1990 Terry Bolland

The Long Way Home by Terry BollandGoal: To walk/run the main track of the 1600km Canning Stock Route, from Wiluna to Billiluna, as part of my 'Around Australia 24 000km walk, run, cycle and kayak'.

'WHY the Canning Stock Route?'

'Because I wanted to visit the places not many people had been to.'

'It took a year to complete my 'Around Australia' expedition. Leading up to the Canning Stock Route walk/run, I paddled 800km from Augusta to Geraldton and cycled 750km from Geraldton to Wiluna, but the Canning Stock Route walk was probably going to be more difficult due to a leg/knee injury I had for several months. This would be the first time I was putting it under any real strain.

I cycled into Wiluna just before 3.00pm. It wasn’t the cleanest town; in fact it was a sad and sorry sight to see the Aboriginals drinking by the roadside. We topped up the vehicle with diesel as it was going to be the last time we could fill it before reaching our fuel drum 800km along the Canning Stock Route.

Before moving to the deserted campsite, I rang the ABC radio and informed them of my plans and then visited the police station to do likewise.

June 30th 1990. Wiluna.

Before taking off along the Stock Route, we did a bit of sightseeing and then shot off to Desert Farm to buy enough oranges to keep us going for a week or two. We were greeted by Kiwi Kevin Murphy and his wife who gave us a box of the Desert Gold oranges for $10, and then gave us another box for good luck. He told us that the farm had been deteriorating over the last few years and he had just received a grant to build it up again.

History Note: Gunbarrel Laager - 12km outside of Wiluna, is situated on the property once known as Desert Farm. Today it offers accommodation and camping facilities. The orchard is no longer producing commercially. Tel. +61 (08) 9981 7161 for bookings.

Back in town, I phoned Bill Shepherd in Newman to make sure that our fuel for the second half of the Stock Route was going to be at the half way mark. I also phoned the ‘Sunday Times’ newspaper and my wife Jenny.

Terry Bolland at the Wiluna Post Office in 1990Mars Bar in hand, I left the small town of Wiluna and its many social problems at 11.15am, starting my run from the post office. It was like running into nowhere. There was only the desert ahead of me – no towns, no service stations, nothing for 1600km. Having been injured for so long, and having done virtually no running in months, I wondered how I was going to cope. An average of 60km a day was needed to keep on schedule, but would my legs stand the test? I knew that if I could conquer this 1600km, I would have no problems completing the rest of my 'Round Australia' trip.

The Canning Stock Route is a rough track that meanders north through very remote, inhospitable country, from Wiluna to the East Kimberley. The construction of forty-eight wells, two tanks and other watering holes, makes this journey possible. It was last used to move cattle and horses in 1959. Now it is a remote 4x4 tourist track.

I ran the first 5km in the heat of the day, John joining me the following 5km. Passing the turn off to the first well, I kept going. Doves, parrots and red headed and breasted birds fluttered before me like a ritual of good luck. After lunch, a cooler wind blew through the trees, offering some relief during my run/walk. When the trees thinned and the wind dropped, there was total silence. It was a silence that I had rarely experienced on this trip so far. On my bike, the wheels made a noise on the tarmac or the gravel, and in my kayak the boat’s bow sliced and slapped through the waves whipped up by the wind. But as I walked, there was total silence.

Track conditions and wind varied. Where the gravel was heavily corrugated I found two knives, an adjustable pole and a 13mm socket. Crossing over a small range into very stony country with an abundance of small trees, a feral cat ran across my path, annoying me. Feral cats kill more of the native fauna than any other predator (besides man). I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see one; I was only 25km from Wiluna. Running the last 5km of the day with Tim brought my first day’s run to 30km. It was still quite windy, but at 5.10pm, as darkness fell, the wind died, allowing a coldness to creep into the night. We sat around camp watching a bird picking grubs from a fallen tree in the last of the light.

July 1st. Sunday. 30km from Wiluna.

The moon was still bright in the early morning. I hid under my thin canvas swag trying to get away from the light and the cold. Even wearing my thermals and sleeping in a -5C sleeping bag I could feel the cold trying to creep through my body. First light revealed an ice layer on the inside of my thin swag. The thermometre read -4C. I rose at 6.40am, but by the time I had my porridge and started walking, it was 8.00am. The cold was quite unbelievable - I had to wear gloves and a coat as I walked to keep warm!

