Flood, Mud and Boats 1997

  

 

 

The Murchison River
flooded in April 1997.

 It created the opportunity
for a group of adventurers
to make a
four day mini-expedition
along the river.

An account of the
3rd Murchison River Expedition.

 

From
Concept
to
Reality

AFTER very, very heavy rainfall in early February in the upper Murchison Region and heavy follow up rains in March, the Murchison River was flowing strongly. This was just what the ‘team’ was waiting for. Shortly before Easter I declared that ‘the Expedition was on’.

The Third Murchison River Expedition would be the follow up expedition to the two previous trips to the Murchison. The first was from Milly Milly Station to the Galena Bridge, a journey of 400 kilometres, in March 1994.  Another expedition followed in March 1995 after Cyclone Bobby flooded the river and provided the opportunity to tackle the Murchison Gorges. It also gave all involved a new insight into the power of flooded rivers.

This 1997 Expedition was to start at Milly Milly Station (start point for the 1994 Expedition) and travel to Galena Bridge in two days (the 1994 Expedition, with slower boats, took three days). From the Bridge a decision would be made whether to move to Kalbarri and travel upriver or continue downriver through Hardabut Rapids and beyond.

The four day trip was planned for the period 10 – 13 April (two weeks after Easter).

Initial indications from my telephone calls to pastoral stations along the length of the Murchison were that the water was draining away and conditions would be best one week prior to the planned dates. However, heavy rain during that week washed away all fears of lack of water.

Rainfall in the Murchison area for the month of April was the heaviest on record. Rainfall for the three month period of February, March and April was close to a record.

The heavy rains and a rising river caused the closure of roads throughout the area. Dick Child from the Murchison Shire advised that they would not be re-opened till Friday – the day of the Expedition’s arrival in the area. It was likely that the road into Milly Milly was impassable. Certainly the minor access roads to the river between Milly Milly and Meeberie would be inundated. I decided that there was no option but to start at Murchison Crossing – if possible.

The weather in the Murchison cleared in the days preceding departure and all looked good for another exciting power dinghy expedition on a remote Western Australian river.

The
Murchison
River

THE Murchison River is Western Australia’s second longest river and has its source at Central Bore near St Crispin Mine on Doolgunna Station at the eastern end of the Robinson Range, 100 kilometres NNE of Meekatharra.

From its headwaters it flows 832 kilometres through pastoral country and the spectacular Murchison Gorges to its mouth at Kalbarri.

The catchment is about 80,000 square kilometres (about the size of Austria).

Read more about the Murchison River.

The State of the River

AT Beringarra Station, just upriver from Milly Milly Station, the river was seven kilometres wide and the homestead was cut off.

My telephone calls to upriver pastoral stations revealed that at Moorarie Station, where the homestead is right on the river, the water level had dropped from where it had been from an earlier fresh. It was only 400mm over their crossing.

However, the Yalgar River, in flood, joins the Murchison three kilometres downriver from the Moorarie homestead.

A number of other smaller but still significant tributaries joined the Murchison downriver from its confluence with the Yalgar, each of them contributing to the onward rush of brown flood water.

At Milly Milly Crossing, about 525 kilometres from the mouth of the river, the water was at least 600 mm deep. More rain and a rising river were expected to push this to well over a metre by the time the Expedition was due to arrive in the area.

Reports from travellers who regularly crossed the Galena Bridge, about 130 kilometres from the mouth, were that the water had reached that point and therefore would be well into the Gorges. The runoff from the huge February rains had filled all the holes along the entire course which meant that the water that was now entering the river would cause it to really flow. Later inspection at Galena Bridge revealed that it was only about a metre lower than the record level after Cyclone Bobby in 1995.

More information on river distances.

The Plan

ALTHOUGH the ephemeral nature of the Murchison River is such that it rises and falls quickly, it was clear that there would be sufficient navigable water at any point up to 600 kilometres from the mouth. This was a rare opportunity for an historic power dinghy expedition!

The river was rising – later information would reveal that the rainfall in the Murchison area recorded for the month of April was the highest amount ever!

The Plan was to power down the river for two days, halt  at Galena Bridge and assess Hardabut Rapids. Depending on what was seen, the expedition would either continue downriver or move to Kalbarri and head upriver.

