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Page 204



We leave Perth to re-cross The Continent.

After a gap in this narrative which I hope to fill in coming weeks, we resume our travels in Perth, just after Christmas 2016.

We left the Perth International Tourist Park on January 7th 2017 after quite a busy Christmas fortnight. I think we were both glad to be on the road again as we've become fond of the total freedom to wander at will, just the two of us. For example, our next stop was to be Southern Cross for one night. However, we finally stayed three nights for no better reason than 'it felt right'. Southern Cross is 365 kilometres east of Perth.

C.Y. O'Connor and an incredible Engineering Feat.

As we drove out of Perth we saw the Goldfields Pipeline running parallel to the road, as it does all the way to Kalgoorlie. We were reminded of a very clever man called Charles Yelverton O'Connor - better known as C.Y. O'Connor - who was commissioned by Sir John Forrest, the Premier of Western Australia in 1896, to build a fresh-water pipeline from Perth to the Eastern Goldfields where water was in desperately short supply.

CY O'Connor

C.Y. O'Connor

O'Connor's task was to build a 530-kilometre pipeline from a dam on the Helena River at Mundaring to Coolgardie . . . but first he had to build the dam. He'd also require eight sequential pumping stations to move the large volume of water against the friction of the pipe. But before any water went anywhere, a major difficulty had to be overcome.

Perth is built on a coastal plain between the Indian Ocean and a coastal scarp, the Darling Range. This scarp is often referred to in Perth as 'the foothills' from which one could be forgiven for imagining towering mountains beyond. In fact, at the top of the scarp the land flattens out. No mountains, just … Australia. Thus, before pumping the water to the Goldfields, it had to be raised around 600 feet from the reservoir to the top of the scarp after which the task of the pumps became easier, only friction to be overcome. The effect of overcoming friction AND raising the water was to require double the power output of the first pump. The pumps were wood fired and just not up to the task so the second pump was situated close to the first. Working together, Pumping Stations 1 and 2 accomplished what was asked of them.

C.Y. O'Connor was a brilliant man and had the full support of Sir John Forrest. However, not everybody had such faith in him and both O'Connor and Forrest were publicly pilloried by the Sunday Times Newspaper and derided by State Members of Parliament who were appalled at what they saw as an unconscionable waste of public money on a crackpot scheme. Even if it did work, they reasoned, who was to say that the gold wouldn't run out, leaving W.A. with a useless pipe and a large debt?

Both O'Connor and Forrest were deeply wounded by these ongoing attacks, so much so that John Forrest, O'Connor's greatest supporter, left Western Australian politics to become the Federal Defence Minister. To worsen matters, the replacement Premier, George Leake, had long been an opponent of the pipeline scheme!

Left alone to bear the brunt of the attacks, O'Connor had to put up with the viciousness of the Sunday Times editor, who wrote, in part:

...And apart from any distinct charge of corruption, this man has exhibited such gross blundering or something worse, in his management of great public works it is no exaggeration to say that he has robbed the taxpayer of this state of many millions of money...This crocodile imposter has been backed up in all his reckless extravagant juggling with public funds, in all his nefarious machinations behind the scenes by the kindred-souled editor of The West Australian.

Clearly there was no love lost between the editors of the West Australian Newspaper and the Sunday Times.

There was only so much O'Connor could take. On 10 March 1902 he rode his horse into the ocean at Fremantle, took out his pistol and shot himself. This prompted the government to conduct an inquiry into the scheme and the inquiry found no basis for the press accusations of corruption or misdemeanours on the part of O'Connor. However, too little, too late.

The popular story that C.Y. O'Connor took his life when no water arrived at Kalgoorlie after the pumps had been turned on is a myth. The pumps were not started until 22 January, 1903, ten months after his death, and water reached Kalgoorlie in two days, on 24 January. Five million gallons of it every day and it is still flowing 114 years later, supplying numerous communities along the way and supplying Kalgoorlie (which was added later). The original eight pumps have, of course, been replaced more than once. Today there are twenty, certainly powered by electricity and doubtless with built in redundancy in case any pump should fail.

Well, that's a brief version of the story of the Goldfields Pipeline and poor old C.Y. O'Connor. If only he could have waited to receive the well-deserved accolades and to rub his detractor's noses in it.
Coolgardie

After our three-night stopover in Southern Cross we set off east again for Coolgardie, both places being supplied with fresh water courtesy of Mr. O'Connor. In the 1890s, during the goldrush, Coolgardie was Western Australia's third largest town after Perth and Fremantle, with a district population of 25,000. Today a population of 250 would be a reasonable guess.

