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A Solo Trek in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia

Listening to the Stars

semi-overcast

Bullfinch Evanston Road

Bullfinch Evanston Road

My overseas long-distance solo trek has been scuppered due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed in Western Australia.

After pouring over my maps I devise my own loop trek in the Eastern Goldfields – an area some 550 km to the east of Perth - a region where the plants and animals survive on a drop of water.

Field map with trek route

Field map with trek route

The Eastern Goldfields is isolated, harsh and dry with a small number of reliable and permanent sources of water. Over the millennia, the traditional Aboriginal people of the region survived because of their knowledge of the land. They moved around the country crisscrossing between gnammas (rock holes) and lakes where they would find food and water, and camp for a few nights.

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Early prospectors who travelled to the region in the massive gold rush of the 1890s frequently failed in their endeavours because of their cumbersome camp equipment, and their lack of knowledge about the terrain and location of water. Many carried their worldly possessions in heavy, wood, long-handled wheelbarrows pushing their swags and gold pans along little more than dirt and sand tracks.

I need to be totally self-sufficient on my solo trek, so I opt to use ‘Wheelie’, a contemporary lightweight and robust walking trailer which is initially loaded with 37 kg of gear, food and water.

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My goal is to cover 250 km in 12 days walking through the Mount Manning Range Nature Reserve and the Helena-Aurora Range Conservation Park, both located within the Great Western Woodlands, the largest remaining temperate climate woodland in the world. It is a biological hotspot of international importance: a rich mosaic of eucalyptus and mallee forest, scrubland and salt lake systems. It supports a high diversity of flora and fauna, many species found nowhere else on the planet.

I begin my trek in mid-August on the shore of Lake Deborah East, an inland salt lake, and end at the single-bench train station of Koolyanobbing. I am in for clear, mild days but potentially cold nights and hopefully only a spot of rain. As it is spring, a myriad of colourful wildflowers are in bloom.

Wildflower Great Western Woodland

Wildflower Great Western Woodland

Wildflowers of Great Western Woodlands

Wildflowers of Great Western Woodlands

Wildflowers of Great Western Woodlands

Wildflowers of Great Western Woodlands

Wildflowers of Great Western Woodlands

Wildflowers of Great Western Woodlands

My friends Alison and Allan assist me greatly as they drive me to my starting point at Lake Deborah East. As I cannot carry all the food and water I need for a 12 day trek in one go, they later meet me at my Day 4 site so I can replenish my supplies.

Sunset at Lake Deborah East

Sunset at Lake Deborah East

Although I carry a GPS with me, I mainly rely on my compass and my marked up 1:250,000 scale Jackson NATMAT topographic map. As there are innumerable seismic tracks along my way due to exploration and mining activity, I also download a few aerial photos of places that I believe can cause me confusion.

People usually ask me two questions when they hear of my trek: ‘Do you get scared?’ ‘Do you get lonely or bored?’
In answer to the first, I know that if I yell, no one will hear so I plan the details of my route, food, water and equipment requirements meticulously. Planning takes out most of the scariness.

Walking can be tedious and can empty the mind. However, a blank mind can be very serene. In between bouts of serenity I take pictures, kick rocks, sing horribly and win every argument. I am alone, but not lonely.

The First Four Days

I start my trek walking down the well-maintained Bullfinch Evanston Road. Not long in, a water truck stops and out hops Westie. Although the road is open to the public, it is frequently used by trucks hauling ore from the Mount Jackson and Marda mine sites. I’m told that my being sighted on the road has caused a wee bit of chagrin. Who’s the bird on the road? What’s she doing? Get her off the road! She is a safety risk! Alison and Allan are following the saga on their 2-way radio quietly having a chuckle.

Westie and I have a chat, I explain what I am doing, he explains the concerns of the company and we negotiate a safety plan. All too easy. But importantly, the truckies now know I am on the road and I get a honk and wave each time a truck passes by me.

The first three days of my trek are straight forward. It is easy to find a suitable camping spot each night as the red barked salmon gums and fluted gimlet trees are spaced far apart and there is little underbrush. On windless nights, I dig a small hole and light a fire for cooking. The silence is broken by the clicking of the cicadas.

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I reach my Day 4 site just south of the turn off to the abandoned Olby Mine where I meet up with Alison and Allan where I restock my food and water, and repack everything.

