25 May, 2012

Lake Eyre Trip - 3rd to 5th May, 2012

Preamble
In August,2010 Gail and I made an abortive attempt to see Lake Eyre by air from Adelaide. The story of that visit is recorded on my Blog. At the suggestion of my stockbroker friend John Reynolds,who has a keen interest in the Burke and Wills saga, we decided to make another attempt this year.

My former Dalgety colleague David Miller of Dubbo has made a name for himself in Australian aviation with his Air Link charter and commuter airline business now owned by Regional Express, but still run by David. David knows inland Australia like the back of his hand and is a very experienced pilot. At Clyde he acted as our unofficial aviation adviser which included servicing our aircraft and recruiting our pilots. I conferred with him and we put together a plan to fly out of Dubbo in an Air Link Piper Chieftain charter, with David at the controls with six passengers-John and Susan Reynolds, John's friends GP Ed. Ryan and his wife Susie, and Gail and me.

Thursday,3rd May

We took off from Dubbo after 9:00AM after some clown (me) had to return to the Motel to pick-up his suit bag which he'd left in a cupboard! Why a suit-see my next post.

We flew to Bourke for a refuelling stop, over-flying former Clyde property Oxley in the Macquarie Marshes. I regailed my fellow travellers over the aircraft P.A. system on the ecological glory of the Marshes and the complete absence of conflict between good environmental management and good commercial (cattle) outcomes. Oxley, from 5,000 feet, looked a picture.

From Bourke we headed WNW for Thurloo Downs as I was keen to show everyone the Bulloo Overflow country-see my Blog post-25th April,2010. I regretted not contacting my friend Peter Hughes and arranging to land and introduce my companions to the largest private landholder in NSW. We got a good view of the overflow water, but much less than in 2010 and then flew over the NSW/Queensland border and many lakes carrying abundant water, before striking the Cooper Channels as that watercourse swings to the west towards South Australia.

We landed at the Dig Tree and , of course were reminded of that great Australian exploration saga of mismanagement and appallingly bad luck. Whilst most Australians know of the late arrival back at Cooper's Creek of the smaller party which had been to the Gulf and back, to discover that the base camp had been abandoned about nine hours earlier, it was John Reynolds who pointed out that that was only the beginning of the bad luck/bad management. Subsequent visits to the camp site by Brahe and Wright (returning from the base camp party) and Will's himself and the failure of all of them to leave a clear indication that they had been there, contributed to the deaths of Burke and Wills. Cooper's Creek was running strongly, from the March rains.

As we flew out of the Dig Tree I was surprised at how different the country appeared from our visit of two years previously when we didn't land and were mostly over 10,000 feet!. What appeared to be well grassed, undulating grazing land dominated until the lakes of the Congie area appeared. Lots of water.

There was plenty of water to be seen in the Diamantina as we approached Birdsville. We strolled around the town and arranged to have a drink with David and Nell Brook at the pub. They are a fascinating, switched on couple, with real life commercial and environmental experience of the Channel Country. David is the third generation of his family who have been in Birdsville and has lived all his life in the district and says that the last three years is the best run of seasons he has seen. He has now rebuilt cattle numbers to their pre-drought levels. ABC TV were in town and that day had done some filming of Brook family cattle in some Adria Downs cattle yards. We subsequently saw this great footage on the ABC News. Wonderfully conditioned Hereford cattle. I was interested to learn that former Clyde cattle agent/bull buyer, Charlie Weyman-Jones, is now doing a similar job for the Brooks.

Friday, 4th May
We took off from Birdsville as David and Nell Brook took-off for Longreach to a Stockman's Hall of Fame event. Nell at the controls whilst David was writing his speech-he is the Chairman. David rang to say that the fresh in the Diamantina had reached "Cowarrie"-downstream of Goyder's Lagoon. We followed the river South and I was blown away by the vastness of the Goyder Lagoon wetland. It makes the Macquarie Marshes look like a pocket handkerchief. Not sure who the lucky grazier/s is, but it would be a great asset.

As the water comes back together below the Lagoon the river changes its name to the Warburton and swings around towards the west. A breakout stream heads into Lake Eyre and
a little later after joining another river from the north/west (the Macumba) the mainstream becomes the Warburton Groove and flows into the Lake.

We were surprised at how little water there appeared to be in Lake Eyre North-really only a good body in the southern end which at the very south takes on a red ochre appearance. Otherwise appears just a huge expanse of white salt with some damp patches. Lake Eyre south had more visible water, which I noted mainly comes from the Flinders Ranges.

Some interesting topography formations as you fly south.

We landed at Leigh Creek for refuelling and I noted from the air a well established town servicing the mines which supply the coal to Whyalla.

Then on to Wilpena Pound, landing at Rawnsley Park. We did a Sunset Tour from the WP Resort which was simply some eats and drinks from a nearby hill watching the sun set over the hills surrounding the Pound. Hard spinifex country.

Saturday 5th May
Great views of the Pound as we took off against a rising sun. As we flew to Broken Hill for refuelling and an airport breakfast I was very conscious of how little I know of the S.A. Pastoral country.

From Broken Hill we got a good, long distance view of the Menindee Lakes before striking the Paroo floodwaters. To my surprise it appeared that the Paroo was still flowing in to the Darling in two spots. The passage of the Darling floodwaters was still very clear. We flew over Toorale and I requested everybody to join me in a cry! I was challenged to explain McCaughey's Warrego water spreading system in the time available.

Les Walsh (Landmark, Bourke) had kindly left a vehicle for us at the Bourke airport to drive to the Showground via the wharf and the main street. At the Show it was clear that people were all shocked by Wayne O'Mally's death the previous Sunday in an aircraft accident. In opening the Show the Bourke Mayor (Andrew Lewis) bracketed Wayne's death, the drought and the loss of Toorale, as the major disasters which had hit the district in the last decade. I thought the Show was smaller than usual, but still a great show and a tribute to the resilience of the community.

Gail and I stayed on in Bourke to attend Wayne's funeral on the following Monday whilst the rest of the party went on to Dubbo and connecting flights to Sydney. This was a great trip in really good company.

Full photo gallery.
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