23-Sep-2010 -- This was our first attempt to ‘discover’ a confluence point and be part of the fantastic confluence project.
Our plan was to travel through some of the most remote parts of Western Australia, a journey of 2800km from Broome to Alice Springs via the Gary Junction Road. Our team consisted of Alex Mountford, a Kimberly local and passionate advocate of indigenous education and guitar maestro; plus Jono and Will Parker - two city slickers from Melbourne (Bear Grylls wannabe’s) – the authors of this narrative. In the event we passed just 2 cars in the entire 6 days we were on the dirt tracks, a distance of about 2000 kms!
After raising the prospect of finding an ‘unbagged’ confluence point out near Punmu in the Gibson desert, our extremely resourceful and helpful local friend, Jim Slighar, found the 128° 24° confluence point within striking distance of our future destination , Tjukurla community. After relieving him of some diesel (another story), we said our goodbyes to Jim at Kunawaritji, and travelled on to Ngaanyatjarra country, our destination the isolated Aboriginal community of Tjukarla, population of 40 people and about a couple of hundred camp dogs. Here we met our old friend Wes Maselli, the local arts coordinator. With his help arranging an especially old banged up troopie (500km+ on the odo reading), we set our course. The route from Tjukurla followed an old desert access track only found in ExploreOZ detailed ordinance maps. By good chance the road ran only 5km from the confluence, our plan was to follow the road as far as possible, and if necessary cover the remaining ground by foot.
The day of our attempt was a mild and dry. Wes was concerned we didn’t have enough local knowledge and so organized 3 elderly aboriginal women; Sheila, Faith and Mrs Butler to accompany us on our adventure. The concept of ‘confluence points’ was about as foreign as French cheese but they were fantastic company! But not to be deterred by the cultural divide, Alex set about drawing a picture of the globe, complete with longs and lats. Although the message was largely lost in translation they seemed reasonably satisfied that we weren’t there to prospect for gold!
Our progress was steady but slow. After 4 hours we finally arrived at the end of the road – just 150kms travelled. This was a fantastic result as we had put our faith in a line on a map that was used only a handful of times a year at best. Time working against us we set off on foot & spirits were high. Alex very graciously decided to stay with the car to keep the ladies company and keep watch.
After 15mins of power walking across dunes we realised that we had seriously underestimated the time it would take us to get to the point and return. We knew we had long drive back. We decided at this point that jogging in bursts was a necessity. In this fashion we made our towards our prize destination. Somewhat foolishly we had promised Alex that we would be back at the latest by 5pm allowing just 2 hours for the round trip. At this time it was agreed Alex would pull out the sat phone and raise the alarm. We knew by around half way to the confluence that it would be touch and go for us getting back in time and sense of urgency set upon us. As time went on the shrub got thicker and our progress was hampered by seemingly ever increasing sand dunes.
But just when we thought might have to turn back defeated, all of a sudden our GPS showed we had just 60m to go and the final distance fell away quickly. At last we had made it! A humble spinifex marked our metaphoric pot of gold. Our celebration was short lived, as we knew we were running out of time to make it back to the car. A few short photos and fiddling with the GPS later we had gotten what we came for.
Exhausted we staggered over the penultimate dune and to our relief we spied our patient base camp waiting for us in the dying sun. Rejoice! A few mumbled apologies followed for our tardy return had come only minutes before the girls were to make the call for help. We turned our backs on our recent find and collapsed in the back of the car, to exhausted to drive, while Alex drove the epic 4.5 hours back to Tjkurla as the dark of the desert set in and the moon light shone brightly before us. A truly unforgettable day was had by all.