Closed roads and flooded country in the Shire of Murchison threw The Plan into disarray. Flexibility is a vital part of power dinghy expeditions. The Plan was revised to start at Murchison Crossing (on the Meeberrie-Wooleen Road), proceed to Galena Bridge and re-assess there.

The People

GETTING eleven people, with all their various commitments, to agree on a common date was difficult.

Cliff Hills was doubtful as a result of work pressure. So was Mike Lenz. Brent Barden wanted to be involved but he too was busy at work. Scott Overstone was keen from the start and then one week from departure needed surgery after spearing a sewing needle deep into his foot. Kim Thorson was only able to participate after the expedition was put back a week, same for Brian Appleby. So, initially, there was only half an expedition.

The only people confirmed were Greg Barndon, Adrian Bock, Kim Epton, Tony Overstone, and Mark Scott.

If the Expedition was to become a reality it was necessary to proceed regardless and hope that eventually the required numbers would become involved.

 The Rigs

Mike Lenz Hybrid Inflatable 10hp Mariner
Adrian Bock Hybrid Inflatable 8hp Mariner
Cliff Hills Hybrid Inflatable 8hp Suzuki
Brent Barden Fibreglass
Greg Barndon 8hp Suzuki

Too Easy

DEPARTURE was marked by a lack of last minute rush around. There was no panic buying. No stress. No pressure. And an ‘on time’ departure. Was this going to be a boring expedition?

Or was it just testimony to the maxim that ‘prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance’. And, perhaps, ‘practice makes perfect?

Approach

THE drive through Cataby, Eneabba and Mullewa was uneventful. The gravel started north of Mullewa and suddenly there was more interest in the road ahead. A great amount of rain had fallen recently. Inattention behind the wheel and soft edges on the road could have been a dangerous combination. 

Slow across the Ballinyoo Bridge to assess the height of the water (by spotlight).

For those who had been there before it was a revelation. It was considered that the water level must be as high as that after Cyclone Bobby (being aware that the no-one had seen the water level at Ballinyoo Bridge after Cyclone Bobby).

The convoy finally reached the turn off to Murchison Crossing (Meeberie-Wooleen Road). Water spread across the road and into the distance. This did not look good. The 4WD was sent through first. No problems. The Bus followed. Easy. More water. Same procedure. Some of the pools were quite deep and extended for about 200 metres.

After a few anxious moments (more anxious on the return journey) a much bigger puddle loomed into the lights of the 4WD. It was the river. The Bus was turned around (seven point turn), the generator was fired up, the boats were unloaded and breakfast was cooked. Mosquitoes were plentiful and persistent.

As dawn broke the extent of the river could be more clearly seen.

Brent “could not believe the size of this and where we were starting from”. The river was about 100 metres wide and two metres deep – and this was 400 kilometres from the ocean!

Tally Ho!

The boat crews powered away at 0645. Single file with Mike and Mark in the lead, Greg and Brent bringing up the rear. Barndon and Barden claimed that they “would only be seen in a glass boat because ‘tarts’ race rubber boats”.

The first hour was spent adjusting the load each boat was carrying in an attempt to even out the relative speeds.

Greg’s motor had a cracked head gasket that took some time to diagnose.

Scott was a part of the trip that started it all on the Murchison in 1994 when it was extremely hot and water level was low. The high water level made this trip a lot easier and the expected hot weather didn’t eventuate – it was overcast and cool. Adrian was wishing he had worn his full length wetsuit!

On land, Kim Thorson was driving The Bus. He takes up the story.

ULW* I drove The Bus. Dr E# insisted ‘that the previous traversing (on the way in) had caused undue distress to the track and it would not tolerate too many more vehicles’. Therefore, The Bus was to head out to the Mullewa Road ahead of the 4WD. Not having driven The Bus, or any vehicle for that matter, through water, I thought a ‘jolly good run up’ was in order (the only reason he was the Expedition was because of his supposed driving ability – Ed). Try 3rd gear I said to myself! So 3rd it was and as I hit the puddle it turned into a bloody ocean. I looked into the rear view mirrors to see where the 4WD was but my vision was obscured by waves of water coming from the wheels of The Bus. They blanked out any vision, left or right. I then noticed that the door was still open! At the same time The Bus slowed. Third wasn’t the gear to be in. I was in jeans and flannelette shirt – that wasn’t the gear to be in either – a wetsuit would have been more suitable.

