A Whirlwind Tour Around Northern Australia in an Old Army Land Rover Part 1 – Goulburn, NSW to Lake Hart, SA

4WD Swagman trips in the old ex-Army Fitted For Radio “Perentie” Land Rover 110 were a fixture of 2018. In January and February I travelled over to Western Australia. In June I travelled to Tasmania. In September 2018 I set off for an odyssey through Northern Australia, and that’s the trip described in this series of posts.

We probably should start at the beginning…

The plan for the Northern Australia jaunt was to go from Goulburn NSW to Port Augusta in South Australia, then up the guts of the continent via the Stuart Highway before turning left onto the Lasseter Highway to Uluru (Ayers Rock). After seeing the Rock and the Olgas, I would retrace my steps back to the Stuart Hwy and make for the Alice. From Alice Springs, work my way north to Darwin where I’d pick up my missus from the airport, then do the tourist loop through Kakadu, Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) and Litchfield National Parks for a week or so. Then I’d farewell her at the airport and head due east into the Gulf of Carpentaria on my way to Cairns. From Cairns I’d head north to Cape York. Have a bit of a look around there for a few weeks then head back to Cairns and hack my way down the coast to Sydney before making my way back home to Goulburn. I figured the whole expedition might take anywhere between two and four months.

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The first leg of the Northern Australia 4WD Swagman Trip.

I needed to get the vehicle ready for such a trip, so aside from a normal service and some electrical repairs, I re-jigged the camping electricals – i.e. added a small distribution box for the fridge and a couple of Anderson plugs for trickle-charging from the small solar panel and added a couple of lights in the rear. I added a second side awning to the roof rack and purchased not only an awning tent, but also an awning insect net. Not really 4WD swagman gear, but for part of the journey it wasn’t going to be just me, so I had to include other comforts such as inflatable air mattress, 12v pump, extra camp furniture, etc.

Record high diesel fuel prices at the time I’d be travelling made me determined not to be at the mercy of the various remote area fuel retailing concerns who operate monopolies or little cartels and charge stupid-high prices, far in excess of the extra transport costs to get fuel to their tanks. I had encountered this on the Nullarbor Plain in January 2018 on my way over to the West. The same mob owned all the roadhouses between about Ceduna and Albany and they charged like a wounded bull, safe in the knowledge they could set the prices as high as they liked because anyone stupid enough to not plan properly and carry extra fuel would be caught out and forced to buy from them. Phone apps like “Petrol Spy” are invaluable for travellers in avoiding the rip-off merchants. Where all retailers in a given area during the northern Australia trip were gouging their customers, I’d cruise on by until I hit somewhere with more reasonable fuel prices. This meant I’d need to extend my range dramatically by carrying extra fuel. At time of writing I still haven’t installed a secondary fuel tank, so instead, the path of least resistance was to carry jerrycans.

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The collection of jerrycans carried on this trip. 6 x diesel jerries and 3 x water drums. The thing hanging down under the car is the RFSV under-slung jerrycan carrier. It carries two jerrycans.

I ended up carrying six fuel jerries. This gave me an extra 120 litres of diesel, which equates to just under two full fuel tanks. The carrying configuration was – 3 x fuel jerries on the rear. 2 x fuel jerries in a special RFSV under-slung carrier which sits between the chassis rails where the spare wheel is supposed to go. 1 x fuel jerry in a rack bolted into the rear of the vehicle. I could have carried one or two extra fuel jerries on the roof rack, but my penchant for keeping the vehicle’s centre of gravity as low as possible meant I would avoid doing that unless forced to by circumstance.

I’d be driving through the centre of the continent, so I needed to make sure I had enough water for each leg. I carried 66 litres in three army style water jerrycans. In addition I had a couple of 2 litre flexible canteens, a 3litre camelbak and a few 1 litre canteens scattered throughout my gear just in case.

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The spare wheel was J-bolted to the ROPS and then secured with a ratchet strap. In the event of an accident it wasn’t going anywhere.

Since the main spare wheel had been displaced by the RFSV under-slung jerrycan carrier, I relocated it to the rear interior of the vehicle where I attached it to the ROPS (roll bar) hoop behind the driver’s seat with a “J” bolt. This ended up being a good solution, since it was pretty easy to get at the wheel without unpacking the rear of the vehicle and being directly behind me, it didn’t interfere with blindspot visibility. I ummed and ahhhed about carrying a second spare wheel, but I was concerned about the weight since it would have to go up on the roof rack. Eventually I compromised with myself and carried a bare tyre carcass, three spare tubes, two spare rust guards, a puncture repair kit and a couple of heavy duty tyre levers. After all, that’s why I have military split rims fitted to the Landy in the first place, to make tyre changes and repairs out bush.

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The Landy all packed, just minutes away from departure.

Aside from a 2×2.5m awning bolted to each side of the roof rack, I carried the tyre carcass, a deflated tyre tube and a rust band, and I also carried a high lift jack on the roof rack which proved to be more trouble than it was worth.

With the Landy finally packed and the day getting on, it was high time to depart, so I struck out for my first night’s camp on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River at Maude, NSW not far from Hay.

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The morning view from my swag. Despite the low level, the Murrumbidge River is still a pretty waterway.

Due to the late departure I didn’t arrive at my camp by the river until after dark. Gotta watch those kamikaze macropods on the Maude Road. It was a pretty simple camp, which set the scene for the whole of the solo part of my journey – awning out, an old army groundsheet laid out on the ground, then the swag unrolled on top of it.

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Awning out, swag unrolled and that’s pretty much it.

The next day I made it through Mildura, just skirting the edge of the state of Victoria, then it was over the border into South Australia. I am a fan of SA. The Riverland Country is a particularly pretty part of the state, so I took my time and stopped at the famous second hand and old wares shop near Renmark called Cammies, to see what sort of treasures I might find. Previous visits had proved fruitful.

