Day 1: September 24th, Moolort - Yelta.
Day Total: 448ks. Trip Total: 448ks.
Saturday, 7.30am, half an hour before we were due to start at Moolort, half an hour's drive away, a phone call from the Brickie, who had started a day earlier.
"Wolf! We're in Ouyen. Had a hard night, and we seem to have run a front wheel bearing. Don't happen to have one to fit the '29 Nash do you?"
"Nah, not bloody likely. But we'll be there in a few hours, we'll see if the Huddo ones fit it."
"OK, we'll try to make it to Keith's anyway."
Not one of the most auspicious starts to two weeks frolic in the outback, especially to one scarred by repeated calls to TotalCare tow trucks, but hey! it must get better from here, and so it did!
For a start, Her Musical Indoors, (HMI) who is renowned for being at least an hour late for life, was on time, and we made it to the start only 5 minutes late.
At the start were Deaf John and Nanny Roger in the Stupidbaker, the Wolf, Frazzle and HMI in the Huddo, and the Hobbit and Helen The Hupp with the Essex on a trailer.
As well as the Brickie, with the Fergus in the '29 Nash, the Ploughboys had
chosen to cart their vehicles, on a truck, to the start a day earlier. There was Robbo in the Chev Ute, and Kenny and Big Trav in the Chrysler.
Let it be said here, that we all thought the Hobbit's Essex would not make it past Wentworth if it were to try to make it to Yelta under it's own steam. How wrong we all were! And we all thought it would be painfully slow; again wrong!
At St Arnaud we met up
with Rex Walrus in the SS1,
complete with teardrop trailer, a
really nice combo that had survived the Birdsville track a coupla years back, but only just.
Now numbering 4, we toured
on to Donald where we met up
with Bull in the Chevrolet Fleetmaster.
Bull was severely psychologically scarred last year, when the fellow members of the C.U.N.T.S refused to go to Louth with us, and he was not going to let that happen again.
He kept on referring to them as the
W.E.A.K.C.U.N.T.S, but we were at
a loss to know what he was referring to.
The only real point of interest along the way was the Ouyen pub which has some really spectacular cut and stained glass, and well worth a look.
They must have spent a shitload of money on that joint, because, not only the glass, but the joinery was top class. What were they thinking of, in the middle of the Malley?
exactly 8 hours' drive
we rocked up to Keithy's
joint at Yelta, on the Murray
River, where we were surprised
to find what we did.
It was not a pretty scene. Gloom was
the prevaling mood.
Apparently, with all good intentions, the Brickie had
opted to check his front wheel bearings to see if they were OK.
They were, but, he had allegedly put them, (the bearings) back using a trowel and mud, as is his want! No fault in that! They were fucked, as the bearing cage had disintergrated. It looked like he was not going to make it past Wentworth again.
Also in deep shit was Chewy, our mate from Echuca, in the Pontiac, who had broken a rear main leaf spring at the eye. Not a good prospect for a start into the Outback.
As a point of interest, and something I did not know, the name PONTIAC, actually stands for: Poor Old Nigger Thinks Its A Cadillac. You learn something new every day, dontcha?
But, as is the case with the Ferals, it was not all hopeless; bearings could be found or adapted, and springs could be welded to at least put off for a couple of days the arrival of the Grim Reaper in the form of the TotalCare truck. So why the fuck worry?
And in the meantime there was a pisser of a banquet prepared for us by Keithy and Yonney and the boys from our Brothers at the M.A.D.F.U.C.K.ers, ably assisted by Sue The Boort Chick, who, since our last trip, has a new conveyance.
DAY 2: SEPTEMBER 25th, Yelta -Werrimul-Yelta,
Day Total: 144ks, Trip Total: 592ks
In the morning, woke to feeling like we'd all put our heads in rabbit traps, but after tea, coffee and bacon and eggs, things looked brighter.
Great debate was going on as to what to do. Would we leave the Nash and the Pontiac behind, and continue on, while they waited for bearings and welded the spring? Keithy knew of a difficult bloke in Wentworth who had old vintage cars, but, "he might sell you stuff, if he's there, and if he likes the look of you... or he might not."
We finally decided that The Brickie, Robbo and Kenny would visit him, while the rest of us went on to the Werrimul Pub for lunch, and, after a bit more pfaffing about, we finally left.
Most keen to go was The Hobbit, who had trailered the Essex Suitcase all the way there, and had not yet driven the thing in anything other than local drives from his home. this was to be its Virgin Outing, and he was "toe-ee".