Bad Tracks and Nervous Point

As I head east to Southwest Peak in the Mt Manning Range, I discover the state of the track I am to follow for the next eight days: sand, stones, washaways, heavy corrugations and the occasional patch of packed dirt. For the most part, I am able to cover my daily distance as Wheelie ‘walks’ by itself, but it’s hard yakka when I have to drag and pull Wheelie in soft sand or along corrugated, rocky terrain. There are a few times when I cover only one kilometre in an hour.

I walk mainly through sandplain shrub land of dense acacia trees but I enter open woodland once I am at Southwest Peak and where I turn south to the Hunt Range.

‘Where ya going?’

Clearly, I’m not the only one travelling in the boondocks. I explain what I am doing.

‘I like walking, but I never seen anyone walking out here,’ exclaims the gentleman in the first of seven land cruisers.

‘Yes – um, well. Where’re you guys heading?’

‘We’re just a bunch of old boys who’re gonna spend about five nights out in the bush.’

I see that a number of the cars are loaded with wood, so keeping warm and having a billy on the boil will undoubtedly be keenly anticipated at the end of each day. After waving at the drivers, each wearing bush mandated khaki green shirts, I get the thumbs up from all. I tug on Wheelie and set off again.

While planning the trek, I identify one stretch of track on the northern end of the Hunt Range where I am uncertain of its direction. The map has squiggly markings that look like a tangle of noodles and unfortunately, the aerial photo did little to clarify what was going on.
I call this juncture Nervous Point because of my uncertainty and my nervousness is justified. When I arrive at Nervous Point, I learn the reason for the noodle pattern: the markings are contour lines of a huge granite rock outcrop with an outlook that vanishes into the horizon and tracks heading into the bush in all directions.

A previous traveller had tacked a tin sign on a tree trunk with the name Bungalbin roughly tapped out with a nail at Nervous Point. Bungalbin is the name given to the Helena and Aurora Ranges by the Kapurn people and is also the highest peak in the range. So, I know I need to head in that direction. However, I do not see any distinct track and I make three false starts each time finishing at a dead end before I finally find the right track.

I am lucky and find a gnamma hole with water and I fill one of my empty water bottles, ignoring the little creatures that are swimming around. After seven days, I am willing to sacrifice a few invertebrates to have an evening bath.

Reaching the Helena and Aurora Ranges

Most of the 30-ish km between Nervous Point and the Helena and Aurora Ranges is a tramp pulling Wheelie through thick sand. Stands of open salmon, gimlet and blackbutt eucalypt woodland mesh into impenetrable Acacia scrubland. I pass patches of banksias, hakeas and sandalwood, many plants being sources of bush tucker. There are plenty of animal tracks – emu, kangaroo, birds, wild dog – but I see very few live animals.

Half-way there

Half-way there


Woodland habitat

Woodland habitat

The adage ‘red sky at night, sailors delight’ did not hold up to its reputation the evening of Day 7. The sunset paints the clouds a blazing red which melds into the red dirt, the moon is so bright the trees cast shadows on the dusty ground and it’s so quiet you can hear the stars sing. But in the middle of the night there is a storm. The strong, gusty wind rushes through the tree tops dropping to the ground shaking my tent, the thunder rolls along the sky and a heavy, misty rain falls. The morning heralds cold temperatures and I have to pack my wet gear into Wheelie.

I pass the Helena and Aurora Ranges over Days 8 and 9. There are a number of walk trails that lead into the ranges, but unfortunately I don’t have the time nor water to investigate. This time I have to stay satisfied peering through the trees to see the peaks.

Helena Aurora Range

Helena Aurora Range

The next stretch of track is hard toil mainly through open woodland: loose gravel, soft sand and corrugations that compete with the Himalayan mountains. I meet a number of people in 4WDs along the way who follow bush ethics of asking whether I need food or water. Even a bottle of white is offered.

I arrive at the intersection of the Helena and Aurora Ranges track and the Mineral Resources Ltd haul road for the Koolyanobbing iron ore mine operations on Day 12 where a prearranged security escort meets me and follows me through the mine site to the Koolyanobbing train station.

In the early evening, with all the dirt and smell from a 12 day hike still on me and less three toenails, I am in a surreal world sitting on the Prospector train to Perth. No one sits next to me and I spend the next six hours watching inane movies and indulging in microwaved lasagna.

End of the trek

End of the trek

Posted by IvaS 06:34 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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