Coolgardie's overnight success as a gold mining town was short lived. Within a very few years a much richer gold source was discovered by one Patrick Hannan in what we now know as Kalgoorlie, the home of the 'Super Pit'.

At the entrance to the "Tourist Village Caravan Park" in Coolgardie we booked and paid the reception office for three nights. From the office the park proper was out of sight around a bend. What a shock we got when we rounded that bend!

Steptoe's yard

Remember Steptoe and Son on the telly? Steptoe and his son were rag and bone men.
Still mean nothing? Ask your Gran.

The caravan park at Southern Cross had been so nice; the park at Coolgardie was how we imagined Steptoe's yard would have looked, except there was no stable for Hercules. However, since there was no alternative that we could find and we'd already paid, we decided to make the best of it in order to look around the town and visit Kalgoorlie, which is only half an hour up the road. 'Twas all part of life's rich experience.

The streets of Coolgardie, (now locally called 'the Old Camp'), are incredibly wide with footpaths either side almost as wide again. The reason, we heard, was so that camel trains could make a 'U turn' in the street. Seemed to us the Indian Pacific train could probably do the same!

The buildings that remain on Bayley Street, the main street, look huge and grand but it's all a façade - literally. A side view shows a plain brick cube two stories high. Attached to the front is a beautifully decorated wall reaching well above the brick structure, hiding it very successfully as long as the buildings either side are party to the deception.

Building facades

When the buildings abut each other, the deception works. In stand-alone mode they just don't look right
and with gaps between, as here, the plain brick side walls are revealed.

With fancy mouldings, swirls and fluted pillars, each beautiful frontage was tastefully painted and the building's name and date were sometimes painted gold. Balconies were common..

Today, many buildings have gone and the remainder are run down and sadly in need of T.L.C. However, the people in Coolgardie are the opposite of the buildings; bright and cheerful, friendly and full of fun. There are few shops left and, unlikely though it may seem, one is a large second-hand shop. In the window is a wooden sign . . .

Junk sign

The shop owner must have a good sense of humour.

There is an I.G.A. grocery store on the main street, indeed as there are in many smaller towns around Australia. This store, however, would have to be the only one we've seen that proudly lists "Explosives" among the other wares on a board outside the door.

IGA Store

Anything else, Madam? Butter, eggs, gelignite, cheese?

C.Y. O'Connor's famous water pipe ceased to be the Mundaring to Coolgardie scheme before it was even completed. The name Kalgoorlie replaced Coolgardie and the pipe was extended.

The Indian-Pacific train that crosses the continent passes twelve kilometres to the north of Coolgardie but stops in Kalgoorlie. So . . . is the writing on the wall?

Kalgoorlie-Boulder

We quite liked Kalgoorlie. It is a very compact city with little wasted space; surprising when you consider the vast empty landscape on which the city is situated. There were actually two rival towns, Kalgoorlie and Boulder, which merged in 1989 to become the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder though there still remains a healthy rivalry between the two at the administrative level. Driving around we were never sure where one ended and the other began.

Kalgoorlie Town Hall

We spent a very interesting hour touring Kalgoorlie Town Hall.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder is a one-industry town based around the huge gold mine and satellite businesses servicing the mine. The Fimiston Open Pit, more commonly known as the Super Pit, is owned by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM). It is vast, the largest open pit gold mine in Australia (though one source claims it was surpassed in 2016 by the Newmont Boddington gold mine, also in Western Australia). Every year 12 million tonnes of ore are processed from the Super Pit, producing 850,000 ounces (28 tonnes) of gold.

The Super Pit

Part of the Super Pit. See the giant trucks and shovels looking like ants at the bottom?
Blasting usually occurs at 1 pm or 5 pm depending on the weather and wind.

Love him or hate him, entrepreneur and fraudster, Alan Bond, was partly responsible for the size of the Super Pit. He bought up many smaller and/or abandoned mines around the central pit to enable it to expand, swallowing up the smaller pits. 'Bondie' was unable to consummate his plan which was later completed by KCGM.