On the road, two small wallabies sprang away from my presence, but a bat, dead as a door nail, wasn’t so active. As I turned off the main road, the real Stock Route began, winding its way along a narrow track towards Well 2. I was heading for the heart of the Stock Route, the beginning of a special walk that would be etched in my memory forever.

Whilst the old water tank at Well 2 was dry, the Well itself contained water. Leaving the Well behind, I ran 5km and walked another 5km. The ever-present corrugations hurt the soles of my feet and Tim gave me a foot massage at my next rest stop. Drifting into spinifex country with several trees, the land was just beautiful.

At lunch time I soaked my right foot in cold water to ease the pain. I was well aware that I may be overdoing it so early in the trip, but I felt that I had to push forward, taking care to ease back when my muscles felt the strain. The track became rocky as it wandered over a small range. Imprinted on the track were numerous fresh camel, emu and kangaroo tracks. I eagerly scanned the land around me trying to get a glimpse of anything that moved. I really wanted to see a camel. Moving on, the spinifex country returned with an abundance of small bushes in bloom, laden with red claw flowers. Among the blooms, a cacophony of birds whistled and chirped as they flew from bush to bush.

The terrain again changed from sandy spinifex to rock, and it was at The Granite/Well 2A that we found a pleasant campsite for the night. I had pushed my body to the limit and my body responded accordingly. Running/walking for one and a half days, I was now 78km from Wiluna. The Well was murky with numerous tadpoles, bits of wood and floating debris. It had been blasted from granite in 1910 and the rock used to build a walk around the tank to prevent animals falling in, but the Well itself had since caved in. The water looked contaminated and not very palatable.

Tim massaged my right foot and leg, before I stripped down for my evening wash as the sun was going down. Sitting next to the fire with my foot in cold water, the evening chill soon had me rugged up.

July 2nd. The Granite.

Two tracks running alongside each otherDespite it being cold outside (-1C at 6.30am) my tent was quite warm and cosy. By 8.30am I was moving over rocky terrain and before long, it was sandy again. I spotted a camel print which excited and encouraged me to keep a sharp look out for camels walking across the dunes. Further along, the trees disappeared leaving a few bushes surrounded by endless spinifex country. The bushes were at the end of their blooming season so the birds were fewer, although a hawk persisted in hovering over and around me for some time.

By lunch I had walked 20km. My feet were sore from the corrugations so I decided to change into boots which had sturdier soles and more support. Whichever way I tried to walk over the corrugations, my feet could never go flat. They were either on the hump or between the humps and either way, it was tough walking. It was at this point I began to notice lots of beer cans and bottles on the track; an unsightly mess and not what I wanted to see in the wilderness. So I began picking them up.

I walked close to and sometimes through a winding creek bed. Camel tracks were still visible and cattle turds appeared. When I arrived at Well 3 my feet were sore so I stopped early and camped for the night, surrounded by beautiful gum trees. One of the trees had been blazed by Canning, his mark still visible. The Well water was muddy and warm and about 4–5m deep.

July 3rd. Well 3.

Waking up to the noise of the Royal Flying Doctor radio, I listened to Tim Fry and John Field trying to get through to Eddie at Meekathara, but the reception was bad and Eddie couldn’t hear them. Walking away from camp, my foot didn’t feel much better than the day before which worried me.  What if it got worse? By the time I arrived at a dry White Well, I had picked up several cans and bottles. John joined me for the next 10km until Corners Well, which was in good working condition and surrounded by cattle. Earlier, the station manager had been talking to Tim so he had all the info about the station and gave me the full run down. Walking alone along the fence line that had been severely eroded by roo paths, I threw pieces of wire off the track. When I arrived at an old water tank and Well slightly west of Government Well, Tim said he had met up with two shooters on motor bikes. It was here that I decided my foot needed a rest, so we camped. A few minutes later we heard noises at the Old Government Well and so we walked over and greeted five guys in three cars from Dampier and Karratha. After chatting with them for a while, I sold them five of my Kimberley magazines. They took off, leaving us alone again. Our peace didn’t last long as another vehicle with two guys pulled in from the South. Before they powered off, I sold them two magazines.