I gently slid the gear stick into 2nd gear and tramped my foot. The Bus grunted and slid out of trouble and onto (relatively) dry land. During the “Moses thing” one of the wooden blocks (handbrakes) swam away, never to be seen again. Dr E and Buddha soon arrived in the 4WD.

 ‘What gear did you go through the water in?”’asked the good doctor.

 ‘Pretty much what I’m wearing right now.’ was my reply.

 ‘Use 2nd gear, you (deleted expletive) idiot!’ was the tactful advice from Dr E.”

* = Upon leaving Wooleen.

# = Kim Epton. It’s a long story. See the movie ‘Spies Like Us’.

Back on the water Greg was keeping close to the bank when he clipped an obstacle. The motor was not the one usually fitted to that boat and it did not have the usual restraints attached. It kicked up violently, nearly ending inside the boat with Greg and Brent. Brent was no help at all, laughing himself silly, as Greg fought desperately to save the motor from drowning. In the attempt to stop the motor going overboard he nearly went in the water himself. The boat careered crazily all over the river nearly hitting everything in sight before Greg got it under control and onto the bank. A bit of rope was used to secure the motor more securely and they took off again. In their private ‘tally of stuffups’ the score was Barden 0 Barndon 1.

To relieve the boredom of the wide, open, flooded river a ‘game’ of leapfrog developed with the lead boat falling back to the rear and the second boat to the lead and so on. Greg commented, “Down the river we went with the whole group joking and laughing all the way”.

Where are we?
Where are the other boats?

THE boat crews had been following a line of trees for some time. The river was fairly well defined. Then ti trees appeared. The boats entered one after another, seeking a channel. The great expanse of the river meant that there were several courses from which to choose – most of which ended up in dense scrub. The best option when there is no obvious route is to follow the flow. However, it is not always that easy. This made for very slow going as crews checked the various routes and then regrouped to ascertain which went nowhere and who was onto a winner.

The crews became separated. In the glass boat Brent shouted, “Go left”. The channel they picked took them into a large, open body of water. The Wangoolia Floodout, at more than six kilometres wide, was a considerable difficulty.

Undeterred Greg and Brent searched the lake looking for the other boat crews. According to Greg, “there was so much water we needed a GPS”. They also needed to find the other boats but none were to be seen. Looking across the ‘lake’ they saw a boat pop through the trees. Greg and Brent headed over to the new arrival – it was Mike. A ‘none-too-pleased’ Mike.

According to Brent he, “muttered something about it being an expedition and we should all stick together – (you aren’t The Messiah, you’re just a naughty, naughty boy)”. Greg blamed his co-driver for the navigational error – Barndon 1, Barden 1 in the all-important tally of stuff ups.

Frustrations vented, it was time to get the show back on the road (river) and have some fun – there was a station to be found!

Scott was with Cliff in the large ‘Expedition Duck’ and they were having a difficult time keeping up with the others while also searching for the river proper,

“We were getting further and further away from the well defined tree line we had been next to and following for most of the day. I had visions of us finding our way down some minor off shoot and ending up in a lake miles from anywhere.”

After linking up again the boat crews endeavoured to keep fairly close together from that point on. This separation of crews is one of the main problems to be encountered in river expeditions.

Should the boat at the rear become disabled, time is wasted in returning to the disabled craft (if it can be found in the thickets). The crew of the disabled craft may solve the problem, continue downriver and miss the returning boat(s).

There are a number of scenarios that could be played out if boat crews allow themselves to get separated – none of them contributing to a safe and efficient expedition. It is nothing new. It was one of the major problems (if not the major problem) on the 1981 Murray River Expedition over 2225 kilometres. On that Expedition two boat crews continued past the planned overnight stop, into the growing darkness and were stopped only a matter of a few hundred metres before a weir. Similar ‘tales of woe’ could be told of the consequences of failing to keep together on every subsequent expedition.

Strangely enough there was little wildlife in this section. The floodwaters had pushed the trees and shrubs into some amazing shapes and distortions. Approaching Billabalong Station the river deepened and the red earth banks started to give way to long sections of cliff. Goats and sheep started to appear.

The first checkpoint was Billabalong Station. The boat crews found the station and Greg found a submerged fence. “You’re the deckie, you jump over and untangle the prop”, said Greg. “You should have kicked the motor to get over the fence”, replied Brent. The score in their competition was Barndon 2, Barden 1.