The Werrimul Pub is on the road to Adelaide, about half way between Red Cliffs and the SA Border. We arrived there, and we were the only punters, for about 15 minutes, when an entire busload of SA footballers on their end of season pissup and presentation arrived. Didn't worry us a jot, nor them.
After that we went to see Lock 9 pumping station on the Murray which provided irrigation water for a lot of the area. Here we were again privileged, because Yonney, a M.A.D.F.U.C.Ker, is a member of the Engineers who maintain the original old steam pump which used to drive the whole shebang, and so showed us around this beautiful place.
The pumps for this massive steam engine were produced in Castlemaine by Thompsons, when it still produced stuff. The steam engines are massive, and in working order, as are the boilers which heat , and reheat, the steam till it is dry, a concept that I must admit, took a little time getting through the drink addled grey cells.
Keithy decided to take us back the direct short way, through some good sandy tracks along the Murray, and this was where our first, on road incident occurred. The Essex Suitcase was travelling quite nicely, when the Hobbit noticed an unusual noise. Such is the level of paranoia developed since the blowing up of the first motor, that the Hobbit ear is unusually sensitive, and he shut off the motor, which was just as well. The fan retaining bolt's nut had fallen off, and the fan had decided to work its way forward into the radiator. It had just clipped the first of the fins when the Hobbit stopped the motor. Another nut was found, and the thing repaired, but a close run thing nonetheless.
Also, our first, and only sand-bog occurred when the SS1 and caravan managed to bottom and had to be hoiked out, but no great disgrace there as the rest of us had churned up that particular bit of sand before he got there.
When we got back to Yelta, the boys had arrived back from Wentworth, and were they chuffed! They had smooth-talked the erascible old bastard, and not only found some front wheel bearings for the 29 Nash, but an entire Pontiac chassis with the right springs, plus sundry parts for Kenny's Dodge, and a front bumper for the Hobbit's Essex. In their excitement, however, they kept on forgetting to take back their finds, and it took 3 trips to get them all back. Nonetheless, to find such rare bits half an hour away, in such circumstances comes close to a miracle considering the bloke works driving road trains, and only happened to be there that day, and was gone again the next!
The late afternoon was enjoyably spent fishing,and fettling cars, though the Brickie was warned away from his own front axle on the grounds of "Total fucking incompetence!"(Kenny), who, it must be said is a "Break-down whore". Just loves a good mechanical fuckup.
The Fergus had gathered a nice haul of fish, and while the fettling and guzzling was going on, he and Keithy prepared the meal, which was deemed to be good.
After being suitably primed, Keithy got out his little Suzuki and showed us just what it could do in the "climbing-walls-department" which I must say was quite a lot. That it was done in the dead of night made it even more enjoyable.
Then, when most had staggered off to bed, a spirited political argument developed on the theme of refugees, where every dog pissed on his favourite post and thus marked his territory, and we all knew where we stood. No-one got hit, though it was a close run thing, and that was the end of politics for the entire trip. Good thing too.
Day 14: October 6th, Wemen - Home.
Day Total: 365ks. Trip Total: 2693ks.
(Deaf John Trip Total: 3064ks.)
Day 3: September 26th, Yelta - Netley Road.
Day Total: 212ks. Trip Total: 804ks.
After what seemed an inordinate amount of pfaffing around, (where some who had bought provisions before the trip waited for those who had not,) we finally hit the road north.
Notalot really happened on this leg of the journey. Bull had a few fuel line problems, Deaf John had a flatulent fuel pump which gave a final fart and died, but someone had a spare and so he was able to keep going.
The only moment of excitement was when several parts pertaining to the rear wheel of Robbo's Chev decided to leave the car, and we spent a pleasant hour combing the scrub to locate most of them.
This allowed time for those who had made a last trip to the Wentworth car wreckers to catch up, and we had lunch on the side of the road.
Robbo's repair had much to recommend it for speed, but notalot for aesthetics.
Because of the late start, the sun was sinking before we had put many miles behind us, and we left it till late to find a camp site. A lake we saw on the map was non-existent when we got to it. We speered off onto a side road to Netley and set up camp, or at least some of us did. The problem was that the ground was covered in Bindy Eye prickles, which are vicious to man, and especially beasts. Half of us decided to go further, but the other half had already set up camp, and were going to stay. The dogs had to be carried about, and kept in the cars.
Day 4: September 27th, Netley Road - Silverton.
Day Total: 95ks. Trip Total: 899ks.
Stormy weather! What is it about a Feral Trip to the Outback that brings it on?
Last year we were beset by storms and unseasonable rains on our trip to the Louth Races, which were called off, and here we were near Broken Hill, and again storms and rain..makes you think God's an anal prat that has it in for the Ferals!