Having some time before dark, I did a little washing while my crew prepared damper for tea, and we relaxed, enjoying the perfect evening. As the night closed in, light clouds drifted across the sky and several rings of light circled the bright moon.

July 4th. Government Well.

Apart from it being the USA Day of Independence, it was John’s birthday. He opened a present from his son Sam, which he had stashed away until this day. Tim and I sang a couple of chords of Happy Birthday, but the tune was pretty disastrous. The night was warm thanks to the cloud cover. The radio was working well, so I took the opportunity to ring Jenny. We exchanged stories, none too long or meaningful. It was hard to say anything personal on the Flying Doctor radio where every station and traveller in the region was listening.

The morning was full of cheeps and chirps, spinifex pigeons, magpie larks, and several chatty black birds with white markings on their heads and tails. Hovering above the spinifex and soaring like kestrels or kites were a couple of birds of prey. The morning was cloudy and cool as I walked towards a salt flat with deep tracks made by bogged vehicles. After 6km the guys had caught up. Tim jumped out of the vehicle and walked with me across the salt flats of Lake Nabberu. Later John swapped with Tim on the twisting rocky road to Well 4.

The occupants of three vehicles from Victoria, stopped and quizzed me near the base of Frere Range. They were on a quick trip during the school holidays. Further up the track, the travellers met Tim and he sold them two magazines. Whilst eating lunch on the edge of a flat, feasting on our first Canning Stock Route damper bread, which was delicious, I soaked my sore feet.

Walking on, I caught glimpses of hunters on motor bikes in the distance, skipping across the barren land like a couple of villains in a Mad Max movie. Fresh camel tracks as big as large dinner plates embedded in the sand, disappeared when the track turned rocky. I passed a bore that wasn’t marked on our map and then walked beside a dry lake. John walked with me the last 6km to our camp and Station Bore. Shortly before it, some campers had left a real mess beside the track. Emu and roo had been roasted in a fire, their bones and some hide left scattered and bleaching in the sun. Among the  rubbish were used disposable nappies and empty drink cans.

The tank was home to good water, but the whole site was surrounded by powdery sand ground down by cattle stock and Brumby horses pacing up and down near the trough. The wary, stampeding horses created a dust cloud not far from Tim, who was washing near the water trough. As soon as he moved away, a beautiful black stallion and a mob of six, including a foal, moved in. They were magnificent, healthy-looking creatures, with manes soaring in the air. They took some time to settle and have trust in our presence. As we watched from a 50m distance, a strange looking bird landed on a log in our fire. The fire was blazing away, but the bird didn’t seem to mind until a flame singed it. Undeterred, it walked around the vehicle, and across all the food tins and boxes that were within arm’s distance of us. This curious creature soon returned to the firewood and hunted for grubs and ants, but later found more satisfaction when it found John’s damper mixture in the bowl.

John prepared a lovely meal of roast potatoes, pumpkin and textured vegetable protein in a curried sauce, followed by cake and custard. John had bartered with a Meekatharra shopkeeper after noticing the cake was dated 1988, paying $1 for it. We had no choice but to relax after such a superb meal, one that unfortunately left us with a chronic bout of wind.

July 5th. Station Bore.

We didn’t have much success with the radio and after finally getting through, there was no message from Michael and Henny, a couple who were planning to join us on the track. We had hoped to hear of their whereabouts. Before leaving I iced my feet to relieve the ache. Over to the west there was a vast plain created by a series of salt lakes – Lake Edith Withnell, Lake Karri Karri and others. After 5km I trudged across rocky terrain, then across another flat plain with small hills on either side, passing an old abandoned car in the bush. Several dead horses greeted me prior to reaching the blue water tank at Kennedy Bore. It was a gory sight. Close by there was a camp with several old fire places and lots of tins, eggs and rubbish littering the area.

At Kennedy Bore we had our second beautiful home-made damper lunch. Moving on after lunch, I walked over rocky country for a while before being met by a dogger (dingo) killer. Before leaving, he handed me a juicy orange. Tim walked the last 7km of the day with me. He had his small radio receiver with him which could pick up John talking on the vehicle CB, but Tim was unable to transmit. We listened to John describing the country up to 6km away.

