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Published: July 20th 2010
Initially we had thought to drive out of Iron Range National Park via Frenchman's track which would bring us to the PDR south of Batavia Downs Station, but we had been warned against taking that route by the family camped near us. The Rangers had also put up a sign at Chili beach suggesting that travellers not take that track as the Pascoe River crossing was deep and the track was unmaintained and hence quite rough, so it wouldn't make the journey any quicker. Since we were travelling on our own and we hadn't heard of anyone doing that track and might have ended up stranded for quite some time, we decided to travel out the way we came in. When we got to the PDR we again headed north. We stopped for lunch at Moreton Telegraph station which sits on the banks of the Wenlock River. There was a great photo display up in their information area showing floods of past and more recent years.
Then we headed north to Bramwell Junction where we fuelled up and also began encountering a problem with the vehicle, namely a flat battery. When we had started the car to leave Chili Beach
in the morning and then again at Moreton Station, it took two goes pressing the ignition for the car to start. But at Bramwell Junction, it wouldn't start at all and we had to run a jumper lead from the auxiliary battery to the starting battery to get the car started. This was not a good sign, because Bramwell Junction is where the 'real' Overland Telegraph Track (OTT) begins, although you can choose to take the Southern Bypass Road to avoid the deep river/creek crossings. Jamie at Bramwell Junction said we'd be able to fix the battery issue in Bamaga and because the jump-start worked, we thought we'd press on. So we took the OTT and drove the 4 kms to Palm Creek to begin our 'real' Cape York adventure. However, Palm Creek looked scary - a steep incline with a muddy exit on the other bank. We had been told by one family they'd needed snatching up the exit of Palm Creek. Some people looking at the river on the southern bank like us described how a car and van had just spent two or three hours to get through the crossing as they had to dismantle bits of
the van. So with a suspect car battery on board, we decided to be cautious and turned around to drive back to Bramwell Junction and take the Bypass Road north, hoping to make it to Eliot/Twin Falls camping area before it got too late.
Then the 'fun' began... Just over 80 kms north of Bramwell Junction there was a really rough patch of corrugations and as we came around a sweeping bend, the right-hand wheel on the camper trailer came off due to a shattered wheel bearing. We drove the trailer over to the side of the road and got out to inspect the damage just as a man (Doug) travelling south stopped to help. We decided to unhitch the trailer, lock it up where it was and drive back to Bramwell Junction to stay in a cabin for the night, if they had one. As it was now getting late, Doug kindly went on ahead to let the people at Bramwell know that there was a rather distressed family heading back and hoping for a night's accommodation - we wouldn't arrive there until around 7pm, which is when they were due to close. Doug was the only person
who had driven by while all this was going on.
When we arrived back at the junction just after 7pm, they were expecting us but couldn't offer us any accommodation there. However, they rang Bramwell Homestead (12km away) who could put us up in their 'dongas'. Jamie suggested that I get up early the following morning and retrieve as much gear from the trailer as possible as it was pretty much 'open slather' up here for anything that had been left by the roadside for more than a day or so. We arrived at the homestead a bit later and were greeted with a welcome smile by Lewie who took good care of us. The homestead also has a campground and a bar - both were 'chockers' with a large number of people availing themselves of the home cooked dinner by the bar.
Lewie was also a bit concerned that the trailer had been left up the road on its own and suggested that I go back up and retrieve the gear asap. Andrew, the local mechanic at the station, which also has a large road works team, agreed to come up and assist me (I supplied the
bundy and coke). Back at the trailer I began unloading all the gear while Andrew worked out a way to wheel the trailer off into the bushes and out of sight. It was real 'bush mechanic' stuff - we jacked up the trailer and put the wheel back on with the hub attached. Although there was no bearing, Andrew used a ring spanner to act as a washer on the axle nut. Although the wheel was a bit loose and wobbly, we hooked the trailer back onto the car and I backed it into the bushes. We put the right side up on blocks, covered it up with a few broken branches and bushes, and brought the wheel and hub back with us. We got back to the homestead around 1:30am.
The next morning we removed the old bearing from the slightly damaged hub and fitted a new bearing that one of the temporary residents of the homestead happened to have. Alex, the kids and I then drove back to the trailer, fitted the wheel and brought the trailer back to the homestead. We checked the left wheel bearing and weren't too surprised to discover that it was in
a bad way too and wouldn't have lasted much longer either!
The next day we made the 350km round trip into Weipa to pick up a new battery and try and find a new hub and bearings for the trailer. Fortunately, after going to a few different places, we managed to do both. I decided to replace both the starter and auxiliary batteries and also picked up a spare bearing kit and seal. We also stopped briefly at a tall termite mound just near the entrance to the homestead - they claimed it as the world's tallest - at close to 8 metres tall it is probably a fair claim.
The following morning, Andrew fitted the hubs and bearings and we were heading north once again, albeit with a slightly damaged right-hand side rear end on the trailer and knowing that the axle was slightly scored around the axle seal housing. Hence we stopped regularly along the way to make sure that the wheels (ie. hubs) remained sound.
Despite having to spend three unplanned nights at Bramwell Homestead, it turned out to be a pleasant place to stay and all the staff there went out of their
way to look after us. Annelies and Thomas enjoyed playing with a couple of pups (Kelpie - Stumpy-tailed Cattle dog crosses) and were smitten with the orphaned poddy calf that was being hand-reared by Reenie. Alex also enjoyed not having to cook for three days while we all enjoyed their delicious food.
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