We all met up again in Broken Hill, and decided to seperately look at the town, following our own interests, and then meet up again in Silverton, a town some 25 k's west, where the real trip would start.
Up to this point we had been travelling on bitumen roads, and you don't really get the feel of the country till you hit dirt, and anyway, the country north of BH is different: bigger, vast, open, endless, and old.
In Broken Hill the Wolf and HMI visited the Pro Hart museum. Pro was a local dauber of note whose real talents lay, not so much in his paintings, but in his ability to market himself. The daubs were OK in a way, if you like primitive art, and I was taken by the "art" on Pro's Rolls Royce. the art and the canvas pretty much summed up Pro Hart.
The fact that he had two of the same model of ostentatious Pommy tripe demonstrates that our Pro had the basic instincts and talents of an advertising man, which is what he really was. And good luck to him. I mean, he did produce some really nice T-shirts and aprons.
Enough of this culture! As an old compatriot of the Wolf once said: "Whenever I hear the word Culture, I reach for my Browning." (Which is not true. The fat old fascist slag actually said "gun" not "Browning" but the Nazi spin doctors "re-phrased" him to make the psychopath appear witty.)
Headed off west to Silverton which was to be the spring-off point for Tibooburra. The master-plan was to head north-west from Silverton, visit some stations along the way and head up the dog-fence to Tibooburra. The night before we had witnessed a lot of electrical storm action and were fully expecting to have to pull up camp and head for the tarmac in case we had a thunderstorm. This did not happen, but there were severe lighting strikes along our proposed route and the country was ablaze.
We all met up at the Silverton Pub in the arvo for some much needed refreshment. This pub is OK, but unfortunately has succumbed to the modern obnoxious fashion of excluding dogs from the premises. The Wolf can fondly remember walking into the Leigh Creek Pub in the early 1970's where there was a sign clearly stating : "NO CHILDREN IN THE BAR !", and on entering having to push past the horse and step over the numerous dogs to get to the afforementioned bar. There were standards then!
At Silverton we adhered to the rules, just. It can be seen that the Brickie's dog Country is technically neither in the pub, nor out of it. He didn't seem to mind at all, a well balanced dog.
After a bit of discussion, and a chat with the local camping ground proprietor, who was also in the Fire Brigade, we were forced to give up our original plans, and therefore we had to return next day to BH and go up the Silver City Highway to Tibooburra.
We spent the rest of the afternoon drowning our sorrows, meeting some locals wandering the streets , and then had a good session at the camp ground.
Day 5: September 28th,
Silverton - Packsaddle.
Day Total: 201ks. Trip Total: 1100ks.
The day dawned hazy with smoke, and promised more electrical storms.
These duly arrived as we headed back to Broken Hill.
They were absolutely spectacular: crashes of lightning hitting the ground around us. The one that appears to hit Wrecks' Teardrop has not been photoshopped, but was one of those lucky shots by Helen The Hupp.
They were also accompanied by torrential downpours, which presented us with another problem:
the practice of closing roads in the Outback.
The road north to Tibooburra is not all sealed, and the road authorities
close these roads to avoid damage to the surface, which would require expensive re-grading. The fines for travelling on closed roads are high, $1000 per wheel, including spares!
We checked out the Road Authority and found that the road north was still open, and after a considerable amount of pfaffing about, we headed towards Packsaddle.
It was great to, at last, feel the dirt under the wheels, and to be out there in the vast spaces. The fact that there was smoke everywhere added a surreal feel to it.
We arrived at the Packsaddle Roadhouse, to be informed that they were closing the road north. We were neither surprised nor upset by this, and mid-afternoon, settled in to have a good time. This was to be one of the most enjoyable and wild nights of the entire trip.
The Roadhouse is run by two shielas, Tracey and Ebony, who were very pleased to see us, and even more pleased that we were there for at least one night. OK, so the grog and the fuel is a little dear, but how miserable would it be if places like that did not exist, and besides they were top people.
Madfucker Keith had rejoined us, in his modern 4WD with his mate Harry, who, we discovered was related (same father, different mothers) to a local identity. There can be no doubt of the common parentage from the photos.
The afternoon was long, and as the evening approached it was evident that behaviour was likely to degenerate, and so it did. No excuses can be offered, nosirree, the natural feral did come out, combined with the arcane practices of the ploughboys which was an explosive mix. I offer photographic evidence of just some of the transgressions against propriety perpetrated, though these are by no means exhaustive.
Let these shocking pics be a warning to the younger generation to forswear strong liquors, and keep well away from ploughboys. This warning is also extended to sheep and small cattle....for you never know....can't be too careful.
