Caves and Cliffs 1987


This historic document has had some updated links and Editorial Intervention – indicated by square brackets [ ….].

We visited Hippos Yawn just east of Wave Rock, and then pushed out along the Hyden-Norseman track towards the Lake Johnston area.  This track was part of the east-west road put through in 1941-42.  However, the economic importance of Kalgoorlie ensured that when the Eyre Highway was eventually sealed it passed through there rather than along this route.

We stopped at the vermin proof fence.  It is visible for a great distance in both directions, particularly to the north.  It was built in 1902-03 as part of a series of fences in Western Australia totalling 3300 kilometres in length.  Though the fence had its critics who doubted its value, the invasion of rabbits from the east was slowed.  The fence is part of the original No. 1 Rabbit Proof Fence.  It has been maintained and over the years has served to prevent other pests, such as emus, getting through to the agricultural areas.

East of the fence is a huge uninhabited area.

The track was rough and washed away in places. Low speed, no damage, no trouble.  Round Top Hill and Mount Day were about five kilometres away to the north-east.  Mt Day was named by Frank Hann in September 1901 “after Mr Day of Fremantle”.  The track swings to the north-east past this turn off.

McDermid Rock, 35 kilometres further on, is worth a stop. The rock was another of Frank Hann’s 1891 discoveries.  The Department of Land Administration [Landgate since 2007] established a Trig Station on the highest point of this outcrop in November 1980.  Those who make the trip to this remote rock generally consider that it is bigger, longer and better than the more acclaimed Wave Rock.

We set up camp among a beautiful shady grove of trees on the edge of Victoria Rock.  It was named by John Holland in 1893 [from 1964 to 1989 the Rock was incorrectly shown on maps as Queen Victoria Rock]. As with all other granite outcrops throughout the Great Western Woodlands, and beyond, the vegetation around the base of the rock is thick and almost swamp like.

The next morning we stopped at Gnarlbine Soak, 16 kilometres to the north. The Soak is at the bottom of Gnarlbine Rock. The word ‘Gnarlbine’ is aboriginal in origin.

Nearby a plaque has been erected by the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society.

The plaque is inscribed:

Discovered by H.M. LEFROY 1863
Improved by C.C. HUNT 1864
Water at this Soakage was of great assistance
to later Explorers and Prospectors
A.FORREST   1871        G. MacPHERSON ’88 ’89
G.WITHERS   ’90          BAYLEY and FORD ’92

Afterwards used by thousands living in district

Erected By
Public Subscription and E. Goldfields
Historical Society
Sept 1950

The information on the plaque is not as straight forward as presented.

After everyone had satisfied their curiosity our convoy headed towards Coolgardie.

Evidence of mining began to appear everywhere. The first minesite is about 10 kilometres out of the town.  A change in the vegetation was also quite noticeable in this area.  Gimlet gums and other large trees became noticeably less plentiful.  The reason for this can be found in the history of the Eastern Goldfield’s early mining days.

Coolgardie was the largest town to spring up on the Eastern Goldfields after Arthur Bayley and William Ford discovered gold at Fly Flat in 1893.  By 1898 Coolgardie’s population was over 15,000, making it the third largest town in Western Australia (after Perth and Albany).  The gold eventually ran out and Coolgardie became a ‘ghost town’.  An interesting feature of Coolgardie is the width of its main street.  It was made extremely wide to allow camel trains to turn (camels have difficulty walking backwards).

Our expedition continued along the bitumen to Kalgoorlie and then headed east through Fimiston and the huge tailing dumps. Golden Ridge, the first of the Trans Australian railway sidings and the site of an early mining town, is 22 kilometres out of town.

The first cattle grid, five kilometres after Golden Ridge, marked the boundary of the Mt Monger Station.

The railway access track past Stoneville, Curtin and Randell Sidings is a well-maintained gravel road.  Further east, around Karonie Siding and Cowarna Station, salmon gum and mallee started to appear.

At Karonie we left the railway service road and headed towards Cardunia Rocks, five kilometres north-east of the siding.  This is a water catchment that was built to supply water to steam engines in days past.  The rock is terraced by stone ‘harvest’ walls constructed to channel water to a dam and a covered reservoir.  The reservoir was covered to reduce evaporation – which can be as high as 2250 mm per annum – although the roof is now missing.  The average annual rainfall in this area is only 300 mm.  The terracing work at Cardunia Rocks is similar to the constructions at Northam Army Camp – much of it being done by Italian internees during World War II.

