Friday, 4 April 2014

Out on The Nullarbor track. Australia.

land of no trees

Ferry from Moorabin Airport Victoria, to Western Australia.
To engage in the winter wheat spraying.

A ferry of about 1500 miles.

Aircraft: Cessna 180, in spraying configuration. ( slow)

Mid 1960. winter.

My plan was to fly into South Australia, refuel and intercept the Nullarbor track, as there where no radio aids  and follow it across to the wheat fields of Western Australia. At 3000 feet.

They call it the track! way out in the outback, or the road of no returning.

Now-days the Nullarbor track is called the Nullarbor  plain and has a highway running across it, with modern road signs, and a man made road surfaces and service stations with food and fuel, but most of them are still hundreds of miles apart.
Plus it has an air conditioned passenger railway train, which runs parallel to the high way, and is a luxury travel experience.
Also you will see semi-trailers pulling two or three trailer, they are a common sight now.

To transit the Nullarbor plain is still an adventure, that requires careful, planning with care,
A must! is to carry plenty of water, as its still often over 35-40 degree's Centigrade, during the day and zero at night.
It's as hot as hells gates! windy,and dusty.
It seems to have it's own sound at night, it seems to whisper to you and on a rare occasion a possible flood threat, during the rainy season.
Your vehicle needs to be in good working order and you should have a plan, which includes keeping your wits about you.
It's a harsh unforgiving land, lonely and wild, featureless.
It's the outback?

When I started my ferrying days across the Nullarbor plain in the mid to late 1960s, it was a dirt track,  covered with gravel, dirt and dust, in places where the floods had washed the track away, the wind would fill these wash outs on the road with dust, which were impossible to see, causing many accidents.
It was all scrub country and desert, it all just looked the same, whatever direction you looked ?

Most bush pilots who flew this route, kept an eye out for traffic on the track and would organise assistance if required.

There was a special type of kinsman ship between the people who crossed Australia via the track.
It was an adventure not to be undertaken lightly even in an aircraft, it was not uncommon for pilots to check for traffic, so they could anticipate where they might see the  traffic.

Landing on a good stretch of road for a cup of tea and a chat was not uncommon.

So now let me take you back to that place and tell you a wee story that happened to me, one time when I crossed the track.
Way out there in  the outback, it's that place where man walks and leaves not a footprint, to show his passing.

I was at 3000 feet following the track, using a Mercator projection
chart to plot my position, contours of the surface gave valuable information to aid in maintaining a heading when following the track as it disappeared beneath the  dust and sand in blowy conditions.

I was about 300 miles along the track, when I noticed a vehicle, a few hundred yards south of the track, I plotted it's position and did a slow fly pass, I could see from the spoor of the mud flood that it had been pushed sideways off the track.

This what I reckon happened to it!

A storm would have raged up country somewhere, causing a flood of water to start a journey down to the lower country, towards the track, this flood water may have been 10 miles long or more at the start of its rampage across the scrub country, and on many occasions dried out before reaching the track, but not this time!

The flood would have came rushing along, impossible to see, hidden by the mud and blowing dust, pushing the vehicle off the track and drying out, as it went south away from the track.
In a few hundred yards the water would have been leached away all into the desert, leaving the vehicle full of drying mud , which quickly dried out and broke down into sand.
Within hours it would be dried out completely.

The front windows were open and the mud  had filled the vehicle as it dried, choking and trapping all inside.

The next day or so the wind would begin to strip out the mud through the open windows, completely removing most of the sand from the interior, then the wind would fill it up again and the cycle would start, the wind would blow and build up against the vehicle, and fill it with sand, maybe the wind would change direction and blow it clean again? a  violent dust storm may blow for weeks and leave the vehicle sitting at the top of a hill, as if it had been abandoned by its owner

The upwind side of the car was covered in dried mud, but the mud inside the vehicle, was blowing out through the windows, leaving the drivers head exposed to the wind and the other passengers (if there were any?) were buried in the dried mud inside the car.

