After two nights camped on green lawn under shady trees at the G’Day Mate Caravan Park in Alice Springs, our plan was to head north and turn left onto the Buchanan Highway to take a short cut to Timber Creek but more importantly, take a road we had not travelled before. Unfortunately, maintenance that was on the to do list before leaving home had caught up with us and required plan “B” being put into action and a visit to Katherine was now on the cards. Shot batteries and some dodgey Chinese circuit breakers were identified as the problem. Terry the mobile Auto Electrician and Bazz had us back on the road again quickly.
Wikicamps users had extolled the virtues of Top Springs at the intersection of the Buchanan and Buntine Highways. They spoke of “the cleanest place between Kununura and Adelaide, friendly staff, great pub and good facilities”. Then there was reference to a “Wolf Creek vibe”. It all sounded like somewhere worth a visit so we detoured south from the Victoria Highway for the night.
Muff (a large man with an even larger beard – hence the Wolf Creek reference we suspect) and Pauline greeted us at the pub and showed us to the camping area, which certainly lived up to expectations. We noticed a couple of road trains with cattle crates as we arrived and were advised by Muff that there were more due soon, he hoped their generators wouldn’t disturb us. We assured him we would be right and continued setting up. and asked about waterholes nearby. For us waterholes mean bird life, which elicited the response “geez mate the only birds we get close to are the ones we pull out of the truck grill”.
As happy hour approached we ventured into the pub with cameras ready intent on photographing the trucks at sunset. Jason and Stumpy struck up a conversation at the bar. The vehicles belonging to Road Trains Australia (RTA) were gathering at the crossing for a rare night off before being given assignments that might take them anywhere across the Northern Territory. Big Muff was the barman, manager and ex trucker himself. There was a real camaraderie amongst these outback truckers and the conversations just got louder and louder. As keen “birders” we asked if there were any waterholes in the area. Muff launched into descriptions of at least two then Bazz asked if there were any birds there. Well, you could have heard a pin drop. Muff slowly shook his head and rolled his eyes “I’ve been asked about waterholes by blokes that want to fish or set pots for yabbies’ but this is the first time anyone has ever asked me about BIRDS” he said. Another trucker, Stumpy looked at Fran and commented that the only time he had ever been close to a bird was when he was pulling them out of the grill of his truck. There was an uncomfortable moment or two while we explained our interest in birds and especially some of those from their area, the Brolga, Jabiru, Bee-eaters etc. Eventually they realized we were worth talking too and the talk returned to subjects they were more familiar with. Some of the guys we met were:
Alan Bennett who has worked for RTA for 5 years and he is a FIFO trucker. With his wife Vivien and kids Elly and Troy living in Suvic Bay in the Phillipines, Alan spends about three months a year, depending on the season working in the Territory and transporting cattle across Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory.
Greg has been driving for 35 years and also had a couple of years at sea working as a stockman on a cattle boat. Driving trucks is the only thing he ever wanted to do. He has a couple of kids and grandkids in Darwin so the Territory is home to him.
Jason Grundy is from down south, Lucindale area, but he has been driving trucks for 13 years and was lured North by the weather and the lifestyle. He is hoping that wife Sinea and his three kids will join him in Darwin soon.
Stumpy used to manage Kilarny Station but his mate was working for RTA and he likes the lifestyle of a trucker so he came across to RTA.
Stumpy and Jason
These blokes get to see the most remote parts of the Country. Alan explained, “You’d only take a 4 wheel drive down these roads if it was stolen or a rental”. The places they go aren’t marked on maps and are sign-posted in corrugated iron attached to star droppers by the side of dusty two wheel tracks. When they are there the Station Owners look after them well. When they are on the road the trucks are mobile homes complete with fridges, freezers, microwaves and comfortable sleeping quarters.
The road less travelled definitely was the best road for us.