Three kilometres before our final camp at Windich Springs, we checked out Little Windich Springs, a small branch of the Kennedy Creek. There was nothing to hold us there so we walked on to find an 80m pool of water bordered by beautiful river gum trees. Two Victorian registered vehicles soon arrived. One had saggy springs, the occupants heading to Wiluna for repairs. We talked for a while before they bought two magazines.

Along the track John had come across a freshly shot kangaroo, possibly a casualty of the motorbike shooters. With a meal in mind, he cut off the tail and brought it back to camp to cook. Tasty roo tail and veggies, coconut and lemon – what more could a man want to feast on out here under a canopy of stars, the sound of insects and the silhouettes of majestic gum trees?

Windich Springs was named by Forrest after his old companion Tommy Windich, who had been with him on three exploring expeditions. In 1990, area was occupied by the Green family who have been on Cunyu Station since 1929.

Two more vehicles arrived. Bill Hill and family were from Beverley in WA’s wheat belt. He had seen me near Koolan Island in 1987 when I canoed around the Kimberley coast. At the time he was on a big yacht, the Opal Shell, and thought I was crazy canoeing in those crocodile waters.

That night we shared our campfire for the first time since starting the Stock Route.

July 6th. Windich Springs.

There was a memo for us on the Royal Flying Doctor radio. Mike and Henny should soon be reaching our position. With my foot still giving me trouble, I decided to have a rest day. It was a great place to rest up and it meant that Mike should catch up with us.

At 1.30pm I wrote a letter!

Dear Adrian and the rest of the gang at Snowgum. It’s overcast, a cool wind is blowing and we’re sitting here next to the fire with a thermal shirt, a tee shirt and two jumpers. The weather hasn’t been too warm as yet which makes it pretty good walking and running weather. From 4.30pm each day it starts to get colder and by 5.10pm the sun has gone. That means when I’ve finally finished my stroll at the end of each day and have stripped off to have a thorough wash, it’s really freezing. Today is a rest day, because of the strain that my right foot is suffering from the corrugations. I’m just hoping that the day’s rest will do the trick. Although I’ve been averaging just over 30km a day I have to increase it pretty soon to 60km or it will take me too long to complete. Otherwise every thing is going great. John, Tim and myself get on like a house on fire, as if we have known each other for years. I couldn’t have asked for a better support crew. Mind you we have to be a little tolerant and patient with each other some times. Believe it or not I’m actually making money on the stock route. Who would believe that I could make money in one of the most isolated places on earth. I’ve sold 11 Kimberley Challenge magazines in 5 days, the trouble is I’ve only got 10 copies left.

I met a family today from Beverley who bought their tents from the Scout Shop. At the moment I’m using my Eureka Timberline tent more often than the Eclipse because it’s self supporting and easier to erect on the hard and stony terrain. It’s 6.30pm now and it is raining slowly. By the way, the Bedourie camp oven is producing some great dampers, once the guys got used to controlling the heat. If the coals are too hot the damper will burn. We are cooking rice pudding in it at the moment, can’t wait for it to be ready. This afternoon we had an escorted 4x4 tour invade our camp. The leader takes $250 from each participant and there are 14 of them. Most of the people are senior citizens. It will take them about three weeks to complete.

Within 4 days we will reach the first of the dreaded sand dunes. That’s where it will get interesting and be very hard on the vehicle. We are eating really well. For breakfast John makes a great muesli with fresh oranges, dried fruits and oats. For lunch we have fresh damper with vegetables and fruit. For tea it’s mostly a stew of some sort, followed by damper and honey and rice pudding.

Bye for now, Terry, Tim and Tom, sorry John.

Before leaving, Bill and family bought two magazines. The rest day gave me the opportunity to do my washing and complete small jobs that had needed doing for some time. We went for a short walk south of our camp site and located an old tin plaque on a tree placed there by the Geraldton Historical Society.

