Hit the road toward the Simpson Desert last night after loading the vehicle at the Fossil’s (old man Ron Moon) house who had left that morning.
Reigning in a late starter, my mate Phil jumped on board five hours before departure. Packed light, for a Madigan Line crossing anyway, thanks to the Foss’ expedition GU taking on a lot of the heavy lifting the Hilux was sitting pretty.
By mid night we passed Mildura and were heading for Burra in South Australia. The roos started to come out, the fog got thick and our pace slowed after crossing the SA border to 80-90kph from 110.
Reaching our goal we pulled up just west of Burra and took a coupe of hours break. My short frame reasonably comfortable in the passenger seat while the Goliath had to roll out his XXL swag before starting the chainsaw. After a year two hours on and off sleep I fired up the 12V LaVazza Mio Espresso machine, spilling the sugar first followed by half the cup onto my sleeping bag; the robust blend was well needed. Obligatory check of Facebook and emails the big fella rose from his slumber, hit the Espresso machine and we hit the road.
Midday now and we’ve passed the beautiful Flinders Rangers on our way to Maree, the Oodnadatta Track and on to William Creek to meet the Foss and Denis Bartell.
Image L/R Trent Moon, Denis Bartell, Ron Moon – The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta Track
Almost a straight 24hrs drive from Melbourne we managed to do justice at the William Creek hotel with Dennis Bartel, the man who named ‘Big Red’ and ‘The lone gum’ after his unassisted walk across Desert some 38 years ago.
Enough rums and a beef snitzel each put us into a deep slumber the night before.
Fairly cruisy day headed to Mt Dare via Oodnatdata and the Pink Road House where we took the only opportunity in 1000km to pickup a replacement tyre the right size after completely ripping the side wall out of a rear the day before. Speed and too lower pressure may have been a factor. Of course there was no second hand option so a Chinese A/T for $340 it had to be.
Taking the scenic route to Mt Dare Phil and veered off to Dalhousie Springs. With a lot of traffic coming back from Finke the place was the busiest I’d seen it.
Arriving in Mt Dare its the first or last bit of civilisation before heading into the Simpson, a good spot to refresh with a hot shower, flushing toilets a cooked meal and of course a great bar. Always a great night.
Hung over. Massive bar bill.
Tried to help a young fella from Adelaide who’d picked up four German backpackers in his now broken down 60 Series. Rob Kay had been recruited the night before to fix it but after keeping him up with load music he’d proper spat it and left camp in the middle of the night. Phil managed to get the 60 running enough to get them on the road but they were in for a long trip with 500km to Alice Springs and truck that wouldn’t idle.
Made it to Old Andado and the former home of outback legend Molly Clark. Turns out there is a phone there that works on the honesty system, be sure to put some money in the tin if you use it.
Crossed our first dunes on the way out and stopped by Mac Clark Acacia Reserve which protects one of Australia’s rarest trees, wattle like Acacia trees up to 700 years old found in only two small patches in the desert.
Rolling up between the first of the small dunes we made Madigan Camp 1A, a makeshift of the original Camp 1 that sits a couple of kilometres to the west but is a restricted area although a clear defined track leads you in.
The night sky was lit with stars by 8pm before the Moon peaked over the horizon, a small fire and some tea followed by the first night of deep sleep. No booze helps, ill feel human tomorrow.
Refreshed, cereal and coffee by the smouldering fire, a repacked and refined storage layout with a wiped down vehicle we were human again. Made our way to Madigan’s Camp 2 and the twins across the flat rocky Gibber country and into the sand at the twins.
We hit the long W-E official line on the map marking the Madigan Line and camped between dunes around Camp #8. The wind died down as the sun set and we listened to Denis’s incredible stories of walking the desert in the 70’s and what’s he went through. Blowing out his knee near the start of his N-S crossing, abandoning his cart ad digging for Aboriginal wells to find water.
We’d all been making the most of the opportunity to ask Denis, now 84, about his amazing achievements and feats of endurance. He’sa great story teller and we could listen to him for hours around the fire. Seeing Denis relive some of his memories out here was something special to share with him.
With water in hand I started walking in the cool of the morning to get even the slightest understanding of what Denis and the early explorers must have went through.
We’d agreed the night before that Phil and I would walk two dunes each, a pathetic attempt really but walking out here in the vast waterless desert definitely gives you a different aspect and appreciation. You take in more of your surroundings and notice the sounds and foot prints of the nocturnal animals from the night before.
Phil made an attempt at running his dunes, lasted about 300 meters before slowing to a stroll.
The track was ROUGH, made up of moguls and chewed up dunes, it was pretty slow going but definitely not cross country. The moguls were relentless and the shocks had had enough after a couple of hours which made the front end bounce like a bit of a pogo stick. Alot of people have made the crossing in recent years and left a well defined track though we had not seen anyone yet we knew there was a small group a head of us and we soon passed them as we made our way to Madigan Camp 13. The Camp was set in a perfectly flat clay pan clear of spinifex. As we were setting up 18 young emus walked within 10 meters of us, curious of small band the slightly diverted and passed us before dropping into the pan and pecking around for a feed.
A big day ahead of us with 173km to Kuddarree water hole, the track started out rough again and the moguls cooked the shocks pretty quickly. We wrote off the idea of making Kuddarree and pushed on.
As the day led on the landscaped changed, the dunes got bigger and further apart until they almost petered out.
The moguls flattened which allowed the pace to pick up as we hit the Rabbit Proof Fence that marks the boundary between the National Park and pastoral land. The fence was build in the late 1800’s, now in disrepair with the rabbit population being under control. Crossing some small salt lakes and clay pans we pushed over the last 30 odd clicks and rolled into Kuddarre waterhole, now dry but lined with beautiful old gums we camped amongst.
The waterhole and upper reaches of Eyre Creek are large deep lagoons that we scouted around looking for any remnants of water. Risky business driving through this mallee type country with old and dry dead hard wood scattered everywhere.
We headed south along Eyre Creek, the same route Denis and the Madigan gang took after crossing the desert stopping at the old Annandale homestead ruins dating back to the mid 1800’s formerly part of the Sydney Kidman empire which stretched north to south across Australia at the time covering some 83 million acres. The ruins look over a beautiful waterhole where the fossil took the drone for a spin and we had morning tea.
A short distance south we came across Dickerrie waterhole now dry, in search of Denis’ crossing point when he drove cross country in the 70’s with small Suzuki’s.
In desperate need of supplies Phil and I shot through to Birdsville while the others meandered their way to Denis’ now famously named ‘Big Red’. After a $5 shower, a couple of beers, food and rum supplies restocked we made it back to Big Red for sunset with Denis. This is his special place, somewhere he holds dear to his heart. Watching the sun go down Denis recited his poem about the place as a tear ran down his face, with a heavy heart I got the feeling that Denis thought this would probably be the last time he sat a top his Big Red.
The old man and Denis were famous a top the dune that night with a crowd of onlookers wanting to talk and get pics with both of them. Around the fire after dark we took the opportunity to listen to Denis as he told us stories of his travels, challenges and achievements. He is a remarkable man and I can only hope we cross paths again, hopefully on Big Red one more time.