Thirty kilometres east of Karonie we passed Chifley Siding.

The turnoff to the Cundeelee Aboriginal Community is 64 kilometres past Karonie and a couple of kilometres further on is the Coonana Siding.  The Coonana Aboriginal Community is about six kilometres past the Coonana Siding. Unfortunate but true – the approach of the turnoff to these communities is signalled by an increasing number of abandoned, wrecked vehicles.

It was an easy but dusty run between Karonie and Zanthus, 105 kilometres to the east.

We arrived at our planned overnight stop at Ponton Creek late in the day. This creek was named after the Ponton brothers who established Balladonia Station.

Day Four started at a leisurely pace.  We passed Kitchener Siding shortly after getting underway.

Very soon after we came upon a vermin proof fence on the right of the track.  This is the northern boundary of Boonderoo Station.  Some kilometres later this fence intersects with a north-south vermin proof fence that is the western boundary of Kanandah Station.  The gate at this intersection has a notice on it requiring all travellers to close it after them.  These vermin proof fences, both in good condition, were erected by private endeavour.

The vegetation changes markedly here, delineating the beginning of the Nullarbor Plain.

Naretha Siding and the turn off to Koonandah Station are 40 kilometres past the fence, followed by the Wynuna bore and stone tank.  Naretha is the aboriginal word for saltbush, abundant in this area.

The track deteriorated markedly on the approach to Rawlinna, with many severe washaways and gutters.  Rawlinna was one of the main depots during construction of the Trans Australian Railway.

Rawlinna was also the destination of Len Beadell and his Gunbarrel Road Construction Party when they pushed the Connie Sue Highway south through Neale Junction from Warburton in 1960.

Leaving the Rawlinna settlement, we tracked back west two kilometres to the Rawlinna Station boundary gate to pick up the track to Cocklebiddy.  Before Cocklebiddy Station was taken up in 1961 it was vacant crown land. The station covers an area of more than 1,000,000 hectares and at one time was the largest sheep station in the world.

The track south to Cocklebiddy is a gazetted road – difficult to believe when driving on it.  It was used as a supply route for the goods and materiel that were delivered by train to Rawlinna during the hectic days when the Eyre Highway was being built 1941-42.

The southward travel took us out of the Shire of Boulder. This is one of Western Australia’s largest local government authorities, extending all the way to the South Australian border.

The route from Rawliinna to Cocklebiddy is not very clear.  A number of side tracks leave the ‘road’ at various points.  We got directions such as “keep left at the rabbit warren” and “turn off when you see a wooden crate”.  The track was rough, particularly on approach to Arubiddy Station.  Limestone rocks, some quite large, are strewn all over the road, depressions that would be minor lakes after rain are common, and side tracks are everywhere.

Shallow, round, clay depressions, often filled with perennial grasses, are known as dongas and are a feature of this part of Nullarbor Plain.

Much of the Nullarbor’s perennial vegetation was killed by rabbit plagues in the late 1940s.  One rabbit trapping firm operating near Cocklebiddy in 1947 employed 35 trappers and was taking 20,000 rabbits a week!

There is an abandoned vehicle at the Arubiddy Station boundary gate.  It was left by a young South Australian who was travelling to Rawlinna to commence work with Australian National Railways.  There was very little mechanically wrong with the vehicle.  It was only two flat tyres that had forced him to abandon it.

120 kilometres from Rawlinna we passed Arubiddy Homestead, a sheep station taken up in 1961.

With no time to stop our convoy headed on to Cocklebiddy, 30 kilometres further down the track, on the Eyre Highway.

Before setting up our camp we drove out to the Murra-El-Eloin Cave just west of Cocklebiddy.  According to the Department of Conservation and Land Management this cave is ‘fragile’.  Even though the cave is only a short distance off the Highway few people know of its existence – which is fine by C.A.L.M [now Parks and Wildlife Service].  Special climbing equipment would be required to descend into the doline so our visit was to look only.

