“My mate was killed in a car crash, he never got to finish this track … so I did it for him”
Words and Images by Todd Hore
It was a few months ago that a mate of mine, Peter – aka Mr Rum – who I met through four-wheel driving, attempted to drive the Talawana Track. Unfortunately he and his wife were forced to turn back very near to the end due to flooding. When planning a trip of my own, I picked Mr Rum’s brain a couple of times. Finally the time came and I was super excited to finish this track and to share the pictures and stories with Mr Rum. Unfortunately, when I first came into phone service after completing the track, I found out that Mr Rum had been killed in a car accident while four-wheel driving in the Victorian High Country at the same time as I was completing the Talawana. So Rummy, wherever you are, I hope you can read this and see the pictures that I was so keen to show you.
ONE LAST SPLASH BEFORE THE DESERT
This trip starts in Newman, WA where there is a last chance to grab any supplies you might need. About 25km out of Newman is the turnoff to Kalgan Pool, which was to be camp for night one. A rough and corrugated track leads to some of the most stunning desert campsites I’ve ever seen. There is a flowing creek that needs to be crossed several times and some of these ‘crossings’ are actually drives up the creek for over 100m. At the time of our visit, the pool itself was deep but not flowing. Even dry, the gorge was stunning with high red cliffs surrounding. A short run out on the tar took us to the turnoff towards Balfour Downs. This was a good quality dirt road with some pretty landscapes and, apart from a few vehicles heading the other way, nothing really to consider on the driving front. I didn’t realise at the time, but those few vehicles would be more significant than imagined.
THE TALAWANA WEST
Once at the Balfour Downs gate, the actual Talawana Track begins. The west section is generally wide and in reasonable condition for such a remote road. The most striking thing about this section was the rapidly changing landscapes. One minute it would be rocky with small bushes, the next it would be red sand as far as the eye could see. Passing the old Talwana Station ruins, there was a bore that flowed into a pool that then overflowed into a drainage channel. This would be the only fresh water source we would see for the next three days. The cattle hanging around the bore looked in good condition and it was obviously doing the job of keeping them well-watered.
A broken windmill lay on the ground here that was probably used in the past to extract groundwater. Further along there were a series of posts that were likely to be uprights for a barn or shed. The conditions out here are harsh and you would need no further evidence of that than a walk around this area to see the man-made structures that haven’t stood the test of time. One thing that has lasted out here is the original drum used to erect the Talawana Track plaque to Len Beadell in 1963. A replica plaque has since been attached but that rusty old drum still stands there as a reminder of the man himself and those that helped build this track.
THE RUDALL (NOT MUCH OF A) RIVER
After the previous night where water was a-plenty, camping along a river seemed like a good idea. The Rudall River was only 50km or so off the track so should be worth an explore to find a nice camp. There is meant to be a bore with a hand pump located not far along the track in to Rudall River. Unfortunately the pump was gone and all that remained was an open PVC pipe on a small concrete slab. Onwards towards the river and the track changed almost immediately. The corrugations became worse and the track narrowed. As the slow drive continued, a mountain range rose out of the desert and appeared to be about where the river would lay. This makes sense and is looking good.
On approach to the range, however, I had to cross the river and there was not a drop of water to be seen. This river was dry and had been for some time. Not to be deterred, I aimed for Number 11 pool in the hope that some still water might be there. It was not looking good until, after exploring up and down the river looking for shade more than water, I spotted it. A clear still pool of water under the shade of gums trees. Perfect. Camp that night was very quiet and apart from the birds coming down for a drink at dusk and then dawn the next morning, there was nothing much going on. Just the way I like it.
ONTO TALAWANA PROPER
Back onto the Talawana Track and not far down the track splits with the good, wide dirt road turning off towards Parnngurr and two-wheel tracks continuing on to the adventure of the Talawana Track proper. From here the track is unmaintained and only single vehicle width, which is fine. What’s less fine was how overgrown the track was. The side mirrors took an absolute pounding to the point where they even got whacked when they were folded in. The passenger side mirror was actually whacked so hard it popped the glass out. Safe to say this track is not for those that are worried about pinstripes. You will get plenty of new ones.
Then there’s the spinifex. In some places it was roof high. Other travellers had obviously been through before as generally the height between the wheel tracks was lower but not always. I had prepared and cut a piece of shade cloth for exactly this purpose based on the experience of Mr Rum. So with that strapped onto the front of the car to deflect the seed and stems wherever possible, progress was made. Regular stops were also made to check underneath for any spinifex collecting. Fortunately there were only a couple of small clumps that were easy to remove. Several reminders to be vigilant about this exist along the track in the form of burnt-out vehicles.
It might sound like I’m having a sook about this track. Not so. All of these factors just make this super remote piece of dirt all the more appealing to an adventurer. It’s tough, it’s tiring and it’s just plain awesome. In sections the track opens up to red sand dunes with wildflowers, which are simply stunning, especially at sunset. The salt pans on this track were unlike anywhere I had seen previously. A thick layer of salt that could easily be mistaken for snow blanketed the salt pans. Some of the pans were still wet from the flooding months earlier and some small water crossings were required. I walked each of these very carefully because the dangers of breaking through a salt crust and into the endless goo beneath were very much at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately all were good and firm and easily negotiated.
THE GIBSON DESERT
What I discovered out here is that the Talawana Track is way less travelled than the adjoining Canning Stock Route. After completing this track I chatted to a guy that got a puncture on the CSR. In the 20 minutes it took him to repair it, five cars had queued behind him and three coming the other way. Remember those few vehicles I mentioned before arriving at Balfour Downs? Those were the last vehicles I had seen in three days.
This is seriously remote country and yes the CSR is probably the pinnacle of challenges out here, but if you want the challenge and also the genuine remoteness, for me, you can’t go past the Talawana Track. It’s everything a remote, tough track should be. I actually got a little emotional on completion and gave the car a big hug. Thanks for getting me through. I know how tough that was on you. It makes me sad thinking that Rummy didn’t get to finish this track and now never will. Life is short and we have to make the most of it. It makes me happy knowing that he did exactly that. In his words, “get off Facebook and get outside, go and live life a little”.