RED DIRT, ROCKETS AND ROXBY DOWNS
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
325Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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WEDNESDAY JUNE 9 2010
JOURNEY: Port Augusta, Woomera, Roxby Downs
MILEAGE: @ Port Augusta 16808kms
WEATHER: 6 degrees at 7am. 13 degrees and sunny midday.
OVERNIGHT: MYALL GROVE caravan Park; $18 pn, no power in the red dirt.
It was a very cold morning; what's new? But sunny and azure blue skies cheered us and we set off along the Stuart Highway and towards the "Outback".
The real journey north begins and we felt some excitement at what might lay ahead. The Stuart Highway is the Big Drive North into the red heart of Australia and all the way to Darwin. It is also called the “Explorer’s Way” after John Mc Stuart who explored the arid and remote area many years ago.
The wide open spaces, red dirt, scant flora, and huge cattle and sheep stations flash by and so do the huge monster road trains transporting goods along this highway. The road is in great condition, straight and wide with well positioned rest stops to take a driver break when needed.
We had breakfast at one of these stops "Ranges View" and expressed awe at the huge 360 degree perspective!
180 kms on we arrived in Woomera for lunch and found the town of about 400 strangely artificial and there was no one about; the chatty girl in the information centre told us you could not live in Woomera unless you had a full time job and that everyone worked for BAE (that stood for British Aeronautic Exploration) but was now just “BAE” – her words!
Kath’s dad, who worked for Commonwealth Dept of Supply & Transport, had connections with Woomera in the 1950s when it was the centre for British nuclear and rocket testing. NASA had a presence there in the 1960s and you can feel that some of the facilities in such a small isolated town probably were installed by the Americans to keep their guys happy here. We did notice frequent signs along the road warning travellers not to leave the road into the “Woomera Prohibited Area”.
There is a store, café, bowling alley, local radio station and an outdoor museum, The Aircraft & Missile Park full of rockets and bombs that spook you a bit because you know how much havoc and damage they are capable of. We had thought we might spend the night here but the town had a negative feel about it and we were absolutely shocked when we visited the proudly advertised Breen Animal Park to find poorly kept cages empty or holding parrots and other birds around the edge of a park with play ground. Let’s get out of here was our reaction.
Next stop 80 kilometres north west of Woomera was Roxby Downs built in 1988 to support the huge mine –Olympic Dam. The mine run by BHP digs up silver, copper, gold and is apparently the world’s largest uranium deposit as well as Australia’s underground mine. About 4500 people live here and it is a bustling busy place with good facilities and a small airport. The affluence of its residents is noticeable and we guessed everyone who lives here works at the mines or in a service that supports it. We heard that BHP will expand to an open cut mine and the population will need to triple and a full size airport will be developed. Digging minerals is a profitable business. We chatted with a bank clerk who was having a smoko and she told us about life in this isolated place and that the community spirit was good and that the population was young- 50 years and younger; obviously no retirees from such a young mine yet!
The information centre gave us a history of the town and the low down on camping places.
We parked in the red dirt at the Myall Grove Holiday Park for $18pn without power and noticed that all the many cabins seemed to be tenanted with miners and their families; rent for a 2 bed cabin $250 pw. Our only “camping” neighbours from Hervey Bay in QLD gave us some places to stay and visit up north and we chatted for a while about life on the road. We watched the sky turn red at sunset, closed the van and watched TV covered with the doona. Really cold again.