Background to Anne Beadell Highway
Len Beadell was a surveyor with the Australian Army, he was charged with building roads in the outback for the army to get to missile and bomb testing sites. His road crew was called the Gunbarrel Crew, he would survey a route, stand on a high point and flash a mirror. The bulldozer driver would then head straight for him – like a gun barrel. His wife Anne and his children travelled a lot with him. Connie Sue was the first child and she was on the road from a few weeks old, all his roads were named after members of his family, a lot of them intersect, so the junctions are also named after the kids. The Anne Beadell was constructed to get the British army to the testing sites of the first nuclear bombs tested in the outback.
We were up at sunrise, excited to get going. In the daylight we could see that the camp ground was a really great spot, lucky no-one else arrived, we had parked right in the middle! We packed up, did some photos and got on our way.
The next stop was an abandoned homestead called Yeo Homestead. As we pulled in there were two cars there, it was a bit of a surprise, but we decided to be friendly and say hello. It was German tourists and they were not interested in chatting, they said they were headed in the same direction as us and left in a hurry.
Yeo was such an interesting place, we found an old working bush shower. Iain decided it was a great photo opportunity, so I was nominated to use the shower! We had to get our own water from the well first, so much fun.
After mucking around for a bit we pushed on, there were no more landmarks, we stopped quite a few times to take photos the scenery was really beautiful.
We passed our time looking for the survey beacons that Len had made, very impressive pieces of history.
Our next goal was to get to Neale Junction to camp for the night. We made it easily and camped up early. The camp site was great, with rainwater tanks and a shelter with a bench and table, and a loo. What more could a girl want. As it was still early, I did some washing which was dry in an hour. We had collected wood along the way; Iain made a bonfire as it was quite cool in the evenings, and we had a bucket bath next to the fire – bliss.
We had a fantastic night at Neale junction, we were in no hurry so packed up slowly and set off at around 8.30. Our next goal was to get to the roadhouse at Ilkurka, and then see how far we got after that. A few more stops were made along the way, it was so beautiful, all the wildflowers were out and the landscape just beautiful.
We saw a signpost for light plane wreckage, so decided to go and have a look. It was 8km off the road, through sand dunes. It was such a fun drive, Iain had a great time. We got to the wreckage and it was a fairly modern plane that had come to rest in a plain between sand dunes. One of the wings had sheared off, but it was upright. The story behind it was that a Goldfields Air Service plane’s engines stopped working, so the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing. All 4 passengers were seriously hurt. We had a look around, took some photos of the plane as well as the goanna that came to say hello.
We went back into the sand dunes and took some more photos, such a bare but beautiful place.
Ilkurka was quite a surprise; we expected a run-down aboriginal store. What we got was a new modern building, run by a doctor and his wife that had all the basic supplies you would need, as well as art done by the local community.
We decided that we needed to add to our art collection; that would give us 2 pieces from the most remote places in Australia. We chose our art piece, arranged to get it home and got back on our way. The road was still really good, by outback standards, so we pushed on to the last rest stop before crossing the WA/SA border. We had heard that the road deteriorated considerably in SA, we also noticed from our guide that there were no more camping facilities, only bush camping. The rest stop was almost as good as Neale Junction; the only thing missing was a table. As we sat relaxing in the evening we heard the Dingos calling, just a reminder of how remote we were.
The morning dawned bright and beautiful, still quite cool but it soon warmed up. We climbed down the ladder and right in front of us was a set of Dingo tracks; they had obviously wandered past during the night.
As we expected the track did get a little worse once we crossed the border, although not as bad as we had expected. Right after the border crossing we crossed the Serpentine Lakes, it had no water and had a crust of salt over the top. We thought about driving on it, but luckily we didn’t as it was bouncy to walk on. I can only imagine the thick mud under the crust waiting to trap unwary travellers! We did some photos and continued our journey.
The track was very narrow, only wide enough for one car with scrubby trees lining both sides. It often got so narrow the branches were hitting the wing mirrors and running down the side of the car. We hadn’t gone too far, when Iain suddenly pulled up; he had heard a noise and realised the brake shield on the rear brakes had broken. Off came the wheel, and the offending shield removed. This was all done on the road as there was nowhere else to go.
We had driven about 100m and as we rounded a corner, there was another car heading straight towards us – I’m not sure who got the bigger surprise. We managed to pull over so that they could squeeze past us. We all got out our cars and had a great chat. It was an older couple who lived in Normanton and had decided to come down the track at the last minute , they were in a standard Rodeo ute and hadn’t realised quite how bad the road was – I think calling it a highway was an inside joke. Luckily they had bothered to get all their permits, as they were stopped by the military in Woomera! They informed us that the road got steadily worse from herein – oh whoop dee do. We only had around 600km to go so figured we would make it easily in 2 days – not so they informed us, 3 if we were lucky. Oh well adventure was what we came for, so off we went.
The road did get worse, very sandy, corrugated , with a lot of sharp turns; it was impossible to get any sort of speed. The scenery was really gorgeous though with a lot of wild flowers and very unusual spinifex rings. Spinifex is a very spikey grass that grows in the outback.
