Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oodnadatta to William Creek
In which we find a Lookout on the Level, become bewitched by a Bridge, hit the Dirt,
meet a Tiger, and receive a Prophesy.
It is a barren landscape south of Oodnadatta. North, east and west aren’t too
lush, either. Birtles knows which direction to go as there is only one road
going south - also I have taken the precaution of photographing a road map
at the information board before we leave town.
Many of the Old Ghan structures are still here, preserved by high temperature
and low humidity, waiting for the day they will be turned into the longest,
hottest, most grueling rail-trail ever. Or … a stage of the Tour Down Under
In an almost flat landscape, a “lookout” seems odd, but here it is, towering
a full three meters over its surroundings - the Little Cadna-Owie Lookout …
… sporting an example of the many eccentric signs found around the district,
erected by the late owner of the Oodnadatta roadhouse.
The big attraction for me on the Track is the Algebuckina railway bridge.
The Railway Museum at O has this picture from the early days of the bridge.
Urban legend says the bridge was built for the Murray River but at 578 metres
it was still too short, so it was used here. It’s a good yarn, but that is all it must
be, a yarn. 19th century engineers were capable of measuring the widths of
rivers, even the then undammed mighty Murray. As for ordering nineteen
30.9 metre spans to be made in England without a double check, or not just
adding another span? Naah, don’t believe it.
It is a beguiling structure, almost hypnotic. I know what it is and why it is
there, but without the rest of the railway to testify to its original purpose it
becomes a huge, incongruous illusion. It is hard to look away, and when
I do, there is an urge to spin round to check it is still there, that it hasn’t
disappeared like a mirage or figment of my imagination.
It is an old, rusting railway bridge, no longer of practical use.
But, as an object of awe it’s a champion. I can’t photograph it without
coming over all monochrome, high contrast, and grainy.
Everyone gets this shot, but this one is special to me … it’s mine.
We are not alone out here, there are others, silently waiting for us to find
them - Chippie and Shardie, artifacts of an age when Rail was King.
Admirers of railway crockery (yes, really) find bridges to be rich sources
of collectibles. Bridges were tempting spots for bored travelers to hurl
empty teacups and plates out of train windows, and sometimes their
retirement from railway employment was made in one piece.
No such luck for Chippie and Shardie, though they still believe that one
day they will be proudly added to collections and be encased in climate
controlled glass cabinets in the company of other railway remnants.
I point out that they may find that rather dull after their free roaming
open-air life at Algebuckina, but there is no changing their minds.
The glass always looks cleaner on the other side.
(Readers under 30 should remember that this was before Gears of War,
Need for Speed, or even Pong. Entertainment was just so much simpler
back then - people made their own clean and wholesome fun, even on
Birtles hits the rail trail at Duff Creek Siding …
… and the dirt a little further on.
Between the edge of the shingle and where the sand is banked up a
meter high is the smoothest part of the road and we use it where we can.
This leads to the first “off” of the trip. The bank sucks at Birtles’ front tyre,
pulling his wheel into the deep sand.
He handles it like a gentleman. As the front wheel disappears into the
bank, he veers to the left, crash bar and left pannier scrape along the
banked sand, and he comes to a stop before I am tipped off.
It is not a fall, just a slow toppling into the hot sand, body ending up at
45 degrees, one leg beneath Birtles, the other in the air. Before I can
extricate myself, the road which has been ours alone since O sprouts a
ute. With one leg at still at eleven-thirty, the ute driver gets a wave that
I hope will say "Didn't fall off, just practising a new dismount technique".
I think he was convinced.
You have to laugh - and take a photograph. When the same thing happens
a few minutes later, I skip the photograph. After the next two dismounts,
I decide to save time by skipping the laughing bit as well. Birtles has given
me a gentle warning - push me too far and look what I can do.
We go a couple of hundred metres off the road to reach this tree for
some shade, then there is the sound of a bike in the distance. It’s Kev
from Tasmania, riding a Triumph XC800, a bike that Triumph have
great faith in, according to their promotions -
“Built to take it. Tough. Rugged. Built to last. Loves the open road, devours
the rough stuff. The one bike that can do it all, Tiger 800XC sets new
standards in the adventure bike sector. With its big wheels and long
suspension travel, the Tiger 800XC just loves getting its claws dirty.
Let the adventure begin.”
Kev has different ideas - no devouring rough stuff or dirty claws for this
XC. Kitty is not allowed into the dirt box so we meet half way between bikes,
then go from one bike to the other, each checking out the other’s equipment.
Kev is awestruck by the technology he sees and takes photographs so
his mates back in Tassie will believe him. When he heads off, it’s my turn
to be amazed by the speed at which bike and rider disappear, leaving just
a plume of dust and the noisy desert silence. He is probably in William
Creek before Birtles and I make it back onto the Track.
When we eventually get there, William Creek so impresses us that we
don’t envy Kev his extra time in the place at all, we even wish that we
were back out in the heat, battling corrugations with a balloon in each hand.
Religious alert !
References to fundamentalist nonsense in next two paragraphs.
William Creek is where water costs three times as much as petrol,
four dollars for a 600cc bottle. That is 666 cents per litre - is it a
coincidence, or a prophetic warning that William Creek is what awaits
us in the post-apocalyptic world? And what is to be made of the
town’s abbreviated name - WC ?
Flushed with the implications, I wander across the road to the pub,
avoiding the four horsemen galloping through.
And that’s about all I have to say about William Creek.
To be continued ……
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"