Last job of 2012 was working as a Camp Cook for a team of 8 who were drilling for water in the Stony Desert in the Birdsville Track South Australia.
The last cook left, and I was offered the 3 week position which became 68 days as the first bore drilled collapsed and the camp had to move location and start another bore.
Clifton Hills Cattle Station
Thirty six days the Drill Team stayed on the property for the time it took to drill 1528 meters to find the sandstone bed of the Artesian Basin where the water was. Then the pump was attached and the boiling water gushed out at a rate of 60 liters a second.
Pipes transferred the water to a holding dam above the property, and cooled it before it was piped to the Homestead and around the areas for watering the cattle and horses.
Then the camp packed up, and moved to where the old bore was located and that was filled in and sealed closed. This took another day and it was 2.30 in the afternoon, in temperatures of 45 degrees heat that the team finally started off to Birdsville in a convoy of 6 Road Trains and 3 4WD Utes. I had packed a box of 24 chicken loaf and Salt beef sandwiches, a box of caramel slices, some cookies and 16 pieces of fruit for a 12 man team lunch. These were mostly eaten by the couple who drove the Ute with the food box, as the 3 new drivers and the cook did not get anything to eat between breakfast and Birdsville.
Clifton Hills to Birdsville
I traveled with the young man who had to be the worst driver I have ever driven with. He drove in the dust of the vehicle in front and would not listen to any advice from me who had already driven the Birdsville Track 7 times. He also kept swerving from side to side and along with the rocks and then the bull-dust it was a journey where I chose to put the seat down, cover my head and eyes with a soft hat, and pretending I was in a train, tried to sleep away the 4 hours it took to get to Birdsville.
The drive was exactly 197 km from the Homestead of Clifton Hills to Birdsville. The first 70 km is part of the Clifton Hills Property, in the red Stony Desert. The track had been graded and the dust had blown away so it was not as bad as in earlier times. There are 8 grids between here and Birdsville and after 70 km you hit the white sandy desert where the track is thick with fine dust, faster and the wheels slip and slide in the fine sand which is now grooved by the vehicles.
Finally the radio called the border and welcome to Birdsville, and it was 20 km to the Birdsville Racetrack, where we stayed this time.
It was 6.30 and I went to town with Frank in the Ute to use the Public Toilet Facilities, and we discovered that everything in Birdsville, except the Hotel, was closed. There were a few cars parked at the Roadhouse looking for petrol and food. We went across to the Caravan Park to see if a room was available for the night to be told there were 3 rooms only at $89 a night. Cabins were $135 but he did not have any available. He had closed the accommodation as it was the low season and no-one around. I felt like telling him to look out the door to the Roadhouse Car Park which had a dozen vehicles parked with owners disconsolately walking around like us, wondering what to do.
Next we went to the Birdsville Hotel which was full of people, including 4 policemen all having a jolly good time. We asked at the Bar about accommodation to be told that rooms were $135 each with 2 beds, and $155 for a single. Obviously this was not affordable either so we went back to tell the team the details.
They all returned to the Hotel for dinner and was given underdone steaks with some salad obviously cooked by the bar staff. I chose to stay behind and clean the kitchen which was covered in ice cream which I had made with condensed milk and evaporated milk. This had fallen out from the unsealed fridge and was now all caramel on the floor with heaps of dust. I swept, mopped and cleaned out everything putting the boxes back on the fridges and table so the team would have a hot drink and cereal and toast if they wished. I had a cup of coffee and after cleaning out the dust from my small room, set up the computer and settled to some Internet while waiting for the team to return with a take away for me. They returned with nothing so nothing to eat for a whole day.
Birdsville to Windorah
486 kms of mostly dusty road interspersed with roadwork detours into even dustier roads. I transferred to the biggest Triple Road Train which carried the rig gear. I now had a great view of everything in a 5 star air-conditioned comfortable Road Train, a softer seat, with country music and the option of retiring to the cabin behind the driver, offered at least 3 times during the 6 hour drive.
The only drawback was lack of water. I had a small bottle of water which was drunk far too soon and nothing more until Windorah. The road drives through straight desert changing in color. First the whites of the Sandy desert, then orange sand hills and flats and red rocks.
