Andamooka and on to Woomera

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August 18th 2016
Published: September 7th 2016
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Monday 15th August 2016

After filling up with fuel, including 60 litres in the jerrycans, we drove to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens just out of Port Augusta. These gardens, sponsored by governments and private companies, have set up a sustainable group of buildings and a unique 200 hectare garden of arid-zone plants. It had a variety of zones and a lookout with spectacular views to the Flinders Ranges and the tip of Spencer Gulf. The area we fond most interesting was the bush foods section. It's fascinating to see how many of these plants have some edible or medicinal parts. We also managed to buy a book at the gift shop which we thought might assist us with the identification of many of the different trees we are seeing. It was their last copy so we had had to negotiate a price for the store copy.

Lunch was had at the nearby lookout at Red Cliffs where you overlook the end of the Spencer Gulf. One sign here gave some interesting facts, one being that Matthew Flinders’ circumnavigation and mapping trip ending in 1803, produced maps so accurate they were still in use after WW2. We met our fellow travellers here but David and Helen were keen to keep moving as David was concerned about driving into the sun.

We travelled with Mark and Helena for the remainder of the day, passing Woomera as we intend returning here on the way back. Our destination to day was the old opal area of Andamooka. David and Helen were already there and set up in the free camp provided by the town. This was a large open place with coin operated hot showers and sites for $3/night/person.

Another good meal was had, this time provided by Helen, and for once we could sit outside without it getting too cold.

Tuesday 16th August 2016

We all got up and leisurely started the day. The ladies went off into the small township centre to see the famous Andamooka Op Shop, David and Rags had a drive through the town, whilst Mark remained behind to do some work. The ladies found that the shop was closed today so instead spent an enjoyable morning wandering in the museum and exploring the early miners
Our camp site at AndamookaOur camp site at AndamookaOur camp site at Andamooka

In the background you can see the piles of working or "Mullock" which generally characterised opal areas.
cottages which were dug into the side of some hills in the main street of town. The underground parts provided insulation against the extremes of the outside temperature. Plaques in front of these explained about the lives of the early occupants.

The variation between the more modern dwellings was quite large, with some no more than ramshackle buildings and some very decent brick and iron structures. Even some of the most derelict places had air conditioners fitted and nearly all had a satellite TV antenna. What made some places stick out more than others was the number of car, truck and mining vehicle wrecks strewn around the properties. You name a 1960s to 1970s vehicle and you were almost certain to find the remains of one somewhere. David was most impressed with one block which had Holdens dating back to 1953 up to the 1960s in various states of disrepair lined up along the back fence. FJs, Fes, EKs, EJs and an HD were all there.

After lunch Rags drove Judy, Mark and Helena along a rough track to the edge of Lake Torrens, about 17kms out of town. This is a dry salt flat that apparently ahs only been filled with water once in 150 years. Here we looked at the salt crystals, the tracks of emus and kangaroos in the salty surface, as well as marvelling at the mirages on the lake as far out as you could see. It is huge - about 250 kilometres in length! Rags was very careful not to drive too close to the edge of the lake, the thin hard crust disguising a slippery mud underneath. His previous experiences with surfaces such as this were foremost on his mind.

It was getting quite late when we returned to camp but the pork roast we had started on low heat before we left issued a delicious aroma. When we added the potatoes, cooked Jamie Oliver style, pumpkin, carrots and broccoli, served with a tasty gravy, we had a meal fit for a king. This was finished off with plum pudding and custard, followed by a coffee. Not bad for a group “roughing” it!

Wednesday 17th August 2016

The morning was spent looking at a few places in the town we hadn’t seen before, ending up at the “Yacht Club” a café attached to the recreation centre. This café was set up by an enterprising young couple who liked the area and wanted to rejuvenate activity around the burnt out centre. They seem to have succeeded as they have been there for 12 months now and aim to continue.

The drive to Roxby Downs was broken by a short side trip to the Olympic Dam mine. This is now mainly a fly-in fly-out mine for gold and uranium, taking away much of the population of Roxby Downs.

Even so, we were impressed by Roxby Downs, both from the neat presentation of the town and by the friendly people there.

There is a large shopping centre there with Woolworths being the mainstay, and a very impressive council building, which included the K-tertiary school, library, swimming pool and other town services.

On to Woomera and here we checked into the caravan park. The managers of this park came across as being quite anal, you had to park your vehicle exactly where they put you, you were warned not to move it at all, and then they gave you a brochure on the park with 2 pages of ‘Don’ts”. We, and several others we talked to, laughed about this thinking that the managers are probably ex-military.

There was a strong northerly wind blowing making conditions unpleasant but at sunset it dropped for a few hours and we enjoyed sitting outside for a while.

Thursday 18th August 2016

The wind increased in the early hours of the morning almost making it difficult to walk around the camp area. We left the others mid-morning, as they didn’t seem inclined to leave their vans, and walked into town.

There are a couple of indoor museums, showing the history from the late 1940s and through the years of the British and Americans firing missiles into the desert. and an outdoor Rocket Park in the centre of town which contained all sorts of old missiles. Nothing was mentioned of the atomic blasts in Maralinga or other sites.

The town is almost deserted, with a population of about 120 people, when once it was inhabited by over 6000 in the mid 1960s. As we walked back to
Black Arrow Rocket at WoomeraBlack Arrow Rocket at WoomeraBlack Arrow Rocket at Woomera

When fully loaded this rocket stood 13m tall and weighed (at take-off) about 18 tonnes.
the carravan park via the Astronomy Building we noticed that most of the houses were unoccupied although some would not take much to make them habitable.

Apparently there was an unsuccessful refugee camp set up outside of the town in the past. We discussed this and felt the town itself could be set up to house refugees and educate them in the Australian way of life before moving into the cities.

The wind swung during our final meal together and light rain commenced. Unusual in a town where “it never rains”! Dessert and coffee was had inside David & Helen’s unit, before we returned to our own vans where the noise of the wind and light rain lulled us to sleep.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Sturt's dessert PeaSturt's dessert Pea
Sturt's dessert Pea

We saw a few of these - SA's state emblem.

23rd April 2020

Great photos
Lovely blog lots of nice photos
12th May 2023

Refugee camp Woomera Australia
Hi there if you do a little research you become aware of the cultural hardships that the refugees at Woomera went through. Yes this is a well set up accommodation point but the people are isolated and when relocated to a city have difficulty in adjusting. No amount of education prepares them for the vastness of the Australian outback. As a tourist you see the beauty and uniqueness but do not experience the harsh reallity.

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