Burra to Northern Territory

This blog was actually posted on Friday 17th April. It’s an update of one we drafted on15th and we can’t figure out how to get wordpress to change the date.  Sorry.

We’re writing as we drive north from Coober Pedy. (One typist plus one driver = two bloggers). It’s day 8 but it feels like we’ve been travelling for weeks. The timelessness of the land that goes on and on and on makes calendars seem irrelevant. We need to get to Alice in time to housesit for Helen (she’s off to Europe for 6 weeks), so a little calendar watching is called for now and then.

TUESDAY 14th April Day 6 Burra to Woomera

200 km from Burra we got to the gateways to the desert – a sign just north of Port Augusta and then the Arid Lands National Park.

Sign just north of Port Augusta.
Sign just north of Port Augusta.
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens,  just north of Port Augusta
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens, just north of Port Augusta
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens

The Stuart Highway is in excellent condition. It’s easy to get hypnotised by the steady cruising. Fortunately, we don’t have to drive more than 4 hours a day. Love the road signs near rest stops: Drowsy Drivers Die. Fatigue is Fatal. Take a Break. Survive this Drive. (And one near a small roadhouse: “Stop and Eat or We’ll Both Starve”). There are lots of rest stops – sometimes with a shaded area – but not always.

Roadside rest stop on road Port August to Woomera
Roadside rest stop on road Port August to Woomera

It’s mostly flat and mostly straight and mostly sparse vegetation (although greener than usual because of the big wet last summer). Frequent mirages at the end of the road make it hard to see what’s ahead. But there isn’t much traffic and all drivers are courteous, so no stress. Although some of the passing trucks are HUGE, some long and some wide.

Shimmering at the end of the road.
Shimmering at the end of the road.
Some of the trucks are WIDE! Have to get right off the road
Some of the trucks are WIDE! Have to get right off the road
Road train
Road train
Our car will come home from Darwin on a road train like this
Our car will come home from Darwin on a road train like this

It’s a harsh arid country, yet the overwhelming feeling as we travel through it is one of softness. The colours of the land. The colours of the sky. The vastness. The sense of foreverness. It feels warm and strong.

Looking south 50 km further down the road
Looking south 50 km further down the road
Another photo looking south
Another photo looking south

But then again, we’re in a cocoon in the car. When we stop there’s the heat (36 degrees today, after we needed jackets in Burra) and the flies (and flies, flies, flies) and the red dust. Today there’s even wind. When we get out, it does remind us that it’s desert. We love it.

Finding music to match the mood of the land is interesting. We loaded hundreds of cds onto an ipod. Driving through NSW it was fun to sing along with the oldies. They don’t work so well out here. An album by Anouar Brahem “Le Voyage de Sahar” is becoming a favourite, plus lots of Rachel Hore’s “Wilurara”. Jacqueline de Pre fits well too. And, of course, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yurupingi, Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach.

View from road after turnoff from highway into Woomera
View from road after turnoff from highway into Woomera

Woomera seems to be a sterile and serious town. The streets were mainly empty except for tourists looking at the rocket exhibit. The only locals we saw were at the club at dinner. There were pockets of trees and parks and a wonderful mural that juxtaposes Aboriginal life with metal rockets. We borrowed a small section of it for our logo. Thanks to the artist, Doug Harrip, for capturing the spirit of our journey.

10 TAI CHI WOOMERA 2
Tai chi in front of Doug Harrip’s mural in Woomera
Woomera park near Info centre
Woomera park near Info centre

WEDNESDAY Day 7 Woomera to Coober Pedy

Do you think this menu at Glendambo (about 100 km north of Woomera) was a joke?

Lunch menu at Glendambo Roadhouse 110 km north Woomera.  We didn't order it.
Lunch menu at Glendambo Roadhouse 110 km north Woomera. We didn’t order it.

We’ve seen many kangaroo warning signs and lots of recent road kill, although they were more common in NSW (about 1 every 10 km) but not common out in the desert (about 1 every 200km). The only live kangaroo we’ve seen was resting under a tree in Woomera. He gently moved off when he saw us coming – but only as far as the next big tree.

There was a salt lake about 60 km north of Port Augusta. We thought it was huge.

Salt lakes 30 km before Woomera
Salt lakes 30 km before Woomera

Then, just 30 km north of Woomera, we stopped at Lake Hart, which makes the previous salt lake seem small. This one goes on as far as the eye can see. Can’t capture it in photographs. The Ghan railway line goes close by.

Lake Hart salt lake
Lake Hart salt lake
Daf heading off onto the salt lake
Daf heading off onto the salt lake

We went on the new Ghan about 4 years ago with Jeanette and Julia. The Ghan sped past this stunning lake in the middle of the night. Good to visit it at a more relaxed pace.

