Trip 25, part 1 – Bloody oath, it’s great being a Sandgroper

Captains log, star date 5th August 2021.  The state of Victoria is in stage 5 lockdown, Fatty Palmer is taking W.A. to court to make his life easier, but Mark Man o ’Steel McGowan is keeping us all protected from COVID-19 by continuing to enforce strict international and interstate border closures.

Yep, it’s good to be a Sandgroper at this time.  But we do feel for our Eastern States friends and family, and respect that our situation could change dramatically at any time.  It only takes one dickhead to break the rules and we could easily be closing down again, ourselves.

So, whilst W.A. is largely COVID and COVID related restriction free, Jules and I took advantage of saved annual leave to finally do the trip we’ve been planning but either putting off, or have been unable to do because of COVID, and that is to visit the “Biggest Rock in the World”, Mt Augustus.

Here comes the science-y bit..  Approximately 1000km north of Perth, Mt Augustus is both an inselberg, meaning ‘island mountain’ and an asymmetric anticline, meaning rock layers that have been folded into an arch-like structure due to tectonic movement over the millennia.  Peaking at 715m above the alluvial plains surrounding it, Mt Augustus is approximately 8kms long, about 2.5 times larger than Uluru and is widely regarded as the biggest rock in the world.  The rock making up Mt Augustus has been dated at approximately 1.6 billion years old.

We’ve been meaning to visit Mt Augustus for years, but it’s far enough away to be too far to do in a couple of days, but not far enough to bother taking time off to do it..  Oh, the dilemma we face.  We had planned to do Mt Augustus in March this year, as a quick trip prior to our longer Tassie trip in May, however, COVID put a stop to both of those trips.  But luckily, W.A. has fared really well in the COVID high-stakes game and over the last few months our large and very diverse and beautiful state has gradually opened up again.  Additionally, this trip coincides with the back-end of a trip the boys, Rod, BJ, Baz and Linda are doing as they make their way back home from a fishing trip in Francois Peron National Park for Baz’s 60th birthday celebrations.  So, our plan and the overly lengthy and elaborated start to this blog post is as follows.  Perth to Big Bell for a night, then on to Mt Augustus for a few days, followed by a couple of days in the Kennedy Ranges, before meeting up with the guys at Murchison Station, just out of Kalbarri for a week.  So, with the intro written and the scene set, let’s get into the blog for this trip…

Our first leg of the trip was to get to Big Bell and, via the miracle of Google Maps, we ended up taking the lessor travelled roads from home through Morawa and Yalgoo, rather than up the straighter, more typical and far more boring Great Northern Hwy.  An unexpected and additional perk of this new route was that it took us straight past Walga Rock and to our surprise and delight, with a little detour also to the Dalgaranga Meteor Crater.

Having visited the impressive Boxhole Meteor Crater in the NT a few years back, I had high hopes but low expectations of Dalgaranga.  On our drive in I lamented the fact that we didn’t have Rodney with us who, with his drone, is able to get a birds eye view of the crater – as he did at Boxhole.  However, as we approached the location and still couldn’t see any sign of a crater; it wasn’t until we literally drove right to the edge that we saw that Dalgaranga is Australia’s smallest officially recognised meteor crater at only 21m in diameter. 

Check out the interesting story below of how the crater was found and eventually, after a very lucky coincidence, was officially recognised.

The Dalgaranga meteor crater, only 21m in diameter and about 5m deep

A listing of Australia’s meteor craters and now we’ve been lucky enough to visit Dalgaranga and Boxhole.  Wolfe Creek is on the ‘to do’ list

The wonderful coincidence of the Dalgaranga Meteor Crater

A windswept tree on the rim of the Dalgaranga crater

From Dalgaranga, it was a short drive through to Walga Rock to view the impressive Aboriginal art that sits along the wave rock like rockface.  Walga Rock is famously known for its Aboriginal painting of an old sailing ship, the origins of how an Aboriginal painting of a sailing ship ended up on a rock over 300kms inland is still a mystery.  Four main theories exist about how the painting of a sailing ship ended up on the rock, the most favoured being that it was painted by a survivor of one of the many Dutch shipwrecks, however despite scientific study no story has been confirmed.  I (Tony) had seen this ship painting on a previous trip and still remain somewhat sceptical, as to me, the painting looks too recent and detailed when compared to the other paintings and art at the site.  Jules and I even conjectured that the blindingly obvious painting of a ship could be an intentional and recent fake to steer the general unwashed, who might be inclined to damage it, from the real painting a bit further down the wall.  There is another part of Aboriginal art which, when you stand back, has ship like qualities with a little imagination.  However, when we googled we only found pictures of the obvious and less Aboriginal arty looking ship pictured below.  Make your own mind up, but I’m not convinced this pic is kosher.  Having said that, there is a stack of Aboriginal art on the rock wall that is fantastic and well worth a look.

