Day 87: 24 August – Hiking the Murchison River

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wooleen Station

Distance hiked: 13 km

Our faithful weather station predicted another day of cloud ahead so we decided to keep things simple and follow the river upstream, checking out visitors of a feathered kind as we went.

This river is a lifeline this time of year, when it becomes a collection of ever decreasing pools. The further upstream we walked, the smaller they became.

Birdlife really does flock here, with more pink cockatoos, ring-necked parrots, black swans, ducks, herons and even a pair of black-breasted buzzards with eggs in a nest. Masked woodswallows, zebra finches, grass wrens, a flock of white-browed babblers and many more brightened our afternoon as we picked our way along the banks and across the sandy river bed.

Along our travels we sprinkled the native grass seed we had been given on arrival – hopefully some will germinate when the wet season arrives and there will be a posititive reminder of our visit for future generations to experience. 

We returned to camp for hot showers and a chilled out rest of the day and, despite the largely overcast sky, another fabulous sunset.  Our weather station is promising a return to blue skies and sunshine tomorrow, as we head off to pastures new.

Day 86: 23 August – Wooleen Station wanderings

Author: Mr A

Location: Wooleen Station

Distance hiked: 8 km

I pulled down a blind in the van and was greeted by leaden grey skies – quite a shock to the retina after our months of being greeted by another blue sky day. Nothing was encouraging us to venture out too quickly…so we didn’t. A late breakfast and then we drove back to the homestead feeling we should at least chalk up something today.

A walk was chosen from a couple of detailed booklets we had been handed when we checked in. It was really well documented history lesson on the property, showing us old graves, the remains of various ramshackle buildings and even the 1800s rubbish dump! It was such a dull day it just exacerbated the feeling of desolation that hangs around these stories of battlers against the odds of the vagaries of drought and floods in outback WA. What these people went through to try and eke a living beggars belief. 

We saw zebra finches taking a morning bath, and an as yet unidentifed interloper (in photo below for Rosemary to identify ;-)). 

We headed back to the comfort of our van both quiet and thoughtful, thinking how lucky we were. The temperature here regularly climbs beyond 50 degrees in the summer – that’s Celsius for our overseas readers. There would be no relief at night either with the temperature staying over 40 degrees. Imagine that with no A/C, fridge, cold beer! These settlers trying to make a new life here must have yearned for a “hot” English summer day that some of them would remember from their previous lives. 

A quiet afternoon in the van, my achievements only including knocking a glass of diet coke all after the ever so patient Mrs A. This was followed by me trying to “mend” her prized kitchen device, the hand operated food processor. That ended in her throwing it away. I had succeeeded in turning it from a partially fiunctioning device into a number of never to be re-assembled parts.

We finally headed out again late afternoon, before things got too worked up.  We walked up the Murchison River and spotted some Major Mitchell pink cockatoos, which immediately shook off the rather somber mood we had been in today with their pompous, strutting and waddling gait. We spotted heaps of other birds including black swans, welcome swallows, herons and ducks.

The sun was going down as we headed back to our little paradise on wheels for…..homemade chorizo pizza!!! 

Day 85: 22 August – Goin’ bush – Wooleen Station

Author: Mrs A

From: Denham

To: Wooleen Station, Murchison, WA

Distance: 343 km

Travel time: 7 hours (including lunch, breaks)

The alarm was set last night and we were up bright and early at 6.15am for showers and to pack up to head inland. We knew we had a big day ahead of us plus needed to top up with water at the desalination plant. A quick call into the bakery as we left town gained us some freshly baked rolls for lunch and confirmed the ladies working there are always wearing their grumpy-pants.

Before long we were heading up the Butchers Track, 144 km of orange dirt road through a nature reserve. The road was dead straight, the landscape the same the whole way, and you could be forgiven for thinking we were on a treadmill going nowhere. But we did eventually reach the end, and turned onto another orange, straight road. Despite this, the road was in good condition and only one vehicle passed us all the way. Our lunch spot was a flat clay pan at the side of the road, feeling beautifully remote.

Finally we arrived at Wooleen Station. We had been told about this location by other travellers around multiple campfires along the coast, who advised us it had been covered on Australian Story (an ABC television series) on several occasions. The station’s website was impressive, talking about stunning scenery, birdlife and an environment slowly recovering from over 100 years of abuse by overgrazing of cattle and sheep, as well as a huge increase in grazing native animals (predominantly kangaroos and emus) brought about by the introduction of permanent water sources. We were intrigued.

First impressions were good, with a fine welcome at the homestead, where we were handed a pile of walk and mountain bike trail leaflets and encouraged to explore.  We were also provided with a pack of seeds each, and asked to scatter them on our travels around the station to encourage native grasses to return.

It was another 14km to our riverside campground, on slow going farm tracks. By then we had really had enough of being in the car and were ready to arrive. We pulled into camp and first impressions were quite underwhelming. 

We are beside the Murchison River on heavily eroded sand and clay, with little view (on the site we picked, anyway!). We felt conned – we could get a better campsite than this for free, never mind the $30 a night we have paid. We cracked open beers and read some of the literature we’d collected. We felt better – the money from our camp fees goes towards improving the station and returning the Murchison River to its former glory – a tough target to reach, but admirable work all the same.

We decided to get off our bottoms and see the river. It is only about 10 metres away after all, a short walk down the sandy bank…and wow! Fabulous light and scenery awaited us, five black swans swam up the river, whistling kites soured overhead, a pair of Major Mitchell pink cockatoos landed beside us in a tree. Across the bank we saw a pacific heron and a little egret hunting for fish, and a flighty back wing stilt in the shallows. All this on our doorstep, plus more. It really is a beautiful spot.

The light was incredible – the sun low in the sky, bouncing off the water, the salmon-pink river banks and lighting up everything around us – a photographer’s dream. The last time I felt this magical feeling was in Windjama Gorge in the Kimberly, under very similar lighting experience. As the sun set we were in for a fabulous treat. It was extremely hard to pick a single photo to represent it – like a 20 minute firework display across the sky and reflected in the still pools.

We showered and home cooked a vegetarian Pad Thai for dinner (a Jamie Oliver recipe) with a glass of Shiraz – ‘Cat Among the Pigeons’. Delicious. I think we’ll be ok here for a couple of days after all.