Memory Lane: Finding the Dig Tree (Part III)

Well rested, we cooked and enjoyed pancakes with lemon and sugar. A fitting breakfast for our waterfront abode. I used a bucket to wash our clothes. Draping them on the gnarled and low branched eucalypti that afforded our shaded camp. 

Stoked with our tranquil site, the area all to ourselves. We decided we would stay a few days. Adjusting our intention to roll out and relocate to Coongie Lake. Instead, we weighed down our washed jeans on their branches with large stones against the breeze and drove out toward the Lake for lunch. 

At around 100km each way – we weren’t fooling ourselves, it would be a decent drive. The promise of the stunning lakeside lunch and our fervent adoration of driving itself, brokered no hesitation. 

Starting fresh with corrugations, our journey to the lakes started rough. But with the sun high in the sky, we were energised. As we wound our way north west, the track closed in with dunes and mallee. We spotted a dingo and eventually the track began to intersect with smaller dunes. It was a contrasting sensation of soft sand, corrugations and then slowing down to approach the washouts. The rolling and pitching up and out made for a degree of concentration. 

It was just beginning to feel like the longest 100km, despite the looming blue patches on the Hema Explorer. As the dunes grew, so did our excitement, the LandCruiser’s V8 wandered up the soft sand like it was nothing. The boat like sensation was addictive. Before long the silver glint of water caught my eye through the telltale vegetation. This oasis was real. 

Pulling into a bay of sorts, shaded by tall dunes.  Exhausted and excited all at once, we stumbled  into the warm shallows.

How bizarre, the silver shimmer – framed in red dunes. Now ankle deep in that soft red sand, toes sinking into the luke warm water, just like at the beach. 

All that shaking, rolling and revving had depleted my appetite but we ate a light lunch. Ears ringing, the pure silence wasted on my resonating tinnitus. Compared to the cacophony of birds along the Cullyamurra, this lake was subdued in its isolation. 

Given the journey it took to get here, this may have been my only regret of the whole trip. My original intention of camping out here was a good one. And the lack of Oztent on the roof right then balked that prior change of plan. All the better to return one day and unfold the canvas there on the shore. Rested, we knew we had our white dusted, waterfront camp waiting for us. With the sun at our back, we made our return. Stopping a few times to rest and allow the vibrations to subside. With the sinking light, my favoured time of day, I gladly sat by the side of the track. Listening hard for the silence and breathing in the desert air. 

The lower light showing off both the corrugated  and the smooth undisturbed surroundings. The mallee were small and glistening, almost silvery green. Their cylindrical form catching the light. 

Not much of that light remained when we rolled closer to Innamincka. We opted for a pub dinner at the Hotel. A welcome feast after our drive. Afterward, the high beams lit up the track to camp, the washouts growing in depth with their shadows. Our camp was undisturbed and we were still alone.  Our jeans were dry, and the bed was welcoming. 

Despite the singing dingos, and raucous morning birds we slept in until the heat of the day forced us out. A combination of yesterday’s drive and the heat – we weren’t motivated for anything except cool drinks and hiding from the flies. We spent the day reading, napping and snacking. Once the temperature dropped we prepared a camp oven dinner and dug in a small fire. Using heated stones to keep the lid down and temperature up, our Broken Hill butcher had supplied a tall piece of meat. We watched the sun set beyond the water while the aroma of roast beef filled the air. 

The following morning proved to be just as warm and the flies, friendlier. David’s temper was tested as he attempted to pack the roof bag. The pure molestation of ones eyes, nose and will to live is unlike any other. Needless to say, we learned they reign supreme and own the day. If we were to eat less of them, and maintain our sanity – we would have camp packed before 9 or 10  in the morning. The first buzz, distant at first and then very quickly upon us and multiplied; seemed to start in the heat of the late morning.

Saying goodbye to Cullyamurra we drove back to Innamincka. Stopping at poor Charles Gray’s grave site. One of Burke and Wills party. We needed a fresh bag of ice for the icebox and a shower in the ablutions block, opposite the Roadhouse. 

Coin operated, a welcome service against the dust and smoke of camp. 

With fuel we left Innamincka, Hema instructing our path. Unlike Burke and Wills, we had the energy and air conditioner to keep us coolheaded and leave on our own steam. We couldn’t stay camped at Cooper Creek forever, as much as I would have liked to. 

Following the Hema directions,  we crossed into Queensland and through a gate we closed behind us – we wound our way along a barely discernible track. Approaching a stony ford we crossed a shallow watercourse. Dislodging a large buried stone on the wide sandy bank we were reminded of how wide and deep this must be during the wet season.

Joining a more prominent road we found a shelter and signage for the infamous Dig Tree. 

The hut provided not only shade from the sun, but also lots to read about the history of the famed party of explorers and their failed leadership. I made sandwiches with cold left over sausages and tomato sauce that we ate under fly nets. 

Well read, and fed; We took ourselves to the tree itself, it’s blaze outgrown but still marked. It’s noteworthy neighbour, the Face Tree featuring the younger carving of O’Hara Burke as domineering as his reputation. 

On our way out we would see the signage asking for us tourists to not enter station property. Contrary to Hema’s directions. We abided the Station owners and after a while we ran out of dirt track and were on bitumen. Slowing for roadkill to allow the monolithic Wedge Tailed Eagles to wander off the road in their short pants. Sometimes making air and slowly beating their huge wingspan against the dust. 