Having previously said that Kalgoorlie is a one-industry town is to ignore a second industry with which the town was synonymous. Hay Street in Kalgoorlie was widely known for its brothels. Still is, for that matter, but these days they have become more of a tourist attraction, at least during daylight hours.
Fraser Range Station

Leaving Coolgardie our next logical stop would be at Norseman. However, the caravan parks at both Norseman and Coolgardie have met with our disapproval - maybe we're getting spoiled - and the park at Balladonia was receiving bad bad press. This resulted in a gap in the chain of acceptable overnight places of some 722 kilometres at the western end of the Eyre Highway. In our early days we drove spans of that distance in a day but . . . for us those days have gone forever. The aging process cannot be unwound! Yet.

However, as one door closes . . . We started hearing good reports about a park on a property called the Fraser Range Station which is 100 km from the western end of the Eyre Highway. We decided to go there. The drive was 270 km of good and very quiet roads which took us south from Coolgardie towards Esperance with a turn to the east at Norseman. We filled the tanks right up at Norseman because, as you progress across the Nullarbor, the service stations are very spaced out and their prices are as high as $1.80 per litre for diesel at the western end, whereas in Norseman it was $1.45. (A few days earlier we'd been paying $1.20 per litre in Perth!) This tankful would get us as far as the South Australian border, after which we were at the mercy of the fuel merchants. We would, naturally, top up if we saw any reasonable prices on our way to the border.

But back to Fraser Range Station which is set back from the Eyre Highway by two kilometres to the south and completely hidden by trees. There were plenty of caravans already there when we arrived and paid our fee for three nights. The sites are scattered casually among trees and shrubs; there are no orderly rows. All sites have power and water though I might qualify that by adding that the power didn't like being loaded too much and fluctuated somewhat, sometimes briefly cutting out altogether.

The water is from a bore but we can confirm that it is fine to drink. People are odd; if the water comes from the ground under its own pressure they call it 'spring water' and are prepared to pay for it in supermarkets. If, however, it is pumped up from below ground it is called 'bore water' and many people refuse to drink it.

Surrounding the Fraser Campsite there are gentle hills with a sparse covering of trees. It was very relaxing except for some people near us that talked very loudly and had a small child that seemed to cry the whole time. However, they left the next morning, as did everybody else except ourselves. We have that effect sometimes. It was incredibly quiet with just the gentle sighing of the wind through the eucalypts and the calls of the birds. Two goats and a sheep had formed a friendship and wandered around together, sometimes butting heads. Not having horns didn't worry the sheep which gave as good as it got. There was no malice in it and the three seemed inseparable. There was also a loose horse wandering around.

In the evening, a scattering of kangaroos and the odd emu appeared on grassland next to the park and grazed quietly as the light faded. Heaven! A glass (or three) of wine, a warm breeze, and not a single mosquito, sand-fly or midge. What more could you wish for?

The following day half a dozen emus strutted past with a solitary sheep. It could have been the same sheep . . . one looks very much like another. Then, on our morning of departure, who should visit us to say farewell but . . .

Sheep and Goats

The Three Amigos

. . . the two goats and lone sheep. Wasn't that nice? I hope we'll be back to visit them again one day. The Fraser Range Station is now a 'must' for us when crossing the Nullarbor.

The day we set off for the Caiguna Roadhouse, Alice (our wonderful G.P.S.) presented us with inexplicable directions. Halfway to Caiguna she told us to turn right. We were in the middle of nowhere and there was no road to turn into. We spoke sharply to her and remained on the Eyre Highway. Naturally. We also realised that the distance and time to destination that Alice was displaying were excessive. As we journeyed on she kept on finding us places to turn around and go back. As we ignored each, forever patient, she found us another, further on, and so we went on along our merry way. It transpired that there was a track of some sort behind the Caiguna Roadhouse and the coordinates I'd entered placed our destination on this track. Close, but not close enough and the track didn't meet the highway!

You may remember a similar incident when I placed a 'waypoint' on the Gateway Bridge in Brisbane where the motorway crosses the Brisbane River. On the small G.P.S. screen the motorway appears as one road but on the bridge there's a northbound and southbound carriageway. I'd placed the waypoint on the wrong one and Alice had us going back and forth over the bridge, paying a toll every time.

After a night in Caiguna we were off east again to Eucla - an uneventful journey except that my fuel calculation was rendered wildly inaccurate by an unexpected headwind which saw us roll into the roadhouse at Mundrabilla and put 130 litres in the tanks whose total capacity is 130 litres. Too close for comfort!

Another forty-five minutes, now with full tanks, took us to Eucla where we stayed for a couple of days. The caravan park is perched right on top of a coastal scarp which is separated from the ocean to the south by a five kilometre wide coastal plain.

