Tennant Creek (NT)
Wunara Store, Barkly Homestead (Barkly/Stuart Highways) 473 kms
No tent, no sleeping bags, no air mattresses and no ports to pack ... little wonder we were on the road by 7:45 am and commencing what would be, for all of us, our first day in the Northern Territory.
Before leaving Camooweal, we stocked up on fuel at 85 c/litre, amid the grumps from the proprietor
because we had only driven from Mount Isa and he wouldn't be able to sell us much fuel.
"Hardly worth filling up !" was the comment passed.
The first leg of our day's travel would be the 270 kilometre stretch to Barkly Homestead Roadhouse. This would be one of the longest legs of any part of our trip, without other fuel stops, but the Futura - even on a bad day - was well beyond this range. On the flat highway which stretched ahead and with no headwind, low fuel consumption was expected and achieved. In fact, subsequent refuelling at Barkly Homestead revealed our lowest fuel consumption for the journey, with a reading of 12.95 L/ 100 kms. The price off fuel more than made up for this, with an exorbitant 95.2 c/litre being charged!
About halfway to Barkly Homestead, we received an unexpected surprise, when we came upon a feature not shown on any of our maps. Wunara Store is small craft shop which sells drinks and sweets in the middle of nowhere. Billy tea and damper are also available. The store has been constructed of ant bed or termite mound, which has been crushed, had spinifex grass added and then hand pressed into moulds to form mud bricks approximately 400 mm x 160 mm x 200 mm. Some of the walls have oversize bricks in place which have a hole placed through the vertical profile to allow a metal rod to be placed through the wall, tying roof and floor. The exterior area has shelters fabricated of spinifex grass bound inside chicken wire and supported by poles cut from the local scrub.
The store has been made by a local aboriginal tribe and they are running it as a community collective.
Aboriginal art and artifacts are for sale in the shop. There is a strong Christian influence in the notices hanging on the walls and the literature which is available and by their own request, the store and the picnic areas are an alcohol free zone.
Sue took over for the second leg of the trip, which saw us through to our lunch stop at a roadside picnic table near a bore and wind pump. Here we met a young German tourist who was travelling alone and working his way toward the west coast after travelling up the east coast of Australia with his sister. We compared notes about places he had seen and he shared his thoughts about his own country and Europe. It was a most interesting way to consume two tuna sandwiches and a cuppa.
Leaving our new acquaintance behind, we pushed on until we reached the Three ways - the junction of the Barkly and Stuart Highways - and turned south for Tennant Creek, which was to be our destination and stopping place for the next few nights.
Ahead, the small but colourful McDouall Ranges showed us the location of Tennant Creek. These ranges had bled gold for many years since the first discovery took place in the early 1930's and they held at least a point of relief from what had been a fairly endless line of flatness.
Approximately 20km north of Tennant Creek, we came upon the Overland Telegraph Station, which
was established over 120 years ago and had been a vital link in the communication chain between
Adelaide and Darwin. Featuring the main homestead and several important out buildings, all built from stone, this was an interesting hour of wandering. Guided tours are available, but we had chosen to arrive unannounced and we still found it a detour well worth making.
Originally staffed by fhe hardiest of souls, here was a place which screamed history from the moment you approached it. Located in the remotest of country, the men who lived and worked here had all the stuff of heroes. Apart from relaying messages along the Telegraph Line, they also provided an important respite for weary travellers, a trading place for local natives and a repair shop for damaged equipment and vehicles.
The out buildings included a smoke house and a storage shed, which had been cleverly constructed so as to maximise the coolness of the materials it was made from. In addition to this, the floor was sunken into the earth for added coolness. Another important out building was the blacksmith's workshop, where all manner of work had been performed on equipment and beast.
The station has had multiple uses since ceasing its original function. It has also been the accommodation for a pastoral lease, a butcher's shop and the headquarters for defence
forces during mobilisation north in the Second World War. The converted butcher's shop has a refrigerated cool room, cutting block and carcass rail. The main building is in disrepair, but it is evident efforts are being made to bring it back to its former glory.
From here, we sought out the town itself and evenhially arrived at our accommodation, to be pleasantly surprised to find a grassy, shaded tent site. In order to replenish our grocery supply, we ventured into town to the local supermarket. With almost all of our shopping completed. Sue was stopped in her tracks by seeing the spitting image of our former work mate and friend Helen Goodacre. Remembering her twin sister lived in Tennant Creek, I was sent hurrying
out of the store in order to catch her and after awkward introductions, our bonafides were good enough to have us invited back to Mary's office for a few quiet beers.
To say Mary and Helen are alike is to overstate the obvious. Helen's facial appearance, gestures and that evil deep laugh, were duplicated in Mary. The only perceptible difference was a slight NT vocal drawl. We spent an hour chatting with her and her work chums, before politely taking our leave. Her warm welcome really got us off to a great NT start and Sarah and Sue were flabbergasted two people could be so alike.
Returning home to a red meat meal - kangaroo and beef steaks - we settled in for the evening. At about the time we were thinking of attacking the dishes, a bedraggled pair arrived to take up the adjacent tent site, with a tale of woe. A young couple - Steve and Kay - working their way from Perth to Sydney, had the misfortune of having a front wheel bearing seize up at 100 km/hour, about 50km north of Tennant Creek. Their car had been towed to a garage and they had just returned from walking into town - the park being away from the centre of town - to get something to eat. All of their supplies were in the vehicle and all they had were the clothes on their back, sleeping bags and their tent.
After sharing a cuppa and beer with them and a long conversation about nothing in particular but
everything in general, we undertook to assist with transport and a breakfast meal in the morning. He was a resident of the NSW central coast, who had travelled through Europe and the Americas and she was a pommy expat who had travelled back to Australia with him, through Nepal and Asia, finally seeing the best parts of this country on the way to his home.
The air was cool and my cough freshening, so it was off to bed and a well earned rest after such a full day.