It had been a wildly unpredictable adventure since the departure from Alice Springs nine days ago.
Where we last left off, it was Sunday night at 11:30pm and we had just arrived into Birdsville. With a 40 Series that had been towed for 200kms and a catering trailer that had thrown more tantrums than a 2 year old; the lights of the Birdsville Hotel could not have been met with more solace. Adding further contentment to the simple sight of civilisation was the smell of the late night kitchen, the sound of draught beer pouring into ice cold pint glasses and the welcoming smile of the hotel publican.
After a few celebratory ales to commemorate successfully completing one of the toughest Simpson crossings any of our experienced drivers had ever endured, it was time to hit the hay.
Monday 19th September
Waking up in one of Australia’s most famous outback pubs has a curiously fulfilling and positive effect on the soul. Wandering down the halls towards the dining room for a cooked breakfast, the proposition of sitting at a timber table and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures is a welcome change of pace from the previous three gruelling days of the desert.
A cooked country breakfast, while exceptionally rewarding, was not enough to solve the conundrums that our fleet of eight fourbies and 15 travellers had to solve.
The issues we faced in reverse priority order were:
1. The catering trailer needed some serious TLC to the axle, hub, wheel and tyre.
2. The Shorty 40 needed a new ignition coil.
3. The planned route for the day to Cordillo Downs and the following day’s roads to Innamincka and Cameron Corner were all closed. Furthermore, the Birdsville Track to Mungerannie was closed and most of the south west of Queensland was closed. The only open tracks were north, or (a unanimously inconceivable option) back across the periled Simpson.
After a bit of round table discussion, sipping through our second and third cups of table service java, we came to a suitable conclusion (enforced by a severe lack of options) that we would accept a day of forced confinement. Not only did we have no logical avenue to return to our final destination of Broken Hill, we had some maintenance to do!
The newly dubbed ‘Icons Pit Crew’ got to work, scouring the local 4WD graveyards for a 40 Series LandCruiser ignition coil and painstakingly delivering the trailer (500 metres at a time) to the local workshop for major axle repairs. The remainder of the team took the opportunity to give the Icons and support vehicles a bit of a wash before heading back out to the famous Big Red to get some pics on the Simpson’s largest dune.
A day of layover was well received by both man and machine. Miraculously, the 40 Series coil was acquired and the local workshop restored our catering trailer to its former glory. It was also a great opportunity to dry out the swags.
By nightfall, all reports were that the Birdsville Track leading to Mungerannie would be the best option to continue our adventure tomorrow. Still reminiscing our desert challenge, tales were recited to the locals and travellers to the hotel’s front bar as we all enjoyed a laugh late into the night.
Tuesday 20th September
We woke early, quickly assessing the weather and overnight conditions. After having contacted the local authorities it was confirmed that the road to Mungerannie was open to 4WD vehicles. The roads south of Mungerannie however, were another kettle of fish, but that was a problem for tomorrow.
So with drivers revived and our Icons loaded, clean and looking magnificent we continued our convoy south. With the soft Simpson tracks still fresh in our minds and the feeling of firm packed roads under our wheels, departing Birdsville was a comforting and encouraging feeling. A feeling nonetheless that was short lived.
As we continued south, the tracks again began to show increasing deterioration and the count of water crossings for the trip felt as though it was starting to surpass the count of desert dunes. The soft surface presented some interesting driving conditions to say the least. We had fourbies going this way and that, skating left to right down the road, trying (unsuccessfully) to hold a direct line.
The catering trailer, back to its old tricks, with tyres and axles packed so completely with mud that the wheels couldn’t spin, continued to simply ski in the wake of the 2016 Bt-50.
Thankfully the worst of it was over within 20kms. After 80kms the track conditions vastly improved and the convoy enjoyed a problematic-free drive into a town and outback pub well worth the visit, Mungerannie. Where to from here? That was a question for tomorrow.
Wednesday 21st September
Three consecutive mornings waking up in outback pubs after one of the most exciting Simpson Desert crossings; we were well on the way to fulfilling the aspirational definition of ‘living the dream’. Another outstanding cooked breakfast, some ongoing investigation into track conditions and a brief removal and inspection of the GQ alternator (due to some charging concerns) meant that we were loaded back into the Icons by mid morning.
To quickly recount, the initial plan was to depart Birdsville on Monday the 19th and head down into Cordillo Downs. Tuesday would see us arrive into Innamincka, Wednesday into Cameron Corner and then onto Packsaddle for Friday before passing through Broken Hill and into Eldee Station on Saturday for a day of spectating at the Outback Challenge.
Due to the severity of rainfall in the region, the Outback Challenge had sadly been cancelled, however with transit flights for international travellers still booked out of Broken Hill, there remained a definitive destination and deadline.
We continued our jaunt along the Birdsville Track to Marree which was a simple enough trek, with our destination set in the Hema Navigators for the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna.
As we cruised down the Outback Highway, carefree and taking in the sights, we followed the new Ghan Railway. Interrupting the recently reintroduced pleasure of FM reception came the dulcet tones of Mark ‘Lowmount’ Lowry over the UHF. “Looks like we’ve got a blow out on the 79…. ah… cancel that, I can see the tyre rolling past me… it looks to be in one piece” he laughed as the realisation struck that the left rear wheel and tyre had completely detached from the vehicle and was rolling down the road overtaking the now stationary Cruiser.
So there we were, sidelined in front of the Farina Ruins, around 130kms out of Parachilna and we had a three legged 79 series. The process of losing the wheel had also caused some damage to the studs which was irreparable with what we had available with us. Conveniently stranded beside the Farina Ruins historic site, it was an impromptu yet ideal opportunity for the rest of the group to visit one of the local attractions while we called ahead for a tow truck to get the Cruiser delivered to Cookes Outback Motors in Copley.
As nightfall was imminent and the GQ alternator continued to show charging issues, it was decided to swap the battery out from the new HiLux to help the Patrol find its way to the Prairie Hotel. But with 130-odd kilometres to cover the battery was never fit to make the distance powering a set of powerful Intensity Driving Lights. As night fell the convoy rallied around the dim GQ, trailing closely in its wake and shining a strong spread of Intensity AR32 light down well past the underwhelming spread left bleeding from Patrol. A modern day car with electronic fuel injection and many other electronic aids would simply not survive such an ailment. And therein lies the strengths of our iconic 4WDs with their basic features and mechanical fuel pumps. While otherwise in a dark place, the wheels of the mighty Patrol continued to roll on down the road.
Meanwhile back at Cookes Outback Motors, old mate is prepared and sitting by waiting. He’s got his tub of 100 and 78 series wheel studs ready and the job of getting another fourby back on the tracks seems all too simple.
Another late night upon our weary travellers as we arrived at Parachilna’s Prairie Hotel at around 11:30pm.
With two days comfortably up our sleeves to find our way to Broken Hill, we decided to leave tomorrow’s plans until then.