Page 114: Marree and lake eyre
       Marree is a one horse town. It has a roadhouse which consists of the town's only shop, café, post office and fuel outlet. It also has one pub, less than friendly, where bookings for Lake Eyre flights are accepted but only if any of the pilots are available. If no one is available the bar staff don't give a damn and can't be bothered taking a message.

      There is a railway station where the original Ghan train stopped on its way to Alice Springs. The track has been dismantled and the new Ghan now runs about two hundred kilometres to the west of the town (and I, for one, don't blame it). There are a few small businesses and two caravan parks.

      Marree is at the western end of the Birdsville Track, originally a cattle route, which runs five hundred bumpy, dusty kilometres   to (or from) Birdsville in South West Queensland.

      Marree is also the south eastern terminus of the Oodnadatta Track which runs north west to join the Stuart Highway at Marla. We don't mind tackling short sections of these tracks but doing the whole length is for hairy-chested males (or females) with spare gear boxes, satellite phones and eight spare wheels. We reckon we're pretty brave to get as far as Marree.
  Marree, in all its glory, from the air.  
  The drover's rest caravan park  

     Oh what a shock! The Drover's Rest Caravan Park was probably the most . . . basic, shall I say? . . . park in which we've ever stayed. It was dry and dusty. The water supply was untreated and we were warned by the park manager, a very pleasant Aboriginal gentleman called Phil, not to drink it. In fact we did drink the water after filtering and boiling it. There were not enough taps to connect the caravans and the pressure was so low we almost had to coax the water out of the tap, so we filled one of our caravan's tanks via our carbon filter.

      Having a shower was an adventure. There were three showers in each toilet separated from the sinks and WCs by a tatty plastic curtain. Once behind the curtain you undressed and dressed with whoever was using the other two showers. The actual shower stalls were protected by a plastic curtain each so you at least had some privacy while washing. The floor was tiled and quite a few of the tiles were not cracked. The ceiling was festooned with old, dangling cobwebs which were kept from troubling we shorter folk by our taller neighbours who inadvertently cleaned them away.

  The Drover's Rest toilet block, gents left, ladies right. Behind is the park laundry.  
       The WCs were frequently bereft of toilet rolls, two of the three backed up when flushed and the third had a cracked seat which could give your bum a nasty pinch when you sat down. No soap was provided to wash your hands and there was no hot air drier or paper towels to dry them. After four days the septic tank was full and all the toilets were unusable. To be fair, that was fixed the same day. Fortunately the Septic Sucker Thingo was in town to empty the temporary toilets at the camel race track.  
  to Lake eyre south along the oodnadatta track.  
       Our first morning in Marree was livened up when the car battery failed and the car wouldn't start. I knew the battery was about ready for replacement though it had given no previous trouble. Fortunately our neighbour in the next caravan kindly gave us a start. Thereafter we left the engine running all that day as we explored the 'town' and then took a hundred kilometre drive out along the Oodnadatta Track to get our first look at Lake Eyre South.

      I should explain that Lake Eyre is actually two connected lakes, the north being much larger than the south. From our vantage point at the side of the smaller lake we saw mainly white salt though we thought we could see water farther out.
  Lake Eyre South. Mostly salt still though the darker patches farther out are supposed to be water.  
       We drove down to the edge of the salt and discovered the ground to be very soft. The white salt cover was only a veneer at the edge of the lake and if you scraped it off there was damp, muddy sand below. Our GPS (remember Alice?) revealed that, here in the middle of the continent, we were several metres below sea level.

      On the drive out to the lake we had seen some strange objects at the side of the road, some of which we photographed on the way home.
  Left: This windmill had been turned into a plant with leaves and a flower.
Right: A robot and a baby made out of mechanical scrap.
            Left: What to do with a redundant railway water tank.                                          Right: Don't ask, I don't know.                          
  Power problems.  
       When we got back to the caravan I connected our battery charger to the car battery and left it on charge overnight. Well, that was my intention. At about nine o'clock in the evening the power to half of the caravan park failed. We were in the dark half, as were most of the other caravans and the manager's house. Such glitches are not rare in caravan parks and things are usually rectified quickly. That was Friday evening.

      By Sunday afternoon our caravan battery which powers our water pump, lights, television and toilet flush, was running low and there was still no sign of an electrician. The stories from the manager varied but his wife, Pauline, seemed to have a grip on the problem. Her view coincided with my own opinion. The failure was probably on the pole on the street outside the park. There was a transformer on the pole to step down the 3 phase "transmission" voltage to 240 volts for the park. The park must have drawn excessive current and one fuse on the pole had blown to protect the transformer. This meant the state power authority would have to travel out but they could only be summoned by the man in Marree who was in charge of the town's power. “And he”, the manager's wife informed me, “is a dickhead.”

      Being an inquisitive type, I took a wander around the caravan park and discovered a power outlet on an open section of the perimeter fence. I tested it and found it was live. After obtaining permission from Pauline we shifted our caravan across the park and connected it to this outlet and all was well. The other caravans remained dead. We can now use our fan heater again as the temperature at night falls to around 2° Celsius. It was Monday afternoon before the fault was rectified and it was, in fact, one phase on the pole which had fused. There were several more power failures during the week but our supply remained good.
  The 18th Marree Australian Camel cup.  
       I'm moving ahead of myself. On Saturday the car started okay and we went along to the “18th Marree Australian Camel Cup”. A more disorganised event would be hard to imagine but it was all good fun. As well as camel racing there was donkey racing and dog racing (no greyhounds allowed).  
  Nice day for a race, Mr. Aloof.  
       The camel races were started with the camels kneeling down. Getting four or five camels to squat at the same time seemed a real headache. The starter would get three down and soon as the fourth started to squat, one or two of the others would stand up again.  
  There always seemed to be a stubborn one refusing to kneel at the start line.  
  Finally they're all set to go and the starter (far left) raises his pistol. The camel on the right didn't race, it was learning the ropes.  
  And they're off. Number 12 is flying with all four feet off the ground but at this stage it's 10 and 2 in the lead.  
  Number 10 cruised past the post to win without troubling the judges for a photo.  
       The donkey race was for the kiddies and even more chaotic than the camel races. The winning donkey was dragged over the line.  
  Helmets fell off and frequently children fell off but those men were going to get those critters past the post or bust a gut trying.  
        The dog race was also a shambles with pet dogs of all shapes and sizes competing. They were restrained on the start line while their owners walked down the track to the finish line. When the dogs were released the owners all called and whistled. The dogs reacted as most pets do; one labrador raced to its master on the finishing line, the rest ran around in circles.  
  Hergott Springs  
        Just out of Marree we found a dirt track signposted "Hergott Springs 4 km". Being so close we investigated and found, in the middle of the parched landscape, a pool.  
  A pool from which cattle and wildlife may drink, supplied from an artesian bore.  
       I was going to describe the pond as a billabong but billabongs only contain water after rain or a flood. This pool is fed by artesian water and there are many such watering holes dotted around the landscape. Artesian? Underground water that is pressurised by its source on higher ground and which rises to the surface without pumping. True, there is a broken down windmill in the picture but that was used to pump water from this pool to a cattle watering tank some distance away via a pipe.  
  Parched landscape. This was what the earth looked like just a few metres from the pool.  
  And on that happy note, let's see what's on Page 115.