“You’ve been warned”

It’s the 18th July, 2021 now and we’re heading east – you could say we’ve turned for home, but it’s a long long way, toughest to come. We’re warned about Halls Creek – too dangerous, even if you lock everything. We’re warned about the Tanami Desert Crossing – too rough, even if you’re careful.  We’re warned about Charlie – too much 1080 poison, too many snakes, camp dogs, dingoes, ticks, even with his extra tick collar.  The warnings go on – Hey – let’s just do it!

Charlie’s ready for anything, insists on a permanent viewing seat

We pass through the buffel grasslands (that South African import that destroyed the indigenous landscape and food) planted by the pastoralists of the cattle stations that first fed the port of Derby. Now we turn onto the Great Northern Highway towards Fitzroy Crossing.

Give way to the right!
Buffel Grass wherever you find cattle stations, no natural landscape, except the millions of termites mounds
Fitzroy Crossing – walls and barbed wire everywhere…

We have no incident, but every shop and building is grill-barred and boarded. Fitzroy River, unlike most of the creeks we pass, is still running, after a fashion.

After crossing the Mueller Ranges, in Halls Creek the caravan park receptionist tells us to keep our van away from the barbed-wire-topped double-walls which surround the park. We don’t ask questions. The town is clean, however, the locals either welcoming or too shy to connect.

Tanami Day 1, 20th July, 2021: We’re fuelled up as we turn onto the Tanami Track (now Road), direct to Alice Springs, a cool 1033km away – and there are contradictory indications of fuel any closer.

The corrugations, whether trying to avoid them or taking them at a correct speed, takes a lot of concentration, so we change drivers every hour or so, much like swapping watches at sea. This also allows the passenger to take in the scenery – and it’s worth taking in. Charlie, of course, gets the permanent best view.

Corrugations in the early morning sun – pretty now, horrible later

Lunch at Sturt Creek, site of one of the horrific massacres in the area and also home of the eponymous cattle station, is nevertheless a great lunch stop.

The Kidman Stations seem to go on forever, only the signs (and the buffel grass) signifying their presence. Because of Covid, all the aboriginal stations are closed as well, their signs a little more charismatic than those of the Kidmans.

but The Lookout campsite we’ve identified for overnight on the Wikicamps and Google Maps doesn’t appear to exist, even though we are at the correct lat. and long.! Instead we’re comfortable in a small turnoff. No traffic, except a couple of road trains, disturb the night. There’s also no internet or phone. World War III could break out tonight and we wouldn’t know. There’s a certain bliss in that thought.

Day 2, 21st July, 2021: Soon this morning we’re across the Border into Northern Territory, but there’s no-one to greet or inspect our passes.

It’s a long day of sliding from one side to the other searching for a smooth track, or rattatting across the never-ending corrugations. The Sprinter takes it well, better than Charlie, who is frequently dissatisfied with the crashing noise of our progress.

Our next campsite, Renehan’s Bore at Chilla Well is where the map says and we’re all pleased for quietude to reign again. We haven’t seen a single other recreational vehicle – just a couple of trucks and a few road trains, which trundle along at varying speeds, up to 100 clicks. For us, 60-80 km seems about right, depending on the size of the corrugations. We’ve lost a little faith in Wikicamps and Google Maps, but the next stop, Renehan’s Bore Rest Area, turns out to be there!

It’s so silent here. Renehan’s Bore itself, just a short walk away, once driven by a windmill, now just a memory. The night is full of the Milky Way and we’re the only people on Earth.

However everyone we do meet, next morning, drivers of road trains or tough trucks, are ready for a chat. We hear of their romances (“I’m driving over to pick up my girlfriend up in Alice”) or their life on the road, or they give advice about security and road conditions.

Tanami Day 3, 22nd July, 2021, we’re well past the midpoint and should arrive Tilmouth Well today.

Now the cattle country seems to have disappeared, as the natural landscape is back – red dirt sown with a garden of exotic plants. First we notice this on the hills where cattle don’t tend to roam, then across the landscape, every time we stop. It’ll be odd to be on bitumen again – we’re getting used to the roar of the corrugations, even as we get the speed right, zipping over their tips.