The psychological importance of a successful rendezvous at the first checkpoint cannot be underestimated. There’s a lot of river out there and not many roads to civilisation! Unfortunately there was no rendezvous. The boat crews found the Station. The support crew found the Station. Their timing did not coincide.

Arrival at Ballinyoo

THE boat crews made good time, however, to Tony and me in the 4WD they seemed to be well overdue. We had gone to Billabalong Station, spoken to the owners and headed to the river. After waiting a considerable time without seeing the boat crews we headed to Ballinyoo Bridge where Kim Thorson was waiting with The Bus.

“While waiting for the boats to arrive I started a small fire and boiled the billy”, recalled Kim. “I remembered that Buddha broke the pull start on the generator (Memo to Buddha from the Ed – ‘I told you so!’) and also remembered that I said I would have it fixed before he met up with The Bus again. From the moment I picked up the tools to when it was fixed took all of six minutes and not only was it repaired but also in a better position to pull start it compared to its previous elevated position. MR FIXIT I AM!!!   What else can I fix?!

During my coffee break I noticed the water tank atop The Bus was leaking. Another job for MR FIXIT!

Another six minute job, I guessed. Maybe 10 at the outside. Not only did it take longer than 10 minutes but after using three melted lead sinkers, Velvet soap, all the gas in Scott’s burner thingy, and a quarter tube of silicon the bastard still leaked. Oh well, back to campfire and coffee.

Soon Dr E and Buddha arrived in the 4WD. They set about clearing an acre of scrub to build up the fire so it could be seen from space (as Dr E and Buddha usually do).”

On the water the boat crews were still making good time. The meandering river course took a lot longer to cover than expected. It was obviously a lot further than the distance I had measured on the map. However, on the land, the support crew was not to know this. After waiting another considerable amount of time at Ballinyoo Tony and I headed back to the Twin Peaks’ crossing.

Floodwaters prevented us approaching closer than 300 metres to the river. There seemed little point in waiting there so we headed downriver to Billabalong again. Success. The boat crews had been there and had left a piece of red tape to indicate their arrival. Tony and I sped off to Ballinyoo Bridge for the second time. It was still another hour before the boats came into sight. The calculated distance between the Start and the bridge was 82 kilometres. When the boat crews finally arrived at Ballinyoo Bridge it was calculated that, after allowing for time lost repairing Greg’s carby, the actual distance was about 120 kilometres.

The crews had difficulty getting their boats under the bridge. In the first Murchison River Expedition in 1994 there was at least two metres’ clearance.

The calculated river distance to Yallalong Station was 32 kilometres. After the morning’s experience on the flooded river, the actual distance was anybody’s guess. After discussion it was agreed that there was plenty of time to make it before dark. The boats were refuelled and despatched with instructions to look for the second track on the right – Yallalong Crossing. This was later to be the cause of some consternation.

Storm Clouds Gather Over the Murchison

THE sky was dark. A huge storm was brewing in the south west. First came the lightning, then heavy rain. On the water the boat crews were cold. The wind that accompanied the heavy rain, coupled with the speed of the boats, introduced a ‘wind chill factor’ for which the boat crews were not adequately dressed to cope.

Adrian was able to run hot water from his motor ‘telltale’ over his legs. He was able to adjust the temperature of the water by raising or lowering the height of the motor (higher is hotter). The others were not so lucky.

By this time anything moveable had been transferred into Greg and Brent’s rig to slow them down (they had previously been zipping all over the river creating mayhem and generally having a good time). They had the radio, ration packs, spare gearboxes and whatever else was considered to be slowing the other boats.

Rain, Rain, Glorious Rain

IT was doubtful if Yallalong could be reached by road on the northern side of the river. In reality this was of little relevance because the height of the water meant that the vehicles would not be able to cross the river at Yallalong.

The only option was for the support crew to head south to Pinegrove Station and the turn north on the Pinegrove-Yallalong-Coolcalalaya Road – a distance of about 85 kilometres.

Kim Thorson recalls:

“After the boats left it was time to head to the next “boats/bus place”. The 4WD lead the way. The road looked like it had just been graded. Then it RAINED.

 Five hundred metres ahead, the 4WD stopped, both doors flew open, the crew exited, turned the hubs, dived back into the vehicle and then took off into the distance, fishtailing all across the road.

