Canning Stock Route 2004

Trip Leader: Chris?  Peter? or  Ivan?
When: 1st July to 16th July 2004
Location: Canning Stock Route,  Gibson Desert.
Participants: Chris, Peter and Ivan
It’s a cool clear night and I am sitting around a great campfire with good mates and travelling companions Peter and Ivan enjoying a beer. No work for 4 weeks and a lot of adventure to look forward to. “It doesn’t get any better than this I am thinking.”
We have decided that trip notes would be best done in 5-day blocks and I have offered to take up the pen for the first five.
As I stare into the fire and ponder how best to record our trip, I  consider how this trip did not start yesterday morning at Gingers Roadhouse. It started 18 months ago when Peter first floated the idea of a trip along the Canning. A track 1,800 kms in length  and surveyed 90 odd years ago for the purposes of droving cattle from  Halls Creek to Wiluna. Along the track at 30kms intervals we could expect to find the original wells in various states of repair. The wells were constructed by Canning and his party to water the cattle at the end of each day’s droving.
As no fuel would be available on route, limited water supplies, no garages, not to mention bottle shops and bakeries, it was always going to be a trip that would require a fair amount of planning.
The planning and vehicle preparation is behind us now and its night 2 as I sit here thinking  that its taken until this evening for all that excitement and nervous expectation to subside enough for me to really start to enjoy the pleasures of such a trip.
You may be wondering, when am I going to stop waffling and get on with the job of trip notes. Right now.
Day 1 started at Gingers at 7.00 am and we planned to travel thru to just short of Meekatharra on bitumen all the way. It’s a fairly bland drive to Meeka, but we kept ourselves entertained with talk of what we have forgotten to pack and what we could expect to see over the next few days.
Our first crisis was at morning tea when Ivan realised his Anzacs were not to be found. He continued turning the car inside out for several days, swearing black and blue that he was sure they were in there some where.
Day 2  Up at 6.00am and it’s freezing. Hope it warms up as we get further down the track. We have enjoyed our first night in our bush camp and we  are back on the bitumen by 8.10am. Wiluna is the start of the CSR and we arrive there about midday. As we pull into the service station to fuel up for the last time, Ivan’s car, affectionately known as ” Henry”, gets a flat tyre. If there is a right place to get a flat, its while you’re at a service station. Very good of Henry. Tyre fixed and with emergency Anzacs purchased from the servo, we head for the start of our adventure.
The Stock Route starts with a well-formed gravel road for the first 30 kms, as this is the road thru to an aboriginal community.
When the CSR was surveyed it was 5 kms wide. We presume that this was to give the stock a good area to graze on as they made there journey south. The wells are located along the CSR at points where water was most available, and the vehicle track that has been made subsequently is not always close to the wells.
Well 1 was no exception. We spent an hour or so scouting through the bush and checking GPS coordinates. We did find it and it was worth the effort. The wells are constructed by open excavation down to the required depth to hold enough water for the stock. The sides of the holes are side laced with locally sawn timber. Over the wells is constructed a wind up apparatus with a large bucket attached via wire rope. Water is drawn up and emptied into cattle drinking troughs, which has protective  timber rails constructed over.  To make the job of drawing up water a lot easier a  pulley was built into a timber pole and camels were harnessed to pull the buckets of water to the top.
Well 1 is in remarkably good condition considering its age. Although not in working condition, it is fully intact and a great introduction to the trip. Back on the track we carried on 20kms past well 2, set up camp and lit a fire. The same fire I am sitting in front of right now  and where I started this story. Who said it was going to be hard to find things to write about?
Day 3 and we start the day with a long walk thru the bush looking for well 3, only to find it is 1km further along the track we are about to drive.                                                                               
It’s an interesting drive thru this country , which although classified as desert, it appears anything but. The country has many contrasts and every few kilometres seems to change from grasslands to heavy mulga undergrowth. Plenty of Eucalypts around and river gums in the creeks. All is very green as recent rains have kept the moisture levels up. We camp and look forward to tomorrows travels
Day 4 and more of the same. Weather has warmed up and all’s well. We travel through to Pierre Springs. A pretty spot. We have all taken a number 9 golf club and a putter with us so we can keep our golfing skills honed while we are away. We get them out and have a hit around the springs. Unfortunately it becomes evident quite early that we have already lost the skills. So back in the car with the clubs and hit the track again.
We set up camp later than we normally would as fire wood is a little scarce at this point. It’s here Ivan’s second crisis unfolds. He breaks his cherished mini shovel. He has been doing things with that shovel that it was never designed for . Ivan  never really gets over this mishap. As the days roll on we learn not to bring up the subject of Ivan’s shovel.