In the morning the road was declared open (possibly just a ploy to get rid of us), so we took a group pic, and buggered off.
Day 6: September 29th, Packsaddle - Tibooburra.
Day Total: 170ks. Trip Total: 1270ks.
The weather was fine, with a very strong westerly, which managed to blow the smoke from the fires away. The track showed very little damage, which meant that the road closure was precautionary more than anything else.
Along the way we stopped at Green Lake, which, because of the unusual winter and spring rains, was actually full.
Whilst having a couple of beers there, Big Trav showed us the finer art of feeding a yabbie net to the yabbies. No doubt when the water recedes, we'll go back and retrieve it.
The country is stunning out here, especially around Peak Hill. we decided to call in at
Milparinka, which, despite the map icon was virtually a ghost town, its pub having closed down.
A fortune has been spent restoring it and the other historic buildings, which are magnificent, but umpteen years of drought, plus the declining population due to the isolation have taken its toll, and its days are numbered.
Also taking its toll was the conditions of the road on the poor SS1, which lost an eye. This is a pre-existing condition as it previously lost both on a trip to Birdsville a number of years back (see Oldcrap).
As well as the SS1, Kenny was continuing to have tyre problems. For a while, suspicions naturally fell on the Brickie, who has form, not only in the practical joking department, but more specifically in the letting tyres down department, but he was out of the picture on this one as the tyre went down immediately the car stopped. This was the third flat so far for Kenny, and so he reluctantly took the eye off the Brickie, and blamed the cheap crappy tyres he'd bought from Wocka The Wilderbeest at the local swap. So much for a bargain!
As we neared Tittyburra the Hudson suddenly boiled. Being scarred by past experiences, the Wolf naturally assumed that he'd done a head gasket, but it was only because he'd switched off his electric fan because of the strong head winds from the North West, and he'd not noticed that the winds had shifted to behind as the road veered more easterly. Ah, paranoia, it's always a winner.
Rolled into Tibooburra and found the pub.
Day 7 - 8: September 30th - October 1st, Tibooburra.
Day Total: 20ks. Trip Total: 1290ks.
The main reason for coming to Tittyburra was for the Rodeo, though it must be said that no special reason is really needed for going for a drive in the Outback of 2,000-3,000 k's. Like the rains at the Louth Races last year, the fires this year sorta put a mozz on the Rodeo because the moo-cows were all going to come from the stations that were threatened by the fires, and there was no-one around with the time to do the bovine round-ups, or so we were told. This meant that the weekend was devoted to "gymkhana".
To those mercifully unaware of what "gymkhana" actually is, it is not Yoga in a gym, (though this would be far more exciting to watch), it is actually getting on a horse and having it do shit very, very, slowly. The stuff they actually do is so arcane as to be meaningless to those watching. The trick is to stop the horse, the rider, the judges, and the "crowd" from all falling asleep. The commentator on the PA must have been watching something completely different because he was very excited whereas I could barely detect movement. Gave up and went to the pub.
That was the "main" reason. The other reason was to find the bus.
A little while ago a reader of this site, Jeff Rigby, sent us a whole lot of pics of his drawings/paintings of derelict vehicles in the Outback, amongst which was this wonderful bus from Tibooburra. On contacting him to tell him we were going there he sent, not only a photo of the bus, but also a Google Earth map of where it was, about 400 yards around the corner from the caravan park, and about a mile from the pub.
Asked at the pub about the bus, but nobody knew anything about it. Never heard of a bus like that around here.
Showed them pics on the iPad, but no recognition was forthcoming, so, we went and found it.
Unfortunately others had also found it earlier, and had virtually destroyed the body by kicking out the vertical frame members. Everything was still there, including the important curved roof frame, but it was going downhill fast, and, being so far away, no-one was going to save it. A shame really.
A "Gunna" at the pub said he would drag it home and "restore" it, but the world is full of Gunnas who never fire a shot.
Explored a bit more of the town which is of a reasonable size, and supports two pubs: The Tibooburra, and The Family Hotel, which is noted for its interesting interior design.
Saturday dawned, and we went off to see Blackie at Mt Stuart station (who was known to Keith) in order to fix the SS1, and to just have a squizz because it was interesting.
Of particular interest was the old stables which were originally thatched. The bush timbers were expertly morticed and tenonned together and pegged. There were the remains of the old homestead and an intact smithy. We discovered many good car parts, but the answer from Blackie was always the same: "Just leave 'em where you found 'em." Everything could fall down and disappear into the earth, but nothing was to leave. There's something to be said for that I suppose, but its a view few of us would take.
