MAGAZINE - The Lady and the Landy by Gaynor Schoeman in Exceed, 2015

Exceed eMag Pajero 4WD Club of Victoria

Exceed eMag Pajero 4WD Club of Victoria

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The Lady and the Landy
3-4 months of desert survival training along the Canning Stock Route

I have Red Dirt in my veins. How else can one explain this compulsion to return to the same desert track year after year? I love this arid land and its people, the red sand dunes, gorgeous sunsets, sunkissed spinifex, treacherous salt pans, curious dingoes, frisky camels, twittering birds and a string of aging drovers wells in various stages of disrepair.

My first trip on the Canning Stock Route was in 2010 when I set out to hitch the track. I was picked up in Billiluna by a 2WD Peugeot 505, and was taken through to Wiluna in a fast paced whirl wind trip of 12 days.

In 2011 I hitched it again, from Kunawarritji (Well 33) to Halls Creek, this time utilising multiple lifts to wells with water, to be left there on my own where I could get used to being alone in the desert with its animals.

I was back in 2013, this time walking from Billiluna without a support vehicle and utilising supply drops made before the walk. My Peugeot friend returning to travel with me again, this time in a 47 Series Toyota Landcruiser; the supply run took 11 days. The walk, without vehicle support, was completed in 66 days. It was the first time someone had walked the Canning Stock Route alone.

Anyone would have thought I had enough of the Canning by now, but in 2015 I return to Country, this time by more traditional means. I will be driving a 4x4; spending three to four months steeped in desert adventure ... learning more about the land ... and myself ... for the sheer joy of that experience.

My budget bought me a 1990 ex-Australian Army Land Rover named Les, as in Hiddens, The Bush Tucker Man.

I did a 4x4 sand course and soaked up as much information and advice as was offered. Plenty was forthcoming. Trying to determine which was the best advice for my limited budget, vehicle, abilities and mission often left me confused. Knowledgeable people seldom seemed to agree on anything. Everyone had an opinion and all were confident that their opinion was best. Welcome to the world of 4x4!

Wet behind the ears I knew that taking on the Canning alone was going to be tough. I was going to make loads of mistakes …. I just never realised that I would end up being able to write chapters on How Not To Do it before my wheels even tasted red dirt!

The other obvious outcome in owning a Land Rover is that it makes me fair game for an endless array of Landy jokes, but I am quick to remind everyone that Les The Perentie, is an Isuzu in camouflage.

For all their joking, people find themselves strangely drawn to Les. He is a tough barebones vehicle designed to take everything you can throw at it …. including a blonde on her first 4x4 outback adventure.

Whilst my journey on the Canning Stock Route is a 4x4 adventure and my learning curve steep in the preparations stage as I get to grips with Tyre Pliers on 14 ply truck tyres, Kangaroo Jacks and airbags, threading my way through the experienced army of 4x4 enthusiasts and specialists offering a Tsunami of advice has not been easy either. Seldom do the experts agree on anything and everyone is vocal and super confident in their opinions. How do I make the right choices and decisions when I know nothing? An ignorant woman in the world of 4x4 needs to sharpen up fast or be torn apart and taken advantage of through conflicting information and poor workmanship and so I find myself fast-tracked into a world of 4x4 experience, finding out what works for me, my budget and my vehicle, for it is I alone who carries the can when the poo hits the fan. If Les has a major break down on the Canning, I may have no option but to walk away, the cost of recovery too high.

One of the most exasperating experiences in 4x4íng is letting the experts get it wrong time and time again. Most fitments have had to be redone. The shocks fitted incorrectly left me cold. The wrong sized rubbers and incorrect tensioning pointed out. Those rubbers would have chopped out before I got to Perth from Melbourne and had I gone directly onto the Canning, they would most certainly have failed and possibly broken a stud. As the driver I would have been blamed for driving too fast on the corrugations, overloading the vehicle, having the wrong shocks fitted for the vehicle and terrain, but few would have said improper fitment by a company.

