Not long after crossing the state border we started feeling like having a coffee. The next town was Orley, and Dad said it had a nice pub there. It was only 110km down the road. You know you’re in the Outback when the signs listing the next bunch of towns all show 3 figure distances. We pulled in at the Orley pub, and was dismayed to read a sign that said the pub was closed for renovations. Oh well, Yunta was only 120 km down the road, and they had a roadhouse there. The country settled down into low rolling hills covered with yellow grass and heat-haze mirages. The speed limit had been 110 since we left Dubbo, but I let The Foot drive and we crept up to 125kph. Eventually Yunta Roadhouse faded into view.
A road house that sold curry pies.
So with our coffee and curry cravings satisfied we aimed for Peterborough, just 300km down the road. It was here we left the Barrier Highway and aimed for Port Augusta. We passed through Peterborough, and Ororro (I waved at the town for mactavish) and headed for Port Augusta.
I made a note to one day find and ride on the Pitchi Ritchie steam railway that ran through this area a bit to the North. Yes, I’m a train spotter.
Around 1pm the road began snaking up into the range east of Port Augusta. We topped a rise and could see the Northern tip of Spencer Gulf, and Port Augusta. I realised that the next time we see the sea, we’ll be on the north coast. We were going to cross the continent from south to north.
As we turned on to the main street of Port Augusta I went “Wow!” It’s 1 lane wide and winds around the parking areas. Buildings crowd both sides of the street, and large numbers of potted trees give the impression that you’re driving through a cool green canyon. Except the coolness was from the car’s air conditioner and the air outside was scorchingly hot.
Time to head north. Alice Springs was still 1220km away, so a quick check of the map showed we could get to Pimba, near Woomera, by 5pm. That was our target for the day. The road from Port Augusta to Woomera is Not Memorable. It’s wide, straight, and has a bit of the up-and-down gear, but it passes through MAMBA that is just brown hills. The new Ghan rail line runs alongside the road for most of the way.
150 years ago the only way to move bulk freight to Alice Springs was by camel trains, controlled by professional camel herders from Afghanistan. When the first train line was run to Alice Springs it replaced all the camels, who were released into the wild by their owners. This is how Australia ended up with wild camels. The animals are often captured and exported to Saudi Arabia. This sounds like fridges for Eskimos, but the wild animals are used to improve the local blood lines there. Apparently our wild camels are better than theirs’. So there!
About 100km from Woomera we started seeing salt lakes, vast expanses of white with crystals glittering in the sun. And then we were at Spud’s Roadhouse, Pimba.
We were told the room had an en suite, but when we entered the room I saw the en suite consisted of a tiled area at one end of the room, separated from the rest of the room by a concrete wall that stopped 1 metre short of the ceiling. Adding a door to the en suite must have been considered unnecessary. Spud’s is cheap, air conditioned, and attached to a pub with cold beer.
10km further off the main road is Woomera, the site of rocket tests, atomic tests, and detention centres. In the centre of town is the Rocket Park, a museum area containing a Canberra bomber, a Gloucester Meteor, Skylark hypersonic rockets, Black Arrow launch rockets, Sea Slug ship-to-air rockets, Blue Streak air-launch nuclear missile, Jindavik robotic drone aircraft, IKARAS rocket-plane torpedo delivery systems, the remains of WRESAT, a 2 stage Black Arrow with the second stage mounted upside down to test ballistic re-entry, and a Long Tom 4 stage missile on its launch gantry, and a bunch more I can’t remember the names of. All these missiles and planes were used during the 50s, 60s and 70s to test Royal Navy, RAF, RAAF, and Royal Australian Navy systems.
WRESAT is something that really bugs me. The USAF gave the CSIRO a surplus Redstone Rocket. The CSIRO built a satellite to photograph clouds and measure Infra Red reflection, put it at the top, and in 1967 launched the thing. Australia became the 4th country in the world to put a satellite into orbit. The Government then had a typical lack of self confidence and went to the British and US governments saying we had this technology but was it worth pursuing? They were told to leave it up to the countries who knew how to do this. Australia should stick to wool and wheat because it does them very well.
In 1995 the remains of the Redstone 1st stage were recovered from the Simpson desert. It is the only remains left of the Australian space program. Which is sad.
Day 1: 1336km