There are few corner stores around these days, but 7 intrepid shoppers decided to head off in their Mokes, to arguably the most iconic corner store in Australia.
Where is that? Well if you look on a map of Australia and find the border between NSW and Queensland. Follow the border to the west until you hit the South Australian border, the border junction is better known as Camerons Corner, home of The Corner Store.
On Good Friday, at about 10am, I met up with Andrew from Moe in Dinky, Terry in Desert Storm, and Neil in Coxy's moke at the Caltex servo in Wandong. Ready to depart! Well almost, Neil's moke was having a little issue with the crankcase ventilation, so around to my place for a closer look. Problem solved we think, but to make sure we grabbed a spare rocker cover (different type) and a more complete air cleaner. Cleaned up and finally hit the Northern Highway around 11am, heading for Hay, our first stop, to meet up with the rest of the shopping team.
On the way to Echuca, we had to stop a couple of times to refine the running repairs on Neil's moke. Eventually we got it working properly and it gave us no further problems. Refueled in Moama and continued on to Hay, arriving around 4:30pm, to meet up with our fellow shoppers Vicki and Alan in the Red One from the southcoast of NSW and Wayne Smith (Smithy) with Zara (a very lovable Rottweiler) from Newcastle. Set up camp, then on to the courtesy bus to the Hay Bowls Club for a team building dinner; accompanied with some liquid refreshment.
The next morning we were up early to break camp and a little reshuffling of loads. The previous day we found that Neil's alternator was not handling the load of a thermoelectric fridge so we moved it to my moke and Neil carried some of my stuff. This meant I was carrying 2 fridges, a compressor type running as a freezer and the thermoelectric; my alternator had a good workout for the rest of the trip.
Had a look around Hay, did some food shopping, visited the local market before fuelling up to hit the road north. We didn't get far, being a warmer day and also fully loaded made the Red One get a little redder or would have, if we had not stopped. The normal checks indicated that there did not seem to be much water flow out of the radiator, so off with the water pump and thermostat. Everything appeared OK but while a different pump was being fitted, Neil & Smithy took the radiator back to Hay to find someone who could give it a good reverse flush. The boys returned a little later after having some success with the radiator. This was duly fitted and the rest of the engine reassembled.
Time now 2:30pm and we were back on the road with our aim to make Ivanhoe before night fall. Well, we missed our goal by about 20 minutes and decided to stay at the local camping ground; instead of trying to find a bush site for the night. Along the way, the Red One was still running hot but cooler than it had been which Alan was happy about (sort of), however another problem that he thought he had fixed reappeared. Every now and then, the engine would just stop for no apparent reason, all the indications pointed to ignition; however the reason was never found and remained for the rest of the trip.
Sunday morning we started reasonably early, and with a couple of stops for the Red One and fuel top ups: we made Wilcannia around lunch time. A few years back you would avoid even driving through this town, but we had been told that it had been cleaned up and was now reasonably safe. Refilled the Mokes, the jerry cans and ourselves; checked out the Red One's alternator, it was indicating low output, but decided to push on. BTW the price of fuel here was $2.10/L for 98oct: the most expensive for the trip.
On the way to White Cliffs the clouds were starting to build and, by the time we got there, the sky looked very threatening. Quick look around and a team meeting, question - do we stay here and if it rains this is were we stay? or push on to Milparinka and try and beat the rain. The Mokes with small fuel tanks topped up, we headed to Milparinka, 235 klm of mainly dirt roads. We stopped at the end of the black stuff to lower the tyre pressures and just to the north of us, about 2 or 3 klm away, was a dust storm (browny red) and a rain cell (darkish grey) side by side. On seeing this, everyone, I think, quietly thought to themselves “are we doing the right thing”: Stuff it! full steam ahead.
