Australia's Simpson Desert is the driest region in the country and everyone would expect water to be its scarcest resource.  However, while it is said that rain falls in the region only when storms get lost, paradoxically the desert itself is blessed with a large permanent water supply on either side.  The best known is at Dalhousie, which is a bottomless spring having an abundant source of water carrying exotic marine life on the eastern edge of the Simpson.

Along the Eyre Creek on the other side lies Kaliduwarry Waterhole, a twenty mile stretch of reliable water.  Visitors to these oases are often struck by the stark nature of the desert around the waterholes although in recent years heavy, soaking rains have consistently fallen all over the region obscuring the harsh ochre-red traditional colour of the sand dunes with a thick cloak of green growth.



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Birdsville or Bust
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Desert Water Sports

Catch-as-Catch-Can Leisure

Fishing on Eight Mile Creek, Hamilton Station

It is hard for travellers to resist a splash when they come across Dalhousie or Kaliduwarry or for that matter, any of the local creeks or streams when they run awash.  It was no different for the Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) crew who built the French Line nigh on forty years ago.   When they exploited the desert waters then, they cavorted around in their off-duty hours far more irresponsibly than today's regulators would let others behave.

A stick of geophex with detonator attached and thrust into the water was a definite aid to productivity when fishing in the days when there were no rules.  The only saving grace was that the damage caused to the environment was being inflicted by so few people, just by the penitent CGG oil explorers, for such a short time and so long ago as to have been almost completely forgotten, if not forgiven, by the public conscience.

Collecting a Meal From the Creek

The fish caught most commonly on a line of string and a bent nail were the Dalhousie gobies, endemic to the area, while the use of explosives brought the CGG fisherfolk a more representative catch of exotic species.  It was a curiosity to learn that different species adapted themselves to their own particular patch in the springs, according to the warm water outflow with which they were comfortable.

Some species adapted to the higher temperatures up to 46°C (115°F), while other fish were suited to the 30°C (86°F) zones found in cooler parts.  And it proved to be so, that never the twain should meet.  They didn't cross lines into the other's camps but stuck strictly to their own temperature band.

Waterskiing at Dalhousie

Dalhousie has no introduced aquatic animals in any of its permanent springs due mainly to the remoteness of its location but also because of this extraordinary variation in water temperature and the severity of the diurnal climate change at the waters edge.  The property in which Dalhousie is found was bought by the South Australian Government in 1985 to form Witjira National Park, an area of 776,900 hectares.

It is a sensitive spot, now monitored closely to protect the natural surroundings.  As an example of the sensitivity, no detergents or soaps are allowed in the fragile springs and although the waters are suitable for swimming, active pursuits like waterskiing is frowned upon.  The CGG juggie Stan Russell is seen in the photograph under tow from a LandRover speeding along the bank, a positive No-No in today's scheme of things.

Among the Bullrushes at Dalhousie Springs

Dalhousie is in the course of the world's oldest and mostly dry river, the Finke and prominent among its many mysteries as a unique oasis alongside Australia's Simpson Desert is the oddity that the artesian springs are bottomless.  Despite earnest attempts to locate its lowest level, no one has managed yet to plumb the depths of Dalhousie.

John Lewis took up the run on Dalhousie originally and it was first recorded under the ownership of F. and R. Sandford in 1885.   South Australian Lands Department records show the Sandfords still in occupation in 1906 and what the Sandfords didn't hold thereabouts, Kidman did.

Skinny-dippers Plunging in at Kaliduwarry

There is an enigma on the opposite side of the Simpson Desert to Dalhousie Springs called Kaliduwarry - another strange waterhole absolutely out of place.  Kaliduwarry is as long (20m or 32km) as Dalhousie probably is deep.  It is a permanent waterhole no more than 200 yards across at its widest point on the Eyre Creek where the Creek joins the moody Mulligan and it kept Annandale cattle station afloat financially until the First World War demand for wool ended good beef prices.  Sturt camped there, so did Poeppel, before they both travelled up Gnallan-a-Gea Creek for Sturt to find his furthest north and for Poeppel to drown his camels when the Creek came down in a hurry and surprised him.

The CGG oil-searchers found time to plunder Kaliduwarry of its mussels:  juicy, succulent bivalves if prepared properly for the table.  Instead, the hasty cooks from the Cafe de Blitz botched the job by bringing the mussels to the boil in a 44-gal drum for much too long.  The remains of old ash heaps from camp fires on the west bank indicate it was a great meeting place for aborigines.   One end of Kaliduwarry is salt, the other is fresh water, which makes for an agreeable choice when contemplating a skinny-dip.

Cooling Off in the Tank at Annandale

Jack Absalom (Safe Outback Travel - p52 Rigby Ltd 1976) gave an opinion on tank swimming that is to be respected.   He says iron water tanks on Australian pastoral stations have claimed many lives because the pressure exerted by people jumping in to them can make them burst.

"The rush of escaping water can suck a swimmer down, dragging him into the jagged rusty metal around the hole",   Jack claims.  "People have been terribly lacerated when this has happened.  If the break isn't big enough for the victim to go through he could easily get wedged in the hole and drown or bleed to death."
His message was too late for the CGG innocents who swam daily in the tanks all through the Channel Country in warm weather.  There is no doubt about it.  The CGG workers were just lucky.  Many of the tanks we swam in were untended and on abandoned stations far from anywhere like Dubbo Downs, Kamaran Downs or Annandale and therefore were a potential danger to us then but would be more so now for those travellers who risk ignoring Jack Absalom's warning.   Proprietors of the major working properties remaining in the Channel Country such as Adria Downs and Glengyle haven't been offering unrestricted access to their "back blocks" for some years now and this may have indirectly helped avoid some of the nasty incidents feared by Jack.

Safely Splashing About In An Empty Tank

Driller's offsider Joe Goossens takes a shower in the altogether in a hundred-year old bathtub.  Cast iron tanks like this one on the Eyre Creek had long fallen out of use, as cattle numbers dwindled and stations pulled in their horns as their runs became fiscally challenged on the one hand in times of drought and on another count, due to loss in demand for their stock.  Market failure was minimised when the vast fields of "dried herbage" available in the Channel Country and the fringes of the Simpson became readily accessible as roads were improved and transport evolved from "horse and buggy" to roadtrains, so that cattle could be carried to agistment from suffering farms many hundreds of miles distant.

Joe, who long ago left the desert and Australia and returned to his homeland Belgium, couldn't resist a spell in the tank.  And who could, when it is 50°C on the drill rig?  Anyone visiting the Simpson Desert who is accustomed to wearing nothing but a smile, will be well advised to respect the Australian sun.   A floppy hat giving shade all round with plenty of sunscreen on the exposed bits will afford the best protection.   It is sensible to avoid the red lobster look by sunbaking in the hours outside the heat of the day, which in the Simpson summer is broadly 10am to 6pm.    Travellers commonly fail to appreciate the dangers of UV ray exposure so easily suffered anywhere in this vast continent.


Coles Express Picks on a Pensioner .....
Try the  "with Malice a'Forecourt?"  link and read what they did


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or Bust 
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Dead Heart 
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