Dr E’s last words to me were, ‘Don’t get bogged!’ The rain had turned the top 100 mm of the road into mud and The Bus was slowing down. I gently glud (I’ll leave the reader to ponder the validity of this neologism – Ed) the gear stick into 3rd and floored the bastard – which didn’t really change things. The Bus was sliding from one side of the road to the other with the wheels spinning all the way. Every time I tried 4th gear it went sliding around like an 8 tonne ‘epileptic jellyfish in a bucket of snot’. This continued for at least three kilometres.

Due to Dr E’s sick sense of humour he decided to get The Bus to venture down the skinniest, slipperiest track he could find (the way into Pinegrove Station – Ed).

On towards Yallalong. Four wheel drifts in an 8 tonne bus is not a good feeling but after not taking out any fence posts or livestock for 20 kilometres it is easy. We reached the point were it was decided that The Bus could go no further (much to my relief). The crew in the 4WD went ahead to find the boats.”

 

On the water everyone was in ‘cruise mode’. Scott spotted a baby goat on a cliff face.

“We went over to get it as it had nowhere to go. Nobody saw us as I picked it off the ledge and hid it under the gunwhale. We signalled to Brent and Greg to slow down as if we had a problem. Brent was driving. Greg was lying on his back with that shit-eating grin of his and just cocked up his head to see what was going on. I launched the kid goat at him. The grin was replaced by a look of terror and the wet bundle of goat landed fair on his chest.”

Greg kept the goat until Yallalong where it was released unharmed.

A short time later the boat crews came across a dozen sheep stranded on a river island. From the state of the sheep it appeared as if they had been there for some time.

They were rounded up and shepherded (half dragged) to the bank. Some were too weak to stand after their ordeal. Eventually they gathered strength and wandered off.

Mud, Mud, Greasy Mud

ON the road from Pinegrove to Yallalong it was decided not to risk taking The Bus any further. The track was like a river. In the 4WD Tony and I continued towards the real river. Water spread out for as far as the eye could see. I decided that “we have to get out of here”. The amount of rain falling could isolate the area for days.

We considered that the condition of the track would make it extremely difficult if not impossible for the 4WD to make two trips to pick up the four boats and crews – they would have to be transported in one go. The vehicle was slithering all over the track. With each long pool of water the doubt over getting through to the river increased. The slippery surface was made worse when a herd of horses shot out from the scrub onto the track and persisted in running along in front of the 4WD, cutting up the track more. They refused to deviate from the track and Tony could do nothing but keep the vehicle moving in their wake.

The boat crews arrived at Yallalong Crossing, the pre-planned refuelling point, around 3.00 p.m. although they were unsure if it was indeed Yallalong. Brian and Adrian went off in the direction of the sound of a generator operating. There were fears that floodwaters would prevent Tony and I in the 4WD from reaching the re-fuelling point. Scott recalled, “the idea of making ourselves more comfortable took over but the trees were no shelter and we couldn’t get the matches to light so we could start a ‘Whitney’*. We were still not sure if this was the right place. Bocky and Brian had been gone for about half an hour. Then we heard a stampede of horses coming our way followed by Kim and Tony”.

* = a fire. Derived from David Whitney’s propensity to light a fire at every opportunity.

I explained the necessity of getting out fast. Adrian and Brian returned as the boats were being loaded onto the 4WD. Vaughan Barndon, of Yallalong Station, offered hospitality should it be required.

Rescue

FOUR boats on the roof rack, three persons in the front, four in the back and three in the tray with the four motors, fuel tanks and other assorted gear made for a fairly full load.

The trip back to where The Bus had propped was ‘interesting’ although with the extra weight there was no chance that the vehicle would became stuck – and if it did there were plenty of pushers. Scott reckoned, “Loading the 4WD was easy compared to listening to Tony tell us 300 times that we had no idea how muddy and slippery the track was only to find this ‘track from hell’ resembled a four lane bitumen highway all the way back to The Bus (was not – Ed). 

After splashing through twenty kilometres of mud and water The Bus was seen. Kim (The Phantom) Thorson had started a fire – greatly appreciated by the chilled boaters. The Phantom reported that he had “set about gathering wood for a fire. I built a pile 3m by 2m” (who cleared the acre of bush this time – Ed). The next morning the coals alone were still 400 mm high and glowing bright. 

Scott continued, “On getting back to The Bus we had to listen to more crap from The Phantom on ‘the bus trip from hell’ “.

