The Great Eastern Highway. Day 1

Day 1 [17th Sept]

In the begining...there was batman It had taken several months in planning and D-day is today. We have had three (3) trip meetings, looking at the plans and evaluating different options to make the trip successful. Planning itself has taken a little over three months. Australia is huge and our plans needed to ensure the safety of all the trip members and the equipment we are travelling with while providing us with a great adventure. We needed to ensure that the major attractions were open to visitors, hence the choice of the spring time for the trip.

The last minutes of the previous nights were used to check-off items on my list. I was confident that I had all that I needed. The night was unusually long, probably suffering from excitement and a sense of adventure, I was unable to sleep. By 5am, I was up on my feet. I had to pick up a few more things from around the house and checked my precious jerry cans of petrol to be comfortable that I had enough fuel to take me through the long desolate areas where there would be no filling stations. I woke up my wife and we said our byes with hugs and kisses. It was 6:30am by the time I stepped inside the “Explorer”, the journey has started. The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a step. So says the popular adage.

It took me another 25mins to make it to the Midland Station where we all had agreed to meet by 7:30am. Departure time was fixed at 8am.  Well, I arrived as planned and got to meet David. Mark showed up thereafter in his troopy and we started a familiarization chat. The time was a little past 7:30am and there was no sight of the other team members. I put a call out to Greg, the Club organizer and couldn’t reach him. A little later, I got a call on my phone, it was Greg summoning us to come to the other side.  Fuel Stop at Lakeside Road HouseThe sight that beheld us, as we arrived was some sort of carnival fun. Of course, it was Batman’s day. Greg was fully costumed up as Batman and the daughter, Brittany was a bat girl. Their vehicle became known as the bat mobile. The kids were expectant and we took a couple of videos and we were soon on our way. A little ahead, we stopped to allow Collin and Dani to join the convoy. We filled up the tanks and the trip had started in earnest. All had their radios checked and we chose to communicate on Channel 10. For issues with pronouncing my name, Greg renamed me Mr. B, the moniker that would represent me for the duration of the trip.

A quick round-up of the plans for the trip and the driving plan for day 1 was done with. We took a couple of pictures and a few members wandered off to get some early morning coffee. The three (3) kids in the team were full of excitement and I was too. It was going to be a trip of a life time. Tim is the trip leader and will drive ahead of us. Colum would be the deputy and drive at the rear of everyone. The rest of us took our numbers and fell into a line between Tim and Colum. We got into our vehicles, tested our radios and headed out of Perth on the Great Eastern Highway. Mundaring will be our next stop where we planned to fuel up and be joined by two other members of the team. As we drove out of Midland, the whole city of Perth was just coming to life. I wasn’t sure if and in what condition we would be back to the city but was expectant that all will go well. We had taken all necessary measures to be safe on the trip. We even have a home team, to monitor our progress and act as an emergency team to coordinate rescue for us in case of any unfortunate incident.

In less than an hour we got to Mundaring. At the Lake Roadhouse, we chose to refuel and were joined there by Diane and Collins in their Mitsubishi BT-50. By now, the team was complete. We were 15 souls in 8 vehicles. It wasn’t a surprise that all the vehicles were Japanese made – 3 Mitsubishi’s, 1 Isuzu, 2 Nissans and 2 Toyota’s.  After the exchange of pleasantries, we reviewed the plan for the day and decided to form a convoy. Tim being the trip leader drove out first in his Nissan Patrol. His job was not the easiest. He was to map out the route and drive towards the destination at reasonable and safe speed. He would keep us away from the road radar, announce the presence of on-coming vehicles and sightings of animals, especially the Kangaroos, the Emu and other road dangers so that other members of the convoy take necessary precautions to avoid them.  The Explorer, would be the third vehicle in the convoy. I was sand witched between the two Gregs. We chose a channel upon which we would exchange radio communication and headed out. At the end of the convoy was Colum, driving an Isuzu D-max. His work was similar to that of Tim, maintaining the rear flanks and acting as our eyes regarding vehicles overtaking the convoy and any approaching dangers from the back.

The trip started and we headed towards Coolgardie on the Great Eastern Highway. The road, a well-travelled road and an artery of some sort, links the remote western City of Perth with the Goldfields as well as the eastern parts of Australia. On our side, for the most part of the trip, were the railway lines as well as the Goldfields Water Pipeline. We drove past a few of the pumping stations for the precious water being carried to Kalgoorlie by the pipeline.

