In Marree there are a few places that are a ‘must visit’. First is a visit to see Lyle Oldfield for fuel at the Oasis Café. I’m not even sure that the current building is called the Oasis but you won’t miss it. Marree is not that big. There is always a collection of something on display in the shop and if Lyle is around you won’t miss him either. It is always interesting to have a wander around town, have a look at the old trains and other evidence of time gone by. Time for us to stop at the phone box with a handful of change and just check that all is well at Westprint and then head to the pub for morning coffee. The Marree Hotel is a heritage listed two storey stone building built in 1883. Phil and Maz Turner have done a great job with the Tom Kruse room full of memorabilia from the outback mailman. Another of the rooms has a great display of local artwork and they are working on a McDouall Stuart display.

Phil is a great source of local information and a booking agent for flights over Lake Eyre and Cooper Creek. As we chatted to Phil there was an endless stream of visitors looking for information and a chat. We discovered during the wind storm last night a poptop type caravan had its roof ripped off by the wind and the framework on a camper trailer was destroyed. I was surprised by the number of people who came in asking for water to fill the tanks on their caravans. Phil assured me that this was common, most people don’t realise that water is both limited and very expensive in Marree. He went on to say that those who came and asked for water were not a problem but some just hook up a hose to the hotel tap. One bloke had come in recently and put 400 litres into his Winnebago tanks. I don’t think I would be too magnanimous if someone came and hooked up to my garden tap and did that.

The wind was starting to die down as we left Marree. Our next stop wasn’t a delivery but to go for a walk and try to locate a blaze tree.

blaze tree

The blaze tree

Blaze Tree NM-H-168

Blaze Tree NM-H-168

big prickle

We did locate the tree but in doing so discovered the biggest prickles I have ever seen.

Natmap Survey Marks information from

By 1962 the geodetic survey of Australia had been underway for some ten years. In a paper First Order Angular Control (Johnson, 1962) that year National Mapping’s Senior Geodetic Surveyor H.A. (Bill) Johnson stated: …

“There is no doubt that, without proper supervision, the first aspect of a survey to suffer will be its marking. Remote or awkward stations, which should be the best and most prominently marked of all for future users, because of their very difficult or cost of access, are usually the poorest marked.

This Division [National Mapping] has tried to make a special point of its marking, with due regard to getting materials into distant areas, permanence, ready recognition and future use by other survey authorities and to carrying out daylight observations.

In very flat country, near Mataranka to Newcastle Waters, and across the Nullarbor Plain, 20′ and 30′ galvanized windmill stands have been erected on concrete emplacements, and after use as instrument stands, have been left as future marks. Cairns have been erected, however, wherever possible, with centre poles and vanes.

Some of these new geodetic marks could remain unvisited for generations, but within 5 or 10 years, most future visits will be by helicopter. In all cases, such visits are likely to be more expensive than the initial ones establishing the stations, and it is hoped no time will be lost in finding any such sought for mark by future users”.

This philosophy has meant that many cairns and later beacons still exist today some 50 years later. Not only do these marks exist but apart from natural weathering have not deteriorated significantly.

Survey marks of earlier years are less visible. Being generally wooden posts they have succumbed to ants, rot, fire etc. However, where the survey mark has been cut (blazed) into the living wood of a tree these marks can survive provided of course drought, fire, clearing etc. does not eliminate the tree.

National Mapping’s first surveys to provide control for aerial photography photomaps were a series of Astro-fixes. Dave Hocking’s paper here

covers these surveys and lists the identifiers used in blazing a tree at the site of each Astro-fix. For each Astro-fix a Station Summary was prepared which summarised location and coordinates.

Recent interest in another of Dave’s Astro-fixes NM H 168 north of Etadunna on the Birdsville track, has bought some more information to light. The complete set of Astro-fix summaries was destroyed as not relevant many years ago but copies of Astro-fixes in South Australia still exist.

I recommend that you have a read of Dave Hocking’s paper, even if you are like me and the whole science of latitudes and longitudes makes your eyes glaze over, the pictures and descriptions of working in the bush in the 1940s are a great snapshot of a different way of life.

Our next camp and delivery was at Mungerannie. The camping area was packed! It was hard to find a spot near the creek. After the undercooked couscous from the night before, a good pub meal was in order. Not too many of the campers had made it to the bar and we had a chance to chat to the current owner Phil. The pub is currently for sale and Phil is hoping to be gone before the summer. He’s been out there for nearly 8 years so I reckon that is a long enough stint for anyone. There is lots to look at around Mungerannie. I was pleased to find that the so called piece of ‘artwork’, the large McDonalds sign had been relocated from the Simpson Desert to Mungerannie where it looks much more at home amongst the other eclectic art pieces like the bus stop and traffic lights. Tom Kruse’s old truck and a couple of other old relics are there but the main drawcard for me are the hot artesian spa and the birdlife on the wetlands from the bore overflow. The colors of early morning on the sandhills with birds everywhere is spectacular. This was our last fuel and shower stop before heading across the Simpson but just before we headed to the showers Phil told us there was a problem with the hot water (i.e. there was none). Graeme braved the cold shower but I headed down to the bore overflow for a long (soapless) soak in the outdoor artesian hot tub. It was magnificent, relaxing in the tub, watching the birds…and then I realised that I had to get out and dressed. Even at Mungerannie the mornings aren’t very warm in mid-August and it was a quick transition from the pool to the 4WD.


Mungerannie sunset


Mungerannie waterhole

Part 3. The Desert.