After that we headed back to Tittyburra Pub for the broadcast of the AFL Grand Final. This was great fun.
About 50% of the crowd at the pub were Collingwood supporters, including an entire wall of cowgirls. Of the rest, about 20% were Geelong supporters, including the Brickie, and a particularly obnoxious 12 year old kid. The rest of the crowd were ABC's (Anyone But Collingwood). How the Brickie and The Kid wound up the crowd was wondrous to behold. Even when Geelong were down in the first half, The Kid and The Brickie did not let up, and when they forged ahead, the two of them were relentless, the wallflowers noticeably drooped, and it was a minor miracle that the two of them escaped unscathed.
After that we took a little tour of the local goldfield, which was interesting, before preparing for the evening dance.
This dance, amongst the cow-persons was very interesting, especially to a disinterested non-cowperson like the writer. The game seemed to be, if one was not looking for a cow-person of the opposite persuasion, to get pissed and be loud, and, to be fair, most of us sorta fitted into that mould, naturally, even if not of the cowperson persuasion.
If, however, one was a cowperson in search of another cowperson of the opposite,etc,etc, then the mating procedures become very complicated.
If of the male persuasion, it was considered de rigeur to stand around a barrel, hat to hat, Bundy's gripped firmly, with a stern countenance, and stare at the dancers, with occasional furtive glances at the heifers. Humour at this phase seemed to be frowned upon.
If a stray, and/or, bewildered female cowperson happened to chance by, a collective charm offensive would be mounted. This wall of Akubra lust is usually enough to scare the bejasus out of all but the most determined woman, and results in a return to the default position of hat to hat, etc etc.
Non-conformist cowpersons (read pissed) like our Robbo, just saunters over and asks them for a dance, which is usually effective, but this is considered "not done" by the cognocenti.
This courting behaviour goes a long way in explaining the depopulation of the Outback, and the increasing skittishness of our smaller cattle breeds.
Occasionally the untoward happens, when a female (rogue) cowperson has a yen to meet a particular male cowperson and cuts him out from the herd of Akubras. this comes as a total shock to the cowperson (male), who is flummoxed, especially if he had no idea it was going to happen.
To her its called "love", to him its called "fear", to those around him its called "entertainement".
Theres only so much of this that one can stand. The band did covers of country songs, and one could say that they were loud and trying, which was their problem, so we beat a retreat to the camp and drank piss with the other elderly, and from that distance, and seen through the glow of a glass or so of red, even the band seemed OK. No, I lie, they were still awful.
Day 9: October 2nd, Tibooburra - Wanaaring.
Day Total: 234ks. Trip Total: 1524ks.
Two and a half days at one place, even a place as diverting as Tittyburra begins to pall,(it's called stir crazy) and one yearns for the road. So it was that we buggered off on Sunday and headed east for Wanaaring.
And a superb bit of track it was, at least for the first bit of it, past the great Lake Altiboulka, which was full of swans and other water birds. Then it was still OK till we met the road running south to White Cliffs, after Borrona Downs station.
It was not that the road was that much worse, though there were severe washouts at the edges, but rather that we met, coming the other way, the Sydney Crime Squad's 4WD Club, who, apparently, believed that they owned the entire road, and basically ran us off. Pigs in Pajeros!
Made it to Wanaaring to find to our delight that it was the date of the Rugby Grand Final, which none of us Victorians gave a rat's pudenda about, but which meant that they were offering cut-price beers at the pub! And that we did care about.
We parked ourselves in front of the pub, and as can be seen from the pic on the left, there were bugger all others there, probably frightened off by the bloody Crime Squad.
What may also be noticed is the gigantic puddle in front of the pub.
The pub advertises itself as the only pub on the Paroo, and in the past one could sit on the verandah and actually see the Bloody Paroo, until some idiot local counsellor decided that the Paroo was a hazard from which the Pub should be protected, and deemed that a barrier be bulldozed in front of said pub to keep the waters out.
Not too much money was to be spent on this monument to stupidity, however, and so, when the Paroo flooded, which it does now and then, it went around the barrier, and flooded the pub anyway, but not seriously because its that kind of river.
What happens, however, is that everytime it rains the barrier becomes a minor dam in front of the pub, so instead of looking at the beautiful Paroo from the pub, you look at a mound and a puddle. Progress, but I guess the counsellor and his bulldozing mates made a quid out of it.
The camp on the Paroo was indeed beautiful, with good firewood available, pub over the mound, showers not too far away.
It was here that we bid farewell to Keith and Harry, who were heading directly back to Mildura, and nice it was to travel with them for a while. Maybe next time Keith will have the Maxwell going, which will be even better.