Then I came along.

I saw the spare wheels on the roof of the Willies Jeep plus the Jerry cans of fuel and water  securely tied, this guy was a bushman, caught out in a most cruel way.

There was no real way of knowing! if this happened within a week or a month, or if the sand was covering or uncovering the vehicle? for the first time or the tenth time?
Would it be seen here in a few weeks time? or not? who knows?
The drivers head gave the impression that he was looking straight ahead, straight through the windscreen, staring at his mortality.

I made another pass, as close as I dare and looked directly into the Jeep and at the man's face, there were dark shadows around his eyes and his blond hair was blowing in the wind ( may be his nickname was Snow) and just a hint, of the start of the wind and sand stripping away his skin leaving a skeletal shape to his head.

There was nothing for me to do here!
I climbed back up to 3000 feet and intercepted the track, once established and just for a second! I thought to my self, that could be me? I still had a long way to go?
I deployed my HF aerial and  made some salient notes directly onto my chart with a Chinagraph pencil to cover my transmission.

I made a broadcast on the local frequency for this area,
"Pan Pan Pan this VH-RGV" and I waited, 15 minutes later I rebroadcast my second call "Pan Pan Pan this is VH-RGV"

I never got a response for over a hour, then Ceduna came back to me, I passed the message, then I gave him all my details. giving my destination as Kalgoolie and my E.T.A as 20.00 hours local, and my fuel state including reserves, all good.

I told him "I will listen out on the air for another 15 minutes, then I will recover my HF aerial as I'm not happy flying with it extended, my next transmission will in 2 hours, Roger to that" and he was gone, when the radio goes off, its just so bloody quite.

As the sun passed over me on its way to the western horizon, it slowly shone right in my face, time for the sun cream and visor to start work.

My forward visibility became poor  due to  the sun and dust haze, every good positive sighting of the track, I adjusted my Directional Gyro, this is my favourite instrument.

I thought about the ole boy in the Jeep, how people would be worrying and hoping and waiting for him, as he would be overdue, which really wasn't anything new.
They would be expecting him to drive up at any minute and tell the stories of the track, how he was broke down for days, out on the track.
I'm sure when they get to see my report, at first they will not believe it and they will continue to look towards the track, and keep hoping and praying,  that he will make it back.

That night I landed into Kallgoolie, it's a big gold producing town now, a city I think?
In them days! I landed in the street and parked the plane in a cattle corral.
I climbed into my sleeping bag a slept like a dead man.
In the morning I wrote out an incident report for the local Policeman and left it with the Pub owner, I had a chat with a few of the locals, checked on the weather and then departed for the wheat country, about another 5 hours further up the track, in about 10 weeks and I will be coming back, by that time our lost bushman will be a legend.
So you see life go's on for you and me.

You may wonder why I said "I don't like to fly with my HF aerial extended all the time giving me radio full time," well? Firstly reception at 3000 feet is poor at best!  the vibration may break the aerial off! I may forget it and land with it extended, ripping it off and it may wind it's self around the tail section?
The radio is far to important to risk it.

There's a sign on the side of the road, at the start of the track and if my memory serves me right? it says,
If you pass this sign without fuel and water and venture out onto the track, Then Cobber you won't be coming back!



  1. Wow! I learned so much here today. I didn't know much about this area, but from your description I can easily picture it. My heart goes out to the family of the guy in the jeep. It sounds like it was a risky road to travel (and fly). Thanks for sharing!

    1. Turns you into a dreamer, thanks for your visit

  2. Hello agman such an interesting post thank you for sharing your memories.

    1. ,Hi Barbara , thanks for your visit, and your kind comment. agman

  3. Hi Terence......soooo great to have you back again. Love Norn x

    1. hi Cuz, Thank you and regards to James. kiss's cuz terence


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