History Note:

At Windich Spring, John Forrest blazed a tree F41 in 1874. During the centenary expedition conducted by the Geraldton Historical Society in 1974, the incorrect tree had a plaque fixed to it to commemorate the event. Peter Strugnell was able to prove that the blaze was in fact on another tree to the north, by using photographs taken during Snell’s 1929 well reconstruction expedition. Strugnell’s findings were confirmed by me when I visited the site in 2009. Ref: Work Completed, Canning by Phil Bianchi.

At 2.30pm Mike and Henny arrived. We were just catching up with all the gossip when a convoy of vehicles pulled in, led by Keith Spencer. Mike told me that the Carnarvon ABC were trying to locate me, so we tried to radio out that afternoon without luck. The convoy left, leaving us to catch up with Mike’s experiences and gossip.

July 7th. Windich Springs.

Just before midnight I had to get up and place the fly on the tent to avoid becoming soaked. Unexpected rain pelted down and was still drizzling when I rose in the morning. By 7.50am I was on the track, this time carrying a pack with rain gear inside. The rain had soaked into the ground about 2-3 cm, which I thought would be a concern for the vehicles, but the tyres made little impact on the ground. My foot seemed no better after the rest, so I knew that unless I had a few days off, it would never improve.

By mid-morning, John and Tim put up the aerial and tried to contact the ABC, but again had no luck. By lunch time I had walked 20km. For some reason the pain in my foot eased as I walked towards Well 5, the deepest well on route. An old tank stood beside the 32 metre deep well. The hole had to be blasted through solid rock and the rock then hoisted to the surface using a hand windlass. Over 100 tonnes of rock was removed. I walked on, passing a sign FX 57, before two old guys in a 4x4, who were trying to catch up with Keith’s convoy, stopped momentarily to see what I was doing.

Later, clouds filtered overhead as we sat around the camp fire watching John cook popcorn. Most of the popcorn had bloated to an edible size but some had not swollen at all and when chewed were hard on the old teeth.

July 8th. Sunday. Near Well 5.

Pierre Spring - 1990 - Terry BollandI slipped away from camp at 7.25am. The ground was still damp from the rain in the night. The country around was beautiful; stunning black-boys/grass trees and an amazing array of green spreading across the soft rolling sand dunes towards the 733m Mt Salvado, which lay in the background. The rain fell tenderly as I walked the narrow sandy and corrugated track that was broken intermittently by stony areas.

Well 6 Pierre SpringBeautiful River Red Gums dominated the area around Pierre Spring and Well 6, although there were also some acacia trees. There was something about these gum trees that stood out from the rest of the trees, their attractive blazing white trunks so prominent among the red earth and semi-drab green. Forrest named this Well Pierre Spring after his Aboriginal guide Tommy Pierre.

Once through the small make-believe semi desert oasis of Pierre Spring, I plodded on in the rain for another 4 or 5 kms before passing the 669m Mt Davis and the Mt Davis range. Although the guide book recommended the walk to the top, I thought that I had already had enough walking to do without the detour.

I became quite excited when I walked over my first real sand dune. The magnificent colours of the area blended beautifully with the pleasant scenery around me. At my lunch spot, four vehicles from NSW stopped so we soon sold them four magazines. Further up the track, just before Well 7, another three vehicles drove by. The well had caved in a little, but it gave good water and the setting among the mulga was picturesque. For the next 10km the country was flat with many dead trees and numerous cattle. We met the owner from Glen-Ayle station in his Land Rover. They had just completed a cattle muster in the area.

By nightfall the clouds had scattered, leaving a near cloudless sky.

July 9th. Near Well 7.

Canning Stock Route - A Traveller's Guide by Ronele and Eric GardWe contacted Meeka on the radio and they informed us that the ‘West Australian’ newspaper reporters were on the road and hoped to track us down. It was a beautiful morning; dew that had settled earlier had now evaporated, and the sun peeked through the clouds.

There were many cattle tracks around Well 8 but no cattle to be seen. In a deep rutted track in the road, I found a dead Thorny Devil lizard that had been partly squashed and then ravaged by ants. The ground was uneven, corrugated and stony, not really the best for walking. After lunch, the track was nearly as busy as Hay Street in Perth. Firstly, two South Australian cars, then another four South Australian cars and then two Western Australian cars.