We got to the Silver City Hwy just before dusk: having managed to dodge the rain; although the road was a little damp in places and the Mokes were a few kilos heavier from the caked on mud. Terry who was lead car for this leg zigged instead of zagged going through a small causeway, the result, a layer of mud from the top of the windscreen to the bottom of the grill. At the junction of Whipstick Rd (road from White Cliffs and the Silver City Hwy is the tool tree, a hills cloths line with tools of all types hanging from it with a sign saying please don't water. With 70klm still to run we pushed on, being entertained along the way by mother nature with a beautiful sunset in the east and a fireworks display, at the same time, from a storm off to the north east. As the darkness closed in the rain came down, we just made it into Milparinka before the causeway on the access road, became impassable I think we created a little bit of interest, as everyone in the pub came out onto the verandah to have a look.
We met up with the volunteer caretakers of the camping and historical area, at which point Terry turned on the charm and secured the restored court house as our sleeping quarters. After setting up our bedding, it was over to the pub for dinner. A meal of giant proportions, a real country pub meal.
Monday morning and as we expected all of the roads were closed. Everywhere you looked was just a sea of mud, even a short walk to the toilet block had you growing by 3 inches. Resigned to the fact we were not going anywhere until at least Wednesday we made ourselves comfortable and kept ourselves amused with whatever we could find. Towards the end of the day the ground in the immediate area was starting to dry out which made it a little easier to move around.
Tuesday we were greeted with finer weather although still overcast. At least the ground was becoming firm again except where it had been churned up. A couple of us walked down to the causeway to inspect it just as a 4 x 4 crossed it, he got through but the climb out had him sliding and wheel spinning. There was no way a Moke was going to get out without some assistance.
In the afternoon we decided to try and see if we could get out to Poole's Grave and Depot Glen. A couple for 4 x 4s came in from that direction earlier in the day, and they told us no way a Moke will get passed the first creek crossing. When we got to the crossing they were right, however, not to be beaten we worked out a windy but dry way across, 20 or so metres from the road. James Poole was Charles Sturt's second in command on his 1845 expedition and Depot Glen was the base camp for 6 months at the last water hole, during the drought in late 1845.
Wednesday morning, good news, the road north was open so we packed up and headed to Tibooburra, a shortish 42klm run over a road that was not too bad for the conditions. We parked the Mokes under the town sign, which is located on a small hill overlooking the town, for a photo shoot. At the same time a car pulled up and changed the road closure sign, to all closed. “Botheration said Poo bear sadly”. We wandered into town, fueled up and then had a look around. Finally, all congregating on the verandah of the pub. In the meantime Alan had found the number for the NSW RTA information service and the recording stated that the road to Camerons Corner was open with caution. Another phone call to the RTA, to talk to a person and they double checked, yes, the road was open but should be approached with caution.
Off we went making it to the Corner. an hour or so before sunset and, yes! the road was very rough in places but keeping the speed down all was good. The road crosses the Mokely creek so we had to stop for a photo shoot. Someone did suggest we should unbolt the sign, but we thought better of it. The camping fee structure at the Corner is a little different than at other camping areas; it is $5 for each vehicle, $5 for each person and $5 for each person wanting a shower. However, there is a twist, once you pay your money you are handed back a $5 note with a drawing pin through it wrapped around a 20 cent coin. The aim is you have to throw it up and get it to stick in the ceiling. What happens to the money? Once a year the ceiling is stripped and all of the money, (has been as high as $8000+), goes to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Yes, we all did the touristy thing 3 states at once etc.
Thursday was an early start as we were heading down to Silverton via the fence road and wanted to get there before dark. You cannot drive on the actual fence road and heavy fines are imposed if you get caught, but there is a road that runs basically parallel to the fence that services the few pastoral properties along the way. Topped up the fuel tanks and off we headed, back tracking towards Tibooburra before heading south. Not sure what the fuel was at the Corner but some of the Mokes were not happy, no big problems, but they did not want to idle and were running a little rough.
The road in places is very good but most of it is corrugated with some sections very rough, like first or second gear to find a way through. It was 4:00pm and we had been making reasonable good progress with 100 klm still to run; when Alan got on the radio, the Red One had started running very rough and no power. A quick diagnosis, blown head gasket between cylinders 1 & 2. Out with the tools, off with its head, clean everything up, new gaskets, reassemble and back on the road in 2 hours. Probably not a record but still a good team effort.
