Aus Update 6 - The Oodnadatta Track, Williams Creek and on to Coober Pedy (where most of the locals live underground).

I, being Paula, have rambled on giving you all the interesting bits of stories and fascinating facts about the amazing places that we are seeing. Chris, being the other part of we, is putting in the photos and factoid captions, being the short to the point male (or maybe engineer) like, thing to do.  Enjoy!

15th August 2006 - I enjoyed staying at Marree.  A very small town that I am sure was a lot livelier when the Ghan Train used to come through.  Now it supports tourists doing the three main tracks in the area, Oodnadatta, Birdsville & Strezleki, and a handful of stations. We stayed in a caravan park that was owned by a colourful local named Lyle.  Lyle has lived in the area most of his life, for more than half a century at least.  He has done droving along the Birdsville track, long before it was a track, worked on stations, worked for the railway, and now he owns the local cafe come supermarket come full service garage, and one of the local caravan parks.  What made it so interesting was they have an outside kitchen, BBQ and electric stove with oven.  I dumbly asked what do you do with the stove when it rains?  The answer being it doesn't rain, but for the occasional time that it does a tarp does the trick.  They have a communal fire pit and a couple of locals come around and those at the camp that want to hear a few stories join in too.  It was fun, although I so don't know what to believe as true and when they were pulling my leg. (A bit like Tony's stories :-)

We wandered around the town too and took some photos, it took all of 5 minutes. Here they are as follows. (They are a bit larger this time, we have been making them small so we don't slow your internet connections, but we have been asked to make them a little bigger.)

This used to be the railway station...

One of the old mail trucks...

The beautiful sunset

Then the beautiful sunrise - no, it's not snow or frost, it's salt that comes out of the ground overnight!

We set out on the track.  Lots of really cool stuff (that is between the many miles of nothingness).  But before we get to that we have to show you some signposts that we took pictures of.  Keep in mind that this road that we are going on is a main road, the difference between this and other roads is the remoteness of it and the lack of people that travel it.

The first thing of significance we came across is the 'dog fence'. Such a plain name for something of great significance in the world.  It is a very unassuming fence, looks like a lot of other fences.  It is however longer than the Great Wall of China, although you can't see it from space because it is made from wire mesh. There is an interesting fact for your next trivial pursuit game.  This fence is 5,300km long and dingo-proof. It seperates the cattle country of the north and the sheep country south of the fence.  It started out by farmers erecting fences around their properties to protect their sheep and then some of them got together and if you look at it on a map you will see it wandering in a meandering sort of way from The Great Australian Bight in west SA to the Qld coast. (According to the sign.)

Can you even see it? It's there, trust us, no wonder it can't be seen from space!

Random thing, a local started collecting rubbish on his property and created sculptures, it was the weirdest thing to see on the side of the road.  My faviourte was the old railway water tower turned into a dog.

No, we don't know if the planes landed this way...

Lake Eyre south lookout was our next stop.  The lake is 12m below sea level and is part of the the Great Artesian Basin.  The Basin covers 22% of Australia and is reported to hold 64,900 million megalitres of water underground. I still wonder if that figure is a misprint; firstly how do they know that? secondly, what? that is an inconceivable number. Although we did a full panaromic view of the famous salt lake (5 photos) we haven't attempted to join them together yet.  Lyle, remember the colourful local, was saying that they always know if the lake will have water by whether a river in a certain town (can't remember the name) in Queensland runs at at certain level (can't remember that fact either, it sounded impressive though) or higher for more than 26 days, an inch lower for just one day and the lake wont flood, and it runs in cycles.

Next stop 'Curdimurka', a railway stop for 'The Gahn' Railway.  The Oodnadatta track follows the Ghan Rail, and The Ghan was the first rail into the heart of the country.  It's purpose was to link the south of the country with the north and onto Asia.  The Gahn operated for a 100 years and was replaced by the rail that now follows the Stuart Highway.  The name comes from Afgahn, (Australian's always shorten names).  The train would be met by Afgahn men with camels (who brought the camel to Australia) to take whatever needed to be taken the the remote stations.  They were a life line to the people in this remote place and the camels and the men that worked with them were legendary and the name stuck.  There is lots of interesting history about the train, I enjoyed reading it, especially the stories from the people that worked on the train. It was decommissioned in the 1980's.  I wont bore you with those details.  Back to Curdimurka, it is one of the last remaining sidings  from the railway.  The location is now used once every 2 years for the location for the 'Curdimurka Outback Ball'.  A full on black tie event that 1000's show up for.  Hard to believe when you see what is here, nothing...