Water, Water Everywhere

THERE was water, water everywhere (and plenty to drink if one was so inclined).  Kim Thorson, Tony and I checked the ground between where The Bus was parked and where it was intended to park it off the track. The ground was declared firm enough. I started The Bus and, with great trepidation, drove it to the selected spot. Our fears were unfounded. The tyres pressed into the soil no more than 20mm, except when a severe turn was made to ensure correct alignment.

Mike arranged the loading of the boats directly from the 4WD onto the roofrack of The Bus while others established a comfortable camp. Kim Thorson, ably assisted by Adrian prepared dinner. Thanks to the piscatorial skills of one Adrian Bock, eleven power dinghy expeditioners sat down to a magnificent meal – fillet of Dhufish – superbly prepared by Kim Thorson and presented in the somewhat incongruous, flooded, semi arid setting.

Lies and Laughs

ACCORDING to Greg, “The food was excellent, the beer hit the spot and the conversation flowed”.

Sitting around the campfire telling lies. Most crashed early – buggered.

The amount of rain that had fallen was a cause for great consternation. From our experience on the 1994 Expedition it was considered that the Coolcalalaya track would be impassable. This meant the only way out was south through Mullewa, and then west towards Northampton – a ‘long cut’ to Kalbarri.

I planned to proceed to Kalbarri via the Mullewa Road south. It was expected that the journey would be hazardous. Contingency plans were made if The Bus became stuck.

Geographically Embarrassed

IT was clear within a few kilometres of setting out that there were no fears to be held on the condition of the track. The rain had cleared and the water had drained away. The excitement was not all over, though. The Bus only just cleared the ‘race’ near Pinegrove homestead. Out onto Mullewa Road and relative ‘safety’.

The 4WD was sent a short distance down the vermin proof fence track that headed west. No go. It would have to be the long route further south through Mullewa. We missed a turn after passing through Yuna. It was quickly realised that the road being followed was heading too far west. Advice from a local farmer put the show back on track.

Galena

A stop was made to check out the water level at Galena Bridge.

The level was (obviously) lower than after Cyclone Bobby in 1995 but still very high – about one metre below the bottom of the old bridge. This was about 500 mm higher than the level measured on the last day of the first Murchison River Expedition in 1994.

Hardabut

ONE could hardly make the drive to Kalbarri without diverting into Hardabut Rapids. The mud and dirt that had collected on the sides of The Bus was scraped off on the trip down the narrow, scrub-lined track.

It was Brent’s first view of Hardabut – a view he described as ‘mind blowing’. He summed up his thoughts on the rapid “To picture the last expedition going through that – one way in – no way out. Rapid after rapid and no recovery time for probably about half a kilometre. To enter the jaws of Hardabut you would certainly have to an optimist.”

There was disagreement as to whether there exists a path through the Rapid.

The Seaside Resort of Kalbarri

After setting up camp at the Anchorage Caravan Park there was still plenty to do. A wood search party was despatched and concluded a successful mission an hour later.

Cliff and Greg fitted a 10 hp carby to the Suzuki. The remainder of the afternoon was spent setting up the boats for another assault on the gorges of lower Murchison.

Up the Murchison (Again)

THERE was no need to pack up camp – allowing for an early start. The boat crews were away by 6.50 a.m.

On the water driving into a rising sun it was difficult to avoid obstacles was difficult. Driving through scattered trees was good fun. Some prop changes were needed. One of the motors had a gear shift lever vibrate loose, causing a delay.

Further upstream the boat crews entered masses of ti tree extending for many kilometres. Greg reckoned that these “were the best ti-trees I have ever seen”. For Brent it was “absolutely fantastic”. It was difficult keeping the boats on the plane finding a path through the thickets. Adrian reflected that there would be just as much difficulty getting through the trees on the return journey.

In the 4WD Kim Thorson, Tony Overstone and I followed the boats upriver to Murchison House.

The boat crews left the ti trees and entered the start of the gorges – a magnificent sight. As the gorges narrowed small rapids started to appear between long, long pools.

In the support crew we headed to The Loop where we passed the time chatting to the various groups of tourists that arrived for the walk to Natures Window.

It was to be a long wait for the arrival of the boats. Eventually the distinctive sound of outboard motors could be heard. The heliograph worked well in getting the attention of the boat crews.

Then came the physically demanding task of carrying 60 litres of fuel down the hill to the boats.

Tony bitched the whole way.