No buffel grass – just the green mounds of spinifex, flowering bushes, soft red dirt., but only on the hills
Later when we stop, we are greeted by the native and very fragile ‘Pilbura Spinifex’ and no grass to overrun it.
Spinifex in the early morning light

All we have to do now is pass the indigenous settlement of Yuendumu, then find the bitumen and we’ll be in Tilmouth Well tonight!

I’m riding the edges of the road where at least one wheel off the corrugations gives a calmer ride. We’re doing around 60km when there’s a screeching, crunching noise. The thoughts are instant. Something serious has collapsed in the van (after all, the television made a horrible crunch/bang/crunch when it fell off its perch last year), or, horror of horrors, it’s outside the vehicle. As I come to a halt I steer to the side of the road out of the way of the 100km road trains and we three get out to look.

Ted peers in past the tyre, stands up sombre-faced. “It’s not just the tyre or the wheel. There is crunched metal on the axle and wires loose.”

“So you mean it’s impossible to change the wheel?”

“Looks like it. The spare wouldn’t even fit on.”

Ted gets out the satphone, meant just for this purpose, starts to look up numbers. I think how long we can last with food and water – I count up an easy 10 days – no problem, surely we can get a tow in that time.

A road train goes past slowly, waves. I wave back, smiling happily to show we’re okay. The monstrous vehicle stops anyway, and down clambers Scott Lowrie, 53, truck driver since he was 14, based in Brisbane.

‘You okay?”

“Sure,” says Ted, “but there’s a bit of a mess in there – we probably need a tow.”

“Lemme have a look.”

He’s down on the dirt in an instant. “Ahhhrr, yup, let’s get this tyre off. Ya got a few damaged bits in there, but look, you can go without them.”

With the tyre off, he starts tearing and snipping at the metal, while I stand shocked. I can’t tell what Ted’s thinking.

“Actually, the brake is broken too,” I admit, confessing to the flashing red warnings which had appeared on the dashboard as I stopped.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll just rig up these wires here – see Ted – it’ll last you to Alice no problem.”

The work seems to come second nature, so we chat while he labours. By the time he finishes, I probably know more about his work and life than many of his pub mates.

Spare tyre on, broken bits of metal discarded, our superhero is gone like a will-o-the-wisp, leaving us wondering if he was real.

… but now we have no spare, so it’s going to be a slow trip on the dirt – 20-40km per hour, wandering all over the road to drive on the thick soft patches, rather than our speedy progress before. Another night in the wilderness, this time at the Tanami Pipeline Rest Area…how wonderful I think.

Tanami Day 4, 23rd July, 2021. The bitumen makes an unexpected appearance at Yuendumu (Yooundumoo), where we stop for an hour to make telephone calls about ordering new tyres and repairs, as we’re also back in telephone communication. Yuendumu, an indigenous town with some of both good and tragic history, is a spread-out settlement typical of the outback, with brightly coloured buildings and a tempting art gallery, closed to us because of Covid.

Then on, finally, to Tilmouth Well, where Charlie is delighted to find green green grass for the first time in a few weeks – fed by sprinklers from the bore of course.

There’s a count to be made, however. Crossing the Tanami, we have seen:

Cattle: 3

Horses: 4

Abandoned car wrecks: 16

Road trains: 21

Wedge-tailed eagles: 3

4×4 Trucks: 7

Kangaroos: 0

Birds: thousands

Varieties of wildflowers: countless

Caravans: 0

Motorhomes: 0

Is there a message in these numbers?

Next, Alice Springs, and back to the repair shop!

2 thoughts on ““You’ve been warned”

  1. But what a tale to tell! Hope you reach Alice in one piece.
    I am just out of the pool after a long day at Mossman Gorge, Daintree River cruise & Cape Tribulation in a small group.Marty’s hip popped so he is not going anywhere probably until we head home on Saturday. Luckily the Olympics are keeping him entertained.we are also loving the warmth & the good food.
    Love to you both
    Cas xx


    1. Hey Cas, so sorry to hear about Marty’s hip, please send our best love. I am jealous about Mossman Gorge as i swam there often until I was 6, but I hear it is very commercialised now. There was nothing there AT ALL except the creek and deep deep totally transparent water. We’re in Alice and getting tyre replacements… all good.
      Much love


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