Motorcycle Explorer Issue 17 - Page 24

Travel Story: leigh wilkins - australia

“You’re not going down there, are you?”, asked the bemused mother of two young children as she waited for her husband to refuel their Peugeot sedan. I looked at my partner, Megan, giving her the look she had become accustomed too. What’s the big deal?

“Richard, did you hear that? They’re riding down the Oodnadatta.” She beamed, her excitement lost on him as he stared blankly into the distance.

She mumbled quietly, wishing she could do something similar. Turning back towards us, she asked that we be careful.

Megan thanked her and added, “although he’ll probably come off again”, winking at me. I gave her another look, she knew what it meant. Do not go there.

We were at Marla, the small roadhouse community at the northern end of the iconic Oodnadatta Track. A track that is just one of several iconic desert tracks that criss-cross the Australian continent, however, the Oodnadatta is certainly the most historic and culturally significant for both the indigenous and ‘white’ people of Australia.

The track skirts the south-western end of the Simpson Desert, however in many ways is considered much harsher; stony, dry and extremely arid, not a lot grows out here, yet ironically the track exists due to water.

The Aboriginal people knew this. They followed a line of mound springs that bubbled up from the Great Artesian Basin, allowing the formation of a vital trade route through this inhospitable environment. With this knowledge, white settlers were able to follow this ancient route when laying the first tracks for the rail line between the south and north of the Australian continent; the Ghan Railway, named in honour of the ‘Afghan’ cameleers who helped open the Australian interior. This was then followed by the overland telegraph. The Oodnadatta Track becoming the service road for both rail and wire although, in many ways, it didn’t last long. It remains as a service road for the small communities that are staggered along its 650-kilometre length however, both railway and telegraph moved on with progress and are no longer in the area.

Rest stop. We’d planned on stopping every 50km along the Oodnadatta Track.