Panorama of salt lake. Photographer standing on the railway line (Adelaide to Darwin Ghan line). So the salt lake is almost 180 degrees from left to right
Panorama of salt lake. Photographer standing on the railway line (Adelaide to Darwin Ghan line). So the salt lake is almost 180 degrees from left to right

Daf remembers the old Ghan. In about 1973 Carolina, Frank, Kevin and Daf drove from Sydney to Port Pirie and caught the old Ghan on the narrow guage track up to Alice and back. It was so slow and the conditions were so uncertain (sand on track, etc.) that they couldn’t predict how long it would take – somewhere around 3 or 4 days was the guesstimate. It went in the low country on red sand. It puttered along and often stopped. They’d whistle to tell us we could get off and go for a wander in the desert. Then some time later they’d whistle to say it was time to return. Long slow evenings in the wooden lounge car with someone playing the piano. We loved every moment of it. Daf was disappointed with the speedy, sealed, new Ghan that goes on the high country in less than 24 hours and gives barely a glimpse of red sand. But Jeanette loved it. Daf was too busy being disappointed that it wasn’t the same as the “good old days” to appreciate it. Our journey now is more like the old Ghan. Slow and steady with time to stop and be with the country.

There’s a stretch of 265 km of road without any buildings (although there are two emergency phones) between Glendambo and Coober Pedy. Then, at last, we arrived in CP.

Turnoff to Coober Pedy
Turnoff to Coober Pedy

COOBER PEDY TRUCK SIGN

The turnoff to Coober Pedy
Welcome to Coober Pedy

Jude is fully aware that CP is the opal mining capital of the nation (the world?). So when she saw the piles of rubble that dot the countryside around CP (they look like huge ant hills) and said “I wonder what they’re mining?”. Daf assumed it was a Jude joke and didn’t respond. As we left CP the next day, Jude suddenly realised her gaff!

mining piles

We stayed in an underground motel, visited an underground church, an underground art gallery, an underground home, and an old mine. The town is very dry and dusty. The dugouts are surprisingly dust free. We were told that 80% of the population live in dugouts.

Our underground bedroom. Note the air vent on the ceiling. It matches all the ones on the hill in the next phot
Our underground bedroom. Note the air vent on the ceiling. It matches all the ones on the hill in the next photo
Air vents on the hill on top of our underground motel
Air vents on the hill on top of our underground motel
Inside the Serbian underground church. The walls and scalloped ceiling are all raw rock.
Inside the Serbian underground church. The walls and scalloped ceiling are all raw rock.
Faye's underground home. Three bedrooms, kitchen, dining, lounge, bathroom and bar. Hand dug by three women with picks and shovels. Took 10 years!
Faye’s underground home. Three bedrooms, kitchen, dining, lounge, bathroom and bar. Hand dug by three women with picks and shovels. Took 10 years!

After WW1 many returned servicemen went out to the opal fields to strike it rich. They’d spent the war digging out trenches and living in dugouts. There were no building materials in the opal fields (just rock and dust), so they dugout their homes underground. With temperatures in summer exceeding 45 and below freezing on winter nights, it makes sense to live underground where the temperature is a stable 24 degrees, day and night, summer and winter. Good sleeping conditions – pitch black and no noise. But if you’re claustrophobic (as Jude can sometimes be), then being underground with no natural light, no windows, rock walls and low ceilings can become a bit freaky. It was surprising how quickly we got over the novelty of being underground. But we were also happy to emerge into the sun.

We spent a couple of hours visiting a mine museum and tour. We like that the museum started its history story with the Indigenous people – even providing a map of the local groups.

Map of local Indigenous peoples at start of  underground CP history museum
Map of local Indigenous peoples at start of underground CP history museum
Daf in the mine. The opals are all in a seam at a particular depth. So they have to dig down and get out all the rock (making the ant hills that dot the area), then follow the seam at eye level. These tunnels went in all directions.
Daf in the mine. The opals are all in a seam at a particular depth. So they have to dig down and get out all the rock (making the ant hills that dot the area), then follow the seam at eye level. These tunnels went in all directions.

Did you know that Coober Pedy was named by local Aboriginal people? It means White Man’s Burrows – a great name for the miner’s dugouts.

Outside Faye's house
Outside Faye’s house
Looking west from our motel in Coober Pedy
Looking west from our motel in Coober Pedy
Looking north from our motel
Looking north from our motel

There’s a weird beauty to the starkness. Good for a visit, but wouldn’t want to live there. Great food at the Greek taverna, served by a Filipino woman. At Cadney Homestead (150 km north of CP), the food is served by an Italian woman. Our tour guide in the mine is German. It’s a multicultural outback.

THURSDAY Day 8 Coober Pedy to Cadney Homestead

There are two “painted deserts” in the area. One, actually called the Painted Desert, is about 150 km north of CP. Rough roads and access only to the edges, so we didn’t drive there. We had hoped to fly over it and Lake Eyre, but it’s a windy, cloudy day and there were no other takers for the flight, so the cost would have been $1360 for just the two of us. We decided to settle for the other painted desert, known as the Breakaways; the turnoff is just 20 km up the highway from Coober Pedy. It’s another world. Eerily beautiful. So powerful. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves so we could really feel the isolation and energy. And were very pleased to see acknowledgement of the Antakirinja Mutuntjarra people.

