Thinking back to the South West

A couple of recent posts by my friend Ian Fraser about the Great Western Woodlands have stirred me to think about my only visit to that approximate area in 1973.  Digital photography didn't exist then and I can't locate any film photos I took, so this burble is going to be fairly image-free.  There is also not too much about natural history although (reader advisory)some frisky, adult oriented, simians get a mention in the last paragraph or two.

The basic plot was myself and Trevor, one of my flatmates, driving across the Nullabor from Adelaide through Kalgoorlie to Perth and then down the South-West to Esperance  and back home.  We were travelling (and sleeping) in my Austin 1800 which was an excellent car in design.  Unfortunately it was built by British Leyland and thus very unreliable.  I'd had the motor rebuilt just before we left and when it got warmed up the valve springs would jam, which meant removing the rocker cover and tapping them gently with an axe.  Just part of the routine for the first few days.

I can't remember exactly why we changed the plan but we did modify it - I think while in Perth - so that when we got to Esperance we drove back up to Kalgoorlie and caught the Indian-Pacific train back to Port Augusta.

Here is the Google Maps version of the route in the SW (the earlier bit is just a line from Adelaide to Norseman which took us three days).
According to Uncle Google that route is close to 2,300kms (and followed a 2,000 km leg to get there).  We arrived as indicated by the red arrow: the green arrows signify the last leg back to Kalgoorlie.

When we got to Norseman, having enjoyed doing the 90 mile straight in about an hour - speed limits were sensible then - we had a cleansing Ale and decided the town was a bit too lively for sleep (desirable as we had driven about 800 km that day) so went to camp in the bush a few miles North of the town.  We basically pulled off the road, took enough kit off the back seat (stacking it on the roof to keep the ants away) to make a double bed and stacked a few zeds.

Next morning I woke up and went for a run along the the road.  This was in April so the lovely flowers shown in Ian's blog were not evident.  I do remember the rising sun causing the salmon gums to glow brilliantly all along the road.  After boiling the billy we repacked the car and headed off towards Kambalda, a nickel mining town South of Kalgoorlie.

My main memory of this drive was the carpet of empty beer bottles beside the road as soon as we turned off the main highway.  I'd suggest that there would have been  at least one bottle per linear metre.  However the town of Kambalda was operated by the mining company and they enforced littering rules: as soon as one went by the "Welcome to Kambalda" sign no more beer bottles.

We looked around Kambalda (from memory this took about 15 minutes) and headed for Kalgoorlie to which we devoted a couple of hours.  We got back to the highway at the ghost town of Coolgardie where we filled up with petrol and decided that a shower would be a nice luxury after two nights sleeping rough.  Problemo!!!  Trevor can't find the suitcase with his clean underdaks in it.  We concluded it must have been on the roof of the car when we drove off so back in the car and zip down the highway to our previous campsite.  No sign of the case or its contents.

I can't remember how we resolved the underdak situation but we ended up getting to Southern Cross that night.  We went for a counter meal at a pub there and I began to notice toothache.  This got pretty bad so to avoid disturbing Trevor I went and slept, fitfully, in the amenities block.  When daylight dawned I emerged and noticed that the Base Hospital was across the road.  Perhaps they had a dentist: indeed they did have one who ran a surgery there.  He was due again in 10 days time!  Bugger.  However the nice nurse gave me some Digesic.   Excellent stuff - Trevor drove and the next thing I knew was that we were in the Swan Valley.

We briefly visited a couple of wineries - I was feeling very chirpy now - and then headed for the CBD.  I think Trevor went searching for a department store to resolve the daks issue while I went hunting dentist.  We were both successful and went to find a caravan park at Como.  We stayed in Perth for a couple of unremarkable days - although I do recall an outstanding meal at a dodgy restaurant somewhere in Subiaco and headed off South.

Busselton was our first stop and we decided to do some fishing off the jetty.  I can't remember how we had lines etc, but it does seem unlikely (but not unbelievable) that we would have schlepped rods and lines across the Nullabor.  Whatever, we didn't catch any fish but a big gust of wind did catch my nice felt hat and blew it into the sea where it floated away, despite our best efforts to jag it!