Day 10: October 3rd,
Wanaaring - White Cliffs.
Day Total: 200ks.
Trip Total: 1724ks.
Fuelled up and were amazed at the rattle coming from the Essex Suitcase. We looked at each other and mentally took note of the TotalCare number.
Headed out of town to the White Cliffs turnoff to find a road-closed sign up. This would explain all of those coppers the day before taking the long way. But it seemed strange that no-one at the pub, or the shop-keeper a couple of minutes ago mentioned anything even though we had said where we were heading. Rather than take an expensive risk, we headed back to ask the shop, and were told that only the last 92 k's from the Wilcannia turn-off was closed. Relieved, we headed off down this great stretch of road.
We weren't the only ones enjoying the road. Country, the Brickie's dog, had abandoned the closed confines of the Nash and taken up with Robbo in the Chev. He preferred to either ride on the bonnet, or on the roof. Roughness of terrain did not worry him, nor did the corners which he leaned into like a seasoned bikie. He was great to watch going along. Even greater to watch when we came to the Puddle.
We pretty widely strung out. Kenny had already ploughed through, stalled and limped out. The Huddo ploughed through and disappeared under the spray, but got through. We parked ahead and waited for the others who we knew had stopped to look at some wildlife.
On the left is Your's Truly,The Wolf, in the Huddo the rest were coming in a bunch, and we waited for them. Below is a pic of the moment a stalled Robbo was passed by Wrecks in the SS1. Click on that pic to see the video of the last 5 cars.
Note Country abandoning ship at this point! Enough is enough, even for a cattle dog.
It was offered to Robbo that he be towed out, but pride was preserved by him drying out the electrics in situ and driving out. This took quite a while, so we made ourselves comfortable with a few beers while we waited.
This was not the only incident that day. Only a couple of miles further on Kenny suddenly swerved off the road. He had spotted just the thing he was after.
The Chrysler tourer was OK with its hood up, but not really convenient with the swags, and sitting out in the sun with the top down was not ideal, so when they spotted a vintage wreck on the side of the road with a remnant ute body, they went to investigate. It was a matter of seconds to remove the ute top, and, as it fitted pretty well, a matter of minutes before they had a convertable ute, which suited not only them, but Dodge the Blue Healer as well.
We finally rolled into White Cliffs, though not before Kenny had another flat tyre, as did the Wolf, who had picked up a nail. When we arrived at the pub, there was no other cars parked, so we occupied the entire front. Fortunately it was a long pub.
As can be imagined, the arrival of this number of cars created a considerable fuss in White Cliffs, which is not very big. By the
time we had adjurned from the pub to the camping ground, the word had reached the local car club, and they came to visit us.
They had three cars, and two of them were owned by Bert the President. He came in his 1929 unrestored Chevrolet which was almost identical to Chewy's Pontiac.
He insisted that next day he would show us around the place.
Day 11: October 3rd, White Cliffs - Balaka Lake.
Day Total: 197ks. Trip Total: 11901ks.
The pics above and to the right clearly show that the two models had the same father, though different mothers.
We had not really wanted to spend a lot of time here, but Bert, accompanied by his side-kick Smiley was quietly insistent and at the end of the morning we were so glad he was.
Bert, with his mate Smiley, showed us all around WC. From the early solar tracking electricity
station, to the historical graves. He took us to some working underground tunnel mines, and to his own open cut lease. He answered all of our questions, except those impertinent ones that had a direct bearing on income and the tax department. Fair enough too, we only asked to see him slip and slide out of the answers, and he was bloody good at it too. He showed us a wide variety of opels, but most importantly he showed us into his home, and this was the most fantastic part of our entire visit.
On the surface, White Cliffs does not look very impressive. Its a series of hills and mullock heaps, with rusted equipment lying about. But the real beauty, and why its there really, lies underground, where both the jewels and the people live.
Bert's house is truly impressive. Its on a reclaimed mining site on one of the three or four major hills in White Cliffs. As you approach it , it just looks like a side has been cut away from the hill, and that is just what it is.
The front is covered by the largest patio I've ever seen, so large that no direct sunlight can reach the side of the "house". This is important in an area that gets high 40 degree days a lot of the year.The "house" is a series of drives into the hill, intersecting original existing shafts, which then serve as light wells. It is a series of tunnels that a hobbit would be proud of. The prejudice would be that it would be dark, but it is the opposite. Solar lights and lightwells everywhere, plus the white painted walls give it a very light feel. The constant temperature, night and day, summer or winter of the mid 20's mean that there are no heating or cooling costs. Want another room? Just dig on, though this would not be the case with this dugout, it is enormous.
