Link to Jottings Page 2:The following tems are on Jottings Page 2:
Other Cessna experiences
Two German tourists
A Semi-trailer jack-knifed
Half a bottle of cordial concentrate
Other on the road experiences
I can read
My last wheel change
Sturt Creek cup of tea
Jottings Page 1Lost in the outback (temporarily): I was given a mud map of a ‘short’ short cut from Old Carranya to the Tanami Track. It was November. I noted the odometer reading at the start of the short-cut. It was an earthern track and had several side-tracks such that recognising the main track was not guaranteed. After about 60km and no sign of the Tanami, I stopped to think things through. The sun was to my left, so I assumed I was travelling East. This meant I was driving into very sparsely populated land and toward the Northern Territory. Fortunately, I had an old army compass in my travel bag. It showed I was travelling West and would have to meet the Tanami at some time. Grateful for having packed the compass I drove on and very soon joined the Tanami track much closer to Billiluna than I had expected.
What I had not realised was that the Kimberley is North of the Tropic of Capricorn and in November the sun would be south of me not north, so while I thought I was travelling towards the East, I was actually travelling West.
Fuel tank problem: I had long range fuel tanks fitted to the Hilux 4WD utilities I drove before I was provided with Toyota Landcruisers and then Prados. For a while I drove a Mitsubishi three door Pajero when there was a shortage of Prados. Fortunately, as I discovered later, part of the long-range fuel tank fitted above the drive train. The long range fuel tanks were problematic with the rough Kimberley outback roads shearing off retaining bolts and on one occasion cracking the tank at a weld. Each time the bolts sheared I could hear the friction between the tank and the drive train. Fortunately, the first failure occurred near a fence-line on the Tanami Track. A passing tourist, a Queensland farmer, found some wire along the fence and strung the tank back in position. After travelling to Balgo and back I left the vehicle with Baz, a mechanic in Halls Creek while I worked at Warlawurru – picking it up the next morning. Baz said there would be no charge for which I was very grateful until I got to Wyndham where I asked a service station owner to check it. He said it was still tied up with wire and he replaced the sheared off bolts. I made sure I had some fencing wire and pliers in the back of the ute. The next time it happened it was repaired but used all the wire so I called in at Ellenbrae Station to get some more. The manager was out, but the schoolteacher sent one of the primary school boys to get some wire. He came back with a good supply. The tank became loose again twice further along the Gibb River Road. The first time a tourist tightened it all for me. The second time a Fisheries Dept utility stopped but then kept going leaving me to do the repair. An advantage of the Landcruisers and Prados was that the long range fuel tank was designed into the vehicle giving me a range of around 1200kms. I could travel to Wanalirri School on the Gibb River Rd and back to Broome without needing to purchase fuel.
And I thought 4wheel drive in my 1980s Hilux solved all problems. As the distance was shorter, I was driving from Mulan to Billiluna via the "Pass Road" after it was no longer the regular way between Mulan and the Tanami Track. Selective erosion in the past had created an undulating section of road which was now rock hard. I drove really slowly but then found I had two spinning wheels, a front wheel which could get very little grip and the opposite rear wheel spinning in fresh air. After realising that 4WD was not a solution, I got the sho vel and was able to dig the gripping front wheel lower giving better traction to the other front wheel. I was on my way again but had learnt a lesson.
Camping on the Canning Stock Route: One year the Sturt Creek crossing on the Tanami was closed for around 6 months. The rains that caused the flooding came from the Northern Territory and the land around Lake Gregory were otherwise accessible by vehicle. Any water flow in Sturt Creek ends up in Lake Gregory which is landlocked to the West. So Mulan could be accessed by vehicle via the Canning Stock Route, a linking track and the Lens Bore road. I set out from Billiluna in the afternoon and camped at Well 51 on the Canning Stock Route, arriving at John Pukajangka-Piyirn school mid-morning. Well 51 is on the Stock route but now vehicles take an easier route on one or more ‘cut lines’ (straight tracks which criss cross this area. They were ‘cut’ by bulldozer when the area was being explored for oil).
Creek Crossing: Homestead Creek: In the wet season I flew to most schools as outback roads could be difficult or impassable from the rains. Flying to Halls Creek I had a lift to Balgo with a De La Salle Brother new to the Kimberley. It was afternoon by the time we left, and he was keen to be home for the evening meal. At the first major creek down the Tanami Track we were stopped by the water. Placing of stones and waiting showed the creek was subsiding and walking the crossing indicated the water depth was manageable. I began to be concerned about Homestead Creek (Ruby Plains) further along the track. Some years before two work colleagues had been swept away by the flooding creek and spent the night on the creek bank, all their belongings swept away in the flood.
