Crossing the Nullarbor


The author on the Nullarbor Plain


NASA satellite image of the Nullarbor Plains (public domain)

A Brisbane lawyer I know who is an ‘Australia all Over’ listener came over at a corporate function one time to say he’d heard ‘Underneath the Story Bridge’ on Macca again. “So tell me,” he said, “Are you responsible for “Not Bloody Golf Again”? (A popular tune performed by Frankie Davidson and the late Dawn Lake). He seemed agreeably pleased to hear I didn’t write the song, probably because the corporate world is serious about its golf and doesn’t like anybody dissing (Gen Y speak for disrespecting), the sport.
I was musing about the people I know who do enjoy a good round of golf when we started crossing the Nullarbor this week. The Eyre Highway Operators Association has come up with up with a magnificent tourism gimmick – the world’s longest golf course. The Nullarbor Links is an 18-hole, Par 72 course spread over 1,365 kilometres. You tee off at Kalgoorlie in WA, then throw the clubs in the car and drive a good few hundred kilometres to the next hole at Norseman. And so on across the Eyre Highway, playing one hole in each participating town or roadhouse all the way to Ceduna in South Australia. And good luck to them.
We started our run back east on Sunday, travelling from Lake Douglas Recreation Park, a quiet free camp some 12kms to the west of Kalgoorlie. We did a whistle stop tour of Kalgoorlie (the museum, the Super Pit (500m deep open cut gold mine), the Arboretum and the 24/7 IGA) and then drove to and through Norseman to Fraser Range Station. We’d become so used to good weather on this trip we failed to notice the huge low system developing across the south west. Many places had rain – some even had 40mm! But the rain came with strong, squally storms and wind gusts of up to 100kmh.
Fortunately, Fraser Range Station had good sheltered van sites so we more or less slept through the night.
After Fraser Range – beautiful granite country and part of south west WA’s vast hardwood eucalypt forest, we drove on to Cocklebiddy, another roadhouse outpost.
We got through the journey quickly (tail wind). It was so windy in Cocklebiddy (population 8), that we left the roof down on our pop-top caravan and went to the roadhouse for fish and chips (me) and lamb shanks(ed). Tuesday it was still windy, though not quite as extreme. We got up early and headed to Eucla, the first stop on the eastward crossing where you can easily get to the beach. The ruins of the Eucla Telegraph Station lie half buried in sand dunes about 4 kms down the hill from Eucla Pass. We drove to the end of the road and walked to the ruins, marvelling at the stoicism of the first Telegraph Station keeper, living way out on a salty windswept plain surrounded by white sand dunes. In 1877 the operator sent his first message: “The Eucla line is open. Hoorah!”
We walked on another 500 metres or so to a desolate beach on the Southern Ocean – thankful to get back to the car after navigating our way through disorienting salt pans, sand dunes and scrub.
Australians tend to refer to all of the land between Perth and Adelaide as ‘The Nullarbor’, but if you look at the NASA satellite photograph (left), the Nullarbor Plain is the pale brown semi-circle bounded by the Southern Ocean to the south and the Great Victorian Desert to the north. It’s big, though − 200,000 square kilometres of flat, arid and virtually treeless land. It encompasses part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, where the military has tested weapons over the last 60-plus years.
It’s not a Lawrence of Arabia-type desert. This one has saltbush, bluebush, Mallee and other hardy plants, not to mention birds, reptiles and other fauna. If you are interested in nature, conservation, bush walking, bird watching, palaeontology, botany, geology or Australian history, you could spend a year on the Nullarbor and still not be bored.
If you are on a drive (some guide books depict this as Australia’s ultimate road trip, akin to Route 66 in the US), then be aware, it is a gruelling trip. The road is in very good nick, but dead straight in many places, including the “90-Mile Straight” – 146.6 kms between Balladonia and Caiguna.
Ah, so many impressions: a P-plater out for a drive with Dad − a sort of white fella desert initiation, I guess. Cyclists cross the Nullarbor – the smart ones wear fluorescent safety vests and do their riding in the early hours of the day. Birds of prey don’t stray much from their hunting zone, but they are always there. We saw a wedge tail eagle that, intent on a road kill breakfast, only just escaped our front bumper bar. There was a big male emu outside Eucla picking his way through the foliage with six or even eight chicks trailing behind. We saw several Southern Right whales and calves frolicking in the Southern Ocean just off the Head of Bight, a conservation park with a boardwalk and lookouts just 12kms off the highway. From there you can also see ancient sand dunes and the epic Bunda Cliffs.
But each to their own − some are on a journey, some are just driving, and some are on a deadline, delivering goods from one state to another. We encountered many a road train, but no scary moments with these.
We saw a convoy of Model T Fords on their way to a convention in Busselton and just yesterday chatted with a woman who is driving solo from WA to Strathalbyn in South Australia for the Australian sheepdog championships (towing a caravan and carrying eight dogs in a cage on the back of the ute).
Many people use the Nullarbor Crossing as a way to raise funds for charity. We met a group of seniors riding 50cc scooters from Port Augusta to Perth to raise awareness about depression and suicide.
At the first lookout where you can see the eroded cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, we met a man in his 50s on a pilgrimage and taking Mum and Dad along for the ride. “I did it years ago in an XY Falcon with three Aussies and three Germans,” he said. Dad was walking slowly with a stick, but he got to the lookout and you could see how happy son was to relive his epic trip and share the joy with his folks.
They got back into his shiny red Falcon sedan and off they went, down the Eyre Highway towards the Nullarbor Roadhouse, watching out for wandering stock, camels, emus, wombats and kangaroos.

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Randall Mathews
Randall Mathews
September 13, 2014 3:22 am

Thanks Bob, well written. Thanks Ed.

I’d just like to tell you a little of my experiences, namely, doing the trip from Whyalla to Perth….by pushbike, by motorbike, by hitch hiking (several times), by bus, by car, by car and caravan, by truck, and by air. Maybe I’ll walk it one day….The camping out under the stars was the best bit.