After a slow start we had a look at the ‘outdoor museum ‘ at William Creek, an odd collection including parts of a rocket used to launch a satellite in the 1970. The boys thought it was amazing to see something that had actually been into space.
We then headed off to drive the southern half of the Oodnadatta Track. We discovered this track has a long and very important role in Australian outback history. The track follows a traditional Aboriginal trading route, this is because there are numerous springs fed by water from the Great Artesian Basin along it. John McDouall Stuart explored the area on his way to cross the continent from south to north (he actually did it and lived to tell the tale – not like Burke and Wills), and the path he took was adopted as part of the Overland Telegraph Line route. By the 1880s camel trains, led by Afghan cameleers were using the track to transport supplies to central Australia. In the 1890s the Great Northern Railway was extended to the town of Oodnadatta and by 1929 to Alice Springs. The train service on the line is known as the Ghan in honour of the Afghan cameleers. There’s some trivia for you!
Parts of the old railway line.
The original Ghan was notorious for washouts and other delays on the line, but the steam trains needed water so they had to stick to this route. When the new line was built in the 1970s, there was no need for water, thus allowing the line to be re-routed to the waterless route from Tarcoola to Alice Springs. The railway through Oodnadatta was closed in 1981.
The track is dotted with the ruins of Fettlers huts, railway bridges and sidings, and telegraph repeater stations. We stopped at one such place called Coward Springs. A bore was sunk there in 1887 in preparation for the coming railway. Amazingly, a wetland was created when in the 1920s millions of gallons of water flowed without control because the salty water had corroded the bore head. It wasn’t until 1993 that the bore was repaired and the flow controlled. This was pretty weird in an otherwise relatively barren landscape.
The Station Masters House and the Engine Drivers Cabin at Coward Springs have been fabulously restored. There is also an open-air natural spa on the edge of the wetland – 29 degrees centigrade and high in mineral salts. The boys nuded up and hopped in. They got a little worried when a few people came to look at the spa and thought they might join them. Fortunately they managed to get dried and dressed before that happened.
About 40 kilometres south of Coward Springs the Oodnadatta Track passes Lake Eyre South, this along with the Bunda Cliffs were big Wow moments just because of the huge size of them. The sheer expanse of the white salt flats was amazing to see and this was only the smaller south part of the lake.
Such remote places lead people to do strange things, someone, or many, have written on all of the ‘DIP’ signs along the way. The ones we can remember are Skinny DIP, SerenDIPity, Greek DIP, DIP Stick, Lucky DIP, Big DIPper, DIP shit, or even changed the D to an R and got RIP and dRIP. Someone had also painted a safe pink placed it on the side of the track with STAY SAFE painted on it.
The southern end of the Oodnadatta Track is Marree, not much now, but it is here and the nearby Lyndhurst where some of the outback tracks converge; Birdsville, Oodnadatta and the Strzelecki, the later leads to Innamincka, famed for the Burke and Wills ‘Dig Tree’. These were stock routes used to transport animals ‘on the hoof’ around Australia.
A little further on is a little gem of a place, Farina; it was settled in 1878 as a farming centre on the Great Northern Railway. The farmers optimistically thought it would be a good place to grow crops, guess what, it wasn’t. However, because of the different railway track gauges Farina was a busy stop along the Great Northern Railway. Its population rose to about 600 at its peak with a bakery, grain store, two breweries, two hotels, a general store, post office, an Anglican church, cemetery, five blacksmiths, a school and even a brothel. It is now a ghost town but a group of volunteers come each year to preserve the original buildings, mark roads, research and create interpretive signage. There is a nearby beautiful bush camping area, which was our site for the evening.
Music W = Wolfmother, X = Xavier Rudd, Y = The Yardbirds, Z = Zoot Sims
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