Mounting the spare tyre on the roof rack overhanging on the back sounded like a good idea that I supported but this promoted severe instability making the vehicle dangerous to drive. I learned the importance of proper weight distribution fortunately without becoming a statistic. The solar panel mounts were redone five times, fitters putting on flimsy mounts and then less flimsy mounts, only to be upgraded again when so many people expressed concern, only for experts in their field to get it wrong again, using screws instead of bolts.

The mechanic who pointed out the incorrect shock fitment had to have his work redone when the speedo cable he repaired failed to stay fixed despite paying for the privilege of poor workmanship. No refunds lady.

All of this would have caused me serious complications in the desert had the issues not been discovered in the shake-down cruise from Melbourne to Perth.

A noise in the gearbox/clutch assembly received 10 different diagnoses by experts across the country leaving me none the wiser to the problem. The gearbox had to be pulled and is undergoing inspection as I write this.

But there is more to this story than just 4x4íng. My journey is about learning what it takes for a western woman to become a desert survivalist, specifically in the Little Sandy, Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts of Western Australia.

Les The Perentie is my way of getting to remote locations along the Canning, carrying my emergency supplies of food, water and equipment, affording me a modicum of safety. Having a desert base means I can stay in the desert for months, hiking in the wilderness for days, even a week or even two at a time.

Because of the duration of the trip and my limited budget, nutritional and 4x4 equipment sponsors interested in the project have come on board.

Sponsors Engel Australia are loaning me a 40 litre Engel fridge and a 4x4 rear drawer system. The Engel fridge will allow me fresh food in the first few days and then access to cold water and the occasional coke, giving me some relief from the hardship of my survival walks.

Sponsors SATOOZ and Happy Camper Gourmet are fully sponsoring my nutritional needs on this journey. The food is for emergencies and subsistence living. In wanting to learn more about the Canning, I am exploring what this stretch of desert from Wiluna to Billiluna has to offer in the way food, how to recognise it, where and when to find it and will it be enough to sustain me on a future live-off-the-land desert walk between Billiluna and Wiluna? Traditional Owners, Community and Ranger assistance and participation is paramount to success and like Les Hiddens, I will be seeking out the assistance, knowledge and guidance of the First People, learning from them what they are willing to share. I look forward to the experience.

Whilst food is scarce, water is precious. Can I find water over and above what is offered in the wells and springs? There are sections of up to 212km with no reliable source of water. The availability of surface water is very much seasonal and weather dependent. Walking the swales, following the trails of camels and dingoes, exploring the rocky outcrops and native soaks, learning where to find surface water is what I will be doing in 2015.

Sponsors Aqua Salveo are supplying water treatment drops to disinfect and render my water safe to drink, without leaving a taste or odour. Boiling is great if I have the time, but when on the move, putting three drops of Aqua Salveo into a litre of water is the quickest, safest way to disinfect my water. Tried and tested in 2013, I drank well water treated with Aqua Salveo for two months without ever getting ill. Now to test it in surface water where animal contamination's and particle suspension is guaranteed.

Sponsors MaxTrax thought I might get myself into some trouble on the Canning and supplied not one, but two sets of MaxTrax to help me self-extract. Whilst I do have a winch, my experience is that there is seldom a tree on a salt lake where bogging is likely after a wet spell.

Sponsors from the private sector has been fantastic. Historian Phil Bianchi has supplied many useful books, Work Completed and Bushfires and Bushtucker being the most useful. A vehicle full of equipment like an aircompressor, airlift jack, kangaroo jack, bags of tools is just some of the equipment. People have provided their time free of charge where possible and friends have contributed to a fuel account. There is not nearly enough money to make this trip happen, but somehow Les and I are still doing it.

My advice in venturing into 4x4íng for the first time:


Realise that nobody is above making mistakes. Make sure you don’t live with the consequences. Get involved




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