A bit freaky was that many passages went up or down hill, not what you would expect in a normal house, nor are there any straight walls, in any dimension, but the place had a fabulous feel to it, in all meanings of the word. We were privileged to see it.
It was also an honour to meet Smiley (seated) and Bert, and his wife and we hope we can repay their hospitality some day.
On a sadder note, Smiley had a Blue Healer, Shadow , who instantly bonded with Kenny's dog Dodge, and they played in what could only be described as a dance. Unfortunately, soon after returning, Dodge suffered lead poisoning whilst chasing sheep. He was a great dog and we will miss him.
After a late lunch we bid farewell to our hosts and charged down to Wilcannia.
The weather was not looking too flash in the forecastes, and we feared road-closures. The trip from White Cliffs to Wilcannia was dead boring, being only bitumen with occasional traffic. The only diversion was following Kenny and watching Dodge's attitude to oncoming cars. He would jump back and forwards on the swags in the back until he spied an oncoming car. Then he would crouch down low, and just as the driver's door came abreast he would give one woof! Never more than one, just one, and he did this for hours.
Fuelled up and passed through Wilcannia, which is the best you can do in that unhappy place filled with racial tension.
The last time we travelled along the Darling, we used the south road. This time we used the north. We were held up just once when the Huddo decided that the ancient spare's tread had had enough, and parted company with the canvass. This meant changing tubes and tyres as the other (sixth ) wheel had a few dodgy spokes, though a good tyre. But the breakdown whores were willing and we were soon up again.
Clouds were building and it was getting late. Usually we start looking for camps after 4.30, but it was past 6.00 when we spotted the first of the Menindee Lakes, which was Malta Lake, but because there was a specific sign forbidding entry because it was private property, we went on, though we were tempted.
Just as well, as a few miles down the road we came upon Balaka Lake, with the most superb camping area just on the water. We settled down, though storm clouds were building.
Day 12: October 4th,
Balaka Lake - Pooncarie.
Day Total: 177ks.
Trip Total: 2078ks.
This was to be a day of some dubious decisions by us, and some surprises about the NSW Police.
On paper (and we are talking about the map) it looked like an easy run: into Menindee, then a nice 123k run down the dirt to Pooncarie, and stay with our friends, the Burkes, at Cavan Station, between Pooncarie and Wentworth. What could go wrong?
We were planning to go into Kinchega National Park and have a squizz at some steam machinery, but the gathering clouds and threat of rain put paid to that. Instead we headed straight for Menindee and fueled up. Wrecks in the SS1had to leave us at this point and head for Albury, and, Robbo in the Chev and The Brickie in the Nash decided to head straight down to home too.
It started to rain. This panicked us a bit, and we took off for Pooncarie. We sort of lost the plot a little at this point, probably because all the cars had been going so well. Instead of waiting for everyone to gather, we took off seperately: Chewy, Kenny and Bull first, then the Wolf, then a little way back The Hobbit. Deaf John had to buy supplies and was way back, but we figured he'd catch up.
It was raining more heavily as we entered the road, and some motorbikes were making heavy going in the slippery clay. For the first three cars the going was fun, and the Hudson being so heavy, it just kept going, though as the journey continued even it started to sway and slide and it took a great deal of concentration to keep it on the crown of the road. We caught up to the first three cars and were amused by how much better these old girls handled the conditions than the modern 4WD's coming the other way. They were fishtailing and sliding and making heavy weather of it.
Unbeknownst to us, half an hour behind us, the lighter Essex was making heavy going, spinning its wheels on the slippery hills, and often sliding sideways down the road. They did not enjoy it too much.
Along the way we stopped when the Chrysler did a fan/water pump drive pin, and Kenny did a temporary fix by just decoupling it, and relying on thermo syphon.
The first half of the road was dark slippery clay, which gave way to a lighter clay which was very sticky, and coated the cars. We then encountered very rough corrugated sand which was worse than the clay. But we made it into Pooncarie, and the pub, to find that they had closed the road.
About an hour or so later the Essex turned up and told us their tales of woe. "Where's Deaf John?" we asked. "Dunno, didn't see him." "Ah, he'll be OK, worst that could happen is he's bogged,and he's got camping gear and plenty of beer."
Stayed at the pub a bit, waiting, then rang up the Burkes at Cavan to discover, that since it was school holidays, they had rented out the shearing quarters, so we decided to camp on the river at Pooncarie.
Kenny went to find the local mechanic to borrow stuff to fix his water pump, and the rest went to set up camp.
