Explorers’ Wells’ Recce 2015

2015 is the sesquicentenary of the Hunt Track.

Between 19-22 February 2015 we aimed to visit 20 explorers’ wells in the eastern wheatbelt/goldfields and ascertain their condition (with a view to refurbishing them in the future) as part of the Explorers’ Wells’ Project.

My Patrol had been written off in a crash (idiot came through a red light and T-boned me) a few weeks earlier so I was with Matt Hall in his F250 ute, Paul Marriner was in a Nissan Navara ute, Rob Wilson was driving his GU Patrol Wagon and doing the ‘sweep’ duties, Graham Howe joined the recce in his GU Patrol Wagon, Craig Roper and Tracey Beckwith came along in a GU Patrol Wagon, Lloyd and Alan Bloomfield were in a GU Patrol Ute and Joe Natoli was in his stolen GU Patrol Ute.

We got away on time from The Lakes and, after a stop at Northam for dinner, arrived at Boodallin Soak on the Westonia Common after 9.00 p.m.. The hot, dry easterly was blowing strongly, a precursor to a warm tomorrow.

There was no chance of lighting a fire so we sat around a torch that I placed in the centre of the circle of chairs. With a little bit of imagination …..

We were camped only metres from the Soak, the first well on our list.

Explorer/surveyor C.C. Hunt travelled through this area on his March 1864 Koolyanobbing Expedition and located this native well. Later that year, during his Exploration Eastward of York, he again visited the soak to water his horses.

In March 1865 his team opened out the native well but were unable to build the stone well until logistical issues were resolved. Boodallin Soak was where the notorious bushranger and escape artist Moondyne Joe was captured in 1866.

On the way to Sandford Rocks we visited the working Edna May Mine, immediately to the north of Westonia.

Although Hunt developed a well at Sandford Rocks (he called it Yorkarakine) its location is not known and we did not search for it, opting instead to climb to the summit.

After working off some early morning energy climbing up and down the rock we sought out a track that showed up on Google Earth during my pre-planning as a shortcut back to Boodorockin Road.

Despite Matt’s work with the chainsaw, we deemed the track impassable. We turned around and took the more normal way to Keokanie Rock, our next destination.

Forty five minutes of searching for Keokanie Well all around the rock produced no result and we drove away along the access track towards Bodallin North Road. Lloyd drove over the well. Success, well number two found!

On the way to Southern Cross we stopped at Moorine Rock Well and Kodjerning Rock Well, both in reasonable condition.

After a quick refuel at The Cross we passed Yellowdine and stopped at Boorabbin Rock for lunch and a swim in the dam.

The day was heating up. Before heading back to the highway we detoured to the quarry.

The convoy arrived at Boondi Rock and Dam just before 1500. After another swim and noting the facilities (a popular DPaW site), the crew mutinied and it was decided to camp here rather than push on to the planned overnight stop at Yerdanie.

A few other travellers arrived later in the day in search of a comfortable camp so we turned our caps sideways and played the bogan music louder.

The trade off for stopping short of the previous day’s run was an early start for Yerdanie on Saturday. Away by 0710.

We turned off the Great Eastern Highway near Woolgangie negotiating a little used track for seven kilometres to Yerdanie Rock. I missed the turn into the Rock but fortunately Rob was on the ball, radioed the error through to me and it was only a short run back to the destination.

This was the well I intended to open out. I had written permission from DPaW to remove vegetation, as required. After half an hour of searching on foot, we abandoned the quest, cognisant that this was only a recce.

The track to our next destination, Gnarlbine Soak, was uncertain so I determined to head back out to the highway, drive a few kilometres further east and then head back through the woodlands towards Gnarlbine.

Along the way we stopped at the Prince of Wales Mine, a small, private digging that has been abandoned.

The track had only a few obstacles and we eventually arrived at Victoria Rock Road, a few hundred metres north of Gnarlbine Rock.

Gnarlbine Soak was a very important water source for aboriginal people. It became an important stopping place for explorers and prospectors, including R.J. Holland when he and his team put through what today is known as the Holland Track.

Gnarlbine Rock has some excellent examples of gnammas.

Matt and I went looking for a second well 200+ metres to the south-east without success. [This well was located in 2019 and again in 2020].

We arrived at Coolgardie at 1130 and visited the Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place of R.J. Holland of Holland Track fame.

After lunch at Coolgardie we headed out of town to the Coolgardie Cemetery, resting place of many pioneers including explorer Ernest Giles.

Leaving Coolgardie was a major undertaking. Roadworks extended past Bullabulling and we were delayed for an hour.

We arrived at Karalee Rock and Dam mid afternoon.

Another attempted mutiny to stay at Karalee to swim in the dam was put down and we headed out towards Weowanie Rock. I had checked this track with the local dogger and he assured me that it was open, and that none of his traps were placed along the track.

It took us two hours to travel the 16 kilometres to Weowanie. As I’m sure all the drivers who pushed their way through that track will attest, it was a bad experience. The hard, sharp branches of the acacias scratched the vehicles non stop for four kilometres. There was no turning back, there was no way to turn around. Reversing wasn’t an option. Eventually the acacias gave way to eucalypts and the track opened out to woodland.

Since Boorabbin, through to Boondi, Yerdanie, Gnarlbine Coolgardie, back to Yellowdine and Southern Cross and onto Weowanie we had been in the Great Western Woodlands, the largest remaining area of intact Mediterranean climate woodland left on Earth.

After arrival at Weowanie most people climbed the Rock to photograph the Tank and then went to the top to watch the sunset.

Everyone had noticed the signs at Karalee that declared the fire ban ended on 31 January. We had a modest fire, not for warmth but to add to the ‘ambience’.

I had scheduled departure each morning for 0800 but we were getting away an hour early.

On the way out of Weowanie on Sunday morning we stopped at the lonely grave of Thomas Davidson, a Scottish woodcutter. Davidson blew his brains out in May 1895. Isolation, loneliness and alcohol accounted for many old timers in the bush.

Ten minutes later we stopped at Duladgin Well for photographs. This is not one of Hunt’s wells. It was built by the Public Works Department in the late 1890s.

We then headed south to Yellowdine on the Great Eastern Highway. It was then west along the blacktop to Southern Cross where we stopped for 20 minutes to refuel, before heading north out of town to Koorkoordine Well, one of the best preserved of Hunt’s Wells. It has a grand vista, overlooking the dry Lake Koorkoordine.

Next stop was Burracoppin, a mid-morning disappointment. We were unable to find the well here despite an extensive foot search. A possibility was noted with no great degree of confidence.

We pushed on along Goldfields Road to Merredin and then headed south on the Bruce Rock Road to Totadgin Rock and Well.

The well at Totadgin is in reasonably good condition. After walking to the summit and checking out the ‘wave’ on the eastern side of the rock we had lunch.

Weaving our way along gravel roads of the wheatbelt we arrived at Doodlakine. Four kilometres north of the town is Old Doodlakine and Hunt’s Well.

After a short stop we were back on the Goldfields Road heading west. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at Shark Mouth Rock, an unusually shaped granite outcrop that looks nothing like a shark’s mouth. More like a goanna or perhaps a dolphin.

A few hundred metres along the road is Marranobbing Well. It has recently been dug out.

We took photographs and continued west on Goldfields road to Hunt’s Well at Tammin Rock.

Goldfields Road was now bitumen through to York. The Recce ended at The Lakes at 1715.

© Kim Epton 2015-2019
1886 words.
92 photographs

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