During July a couple of years ago we explored part of the 1248 kilometre Wool Wagon Pathway which takes travellers through the Murchison and Gascoyne's outback and pastoral country.
I recently had my article about the Wool Wagon Pathway published in On The Road magazine, and so I thought I would share some of the fascinating history and the stories of the pioneers, graziers, blade shearers, horsemen, drovers, fencers and well sinkers, and the remarkable men and women who pioneered this country which supplied quality wool to London, which you can learn about at the interpretive sites along the way.
The official start of the pathway is at Geraldton on the coast, but of course you can join it at other points along the way.
Our first stop, 100 kilometres from Geraldton was Mullewa which was one of the first Murchison townships. Mullewa’s main attraction is Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, built in the 1920s by the architect-priest Monsignor John Hawes, and one of fifteen churches built by Hawes between 1915 and 1939, which can be explored on the Monsignor Hawes Heritage Trail. Built in Romanesque style typical of Italian or Spanish village churches, the church was built with help from local farmers carting stone from a nearby quarry. You can also visit the former home of Monsignor Hawes, now the Priest House museum.
|Paper Lily-Laxmannia grandiflora|
From Pindar we travelled north, stopping at various sites before arriving at the remains of the Wooleen Woolshed, # 6 on the trail. Once listed by the National Trust of Australia (WA), it was unfortunately blown away by 150 kilometre winds in 2004. Built in 1922 by Alf Couch, its outstanding feature was the self-supporting curved 80 by 25 metre corrugated iron roof, a technique perfected by Couch because timber was in short supply. This barrel-vaulted roofline became characteristic of sheds in the Murchison area and can be seen at the adjacent cookhouse.
Below you can see the remains of the woolshed, an old image of the woolshed, the cookhouse, and an image of the inside ceiling of the cookhouse.
In the Murchison area you have three choices of accommodation, nearby at Wooleen Station which offers seasonal bush camping and station stays, the Murchison Oasis Caravan Park, or free camping at Errabiddy Bluff just north of Murchison.
Below you can see some of Wooleen Station. We were lucky to be able to secure a riverside camp. For more information about Wooleen and the amazing work they are doing regenerating the land, you can go to my previous post here - Murchison River Camping at Wooleen Station
|One of the Mulla Mulla varieties|
Murchison Settlement is a convenient overnight stopping place, particularly if you require power and want a hot shower. There are powered and unpowered sites, as well as motel units. You can buy fuel, a few basic supplies and meals at the roadhouse. The second weekend in July is the highlight of their calendar, the Murchison Polocrosse tournament, a weekend of fast action and teamwork between riders and horses.
If you prefer a free quiet overnight camp, the turnoff to Errabiddy Bluff is only one kilometre north of the Murchison Settlement on the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road, then about twelve kilometres via a sandy-gravel track to the Bluff, 4-wheel-drive recommended, care needed during wet weather. There is plenty of room to set up camp on the flat cleared area within walking distance of the Bluff, but very little shade. There are no facilities and no marked path up the Bluff, but it couldn’t be more peaceful camped under the huge canopy of stars.
On the way, stop at Errabiddy Outcamp and read the remarkable story of Mary and James Watson who lived at this isolated outstation in the 1920s. # 7 on the pathway.
Continuing north, Number 10 site on the Pathway is Murchison Gate. Cattle grids are common across outback roads today, but in the early days of pastoralism grids did not exist and travellers were forced to continually open and close gates.
With nearly 100 gates on the road between Mullewa and Gascoyne Junction, this was a tiresome job, so truck drivers worked in convoy. The first driver would stop and open the gate, the trucks passed through, the lead truck closed the gate and joined the back of the convoy. The new lead truck would open the next gate, and so on. At this site, you can read the fascinating story of Peter Gurache and his gate opener Emperor Hamlet.
Site 11 is Stock Route Well # 19. Restored in June 2007, the well is one of 52 wells dug in 1895 along the dry remote Mullewa to De Grey Stock Route, along which thousands of cattle and sheep were driven. Lined with stone, and equipped with troughs, buckets and a windlass or whip lever to raise the water, these wells were capable of watering 3000 sheep or 300 cattle at one time. Wooden fences were erected around the wells to protect them from being trampled by thirsty stock.
Approximately 150 kilometres north of the Murchison Settlement is Bilung Pool, part of a tributary of the Wooramel River. Known as Birlungardi by the Wajarri Aboriginal people, this natural water feature holds water year round. These water courses were important for early inhabitants, animals, and drovers on the De Grey Stock Route. This is a pretty place to stop for lunch.
Gascoyne Junction lies in the heart of the Upper Gascoyne Shire, 282 kilometres from Murchison, at the junction of the Lyons and Gascoyne Rivers. Established in 1897, Gascoyne Junction is a centre for mining, pastoral and merino wool industries and is good place to stock up with supplies. The Gascoyne Junction Pub & Tourist Park offers cabins, powered and unpowered sites. Roads in this region can flood during heavy rain, stranding motorists and Gascoyne Junction has been virtually washed away by huge river floods several times, most recently in 2010.
