CARAVANS, LEN BEADELL AND THE SANDY BLIGHT

WORDS AND IMAGES GREG CARTAN

Do we have our ‘just deserts’?

Would you tow a van over a track that Len Beadell described as “one of the longest and most arduous towing operations in the history of Australia, if not indeed for the rest of the world”?

Len Beadell’s “desert cavalcade” was the inspiration to take our own little group over the Sandy Blight. He cut the Sandy Blight Junction Road in 1960. The usual Len story: dozer, grader, supply vehicles and a crew working through remote Australian bush. Truly a legend that man. He finished that section and headed west ploughing through the scrub building the Gary Junction Road. He encountered a few significant hurdles, including a broken grader, a burned-out ration truck and snapped caravan hitch. He ‘about-faced’ and started the 700 or so kilometres to Giles.

This included the 330km on the Sandy Blight, which he’d only completed about six months prior; he described his team as “the absolute first user of the new access.” He used the dozer to tow the grader and other bits and pieces of the gear. He reckoned this was “the longest bulldozer ‘walk’ and towing operation in history of central Australia”, averaging 3km/h which was about 35km per day.

Admittedly, we would be in slightly better condition than Len was, so our experience is not a valid comparison. But it makes for a good story over a campfire and few reds.

TRAVEL Sandy Blight Junction Road

Track-side camp among the spinifex

Helpful information from Len. Yes it is a steep pinch; not for towing

Did I mention there were a few flies in attendance at the water pump?

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THE SANDY BLIGHT JUNCTION ROAD
The southern end of the track (and it is a track, not a road) departs the Great Central Road just west of Docker River. This is about 230km west of Yulara, on mostly unsealed road. The track ends north, close to Kintore on the Gary Junction Road (about 520km west of Alice Springs). There’s a small closed community along the way, but no other signs of civilisation. It skips along the NT WA border. Total distance is about 330km on the track and about 1000 total from Yulara to Alice Springs. So it’s a fair hike mostly on unsealed surfaces, some quite rough.

How tough is it? Well, if you have some experience on bush tracks, it’s not too bad. But if this would be your first sortie onto remote, unsealed, tracks then, you might find it very challenging. The track itself varies a lot. Some sections follow the swales between dunes, others are more open, there are some dunes to negotiate, rocky creek crossings, and so on. You’ll be driving on corrugations (not horrendous but still bouncy), some sand, some rocks and stretches of hard flat surface. But with appropriate tyre pressure (I ran low 20s on both van and vehicle), moderate speed and a close eye on the changing track surfaces it’s very do-able. Assuming of course your van and vehicle are up to it.

ABOVE The track is rocky and rough in places // BELOW A great way to end the day

ABOVE Love those colours

Plenty of firewood; duelling chainsaws

Only one watering hole but the pump worked well, and water quality was pretty good

Happy hour warm up

“A jar of pickled onions went walkabout … not bad for 300km of crappy track”

TOURS

VIEW

READ THE REVIEW

SEE THE RANGE
SITE 212

THE RIGS
Our lead vehicle was an Iveco 4X4; a seriously big, heavy-duty beast, plus two Toyotas – a 79 Series cab-chassis and a 200 Series – all decked-out for the bush. Finally, a near-new Lexus – yup, its first serious run. The vans were all Trakmasters. I’m biased, but they are tough, and we were confident that with a cautious approach, and no ridiculously soft sand, we’d get through. So, all rigs were pretty solid, and we’d had a fair bit of remote driving experience. We experienced a few very minor mishaps: a jar of pickled onions went walkabout making a stinky mess and a shelf broke on one fridge. Not bad for 300km of crappy track. No punctures.

ABOVE AND BELOW On the go!

ABOVE An Iveco 4X4 plus a 20-foot Trakmaster is a BIG rig!

Doesn’t take much to stop a heavy rig in sand

Only needed to use the once; but was very handy

ALONG THE WAY
We were in no rush. It’s a lovely drive, past desert oaks, spinifex, mulga, red sands, deep-blue sky, and very little traffic (maybe 10 vehicles in total). And we stopped regularly for smoko, to take in the stillness, and to check out Len Beadell’s markers. First up, we stayed two nights at a site near Pangkupirri Rockhole. Nice shade, plenty of wood, rough parking bays and a short walk to the rockhole. Not much water but some rock art on display. We had two more camps just off the track. Water of a reasonable standard was available from a pump about halfway along the track. No-one had any problems with it, but we kept it separate from drinking water; just caution.

