One of the last outback roads constructed by Len Beadell’s Gunbarrel Road Construction Party (GRCP), Gary Junction Road is one of few direct west-east crossings from the WA coast into the red centre of the country.
The road caused the GRCP many issues and it was therefore made in several sections over a period of nearly three years. The initial 180km section from Sandy Blight Junction east to the Liebeg Bore was completed first in September 1960 and the 330km stretch to westward from the junction to Jupiter Well took another two months.
The first major interruption to the road’s construction was a critical breakdown of the grader near Jupiter Well with a destroyed gearbox, starting the epically long job of towing the grader back to their base at Giles using the bulldozer, at the blinding pace of 3km/h. During this month long tow recovery they had another mishap when the rations truck caught alight and was completely burnt out – they eventually reached Giles at end of November 1960. An account of this period can be read in Len’s book “Beating about the bush“.
Continuation of the road had to wait until May 1963 from junction at northern end of the newly constructed Gary Highway. Working with only a grader in the sandy terrain the road quickly reached the previous end point at Jupiter Well to the east of Gary Junction. By July ’63 they had returned to Gary Junction and drove remainder of the road westward via Canning Stock Route (CSR) Well 35 to eventually reach the Callawa Station tracks that provided the final road link to the WA coast.
The original Gary Junction Road length from Liebig Bore to Callawa Station was near to 1,350km however over time the road west of the CSR was not used and diversions such as Jenkins Track created a new western terminus at CSR Well 33, near Kunawarritji. The current Gary Junction Road is shortened to around 800km as marked on Hema maps – but has a total touring route length of 1,350km if you include the run across Telfer Road to the town of Marble Bar.
Our crossing of the Gary Junction Road commenced with a run along the Telfer Road to Kunawarritji, check out our previous blogs at this LINK for more about our slipping sliding drive along this muddy section after overnight rain. We pick up the story for this blog after camping over night on the Canning Stock Route at Well 33.
Although this road is not as remote and arduous as some (e.g. Anne Beadell Highway, Talawana Track) it is sensible to take normal outback travelling precautions such as carrying adequate fuel, water, food and communications equipment.
- Gary Junction Road – NT Section (Central Land Council)
- Gary Junction Road – WA Section (Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority)
- Glen Helen Pastoral Road (NT) (Central Land Council)
Kunawarrritji to Papunya
We spent a quiet night camped in moon shadow cast by the windmill at Well 33 on the CSR, just east of Kunawarritji Community.
Western end of the Gary Junction Road is a well maintained gravel road with occasional sandy sections. Corrugations were mild in some parts and absent in others thanks to the great maintenance undertaken so that the road can service the indigenous communities along its length.
The first stretch we covered took us to intersection with the Gary Highway and the junction that gave its name to this road. The junction is well marked with a replica of Beadell’s original plaque affixed to top of a 44 gallon drum – there is also a visitors’ log book and a welcome sign courtesy of the Martu people whose land this section of road crosses.
After brewing a coffee we continued to the next landmark along the road – Jupiter Well. The original well was dug after the GRCP had departed the scene, by a National Mapping Council crew who camped here for a few months in 1961 and who wanted to avoid trucking water all the way from Liebig Bore. The original hand dug well has been replaced by a drilled bore with hand pump for raising water, it is set in a beautiful stand of desert oaks surrounded by deep red sand dunes – no wonder they chose to camp here!
Over time route of the road has wandered from the original GRCP grader cut, possibly to avoid bogs or other hazards that emerged after the GCRP first pushed through the scrub. Just east of Jupiter Well is a roadside plaque pointing southward to location of an original Beadell tree blaze with plaque (unfortunately another replica) that would have been on the original road alignment and which informs travellers that they are 11 miles from Jupiter Well.
From Jupiter Well the road passes through a variety of Gibson Desert scenery; from vast spinifex cloaked flats to red sand dunes dressed in wild flowers. We came across many camels through this section of the trip, some of which were reluctant to leave the road and ran ahead of us for quite a distance.
The road itself was in fair condition but rutted in places and with many large water filled depressions as a result of the recent rain. Most areas had a firm base but it was still necessary to maintain momentum to prevent bogging down or sliding across the road surface.
As we progressed further to the east the scenery and road became less sandy and large red rock rises started to appear on the horizon, with corrugations becoming more of a nuisance. As we approached Kiwirrkurra we noticed that a grader was working ahead of us, but barely skimming the road surface as he drove along – the driver must be paid by the kilometre travelled rather than road surface repaired…
We found a roadside plaque identifying the place where the GRCP rations truck caught alight.
A few kilometres further along the road we swung into the indigenous community of Kiwirrkurra to check out the burnt remains of the GRCP rations truck, abandoned by Beadell’s team but later relocated into the community as a tourist draw card. We intended to buy fuel and a snack while there but found the town less friendly than others we’d been in, with no signs that the store was trading, so we left quietly the way we entered.
Road conditions continued to deteriorate between Kiwirrkurra and the NT border with some section badly corrugated, leading to a few side tracks where people had elected to drive on the smoother roadside shoulder.
It was getting late in the day and we started to scout for potential camp sites as we drove along. Red sandstone mesas and hills started to crowd the road, usually a good sign that a hidden camp site can be found much easier than in the wide open desert plains.
Along the road we had seen several 44 gallon drum signs marked “SOS WATER”, indicating that an emergency water supply could be found nearby, usually a well, bore or water tank. We turned into the side track to investigate and found an abandoned outstation building and water tank, but it felt a little creepy to stay there the night.
We instead took another less formed side track that led into an old road construction pad, tucked up against a rocky rise and surrounded by scrub but level and firm – we felt much more at ease here so this looked like a much better place to camp the night.
Another day and another stretch of gravel road ahead of us. 30km from our camp we cross the WA/NT state border, which is marked by a pair of white timber posts planted and plaqued by Len Beadell, and fittingly the roadside was also adorned with some Sturt’s Desert Pea.
We called into the Liebig Bore site and start of the original Gary Junction Road, now called the Lizard Bore, but found that it had been vandalised and was dry – though we left a tray of water for the finches that hovered hopefully around the area looking for water.
Another 20km along the road brought us to another Len Beadell landmark, Sandy Blight Junction. Unfortunately we found that Len’s original marker post had rotted off at the ground and was dragged off the roadside, with its signature plaque also removed. I passed on this news to the Beadell family so that they can attend to a repair or replacement on their next maintenance trip to the area.
Our traverse of the Gary Junction Road ended soon after when we turned into the indigenous community of Papunya, though the marked road continues for another 87km to its terminus and intersection with the Tanami Road.
From here our adventures continue with a trip to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Finke Gorge and other red centre attractions – subscribe to the blog or come back soon to catch up with our next Travelling Two instalment.