Approaching Walga Rock

The wall which has a lot of the Aboriginal art along it

The famous Aboriginal art of a sailing ship.  Also note the Arabic looking script below the ship which adds to the mystery

One of the more impressive pieces of art on the wall

Jules posing for the camera to provide a sense of scale for Walga Rock

From Walga Rock we drove the last 30’odd kms into Big Bell, now a ghost town of what was once a thriving community of over 850 residents.  Located approximately 25km west of Cue, Big Bell was gazetted as a town in 1936 after gold was discovered and a mine was opened in the area.  However, World War 2 and the closure of the gold mine in 1955 quickly saw the town’s demise and all that remains now are the old streets, many building foundations and the shell of the old pub and church.  It’s interesting and nostalgic to read the various information signs the historical society have erected around the area, describing the town and some of the families that made their lives there. 

Here is an interesting fact though: Jules’ dad, Frank, spent his earlier years working on the Austin Downs Station which neighbours the area and has actually had a beer at the old Big Bell pub prior to its closure!  Sadly now, some of the yocal bogans use it to record their passing with a shitty graffiti statement which is such a sad way to see the grand old building see out its remaining years.  Why people can’t visit, view, respect and leave as it was is beyond me and Jules.

Jules and I camped here at Big Bell for the night, just by the old church, watching the beautiful sunset, followed by an exceptionally clear night lit up by the full moon.  Day 1 done, and all is boding well for another great trip.

The now derelict Big Bell Hotel.  It would have been a beautiful building back in its day.

One of the many information signs erected around the old town site.

An abstract of fallen and now rotting timbers inside the Big Bell pub

The decomposing inners of the Big Bell Hotel.

A shot looking into the back end of the pub

An arty split toned pic of the pub, with an old beer can in the foreground

A nice selection of colours in the broken glass that is throughout the town site

Gwavin and Goldy, our Ranger and van parked up at Big Bell

Framing a window with a window at the old Big Bell Church ruins

An old fireplace in what I think was an old house at Big Bell. 

Looking through the old home to a tree framed by the missing door

One of the many interesting ‘ornamental’ trees still growing in the townsite

Jules iphone: An info sign in Big Bell

Jules iphone: An info sign in Big Bell

An info sign in Big Bell

An info sign in Big Bell

Beautiful but spikey weeds now sit alongside the foundations of the old buildings

Gwavin and Goldy in front of the old pub as the sun begins to set

Jules iphone: Selfie

A sunset silhouette

Sunset at Big Bell

A Crested Pigeon soaks up the last sunrays of the day at Big Bell

Jules taking sunset pics as the sky blossoms into colours of peaches and apricots

A wallaby, with baby in the pouch, watches as we walk by

We awoke to a very cool, but clear and calm sunrise, punctuated by the warbling morning song of birds.  A quick brekkie and we were back on the road, this time to Mt Augustus via Cue and Meekatharra.  Luckily, there was a fantastic little foodie van operating in Meeka where we managed to grab a lovely coffee and a wrap, to go, for lunch.  From Meeka we headed up the (mostly) gravel road to Mt Augustus, taking some time to have lunch on a dry riverbed and reading the information signs that marked the original route of the Kingsford Smith Mail route.  What a trek that must have been back in the day.

A big bull guarding his precious little patch of water

A shearing shed along the Meeka to Mt Augustus road

A shearing shed along the Meeka to Mt Augustus road

A highlight for me (Tony) on the drive in was the ever-changing colours of the rocks covering the plains between Meeka and Mt Augustus.  Jules reckons I am a ‘rock nerd’ and I think, that if I had my time again, I could easily take up a career in geology as it fascinates me.  The Murchison plains between Meeka and Mt Augustus are vast and sparsely vegetated but are typically covered in a consistent layer of small rocks which vary from white quartz, to a black quartz, through to an orange sandstone/ironstone rock.  There are clear delineations of these varied rock types, running from white, to black, to orange rocks in the space of a few hundred metres, or sometimes even different rock colours on either side of the road.  I ruminated that the changing rock terrain is probably due to the weathering of the topsoil over the millennia, exposing different levels of the underlying geology.  See, I should have been a geologist because who else uses the word ‘ruminated’ in a sentence these days?

A couple hundred km’s of dirt road later, we pulled into the Mt Augustus ‘tourist park’ which is the only spot you’re allowed to camp in the area.  Mt Augustus is about 2km away to our South West and from here it looks big, but somewhat unimpressive compared to what we had expected.  Having visited Uluru (Ayers Rock) a few times, I was expecting to be blown away with the sheer majesty of the ‘rock’ that is Mt Augustus, but from what we saw on our drive in and our view from the park, it could easily be considered to be a large range with plenty of vegetation on it.  We plan to do the ‘summit walk’ tomorrow so our next blog we will provide more insight into ‘largest rock in the world’, Mt Augustus.

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