Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Innamincka, Outamincka

The original bar at the Innamincka Pub.

Since I got back from Sydney, things have been so quiet Dusty has shut the Bakery for the summer, so I have a fair bit of spare time on my hands, although its now so hot I don't feel like going outside in the middle of the day.

The owners of the pub at Birdsville also own the pub at Innamincka, and have been renovating. The opening for the new bar, the Outamincka Bar, was held a few weekends ago, and gave us the perfect excuse to do some sight-seeing. We went down via the Birdsville Track and Walker's Crossing, and came back via Burke and Wills' Dig Tree and Cordillo Downs, which boasts the country's biggest shearing shed. There hasn't actually been any sheep at Cordillo since about the 1940s, but the building is still there and very impressive. It was a round trip of about 770 kms.

The road got more interesting once we turned off the Birdsville Track and headed for Walker's Crossing. At first it was just vast empty gibber plain with the odd sand dune thrown in, but as we got into Coongie Lakes National Park, there were lots of trees, although around the lakes they were mostly dead because the lakes were dry. The road was bendy and undulating, and our line of vision very close for a change. The ground was mostly white, a stark contrast to the red sand dunes. We passed Walker's Crossing, a very drab and dry creek bed (I don't know why I keep expecting water in these places) and decided to detour via the Tirrawarra Oil and Gas Fields, which had interesting plumes of black smoke coming straight from the ground, where they were burning off condensate. There is also water associated with this and there was an unexpected large, very green swampy area in the middle of vast expanses of nothing — such contrasts are part a of the wonder of this part of the world. More lots of nothing, then the Geodynamics Thermal Hot Rocks drill site — Geodynamics plan to supply geothermal energy to Immamincka by March next year, an exciting small start to bigger things. Not too far past that we saw a line of trees which usually indicates a watercourse, and came upon Wills' Grave on the banks of the Cooper Creek.

Cooper Creek is a large body of (mostly permanent) water, formed from the meeting of the Thomson and Barcoo Rivers near Windorah. It was a lovely spot, with huge River Red Gums and grassy banks. I wanted to pitch the tent right there, but we pressed on to Innamincka. We headed straight for the pub, where we had a very cold beer with Birdsville artist Wolfgang John (also down for the opening) and checked out the lay of the land. The new bar was a very impressive modern addition to a rustic old building, and the staff were gearing up for the evening. We looked around town, which took about 5 minutes — it's very small, population about 12 plus the bar staff, and set on a hot dry gibber plain above the flood line of the Cooper Creek. Camping was on the town common along the creek bank, and was just as nice as the area around Wills' Grave. We set up the tent, and Wolfie, who had put out his swag a bit further along, turned up with more beers, so we sat down by the water and watched the pelicans and corellas and parrots while the sun went down.

It was so pleasant there we were almost late for the festivities at the bar, where a large crowd had turned up from nowhere. A lot of them had flown in earlier that afternoon, and been on a tour of the Geodynamics site. It was a very pleasant evening, with lots of good food, wine, and interesting people to talk to. We retired to our tent for a good night's sleep, but woke to the noise of the corellas at dawn. After making ourselves bacon and eggs and coffee on our little stove for breakfast, we went swimming in the creek.

We got away about 11 am and headed off for the Dig Tree. By the time we got there it was a bit like a blast furnace — very hot and windy. If B&W were walking around in that, I'm not surprised it killed them. (Actually, they had beri-beri or some such dietary failing.) We had planned to stop for lunch, but after a fairly quick inspection we jumped back into our air-conditioned car and headed north. Parts of the road were extremely rough and rocky and shortened the life of our tyres quite a bit, and other parts were soft red sand tracks. We passed a road train with a shredded tyre, and chased a camel off the road not much further along.

Cordillo Downs sat baking on another gibber ridge, there are no trees to be seen anywhere. The shearing shed is a very impressive building, and the homestead beyond also looked interesting but was private so I didn't get to check it out. Back on the very rocky road, and eventually came upon the ruins of Cadelga Station, where we stopped for coffee and our late lunch of peanut butter sandwiches at about 3pm. We still had a long way to go, and when we hit the main Birdsville-Windorah Road, it felt like a highway in comparison to the rough track we had been travelling on.

We were treated to a spectacular sunset as the sun dropped from a clear sky to a dust haze on the horizon, and when we finally got back about 7.30 pm, we felt like we'd been travelling a long long time.

A red sand dune disappears into a heat mirage behind some cattle not long after turning off the Birdsville Track. It's difficult to see how cattle survive out here, but they looked to be in good condition.

The red sand dunes contrast with the white road.

The Coongie Lakes. They do get a lot of water after a big rain further north and it eventually makes it way down the Cooper Creek.

A plume on the plain — Tirrawarra Oil and Gas Field burning off.

Miles of nothing — seriously!

The Geodynamics thermal hot rocks drill.

The Cooper Creek at the Wills Grave just outside Innamincka — a lovely and surprisingly big watercourse in the middle of the desert.

Setting up camp along the Cooper Creek at the Innamincka town common. There is a pelican floating past in the creek.

The original part of the Innamincka Hotel.

The opening of the Outamincka Bar — hard to believe outside there's hundreds of miles of desert to the next town — but was definitely worth the drive.

Innamincka sits on a gibber ridge above the floodline of the Creek. The big building on the left is the Australian Inland Mission hospital, built in 1929, and now has tourist information. Then the pub, the Trading Post and some tourist cabins, a private house or two, and that's about it.

The Burke & Wills Dig Tree, north of Innamincka.

This guy thought he owned the road.

The old shearing shed at Cordillo Downs. It's a very large building and was built with the curving roof because it required less structural support.

Cadelga Station ruins.

The sun sets into a dust haze.