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Shortcut through the bush

Coodardy Mills-Camp — 2000-08-23

After an enjoyable rest and with filled camel stomachs, we continue our journey at 9:30 a.m. As was the case yesterday, my GPS shows a constantly growing distance to Coodardy Station and after an hours march I read 18 km. ‘If we keep walking in this direction we’ll be adding an extra 20 to 30 km to our journey,’ I say in annoyance, sure now that we overlooked the turnoff yesterday. ‘I think we should take a short cut and walk straight through the bush in a northerly direction,’ I suggest and turn to Tanja. ‘I’ll follow you wherever you go,’ Tanja says cheerfully. Although I know that many short cuts turn out to be long cuts in the end, we head the caravan into the thick bush, confident that the animals have enough practice in swerving the many trees and bushes and glad to put in a little training ourselves. When we cross the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanamai Desert later on in the expedition, we will have hardly any tracks to follow at all. The camel train zig zags it’s way through the bush and the packs and bags scrape and knock against the branches and foliage. This way is wearing on the equipment without a doubt and I must concentrate very hard in order to find the best path for the animals over the stony and uneven ground. Tanja walks behind the caravan and lets me know every now and then whether Istan has made it successfully around the trees.
Suddenly a row of huge rocks jut out from the ground and their jagged lines prove to be impossible for us to pass. I turn the caravan in a tight curve and lead them back in the direction we have just come, following the rocky outcrops to the east until we can pass them and head off to the north once more. We continue in this way for quite a while, the ground is covered in quartz and I presume that there is a great deal of gold in this area. Finally we find ourselves just a few short kilometres from the historical Big Bell Mine and I am torn between the prospect of going on or of setting the camels down, tying their forefeet and unpacking the gold detector. We cross many stream beds and the camels behave well. I lead them extremely slowly over the occasional rough patch so as to prevent them twisting their ankles on the rocky ground. The early discoverers and adventurers of Australia overcame some really unbelievable obstacles, without tracks or paths to follow. They never knew where to find water, had no windmills and were faced with incredible hardships if one of their camels was injured on the journey. I am so glad to have a GPS, good maps and a compass, but still it is not easy for us to cross this country in this fashion. My GPS shows me the way, but I don’t use the compass as I expect to hit the Big Bell Mine in just a few hours. The new GPS generation uses so little energy, that we can afford to have it on the whole time. ‘Just ten kilometres to the Big Bell Mine!’ I call to Tanja. ‘Very good! It was worth taking the short cut after all!’ she answers. It is a wonderful feeling to walk away from the tracks and paths and our feeling of freedom has taken on a whole new proportion. Two hours later I am still relishing in this feeling as we suddenly stumble upon a dirt track that leads to the Big Bell Mine. We follow the track and just a few kilometres later pass through a cattle grid gate into the Big Bell Mine region.


The track suddenly becomes a wide street on which large mining machinery can drive and we stop at a T intersection to ponder our next move. We should keep walking north but the risk of coming up against a fence in the thick bush, or worse still of falling into an old mine, is to great and we decide to turn left. There is no sign to follow but we see a large building ahead which could house the mine management, ‘Let’s go there and ask the way,’ Tanja suggests. ‘Good idea’ I answer and lead the caravan along the street. As we approach the building we see that it is half in ruins and completely empty. ‘Camels, udu!’ I call and stop the camel train. There is an information board in front of the building and I give Tanja the ropes while I start reading. It turns out that this is the Hotel of the Big Bell Mine and has been closed since 1955. ‘Big Bell is a ghost town and deserted! We wont find out which way to go here!’ I call to Tanja. I read on and learn that more than 1000 people lived here in 1951. There were 160 houses, a cinema, a dozen business and over 100 two-man huts on the mining grounds. Although gold was discovered here in 1903, it wasn’t until 1936 that it was really mined. The mine was closed in 1955 and then reopened 10 years ago.

We are disappointed at not being able to ask which direction to take, and continue walking along the wide street in the bright sunshine. A car approaches and stops beside us, we ask the tourists which way we should go in order to reach Coodardy Station. ‘You’ll have to walk back about 25 km to Cue, then take the turnoff there,’ the nice lady says smiling from the interior of her air conditioned car and pointing to a tourist map. ‘Thanks, but I think we’ll rely on our GPS this time,’ I answer gently. We arrive at another cross section about two or three hundred metres further on and turn to the north, of course, hoping to find ourselves on the way to Coodardy. After just a few minutes, one of the trucks from the mine stops and we ask if we’re on the right track. ‘No idea, mate. But I know there’s a Station out there somewhere!’ the employee yells down to us before rumbling away again. Big signs warn of blasting and of enormous earth-moving machinery off road. We are dog tired and have been walking now for more than five hours without a rest, but we don’t want to have a lunch break here. The delicious Ruby Dock grows on the left and right side of the road and the camels stretch their necks in an attempt to take a nibble whilst walking. We stop for a moment and I pass each of the camels a big bunch of the Ruby Dock, which they all enjoy immensely.

It’s not long before some of the other miners stop to ask us the usual questions. One woman stops her ute in front of us, forcing us to stop also, and begins her interrogation with a hearty laugh. We ask her the way and she tells us that Coodardy is just 8 kilometres from here, ‘Oh, you’re on the way to old Jim Price! He’s okay!’ She calls and says goodbye. Another sign warns us ‘Swimming Deadly. Poisoned Water’ ‘Where is one supposed to swim out here in the middle of the bush?’ Tanja asks. ‘There appear to be huge troughs at the gold mines, in which the gold is separated from the dirt by strong chemicals. I think that’s what they mean,’ I explain. Finally we reach a small intersection with a sign pointing to Coodardy Station. We have barely turned onto the dirt track before another jeep from the mine drives up and two men jump out, asking if they can take a picture of us and the camels with an instant camera. We happily oblige and become one of the pictures for our collection. We contemplate the photo as we make our way down the track, happy to be on a dirt road again. At around 2:30 p.m. we stop for a well deserved lunch break, and let ourselves down on weary bones to chew our food under the shade of a bush. ‘I’m knackered,’ Tanja says, moving in slow motion. ‘Me too’ I reply and lie down on the ground. Half an hour later we force ourselves into action once more and the soles of my feet like they’re splitting in two during the first few movements. It takes a few minutes before the pain subsides and the body begins functioning properly again. We are unable to speak coherently due to our immense weariness and we decide to set up camp shortly before the Coodardy farm house, knowing that we will be expected to describe our expedition and tell about ourselves and the animals upon our arrival at the station. We find a lovely windmill with water and food for the camels a few hundred metres to the side of the dirt track, and set up camp there. We begin unloading and suddenly spy a caterpillar crawling up Tanja’s arm. ‘Quick, flick it off!’ I cry, and Tanja shakes the caterpillar from her arm. I then advise her to wash her skin thoroughly, you can never know if the thing was poisonous and it’s better to be safe than sorry. We crawl into our sleeping bags very early tonight and fall into a deep sleep.

Day: 104






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