Western Australia

65 Mount Gould

A tale of Gravity Songlines, by Geoff Addison

Welcome to my journey from East Fremantle Western Australia to Mount Augustus National Park. May you allow me to show you the many unseen features of the Upper Gascoyne and encourage you for your own explorations.

The ride will take in about 3,000 kilometres, of which 1,000 will be on unmade roads, that is dirt. I will be staying at set campsites most of the time unless there are places of beauty that I cannot pass by, but allowing the occasional luxury of a donga to allow for some recovery (after all this a holiday).

Well, that was the plan…

From the beginning, way before I had even started the ride, there was a fair bit of preparation to be gone through before I left. Servicing the bike, new tyres and sorting out food and water, that sort of thing, all to mark off my checklist.

I had nine days of leave from work, and my proposed ride was from the city northwards to the Upper Gascoyne region of Western Australia, leaving on the first day of winter. The ride would take in Mount Augustus and turn south-east back to the highway and then back home. Here in WA, we have many adventure options that can suit all choices of rides, as tough as you want to make with the time you have got.

73 Beware near Murchison Staion
Near Murchison Station

After sorting the supplies that I knew I needed for a solo trip on the Dakar I had one final thing to do, and that was to inform a mate that I was going on a remote ride as he was one of the people that I can notify through my SPOT Personal Satellite Tracker if I needed help out there.

You see, where I was heading belongs to the large part of Western Australia that isn’t covered by mobile phone coverage and SPOT is the most reliable means of contact with others and let them know that either (a) you are ok, (b) I am in trouble, but not to bad, and (c), that lets the police and emergency people come and get you, but only in the most grimmest of needs, like a serious injury, mechanical problems or failure to proceed (whatever that means).

As it turned out my mate had also planned another trip, but unfortunately had fallen through and asked if I wouldn’t mind if he tagged along. Brian would be driving a 4WD ute setup for camping and outback living.

Of course, I agreed, as I would firstly have company if things went pear-shaped and also have the luxury to use any available space for stuff that could make the load on the bike easier… like beer. All jokes aside, this would be my first supported ride, the likes of which had never happened to me before, and I wondered what it would turn out like.

20 Dairy Creek Turnoff
Geoff at the Dairy Creek turnoff

June 1st 2013 dawned in Fremantle, the coldest day since August last year and the official beginning of winter. Nice timing Geoff. Our mismatched convoy left the city and headed north through the freeway system out into the open highway.

Quickly clearing the outer metro area you find yourself in the rural beginnings of the wheat belt in an area called Victoria Plains, the main centre of which is the settlement of New Norcia, the only solely monastic town in Australia – started by the Spanish Benedictine Monks – and a stark change to the average Aussie townscape, what with its classical Spanish churches and architecture.

Finally, we reached the small town of Mullewa, the gateway to the dirt road and the end of the bitumen. From here on in the road surface changes, the fuel supply drops off and the adventure begins…

Fill the main tank of the Dakar plus the five-litre jerry can that was in the ute. Could have stayed in town to watch a rodeo but there was daylight to be had and another 100 kms to go before the sunset, with you wanting to setup camp before nightfall so as to put up tents and gather firewood.

19 Dairy Creek Turnoff

We found a cattle grid and I knew there had to be a fence line with access tracks alongside, giving us a track to follow a kilometre or so off the main road (Mullewa – Carnarvon Road) for a place to camp for the first night after almost 600 kilometres on the road.

The next morning dawned and with a new day ahead travelled north to the last fuel stop and a chance to top up with fuel and charge the five-litre container at Murchison Roadhouse. The roadhouse also serves as a shire depot where council road workers are stationed in the remote parts of the Upper Gascoyne Shire.

On the way there we were passed by a group of four GS riders and we all eventually met up at the roadhouse. Those fellas were heading back inland through old gold mining areas and then back to the city due to their time constraints. They were going east, and we were going north.

47 Petrographs
Petrographs out in the desert

The next 50 kays on the road changed really quickly to a slippery surface and getting crossed up big time due to a grader working up the road. Once past the roadworks, the surface became once more predictable. It was possible to average around 80 kilometres an hour on this section until a river crossing with water flowing over the concrete causeway slowed us down, the algae providing almost no grip at all, meaning I almost ended up in the Creek.

We set up camp in a dried-up creek bed that night, well in sight of the road as there hadn’t been any sort of vehicle sighted for at least half a day, the sum total being three cars for that time and so we would be assured of a good night’s rest with no interruptions from traffic, only a wild dingo that wandered into camp – after our food he bloody well was.