Our overnight campsite was about five kilometres south of the Roadhouse, on the edge of the Nuytsland Nature Reserve.  With the Roadhouse close by it was a good opportunity for everyone to have a shower.

Rain was threatening and a strong southerly was blowing.  The camp was protected to a degree by thick clumps of trees.  The skies confirmed their threat and light rain fell during the evening.

In the morning the weather was still threatening. We broke camp early and headed into the Roadhouse to refuel.

The route for the first part of the day was easy – 90 kilometres east along the bitumen of the Eyre Highway to Madura. We turned north off the Eyre Highway opposite the Madura Roadhouse and drove up the original Madura Pass.

We returned to the Roadhouse at the new Madura Pass, 10 kilometres from the present Madura Station Homestead.

We spent a short time at the top of the pass trying to locate the Madura Blowholes, as shown on the map.  We eventually decided that the blowholes had been destroyed during excavation for gravel for road building purposes.

The track followed the airstrip for a couple of kilometres and then it was case of sorting out the confusion of criss-crossing tracks to Roaches Rest Cave.  The track east of No. 27 Tank – 17 kilometres short of the Cave – disappears completely. We cast around left and right of the ‘line’ of the track and eventually relocated it.

A Captain Maitland Thomson of Adelaide made the first speleological expedition to the Nullarbor Caves in 1935.

There are no trees around Roaches Rest.  This is the true Nullarbor. Entry to the cave is easy.  Roaches Rest, named because of the numerous cockroaches said to inhabit it, is a small cave with side reaches measuring up to 30 metres in length.  It took a little time to find the beginning of one of these side passages.  Eventually it was located and the real fun of caving started.  Despite its name we saw no cockroaches.

Leaving Roaches Rest we followed some ill-defined station tracks south to Kestrel Cavern No. 2.  We positioned a vehicle at the top of the entrance as an anchor and a rope was played out to help anyone who was game enough reach the floor of the Cavern. Most approached the descent into the Cavern with trepidation.  It took 90 minutes to get everyone safely down the 40 metres to the Cavern floor.

Kestrel No.2 is a huge cavern measuring about 200 metres by 50 metres in which there has been a major rock fall.  This fall has had the effect of dividing the cavern into two main areas.

After we left Kestrel Cavern No’ 2 we stopped briefly at Spider Sink (a sink is where the roof of an underground cavern has collapsed, leaving a large hole in the ground).

We then stopped at Kestrel Cavern No.1. Both of these are to the south of Kestrel Cavern No. 2.  Special climbing equipment is needed to descend into this Cavern so the stop was for photographs only.  This is a large doline about 40 metres deep with tunnels descending to about 100 metres.

We arrived at Mullamullang Cave, the overnight stop, in the late afternoon.  Mullamullang Cave was discovered in 1963 and is the second largest cave in the Southern Hemisphere.  The name is derived from the great expanses of dry sand found in its passages.

We made camp near the only trees in the area, about 500 metres from the entrance to the cave.  The wind howled throughout the night.

From early in the morning it was obvious that the day would be very warm.  The hot northerly wind was coming straight off the desert, although it had abated in strength from the previous evening.

We parked our vehicles and moved down to explore the entrance to Mullamullang Cave.  The more nimble members of the group descended about 60 metres into the northern entrance of the cave.  Further descent would have been hazardous without specialised equipment. Some of the drops were so deep the torch beam could not penetrate them.  The cave is so large that groups of speleologists have been known to spend up to ten days underground exploring its depths.  Emerging from the cool environment of the cave made the early morning heat even more noticeable.  Mullamullang was the last of this group of caves to be visited so it was off towards Madura.

The track back to the Madura Roadhouse was in good condition, if a little dusty.  It leads across the airstrip and down the Hampton Scarp via the old Madura Pass.  This Pass allows access from the Hampton Tableland to the Roe Plains.  The Tableland was originally named the Hampton Range after the then Governor of Western Australia, Dr John Hampton by Lt W.B. Douglas in 1867, during his survey of the west coast of South Australia.  Its present name has been in use since 1964.  According to George R. Turner, a surveyor who explored the region in 1885, the aboriginal name was ‘Naraka’.