We played tourist along the South Coast including a trip inland through the karri and jarrah forests.  We got to the Gloucester tree on a rather damp day and decided to have a go at it.  In those days it was completely unregulated so up we went.  Check the image on the linked page (and also the last FAQ): the pegs were wet and greasy so after one spiral we joined the 80% who didn't make it all the way.

Following that failure we went for a wander along a track and suddenly heard a timbery groaning noise.  Looking across a valley we saw a branch, about a metre in diameter, crash off a very tall tree.  We decided that discretion was the better part of not getting a large lump of timber on our heads and retreated.  Of course the rest of the day we were driving through the forests with huge branches overhanging the road.  Fortunately they stayed there, unlike another flatmate's experience some time later when a branch fell and hit his car just behind the B-pillar.  That was a written off car with a few thanks that there were no passengers in the back seat.

To catch the train we had to deliver the car to Kalgoorlie at about 3pm on Good Friday, the day before we caught the passenger train.  This enabled the car to be loaded on to a freight train from which we would regain it in Port Augusta two days later.

I can't remember where we slept the night before but do remember we drove from Esperance after dark.  It was not a good road at that time with a single lane of bitumen and a lane of dirt each side.  This basically made the drive a series of chicken runs as, when faced with on-coming traffic, both drivers stayed on the bitumen as long as possible and flicked the inside wheels on to the dirt at the last moment.  It was made more 'interesting' as it seemed that most southbound traffic were towing caravans or boats and hadn't adjusted their headlights so low beam was oriented about where high beam used to be.  As we passed through Norseman Trevor kept a careful, but unsuccesful, eye out for anyone wearing an Alice Springs Surf Livesaving Club since that had been in his suitcase.

So the next day we found out what a dead town was like when we got back to Kalgoorlie.  Just about everyone that hadn't gone to Esperance was apparently at the Round, a huge (and somewhat illegal) two up school somewhere out bush.

Of course all the pubs were officially shut, with it being Good Friday.  One had a hand-written sign saying he was definitely shut and had gone bush for the weekend because the fines he'd had to pay last year were ridiculous.  We tried playing the bona-fide traveller rule (in South Australia, if you were more than 80km from home you were a traveller and could buy beer to refresh yourself).  We were soon told that in WA that lurk no longer applied as the State Government had introduced Sunday Sessions.

We did notice a Ford Cortina driving past several times and by repositioning ourselves saw it park in front of a pub from which guys emerged with cardboard boxes.  After this had happened a couple of times a couple of fairly hefty guys came over and asked what we were doing.My response was that we were waiting for someone to sell us some beer.  A twenty dollar note was exchanged and a few minutes later a box of mixed stubbies was loaded into the car.  It was then suggested we go forth forth and multiply.

That concept, in Kalgoorlie, gets around sooner or later to Hay St.  We decided we'd doss down for the night on benches in the railway station so we didn't have to walk too far to catch the Eastbound train at 7am the next morning.  After handing the car and most of our kit (but not the beer) over to Commonwealth Railways we went and sat in the station to read.  About 7pm the westbound train pulled in and paused for an hour or so.  All the tourists hopped off and went down to Hay St to check things out.  Many photos were taken of attractive young ladies sitting infront of various departments of Mrs Palm's franchise who seemed to be rather poor, as they couldn't afford many clothes.  As far as I could work out the young ladies didn't earn much at that time.  We returned to the station and had a pretty fair nights sleep on very hard benches.

We caught the train the next morning. and some 27 hours later hopped out at Port Augusta for the final drive back to Adelaide (arriving about 1pm (ie 4 hours before the train).  Somehow or another all the beer had disappeared en route, and our attempts to resupply at the fettlers camp of Cook SA had proved fruitless.


Ian Fraser said…
Great story thanks Martin. My family history in that general department goes back a tad further, with my parents' stories of driving a petite Fiat across in 1949 - ie long before the highway was sealed. Them were the days....

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