63 Mount Gould Police Station busted mud scraper

As the sunset, the clouds started to form and the wind had changed direction, rain on the way, probably late the next day. All wasn’t lost, there was a great sunset to be had and that’s what the North West is famous for.

After the night’s rest, the road scenery changed as we moved on. We started crossing wash ways and in some cases creek crossings. These were easy to spot as they were to show on the near horizon as a line of taller trees, and it was time to slow down a little and be on the lookout for cattle or wildlife.

A line of larger trees showing a sign of possible permanent water, and really precious it is out here. Drop back a gear but keep the same speed as there is always a chance of deep sand in the wash way gullies or creek beds and to keep in the maximum torque band. It was great fun reading the way of the land; getting more and more involved with the bike, road and country that I am in.

53 Cooling Shed

We eventually made it to the first major man-made structure; Cobra Station. Unfortunately, they were not able to provide fuel and suggested that we should go on to Mount Augustus, but offered some fuel if I was short. I was okay and Mount Augustus eventually turned up 47 kilometres later.

Here we made the necessary payments to stay at the homestead camping ground for the next two nights. We setup camp and just beat the rain; just enough time to look out towards Mount Augustus before it was hidden by low cloud. It rained that night, nothing nasty, just enough to keep the dust down. The next day, and a rest, then to explore by foot the ancient treasures of the hill site.

Mount Augustus, or to give the Aboriginal name Burringurrah is the largest rock monolith in the world, rising 720 metres over the surrounding plain. It dominates the landscape and at times overpowers the senses. The sheer scale is not able to be captured by mere photography alone.

Many of the petrographs that seemed very ancient had been overlaid with relatively more recent paintings of ochre, which is natural coloured soil-applied onto the surface of the stone. Being in the place of obvious antiquity you are bought down a peg or two by carrying some of the mod cons that one travels with, and remembering the many generations of humans that came before us and left their mark on these stones.

78 Paynes Find last camp out
Paynes Find, last camp

One particular site showed concentric circles, indicating in Aboriginal lore a place of importance and near it fresh and old marsupial bones showing that the place is still of great significance and still used today. Please respect if you visit.

After the two nights at the campsite with hot showers, it was the final push towards the beginning of civilisation and sealed roads. We left the Mount Augustus Homestead and headed east, then south-east to the next town of Meekatharra. It was along this part of the trip that I encountered the only real rain of the ride.

It didn’t last that long, however, and the sunshine soon returned. It was also about this time the GPS cried enough and decided that it wasn’t too sure of where it was (still on the handlebars last time I checked).

Even the paper maps that I had were out of date, but it seemed the right direction to be heading in and so we pressed on.

There was a change of surface that went for a few kilometres and then became annoying with increasing corrugations. Eventually, rough road stretched out to 50 kilometres and time for a repack and lunch at the abandoned Mount Gould Police Station and lockup. It was here that I found the rear mudguard hanging by a thread with the chain guard in a bad way as well.

It didn’t take long to make some running repairs, so after a bite to eat it was back on the road. There were a few hours of daylight left and the plan for that night was to camp on a creek bank. With a little luck, we found a suitable creek a slight distance on and parked there for the night.

21 Typical Road
Typical road, Western Australian

A new day brought the realisation that the trip was drawing to an end, with just over 100 kilometres to go and then back on the black stuff and on to the ‘sort of big town’ of Meekatharra. The town itself serves as the last outpost and final stop before entering the geographic northwest of Western Australia.

Various government agencies have their offices here, as well as a major Royal Flying Doctor base. But it was gold mining that put the place on the map and continues today. The surrounding country is pockmarked with open-cut pits now filling slowly with water. The gold is still there but getting harder to win.

Heading south on smooth bitumen was not without distractions. The highway is the main supply route for the many iron ore mines that are working in the Pilbara. At one stage I counted 28 road trains: trucks hauling trailers nearly 60 metres long carrying everything from food to massive haul trucks all heading north.

The wind from the bow wave generated by them certainly giving the bike a fair buffeting. One last night on the side of the road at the gold mining area of Paynes Find, and then home.

The trucks roared all through the night, the air being so still. Don’t camp near the highway if you want a good nights’ sleep. Home wasn’t too far away now. The ride back to the city was a bit of an anticlimax having to contend with the traffic and lights again. And then there it was; back to where it all began. Would I do it all again? You betcha, in a shot.

The ride was really varied and good for someone heading further into the bush, or a person such as myself who has a short period of time to explore. Last but not least I wish to thank my mate Brian for tagging along and carrying the fantastic food and some creature comforts that made the ride a little less of an ordeal and a more enjoyable way to see the outback of Western Australia.

Hope to see you there.