Tuesday, July 7, 2015

MicroAdventure to the Flinders Ranges

Flinders Ranges, South Australia

My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." – Forrest Gump

Last Sunday night, my son Sam and I watched the 1994 classic film Forrest Gump - three days later I was heading off with my youngest son, Henry, on a microadventure to the Flinders Ranges in the South Australian Outback.

An ancient mountain range beginning almost 400km north of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges have been on my “To Visit” list since 1996 when I travelled from Adelaide to Broken Hill via the Barrier Highway. Looking up to the north from the town of Peterborough, I felt drawn towards the landscape and made a note to return one day.

Suffering from parental guilt over the fact that I hadn’t organised any family time during the school holidays, I quickly cancelled out three days for a mini-break with the boys… only to have Max and Sam decline my invitation to visit the South Australian Outback… a ten hour drive wasn’t their idea of fun. However, twelve-year-old Henry was excited and suggested that he and I head off together.

Loading up the Barrmobile the night before with our swags, food and water, Henry and I motored out of Barham at 5.35 the next morning. Driving along in the early morning darkness we admired the almost full moon and the celestial conjunction of planets Venus and Jupiter, low in the sky.

Our first stop was a brief pause at the McDonald’s drive thru in Swan Hill – Henry felt a bacon and egg McMuffin would make a trip to the outback more sustainable.

We arrived at 27 Deakin CafĂ© and Good Food Store in Mildura before 9am for my breakfast of smoked salmon and avocado on a hash brown accompanied with excellent coffee and Henry’s second breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup along with a delicious mug of hot chocolate.

Our next stop was a few hours down the road at the historic South Australian town of Burra. Settled in 1845 and home to one of the world’s largest copper mines until 1877. Today Burra is a pastoral centre for the surrounding sheep stations and one of the best-preserved Victorian era towns in Australia.
Burra Police Station 1879 - 1971

We wandered through one of several antique shops, photographed some of the old stone buildings and Henry selected a nutritious bag of butter mints from The Burra Lolly Shop before we headed north along the Barrier Highway.

Further along the road I received a phone call from my friend, Fleur. She and her family were traveling through the Flinders Ranges with a group of friends from Hay. They had left a couple of days ahead of us and had been through Broken Hill and Yunta and were now at Wilpena Pound.

I said we were heading to Hawker and depending on daylight, we may even make it to Wilpena Pound to camp for the night. Fleur replied that they were staying on Baratta Station, about an hour or two’s drive east of Hawker which was possibly too far out of the way for me but perhaps we could meet up in Hawker?

Shortly afterwards we both lost phone range.

Henry and I drove on through Peterborough, Black Rock and Orroroo, the sun was heading rapidly towards the horizon and we still had over 100km to cover to reach the town of Hawker.

Consulting my well-worn 1995 edition of The Australian Motoring Companion, I discovered Baratta Station marked on the map about 80 or 90km north east of the next town we were passing through, Carrieton.

Feeling we had Buckley’s Chance of catching Fleur, Hamish and the rest of the Hay crew before they left Hawker, and knowing we had plenty of fuel, water and food on board, I decided to try my luck at finding Baratta Station.
A beautiful drive into the unknown

We had a beautiful drive in the failing light, down a rocky dirt road and I stopped a number of times to take photographs of the landscape and spectacular sunset. It felt as though we were traveling through our very own Albert Namatjira painting. The dark arrived quicker than I expected but not long afterwards we crossed onto Baratta Station. A while further down the road, our headlights picked up a signpost, “Baratta HS” (HS standing for homestead) and I knew we were on the right track.

The first house we came to turned out to be the shearer’s quarters and a rather surprised gentleman gave me directions on to the homestead where I introduced myself to owners, Sandy and Di. Explaining that I was originally from Hay and that my friends Fleur and Hamish had told me they were camping on Baratta, Di welcomed Henry and I inside. Johnny and Lisa and their family, the first of the Hay travellers, arrived shortly afterwards.

Chatting with Sandy and Di, I discovered that Sandy had jackarooed in the Riverina in the late 1980s and Di’s Great Grandfather, Sir Herbert Ramsay, was the first person to actually sing “Waltzing Matilda” when he sang it on 6 April 1895 at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, Queensland.

Tucked into swags around the campfire for the night
It was another couple of hours before the rest of the Hay crew turned up but once everyone had arrived there were nearly forty of us, including the children. Later that night, after a great evening with Di and Sandy and their family, we drove down to the campsite, a good half hour’s drive from the homestead. Henry and I unrolled our swags with the others around a roaring campfire and had a welcome sleep after driving 946km for the day.
Henry rolling his swag the next morning

Group photo with my fellow adventurers from Hay NSW

Station tour with Sandy and Di

Merino ewes and lambs on Baratta Station
The next morning we woke up to beautiful surrounds of a fresh water spring and impressive rocky hills. After breakfast, packing up and a group photograph, Sandy gave us a tour of some of the 100,000 acres that make up Baratta Station.