After quick refreshments at the Roadhouse we headed out south across the Roe Plains on an excellent, wide, relatively new, gravel road.  John Forrest named these Plains during after the first Surveyor General of Western Australia, John Septimus Roe, during his expedition of 1870. The soil of the Plains is poor and vegetation is mostly mallee, saltbush and greybush.

The turnoff to the Madura Cave is 12 kilometres south and it then only a short run into the cave.  In years past the cave was also called Mereguda Cave – also sometimes spelled Merre Gudda.  The fossil remains of a giant kangaroo (Sthenurus) were found here in 1963 during a speleological survey.

Numerous passages, up to 275 metres long, run off the main passage.  The floor of the passages is flat and entry to them is easy.  In times past streams flowed the cave.  We disturbed Chocolate Bats in a number of the passages.

In the early days of settlement the local aborigines believed the cave to be haunted and would not venture far into it.  The cave has been declared an aboriginal archaeological site and evidence of a ‘dig’ conducted by the University of WA was still able to be seen.

There were a number of holes in the roof of one passage of the cave and we tried to locate them on the surface – a task not as easy as it first seemed.  After a few minutes of scouting around they were located 50 metres to the north of the ‘parking area’.

The temperature was still climbing as a result of the searing north-east desert winds. We departed from our planned route and headed to Madura Beach for a swim.  The wide gravel road we followed out of the Madura Roadhouse finished at a gravel quarry but we eventually found the track to the beach.  Four wheel drive was needed occasionally to get through.  The swim at the beach was a welcome relief from the 44oC heat.

We returned to Madura – it was crowded.  The hot winds from the north-east forced west-bound travellers to rest their vehicles and the air-conditioned tavern was a popular spot.  Two trucks and many cars were overheating and took the opportunity to stop at Madura.  One girl fainted from heat exhaustion and was taken into the tavern’s cool room to recover. Immediately after another girl collapsed, She was dragged into the coolroom.

Around 3.30 p.m. the heat-filled north-east winds met the cooler front that had swung in from the south-west. The result was explosive.  The noise was incredible. Nature roared. Vehicles were damaged and people were in distress.

The winds blasted through the Roadhouse area, kicking up choking clouds of dust.  The amazing demonstration of Nature’s awesome power was quickly over.  The temperature dropped two degrees Celsius per minute and within a short time it was a much more comfortable 22oC.

As a convoy we set out on the winding track to Burnabbie, 70 kilometres distant to the west-south-west. Surveyor Turner made the first reference to this place during his trip of 1885.  He recorded the name as being ‘Moodeera’.

Thirty kilometres past the old Madura Station are the ruins of an outstation building.  Olwolgan Bluff and Rockhole are on the right a sort distance later.  This Rockhole was another of Turner’s 1885 uncoverings, its name being derived from an aboriginal word.

The Burnabbie Rockhole was another feature first recorded by Turner in his 1885 expedition.  Nine kilometres further on is the abandoned Burnabbie homestead established by H.E. and J. Carlisle (brothers) in 1934.  The lease was cancelled due to financial difficulties around 1955.

The small homestead, built of bush poles and flattened fuel drums, is at the base of the Hampton Scarp.  When the Station was in operation supplies were brought from Cocklebiddy to the top of the scarp and then lowered down to the homestead by block and tackle. Jack Carlisle lived in the Eucla area nearly all of his life and explored much of the Nullarbor Plain and surrounding areas. He made numerous contributions to the study of natural history of the Plains, including the discovery of caves and meteorites.

The tail end of the front was still producing very strong winds, making the camp extremely dusty.  We arranged the vehicles along the track (it being judged that there was very little chance of any passing traffic) and erected our large tarp as a windbreak.

The storm had passed by the morning.

After striking camp we investigated the ruins at Burnabbie and the nearby Graham Tank.  It was named after an Inspector of Rabbits in the area during the 1890s, J.W.W. Graham (not be confused with ‘Iron Man’ Graham).  Considerable effort had been expended in rendering the tank with cement, fencing it with mallee logs and making other improvements.

Our convoy then headed south to pick up the telegraph line.

Sandalwood for shipment to China was once cut in this area between Cocklebiddy and Eyre.

We followed the line west until it joined the track into Eyre. The Bird Observatory at the old Eyre Telegraph Station is another seven kilometres down this track

The Royal Australian Ornithological Union [Birdlife Australia since 2012] runs the Bird Observatory.  It was the first permanently manned bird observatory in Australia and is one of three run by the R.A.O.U.

