HAY RIVER TO BEDOURIE - August 2015
Another Northern Simpson Desert crossing.
This track was pioneered by Jol Fleming, from Direct 4WD Awareness in Alice Springs. His company is also the contact point for people wishing to follow this route.
Jol Fleming told OTA that he was planning a new track to connect the town of Bedourie with the Hay River Track that he’d blazed in conjunction with Aboriginal elder, the late Lindsay Bookie.
We asked to be included in the pioneering expedition and that took place in August 2015.
The Hay River to Bedourie Track runs east from the Hay River Track, close to the turnoff to Lake Caroline.
Key GPS points along the route are the national park marker post at the NT-Qld border and the east-west fence line on Ethabuka Station.
Needless to say, this track is remote and there are no water sources or services anywhere between Jervois on the Plenty Highway and Bedourie.
When it comes to bush adventure there’s nothing quite like driving over untravelled county – not to ‘bush bash’ it, but to open up alternative routes for people who’ve already driven Australia’s major tracks.
The Hay River Track was once a set of tyre tracks running north from Poeppel Corner on the main Simpson Desert crossing to Jervois on the Plenty Highway. This track was blazed by Aboriginal Elder, the late Lindsay Bookie, and Jol Fleming, and is now a popular trip with bush adventurers, as well as a source of income, via permits and camping fees, for the Aboriginal people at the Bookie Family’s property, Batton Hill.
The new track, which I think should be called “Jol’s Track”, will also contribute to the Bookie Family funds, because visitors will drive via the Hay River Track and Batton Hill to access it.
At this early stage of development the track is permit-only, sourced from Jol Fleming’s Direct 4WD Awareness business in Alice Springs. The permit covers transit through Aboriginal Lands and also includes through-travel access to the Bush Heritage property of Ethabuka, north-west of Bedourie.
At the request of the Bookie Family and Bush Heritage the initial trips will be tag-alongs, run by Jol Fleming.
The initial tag-alongs will meet up at Jervois, allowing access on the Plenty Highway via Alice Springs or Boulia and then head south-east on the northern section of the Hay River Track, to Batton Hill. Camping there is excellent, with flushing loos, donkey-fired hot showers, fire pits and even a wood-fired oven.
From there the convoys will head south and cross the Hay River’s sandy watercourse, before visiting the dry bed of Lake Caroline and camping for the night on a firm claypan.
The starting point of Jol’s Track is on the eastern side of the Hay River, where the new adventure begins.
As with the Madigan Line there has been no official track construction, so drivers will follow our 2015 tyre tracks through low scrub and over spinifex humps. Another similarity with the Madigan Line is that the dunes have much steeper eastern faces than their western sides.
The track traverses vegetated dunes and swales that gradually increase in size as the track nears the Queensland border. The permit conditions specify no deviations from the track and no deviations from graded private property tracks, other than campsite access.
On the inaugural trip we found plentiful Gidgee campsites close to our tyre tracks.
There are no significant landmarks on this trip, but the enjoyment comes from travelling through desert country that has probably never been traversed by anyone.
Driving through such country is tough on vehicle suspensions, because much of the route is through spinifex country and negotiating grass mounds is a lumpy business that uses full suspension travel.
One of our vehicles had a spring breakage and a cracked bracket that required some bush-welding attention.
The dunes on Ethabuka are high, but progress is eased by the fact that these fence line tracks are graded regularly.
Needless to say, this track is remote and there are no water sources or services between Jervois on the Plenty Highway and Bedourie.
Most diesel 4WDs should manage the Jervois-Bedourie trek on 1.5 standard tanks of fuel, but extra capacity is wise. Petrol vehicles use much more fuel in sandy conditions, so double tank capacity is essential.
Jervois sells fuel and is also your last chance for an ice cream until Bedourie.
Bedourie, meaning ‘dust storm', is a small town with a population of 120 people, situated between Birdsville and Boulia. There’s an artistic representation of a dust storm in Herbert Street.
Sited on a sand ridge and surrounded by Eyre Creek, it is the administrative centre of the Diamantina Shire’s 95,000 square kilometres.
In the 1880s, Bedourie was a major watering and rest stop for drovers moving cattle from the Northern Territory and north-west Queensland to the customs collection point in Birdsville, 200 kilometres south.
The town has an airport, hotel/motel, caravan park, hot spring baths, a restaurant and tavern, general store, wireless internet, fuel services, a police station and a medical clinic.
Attractions around Bedourie include the Vaughan Johnson Lookout, the wetland at Cuttaburra Crossing, Carcoory Ruins and Diamantina National Park.
Cuttaburra Crossing is a permanent waterhole and wetland on Eyre Creek. It is located between Lake Koolivoo and Lake Machattie, south of Bedourie and is home to many species of birds. This prolific birdlife can be viewed from a roadside rest and viewing area.
Bedourie is credited with the invention of the Bedourie Camp Oven.
In the 1920s, stockmen, drovers and camel train drivers were having problems with cast iron camp ovens that cracked or broke if accidentally dropped.
A Bedourie tinsmith came up with a design that used sheet steel instead of cast iron and the Bedourie Camp Oven was born.
Over time the design for the oven was refined and it was manufactured from spun steel, like a modern saucepan, with a tightly fitting lid.
In 1945 RM Williams began selling the ovens and in 1966, an RM Williams catalogue listed the Bedourie Camp Oven, with rolled edges, for sale at two pounds, fifteen shillings ($5.50).
Today’s Bedourie Camp Oven design is made by several suppliers: Dr Livingstone’s version sells for $69.95.
Our video shows what you can expect on a Hay River Track to Bedourie tag-along:
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