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Along The Track
A scene from the painted hills around Coober Pedy SA Australia
A Map of the Track
Taking a Short Cut
Molly Walsh and Lilly Costello left Oodnadatta early that morning, heading for Marla Bore. They were travelling along the Oodnadatta Track in a Toyota four - wheel drive Land Cruiser belonging to the South Australian Housing Trust for whom they both worked.
‘Something dead out there, Molly, eagles circling.’ Lilly pointed skyward to her left.
‘Yes. Let’s hope it’s an animal and not someone lost.’ Molly grunted.
‘I remember my grandfather telling me never to follow a willywag tail.’ In the corner of her eye, Lilly caught the erratic flight of the little black and white bird through the bush, bringing back childhood memories of a time before the families were broken up.
The wind cooled her face through the open window. The scent of the bush filled her nostrils. Both women were reading the sights and sounds of their beloved land.
The brown ribbon of road wound through weirdly eroded flat topped hills of brilliant red, yellow and white sandstone. These hills marked the personal Dreaming of many of the old ones, and known by the whites as the Painted Hills.
Willy Wagtail - the messenger
Both women were the offspring of white fathers. Both had spent their childhood with their families and when about eight years old were taken to a children’s Home to be educated. They returned in later years only to discover they did not know the language or the culture and were were barred from their own people. Civilization hadn’t give them the rite of passage in the white Family either, they were miss fits there. Neither woman allowed bitterness to lead her into a desert of hate. They became mediators between the Aboriginal culture and the European culture..
Mid morning they came to a patch of scrub growing between high red sand-hills and stopped.
‘There was a big fight here.’ Lilly recalled the story told many times around the campfires of her childhood. A brooding deathly silence lay over the scrub. The women felt it.
‘ Yes, lots of spirits here.’ Molly shivered. She didn’t believe in the Dream - time, having been Christianised. She still sensed though, the power of the Dreaming.
‘Men from a group in Western Australia came over the desert and tried to steal our women.’ Lilly thought she could hear the clash of spears and cries of the dying.
‘They went away without the women and a few less of their own.’ Molly’s voice held admiration for the bravery of their own warriors.
‘If the raiders had been successful, we might have been Western Australians.’ Both women chuckled.
They drove off, jouncing over the rutted road that hadn’t seen a grader for months, leaving a dust plume rolling behind them.
‘We used to travelled everywhere by camel.’ Molly recalled. ‘My father made a box and harnessed it to the camel. I used to sit in it and go to sleep.’ Molly’s face was soft at the thought of her father. ‘Dad was a good man. He kept us well clothed and fed. When he died that’s when I had to go into the Childrens Home.’
‘I don’t remember my father.’ Lilly sighed, ‘He was always away. My mother couldn’t look after five of us that’s when the Police came and took us to the Home.’
‘We’d better find a place to camp, Lilly?’ They were now travelling across undulating plains as the long shadows of sundown stretched across the plains. The mystery of night was beginning to fill the hollow contours.
Get Out of Trouble
What to do to prepare your car?
- Be sure that your vehicle is in good technical condition. Check the tyres and the spare tyre before you go. Don't forget the manual. Take some essential spare parts and tools with you. Even if you don't know how to use them, the friendly guy in the car passing by probably can help you if you have the right spare parts.
- If you hire a car, check the tool kit. When you're in doubt, ask in a garage for advice. You should carry a high-jack, a wheel spanner and a ground plate (to adjust the high-jack on soft ground) when you have to change a flat tyre.
- Other useful tools include insulating tape, lubricating spray, set of screwdrivers, shovel, some ring and open spanners, wire.
Spare parts should include engine oil and fan belt.
‘Yes, the sun’s getting low,’ Lilly grunted.
‘Those trees over there would make a good place to camp,’ Molly pointed to the right.
‘No, too close to the road, I don’t feel good about camping here. Let’s go a bit further. Bad Spirits here, see how those trees are shaking and there is no wind? Someone died here.’ Lilly continued driving into the westering sun.
‘Hey! look over there in those trees. A car!’ Molly pointed to the right.
‘What’s car doing out here? Maybe it broke down.’
‘Better stop and see if they need help.’
Both women sat in their vehicle for long minutes before leaving it wondering if a trap had been set.
‘Wonder if anyone is around?’
‘Don’t see anyone?’
The women got out of their Cruiser, and stood close the vehicle in case danger lurked.
‘Hallooo, anyone there?’ Lilly’s call echoed across the desert.
‘No one seems to be around.’ Molly agreed. ‘The car isn’t stuck.’.
‘Wonder who it is? The car is not familiar?’
‘It doesn’t belong to any of ours.’
Lilly laughed, ‘No it’s in too good a condition.’ Molly began to circle around, again looking for tracks. She called,
‘Over here. There are two sets of tracks. They went this way.’
‘Maybe they ran out of water and went to look for some.’ Worry lines creased the womens’ faces. ‘The eagles - could that have been these people?’ Lilly hardly dared to express her thoughts as she looked at Molly.
‘No,’ Molly asserted. ‘That was miles back.’
‘ I didn’t see any containers in the car, did you, Molly?’
‘It looks like they sat down here? Wonder if they were hurt or something.’
‘It’s a long way to Welbourne Hill Station for help which would be the nearest homestead. ‘
Lilly looked across the rolling plains of red gibbers and stunted blue bush and sparse scrub, trying to catch a movement.
‘It’ll be dark soon. We should see if we can find them.’ Molly looked around. Both women took turns in calling.
Molly returned to where it seemed the strangers had sat.