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Parked outside Cammie’s Antiques and Old Wares at Paringa near Renmark in South Australia.

As it was, I only picked up a rusted pair of WWII mess tins and a trio of Flat Fifty cigarette tins I’ll convert into Australian WWII Type A1 Emergency Ration tins for a writing/photography project.

My camp for the second night would be at Lake Bonney. In January I had stopped to check out the ruins of the old hotel, but didn’t get down to the edge of the lake. This trip, I meant to remedy that situation. Once again I stopped at the ruins for a bit of photography. The old Lake Bonney Hotel is called Napper’s Ruins by locals. It was built in 1859 and in its heyday it served local station workers, had 11 rooms and a dining room which could seat 12 people. Not a bad for setup for its day. Now of course, it’s just ruins and I was disappointed to see a lot of vandalism.

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Napper’s Ruins – The former Lake Bonney Hotel.

My camp on the shores of the lake could only be gotten to by traversing a whole lot of deep, soft sand. Not a problem for the Landy. As I was setting up the awning, a gale blew up from across the lake. The wind was so strong I considered  packing up and finding somewhere away from the blustering wind and the stinging blown sand, but commonsense prevailed and I double-pegged the awning and added a side wall to act as a windbreak, which worked quite well.

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Due to the wind I had a hell of a time pitching the awning and its side wall. Once up though, they weren’t going anywhere.

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When the wind settled down I lit a nice campfire and enjoyed a sundowner and a feed.

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I was pretty tired, so broke out a ration pack and cooked up some freeze dried teryaki beef on the vintage Primus 71 shellite stove. I didn’t stick the wrong end of the spoon into the pot, it’s a combination spoon and fork, with the fork on the other end.

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A Bonny Lake indeed. Incidentally, Lake Bonney was named after one William Bonney, pastoralist and explorer, who happened to be the business partner of my great, great grandfather. Small world, eh?

The next camp would be near Lake Hart, a dry salt lake in the desert country northwest of Port Augusta. The trip through to Port Austa was broken only by a couple of fuel stops and a visit to Burra. You may recall Burra from my Western Australia jaunt – it’s the place with the “Midnight Oil” house from the album cover of 1987’s “Diesel and Dust”, but it also has an amazing amount of heritage and mining infrastructure. Here’s some pics from the Burra area.

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Visible on the other side of the ugly big hole are the original workings of the various mines on the Burra copper field which operated from the 1840s to the 1870s.

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Hero shot of the Landy overlooking the old open cut Monster copper mine. Although the copper deposits in Burra were first worked in the late 1840s, this open cut mine dates from the 1970s, a hundred years after the original Burra mines had closed down.

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Looking down from the Burra mine lookout towards Market St. This old walled compound is still in use as a residence and business.

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Burra Homestead, the “Diesel and Dust” house.

Personally, I’ve only ever scratched the surface of Burra, having only ever passed through on my way to somewhere else. It’s my intention at some stage to spend a week or more in the area and catch all the amazing history and heritage to be seen in the area.

I arrived at the Lake Hart area after dark, since I took the opportunity to hang around to watch a desert sunset from the famous Island Lagoon Lookout. No photos unfortunately. I have a strong affinity with this arid area and just drank in the vivid hues of the sunset over the salt lakes as the sun sank below the horizon.

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The vivid colours of sunset over South Australia’s desert country are something to behold.

The Lake Hart rest area was to be my camp, but I was dismayed to find it already packed out with RVs and wicked vans. I prefer more solitude when camping, so I kept going until I saw an almost imperceptible entrance to a track heading down to the lake bed. It was here that I set up and enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep. I was awake before dawn to do a little drone photography and was greeted by the sight of the Indian Pacific rumbling along the tracks nearby. As its name suggests, the Indian Pacific is a cross-continental train travelling from the west coast to the east coast and vice versa. This morning it was headed west.

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The Indian Pacific passes through on its way to Perth.

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My camp at Lake Hart. Plenty of wood around for a small bushman’s fire.

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Dawn at Lake Hart. Where I was is just the edge. Beyond the railway lines you are confronted with the majestic expanse of the Lake Hart dry salt lake.

In the next post we’ll continue the journey due north along the Stuart Highway through the interior of the Australian continent.

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5 thoughts on “A Whirlwind Tour Around Northern Australia in an Old Army Land Rover Part 1 – Goulburn, NSW to Lake Hart, SA

  1. Great photos Craig. Ahh the tranquility and solitude of a remote solo campsite at Lake Hart….. and woken by peak hour trains. The irony.

  2. I’m enjoying this overland trip around Australia – thanks – looking forward to the next episode. Interested to know how thirsty your ‘heavyweight’ Defender proved to be on that trip?

    I see there’s an early Series Land Rover parked up in the walled compound!

  3. Greetings from the United States, specifically the jungle and swamplands of Florida!

    I have been devouring your articles here and noticed you mention several times you had a book in the works. I’ve been really interested in at least trying out the swagman’s approach and would love to get ahold of it. Is it still in the works? Has it been printed? I’d even take a pdf copy if you have one!

    Looking forward to your future posts!

    • G’day Rion, real work commitments keep pushing back the hobby projects like the swaggin’ it book. At the moment the best info out there can be found for free in posts on this very blog, but it sounds like you’ve already read them. Cheers!

  4. Hi Craig, I absolutely love your two old Australian Bushcraft Magazines and regularly revisit them and the articles on your website. You have a real knack for sharing your wonderful knowledge on the subject, it’s not only well researched and informative but so easy to absorb. You certainly strike the right balance between the written word and accompanying illustrations / photos that support it. I look forward to your book. Cheers!

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