After walking through hills with slight cliffs on either side, I met the cattle station owners who were at the rear of the cattle muster. A couple of motor bikes and a 4x4 steered the cattle off the track and into the scrub at a slow pace. The air was cloudy with dust, choking me.

The track became more corrugated and stony as I moved along to the ever-popular Weld Spring, Well 9. For a moment or two we had the Spring to ourselves, but then an invasion started. Five or six 4x4's came from the Glen-Ayle road, a faster route onto the Stock Route, bypassing the first 8 wells and rough track. They turned into the Well, dragging along a huge dust cloud. One guy noticed that I had Gavin Jones (Fremantle Fuel Injection) on my car, and told me that he had his fuel injectors serviced by Gavin. He bought a magazine and donated $10 to my cause. Three of the drivers had Eric Gard’s book on the Canning Stock Route, and they insisted that I should sign it.

As we pondered over the stone ruins of a small enclosure that John Forrest erected in 1874 for protection against attacking Aborigines, a dust cloud created by the cattle drive closed in. The vehicle owners noticed this too, and started to disperse to ensure they weren’t trapped by the cattle at the well. I continued on, my left foot giving me slight pain. Three roos bounded ahead of me as I slipped through some quite beautiful country. We camped just north of Joe’s Bore turn off, where the wind blowing from the north was warm.

July 10th. Near Joe’s Bore Turn Off.

The moon was still huge and bright. Helped by the strong wind, light clouds raced passed it. Light rain had settled the dust once more but it did little to get rid of the very bad corrugations that were hammering my feet. I tried walking across country through the spinifex to escape them, but the spinifex just spiked into my legs. I passed Well 10 and by lunch had collected 20 beer cans.

Two hire cars went by. One of the cars was driven by an American tourist who bought a magazine. He raced off with the air-cleaner on his vehicle about to fall off!

By the time I arrived at Well 11 (Goodwill Soak), on a samphire flat next to a salt lake (White Lake) I had walked 329km from Wiluna. There was a sign, sponsored by Australian Geographic and erected by Eric Gard, urging travellers to act as temporary caretakers of the route to help preserve it for future generations. So much for all the beer cans that were being thrown from vehicle windows. The water in the shallow well was unfit for human consumption and only good enough for stock.

The day hotted up so I took off my shirt for a short time. The two hire cars passed us again on a section of track that was less corrugated and kinder on my feet. I started climbing a few sand dunes that skirted White Lake. Most of them were really dug up with big ruts and holes where the car wheels had been spinning. At 4.15pm I decided to stop near a small part of the north eastern side of White Lake. I had walked 42km and picked up 25 beer cans for the day. Tim went to work on my sore feet. A passing motorist, a truck driver from Newman, had heard me talk on the ABC radio a couple of times and was really excited when he met me and bought a magazine.

It was a beautiful night. There was no wind so the wood burnt superbly. I did a little washing and at 7.35pm the full moon came up beyond the sand dunes. As I prepared for sleep it really felt as if we were miles from nowhere, which we were!

July 11th. White Lake.

A few kilometres from the camp, my big toe nail rubbed onto the next toe nearly causing my first blister. Not wanting it to get worse, I tended to it immediately. Skirted around the lake and over the first sand dunes, two Victorian vehicles passed. They stopped and we had a short conversation, which was mainly about their food. They had enough meat for every meal. They drove away and I cursed when I saw the older guy throw a cigarette packet out of the window. Soon after, I found a fresh Vic Bitter beer can on the ground.

Mark Thornton - Terry Bolland Around Australia Newspaper ArticleWithin 10 minutes, three more vehicles from Esperance passed and after another 25 minutes Eric Gard stopped. Tim and Mrs Gard were having a great natter – in fact, they seemed to have got on like a house on fire. Mark Thornton, a journalist from the ‘West Australian’ and John, a photographer, walked with me for a while, Mark asking a few questions, whilst John went ahead and took photos from the sand dunes. We paused on a sand dune for short, in-depth interview, before they took off, wanting to catch up with Eric Gard. I walked on alone, suddenly feeling very lonely.

