An Atomic Bomb Site (Strewth You’re Kidding – Right?)

Outback Australia
Big Sky Country – Outback Australia

Planning has been finalised for our next trip into Australia’s Outback which will commence in about seven weeks.

And if we are glowing after this trip it may not be just from all that sunshine we have in Australia, but may be from visiting “ground zero” at Maralinga.

Maralinga is famous, or perhaps it should be said infamous, for the British Atomic Bomb test program of the 1950s and 1960s. Between 1952 and 1963 the British Government, with the agreement of the Australian Government, carried out nuclear tests at three sites in Australia, including the Emu Field and Maralinga.

Maralinga was developed as the permanent proving ground site and was the location of all trials conducted in Australia and yes, we will stand on the actual site where the Atom Bombs were detonated!

The area also holds significance for Janet as her aunt worked for the Australian Weapons Research Establishment and spent time at Woomera in her role as a scientist.

The expedition will take us across some of Australia’s remotest country, covering arid desert lands to gorges flowing with life giving water.

The primary aim of our expedition is to visit the “bomb tracks” that were made by the legendary Australian Surveyor, Len Beadell and his team during the 1950s and 1960s in preparation for the nuclear testing program.

The Anne Beadell Highway, the first of Len’s tracks that we will travel covers a distance of 1,350 kilometres and traverses the Great Victoria Desert, from Coober Pedy in South Australia to Laverton in Western Australia.

And it is anything but a highway.

At best, it is little more than two-wheel tracks passing through arid desert and scrub country and punctuated by many sand dunes.

Outback Australia
Australian Desert Travel, Outback Australia

On reaching Laverton we will travel along the Great Central Road to the aboriginal community of Warakurna before heading along the Sandy Blight Junction Track.  This will be a highlight of our western deserts trip and is another track built by Len.  Completed in 1960 the track takes its name from the eye disease that affects many of Australia’s indigenous population and now referred to as Trachoma.

Len contracted the ailment and is most likely the reason the track took this name.

After a brief stop in the West MacDonnell Ranges, we will travel to Alice Springs and bid farewell to Janet and TomO before heading eastwards across the Plenty Highway and eventually down through the channel country to the well-known outback town of Birdsville.

Birdsville Pub
The Birdsville Pub, Outback Australia

Our departure from Birdsville will mark our arrival into the Corner Country which is situated in the north-east corner of South Australia and extending to the north-west of New South Wales.

And after four weeks of travel on corrugated roads perhaps the bitumen will be a welcome relief as we pass through the central west of New South Wales making our way home to Sydney!

So who said it is all work and no play?

And don’t worry, I’ll let you know before we go, and you’ll be able to track our progress across this remote and arid wilderness…

Strewth, Australia, you just got to love the place, hey?

Photos: Baz, The Landy

“When the Ladies Come to the Shearing Shed” (Toorale Homestead)

Toorale Shearing Shed
The Shearing Shed

Being an avid reader of colloquial poetry I welcomed the opportunity to once again be out in the countryside that inspired the great Australian Poet, Henry Lawson…

For those not familiar, Henry Lawson was a poet, a writer of fiction, and many will argue, Australia’s greatest writer.

Earlier this year we packed ourselves into “The Landy” and headed to Grenfell, his birthplace in the Central West of New South Wales, to attend the Henry Lawson festival, as well as just getting Out and About – of course!

On our most recent trip to the outback we visited Toorale Station which was a vast sheep and cattle property before its purchase by the Federal Government in  2008 and development into a National Park in 2010.

The purchase of the property did have political overtones, and was done, in part, to release water that was used for cotton growing back to the river systems.

At the time it drew a mixed response, but that is a debate for others…

Toorale had at its centre, a magnificent homestead, with a glass ceiling ball-room, sprawling verandahs, wonderful gardens and hand-painted wall paper.

Standing at the gate, my mind’s eye could picture a by-gone area, of women in long-white dresses sipping tea from delicate porcelain china, shaded by the afternoon sun by one of the many trees in the manicured garden, while men toiled on the land..

Toorale National Park
Toorale Homestead, Outback Australia

Janet, with a sly grin, casually mentioned how things had changed whilst casting an eye towards TomO and I…

Set at the confluence of the Warrego and Darling Rivers it remains a place of cultural significance to Australia’s first people, specifically the traditional owners, the Kurnu-Baakandji / Paakantji People.