Day 5 and we soldier on and passed one of  two  burnt out vehicles on the track. One can only imagine the desperation of watching as your fully loaded car goes up in flames, so far from home.
However for us it’s been  lots of fun to date.
Chris Smith.
5 days from 7th to 11th July 2004
This was a very interesting part of the trip as we explored gorges and ridges at Calvert Range , Durba Springs and Onegunya Rockhole where we found many water holes , caves and Aboriginal rock art.
Some of the rock art was very old and faded while others were in good condition, especially some large etchings we found at Calvert Range.
The climb through the gorge at Durba Springs was both strenuous and a little dangerous with help needed from each other to get over and under some sections but it was also a lot of fun bringing plenty of laughter.
 We saw travellers from every state and territory as well as four Germans. 
Two in a vehicle and two on motor bikes who were having a hard time.
At Durba Springs there were forty vehicles the night we camped there . For the rest of the trip we were able to avoid campers at night, finding ourselves a quite spot off the road.
The majority of travellers going north turned off at well 23 towards Rudal River National Park doing only half of the CSR. From well 23 on there was a pretty good mix of vehicles going north and south.
The weather was good with warm days and cool nights and mornings however the day we crossed Savory creek and went to the lookout at lake disappointment the wind was bitterly cold cutting straight through us. The lake was a mass of salt which stretched as far as we could see and beyond.
 The road varied in many ways twisting and turning through very narrow sections of bush to sharp stoney ridges and on to sand dunes. Corrugated sections along with previously bogged areas made sure concentration was a driving premium and second and third gear had a good workout
 The scenery was forever changing from plateaus to valleys to claypans and wooded patches which contained many desert oaks . Some areas were green and lush while others were dry and burnt from recent fires. The wells varied from refurbished with good water to others that looked like they had not been touched since they were dug. Finding them was the main point in driving the CSR and it was an achievement to locate them all.
 There was a lot of evidence of kangaroos and wallabies at the water holes but we did not see any during this part of the trip. We did see three dingoes on separate occasions and three mobs of camels  who just seemed to watch the tourists with little interest.
One cave we visited was supposed to contain some interesting art , however it had caved in and there was three snakes crawling around the bottom so we decided to give this one a miss.
 All in all we had a very good full on five days with the driving hard but enjoyable .
The only disappointment was… the dunes were pussy cats. . .
Day 11 Tuesday 13 July.
 Rose at 5.30 am, 12 deg C, fine and clear sky.
Left camp at 7.10am, heading for Well 36, we found it at 8.30. This was a bit difficult to locate as it was in the middle of a flooded area forming quite a big sized pond with some grass type rushes growing on one side giving the impression that this water is present for quite some time after the rains.
We arrived at Well 37 at 10.00am, this was also quite difficult to find, this was in the middle of a large salt covered swamp, which was very boggy to walk on, and two graves were on a nearby hill. The information about these graves was on a metal plaque concreted into the ground at Drover Thomson’s Campsite [well 37]. Obviously this well has also been silted up when the surrounding area floods, some remains of timber, metal troughing and buckets are around.
We travelled through a large area that had been ravaged by fire recently, only a few of the taller trees remained, everything else was gone, even all the ashes had blown away leaving only bright red sand everywhere.
The next watering point for the cattle on the stock route was at a natural water hole [water 38] in a rocky area on a creek line, with quite a few small gums around, there was hundreds of small black finches with red beaks in the trees and surrounds. This waterhole was originally made bigger by blasting the rocks away so the cattle could drink.
Well 39 at 1.30am, some water still in the well, very little timber and troughing remain, quite overgrown by bushes.
On the way to the next well we passed Michael Tobin’s grave site, he was one of Canning’s Aboriginal workers who was killed in a fight with Aboriginals.
Well 40 at 2.30am, this also took some searching for, other travellers must have had trouble also judging by the number of vehicle tracks around the area, and swamps again [maybe a clue], yes, we found it completely surrounded by quite a large pond this time, but this one had been restored by a group from S.A. [I think]. Generally most of the wells on the top half of the route were in a much worse original condition than the ones
in the lower half.
That night we camped in the shelter of some sand dunes halfway to Well 41. 
We had driven 174kms that day and travelled 1394kms on the CSR.
 DAY12 Wed 14 July
 Rolled out of bed at 5.45am into a cool 10degC morning with a clear sky. Left camp at 7.00am, warmer now at 16degC.
Found Well 42 at 8.15am, the whip pole and some timber left standing, only a depression in the ground but with quite a bit of water in it.
