Stocked up, fuelled up and psyched up, we were ready to launch up the Great Central Road (GCR), into the ‘Great Beyond’. Here’s how it unfolded.
Day 1 (310km) out of Laverton wasn’t too bad, an unsealed road of fine gravel and soft, sandy corrugations, with a couple of attractions – the colourful Giles Breakaway and the waterholes (dry) at White Cross – that afforded the opportunity to stretch our legs and view the surrounding mulga country. During the course of the day, we spotted one wedge-tailed eagle, one goanna and thirty-nine car wrecks. We overnighted in the camping area behind the Tjukayirla Roadhouse, which takes its name from some nearby rockholes. About 5km from the roadhouse, caves in an escarpment contain Aboriginal rock art believed to be between 5000-8000 years old. The local people were unaware of their existence before their discovery in 2007, and do not know who might have painted them.
Day 2 (470km) started out well enough, with dirt like yesterday interspersed with a couple of long sections of excellent bitumen (quite incongruous in the middle of nowhere) and more under construction with detours that were better than the actual track. But any hopes of a dream run up the GCR were dashed as we approached Warburton – the nearer we got, the worse the road became.
Warburton is the centre of the very large and extremely isolated Ngaanyatjarra Aboriginal Reserve, part of the Western Desert Cultural Bloc, with a record of human habitation going back some 10,000 years. In 2005, the Federal Court delivered the largest Native Title determination in Australian history by granting the Ngaanyatjarra claim to over 187,000 sq.km of Western Australia (almost 3% of the continent). The Aboriginal people of the Western Desert were nomadic, but this changed with the arrival of missionaries and the beginning of a ‘settlement’ at Warburton in 1933 – named after explorer Peter Warburton, the first European to cross the Great Sandy Desert.
We refueled and ate lunch in the car (there being no picnic facility in the neighbourhood), before resuming our journey on a road that grew appreciably worse with every passing mile. We had thought to stay the night at the Yarla Kutjarra campground about 80km up the road but it turned out to be an unpleasant dustbowl with no shade or shelter from the wind, so we pressed on a further 120km to Warakurna Roadhouse, part of the Yarnangu Aboriginal community. By now it was late in the day – later in fact than we had realised because somewhere along the track we had gained an hour and a half in time (now on Central Standard Time) – and the roadhouse was closed. Fortunately, the camping area was easily accessible and we were able to set up with a glorious sunset happening in the background. Today we logged two camels, two wild dogs and seventy-seven car wrecks.