After resupplying and refuelling at Ceduna the opening days of our atomic roads adventure were spent getting from the South Australia coast to the first of our Len Beadell roads, the Anne Beadell Highway which starts (or ends) at Coober Pedy. Along the way we would get to glimpse some of the SA outback’s treasures and quirks.
A leisurely departure from Ceduna Tourist Park has us running eastward along the Eyre Highway before turning on to the Gawler Ranges Road at the whistle stop town of Wirrulla. We were soon on a gravel road so the convoy spaced out to avoid running in each others’ dust, with the road weaving through the salt pans and dry lake beds of the Lake Gairdner National Park.
Water has always been a valued commodity in this part of the world and a novel solution erected along many outback roads are rain harvesting ‘sheds’. These are basically a low corrugated iron roof designed to gather rainwater and funnel it into a tank, the tank being handily located under shade of the roof to minimise evaporation.
The road verges were also an easy place to spot South Australia’s state floral emblem, the Sturt’s Desert Pea which was growing prolifically in the loose soil cast aside by the grader when it last maintained the road.
The small township of Kingoonya was our first nights’ stop, with camp set up in the local caravan park. Kingoonya was once an important transport hub, being on both the east-west Trans Australian Railway and the north-south Central Australian (or Ghan) Railway services, which made it an original rail head for much of the Tarcoola area’s wool and gold production. The township is now shrunken to a hotel, the caravan park and a smattering of run down houses, but the pub proved more than capable of turning out some great meals for our group of hungry travellers.
First thing the next morning we unhitched our trailers and went exploring the nearby Tarcoola gold fields including inspecting remains of a derelict government battery stamping and beneficiating station on shore of the nearly dry Lake Harris. The battery station was once the location to which gold miners would bring their ore to be broken down for the gold to be extracted, a process involving crushing the quartz host rock then leaching out the gold with toxic chemicals like cyanide, evidence of which was still stored in fragile looking holding dams.
Unfortunately on the run into the area the Cruiser suffered her first damage of the trip. I was fourth vehicle passing through an old wire farmer’s gate and it seems that each preceding vehicle ran over and disturbed an old star picket laying in the long grass – as I came through the narrow gate opening the right rear tyre caught the steel fence picket and it flicked up, denting the rear mud guard…
After lunch we regathered our trailers and headed northward to our next camp at the historic Mt Eba sheep station. Once a huge 14,000 square kilometre property when established in 1874, the property is still huge but at only 2,000 square kilometres much smaller than it was.
As well as managing 11,000 merino sheep the station has to contend with a strange and imposing neighbour – the station is within the Woomera Prohibited Area (formerly known as the Woomera Rocket Range) over which missile and rocket testing took place during the 1960s and even today the station has to be regularly abandoned to allow secret weapons testing to take place in the skies above.
The station paddocks still contain many unrecovered rocket components from past testing programs, one being an impressively large tail section of a rocket poking out of the ground! The station also includes an underground bunker built during the Woomera range’s hey day, which was a refuge for station personnel to hide in during testing in case a missile went wayward.
A communal fire pit dinner and drinks wrapped up an interesting afternoon exploring Mt Eba Station – putting the team in great spirits the next morning for the run to Australia’s opal mining centre of Coober Pedy where we would top up with water, fuel, food and for those lucky enough maybe find some fire trapped in stone (aka opals!)
Check out next leg of our trip when we take on the mighty Anne Beadell Highway across remote deserts of SA and WA… BLOG LINK HERE