Lorella Springs

Trip Leader: Rick and Sue Irvine

When:          19th June to 20th July 2014

Location:     Perth to Lorella Springs NT.. via back roads to Alice Springs.. to Perth

Participants: Rick & Sue Irvine, David & Tracy Jones, Judith & Bruce Brinkley,
                       David Igglesden & Chris Gostelow, Bob & Bridget MacPherson,
                       Trish & Malcolm Harrison

In a nutshell:
6 vehicles, 3 left from Perth, 3 were already traveling and would meet us up there.
Covered 8,500km
Cost about $3,000 excluding Pre trip costs
About 4,000km was on dirt
Trip was 32 days

To visit areas I’ve wanted to visit for years since working in the north of WA
To locate and visit the 1950’s failed irrigation project on the Fitzroy River
To explore Lorella Springs in the Northern Territory
To travel to Alice Springs from Lorella without going onto the main Stuart Highway.

Did we do it?
Yes – all of it!

We departed Bindoon Bakery, Bruce & Jude, David & Tracy, Sue & myself, about 7.45 am on Thursday 19th June.  Headed up Great Northern Hwy through Paynes Find and Cue, 1st camp 93km nth of Cue just south of Bluebird Mine .  Then through Meekatharra, stopped at Newman for buying the things we’d left behind, banking, and to obtain permits from BHP to enter and camp at Kalgan Pool… which was very disappointing only because there was no pool this time of year.
Judith: Campsite in the creek bed.
No rain.. no flash floods…except we were set up right where the cattle hoof prints came down the bank.. that worried me more.. we were on stretchers right there under the OstrichWing awning!  We slept soundly and warmly. Ice on the camper trailer canvas. Our body warmth must have kept the OstrichWing awning dry? or maybe the moisture  froze  before it could penetrate!
Next.. Nullagine to Marble Bar, to 41km north camp at Doolena Gorge. Beautiful spot. Brinkleys and Irvines dined out in the middle of the broad sandy creek lit by the stars.
By Sunday we were attempting a SHORT CUT to Sandfire via a track across the Coongan River.    Our first training session on letting down tyre pressures and walking the track. Although it was sandy and the Jones caravan bogged, once freed it still seemed an ok direction to go.  But we were stopped in the 3rd section of the river – about half way across.  A great big sand hill in the middle of the river and further walking ahead revealed that the track only got worse, was overgrown & even more sandy.  We gave up and turned back. So much for my short cut to Sandfire!!
Don’t believe everything on the map or navigation system.
Judith: Rick wanted to find deserted Eginbah homestead except it beat us.  
He called it a short cut… it was the first bit of actually going bush on the trip. Later we learned the homestead had been abandoned for many years. Saw evidence of lined up rocks and causeways but now mostly under layers of deep sand and washouts. Pity…old abandoned homesteads are really interesting. Was still a great experience… so far from bitumen.
We carried on forever northwards Via Muccan Shay Gap Road/De Grey River/Shay Gap/Boarderline Road.  The De Grey River crossing was dry so no challenges there.  
We stopped a number of times over the trip for Judy to do her soil sampling for science – MicroBlitz.     Sandfire through to Roebuck Roadhouse then on to Willare Bridge.
In the wet the bush park beside the bridge would be metres under water but now gave us a good off road lunch spot.  The Stop Go roadworks man at the Willare Bridge had us sitting for 45minutes with no-one going in either direction.
Secluded camp at Seventeen Mile Dam and walked around the embankments and crippled broken canal locks . This was the 1950’s rice growing project which failed when the Fitzroy River flooded higher than expected and wiped out the project. Definitely worth the look and a campsite.  Next day headed further down the road to find  the weir across the Fitzroy river where the diversion to the rice area was built. Crocs on the river banks.
My intended route took  us on a gazetted public road  but this was blocked with a sign warning us away.. so our only route was through Paradise Station. Not something you want to do without prior permission but no alternative road.
We learned later that the sign was not legal..! just a deterrent message from the locals.  It did cut 200km off the route, we got to explore another abandoned homestead, and it meant we had welcome hot showers and restaurant dinner at the Fitzroy River Lodge that night. So all good.
