06-Aug-2002 -- In a sense this story begins 2000 million years ago. I am working on a project to understand the geological history of the southern Pilbara region and my fieldwork this year brought me within cooee of the confluence at 23°S 117°E. The confluence is on the Cheela Plains pastoral station and I’m grateful for their permission to wander about looking at rocks and stand in the middle of otherwise empty fields with odd gadgets.
The day began at a favourite campsite near Paraburdoo that my long-suffering field assistant and wife-to-be has christened “Chez Grumpy Dingo” after an amusing incident with a dingo the previous year. After a morning spent checking out rock outcrops in cliffs on the main Paraburdoo-Nanutarra Road we headed toward the confluence.
We were quickly reminded that a navigator is as only as good as their maps when we attempted a shortcut from the Ashburton Downs Road. To be fair to the cartographers, the maps are excellent, it’s the ground that changes. Tracks in arid climates are strange things. Under the right conditions even footprints might last decades, yet well-used tracks can vanish into the grass after a shower of rain. Case in point in this adventure where the track we wanted to follow didn’t appear to exist anymore and we ended up heading toward the nearby Hardey River in the midst of a thick field of grass (#2).
After backtracking we decided to just follow a fence that was heading west toward the confluence. We eventually came across a good track heading south to the old “Carlathundra” well and cattle-yards that are next to the confluence. Although we had a 4WD it was barely needed for this confluence (although Land Cruiser suspension was welcome for the potholes once off the track). We could quite literally drive to the exact location (#3).
The confluence point itself is in the middle of a flat treeless flood plain of the typical Aussie red-ochre clay-rich soil (#1). Although this makes it very accessible, the resulting pictures don’t really represent the stunning scenery in the region such as the Hamersley Range (which can just be seen in the background of #1). And there wasn’t even a cow in sight let alone a something more exotic. With a bit of luck we’ll get to some of the more remote – and scenic - confluences points in the region next time depending on where the project takes me.
After taking the obligatory pictures and a congratulatory drink of lemon, lime & bitters (non-alcoholic of course in case anyone from UWA H&S are reading), we followed the track out to the main road in minutes rather than the half-hour fence-hugging slog to get there in the first place (shortcuts rarely are…). Obviously hearing our complaint about the lack of fauna and concerns about the impact on the tourist industry, we were compensated with a solitary kangaroo and a couple of emu (emii? emuses?) on the way out. And as a nod to the geological intent of the day, we also passed a cave in folded dolomite (#5) that appeared to have its own mailbox on the nearby main road (an odd sight in that part of the world considering the next closest mailbox could be hundreds of kilometres away – see #6).
In a final twist in the adventure, our lunch was accompanied by an interview on the radio with Peter Hillary (adventurer extraordinaire and son of the famous Edmund Hillary, conqueror of Everest). Thus in the illustrious company of fellow explorers, it was back to the long, dusty road and an afternoon looking at 2000 million years of geology.