HELENA AURORA RANGE
TRIP LEADER: Gary Arcus
DATE: 17th August to 20th August 2019
The Helena and Aurora Range is an untouched section of the Great Western Woodland about 150 kilometres north of Southern Cross. This was a revisit for some of us following a trip in 2018, and a first visit for others. An aim of the trip was to explore the eastern side of the range and to travel on the track from Kurrajong Rock to Jaurdi ex-Station and now DBCA Camp. Most of the trip apart from the first day is the Roly Dimer Tour from the “4WD Days in the Goldfields of WA” booklet.
The Range was first sighted by Europeans in the 1840s by the Dempsters exploring east of York. The southern most peak was named Mt Kennedy but this name was dropped in the 1870s when Alexander Forrest named it Bungalbin (as it was called by the local Aboriginal people) and the range named Helena & Aurora after the daughter of Henry Monger (there is some discrepancy in the naming about whether to add the ‘and’ or not).
In recent years there was controversy over the proposal to establish an iron ore mine on the north eastern foot of the range. The State Government rejected the proposal but there are cleared lines in the area which were presumably for drilling.
Our trip began on Saturday 17 August 2019 with a run through to Southern Cross to have lunch and refuel before heading up to Bullfinch. At Bullfinch we took the Mt Jackson road north and then detoured to visit the ruins of the Colreavy Battery. The stamp head has collapsed but is still there as is the ruin of the manager’s house. An interesting piece of history from the late 1800s. This area was the first goldfield in southern WA.
Then it was a straight run up to the ruins of the old Mt Jackson Station house. Again partly collapsed but with the kitchen area accessible where we added our trip to the logbook.
It had rained quite heavily a couple of days before the trip and there were muddy patches on the roads. Most of these could be avoided except if you were Nick who managed to go through all of them.
Then on to cross the Bullfinch Evanston Road onto a track which lead us to Marda Tank. This was a Government built large rectangular dam which in the past had an iron roof. After a quick look we were back on the track heading east to the HAR. This is an interesting drive with a changing scene of woodlands and low bush. The track is not difficult but is not maintained and there are a few washaways to be careful of. Nearing the HAR we stopped to collect firewood.
The Parks and Wildlife section of the Dept of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) had been grading the road to HAR from Koolyanobbing and completed this only two days before we travelled – except that we didn’t go on that bit! But at the end of the Marda Track they had shifted their track a little so that our previous nav snail-trail lead to either a large bush or large puddle. The trip leader headed for the puddle which proved to be softer than expected so that he was sideways for a bit before scrambling out of the puddle. Shach took a different line and went through without difficulty but the others found a connection to the new main track and appeared without drama.
Then on to the HAR campsite and a bit of a surprise as DBCA had graded and defined a lot of camping bays off some loops. These are nothing fancy but just a scraped area. Nevertheless we found a small loop with some bays and declared the central area to be a fire pit.
After some set up and some meals we sat around a great fire on a beautiful night in the bush.
Day 2 began very calm and cold (but not too cold) with a bit of mist around. This was exploring day and those who could left tents set up after a leisurely breakfast. We then set out to go around the southern end of Bungalbin Hill and up the east side. There was some question about the east side as some maps show a road going all the way around but recent YouTube videos saying this was not possible.
To our surprise DBCA’s grading had extended around to the east and we easily reached a small parking area at the foot of the Range. This lead to a walk up what looked like an old track straight up (or down) to the top of the Range – long abandoned, eroded, and with a No Entry sign.
We then followed an unmaintained track to the north but this eventually ran out at a wall of bush. So, the answer is ‘No there is not a track around the north end of the Range’.
Then back to camp for lunch and a trip up to the top of the Range. DBCA had put in some sizeable diversion banks across the access track and done some rerouting around and filling of previous big gullies. The new banks scraped a few vehicles (with 2” lifts) but will probably wear down over time. At the top we took in the great views to the East and West and some took photos of the flowers. Then back to camp to chill out after a nice day out.
The next day we packed up and headed north along the still graded track but quickly hit some big boggy sections – clearly the rain had come after the grading and had been run through by other travellers. But they were drying out so were sticky rather than wet – OK for driving but not good for the car underside. We all got through and went through the quickly changing country: woodland with big trees and gravel one minute, then sandy track with low scrub, then small rocky hills.
We stopped at Pittospermum Rock which had water in many of its holes before heading on to Kurrajong Rocks which are a large area of low (less than 2m high) granites. There we turned south on the road to Jaurdi Station.
This was an apparently little used but good condition gravel road mostly through woodland which could be camped in anywhere. We passed Mt Dimer on our left but couldn’t see it for the trees nor see an access track – one for a future trip.
After crossing a haul road (iron ore from the Polaris J series of mines to the railway) we were in a big burned area with a lot of trees across the road which gave us a lot of short diversions. We eventually reached Ives Rock and explored this over lunch. This was an important stopping point at the end of the 19th century with a well and soak – neither of which we found in a quick look.
Then on to Jaurdi ex-Station which was resumed by DBCA and destocked in the 1990s. They have left some buildings, sheds really, and a 3 bedroom building. Some of us commandeered the rooms but no one opted to use the supplied mattresses! One building includes a wood heater and shower so this was quickly lit and used with great thanks.
Our final night was around another nice fire listening to the trains on the East/West railway about 2km south of the camp.
The trip finished with a run down to the Great Eastern Highway before heading to Southern Cross and home but not before Gary had a close encounter with some emus.
This is a great short trip which could be extended with some exploring around interesting sites. The tracks are all good and camper trailers would not have any problems. Navigation is easy.
Thanks to those travelling: Shach M, Tom vH, Nick M, Chris G, and Gary A.