The going was very slow, and I could see that Iain was starting to get tired, we were thinking about looking for somewhere to camp, suddenly there was 2 camels right in the middle of the road. They saw us coming and took off – down the road, they were running pretty fast, and we just followed along thinking that they would veer off into the bush – no they just ran down the road. This carried on for quite a while, so we pulled over and let them get far enough ahead of us that they would get off the road. We carried on for quite a while until suddenly there were the camels running down the road. As it was getting ridiculous and they looked tired and stressed, we tried hooting at them to scare them into the bushes; they just ran faster down the road. We started to get worried the bigger of the 2 seemed to be foaming at the mouth, so we pulled over again, made ourselves a drink and had a snack. We continued on and never saw them again; it appears they suddenly saw the sense in going bush!
We came to the border of the National Park and the Aboriginal Reserve, there was a small clearing next to the side of the road, Iain was so tired he just pulled over and we camped there for the night.
Today was going to be the day we saw the reason for the road, we were not very far from Woomera – the military zone – or ground zero of the atomic bomb tests. We made sure we had our permits handy, we certainly didn’t want any drama if we got stopped. Iain strapped everything down really well as we were expecting the road to get worse. During the night we had heard the Dingos again, we were driving down the road and could clearly see tracks made by one possibly two. We came around a corner and there running in the middle of the road was a Dingo; he took off into the bushes at high speed when he saw us. We stopped and watched him, and as he disappeared we looked back on the road and right in front of the car was a Brown Snake – very poisonous. We waited for it to get across, took a few photos and drove on.
It was only around 2 corners later and there in the middle of the road was an enormous camel. My heart sank, I thought we were in for a repeat of the day before. He looked at us, stood his ground and gave a bit of a challenge. Iain hooted at him and he moved into the bushes enough for us to get past.
The scenery was still really lovely, with a lot of wild flowers, we stopped a few times, and did a couple of photo shoots. Iain got a picture he had been trying to do for the book, so was very pleased with himself.
We were driving along when we encountered a series of bumps, we hit one particularly hard, but all seemed OK. A little further down the road, Iain said he could hear something unusual, he stopped and realised that one of the straps holding the boxes and jerry cans on the roof had somehow loosened. We had lost the boxes and jerry cans. The worst news was yet to come – the smelly fly catchers we had to attract flies away from us when we camped, had disappeared, but not before the entire contents had spilled onto the roof. The smell was terrible and the oozy liquid was running down the gutters and the windscreen. We had to turn around to look for our stuff, we found the jerry cans and a few odds and ends quickly, but it took a little longer to find the lid of the box.
We packed everything back and Iain poured some water and detergent on the roof, now we only had around 40l left, so we couldn’t just wash the car. We carried on to Emu, and found the clay pan they had used for a runway, it was incredible, and a real thrill to drive on.
The road really took a turn for the worse, the corrugations were the worst we have ever seen. The noise in the car was so bad, we couldn’t speak to each other, Iain had to stop if we needed to talk, and then we were yelling because we were so deaf. It wasn’t far until we reached ground zero, and the totems on the spot of the blast. It is quite incredible and eerie, the blast rings are obvious, and the twisted metal and concrete evidence of the force of the blast. We had a look around, took some photos and left, we weren’t keen to hang around the area too long. I must point out that we had become a magnet for every fly in the outback.
We continued on, the corrugations were endless and relentless. I felt so bad for Iain, his hands and arms we hurting from the vibrations.
We camped at an old well site that night, we stopped at around 5, the sun only goes down at 7.30, so we had plenty of time to get everything off the roof to try and clean the mess. We used most of the water we had in our tank, Iain had a bottle of car wash so we scrubbed as much as we could. The problem was the roof of the car was not accessible because of the roof rack. We did what we could and went to bed exhausted.
We woke up early, knowing that we only had just over 100km to go before we would finally be in Coober Pedy. We packed everything back on the roof, it smelled a little better, but was still quite smelly. The corrugations were relentless again, we eventually got to the dog fence which we had been told was the end of the bad road. We had to detour 3km down the fence to get to the gate, and then 3km back to get back to the road – go figure – and finally some sanity.
We were really excited to be at the end of our incredible journey, we stopped to take photos of every sign mentioning Anne Beadell Highway, just in case it was the last one. We eventually found the official one. It was here that Iain emptied a whole bottle of Lavender oil into the gutters on the roof, we had a good laugh, we were going into town clean and smelling of flowers – I’m sure it was going to confuse a few people.
While we were taking pics and having a celebratory coffee, a group of dirt bikers drove past. One stopped to have a chat and told us they were headed down the Anne Beadell as far a Maralinga. We updated them on the conditions and then drove off. Just down the road we found their support vehicles, so we stopped to have a chat to them. They were quite worried, once they had spoken to us, and rightly so, they were pulling loaded trailers that we could see were not meant for such bad roads. We told them what we could, showed them photos and then left for Coober Pedy.