There is nothing until the Betoota turnoff past which is a lookout hill. Betoota is 116 kms from Birdsville and the Lookout where you can see the shelter on the hill is another 50 kms past the turn off. I asked for a toilet stop, and this is where they stopped. I went the 2kms in the Ute with Frank to see an amazing view over the Birdsville Track where we had now driven. It was a white road over rich red land and very beautiful.
The outdoor toilet had no door and you could see over the plains below when seated and it was a beautiful seat with a view.
We returned to the vehicles to discover the kitchen door open. My driver told me later when I was worrying about what to make for dinner, that they had eaten all the bacon raw, the pies in the fridge and also ice-cream and all the apples in one fridge. The team never go hungry it seems.
It was a very long, dry, boring journey with nothing but flat desert interspersed with gidgee trees and rocks. Once you get nearer to Windorah the scene becomes more dried grazing lands with cattle. It is still very dry, very flat and very monotonous. This stretch of land has to be the most boring drive, and having no water did not help. I was thirsty the entire trip.
Windorah is a small town which features a service station with a blind attendant who actually does very well as he works everything by touch and knows where everything is. Next door is a Café, snack bar and shop, which was closed 12.30 to 2.30 so we had to go across the road to the Hotel where they had no food except mince pies. We ordered 2 pies per person. My pie was still half frozen and I wondered if the team realise how well they are fed at the camp. I was hungry so I ate it gratefully.
That is the town.
After we had had lunch I noticed the shop open. I said she had missed our business and her reply, ‘We only do snacks’ indicated the attitude towards tourists and travelers. I bought water for the trip back.
It is actually a pretty town. The houses are small and attractive and the streets are lined with Boab trees and the road centres are green. It looks good. There is a population of 80 and it is known as a fishing town so there must be a river somewhere.
The map information says there are numerous ruins around, mostly pubs, but I did not notice any. Last time through one of the road trains had sump trouble and we spent a whole day fixing that, with me sitting on a seat by a small grassed picnic area with a hose and tap. The map information also says there are spectacular red sand hills around. I did not see that either.
Windorah to Yaraka
There is 99 kms to Jundah and we turned off towards the Retreat, which was situated in a dusty corner with an overhead arch saying ‘The Retreat’, and then another 75 kms of dusty road to Yaraka which we got to at 6.30pm. They parked the Road trains at the oval just out of town. I started walking to town to see what food there was, knowing there was nothing now in the kitchen. Alex picked me up in the Ute. The shop was closed but a lady in the opposite house said she runs the shop, and that she would call Tomo to open the hotel for us for dinner.
The Pub was delightful. It was a real old country hotel with the friendliest Barman in the outback. He was very welcoming, said they would cook anything we wished to have, and also offered me a room for $30 which I promptly took and paid for.
I went back and told the team that and they were ready to go to the pub. I opened my donga room door to find my room with a good inch of brown dust and everything on the ground. I opened up the dusty bag, collected a top and shorts and a toiletries bag and went with them back to the Hotel where I stayed the night.
The meal was first class cooked by the owner’s daughter. We had seafood, a generous helping of fresh salad with cheese, carrot and pineapple and beetroot, and a huge helping of chips. The guys really enjoyed their meals. It was a wonderful feed. I had a coffee and went to bed. The team stayed here drinking until almost midnight.
There is no internet or phone connection in the town. I would live here except for this fact. Rental is cheap and there is a house available. The council put an aerial on top of Mt Slocombe, 12 kms from the town to provide phone coverage. Here there is 4 band service for the phone but it does not reach the town.
The town has a shop, a hotel, a police station and a service station for petrol. Across the road from the hotel on a stretch of grass, are some old vehicles and machinery all painted black like an outdoor Museum. The entrance to the town boasts an attractive centre feature with flowers and a huge rock. It is a very pleasant and friendly place a long way from everywhere. They go shopping at Blackall which is 276 kms away along some very dusty roads.
The next day we drove 12 kms to the turnoff and another 20 kms along a newly graded road to Bono Vista, the next location for the next job.
Mt Slocombe is a spectacular mountain with a steep drive to the top and then the views are spectacular. This is where I left the team for the final time……