Fuel is available at Docker River and Kintore. I recommend filling up at Yulara and topping up at each opportunity. We had no problems with contaminated fuel. But it’s not cheap anywhere out there. The big diesels chewed through the juice (up to 30L/100km) and the four-cylinder Iveco around 18.

We used live tracking, running Westprint and Hema maps. A satellite phone is a must. We always run a UHF on scan to pick up anyone else in the neighbourhood, especially oncoming on the sections of low visibility winding track. Vehicle and van must be in top condition especially tyres and shocks. And a healthy swag of spares and tools.

ABOVE Camp near the Rockhole is a ripper // BELOW The track into the Pangkupirri Rockhole

As I said at the outset, Len Beadell did it a lot tougher than us! But the remoteness and the rough sections of track added up to a challenging, but not daunting, trip. Read the Beadell books, have a look at the maps and head out there!

BELOW The book that details the construction of the Sandy Blight Junction Road, by Len Beadell. Travelling at less than walking pace, the convoy pictured set off for 300-odd km of towing. And people complain about getting stuck behind a van at 80km/h. You can look for original versions of Lens' books, like me, or you can visit the source in one spot here - Tim Scott, Ed, RV Daily

BELOW Love those desert oaks. They sound amazing in the wind too

PLANNING
This is definitely a winter trip – maybe May through August.

You’ll need a few permits. From the Central Lands Council (NT) you’ll need a permit to travel from Uluru to the WA border just west of Docker River, for the final 110km of the track and then the return section of the Gary Junction back to the Tanami Road.

Then from the WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage a permit for the bottom section of the track and for the section of the Great Central if you want to take a look at Warakurna.

Central Lands Council

WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage

Len Beadell Outback Highways, 1979 Lansdowne Publishing (all quotes are from this source)

WORDS AND IMAGES GREG CARTAN

TRAVEL Sandy Blight Junction Road

Len Beadell’s “desert cavalcade” was the inspiration to take our own little group over the Sandy Blight. He cut the Sandy Blight Junction Road in 1960. The usual Len story: dozer, grader, supply vehicles and a crew working through remote Australian bush. Truly a legend that man. He finished that section and headed west ploughing through the scrub building the Gary Junction Road. He encountered a few significant hurdles, including a broken grader, a burned-out ration truck and snapped caravan hitch. He ‘about-faced’ and started the 700 or so kilometres to Giles.

This included the 330km on the Sandy Blight, which he’d only completed about six months prior; he described his team as “the absolute first user of the new access.” He used the dozer to tow the grader and other bits and pieces of the gear. He reckoned this was “the longest bulldozer ‘walk’ and towing operation in history of central Australia”, averaging 3km/h which was about 35km per day.

Admittedly, we would be in slightly better condition than Len was, so our experience is not a valid comparison. But it makes for a good story over a campfire and few reds.

CARAVANS, LEN BEADELL AND THE SANDY BLIGHT

Would you tow a van over a track that Len Beadell described as “one of the longest and most arduous towing operations in the history of Australia, if not indeed for the rest of the world”?

Do we have our ‘just deserts’?

Track-side camp among the spinifex

Helpful information from Len. Yes it is a steep pinch; not for towing

Did I mention there were a few flies in attendance at the water pump?

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

THE SANDY BLIGHT JUNCTION ROAD
The southern end of the track (and it is a track, not a road) departs the Great Central Road just west of Docker River. This is about 230km west of Yulara, on mostly unsealed road. The track ends north, close to Kintore on the Gary Junction Road (about 520km west of Alice Springs). There’s a small closed community along the way, but no other signs of civilisation. It skips along the NT WA border. Total distance is about 330km on the track and about 1000 total from Yulara to Alice Springs. So it’s a fair hike mostly on unsealed surfaces, some quite rough.