When we reached Homestead Creek daylight was fading, the access to the creek slippery, the creek flowing strongly and the water depth uncertain. Fortunately, Tony had a satellite phone and was able to get through to Balgo with his decision not to continue.
We turned and drove back to Halls Creek. Fortunately, the stones we had placed at the earlier flooding creek indicated the water level was lower and we continued on. The next day we set out again, both creeks were almost dry so did not impede our progress.
Crossing flooded Sturt Creek: I had driven into Ringer Soak across Sturt Creek (sometimes called Sturt River) to work at Birlirr Ngawiywu school. Crossing it had been easy even though there was water the whole width (maybe half a kilometre). It was the last week of term and staff were keen to drive out for the holidays. They checked the level which had risen. Crossing the creek was the only vehicle way to Halls Creek. We drove out in convoy. I made sure to keep in the wake of the vehicle in front of me. Even so the water was at times above the wheels, the vehicle in front of me blowing bubbles when its exhaust outlet was below water level. I was much relieved when we reached the other side.
Luggage doors open: The morning after working at Warlawurru School, Halls Creek, I was driving to Ngalangangpum School at Warmun. There had been no rain, but the Elvire River was flowing very fast. (not many bridges on this section of the Great Northern Highway then). I was creating a standing wave as it met the highway). I parked and considered whether to cross. A Greyhound bus approached and successfully crossed. As was the custom then, all luggage had been shifted into the passenger section and the bus crossed with luggage bay doors open and the water running through. So, I turned back and did an extra day’s work at Warlawurru.
Late afternoon change of plan: Known as “The Pass Road”, the old road into Mulan from the Tanami Track had been replaced by a much longer route via Balgo. It was in what is called “The Build up”, a time of very hot weather and the odd thunderstorm. I was at Billiluna, about 50kms from the Pass Road and the weather had been clear while I was there. I rang John Pujajangka-Piyirn School at Mulan and they said the same, so I decided to drive via the Pass Road. The weather gave me no hint of what was ahead for me. About 15 kilometres from Mulan the road was under water for as far as I could see. The road here was not formed so had eroded lower than the ground each side. I decided to turn back and drive to Balgo (over 100km away), hoping that at Mulan they would assume I had turned back and not try to locate me. I reached Balgo at 8pm and rang Mulan. They said on coming to that section that I would not have attempted it. I drove on to Mulan the next morning direct from Balgo. Resulting from this experience I purchased a Satellite handset which ended up mainly as ‘insurance’.
Bogged after storms: Even though I flew to schools during the wet season and made my term 4 visits as early as I could, it was inevitable I would strike some early wet season storms. Many outback roads could not cope with rainstorms. The edges, particularly, would become muddy and mushy while the road surface could be muddy and slippery. When I was driving Land Cruisers I was not permitted a bull bar so no longer carried any ropes etc with me. I was, unfortunately, not able to assist an Adult Education vehicle which had gone off the Tanami Road and was bogged and would have been difficult to extricate. They had already made contact and were expecting help to arrive.
Station Tracks: By public road it was about 340km but by station tracks I saved time and kilometres. Sturt Creek Station were not happy with my using station roads as they would be responsible for rescuing me. They were less concerned when I said I had a satellite phone and would have support from Billiluna. It was pleasant using these short cuts (there was more than one) and there was hardly any traffic. - Just me and the station country. It was always sombre driving from Sturt Creek Station to old Carranya as I am certain that Simon Amos and James Annetts must have used that track on their tragic attempt to drive to Alice Springs from Nicholson Station in 1986. The track also took me past another sombre reminder of the past – The Paraku Massacre site above Sturt Creek.
“Has anyone got a screwdriver” asked the pilot as the Cessna landed at Mulan (around 200kms by air south of Halls Creek), next stop Broome (around 600km by air from Mulan). I gave him a choice from my computer tool kit. He explained that we had had no radio to that point and that he could fly to Broome without radio access, but much preferred to keep in contact. He reconnected power to the radio system so we were ok for the last leg of the flight.
Turn around in mid-flight: I was at Billiluna and the Diocesan Cessna VH-BDR had been diverted there to pick me up on its way from Ringer Soak via Fitzroy Crossing (refuelling there) to Broome. The pilot was the Diocesan Pilot, Matthew, who was not yet 21. Both BDR and Matthew had to follow VFR (Visual Flight Rules). Unfortunately for us after about 45 minutes it was clear there was a wall of storm clouds between us and Fitzroy. After studying it for a short time, Matthew made the mature decision to return to Billiluna which we did. The airstrip was some distance from the Community and the only way to alert the Community or School was to ‘Buzz’ it at maybe 1000ft. The School Principal, having seen us off was not expecting any further plane that day. It was only on the third circuit that we saw a vehicle leave her house for the airstrip. Next morning all was ok and we completed the flight.