It was now dark so our progress was slower which was also compounded by 2 Mokes who could not use their headlights continuously, due to alternator issues. Some torches fastened to the front helped a bit and luckily there was not much wildlife around. It was now 8:30pm with 40 klm to run when over the radio in a scratchy voice Smithy advised he has lost his trailer. Smithy was towing a small trailer set up with a car / trailer tent making it a very cosy camper. A U turn back to Smithy to find the contents of the trailer including the tent strewn down the road and the trailer still attached to the Moke but upside down. One of the springs on the trailer had broken causing that side to dig in and flip the trailer. Luckily Smithy had an off road coupling which allowed the trailer to rotate without trying to roll the Moke. With strategic use of the spare wheel and some ropes we managed to get the trailer back on its wheels and at least mobile but only at a slow speed. In the meantime the trailer contents had been collected up and reloaded into the trailer and the tent tied down on top with more rope. May not have looked pretty but it worked. 10:20pm and back on the move but a lot slower; pulling into Silverton at about 12:30am. It had been a long day. Smithy decided to keep pushing through to Broken Hill. It is a made road all the way and as he said he would need to unpack the trailer and his bed was not usable. Also he could get an early start to find someone to repair the trailer.
It was a slow start Friday morning but after a hearty breakfast of a sausage & egg wrap or 2, we packed up and went to explore Silverton. First stop the pub with the mandatory photo of the Mokes parked in front and then, have a look inside at the photos and, bits and pieces of memorabilia. From there we headed off to the mine site for a look see as well as a play driving the Mokes around the tracks up a reasonably steep hill and back down and along the original tramway route heading back to town. A small clip of the drive around the Mine and up the lookout can be found on here, https://youtu.be/0FGnQsrdk8I
A trip to Silverton is not complete without having a look at some of the spots were the MadMax II movie was filmed and the MadMax II museum. In the museum there is a wall of photos taken during the movies production and yes 3 mokes were used around the sets and if you look closely they appear in 3 of the photos. If you do visit the museum try and get the owner talking, its not hard, and he has a wealth of knowledge about the making of the movie. Saying goodbye to Silverton we headed into Broken Hill and to see how Smithy got on.
Smithy managed to get 2 new springs fitted but other repairs to make the camper part usable couldn't be done. With that he decided to start heading home, staying with his brother-in-law in Cobar on Friday night. We said our farewells and he departed. Later that afternoon we got a message he had refuelled in Willcania and was ontrack to make Cobar by nightfall. The rest of us booked into the caravan park and settled down for a quieter night than the previous one.
As Neil and Andrew had to get home to go to work on Monday and I needed to prepare for another trip later in the week, we packed up and started the trip home. Over night in Swan Hill, cabin this time, then home via Echuca and Seymour with Andrew leaving us in Seymour to go to Moe via Yea & Yarra Glen. Neil and I got home just after lunch.
Vicki, Alan and Terry spent the Saturday looking around BH before heading home on Sunday, however between BH and Wentworth the clutch plate in the Red One disintegrated in the same way it did at Tamworth last year. This was a new clutch fitted for the trip. Anyway they changed the clutch and made it Wentworth for the night. Enroute to Mildura the following day, the clutch went again, time for the tow truck. Vicki & Alan ended up getting home in a hire car, the Red One spent the week in the NRMA yard near Mildura and Terry made his way home. Vicki & Alan borrowed a trailer and went back to drag the Red One home the following Friday.
Eventually everyone got home safely after a wonderful trip to parts of Australia I, at least, had not been to before. I would like to thank my fellow shoppers for making the trip so enjoyable because even with the issues we had, everyone kept their cool, no one got upset and a healthy sense of humour prevailed from start to finish
Just some stats from my Moke
For the planned trip Hay to Broken Hill the odometer gave me a total distance of 1574 Klm and I used 141.3 Ltr of fuel (8.9 L/100Klm)
For the total trip home to home it was 2900 klm and 223 Ltr ( 7.7 L/100Klm)
Hay to Broken Hill involved approx 750Klm to 850Klm of dirt, sand, bull dust or gravel roads.