A Fanatical Sabbatical | Part 10 - The Dirty Desert

The Nortons hit the Oodnadatta Track for their first real taste of the Outback on this trip . . .

With a goodbye to the safe and secure township of Melrose, we pointed the rig North via Port Augusta for supplies and to get into the real outback of the SA desert. Woomera was cold and windy, with a desolate feeling about the joint, but the Rocket Museum provided some retro vibe curiousity for the adults and eight year old boys alike. Continuing on via Roxby Downs and Olympic Dam, we hit the Oodnadatta Track and instantly felt like we were really doing the thang. The ‘track’ was well graded and wide, and we were finally sucking in the bull dust through the back vents like the pro’s. There’s even some impressive sculptural art out in the middle of nowhere so you can keep up the culture vulture despite being ‘out bush’.

Coward Springs proved to be an oasis in the bare plains, a shade-filled campsite complete with fire pits and a natural hot spring amongst the ruins and relics of the old railway outpost. It shimmered like a mirage out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and thankfully didn’t dissipate as we lowered our dusty bodies into the tepid warm waters bubbling up from underground. There’s nothing like a couple of kids in a spa to clear out the Grey Nomads and ensure you have the place to yourself. I was surprised to discover Samphire growing profusely in the area, a plant usually associated with salty, shallow shores of the coastline, proving water exists in the desert as long as you know how to find it. Full of vitamin C, it can ward off scurvy as good as any old citrus fruit can. I bet many of those early explorers wish they had this survival tid bit up their sleeves.

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Whilst in close proximity to Lake Eyre’s only campsite, we took the scenic detour to see its vast salty plains and are glad we did despite the lonely corrugated drive out there from the William Creek station on the Oodnadatta Track. I was curious about a memorial to a young Austrian women, located half way along the 64km stretch of road who had perished there in 1998. I later researched her name to discover Caroline Grossmueller and her partner had become bogged at the campsite in their hired camper. They had tried to dig it out unsuccessfully, then attempted to walk the distance back to William Creek a couple of evenings later, avoiding the soaring January temperatures of the day. I was morbidly fascinated to learn they left the camper containing 300 litres of water and 3 weeks of food behind, to make the trek. Her partner decided he couldn’t continue on after 15km, so she discarded her melted sneakers in favour of his sturdier boots and continued on alone, only to die of heat exhaustion another 17km further on, with a number of litres of water still in her back pack and only 100’s of meters from a full stock trough. She was discovered 5 days later, the police alerted, and her partner rescued from the relative safety of the camper van back at the lakes edge. Horrifyingly it was revealed the Dif Lock had not been engaged, nor had the tyres been sufficiently let down, and the policeman had their vehicle out of the sand bog within 10 minutes. It was a heart-breaking story, and drove home the seriousness of travelling unprepared in the outback. Never leave the refuge of your vehicle, make sure you have better than basic knowledge of recovery measures, and tell more than one party what your intentions are. What a tragedy.

Coober Pedy was next on the list and boy, is this frontier town the capital of Blokes World, or what? The whole place looks just like a bunch of renegade hoarders got together with all their collective shed contents, tipping it out on the surface of the shimmering white landscape, and digging holes to live in, shunning the niceties of a ‘women’s touch’. Venture below ground, past the working mines, and you can see how many people made this harsh landscape a comfortable home. ‘White Man’s Burrow’ loosely translated into the local indigenous language is ‘Kupa-piti’, was a really interesting little stop for a family and the kids could have spent days fossicking through the potch if we had let them. We really felt like we were a ‘proper’ travelling family when we bumped into another family we had bonded with in Tasmania – it made our day to have familiar faces to have lunch with and to chat about what we had all been up to since last parting.

We were intending to continue back to the track via painted desert, but out of the blue we received permits to enter the APY lands in the states North West so had to make tracks to meet the window of opportunity. Stay tuned!

A Fanatical Sabbatical

‘Mark, Kim and the kids are leaving behind their home in the Adelaide Hills to jaunt around the country side while they manage their arborist business remotely. Normally enrolled in ‘bush school’, they thought they could push the kids outdoor eduction experience a little further by living outside for a year.

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