Now there might be 64 million megalitres of water under the ground here, but there is certainly not much on the surface so a chance to stop at the 'mound springs' couldn't be passed up, no matter how rough the road. (4km of bone jarring ruts, we tried to video it but it just doesn't show what it was really like.)  All the way along the track there are these mounds and this is where water comes up from under the ground.  We saw two of them, The Blanche Cup, and The Bubbler.  After seeing stuff bubbling up out of the ground in NZ the bubbler was a bit of a non event, although it was very different to anything in NZ, it wasn't hot and it was water that was coming up out of the ground.  It was actually really cool (no pun intended), worth the 4kms.

Blanche Cup

The Bubbler

'William Creek' It's main attraction is the Pub, built in 1887 from corrugated iron.  It is the most frequented pub in Australia by international visitors (so said the publican).  It would have to be to survive, we had lunch there and the publican told me there are only 33 locals including his family and employees (5).  If you see the signpost below the nearest township is 160kms away!  When we arrived the dog that you see on the couch came out to greet us, did a lap of the car and then resumed his position of...?  Friendly folk out here, even the dogs.  Now this is a really famous place, for what I am not sure, maybe it's mere existance in the middle of nowhere. It is the smallest town in Australia, and the pub is described in a tourist brochure as "a giant visitors book", note the photo below. There were some other interesting things they placed in a fenced yard by the car park, debry from the sky like rockets, not the sort of thing you don't get to look at up close very often.

The "visitors book", note dog on couch in corner...

Chris trying to make contact with the outside world

The parking meter proceeds go to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (our car behind it)

The pub

After lunch we turned off the Oodnadatta track to head towards Coober Pedy and the only thing of interest on this 160km stretch of road was 'Anna Creek Station'.  Not that you get to see a sign or letter box rather just drive through the land, avoiding wandering cattle.  What makes Anna Creek Station so special is that it is the largest piece of working land individually owned.  I think I got that right.  A couple of facts: The station is 24,000sqkm, which is apparently about the size of Wales. I think it is owned by the Kidman's (of course you all know who that is).  Mr Kidman (I can't remember his first name), was 13 when he left Adelaide on horse back with nothing, to make his way in the world.  That he did, he was/is known as the 'Beef Baron'.  He worked the outback like no other cattle man.  He purchased 90 stations from the Gulf in Qld to Marree in SA.  Legend says he always had the best cattle, and drovers and station hands were proud to work for him.

Coober Pedy  I have heard a few people say that you either love it or hate it.  I find hate a rather strong word, but rather I find I do not have much affection for the place, although it has a fascinating history.  Coober Pedy is the main supplier of the worlds opals.  They were discovered here just before the first world war, so the mining really didn't get underway until after the war.  When the soldiers returned and went out there to make their fortune and due to their experience in the war with digging and living in trenches and tunnels in Europe it was natural to do the same in Coober Pedy.  Which is a very wise thing to do, it is hot and dusty.  While we were there it was very windy and the dust...!  I have no words to describe the dust combined with wind, I will let you think on that one.  So you can buy a plot of land for $5,000 and dig away, the houses are called dugouts.  You need to be able to read a compass to ensure you don't dig into your neighbours lounge.  Any Opal you find is yours.  Sounds like a good investment.  Living underground the temperature stays an even 20-22 degrees, no noise, or light (if you like sleeping during the day).  You can dig by hand or, you can have half your house dug in a day using a machine.

We visited a mine and a dugout house, saw what they do with the opal after it is dug up, and watched a video on the history of opal in the world, in Australia and in Coober Pedy.

The "Welcome to Coober Pedy" sign, basically, there are holes everywhere, don't fall in one while filming. In fact just a couple of days before we got there a 35 year old woman died falling down a shaft