11-May-2016 -- This visit was undertaken during our retracing expedition of R.T. Maurice's 1902 expedition from Fowlers Bay (SA) to Cambridge Gulf (WA). The trip was carried out on diesel quads for the remote cross country travel with support crews utilising known tracks and roads. The expedition crossed aboriginal lands for which permits and permissions were obtained from Maralinga Tjarutja and APY lands. (Thanks to Mr. Robin Matthews of MT Council for his kind assistance)
The following is an excerpt from the journal of the retracing expedition for 11th May, 2016.
Waking into a crisp, clear morning we had again experienced extremely heavy overnight dew causing us to pack things away damp with a view to airing them at the end of the day. The morning breakfast was interrupted by the visit of a lone camel whose loud guttural rumbling announced his presence as he crossed the dunes towards us. The beast’s curiosity overcame any fear as he stood quizzically near camp totally unconcerned as we took photographs and video. Eventually he’d seen enough of these interlopers in his territory and sauntered back over the hill to the west. There remained the trace of a visit by dingos during the night with paw prints left in the dust around the campfire and John revealing that he’d heard the burnt tins of the evening meal rattling during the night. Alas with our fairly restricted diet, there are never any scraps left for scavengers.
Maurice’s Camp 13 signified a substantial change in course for the party back in 1902. Having spent several days travelling due north, the party now swung to the North West as they tracked towards known water at Anjibinna and Oolarinna. One of our key objectives of the day was to deviate slightly from our course near waypoint 30 (a course direction from Murray’s notes) and drift on a westerly course to visit and claim a confluence at 28.0S 133.0E. From that confluence, we would track 11 kilometres back to the north east to regain our route in the vicinity of Maurice’s Camp 14.
With our gear stowed, equipment checks completed and navigation equipment calibrated, we pushed off at 08:45 a.m. experiencing good running over open sand country. Only two kilometres into our day’s journey, we conducted a short search for the 60 Gallon Rockhole that was mentioned by the Maurice party. It is often hard to believe that records of a feature found over 100 years ago are still used on today’s maps. In deference to the age of the observations, and with no further observations to substantiate the location, the features are marked on current maps as “position approximate”. With 114 years of time separating the visits of our two expeditions and with no other distinguishing features described that may have assisted our search, locating this small feature was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
“Wednesday May 21st – Started before sunrise bearing W.N.W. At 1 ¼ miles old native tracks and found a small rockhole ¾ mile E.N.E. in limestone, 60 galls when full.”
Journal of William Murray - 1902
We can never be sure how far we, or the map position, is out compared to the Murray’s original notes. In addition, as it was a small rockhole the relentless wind and shifting sands could have filled it in over time, particularly now that the original custodians who would have maintained and cleared the rockhole, have long left the desert.
A large eagle nest in a tall mulga tree signalled a change in country from the dunes and gnarly mulga to more open flats of mulga and acacia scrub with sparse undergrowth. With only occasional patches of grass and shrubs on the otherwise bare laterite earth , the going on the quads was relatively easy.
Sixteen kilometres along our north westerly route from camp 13 we reached Waypoint 30, the departure point for our confluence mission. From here it would be a straight line course west for 16 kilometres to the confluence followed by a 12 kilometre egress route on a bearing of 20° to reach our original line in the vicinity of Maurice’s Camp 14. We halted 10 kilometres into our westward run to boil the billy (10:30 a.m. at 158.3 kilometres), Larry taking the opportunity to undertaking a little maintenance on his machine checking diff oils and other fluid levels. Running along dune corridors made the going on this leg somewhat easier reaching the confluence location a little after noon (166.2 208 quad). With the confluence situated in a wide scrubby dune corridor, it was unimpressive country to say the least. With photographic evidence of our visit soon gathered, we turned back to the north east to re-join our route.
Having travelled less than a kilometre and crossed a single dune, my eye was caught by a flash to my right. Seeing some brown glass lying half buried in the sand, I wondered if it was in fact an old medicine bottle but closer inspection revealed it to be on old Southwark beer stubby. Examination of the area located wheel tracks, the remains of an old campfire and a couple of rusty old tins (at 27°59'9.43"S, 133°0'21.69"E). Nearby another stubby was found in the branches of a long dead tree. It had obviously been placed upside down on a branch broken when the tree was upright but in the intervening years, the tree and died and fallen over. Interestingly the angle of the bottle and the timber in its neck channelled rainwater into the stubby and it contained about 200 mls of water.
The tyre tracks were extremely old, the depressions long filled with drifting sand so that only two red ribbons indicated their path. The campfire was also long buried and as on other occasions when remnants of past travellers have been found in remote locations, you get to wondering just what the provenance of these tracks and camp were. Who were they and what were they doing way out here? Mineral exploration or cattle mustering seem fair suggestions but their reasons for passing this way will always remain a matter of conjecture.
Please note; As this is not a transit or similar activity, any applications for access to aboriginal lands must be made in writing to the respective land councils.