This was a completely unplanned trip, at least for the others. We were refuelling at Kiwirrkurra when I made the observation that if we drove 30km down the road, turned right then travelled 8 ½ km we would reach a confluence point.
The other 6 ignored me.
It was very close; we had travelled thousands of kilometres, what were another 30?
They still ignored me.
I decided to go anyway, and that’s when they suddenly paid attention and said it was not safe to go there alone.
Glen Gaikhorst kindly volunteered to travel with me, so we left the others having a smoke near the fuel bowser and took off in one of the utes. Our permit was still current for another 7 days for this area (contact the Aboriginal Lands Trust well in advance of your planned trip to obtain one). We had a half full 200L water drum in the back, 2 GPSs, compass, UHF radio, satellite phone, camera, topographic map, nibbles, 2 spare tyres and the Confluence Hunting Worksheet I had printed off before I left Perth.
The main road was fantastic, very easy travelling, nicely graded and well maintained.
The original site where Len Beadell’s ration truck caught fire in November 1960 marked our turn off. There is a plaque, a rock pile and a few scraps of rusted metal. For the full story, find a copy of Len Beadell’s book Beating About the Bush and read from page 16 onwards.
The truck itself has been moved to Kiwirrkurra and is sign posted on the Gary Junction Road. For the benefit of non-Australians reading this – Len Beadell was a surveyor and road engineer in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s who was responsible for over 6500 miles (not kilometres) of roads across Central and Western Australia including the Gunbarrel Highway, resulting in his team being known as the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party.
The drive south began with well spread-out small clumps of young spinifex and low shrubs. We were impressed and thought that confluence hunting was very easy.
After a couple of kilometres the land had started to change. The little tussocks of spinifex became great big pincushions, mulga came and went, we passed thickets of eucalypts, plains of native grass, pale rocky ridges, natural drainage canals that were so deep they had to be crossed with care, and to top it all off, 3km before our destination was a section of sand dunes. They are about 5m high and few in number, and it is possible to skirt some of them so you only need cross a couple. Generally we required several attempts at each.
At the 1.87km mark (I remember that number well) the ute began to steer badly. Glen very kindly offered to change the tyre while I walked to the confluence point and “did my stuff”. I liked that arrangement and headed off quickly in case he rethought his suggestion.
This was Len Beadell country. He had traversed it over 40 years prior in hob-nailed boots in searing temperatures navigating by theodolite and astrofixes. (If you want to know what an astrofix is see Beating About the Bush pages 108-110. You will have nightmares about numbers after reading this.)
Today the spring time sun and light breeze made the walk very pleasant, my new hiking boots were the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned and my GPS was light in my hand as I watched the numbers decreasing on the GO TO setting. I had it so very easy.
I was so intent on watching the screen I overshot the target and had to come back. I switched off the GO TO and took some readings. Try as I might I could not get all zeros and had to settle for 23° 00’ 00.0” and 128° 00’ 00.2” due to time limitations (meaning the others were waiting impatiently for Glen and me to return).
I worked through the Confluence Hunting Worksheet checklist. Top of the list was ‘Celebrate’. I had a big drink of water and a muesli bar. Then I decided to go wild and had two barley sugars and another drink before getting down to work. If only I had chocolate! (Or something stronger.)
The return journey was done very carefully because we only had one spare tyre now and there were still plenty of mulga stakes. We returned uneventfully to the others who were completely unimpressed so they won’t get a mention. Thanks very much to Glen for drawing the short straw and for staying behind to change the tyre while I completed the trip. It was not as easy as I thought it would be but definitely worth doing if you are in the vicinity of a confluence.
Note: I had threatened the boys with death if they so much as thought about touching my camera. Unfortunately, I DID IT. While deleting out-of-focus photos, I accidentally deleted the only in-focus photo of the GPS screen at the site. By then we were two days drive away and most of us had to return to work on Monday, so I was unable to retake it.
After my earlier warning, I plan not to admit my stuff-up to the boys.