I had made prior arrangements with the Warden and so we were able to observe bird measuring and banding.  The Bird Observatory also maintains a starling trap, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. These birds are a significant economic pest, causing severe damage to high-value fruit crops,

The Bird Observatory is housed in the old (not the original) telegraph station built by convicts and ‘ticket of leave’ men in 1897.  The telegraph station had been abandoned in 1927 and then bought by a pioneer of the region, Harry Dimer, in 1929. It was partially demolished and parts were carted to a station near Rawlinna.  The building was restored by the R.A.O.U. in 1978.  It also houses a telegraphic museum established by the Post Office Historical Society.  When the building was refurbished the Society interred two time capsules – to be opened in 2000AD and 2078AD.

The first Stationmaster at Eyre was William Henry Graham, a man of considerable ability.  He was an accomplished builder, a self taught anthropologist, a magnificent horseman, a long distance swimmer, a successful horsebreeder and a long distance cross country cyclist.  Known as ‘Iron Man’ Graham he operated the telegraph station from its opening in 1877 until the early years of the 20th century.

This site on which the telegraph station was built was known as Eyre’s Sand Patch.  This was where John Eyre, John Baxter, Wylie and two other aboriginal companions stopped for four weeks to recover their strength after they had travelled 260 kilometres without water during their epic east west crossing of the continent.  They found water in the sand dunes just off the beach.

John Forrest also used the water supply during his 1870 overland journey.

It was intended to head along the beach to Twilight Cove if the tide was right. Twilight Cove was named after the supply ship Twilight that was wrecked there when putting in to land materials for the first telegraph line.

However, the tide was in and it was decided that it would safer to leave the beach at Kanidal Cove and stop for lunch at a fishermans’ shack just off the beach.  Jack Carlisle, the settler of Burnabbie, named this beach.

The track leading back to Cocklebiddy winds it way up the scarp (Hampton Tableland). It was rough and the trip took a couple of hours.  The track crosses a well-preserved section of the 1895-97 Coolgardie to Eyre telegraph line.  Prior to 1940 the East-West Track (since 1943 known as the Eyre Highway) was only a lightly formed track made during the construction of the telegraph line and kept in use by the pastoralists of the area.

It is a 25 kilometre run from the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse out to the Cocklebiddy Cave, one of the features of the expedition. Everyone was eagerly looking forward to investigating this cave [Cocklebiddy Cave has been closed since 2016].  The Cave was also known by the name ‘Cocklebiddy Thirteen Mile Cave’.  A ladder was used to access the cave.

A talus slope with a large overhang leads into the Cave.

From the surface one forms the impression that it would take only a few minutes to reach the floor of the cavern but it actually took 20 minutes.  Although the slope is strewn with large boulders and small drops there is a definite path, making the descent relatively easy.  At the bottom of the slope are a chamber and a large pool of crystal clear water.  The chamber is huge, measuring 370 metres by 60 metres.  The stillness and gloom made it difficult to discern the beginning of the pool.  It would have been easy to accidentally walk into it.

It was nearly dusk when we surfaced.  On the Nullarbor, as the sun drops, so does the temperature.  It was a 60 kilometre drive to the overnight camp at Caiguna. We wasted no time in departing Cocklebiddy Cave – one of the wonders of Western Australia.

It was dark by the time we reached Caiguna caravan park.

After re-stocking with bread, chocolates, and other necessities and refuelling the vehicles the next morning, we headed west out of Caiguna.  The turnoff to Toolinna Rockhole is 130 kilometres west along the Eyre Highway. It is not marked and easily missed.  We stopped for a short break at water tanks close to the turnoff before tackling the rough track into Toolinna.

When travelling along the Highway a number of microwave towers, or turnoffs leading to the towers can be seen.  The microwave system linking Perth with Adelaide was completed in 1970 and is one of the longest in existence.  Sixty steel towers, up to 76 metres tall, and sixty repeater station buildings were constructed for the 2297 kilometre link between Northam and Port Pirie.  From the design stage to in-service operation, the project took five years.

A 145 kilometre section of the highway between Caiguna and Balladonia is the longest straight stretch of sealed road in the world.  It follows the route of the 1895-97 telegraph line that was constructed to link Coolgardie to Eyre via Norseman and Balladonia.