About the track
The Oodnadatta Track, Australia is an unsealed 620 km (385 mi) outback road between Marree and Marla via Oodnadatta in South Australia. Along the way, the track passes the southern lake of the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, and the outback settlements of William Creek and Oodnadatta.
Mound Springs on the Oodnadatta Track.
Railway Cottage at Coward Springs-Oodnadatta Track.
The track follows a traditional Aboriginal trading route. It provides travellers with stunning semi-desert scenery. Along the Track are numerous springs feeding water from the Great Artesian Basin, the most accessible examples being the mound springs found in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park near Coward Springs. Later, because of the availability of water, the route was chosen for the steam-train powered Central Australian Railway, the original route ofThe Ghan, also the route taken by the explorer John McDouall Stuart on his third expedition in 1859. Remnants of the many railway sidings and bridges, the ruins of railway buildings, and Overland Telegraph repeater stations are located along the track - some of the best preserved are the Coward Springs Campground - complete with natural artesian spa and Curdimurka.
Today, the Oodnadatta Track roughly follows the former railway line as far north as Oodnadatta, and then turns to the west, meeting the sealed Stuart Highway at Marla. The road's surface is rough, with plenty of bone-jarring corrugations, especially on the stretch of road between William Creek and Oodnadatta. In dry weather, the track is passable to most vehicles and caravans, but a four wheel drive (4x4) vehicle will provide a more comfortable journey, and will be essential for driving the track during and after rain.
The Track was named by Adam Plate of the Oodnadatta Progress Association Inc. in about 1980 to form a trilogy of unsealed tourist routes with the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks nearby.
‘Their tracks lead back toward the painted hills. Why didn’t they follow the road?’
The two women set off carrying a flask of water. Worry lines deepened the brackets at the corners of their mouths. They had walked several kilometres when a faint yell answered their call.
‘Over there.’ Molly pointed to the east
The two women hurried toward the distant figures of a young man and woman sitting under a low bush.
‘Are you all right?’ Molly and Lilly knelt beside them, putting a bottle to their lips, allowing them to take slow sips of water. People became sick if they drank too much too quickly.
‘We’re tired, thirsty and hungry and our feet are sore.’ The young man began to recover.
‘We’ve been walking all day – well, since lunch anyway,’ the girl added. Her pale face burnt tomato red
‘What are you doing roaming around out here in this country?’ Lilly wanted to know.
‘We stopped to have lunch. We took our sandwiches and went and sat down over behind a sandhill. The view was lovely. We thought we knew the way back.’ the boy looked at his feet. He had taken off his shirt and was blistered.
‘Yes, we were sure we returned the way we came but we couldn’t find our car.’ The girl complained.
The women half carried the couple back to the cars.
‘How did our car get on this side of the road?’ the boy looked surprised.
It was Lilly’s turn to be surprised, ‘What do you mean?’
‘We left the car on the other side of the road. Some one must have moved it,’ the girl was mystified.
‘This is where we found your car. Did you cross the road some place and get turned around?’ Lilly
‘No!’ The couple chorused. ‘We don’t remember crossing any road.’
‘But you must have.’ Molly reiterated.
In Need of a Challenge?
Oodnadatta Track is 620 kilometres of legendary outback track that takes travellers on a journey of self-discovery, exploration and imagination.
You might be thinking that all outback tracks are the same: lots of wide open spaces and not much to see or do.
You might also be thinking that you need very advanced driving skills and lots of special recovery gear in your vehicle to see these places.
Well, we’d like to introduce you to the Oodnadatta Track.
It’s the ideal track for first timers to offroad driving in the outback, and yet it’s got enough to see and do along the way to satisfy even the best-travelled outback explorer.
Oh, and did we tell you that it’s Amanda’s most favourite outback track? She’ll make us drive on it at least twice every year.
Dive in and find out why we love this legendary outback track so much.
'He watches over Us,'
The sun had disappeared in a golden ball. The pink face of night was advancing across the eastern sky. Soon it would be dark.
‘We had all better camp here for the night, I think.’ Lilly was collecting wood for fire making. Molly was rolling out swags and carrying food to a camp table.
‘We don’t have any food with us.’ The young man hesitated, ‘We intended to be in Marla Bore tonight.’
‘We’ve plenty for you. We always carry plenty when we go bush.’ Lilly explained. ‘You’re welcome to eat with us.’
A fire blazed. Sausages sizzled in a pan. A cocoon of light from a Tilley light embraced the camp. Night thickened and a biting cold was held at bay by the fire.
After the meal the girl spoke, ‘Thank you for stopping to look for us. I was so frightened.’
The boy wriggled on a log near the fire. ‘I don’t know how we crossed the road and didn’t know.’
‘When people get lost they lose their sense of direction and don’t know where they are.’ Molly explained.
‘We are on our honeymoon. We live in Melbourne,’ the boy explained
Molly was blunt. ‘You should never have left your car.’
‘We were going to camp back at the last creek. But I had a strong feeling that we should go on.’ Lilly chimed in, remembering the premonition of something being wrong and wondering what and where the trouble was. She realised that she had her answer to that premonition.
‘I’m glad you came along when you did,’ The boy got up from his log, shaking hands with the women, ‘Thank you for caring for us. We won’t forget what you have done.’
‘There is Someone who watches over us.’ Lilly spoke softly wondering how her words would be received, ‘Without His prompting we wouldn’t have come along and you would still been out there lost.’ She nodded toward the plains, ‘He watches over us and guides us.’ Her words became a sigh drifting into the still desert night.