How tough is it? Well, if you have some experience on bush tracks, it’s not too bad. But if this would be your first sortie onto remote, unsealed, tracks then, you might find it very challenging. The track itself varies a lot. Some sections follow the swales between dunes, others are more open, there are some dunes to negotiate, rocky creek crossings, and so on. You’ll be driving on corrugations (not horrendous but still bouncy), some sand, some rocks and stretches of hard flat surface. But with appropriate tyre pressure (I ran low 20s on both van and vehicle), moderate speed and a close eye on the changing track surfaces it’s very do-able. Assuming of course your van and vehicle are up to it.

ABOVE Love those colours

ABOVE The track is rocky and rough in places // BELOW A great way to end the day

Plenty of firewood; duelling chainsaws

Only one watering hole but the pump worked well, and water quality was pretty good

Happy hour warm up

“A jar of pickled onions went walkabout … not bad for 300km of crappy track”

TOURS

VIEW

READ THE REVIEW

SEE THE RANGE
SITE 212

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

THE RIGS
Our lead vehicle was an Iveco 4X4; a seriously big, heavy-duty beast, plus two Toyotas – a 79 Series cab-chassis and a 200 Series – all decked-out for the bush. Finally, a near-new Lexus – yup, its first serious run. The vans were all Trakmasters. I’m biased, but they are tough, and we were confident that with a cautious approach, and no ridiculously soft sand, we’d get through. So, all rigs were pretty solid, and we’d had a fair bit of remote driving experience. We experienced a few very minor mishaps: a jar of pickled onions went walkabout making a stinky mess and a shelf broke on one fridge. Not bad for 300km of crappy track. No punctures.

ABOVE An Iveco 4X4 plus a 20-foot Trakmaster is a BIG rig!

ABOVE AND BELOW On the go!

Doesn’t take much to stop a heavy rig in sand

Only needed to use the once; but was very handy

ABOVE Camp near the Rockhole is a ripper // BELOW The track into the Pangkupirri Rockhole

ALONG THE WAY
We were in no rush. It’s a lovely drive, past desert oaks, spinifex, mulga, red sands, deep-blue sky, and very little traffic (maybe 10 vehicles in total). And we stopped regularly for smoko, to take in the stillness, and to check out Len Beadell’s markers. First up, we stayed two nights at a site near Pangkupirri Rockhole. Nice shade, plenty of wood, rough parking bays and a short walk to the rockhole. Not much water but some rock art on display. We had two more camps just off the track. Water of a reasonable standard was available from a pump about halfway along the track. No-one had any problems with it, but we kept it separate from drinking water; just caution.

Fuel is available at Docker River and Kintore. I recommend filling up at Yulara and topping up at each opportunity. We had no problems with contaminated fuel. But it’s not cheap anywhere out there. The big diesels chewed through the juice (up to 30L/100km) and the four-cylinder Iveco around 18.

We used live tracking, running Westprint and Hema maps. A satellite phone is a must. We always run a UHF on scan to pick up anyone else in the neighbourhood, especially oncoming on the sections of low visibility winding track. Vehicle and van must be in top condition especially tyres and shocks. And a healthy swag of spares and tools.

BELOW Love those desert oaks. They sound amazing in the wind too

As I said at the outset, Len Beadell did it a lot tougher than us! But the remoteness and the rough sections of track added up to a challenging, but not daunting, trip. Read the Beadell books, have a look at the maps and head out there!

BELOW The book that details the construction of the Sandy Blight Junction Road, by Len Beadell. Travelling at less than walking pace, the convoy pictured set off for 300-odd km of towing. And people complain about getting stuck behind a van at 80km/h. You can look for original versions of Lens' books, like me, or you can visit the source in one spot here - Tim Scott, Ed, RV Daily

PLANNING
This is definitely a winter trip – maybe May through August.

You’ll need a few permits. From the Central Lands Council (NT) you’ll need a permit to travel from Uluru to the WA border just west of Docker River, for the final 110km of the track and then the return section of the Gary Junction back to the Tanami Road.

Then from the WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage a permit for the bottom section of the track and for the section of the Great Central if you want to take a look at Warakurna.

Central Lands Council

WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage

Len Beadell Outback Highways, 1979 Lansdowne Publishing (all quotes are from this source)

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