Red Earth and Blue Sky Country

In three weeks I depart for the desert areas of Central and Western Australia to travel into some of the most remote and inhospitable areas Australia has to offer.

“The Landy” will be pointed westward on what will be an epic journey taking six weeks to complete and covering over 10,000 kilometres in distance.

Travelling with a small group of like-minded people we will make our way towards the Gibson Desert in Western Australia where we will be assisting traditional landowners built some infrastructure, including shelters to use when they visit this remote part of Australia.

I have always been fascinated by Aboriginal Culture and the Australian Aborigines have a rich heritage and association with our great sunburnt country that dates over 40,000 years. Mind you, it was only in the late 1970s that an old couple, Warri and Yatungka, came in from the desert not too far from where we will be travelling, having lived a traditional lifestyle with no European contact.

You can read more about their remarkable story in the bookThe Last of the Nomads by WJ Peasley.

Our travel will be along remote tracks that are covered in spinifex grass, and much of it will be in areas where no tracks or roads exist.  In fact, our main role is to mark a route into the area where the infrastructure is to be built enabling a group of people from Track-Care in Western Australia, who will be towing trailers with the construction equipment, an easier run into the region.

Whilst in the region we intend to do some off-track exploring of the travel route of some of Australia’s early explorers, and more specifically, the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition of 1896-1897.

Our small team is being expertly led by someone who has travelled extensively in the region over the past decade and it is due to his experience and familiarity with the region that he has been called upon by the Central Desert Native Title Services and Track-Care to assist in this undertaking.

As you would expect there is a reasonable amount of planning that goes into this type of expedition, including water and food supply, as well as vehicle preparation.

The typical choice of vehicle, and one well suited for Australia’s harsh outback, is the Toyota Landcruiser in its various forms.  “The Landy” has been specifically modified, including upgraded suspension, specific tyres, and additional fuel tanks, to enable long-range travel in the outback.

On this trip I will be carrying 400 litres of fuel for the remote area work we will be undertaking, which will total near to 2,000 kilometres, and will consume a total of around 2,000 litres on the trip by the time “The Landy” arrives back home in Sydney.

So be sure to drop by every so often to “Check out Where I’m travelling” (on the tab at the top of the page) and I will update on the adventure as communications permit!

Cheers, Baz – The Landy

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An Atomic Blast (In the Outback)

Desert ScenesA highlight of our recent trip into the Western Deserts, which took us across The Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts in the Australian Outback, was a visit to Maralinga Village.

Many Australian’s will remember Maralinga as being at the centre of the British Atomic testing program conducted in Australia during the 1950’s, such is life in the colonies,  although perhaps it is only in more recent history that much of what transpired at Maralinga has been fully understood by the general public.

You might even recall the alternative Australian rock band, Midnight Oil, wrote a song about it, but perhaps that depends on either your age or maybe your taste in music…

We had not previously travelled the Anne Beadell Highway, the track that traverses The Great Victoria Desert, but were informed that the far eastern section from Coober Pedy, the usual starting point, to Emu Junction  had some of the worst road corrugations one could ever find, and the crossing experience from a scenery perspective would not be diminished by avoiding this section.

And I should clarify that the term highway is used in a very loose sense. It is little more than an extremely remote sandy track that winds its way across a large part of Australia and not the place for a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive.

The Great Victoria Desert

With this in mind and a strong desire to visit the very place where the bombs were detonated we headed to Maralinga.  Passing by the small community and pub at Kingoonya we made our way west on another access road avoiding some of those bad corrugations, at least for a short time!

Kingoonya is typical of the very places we like to visit as usually the small populations are overrun by interesting characters! Kingoonya was no exception and we’ll be sure to spend more time there on future travel in the region…

Outback Australia

Robin Matthews, the care-taker of the now moth-balled Maralinga Village gave us a great welcome, meeting us at the locked gate that gives access before settling us into a camping spot nearby to a “donga” we could shower in.

It is worth a walk around the small village and even a climb to the top of the water tower for a commanding view of the immediate facility and beyond.  Mind you, it might be worth noting that if you want the commanding view gained by climbing a steel ladder to the top, do it sooner rather than later, as the Occupational Health and Safety team masquerading as the “fun police” might put a stop to that eventually.

Being a family of climbers and mountaineers, we relished the chance!

Robin has a strong connection to the area and the Maralinga Tjarutja (jar-u-ja) people and was able to relate in a sensitive way the impact the testing has had on the traditional landowners, many of whom live in the nearby community of Oak Valley.

Our tour of the forward area included visits to many of the actual testing sites referred to as “ground zero” and Robin was able to tell us much about how the tests were completed, and even where people stood to observe the tests. For all intended purposes these people were “human guinea pigs” drawn from the ranks of the military. Volunteers was the way it was described…

A visit to the air strip showed just how big this facility was and the focal point where service personnel were  flown in and out of the area from England under a cloak of secrecy. The strip, measuring approximately two-and-a-half kilometres in length, was the distance the “human guinea pigs” stood from ground zero in one of the tests.

Some of these people, many of whom were from England survived to live a long life, others died within a couple of years. But it is reported that health impacts have secreted its way into their offspring with devastating results.

Similarly, it has had health impacts for the Tjarutja people who now mostly avoid the area due to superstition.  As Robin explained, for the traditional owners it would be like living in a cemetery.

We spent a great day with Robin and towards its end we headed north along the Emu Road to a bush camp before continuing our journey to Emu Junction and across the Anne Beadell Highway to Laverton in Western Australia.

Camping in the outback

A visit to an Atomic Bomb test site might not be everyone’s cup of tea or ideal holiday destination, and you are unlikely to leave with a healthy glow that a holiday in the islands might provide, but it enabled us to better understand a part of Australia’s more recent history and involvement in the nuclear arms race. And this was enhanced by a character you’d be happy to call a mate, Robin Matthews.

If you are travelling that way and have a curiosity of Australia’s involvement in the “nuclear arms race” or perhaps just to draw some dots to the work that one of Australia’s more experienced contemporary bushman, Len Beadell, undertook in this region by building many of the roads, be sure to give Robin a call, I am confident you’ll enjoy the experience.

 Photos: Baz – The Landy

Outback Australia (Mutawintji National Park)

Dawn breaks over Mutawintji
Dawn breaks over Mutawintji

Have you ever wondered what it is like to stay in an underground motel, a room dug into a side of a hill?

Tonight our accommodation is the Underground Motel at White Cliffs in far-western New South Wales.

TomO and I have been frequent visitors over the years, stopping off on our way to and from the Outback, but seemingly, Janet has never been on those trips, so tonight is a first for her.

And what a welcome sight the reception was, standing tall on Smith’s Hill, about the only hill in sight for a hundred or so miles, well not quite, but the landscape is very flat and barren.

We have spent the past three days in Mutawinji National Park undertaking a number of walks through the magnificent gorges set in the rugged and fiery red Byngnano Range. And the wildlife was beautiful…

Kangaroo - Mutawintji NP
Kangaroo – Mutawintji NP

Mutawintji is the tribal area of the Makyankapa and Pandjikali people.

Aboriginal people have lived and hunted in this area for thousands of years and during our stay in the park we spent time with an aboriginal elder who took us to view some rock art and engravings of great significance to his people.

Mutawintji Hand Painting
Mutawintji Hand Painting

Mark shared the love of his land, his people, his culture with great passion and enthusiasm and we look forward to meeting up with him once again in the future, to share the experience of this great land together…

Strewth, you wouldn’t be dead for quid’s, hey!

Photos: Baz, The Landy