Our trip south to Toolinna was a rough, 116 kilometre journey along a twisting, turning and unyielding track.  There is an emergency water supply 10 kilometres along the track. This is a large below-ground tank covered to reduce evaporation.  The nearby sign advises users to boil the water before drinking.

Finally the track opened out onto a wide clearing in the middle of which are some ruins.  It is believed that this building was associated with construction of the telegraph line in the 19th century

After a break for lunch at the edge of the clearing it was on to Toolinna Cove and the panoramic views of the Baxter Cliffs.

These cliffs are the most spectacular in the world and run from Twilight Cove to Point Culver further west, a distance of 160 kilometres.  Between Twilight Cove and Eucla they are located away from the coast and become the Hampton Scarp.  East of Eucla through to the Head of the Bight the cliffs again form the coastline, where they are termed the [Bunda] Cliffs.

They are named in honour of John Baxter, travelling companion of Eyre during their historic east west crossing of the continent.  Baxter was murdered by Joey and Yarry, two of the three aboriginal members of the party near here.  Eyre was unable to dig a grave for him because of the solid rock surface. His body was wrapped in blankets, covered by rocks and left.

Forty years later the bones were found by John Graham (son of Iron Man Graham). His mother sewed them in calico bags and despatched them to the Colonial Secretary’s Office in Perth.  Their location today is a mystery although it possible they may have been sent to Baxter’s birthplace in England.

We saw many thousands of large white snail shells between Toolinna Cove and the Rockhole. These are Bothriembryon Dux, the largest land snail in Australia. Because they burrow underground during the day live ones are rarely seen.

We drove along the edge of the cliffs and then stopped above Toolinna Cove.  The cove was the only suitable site in this area where supplies and materials for the telegraph line could be brought ashore.

We drove back to Toolinna Rockhole. A government dogger has improved this natural waterhole.

We then followed the old East-West Telegraph Line towards Bilbunya.  C.D. Price surveyed this route between 1875 and 1877.  The 1877 route followed the coast for much of its length and in the winter months salt and rain often shorted out the line. It was determined to select a more northerly route away from the coast.

This northerly line was built in 1895-97 and ran between Southern Cross and Coolgardie, south to Norseman, out to Balladonia, down to Eyre and then on to Eucla. It was this line that the East-West Track followed for much of its length. The main centre for the East-West telegraph link was at Eucla.

The line was closed in 1927 when three lines following the trans-continental railway line far to the north replaced it.

The track to Bilbunya was extremely rough and overgrown. All the vehicles suffered damage of some sort – mostly scratches to the windscreen pillars.  The track seemed never-ending but eventually we reached the top of Wylie Scarp.  The Scarp was named after Edward John Eyre’s faithful companion who remained with him after Baxter had been killed during his 1841 expedition.

It was a three kilometre descent along a sandy track to the campsite. The first part was steep and badly eroded, requiring caution from the drivers to ensure they did not tip their vehicles.

This campsite is in the Nuytsland Nature Reserve – named after the Dutch explorer Pieter Nuyts who explored this section of the coastline in 1627 in the Gulde Zapaard.

The next morning the tide was out and the beach was smooth and hard.  At times the vehicles were able to cruise along at speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour.  But with so much to see a more sedate pace was the order of the day.

The beach is the final resting place for thousands of items of flotsam, most of it either dumped or washed overboard from Japanese fishing trawlers operating in the Southern Ocean.  Crates, plastic containers, drums, fishing floats and all manner of ships’ stores were washed up on the beach. Most of it was useless junk – some was ‘collectable’. The most prized item was a glass fishing float.

The backdrop for much of the beach is the magnificent Bilbunya Dunes.  These are ‘live’ sand dunes formed over millions of years.  There are continually moving and have encroached on the coastal strip a distance of about a kilometre. [The Bilbunya Dunes are often erroneously claimed to be the largest dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.]

The seemingly non-stop wind whips the sand from the tops of the dunes, creating ever-changing shapes and patterns.  Jack Carlisle applied the name ‘Bilabalanya’ to the dunes but over the years it has been corrupted to its present form.