Eucla

The view south from the caravan park on the ridge at Eucla, the distant sea and sky hard to differentiate.
If you look just over the larger bush in the foreground you can see some distant tracks intersecting each other.
That is Eucla Airport. No buildings, no bitumen, no markings or lights, no radar, no I.L.S. and no fuel.

While in Eucla we heard the legend of the Nullarbor Nymph. It started in 1971 when kangaroo hunters reportedly saw a semi-clad white girl roaming the bush with a mob of kangaroos. She had blond hair and was wearing a kangaroo skin. They even took a grainy photograph of her.

The Nullarbor Nymph

The Nullarbor Nymph holding a kangaroo by the tail.

After further sightings were claimed, the story was reported around the world and journalists descended upon the town of Eucla which had a permanent population of eight at the time.

The publicity was good while it lasted but in 1972 one of the kangaroo shooters admitted it was a hoax; the nymph was his partner, Geneice Brooker. However, the legend resurfaces from time to time; there was a low-budget film made and a bronze sculpture which still stands outside the Flinder's Medical Centre in Adelaide. All good fun.

The Nullarbor Roadhouse, where we went next, is large with a flat, level area reserved for caravans and caravanners. Power is provided but not water. Something we didn't know previously; water can be purchased to replenish a caravan's water tanks. That could be useful one day. Showers are $1 in the slot for five minutes.

Nullarbor Forecourt

No trucks on the forecourt as we prepared to leave, just three 'vans plus ours behind the camera.

The fuel forecourt is wide and huge trucks and road trains intermittently pull in, not many for fuel, most to park overnight while their drivers get some sleep ready for many more kilometres the next day. We spent the evening in the roadhouse, sitting in the bar and enjoying some very convivial company. The barmaid, whose name I won't repeat here, had recently been busted for driving at 192 kilometres per hour! She believed she was doing 200 k.p.h. but speedometers always read a little fast. If there's anywhere that a car can be driven relatively safely at such speeds, it must be on the Eyre Highway where there's a 'Ninety Mile Straight' section of road . . . though it could meet the odd kangaroo or emu crossing. Splat! (No, that was the driver. The 'roo hasn't come down yet.)

Plaque at Nullarbor

Typical! The politician has the large bold type, the explorer and his mate who actually walked across that waterless desert are mentioned at the bottom as an afterthought. Note the bottom line; not many of us get to survive death.

Next morning, we were on the move again. Every other camper had long gone by the time I arose. We're always supposed to vacate our site by 10 a.m. but that rarely happens. Eventually we pulled slowly onto the Eyre Highway and allowed the speed to creep up as the engine reached working temperature. Our cruising speed with a caravan behind is about 85 k.p.h. - slower than almost anything else on the road. Our priority is the longevity of our Pajero, not reaching a destination a few minutes earlier. With 237,000 kilometres on the clock - not far short of a quarter of a million - we look after our Mitsubishi Pajero (we call him Billy) very carefully and he rewards us with faithful service.

Hey, but where were we going? To a little wheat town called Penong which sells cheap fuel and has a nice little caravan park with water . . . though we're not allowed to use it to fill our caravan's water tanks. Crossing the Nullarbor is as much to do with careful water management as careful fuel planning, especially if you dawdle along, like us.
Penong

Not to be confused with Penang in Malaysia, Penong is a tiny town half way between Ceduna and the Nullarbor Roadhouse on the Eyre Highway. It sits on the western end of the South Australian grain belt and is notable for its dozens of windmills. These are used for pumping water up from the Anjutabie Water Basin to supplement collected rainwater and water trucked in by road. Or vice versa.

Windmills

Not a promising sky. Some of the windmills in Penong's Windmill Museum.

Ceduna

After one night in Penong we headed on east to Ceduna. Last time we stayed in Ceduna was soon after we'd set off in December 2004. At that time we'd been a bit disconcerted by gangs of Aborigines wandering the streets, yelling loudly and aggressively at each other. Well, nothing much has changed in the last dozen years but now we know to ignore them. This time we stayed in the Foreshore Caravan Park, a very nice park close to the beach.

Map

The Foreshore Caravan Park is marked with a red circle.

Ceduna has a large grain silo complex at Thevenard on the peninsula which forms the eastern end of Murat Bay. To and from the silos run two railway lines, one goes east and the other west. Our assumption is that grain is taken by the farmers to central collection points where it is transferred to trains which take it to the Thevenard Silos. From there ships collect it and transport it . . . where?



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