It didn’t take us much time to arrive and drive through the sleepy city of Northam on the Great Eastern Highway. We went ahead and passed through Meckering, noted as the Western Australia’s earthquake town because of the significant earthquake that happened in the town in 1968. It is just 1.5 hours’ drive from Perth and a tiny wheat farming town. Meckering is also home to the Big Camera. The Big Camera is actually a museum of photography and to enter it, you walk through the ‘lens’.

Australia has unique problems and overtime has developed unique solutions to addressing such problems. It is at Cunderin, a little town much recognised by its odd shaped Ettahmogah Pub building and the No.3 pump station of the Goldfields Water Supply pipeline, that one comes across the Rabbit Proof Fence. It is said to be the longest fence in the world covering a little over 3,200kms. Well the Rabbits were said to have become a pest, crossing over from the Eastern States and destroying farm crops. The Australian solution? To construct a fence from North to South of Western Australia to keep the Rabbits at bay on the eastern side of the fence. Completed around 1905, it cost 330,000 British pounds! I thought a little bit about the problem and what the ingenious African solution would have been. Of course, Rabbits cannot become a colonizing pest in Africa. We just have too many people to feed and Rabbit is a delicacy that can be roasted, boiled and otherwise sun-dried. If this problem were to exist in Africa, I am sure some enterprising genius would have a field day making money from selling Rabbit bush meat. The £330,000 pounds could be diverted to some better use.

Lunch, anyone?We drove through Cunderdin, Tammin and then Kellerberrin. Kellerberrin has a heritage post office building which opened and has been in operation since 1912. That was 2 years before the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria! We also drove through Merredin. It was here, in 1999 that a team of farmers and local transport companies broke the record for the “Longest Road Train”. Road trains are significant contributors to the logistics that support the Australian economy. From here onwards, we were in road trains country.

The journey was smooth and uneventful and we made it to the town of Southern Cross, 350kms away from Perth. At Southern Cross, we stopped for fuel and lunch. Of course, the price per litre of fuel, diesel or petrol, is now significantly higher than it was in Perth. The town itself is notably named after the Southern Cross constellation and the town’s streets are named after constellations and stars. If you are into star gazing, this will be a town worthy for you to live in as being that far into the hinterland, its amazing skies are so clear in the night that distant constellations and stars could easily be observed using the right telescopes.

As one drives along the Great Eastern Highway, the observant traveller will commend the splendid cleanliness of the environment. Litters were nowhere to be found by the side of the highway or at the many rest areas that dot the road. Of course, the government has done its part by providing litter bins but the culture of the Aussies regarding the environment is worth commending. Well, I won’t mention but in many other areas of the world litters and garbage strewn the streets and major highways. None could be found on the Great Eastern Highway. Every litter you create becomes an additional passenger in your car that you have to take along and dispose properly when you are opportune to do so.

Lunch done, we proceeded towards Coolgardie. Our plan was to make it to Norseman and camp there overnight. As we approached the turnoff from Coolgardie to join the Coolgardie-Norseman road, we got bogged by our first mechanical issue. The Electronic Brakes on Colum and Kristina’s vehicle will not work. Colum, is a man good with his hands, as we parked along the highway, he got under the car’s hood, fetched out the culprit which was a burnt fuse. This was speedily replaced and we continued the journey. It was getting late and it dawned on us that we weren’t going to make it to our planned camp site in day time. As a result, we sought an alternate camp site and we set up for the night at Frayed camp. As you move southwards towards Esperance on the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway in Widgiemooltha, Frayed camp is on the left, just a little bit off the road. Though we had no pets, but pets are allowed in this park and so also are all sorts of camping allowed. The camp was virtually empty of other beings. The remarkable thing was the length of gas pipeline running through the camp, we all picked our individual spots and set up for the night. The camp was nestled within a group of trees that provide great cover and shade.

The evening was spent in getting to know each other better and discussing about the events of the day. I brought out my swag and nestled in for the night.

Things to do

    1. Visit Northam, to explore the beautiful Avon Valley;
    2. The Perth Hills and Mundaring. Mundaring is home to the historic Mundaring Weir, John Forrest National Park;
    3. Meckering – The Earthquake Monuments and The Big Camera;
    4. Cunderdin – Pump No.3 (now Cunderdin Museum), the unique building housing Ettamogah Pub and Rabbit Proof Fence (The longest fence in the world)
    5. Merredin – Site of the world record for road trains;
    6. Coolgardie -  Old Court House, Warden Finnerty’s Residence

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