Well 43 at 8.55am, this was now just a hole in the ground but still quite deep, two other lakes nearby, only small trees around.
Well 44 at 10.20am, another deep hole in the ground, no timber around but most of the troughing remains intact.
Enroute to the next well we skirted around a very red clay pan, the colours probably more vibrant because of the dampness still around.
Well 45 at 11.40am. No water, no timber around, just a little lining timber inside the Well, which was filled with sand. Some metal troughing, buckets etc lay around. This Well is just inside the Shire of Halls Creek boundary.
Well 46 at 12.55, 26degC. Excellent water here, this Well has been completely refurbished, it has lots of good camping around. We had lunch, did our laundry and made an early camp and showers, followed by a game of target golf [hitting a certain tree at one end and hitting the ball into a bullseye target scratched into the ground some 150m away.
During this days travelling we spotted some Grey Bustards, lots of different coloured wildflowers and Ivan saw another lone dingo. We drove 157kms that day.
 DAY 13      Thursday 15th July.
8degC at 5.45am clear sky.
I had problems with both my batteries when I tried to start my car, not even enough power in my auxiliary battery to work my GPS. “Many hands make light work”, so do “ many friends make car work” over the next few mornings, thanks guys. Left camp at 8.00am and arrived at well47 at 8.55am, clear sky, slight wind, not much remaining at the well
As we continued on, the vegetation changes to very low scrub, then in the distance and getting closer was a hill !!!, this turned out to be a popular lookout to survey all around, complete with the almost mandatory rock cairn on top. As we drove on, the countryside started to change with more hills and ranges coming into view. The   Breardon Range was quite impressive and we explored the Breardon Valley and Valley pool
It was getting hotter around midday when we stopped at Well 48, located in a flat open plain with out any trees around, only some metal from the well remains.
The burnt out remains of a Ford Explorer [or exploder] of someone’s unforgettable trip last year is a stark reminder how vulnerable we really are. The remains of an Engel fridge, a cantilever toolbox and 3 or 4 jerry cans some of which split open in an explosion are some of the most identifiable items left, even the alloy wheels melted. The cause of the fire was a build-up of Spinifex around the exhaust or engine/transmission.
The vegetation was getting taller and thicker and much, much closer-in, sometimes it felt like it was only 4 foot wide [the scratches confirm this] and the track was getting more and more twisting and turning.
Well 49 was reached at 12.45am set in a scrubby area, the lining to the well shaft had been restored and had new metal lids fitted, no timberwork or troughing were evident.
Well 50 at 2.40am, plenty of timberwork but no metalwork around. Carried on to Culuida Waterhole and some Aboriginal carvings/paintings set in a dry creek/gorge. Made camp in some trees at 4.00pm, travelled approx 184kms today.
 DAY 14  Friday 16th July
Once again the morning started clear and sunny a little cool but warmed up to 16degC by 7.30am when we left camp. An hour later we arrived at Well 51 the last of the wells on the CSR. This would have been the first one for the cattle drovers after they left Old Halls Creek, they followed a series of rivers and water holes until they came to well 51, but the route we drive does not follow this part of the original track.
Well 51 to me was definitely an anti-climax, only a small slight depression in the ground, a small piece of troughing and a name sign [ Weriaddo well] were the only evidence of this historic site – apart from a modern day windmill that was also in a bad state of disrepair. You feel that after such a long journey there would have been a bit more of a tribute to all the men who surveyed, dug, built, cut timber, blasted rock, fed all workmen etc, etc for months and years in such harsh conditions.
On the way to Halls Creek we stopped for lunch at Wolfe Creek Crater, which is the second largest meteorite crater in the world, it is nearly 1km wide and 200m deep. The views from the rim and from in the centre of the crater is very impressive.
We arrived at Halls Creek around 3.00pm, after the usual phone home, visit the tourist info centre and checked out the local bakery [just looking for distant relatives] we headed off to Old Halls Creek which is 16kms away to camp for the night. On the way out there it is definitely worth visiting ‘The Wall of China’ for a Kodak moment.
This was the end of our trip up the CSR, it was a long, dusty, bone shaking journey with lots of interesting and spectacular scenery, the countryside was a lot greener than usual, lots of wildlowers, the sandunes firmer than I expected [due to recent rains] a lot of interstate visitors, even a couple of groups from Tasmania, quite a few doing it in a single vehicle.
I had been keen to do the CSR since a friend of mine did it 6-7 yrs ago, then while on the Gunbarrel Hwy 2yrs ago I decided that I would definitely do it this year. I would definitely do it again. Many thanks to Chris and Ivan for sharing this experience with me, I’m sure we all got different things out of it.


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