As the hours went by, it began to niggle on us that maybe things weren't OK with Deaf John, so we decided to ring the police.
Rang up and explained that our friend in a vintage car was probably stuck on the Pooncarie to Menindee road.
"And where are you?" "Pooncarie." "Can you spell that?" Spelled it out. "Can you be a bit more clear?" "P for poodle, O for orange....." "And how long have you been stuck?" Explained that we were not stuck, but our friend...etc. "Which road?" "The Menindee - Pooncarie road." "Can you spell that?" "M for Mary, E for Elizabeth...etc"
"I'll see if I can put you through to someone who will help you."
"Hello, where are you stuck?" Explained "Can you spell that?"
After a jolly half hour of this they finally put us through to the Menindee police station where a detailed description was given of the car, and passengers. They said they would send out a car.
Later that evening, about 7.30 or so, a police 4WD arrives at our camp, and a happy copper gets out and has a bit of a chat with us to just confirm what the situation was. He had been sent out from Wentworth, 117k's south of us! He was quite happy with the job as "It beats rounding up drunk aggressive aboriginals in Wentworth." He happily went on his way, and said that another happy copper would also be sent from Menindie.
All good, we thought, weird, but good.
Half an hour later the phone rings, and its Deaf John.
"Where the fuck are ya?" "In the Pooncarie Pub, we'll be with you soon."
"Shit!" we thought, we'd better get onto the happy copper and get him to turn around.
"And where are you?" "Can you spell that?" And so on for a while.
When Deaf John and Roger arrived, they told us the story that makes what we had experienced even more amazing.
They had provisioned up, and headed for the road to find it closed. The Essex was apparently the last car let through. They thought that rather than camp there alone, they'd take the other way, and meet us at the Burkes which is about 50ks from Wentworth, so they travelled 112k's to Broken Hill, then 265k's to Wentworth, then finding us not at Cavan, they travelled on to Pooncarie, a total detour of 494k's! A gutsy effort, but the great irony is that before leaving Menindee, they had gone to the police station there to tell them what their plans were in case we rang up!!!!!
It really makes you wonder about the NSW Police. Not only do they not know where their major towns are, but their communication structures are totally fucked. If Deaf John had rolled the car on that road, or had a heart attack he'd be stuffed with responses like that. But it also taught us to be a bit more careful and make sure that we travel more closely, and that the last and second-last cars keep within visual range of each other.
Day 13: October 5th,
Pooncarie - Wemen.
Day Total: 250ks.
Trip Total: 2328ks.
Headed back to Keith's place at Yelta, which was the official end of the run, and celebrated that we'd all made it through.
We loaded the Essex back on its trailer, though it would have made it back under its own steam despite the alarming noises, which were still occurring.
Then we loaded up with oranges and mandarins, which were not going to be picked because the cost of picking them was greater than the prices offered by the retailers (an absolute national disgrace)!
And they were the best tasting mandarins we'd ever eaten.
Then saying farewell to Big Trav and Kenny who were going to stay a day or so longer with Keith, we headed off to Wemen on the Murray, where we parted company with Chewy who continued on to Swan Hill.
The campsite at Wemen is a favourite of ours. Just a couple of hundred yards off the road to Swan Hill, with cliffs overlooking the river, and generally deserted, so there is wood to be scrounged. We settled down to our last camp night.
The morning saw us heading home after giving Deaf John a push, and he had developed ring-gear problems.
We kept up a nice steady pace through Managatang,
Sea Lake, and onto Wycheproof, where we had lunch at a pub, and had a look at the incredibly intricate iron scupture across the road and railway tracks, because Wycheproof is one of the few Victorian towns, on a major highway, where the railway still goes down the main street.
From there it was onto St Arnaud, and, because it was not too far out of our way, we called in on Keith at the Logan Pub, who told us of his marital woes.
Here, after a few beers, we parted with Bull in the Fleetmaster, and then home.
Considering the bad start, with the Brickie, and Chewy potentially non-starters, and the incredible luck they had in finding parts, the trip was essentially trouble free, except for annoying stuff. Kenny had 4 flat tyres, loose wheel nuts and a sheared water pump pin, The Essex had the incident with the fan bolt, and rattles which later proved to be pinging from a collapsed vaccuum advance, plus a bit of piston slap, the SS1 had a few bits fall off, the Hudson had a couple of tyres go, the Studebaker had a fuel pump go and ring-gear trouble on the last day, the Chevrolet Ute had a couple of things fall off, the Chev Fleetmaster had some fuel line problems, all minor stuff, considering we were playing with 80 year old cars in 4 Wheel Drive country, over long distances. Just goes to show!