Sandy cleaning out a trough on Baratta Station

Saying farewell to Sandy and Di, we headed up to Wilpena Pound. Happily for Henry and I, the Hay crew decided they wanted to go back to Wilpena Pound before heading further north to Arkaroola in the Gammon Ranges National Park and we enjoyed their company for most of the day.

Wilpena Pound is a natural amphitheatre of ancient mountains in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. Measuring 17km long by 8km wide and covering more than 100km, Wilpena Pound is a spectacular geological feature in outback Australia.
Wilpena Pound

Later in the afternoon we arrived at the 1869, North Blinman Hotel in time for a drink and for the kids to play a game of pool. It was here that Henry and I said goodbye to our friends and headed west to the tiny locality of Parachilna and the Prairie Hotel.

Drinks at the North Blinman Hotel
We received a warm welcome from Grant at the Prairie Hotel and were shown to our room. The beds looked extremely inviting however, we decided on hot showers, a change of clothes and headed to the restaurant for an early dinner.
Arriving at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna

Henry chose a serve of pizza, chips and salad and I chose the slow cooked harissa goat with zesty lemon and quince pearl couscous with a glass of southern Flinders sparkling Shiraz.
The goat... it was all looking so yummy!

Unfortunately my first mouthful of goat wasn’t as tender as I had expected but rather tough and gristly. Instead of discreetly spitting it out, I decided to be more discreet and swallow it… Big mistake.
The perfidious piece of goat lodged in my throat! (I know, there’s a limerick just waiting to be written there). Fortunately for me, it wasn’t obstructing my breathing.

I quietly excused myself and went to the bathroom to see if I would have any luck removing the firmly lodged piece of meat. No such luck.

Grant, who had checked us in, asked the other restaurant patrons if there was a doctor amongst them. There wasn’t.

I phoned my nurse practitioner friend, Trish, who was on duty at Kerang Hospital that night. Sadly, my infinitely wise friend informed me the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was possibly my only option.

The only other option was to call the closest hospital, situated in the coal-mining town of Leigh Creek, 65km north of Parachilna. Grant spoke with the nurse on duty who consulted with the doctor on call, who concurred with Trish and said the RFDS would need to be called in and I along with Henry, would be flown from Leigh Creek to either Adelaide or Port Augusta.

Ned the barman offered to drive Henry and I up to Leigh Creek and a lovely couple from Sydney, Rosie and Mark, who were also staying the night at the Prairie Hotel, offered to drive our vehicle south in the morning.

Looking wistfully at our unslept-in beds, Henry and I repacked our bags and headed north with Ned in the Barrmobile.

Ned the barman and Henry at Leigh Creek hospital

Doctor Jenny and the nursing staff at Leigh Creek hospital greeted us when we arrived and tried their best to make me feel comfortable, however, a long, uncomfortable night ensued. I was unable to sleep as I was spitting up saliva every ten to fifteen minutes.
Not quite the Thursday night I had envisaged

The RFDS was due between 6 and 7am but another medical emergency diverted the plane to William Creek, 320km north west of Leigh Creek. Paramedics, Matt and Dan picked us up around 11am and drove Henry and I out to the airport where we watched the RFDS’s Pilatus PC-12 come in to land.
The Flying Doctor, coming into Leigh Creek

Dan and Matt, wheeling me to the plane
The Royal Flying Doctor Service originated in Cloncurry, Queensland on the 15th May 1928. Instigated by Presbyterian Church minister, the Rev John Flynn. Today it is one of the largest and most comprehensive aero medical organisations in the world. Servicing an area of more than 7,000,000 km2 and flying more than 26,000,000 km each year, the RFDS provides 24hr emergency medical assistance to rural and remote Australia. Relying heavily on fundraising and donations from the community to purchase and medically-equip its aircraft, the RFDS is pretty much at the top of my list for noble causes and one I’m glad to have donated to over the years.

We met Neil, the pilot, RFDS Flight Nurse, Jacqui and onboard patient Ben and his girlfriend Liz.
Onto the plane with Neil the pilot and Jacqui the Flight Nurse

Ben and Liz were both pilots based at William Creek and in a somewhat bizarre coincidence; Ben also has meat stuck in his throat. In his case, roast pork. Flight Nurse Jacqui said she saw about one esophageal obstruction per year and to have two from two different locations on the same flight was unheard of.
Scenic Flight over Flinders Ranges courtesy of the RFDS

After a very scenic flight down to Port Augusta, we were transported to the hospital and operating theatre where both Ben’s roast pork and my goat were successfully removed. About five minutes before I was wheeled into surgery, Mark and Rosie arrived en route from the Prairie Hotel to the Barossa Valley with the Barrmobile and handed over my keys.
Ben getting unloaded to an awaiting ambulance in Port Augusta

Driving through the Mallee on our way to Mildura
Henry and I spent the night in Port Augusta where we both enjoyed a good night’s sleep before motoring off in the morning for Barham… 840km later we were home from our very memorable microadventure in time for dinner, which in my case was soup.

Forrest Gump’s Momma was right.

Annie Barr

Almost home: Boundary Bend on the Murray River... two hour's driving to go