A report by guest Alan Pickering of the SA 4WD & Touring Club: Traditionally, the Jackaroo 4wd Club of Victoria run a trip over the first weekend in October every year, to visit the Little Desert National Park and surrounding area. The wildflowers at this time are usually at their best. Members of the NSW Jackaroo 4wd Club and the SA 4WD & Touring Club are always invited to come along too. With Covid-19 travel restrictions removed at last, the 2022 trip was the first return to the Little Desert since 2019. Thirty two people in seventeen vehicles took part in the weekend’s activities. The Serviceton Recreation Reserve, located one and half kilometres south of Serviceton, was where we camped. There are eight powered sites in the main area, with another two general power outlets accessible from the amenities block and water pump. As it was a base camp, people could arrive and leave on the days that suited them. Some early birds arrived on the Thursday and a few late leavers stayed until Tuesday. Four trips were on offer, namely:
Nhill Historic tour
Kaniva Silo Art
Mt Moffat area
There was also a tour of the Serviceton railway station on the Sunday. Given the number of vehicles involved, people were rotated through the trips, allowing six vehicles in any one convoy. It was all very free and easy, with individuals able to choose what they wanted to do and when. This made a nice change from normal tours, where you are on the road most days travelling on an itinerary. Happy Hours were held around a campfire on all nights, except Saturday when we had a group dinner at the Woolshed Inn in Bordertown. The sunsets were stunning, keeping some of us at the campfire well into the gloaming. Weatherwise, there was no rain and the days just got better and better. The early days of overcast cloud improved to blue skies and plenty of sunshine.
The drives were pretty, with bright yellow canola crops interspersed with green wheat and darker green broad beans. We were told, this area of Victoria grows the bulk of the broad beans grown in Australia. It’s been such a wet year, the wheat crop had to be crop dusted for rust. On Saturday, we were treated to a display of low flying by a crop duster in the fields around the campsite. Roger Hall explained, GPS guidance enables crop dusting to be perfectly applied these days. The wet, cold year also meant the wildflowers, especially the orchids, were not yet in abundance. Our Victorian friends, who have been regular attendees on these weekends for thirty years, were able to point out:
Purple waxlip orchids
Fire orchids (or were they Running Postman)
Fringe Myrtle was in abundance in most areas,
while south of Mt Moffat, there was Pink Heath.
In terms of four-wheel driving, the sand was generally firm, with some sections of the tracks holding water in mud holes. Once we determined the ground was firm at the bottom of these holes, we started to drive straight through, albeit with a little caution. (Note: I am speaking for myself here) Mt Moffat was a highlight. Its summit was a good lunch spot. It provided 360° views over the never-ending mallee scrub and in the sun, was perfect. The steep sand track off the top, down to the floor of the park, provided a bit of a challenge for drivers. At the other end of the scale, height wise, was Broughton’s Waterhole, located just off the McDonald Highway. This was a delightful camp area around a large waterhole, about the size of a football oval. Perfect for a break after we had climbed the nearby Mt Turner. As previously stated, the program was free and easy.
On Sunday afternoon, after a visit to the Serviceton railway station, Alyson and I made our way to Nhill to visit the ex-RAAF base, which is only open on Sundays. After a guided tour of the hangar and its three planes, many photographs and displays, we left and crossed the highway to find the target bombing range. We completed a round trip with a drive through the park and back roads to camp. While we did our trip, others ventured back to Mt Moffat to play in the sand and mud holes. The Serviceton Recreation Reserve is no longer used for football, or cricket. However, its facilities are available in the old pavilion for use by campers. Although the showers and toilets are basic, they are well maintained and kept to a high standard by a shrinking band of local helpers. While we were there, the toilets and showers were refreshed daily. A big thank you to these volunteers.
In summary, the weekend was a great little break. Everyone was in good spirits, with much friendliness within the whole group. The weather was good to superb and the trips interesting and enjoyable. Full marks to Alan Dash and the Jackaroo 4wd Club of Victoria for making all the arrangements and to everyone who participated so well.
We arrived at Serviceton late Wednesday afternoon and set up camp. Thursday morning, we accompanied Alan on some pre-trip planning, which started with a coffee at a little bakery in Bordertown. From there, we headed out to the Olivalle Estate Olive Farm at Telopea Downs to make arrangements for a guided tour. After lunch, we started to work our way towards the Rocky Lamattina & Sons carrot farm, again to arrange a tour time. Along the way, we checked out a couple of wildflower locations. Following a couple of weeks of rain, we found a good variety of native flowers, particularly native orchids. These included Donkey, various Spider and a number of coloured Sun orchids.