Noccundra and it’s grass was saturated in colour, like a mirage after the day of red dirt and shimmering hot bitumen. After a cold drink and a chat with its proprietor we drove out to the bank of the Wilson River and found a spot for our Oztent. Setup in no time, I carved cheese and tomato for rice cakes. The flies here disinterested in our face, preferring  to instead, drown in the flesh of the tomato. Flicking them into the brown water of the river, we ate and relaxed. 

We freshened up once the sun was setting and walked back to the Hotel for tea. I almost jumped out of my skin when I spotted a Brolga. As tall as myself, it’s striking red face and alien grey feathers. 

In the old dining room we supped on good food, gravy and desert before making the cool walk back to our riverfront camp. The house cat kept us company at the table. The year was still too early for the grand old fireplace to be lit. 

To the hum of the water pump, we slept through and woke with the heat of the sun to pack and continue our trip east. Bitumen and fairly straight, the roadkill plentiful.  We made good time and were pulling up in Thargomindah for lunch. Roadhouse hamburgers and fuel were on the menu. We obliged and happily sat and relaxed,  people watching. This roadhouse was frequented by several tourers and overlanders. Mostly Patrols and LandCruisers, their occupants fueling themselves, like us. 

Stopping only at Eulo to learn about the prehistoric residents, we arrived in Cullamulla and checked in for a river camp at the Holiday Park just out of town. A tidy and quaint park, brand new amenities, green and maintained. After pitching the tent we cooked dinner in the tremendous camp kitchen, enjoyed a hot shower and watched the sunset from the bank of the Warrego River.

Afforded a good sleep in, both the heat and the flies were beautifully mild. We went into town for a cafe breakfast. Enjoying the morning chill we had not experienced in a while, we had a couple of well missed espressos. After walking about town we said hello to the Cullamulla Fella and took a tour into the Artesian Basin at the museum. Fascinating and awe inspiring what Mother Nature hides beneath the cracked surface of our reddish centre. Her Life granting resource, I wish she could guard it better, or metre her supply somehow. 

Hanging out at camp, we did some washing and generally tidied up the LandCruiser. Another glorious shower and we headed into town again for a pub dinner.

Found and devoured, we slept well decided to depart. Southbound we thought to see the famed Back O’ Bourke. Arriving for lunch, sandwiches made out of the back of the LandCruiser, we weren’t overly sure where to go or what to see, such is the layout of the town. Everything also looked so… secured. Bars and padlocks everywhere.

We rested and pushed on to the furthermore barred and locked Brewarrina and Walgett where we stopped for coffee and cake. The rest of the afternoon quickly melted away and it was dark when we realised we hadn’t really planned a camp for the night, a free camp located outside of Wee Waa was for towing folks only. Huge gravel rocks, generators and TV antennas greeted us there so we turned tail and kept driving.

Dangerously fatigued I pulled into the Caravan Park in Wee Waa and paid the inquisitive proprietor his fee. Waiting for the air bed to inflate on this bitterly cold night I remember without much fondness. I was tired and uncomfortable in my chair, hungry but not hungry. In summary, I’d had enough and wanted to be warm and in bed. Given the air beds stubbornness, I occupied myself with cooking in the outdoor camp kitchen where a smouldering fire provided some warmth. Smokey of some strange smelling timber however. Once we had eaten, the air bed was as good as it was going to get. 

In the light of morning, early – we found the shower and got our fee’s worth. Rolling out of Wee Waa and wanting to avoid the yellow on the map we headed toward Narrabri before veering north east. The road took a pleasant green and gradual inclination. We stumbled across the Mount Kaputar National Park and stopped for the walk to Sawn Rocks. A short but beautiful stroll to some fascinating pipe structures caused by volcanic activity well before our time. 

We wound our way along the backroads until we made it to Inverell. A bustling town of distinguished age. Lunch and window shopping provided us with a stretch before we tore ourselves away from the lovely old buildings, and pushed on. Our only hold up was an extensive drove of cattle on the road, a team of spritely Kelpies charged with their keeping. We were happy spectators, their skill and finesse always impressing me. 

Arriving at Glen Innes, the lady at the Caravan Park looked positively worried when we asked for a tent site. It was already frigid and she said it was predicted to drop to minus five. The Park was beautiful and tent area lush with grass and shade. A sheltered camp kitchen and fireplace. After tea at the pub, where I won a tray of steaks in the meat raffle, we hung out by the old washing machine drum fire to keep warm. 

You know it’s especially cold when you have to put your back to the fire every few minutes to thaw out your backside. The cold was, impressive, seeping into our desert tan. Eventually too much for us, we retreated to the bitterly cold tent I draped my Drizabone over us for added warmth, dozed uncomfortably through one of the coldest nights in all our camping. The Drizabone was coincidentally well placed. Despite all the windows being open – the condensation rained down on us and the coat kept the sleeping bags dry. Rugged up in our warmest, we walked the town and the picturesque Standing Stones before enjoying the scaling heights and greenery of Gilbaltra Rocks National Park, travelling towards family. 

We would camp on their bush property, enjoying the much milder temperatures and wooded backtracks for another week before heading home. The Dig Tree found, and so was our newfound sense for adventure in overlanding, touring across this ever changing land activated. It was all we could talk about, when would we ‘just go’ again. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.