Judith: Next day we stopped to take a microblitz sample intending to catch the others up. The Irvines and Jones forgot to pass on they were scheduled for their injections that day, so while they were “shooting up “ in the Warmun carpark, we drove on through thinking we were trying to catch them up. When we heard David commenting on two men on a bridge carrying a bucket and fishing rods, and we’d already passed that bridge, those men, and that bucket, we figured we were somehow in front now.
The rush to arrive in Kununurra before the park office closed was eased by a phone call ahead to Bob and Bridget who were set up there already.  By now they’d been on the road for 4 weeks. They advised the park people we were on our way..
Judith: when we got to Kununurra and did some laundry, we realised we didn’t have much to wash… then Bruce reminded me we’d worn the same clothes for three days and nights…it’d been too freezing cold with predawn packups and afternoon setups to do otherwise.
Our stay at Katherine Gorge camp ground gave us a chance to catch our breath and enjoy a cruise up the Katherine River and have a quick look around Katherine.
Onto Cutta Cutta caves where most of the group did the tour – They are around 20 million years old!  I chickened out.  I got stuck in a chimney when cave exploring some years ago.
I stay out of caves now. And where did we get the idea there was this great coffee shop there?
Then it was down Roper Highway and onto Roper Bar.  The Roper Bar Causeway was closed due to Aboriginal Ceremonies in Arnhem Land just the other side of the river.  The ruins of the old police station (and church) were interesting to wander through. They were partially burnt down by the locals some years ago.
We left Roper Bar and camped at a place called Tomato Island in the Limmen National Park. Pleasant, and simple and quite populated.  Some of the residents there were long time stayers and well equipped for their fishing trips on the river.
We were now up to Day 11. We took a look at St Vidgeon Ruins and the lagoon at the foot of the hill. Again some long term caravanners had set up there. Great camp site.
From here onto the Savannah Way. Not a good road!!! Off it we turned on to the Lorella Springs road.. a little better.??
Huge camp area spread out and there we met up with Trish & Malcolm Harrison who had arranged to spend the week with us exploring the area.  They had arrived by coming north via our intended route south so were able to give us prior knowledge of problems ahead. This coming summer wet season they will be the resident caretakers for Lorella Springs Nov to April. No way in or out. Isolated by rain from about January on.  They’ll love it.
Another couple, friends of the Brinkleys from Queensland, Janene & Barry, joined us for a while and joined in with our activities.
While at Lorella Springs we did what each of us wanted to do and  visited what attractions that took our interest. 
The Brinkleys & Harrisons & Janene & Barry went off to Rosie’s Fishing Camp to do some fishing and try for the Barra.  They got Queenies but no Barra – too cold.
The rest of us made for the Secret Fishing Spot and we renamed it Sandfly Alley – just ask David.  The owners of the station had just finished pushing through a new track to the Secret Fishing Spot and we were told by the owner, Peter, that we were probably the first group to actually camp there.
Lorella Springs was great with lots to see… but we actually only saw a very small portion of it.   
One million acres is a big back yard.  It did however lack the challenge and driving excitement I was expecting.  The tracks to all the attractions were in a better condition than anticipated and while there were water crossings and plenty of corrugations they were easily conquered.  Most places were 2WD drive.
Sites to see: Fossil Fern Rocks  with fossils embedded in the rock. Tawlah Pool. The Water Slide. Wild Fire Gorge.  Climb the Ridge to overlook Lorella Springs.  Eagle’s Nest Billabong. Crocodile Spring where Trish and David rowed in the resident tinny up and down the billabong.  These places were just a small sampling only.
We enjoyed the warm thermal spring right at the campsite and which could substitute for a shower but Nudie Springs had the heat.!  Water there came out of the ground @ 50° but by the time it reached the spring it was a very comfortable 38°.

