What about Burke and Wills

Posted by Allan Whiting

We've just driven on the 'roads' around Innamincka, doing prototype tyre testing.

We chose the area because mining vehicles and the contractors who supply the Cooper Basin gas and petroleum endeavours have destroyed the roads we used to love touring. We were looking for the stoniest, worst-abused roads in Australia and we found them.

When you're driving a 4WD on roads that have been corrugated by heavy vehicles it's very difficult to find a safe, comfortable cruising speed. Light vehicles make short-wave corrugations, but heavy vehicles make long-wave ones.

We saw plenty of evidence of light vehicles literally falling to pieces on these roads, with the worst example being a sheared-off tow-ball.

There's been a recent announcement that the South Australian and Commonwealth Governments may tar-seal the entire Strzelecki Track, but the SA Transport Minister made no mention of the historical significance of the area; it's all about roads for mining revenue.

Ask school kids to name an early Australian exporation effort and I'll bet they'll say: "Burke and Wills". Although this ill-conceived and poorly-led expedition ended with the deaths of its leaders it has passed into Australian folklore. Near Innamincka are the famous 'Dig Tree' and the graves of Burke and Wills, 'protected' by the Innamincka Regional Reserve.

It's a Heritage Listed Site that's lost the feeling of remoteness. I can't imagine an Aboriginal Sacred Site being treated in the way the Burke and Wills historic site is being mismanaged.

When the Strzelecki was a sand track through arid country you gained an impression of the despair that must have been felt by Burke and Wills when they arrived at Cooper Creek and discovered they'd just missed the southward departure of their colleagues.

I get a similar feeling of despair today, after duelling with road trains on stony, smashed-up roads that are hideous scars on the landscape. It's not the truckies' fault: the ones I spoke to hate the bloody roads.

Innamincka used to be a welcoming oasis, but now it's a road-train parking lot and the historic pub and general store are fringed by unsightly accommodation huts.

Australians with more than half a brain know that our resources are being exploited by local and overseas mining interests and, like the boys who loved that friendly girl down the road, when they've got what they want they'll be off.

However, while they're at it in the Cooper Basin they're making a nice old mess of what used to be pristine desert country.

What's needed are separate corridors for mining supply and tourist vehicles. Let the mining contractors have a bitumen road and give us a dirt tourist road, out of sight of the disfiguring exploration activites. There's enough land - it's a big country, you know.

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