Breakaways
Breakaways
Breakaways
Breakaways
Breakaways - sign
Breakaways – sign
"Pappa" or Salt and Pepper in Breakaways
“Pappa” or Salt and Pepper in Breakaways

Then back on the road to Cadney Park Homestead, only another 130 km up the highway. Arrived with time to do some washing, have a rest, download all the photos and finish this blog. Everyone else in the dining room/bar was an Aboriginal stockman. Friendly guys. No Internet access. We want to get this blog off because we loved getting so many warm responses to our first blog. It’s great to have so much connection with family and friends when we’re in such a remote place. (Note- that’s an encouragement to send more warm responses!)

Almost to Cagney Park Homestead
Almost to Cagney Park Homestead
View from Cadney Park Homestead at dusk
View from Cadney Park Homestead at dusk

FRIDAY Day 9 Cadney Homestead to Northern Territory

Short drive this morning up past Marla and then off onto a dirt road to Iwantja Art Centre at Indulkana. On the edge of the APY lands. APY stands for Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara. We admit we had to look that up. APY is much easier to remember! There are seven art centres in the communities spread across the northern border of South Australia. You need a permit to enter, except for Indulkana. We hope to get a permit and hire a 4 wheel drive to come back down here during our trip. We geared our travels to get us to Iwantja on a day they are open. Still unpredictable – we were told if they were closed there’d be a closed sign at the turnoff on the highway. Drat – it said closed. Well, we’d come this far, so decided to give it a try. Crossed the Ghan track and some interesting car signs to get there.

Ghan railway line and car sign
Ghan railway line and car sign
Another car sign
Another car sign
Another car sign
Another car sign

indulkana

Iwantji was open!! It’s a lovely friendly art centre. We met two artists we admire, Alec Baker and Maringka Burton. And lots of other wonderful artists. Jude bought 3 of Alec’s paintings and he honoured her by agreeing to a quick photo. Maringka was painting a gorgeous huge painting. She said she’ll paint a smaller one for us. Hope she meant it.

Alec Baker and Jude at Iwantja Art Centre
Alec Baker and Jude at Iwantja Art Centre

It feels good to be back in an Aboriginal community. Looking forward to much more in the next few months. Here’s some paintings on the wall of the community general story.

Painting on general store Indulkana
Painting on general store Indulkana
Paintings on general store Indulkana
Paintings on general store Indulkana

Then back to the highway and only 100 km to the border. Tonight at Erldunda. Alice tomorrow! Daf’s birthday dinner with friends in Alice on Sunday night. We’re happy.

The border into Northern Territory (the guy who took the photo for us forgot to include the "y")
The border into Northern Territory (the guy who took the photo for us forgot to include the “y”)
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5 thoughts on “Burra to Northern Territory

  1. Firstly, I am so pissed off that you did not take me with you – you guys said you loved me but you lied !
    Coober Pedy is a interesting place with lots of history- in the 50’s and 60’s my uncle struck it rich and took the money back to Greece and built a hotel empire- it is certainly more multicultural now. And yes I agree the novelty of the dugouts ware off very quickly indeed.
    What do you mean about ‘mirages’ at the end of the road ?
    Iwantja Arts looks amazing – congrats on your Alec Baker acquisition, did you take a pic of what Maringka Burton was painting ? maybe I might get that for myself.
    Safe travels to The Alice – looking forward to more blogs.

    Happy Birthday Daf – enjoy !

    love
    Sylvie @ OzAboriginal

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  2. Have a Happy Birthday Daf!
    I am enjoying following your travels, I feel as though I am having a wonderful (vicarious) journey too.

    Maura xxx

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  3. What a trip! Glad you’re having wonderful adventures. Some amazing images too – I just loved the existential picnic table and the totally gorgeous desert/ salt lake shots. You’ve really captured the Zen furnace feeling about lots of Central Australia.
    Ian and I did the old Ghan journey from Alice to Port Augusta a hundred years ago and it was such fun with the random pulling up at tiny places etc. Daf, I’m with you on enjoying that as a kind of magical rail journey.

    Dead envious of you getting out to APY country and visiting art centres!
    Keep blogging – we’re all living the road trip vicariously and loving it with you.

    Happy Bday Daf too.

    Margiexxx

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  4. Hi there girls, yes i’m loving your blog too…..i’m also following Phil and Di in Taiwan and my friend Nimmity in London……. all blogs that i am enjoying from my little study sydney…..
    i was thinking so many people would have just powered though on the roads but you two are really soaking up the environment and seem part of the slow movement that i love so much…hence the walking!
    i love the photos……. many of them could easily be blown up as wall photos…..the colours extraordinarily beautiful and yet subtle.
    Sydney on this Monday morning is rainy and overcast…..the kind of day where you just want to stay in bed and read……. thinking of you both…… julie

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    • Hi Daf and Jude,

      Thanks for your blog.
      Helping me to relive our trip 3 years ago to Lake Eyre, Alice and back.
      You can stay out at Lake mungo and see the sunrise and sunset.
      Beautiful autumn colours here in the Blue Mountains.
      Happy Birthday Daf.
      Love
      Denise

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