Before returning to Serviceton, we called in to the Frances pub to ensure arrangements for Saturday afternoon were in place. On arriving back at Serviceton, we found quite a few other people had arrived and set up. Later that evening, one of the other travellers produced a couple of radio controlled models. One was a truck prime mover and the other was a fully operational front end loader.
It was interesting to note that the loader was fully functional, including lights and hydraulics. A demonstration showed it could move earth.
Friday 29th 2017
On Friday morning, we initially headed into Bordertown for a caffeine and cake hit. On leaving Bordertown, we headed east on the highway, then turned north on to the Serviceton – North Telopea Downs Road.
When we arrived at the Olivalle Estate Olive Farm, we were greeted by the Manager, who gave us an excellent guided tour of the orchards and their processing plant. This tour unfortunately dispelled any romantic notions I had of traditional olive farming methods.
The trees are planted in rows at precise distances apart. They are pruned to ensure automatic harvesting equipment can run up and down the rows to maximise the collection of olives.
This machinery is based on grape harvesting equipment and slightly modified by the Manager to suit the olive crop. Our tour then took us to the mixing area where the underground water supply is treated to remove unwanted materials, especially salt. It is then enhanced with fertilisers and minerals. Bulk chemicals are placed into mixing vats and then diluted to a usable concentration. It is then dosed into the water supply and fed to the trees as required. After washing, the olives are pressed in bright shiny stainless steel tanks and then filtered. The extra virgin oil is then stored in 20,000 litre tanks. The bulk of the oil is then on sold to larger companies, such as Cobram Estates. They also bottle their oil for local sales outlets under the Olivalle Estate label. After lunch on a hill overlooking the estate, we headed south towards Kaniva. We crossed the highway and drove down the Kaniva – Edenhope Road to the Lamattina carrot farm. This is one of two, 6,000 hectare properties, which supply major supermarkets, such as Woolworths. The carrot seeds are imported from France and sown at the rate of one million seeds per hectare. Rows are prepared using GPS and laser equipment and, prior to planting the seeds, grasses are grown in adjacent rows to reduce erosion by wind and to protect the carrot tops as they develop.
The seeds are sown using specialised equipment at a defined distance apart. Carrots are grown in one out of every three years. In the other years, crops are grown which can be ploughed back to replace nutrients and goodness to the soil. One of the largest pest problems they encounter are feral deer. Once the carrots are harvested, they are placed into trucks and transported to the company’s processing plant. Here they are cleaned then spray chilled before being packed and forwarded to the supermarket distribution centres. They aim to have the carrots in these distribution centres within twenty four hours of picking.
Saturday 30th 2017
On the previous days, we had established that, despite the recent cooler weather and rain, there had been enough sun to bring out a large variety of wildflowers and orchids. In a number of places along some of the tracks, there were just carpets of colour. So today we were to check these out. Some diehard football fans elected to stay at camp and head to the Frances Hotel later to watch the AFL Grand Final. The remainder of the group headed to Kaniva for the usual morning dose of caffeine before heading into the Desert. Suitably refreshed, we headed down Yanipy Road, into Three Chain Road and on to Miram South Road. Along the way, we stopped to look at and photograph wildflowers along the roadside.
During this drive, we also found a couple of little spots where we could have a bit of fun in four wheel drive. After lunch, a few more footy fans left the convoy and headed off to the Frances Hotel. The rest of us headed down Edenhope Road and on to East West Track. Here we split into two groups, as some of us wanted to tackle the Mt Moffat Track. The others followed Alan out of the desert on an “easy short cut”. We knew this area would be a bit damp in places and were not disappointed.
Several interesting bog holes were negotiated satisfactorily. Greg found a very soft patch and needed to work a little harder to get back on to a sound surface.
A little further on, we appeared to run out of track, as it headed into the fringe of a swamp. Johan was kind enough to get out, take his shoes and socks off and walk the track so we could satisfy ourselves it was okay to negotiate.
Two alarmed ducks managed to startle Johan, who moved faster than the ducks as they took off.
We negotiated a stretch of water around eighty metres long and up to fifty centimetres deep. From here it was an easy drive into Frances to watch the end of the footy, before sitting down to a nice dinner at the hotel.
