Up the Cooper
Big Paul Broad from Etadunna Station, who has been our host for the past few days. Big man, big laugh, big things. Cattle stations, bulldozers and graders, he’s the sort of bloke that needs a lot of space. His property is contracted for sale to Western Mining Company (they want the water only) but he can’t bring himself to sign away the big life for a rich property on lower Murray catchment.
Mungerannie Roadhouse and John, the whiskered one. A Kiwi in search of the quintessential Australian lifestyle. He sells beer and fuel so he lives here and pokes around the sand hills. He has books of track observations, and is a source of both landscape and human observations. He introduced us to Peter Weston of Clifton Hills Station.
We met Peter in the yard outside the homestead. A collection of metal boxes, fences, sheds, houses, trucks, yards, machinery, laid out like a Torrens town on the sparse surface of Sturt’s Stony Desert. The homestead has a well manicured green lawn. It has obviously taken some effort and much water. We deliver a slab of beer and a carton of cigarettes as a thanks for access to the Walker’s Crossing Track that will allow us to get across to Innaminka with all this water about. The Queensland flood is in Innaminka, but not down to Walker’s, yet. There are hundreds of lakes and overflows to fill. A huge tract of dry Coolibah country awaiting the gift of water. Peter Weston is like a piece of crisp fried bacon: thin, crusty, hard and salty.
Last night we camped on the northern tip of the Koochera Dune, a massive red dune that runs 20 kms into Goyder’s Lagoon. I sat on the dune at dawn, on the wrinkled, sculpted, cold hard sand, surrounded by the waters of Goyder’s Lagoon. The lagoon is filling with waters from the Diamantina and, perhaps, Eyre Creek. I felt the earth turning into the dawn, standing naked on the dune. I put my toes in the sand, and drank cool morning air.
Today we continued our journey up the Cooper. We used a station road called Walker’s Crossing, Clifton Hills Station, and into Innaminka Station (a Kidman property). The track ran up a series of dune swales with occasional crossings, until eventually it came out on the clay pans of the Cooper floodplain. Coolibah country, beautiful sparse forests with open clay and salt pans, hasn’t seen water since 1989-90, but we know it’s only a few days to the north.
After crossing on to Innaminka Station, we came upon the main channel, with a culvert under a clay causeway. Still no water in sight.
From here the track returns to dune county as we approach the Moomba gas and oil fields. The approach into Tirrawarra, a satellite facility of Moomba, is from the east. As we crossed the last dune, we could see the water on its way, flooding the channels and overflows of Cooper Creek. Travelled into Innaminka along the station track, crossing the dry Strzelecki Creek on the edge of town. Along the way, stopped at the Gigealpa waterhole for lunch.
Innaminka was in a state of anticipation. The water had crossed the causeway that morning, and the last vehicle from the north, a low loader and kato, forded at .75m. We camped on the town common on the east side of the Strzelecki, on high ground near the pub.
The publican is a young dread-locked bloke called Dylan, who seemed to fit perfectly the image of an outback publican. Slightly eccentric, resourceful, personable and he has got the outback in his blood. His family previously owned the Birdsville Pub.
After dinner, our tour group, half a dozen mining workers, and local poet-character Taffy Nicholls, made up the pub crowd. Dylan lent Andrew a guitar and the obligatory songs were performed for the group. Later, things got more relaxed, some of our group retiring, and the music more spontaneous. I yarned to Taffy for some time about his time as the Birdsville mailman, droving, and writing poetry. He’s got a chuckle on him that has to be heard.
Sometime later our little party was joined by Greg. Greg was a bit of a surprise package. Firstly, Greg was not a he, Greg was a she. Secondly, Greg first made her presence known when Dylan explained that the “bottle rattling” behind the bar was Greg’s doing. We couldn’t see her, until she finally wandered out after draining a few stubbies.
Greg is a pig. A four-legged, curly-tailed black pig, who wanders around the bar after dark, looking for a beer. Dylan told us how he takes Greg for a swim each day down at the waterhole. She used to travel in a pub van until Christmas day. On that fateful day she feasted on two buckets of beer and a packet of marshmallows. Later, when it was swim time, she travelled in the van down to the water. When Dylan opened the door of the van she fell out flat on her back and wouldn’t get up. Since then she won’t travel in the van, and insists on waddling down to the waterhole.
Mouth of the Cooper
The mouth of Coopers Creek on shores of Lake Eyre north. It’s hot summertime hot, and flies have been ruthless. Tonight, like last night, we camp on the Cooper near Cuttapirra waterhole. The river is dry, with Queensland waters not yet at Innaminka. The lake is 60% full, most of the water hasn’t been here long enough for the birds. The country is looking lush after some local rains recently, with a swath of Mitchell & other grasses between the dunes.
The road out to here is about 80 kms and took 8 hours. We followed a station road out to Georgina Bore (west) then turned north on to a shot line that took us up to Cuttapirra waterhole. Camped the night in a beautiful setting on the salt bed of the Cooper, under an escarpment of gypsum.
This morning we backtracked down the shot line about 5 kms, then travelled west on a GPS bearing across the dunes. The surface is choppy and soft here and there. Low-range 2nd-3rd mostly. After two hours turned WNW, and continued for two more hours until we hit the river at the mouth. In a dry season, a drive down the riverbed salt flats from Cuttapirra would be better going.
It is the autumn equinox and sunset and sunrise are within a minute +12 hours of each other. It’s a big world tonight, with the Sometimes Sea filling and the heavenly clock ticking.
I’m sitting by a mound spring on the southern shore of Lake Eyre. At my feel there is water bubbling out of the sand, which hasn’t seen daylight since it fell as rain on the Great Dividing Range over 1 million years ago. It’s crystal clear from the filtration of 1000 kms of aquifers, and it is bubbling happily.
Scattered around the dunes are great artefacts? of stone tool making. Smooth washed river rocks from the rivers of the Flinders Ranges lay scattered amongst a field of discarded chips of many colours. The lucky chips, the useful ones, have long gone walking along the travel lines to be left beside an unknown campfire.
The scale, the timeframes, the sky, the water, is all big fella.
"Words are clumsy pretenders of the images of my mind."
As a practicing artist I have travelled far and wide across Australia, walked on country, camped on country and rolled out my swag. I thank the custodians and I acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community. I pay my respect to Elders past and present.