An Entertaining Night
Barrow Creek – Alice Springs
We were planning to fill up with water at Barrow Creek road house and push on to free camp, but the chatty owner convinced us otherwise by promising to show us his German football memorabilia in the bar. The campsite was cheap but very basic, so we decided to stay for the night. ||
A telegraph station had been opened at Barrow Creek in 1872. It has a gruesome history as a station master and a linesman were speared by hostile Aboriginals in 1874. In retribution, the government ordered for 50 Aboriginals to be killed. This is where the name of a nearby creek originated from: Skull Creek.
In the 1930s, shearers began the tradition of pinning a bank note with their name on it on the wall of the pub so that they could have a drink when they passed by again. Some also left hats behind, and there was even a horse saddle. They are still displayed in the bar, along with a huge collection of other paraphernalia left behind by tourists in more recent times.
We noticed that the water coming from the taps tasted quite disgusting, the same as the water we had picked up in Wycliffe Wells the previous day. Other cyclists had warned us of the strange and salty taste of the bore water in this area.
“I wouldn’t drink the bore water from the taps anywhere between Wycliffe Wells and Coober Pedy,” a miner told us. “It’s full of uranium and salt.”
We trusted the miner’s opinion as his company was mining gold and uranium in the area. His group of miners was staying in basic accommodation at Barrow Creek while exploring the mining potential of the area. They had a Geiger counter and had measured 30 times the normal radiation levels at Barrow Creek. We gave in and bought water from the bar instead, at $10 for 10 litres. (Later we decided to just go by the taste and only buy water if the tap water was really undrinkable).
The only other people staying at the campsite were two couples from the Murray River area in Victoria who were driving up to the Roper river to fish barramundi. One of the men introduced himself by donating four fresh oranges to us, a much appreciated gift, particularly as they were home grown.
The two brothers were true blue Aussie blokes – the real McKoy from their Akubra hats, ultra short “stubby” shorts and cow hide Bluntstone boots (“with steel caps, for kicking shit!”). They were quite interested in our trip (“You’ve come all that way on bicycles? Fair dinkum!”) and invited us to share their fire, as well as giving us a home made trail mix with dried apricots and almonds from the neighbour’s garden.
Around the fire, much manly bragging ensued and Guy felt a little inadequate when asked what his trade was. He felt like a real city boy when he admitted to working in “Information Technology”, a far cry from the wild-boar-shooting-pig-slaughtering work of these rugged Outback men. It didn’t help that they took it for granted we would carry a weapon (just as they had guns tucked away under their car seats) and Guy was asked “so, what sort of blade do you carry?” Erm, Swiss Army vegetable knife…
Though from different worlds we enjoyed each others company and promised to look them up next time we were in the Riverine area.
Back on the Stuart Highway we passed Central Mount Stuart, which John MacDouall Stuart calculated to be in the centre of Australia, equidistant between the most northerly and southerly, and easterly and westerly points of the land mass. In the afternoon, we suddenly felt very tired and were glad when we arrived at the Ti Tree roadhouse after 89km.
The campsite was lovely and good value, with soft grass and lots of wildlife. Peacocks wandered around and pink and grey galahs screeched as they flew from tree to tree. This time we had taken more food than we needed, so we decided to take a day off and catch up on some blogging.
Many people had warned us about the plagues of mice and rats terrorising campers south of Alice Springs. Apparently the ground is literally covered in them at night. One cyclist we met had told us that a mouse had eaten a hole in his tent. We hadn’t encountered any mice so far, but in the morning we discovered mouse poop around the tent, and a mouse had squeezed into one of our panniers to nibble on our bread and flour.
Refreshed, we had a good day’s riding and managed over 100km quite easily. We found a beautiful bush camp. Usually we make a fire when we free camp. There is nobody around for miles anyway and it is so cold at night that we would be in bed by 7pm if we didn’t have a fire. We had been experimenting with making damper, the traditional bush man’s bread that is baked in a camp fire. Having tried different versions with raisins and chocolate chips, we baked a really nice loaf of damper with pumpkin and raisins. Yum!
Unexpectedly, it started raining the next morning. All day it drizzled and rained and we felt cold as it was only 11°C. When we reached the rest area at the Tropic of Capricorn, we decided to make a few cups of tea and wait until the worst was over. After a couple of hours it was still raining, but we were keen to get to Alice so we decided to push on.
Ever since leaving Darwin, we had been steadily climbing. Just before Alice Springs, we finally reached the highest point of the Stuart Highway, 728m above sea level.
We had heard that the Finke Desert Race, an offroad motorbike race, was taking place a couple of days later, but we hadn’t expected the campsites to be booked out because of this. After asking at a couple of campsites in Alice Springs, drenched in rain, we finally found a camp. We were cold and wet but happy to have arrived bang smack in the middle of central Australia.