Sunday 1st October 2017
Sunday morning we headed down Serviceton South Road and on to Mt Moffat Track looking at wildflowers. After a walk to Mt Moffat, we continued down Elliots Track and found more wildflowers.
While we were here, we were lucky enough to have a pair of Red Tail Black Cockatoos fly overhead. A short stop at Moree Reserve on the Tallegeira Track followed, after which we drove back to camp. Some had started to pack up and head home, while others were able to have a quiet afternoon before departure on Monday morning. Many thanks to Alan for sharing his extensive knowledge of this area and again making for a very enjoyable Little Desert long weekend.
Barry & Linda McElhenny (Trip Leaders)
Ian & Ann Marr
Cleve Warring & Jenny Hajncl
Lucie, Ken & Gemma
Leigh Wagstaff & Christine Mayer
Linda McElhenny reports:
27th June 8.28am 8 degrees
Lovely dark cloudy morning – not good for travelling. Oh well, we are heading for warmer weather.
Barry decided to check the Tvan brakes after we had driven for about one hour. All good. On our way to Walpeup, our first stopover, we had a few stops for further checks on the brakes. Yet when we arrived at 3.00pm, the passenger side was red hot, even the rim. Barry waited until the tyre and hub had cooled down, then checked and readjusted the brakes.
We were camped in a little local park with a toilet block, shower and laundry facilities for $9.00 per night. We put our money in the locked box on the wall of the amenities block and noticed it appeared to be empty although there were three other campers there when we arrived and more came later. Just before dark, a lovely lady came over and said that she was the camp supervisor. We told her that we had put our money in the box and that if she looked, that would be all that was there. She said not to worry.
28th June 9.15am 8 degrees
We are off to Hallett today to meet up with Ian, Ann, Cleve and Jenny.
During the day we had a few stops to check the brakes. Barry decided to find a concrete pad to dismantle the brakes fully and start from scratch again. We spotted a large wheat silo on the other side of the railway line and, yes, it had a concrete pad. To make sure we didn’t leave any grease, etc on the concrete, we put a tarp down. After all, this is a place where grain is stored.
Luckily the sun was out by now, but the wind was still very chilly. We must have been there about 15 minutes, when a HiLux ute came zooming down the road and went over to a small building opposite where we were. As there were signs everywhere that “Trespassers would be prosecuted”, we thought we might be asked to leave. What do you do when you have your Tvan jacked up and the wheel off?
The ute finally drove off. I bet he was watching us from the corner of the building.
What’s with these brakes
Barry cleaned down everything yet again and re-greased all that was necessary. He even put in a new bearing, even though the other one was new. With the wheel back on and everything cleaned up, we were on our way again.
By the time we reached Hallett, it was dark. We received a warm welcome from Ian, Ann, Cleve and Jenny, who were just building the camp fire. We set up camp, had dinner and the men then had another look at the brake. All were at a loss as to what was wrong. Peter had left after us, but managed to make up time and joined us at Hallett a good hour after us.
We sat around a lovely camp fire, which was to be the first of many. As we sat there and it started to get quite cold, we could feel the dew coming down on us. I picked up a top from the back of Barry’s chair when we went to bed and it was quite wet.
After much deliberation, we agreed to head into Port Augusta the next morning to see if we could find anyone who could fix the brake. It meant we would have to leave about 5.30am.
29th June 5.20 am -2 degrees
After a reasonable night’s sleep, we got up about 4.00am to a thick fog. A nice hot shower warmed us up.
It was difficult driving in the dark and the very thick fog and we were on the lookout for anything that moved. By the time the sun came up, it was still not warm, but much better driving conditions.
At Terowie, we stopped and checked the brakes. All was well. So it should be at –2 degrees. Barry wanted to drive down Horrocks Pass before there was too much traffic, as we didn’t have the brakes working. We managed to negotiate all the bends and steep descents quite well and Barry gave a sigh of relief when we reached the bottom without any mishaps. At around 8.10am, we arrived at Port Augusta, pretty good timing. However, wherever we went to get help, they either didn’t do brakes, or were booked out.
Only one man was sympathetic to our cause and he said he had his week filled up within the first hour of opening that morning. Why didn’t we try him first? Well, you only find out these things from the ones who can’t help you.