Within 15 minutes I had arrived at Lake Aerodrome where John (the photographer) was waiting. He thought it would make a great picture, me walking across a bare lake, and he did not want to miss the opportunity. I headed away from his camera lens, striding it out towards the centre of Lake Aerodrome. I then turned and walked towards him. With the photo shoot over, I walked away, taking a short cut across the lake. The further I travelled towards the centre of the lake, the deeper my feet sank in the mud, making walking difficult. Black bodies of dead beetles littered the lake, a fresh, lone roo track crossed my route, but others hadn’t been so lucky. They had perished on the lake, their bones bleached in the sun.

Looking ahead, I walked towards a mirage which remained forever out of reach. It was very peaceful with no trees or vegetation for the wind to whistle through. At the end of the lake we had lunch, crossed more sand dunes and checked out Well 12, 500m off the main track. The Well was surrounded by a small stand of desert oak, a roosting site for blue wrens. The timbers for the trough and the winch were still intact, but only just. I had walked about 363km from Wiluna.

Crossing more sand dunes, I marvelled at how calm it was between the ridges, the dunes locking in a silent world; a world of insects and small reptiles, beetles and ants. Beetles caught in the soft vehicle sand tracks continually tried desperately to climb up and out without success. Once near the top, they back flipped down in the hollow again to be rolled by the odd vehicle that came along. Ants fed on the unfortunate ones that didn’t survive. Over a rocky ridge I looked on as one metre high spinifex stretched across the country as far as the eye could see. It was like a golden field of ripe wheat or oats. I climbed the highest sand-ridge in an area of many sand-ridges that were very close together. I looked down and around and could see several other smaller sand peaks and ridges surrounding me. On top of these ridges the wind was warm, occasionally building up and sweeping across the tops of the dunes. As I descended, it then grew calm again, leaving me with the sounds of my own foot steps and the infrequent chirp of a bird or insect. I dreamed as I walked, the spinifex sparkling in the late afternoon light, lazily swaying in the light breeze. I felt so much a part of the place. The colours were vibrant, the sounds were calming and my thoughts were running riot. I imagined the insect and lizard tracks in the sand were made by little people.

Characters from the story “The Hobbit” popped into my thoughts. I felt surrounded and I imagined that I was moving through a secret and strange land. Hidden among the spinifex, the little people watched as my thundering foot prints rumbled the ground. I was on a high as I walked between and over the small sand dunes in the late afternoon light, thoughts of my sore feet far from my mind. I was just beginning to experience the desert at its best. The soft sand gave me some relief from the strain of the corrugations that formed on the harder surfaces. We camped on a sand ridge that night.

July 12th. Near Well 13.

It had been a cool night and my 6.30am rise was a cold affair. After rigging up the radio, I called Jenny, asking her to send me a bird book. “Not if it’s too expensive”, she replied. Jenny was always concerned about our finances. We had a good talk, the best for several days. I later had a call from the ABC. The poor interviewer got a bit mixed up. He thought he was talking to Drew Kettle, an old guy walking across the Gunbarrel Hwy to Carnarvon but he got a surprise when halfway through our interview he realised he wasn’t.

I passed an old abandoned trailer, and soon after two motor bikes and two support vehicles pulled up. The occupants were mostly teachers from Perth heading up to the Rundal River National Park. I had covered 24km before lunch break at the dry and caved in Well 14. Within minutes of leaving the Well, I crossed a small salt flat. Beyond this salt flat, the country was low and flat and the spinifex and trees diminished. Tim had difficulty in finding a good camping spot and by the time I caught up I was 10km from Well 15. I had walked 46km but this was still below my target of 60km a day to keep on schedule. I added 18 beer cans to my collection. Our evening meal was rounded off with a good helping of Christmas Pudding.

July 13th. Near Well 15.

Stony trackThe radio was our contact with the outside world and we heard that Meekatharra had experienced a bad storm and the town’s electricity had been cut. The road towards Well 15 was corrugated. When there were corrugations, I would find tools and items that had fallen from vehicles. Today I found a good pair of pliers. Arriving at a T-junction, I walked 200m to the right which led to the ruins of Well 15. I was greeted with sights of beautiful white gums scattered along the ridges and the Well. Bloodwoods, mulga and tea trees were also spread around but it was the sight of the magnificent white gums that impressed me the most. I moved on, leaving the dry well. A few kilometres further on I passed a collection of six, 44 gallon drums and even further I stopped at Murray Rankin’s abandoned trolley.