We stopped for lunch on the edge of the salt lake system near Wattle Camp.  Alexander Forrest camped in this area on Monday 30 May 1870 and named it because of the presence of wattles.

The track between Wattle Camp and Israelite Bay was extremely rough and overgrown. We had taped the vehicles’ windscreen ‘A’ pillars and bonnet edges during the lunch stop to reduce the damage that could be caused by overhanging and projecting branches throughout this next section. [The track has been cleared of overhanging vegetation for many years.]

The track followed the route of the old telegraph line, winding through coastal salt lakes, sand dunes and low scrubby country. The occasional dry salt lake over which we travelled provided relief from the uncomfortable bouncing caused by the uneven sandy track.

Although the track moved close to the coast in a number of sections the height and thickness of the scrub prevented us seeing the ocean.  In places the track ran over the top of relatively high ground and we could see Mt Dean and Mt Ragged  to the west.

We arrived at Israelite Bay around 4.00 p.m. A number of professional fishermen operate out of here and it’s also a very popular spot for sport fishermen. There are two jetties and a number of beach launching ramps in the Bay. Apart from these jetties and ramps there are no facilities of any kind (water, power, phone, accommodation) although camping areas among the scrubby trees have been fashioned out over the years.  The permanent and semi-permanent residents have kept the development of the area orderly.  22 Construction Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers undertook some signposting and roadmaking work in the area.

The Dempster brothers named Israelite Bay in 1863 after they became aware of the fact that it was the southern end of the boundary between two aboriginal tribes.  The aborigines to the west circumcised their youths whereas those to the east did not.

A magnificent limestone block telegraph station was established here in 1877 as part of the East West link.  It was abandoned in 1917 and the building was purchased privately in 1927.  Now in disrepair, it is vested in the National Trust. We found remains of the old carbon batteries, used to power the telegraphic signal, at the rear of the building.

The Glencoe Station Homestead, adjacent to the camping grounds, was originally the home of John Brook, the first linesman at Israelite Bay. [Brooks, his mother Emily Henrietta and sister Sarah Teresa later settled at Balbinya Station, 60 kilometres north-west of Israelite Bay. They had walked from Albany to Israelite Bay in 1874. Brooks was at Israelite Bay Telegraph Station as linesman from 1877 to 1883. He managed Balbinya till his death in 1930.]

We passed the the turn off to Tookle-Jenna Rock and Mount Ragged 16 kilometres out and another nine kilometres further on we were out of the Nuytsland Nature Reserve and into the Cape Arid National Park.

The sandy plain seems suitable for little else other than low scrub heath. Certainly there are no large trees in this area.

Thirty five kilometres later we passed the west boundary of Cape Arid National Park and saw the first farms.  The bitumen started a few kilometres further on. This sign of civilisation signified that the end of the expedition was nearing.

This region is known as the Esperance Plains.  It was opened up in the mid-1950s through the injection of capital from overseas interests such as the American financier Chase and a US and Canadian consortium known as the Esperance Land and Development Company.

Some of the more well known farms there include The Beef Machine, Orleans Farm, Linkletters Place, The Growing Concern and Aroona Station.

Sixty kilometres out of Esperance we passed through the settlement of Condingup.  This townsite came into being in 1963, taking it name from a nearby hill named by C.D. Price in 1875 during his survey of the original telegraph line.  Condingup was developed as part of a plan to reduce the isolation east and west of Esperance.

We arrived at Esperance just before noon.  The town was named after Esperance Bay on which it is situated. The bay was named in December 1792 after the French ship L’Esperance, one  of two sailing ships that sheltered from a storm and carried out repairs during an expedition to explore the southern coast.

However, it wasn’t settled until 1863 when the Dempster brothers came overland with their stock.  Others settlers followed but it was the goldrush in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie that caused Esperance to develop as the supply port for the Goldfields.

Development of the area slowed when the Perth – Coolgardie railway line opened.  In the 1950s it was discovered that the region could be highly productive if trace elements were added to the soil and it is now one of the State’s most important agricultural areas.  It has a population of more than 10,000.

After an overnight break we headed to Perth.

© Kim Epton 1987-2022
Feel free to use any part of this document but please do the right thing and give attribution. It will enhance the SEO of your website/blog and this website.
5680 words.
See Terms of Use