Monday 7th July we departed and headed towards Alice Springs via the back tracks.
We all walked through the Southern Lost City geological monoliths.
We visited the Barkly Homestead, travelled through Epenerra Station and stayed at Policemans Waterhole.  We saw the ruins of the Frew River Cattle Station (abandoned in 1894) & Police Station (1918–1921) in the Davenport National Park.
Continued along Binns Track to the Hatches Creek mine ruins.
Next off to Dulcie Range National Park… a National Park with no public access and no track access. We traveled Binns Track a lot of the time travelling at speeds that only a snail could imagine.  We went through creek beds, rocky tracks, ‘Gibber stones” and red dust.  Oh my God!  Red dust (and bitterly cold at night).  What a combination!!
Judith: When your draped dishcloth can stand on its own the next morning…it’s cold.
David & Tracey left us somewhere along the Binns track and arranged to meet us again in Alice Springs.  Their new caravan had stood up well so far, but the report that Malcolm & Trish had provided for the track further on was not something that David wanted to put the van through.  It turned out he made a very wise decision.       
We were now on the lookout for the abandoned Old Huckitta Homestead. We were now cutting east across today’s Huckitta Cattle Station in the direction of the Dulcie Range.
Any relationship between tracks on the map and where we were going were strictly coincidental.  I had co-ordinates of the old Huckitta Homestead Ruins and the tracks we were on wasn’t leading us to them.     By luck we found an old disused track which was almost indistinguishable. Bruce & Chris (David Eggleston’s travelling buddy, co-driver and photographer) started walking and we lost them over the hill, but hand held radios kept us up to date with where the track was leading.  
After quite a while we got the OK that a track did exist – may be – sort of.
After a bit of scrub bashing we eventually arrived at the ruins of the old homestead and were total rapt.  No footprints, no car tracks, no fire places were to be seen.  No-one had been there for ages!! It was almost pristine.  It turned out to be my favorite place for the whole trip.  The waterfall (not flowing) gathered into a large permanent rock pond.  Water still seeped out of the rocks or small spring.  This was the source of water for the old homestead.
Leaving there was very hard.  Peaceful. The views from the ridge top were spectacular.
Then it was through Huckitta Station via station tracks that again were not on any map we had.  We just kept following the little blue arrow on the mapping system and headed south.  The cattle didn’t help either; they had a knack of totally obliterating the tracks near the water holes.
If nothing else, if we kept heading south, we would fall over the Plenty Highway.
By some miracle in navigation we came to the old Whisteduck Mine site.  
Again it was intact and little evidence of visits by anyone.
Further on we stopped at the dam that supplied the old mining settlement.
From there it was onto the Plenty Highway – a mongrel of a road and onto the Gemtree Caravan Park only a day’s drive out from Alice.    We enjoyed an outdoor film evening and then the rain set in.   And it rained and it rained all night.   It caught a few of us unaware … with David wet, and Chris drenched!  We packed our soggy campers up next morning, bought bacon & egg sandwiches and ate them under cover around a drum fire. 
It was then onto Alice Springs, catch up with David & Tracy again, into heated cabin accommodation and out of the rain.  (Didn’t like the rain & the cold – tough aren’t we!). 
A rest day in Alice allowed everyone to dry out and fix cars etc.
From then on it was homeward bound… down the Great Central Highway. We started to get the scent of home.  Lunch at Lassiter’s Cave and if anyone found gold they haven’t told me. 
Judith: A camp stop near four gnamma holes where the old road made a great level campsite, we were visited during the night by a number of camels. Just noises in the night for all bar the guys on stretcher swags. Potentially a bit more slobbery, up close and personal for them.
Onwards and forever onwards when an overnight stop at The Pines revealed a trailer bearing and hub a bit the worse for wear. Two nights form Perth. With the assistance of 4 expert mechanics, each giving each other advice, the bearing was changed and we were off next morning. 
The journey home continued. Laverton and on towards Kalgoorlie.  We did the traditional bakery stop this time at Menzies.  After a short break, David & Chris left us as David was visiting his brother in Kalgoorlie.  Also the smell of home was too great for the Brinkley’s so they hightailed for home too.

On Saturday just three of us left Kalgoorlie.  The McPherson’s , Jones and Irvines headed home.     Started with two trailers and a caravan…ended with two trailers and a caravan.

My Most Memorable Moments

             Lorella Springs Station

            Viewing the Gulf of Carpentaria

            Finding the abandoned Huckitta Station

            Finding the Whistleduck mine

            The friendship and mateship of all those on the trip.  

Thanks for a great trip and we have to do another one in the very near future.

Rick Irvine

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