Our next stop was Site 16, the Cobbled Road. In the early 1920s all transport through the region was with camel or horse drawn wagons on rough dirt tracks pushed through the scrub. It was an arduous process and carters were often bogged, sometimes for weeks beside the track. In the 1930s Great Depression, labour intensive public works programs were created using sustenance labour. Men were given work depending on the number of dependent children – for instance four children equalled four weeks work. The road between Carnarvon and Bangemall was ungraded using locally sourced white rocks creating a cobbled road.
Thirty kilometres north was our next destination, the magnificent Kennedy Ranges. Twelve kilometres in, the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DEPAW) campground is nestled beneath the 100 metre red rock ramparts soaring above the surrounding Lyons River valley plains. Campsites and amenities may be basic – long drop toilet, no power or showers, and bring your own everything, including water – but this is more than compensated by the setting. I recommend a two or three day stay.
The Kennedy Ranges runs north south for 75 kilometres and up to 25 kilometres wide. The southern and eastern sides have eroded over millennia to form spectacular cliffs, cut through by a maze of steep-sided canyons, surrounded by dry red sand country dominated by spinifex, supporting 400 plant species including 80 species of annual wildflowers which flourish in August and September after good rains.
There are several walk trails. Please check the information boards at the start of the walk trails for distances and degree of difficulty. Most of the trails have only basic trail markers. Some follow creek lines and are quite rocky requiring a fair amount of clambering so walkers need to be aware of their own capabilities and the approximate time to allow.
Please click here to read my previous post about the Kennedy Ranges - Exploring the Kennedy Ranges
From here you continue north from Kennedy Ranges via Ullawarra Road following the Pathway signage. You cross over the Tropic of Capricorn and reach the North West Coastal Highway and the bitumen at Barradale rest-stop, which is a good free overnight stop.
Alternatively you can stay at Emu Creek Station which offers flat, shady, unpowered campsites 20 kilometres from the highway. Here you can visit the old Nyang shearing shed, # 21 on the trail.
From Barradale it is 205 kilometres to Exmouth, all on bitumen. Skirting the bottom of Exmouth Gulf, via Burkett Road, you turn onto the Minilya Exmouth Road which runs parallel to the rugged Cape Range. Interesting stops include a termite mound, the Krait Z-Force and Potshot memorials, and Charles Knife Canyon with views over Exmouth Gulf.
Exmouth has all facilities and accommodation you would expect, as well as being gateway to the amazing coral gardens of the Ningaloo Reef and the dramatic gorges of the Cape Range National Park.
Here is a pic of North West Cape with the Ningaloo Reef beyond.
The Wool Wagon Pathway is just one of three outback pathways in the Gascoyne-Murchison area. Also to be explored are the Kingsford Smith Mail Run and the Miners Pathway.
The Pathway can be driven in either direction, starting at Geraldton in the south, through Mullewa, the Murchison Settlement, Gascoyne Junction and the Kennedy Ranges to Exmouth, or start at Exmouth and travel south. The roads are mostly good unsealed gravel but 4-wheel-drive is recommended particularly if there has been rain. I suggest allowing one to two weeks.
WHERE IS IT? : The trail starts at Geraldton, 417km north of Perth, Exmouth is 1,270km from Perth.
DISTANCES: Geraldton to Mullewa: 98km, Mullewa to Pindar: 30km, Pindar to Murchison Settlement: 227km, Murchison to Gascoyne Junction: 298km, Gascoyne Junction to Kennedy Ranges: 42km, Kennedy Ranges to Exmouth: 471km
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: June to September, to coincide with wildflower season. Avoid summer months as temperatures can reach over 40 degrees
Following the trail is easy with distinctive Wool Wagon Pathway signs at main road intersections and interpretative signage at the main places of interest.
This is remote travel, so please make adequate preparations. The pathway is mostly along unsealed good gravel roads with some minor sections of corrugations if not recently graded. 4-wheel-drive is recommended. There are no services between Gascoyne Junction and Exmouth. Supplies and services are limited and road conditions can vary, so plan ahead, stock up on food, water and fuel, make sure tyres are in good condition and contact local visitor centres for up-to-date track information. This is unfenced grazing land, so please be aware of possible stock or wildlife on the road.
Please take note of signage and be aware of your own physical ability. Avoid walking in the hottest part of the day, don’t walk alone, carry plenty of water and food, wear a hat, sunscreen and good walking boots. Even on a cool day it can become very hot particularly with radiated heat bouncing off the rocks.
WA Department of Parks and Wildlife: Department of Parks and Wildlife
Outback Self Drive Routes - Australia's Golden Outback – then search for Wool Wagon Pathway under Outback Drive Routes
Tourism Western Australia: Western Australia.com – then search for Wool Wagon Pathway
Shire of Murchison: Murchison
Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia by Eddy Wajon - Wajon Publishing
Gascoyne Murchison Outback Pathways by Samille Mitchell – Mid West Development Commission
|Everlastings along the Wool Wagon Pathway|
I had a lot of trouble with the font in this post and had to revert to writing it into a word document and then posting it into the blog. Frustrating. Have you ever had that problem? Perhaps I should just do that next time to save my sanity! Anyway, enjoy!
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