After feeling deflated that we couldn’t get anyone to even look at the brakes, we decided to just go on as we were and continue to check the brakes periodically and hope for the best. After all, we had brakes on one side after cutting the wires to the brake on the offending side,
We got some supplies and met up with the others on the road. Our stay that night was to be the Woomera Tourist Village, a fancy name for the only caravan park in town. When we arrived at the park, we found Ken, Lucie and Gemma already there. While talking to them, we noticed Leigh and Christine camped just down and over a bit. Once we were all set up, we had the introductions. There were six people from the Jackaroo Club and six friends. Our stay here was to be for two nights.
30th June Woomera
Ken, Lucie and Gemma decided not to stay in Woomera, but to go and meet their friends from home. They had already been here for two nights. Leigh and Christine decided to go to Coober Pedy and have a look around. The remaining group went into the township. We walked in as Peter had his rooftop tent up and the rest of us still had our vans hitched up. Our first destination was the rocket park. Here we saw a big display of assorted rockets, aircraft, bombs and other military equipment. The Museum was also of interest. It was full of interesting equipment and history, with plenty of photographs, records, etc.
On then to the Information Centre where we looked at the interactive display of life at Woomera. It was very informative and well done. We enjoyed quite a nice lunch at the only hotel in town, before some of us went into the supermarket to see if we could get any party items to take with us out on the track.
all setup at Woomera
A significant birthday was approaching for Cleve and Gemma was planning a surprise party for Lucie for her birthday on 11th July. This created lots of excitement as we sourced goodies. We had noticed each night, Jupiter was getting closer to the Moon. I asked Gemma if she had noticed and she explained that Jupiter would get closest to the Moon on 30th June and would then start to move away. I asked her how she knew this and learned they were told about it at school. Obviously someone listened.
Woomera – Rocket Park
Woomera today is still a test range for Defence to trial and test defence systems, including bombs, missiles, rockets, aircraft, UAVs and electronic warfare systems that may be needed to defend Australia. The ADF is always testing new and current aircraft and other defence systems to ensure they are always working as they are supposed to. The test range covers 127,000 square kms, an area roughly the size of England. It uses many items of special equipment, such as high speed cameras and optical trackers. Other countries also use the range from time to time for testing. Each year 50 – 60 trials are conducted at Woomera.
1st July 9.15am 6 degrees
It was 1° inside the Tvan at 7.00am this morning.
Len & Anne Beadell Memorial
After passing Camp Rapier Military Base, with its extremely high chain wire fence, we headed off to see Len and Anne Beadell’s grave/monument. Someone had visited previously and placed a bunch of native flowers on the grave. Len’s remains were moved here from the site of the original survey peg to mark the centre line of the Woomera range. Anne’s ashes were interned here in April 2011.
We were fortunate enough to meet Len and Anne’s family at Hawker on Dave Dobson’s Googs Track trip. A wonderful night was spent talking around a fire with the family. As we walked around the cemetery, we were amazed at the ages on the headstones. There were a large number of stillbirths and very young children. Even the adults didn’t seem to live to an old age. Down at the bottom of the cemetery were some new graves.
We came across the Lake Hart Rest area. The reflections of the hills and trees in the water were beautiful. A number of caravans were camped here even though there were no toilet facilities. Some of us needed fuel, so we continued on to Glendambo to fuel up and grab some snacks, etc. Lunch was on the side of the road at a very busy truck stop.
The Sturt Highway is a very good road to travel on, with sections of dead looking small trees, small saltbush, native grasses and small bushes lining the road. The sky had patches of small clouds as the temperature hit 18° at 1.00pm.
We drove into Coober Pedy for more fuel and supplies (including things we had forgotten) and met up with Ken, Lucie, Gemma, Leigh and Christine. We also caught up with Sharon and Chris, friends of Ken and Lucie. We had travelled with them to the Kimberleys in 2013.
When we arrived at the Stuart Ranges Caravan Park, we noticed the line to book in was almost back to the highway. As we had already booked in over the phone, I decided to walk down to the reception area. Since we were last here, it had become a Big4 park (Aspen). Finally, we set up camp and relaxed.
Soon we heard excited voices. Cleve and Jenny had come across their friends, Norm and Pat, who were doing some of the trip we were doing. They were very well set up for the trip. After dinner, we all gathered for a pre-trip information session. We were all excited about what/where our trip was going to take us. The camp ground was undergoing refurbishment (which has been going on since we were here in 2013). There was still a lot more to be done. The smell from the sewerage (or whatever) lingered in the air. It was a bit of a turn off for an otherwise nice park. You would think they would have invested money into this problem first.
There we must leave Linda’s report for this month. Next month the trip starts in earnest