It was a fascinating tour conducted by our guide - a former miner - who demonstrated 'The Widow Maker' rock drill and allowed us to discover how damn heavy it was.  Men really were men back in those days.

That evening, we all did a tour of the town together, including of course, Hay Street and Irene’s bar.  As we had two girls on the trip, and thus on the tour, we were advised by one of the “working girls” to leave Hay Street by 6:00pm as they would be considered to be soliciting, by the patrolling police, and promptly arrested.  We complied with the advice and went out for dinner.

The route home via Norseman, Eucla, Ceduna, Pt. Augusta and Pt. Wakefield took 3 days of hard driving with convoy procedure becoming lax. An enjoyable trip dinner at the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel in the company of my fellow Mokers completed a most enjoyable 3 weeks during which time we had covered 4,375 miles / 7,000 km across some of the most historical, desolate and beautiful country Australia has to offer.
Spider: I recall the morning from Kalgas to Norsman and a little beyond was another damp one, all the same, it did make the driving a little pleasant. By now we were all 'done' and home was in the cross hairs. We did call in to the Telegraph Station at Eucla, which at that time was totally buried under the sand, save for the building's chimney poking through the dune. It was an interesting place, but I found it hard to think about much more than the still long drag ahead of us. That night was our last camp not far off the main road. The following day is not much more than a blur to me, 'trip exhaustion' had caught up with me, I spent most of that day sleeping while the Derro took over the reins. Our last night at Ceduna, the Quartet once again opted for an on site Caravan, when the proprietor told us it was 6 dollars, I did fire up then " 6 ? It's only 4 bucks down the road ! " I exclaimed " Where was that ? " he asked, as I think this was the only Caravan Park in town in those days, I was about to say " Kalgas ", but thought better of it and handed over the money, at least it was a considerably fairer price that Ularu.

On getting to Adelaide, I spent a further week 'in town' with friends before hitting the road, solo, for the 1400 km run home.

Looking back on the adventure we just had was quite a blur of memories and emotions for a long while, before I could jell it in to words. It was huge, epic in fact.


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