Toorale National Park
Ross Morris, Toorale Homestead

Ross Morris, a member of the Kurnu-Baakandji /  Paakantji family, showed us around and was enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead for the park, especially the cultural centre, which is teaching their traditional language, heritage and beliefs to younger members of their community.

In fact, it is now a language module offered at the local school in the nearby town of Bourke…

Ross spoke fondly of the time his father and grandfather spent on Toorale, and of the original owner, Samuel McCaughey, later Sir Samuel.

And it was Ross’s proclamation that it is no longer Black and White, a nice pun I thought, when he explained that we all have a bond to Toorale, whether through traditional ownership, or the heritage created by earlier settlers to the region.

His attitude brought a smile to my parched lips, as I love learning about aboriginal culture and history, something TomO shares in common with me…

Ross’s viewpoint was also echoed by other first Australians’ we spent time with on this trip, on our visit to Mutawintji and Peery Lake.

Samuel McCaughey was by all accounts a big-hearted bachelor and built Toorale for his much admired niece, Louisa, but tragically corporate ownership of the property in more recent times saw it decay and it is currently very dilapidated and in need of substantial repairs.

Old Building
Toorale Homestead, Outback Australia

Janet and I asked each other how could such a treasure be left to ruin in the elements, Ross shook his head…

But what of Henry Lawson I hear you ask?

Henry spent the later part of 1892 working as a roustabout on the property and it has even been suggested that he penned one of his poems “When the Ladies Come to the Shearing Shed” whilst working in the shearing shed on Toorale…

Sheep Shearing
The Old Shearing Shed, Toorale Station, Outback Australia

Perhaps he did, but I cannot say that was the case with any certainty, but nor does it matter, as the “Toorale Shearing Shed” is typical of shearing sheds all over this great country of ours…

TomO, Janet and I were presented with a great treat whilst admiring the shearing shed.

A lady who was travelling with us on this particular day, Janice, stood in front of the shed and recited, with great aplomb…

“When the Ladies Come to the Shearing Shed” – By Henry Lawson 

‘THE LADIES are coming,’ the super says
To the shearers sweltering there,
And ‘the ladies’ means in the shearing shed:
‘Don’t cut ’em too bad. Don’t swear.’
The ghost of a pause in the shed’s rough heart,
And lower is bowed each head;
And nothing is heard, save a whispered word,
And the roar of the shearing-shed.

The tall, shy rouser has lost his wits,
And his limbs are all astray;
He leaves a fleece on the shearing-board,
And his broom in the shearer’s way.
There’s a curse in store for that jackaroo
As down by the wall he slants—
And the ringer bends with his legs askew
And wishes he’d ‘patched them pants.’

They are girls from the city. (Our hearts rebel
As we squint at their dainty feet.)
And they gush and say in a girly way
That ‘the dear little lambs’ are ‘sweet.’
And Bill, the ringer, who’d scorn the use
Of a childish word like ‘damn,’
Would give a pound that his tongue were loose
As he tackles a lively lamb.

Swift thoughts of homes in the coastal towns—
Or rivers and waving grass—
And a weight on our hearts that we cannot define
That comes as the ladies pass.
But the rouser ventures a nervous dig
In the ribs of the next to him;
And Barcoo says to his pen-mate: ‘Twig
‘The style of the last un, Jim.’

Jim Moonlight gives her a careless glance—
Then he catches his breath with pain—
His strong hand shakes and the sunlights dance
As he bends to his work again.
But he’s well disguised in a bristling beard,
Bronzed skin, and his shearer’s dress;
And whatever Jim Moonlight hoped or feared
Were hard for his mates to guess.

Jim Moonlight, wiping his broad, white brow,
Explains, with a doleful smile:
‘A stitch in the side,’ and ‘he’s all right now’—
But he leans on the beam awhile,
And gazes out in the blazing noon
On the clearing, brown and bare—
She has come and gone, like a breath of June,
In December’s heat and glare.

The bushmen are big rough boys at the best,
With hearts of a larger growth;
But they hide those hearts with a brutal jest,
And the pain with a reckless oath.
Though the Bills and Jims of the bush-bard sing
Of their life loves, lost or dead,
The love of a girl is a sacred thing
Not voiced in a shearing-shed.

(© Henry Lawson)  

If you are travelling in this part of the world, be sure to give Ross a call, he can be found at the National Parks Office in Bourke…

And remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops!

Photos: Baz, The Landy