In 1972 Murray Rankin, a New Zealander, and two brothers from England, John and Peter Waterfall, left Wiluna, heading north, pulling trolleys. Near Well 7, one trolley collapsed and John returned to Wiluna. A second trolley collapsed and 18 or 19km north of Well 15, the third trolley gave up the ghost. They went on with backpacks, but were unable to complete the walk and returned to Wiluna.

History Note: Read the story behind this trailer still seen today between Wells 15 and 16 - 1972 Murray Rankin with John & Peter Waterfall

Later that day the terrain changed from sand dunes with small tufts of spinifex scattered between the dunes, to rocky areas and small rocky hills. As I continued my walk, the air was still and in the far distance I could just see the outline of Durba Hills. The lowering sun of the early evening surrounded me with fantastic colours. I was again on a high as I walked into camp about 1km before Well 16.

July 14th. Near Well 16.

The sunrise was stunning, the clouds engulfed in the red glow, mackerel red shades sweeping across the sky. It was one of the finest mornings to walk. I soon passed the turn off to Well 16. John and Tim had a look at it and found foul water. I walked over the first sand dune with ragged stumps of spinifex and followed the huge hoof marks of a camel. The tracks were fresh but again I didn’t set eyes on the beast. It was the best time of the day to walk; cool, still and colourful.

John and Tim caught me up after 90 minutes walking alone. The roar of the engine shattered my peace and thoughts of the past. Durba Hills loomed in the distance, getting closer every minute. I looked forward to our arrival there. Five vehicles from Victoria passed me. I was alone walking in the desert, miles from anywhere, yet two vehicles passed without even a word from their occupants. I soon neared the cliffs and hills and at the top of a corner cliff on the south western spur, a stone cairn was piled high like a giant cone looking over the semi-desolate country. It was a monument two metres high, built by Canning in 1906 and impossible to miss.

I walked on over a stony area towards Biella Gorge turn off, 7 kms away. Here I accepted a ride with Tim and John into the gorge for lunch. The creek was lined by super white ghost gums that glowed before the ochre cliffs. We took a walk to check out the dried-up stream bed and the rock paintings in the gorge.

Kimberley MagazineI returned to the turn off and started walking again, meeting people in three cars, one from the Hunter Valley Canoe Club. We talked for a short time about the club and about Ian Gardner, a very good Down River paddler that I had known.

I walked on, parallel to the cliffs and then beside the road I found a chair, possibly fallen off a passing truck. I was happy with my find, because mine had broken only a couple of days earlier. My spirits were high making me sing. My feet were also feeling better. The track was much softer and I had left most of the corrugations behind which helped the pain underfoot to subside. However, I had some blisters developing on my heels so had to be careful not to let them get any worse.

I met another convoy from Geraldton. Mike sold them a magazine and one guy donated $20.00. They were an excitable group. I caught up with Tim and John at about 3.15pm at a turn off into Killagurra Spring. We drove in and checked the scene but the camp site wasn’t up to scratch so we decided to go to Durba Springs. As we moved through a narrow gap between the cliffs of Durba Springs, we came across a grassed camp site surrounded by beautiful towering red cliffs and dotted with river red gums and date palms. It was a fantastic campsite. It was hard to believe that we were out in the desert. We took photos of the chair that I had found and about 50 beer cans and rubbish collected that day. After I had washed my hair from the springs it felt soft and bouncy, just like the shampoo ads on the TV. I sat back and wrote another letter.

Dear Adrian and gang.

Well it’s now Sat 14th July and I have completed 500 km. I’m walking on sand a lot more which has less corrugations so my feet are getting better, except for one blister that is forming. So I’m about a third of the way and will be at our fuel drop in 5 days. We are now encountering a lot more sand dunes which I like but it is hard on my heavily laden vehicle. Being a diesel and only having four gears and little power doesn’t help. Each sand dune I climb is different and therefore very interesting……….

I’ve sold 25 mags on the stock route so far. Bye for now. Terry.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 May 2018 05:46

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