At least the fuel containers would be empty on the way up. After refuelling the boats and the bodies the crews took off upriver, planning to reach Z Bend. Kim Thorson swapped places with Brian.

Rapids, Rapids and More Rapids

As the boat crews pushed further upriver from The Loop, the river narrowed and the rapids became bigger and stronger. Greg reflected, “the rapids were hard to get up and heaps of fun. We got stuck on a rapid, there were a few hairy moments”.

A large rapid near Four Ways, just short of the Z Bend, halted the upriver journey.

The glass boat tended to nosedive into the rapids. After seeing the ducks perform Brent recanted his earlier statement about them and declared that he too was going become a ‘tart’.

The consensus among the boat crews was that a 25hp was needed on the back of the boats.

Adrian and Kim Thorson made one last attempt to go up the rapid but were unable to get to the top. They had to turn around in the middle, nearly swamping. They came through OK but figured that once was enough. Adrian contemplated a solo attempt but rejected it as being too risky.

The boat crews saw plenty of goats and rock wallabies. They scattered when they heard the sound of the outboard motors. The boat crews determined that it was time to head back towards Kalbarri.

At The Loop Scott made his way up to the top to leave a message for the support crew. The local RAC man, playing tourist, volunteered to keep an eye out for the 4WD and pass on the message to the support crew. He eventually left a message under a windscreen wiper blade of the vehicle when it was parked at the Z Bend while the support crew was down at river level.

Waiting,
Waiting,
Waiting

Brian, Tony and I headed to the Z Bend to meet the boats – if they could get that far.

We waited until 3.00 p.m. at which time we decided that the boat crews where not going to reach where we were waiting. On our return to the carpark the note on windscreen confirmed our suspicions. We returned to Kalbarri.

Lame Duck

Blasting over rapids and through ti trees the boat crews made extremely good time.   Out of the cliffs and on the coastal plain. Adrian took a wrong turn, hit a submerged rock and spun his boat into the bank.

A sharp stick punctured the starboard pontoon. With a healthy dose of ingenuity, and a length of fishing line, Scott stitched it up. The sides of a boat or pontoons of a duck are only there to keep out the water. So with Kim Thorson three up with Greg and Brent, Adrian was able to get the duck up on the plane. Although it looked like he was driving a ‘lame duck’ it didn’t perform like one. He really scooted along.

Pull Down,
Pack Up and
Head Home

Monday was a slow morning. The packing up went at a very gradual pace until 7.40 a.m. when there was a frenzy of activity to meet the 8.00 a.m. deadline. Red Bluff and other coastal gorges were visited before a stop was made at the Hutt River Province. A leak in the vacuum system was the only interruption to an otherwise mundane homeward trip.

FIRST DOWN
THE MURCHISON

The Murchison River above Milly Milly is ephemeral and its navigability to power dinghies, or even paddle craft, is questionable. An adventurer in a self sufficient paddle craft may be able to pick the right conditions and conquer this section of the river.  If anyone has done it they are keeping very quiet about what would an extremely meritorious achievement.

The first Murchison River Expedition in 1994 started at Milly Milly crossing and finished at the Galena Bridge on the North West Coastal Highway – a distance of approximately 400 kilometres.

The 1995 Murchison Gorges Expedition covered from Galena Bridge to Hardabut Rapids (14 kilometres) and then powered upriver 55 kilometres from Kalbarri to The Loop.

This left approximately 56 kilometres between Hardabut Rapids and The Loop un-navigated by power dinghy.

In respect of reducing the distance to be navigated this 3rd Murchison River Expedition was not very successful – only 10 kilometres was covered. However, the remaining distance is constantly decreasing.

The last 46 un-navigated kilometres of the river present the greatest difficulty because of inaccessibility, however, it is merely a matter planning and waiting for the right water level.

Hopefully, the crews of the yet-to-be-organised 4th Murchison River Expedition will power down the remaining distance and successfully conclude what will be the first ever navigation of the Murchison by any type of craft.

Text and Layout

Kim Epton

Contributions from:
Brent Barden
Greg Barndon
Adrian Bock
Scott Overstone
Kim Thorson
6600 words

Photographs by:
Brent Barden
Adrian Bock
Kim Epton
Cliff Hills
Scott Overstone
Tony Overstone
Kim Thorson

88 photographs

Header image by Adrian Bock

Valued Pre-Expedition assistance from Cliff Hills, Clifford Automatic Transmission and Kenwick Motors.

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