DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Said to be the worst road in Australia, the Anne Beadell Highway in South Australia lived up to its reputation when OTA ran it.
It’s hard to go past Wikipedia’s run-down on the Anne Beadell Highway:
The Anne Beadell Highway is an outback unsealed track linking Coober Pedy, South Australia, and Laverton, Western Australia, a total distance of 1325km.
The route was surveyed by Len Beadell, the famous desert-region surveyor and named after his wife. The track was built by Len’s small road construction party.
The track passes through remote arid deserts and scrub territory of South Australia and Western Australia, which often have summer temperatures as high as 50 °C .
Shallow sand dunes in the middle section provide relief form the seemingly endless corrugaitons on stonier secitons.
The road was constructed to provide access for a series of surveys adding to the overall geodetic survey of unexplored parts of Australia. The information was required for rocket range projects at Woomera.
Construction was completed in five stages, spanning the nine years between 1953 and 1962.
The first stage from Mabel Creek station near Coober Pedy, west towards Emu Field, was built in February and March 1953, to provide access for British atomic tests at Emu Claypan.
The second stage was begun in July 1957 in the reverse direction, from Anne’s Corner towards Emu, after Len Beadell had completed the Mount Davies Road from Mt Davies to Anne’s Corner, connecting the Gunbarrel Highway to the south.
The third stage was begun in August 1961, running westward from Anne’s Corner to Vokes Hill.
The fourth stage proceeded west from Vokes Hill in April 1962, beyond Serpentine Lakes to the present Neale Junction.
In July 1962 the north-south Connie Sue Highway was constructed, prior to the last stage of the Anne Beadell Highway, which was completed at Laverton on 17 November 1962.
The Anne Beadell is suitable only for well-provisioned and experienced four-wheel drivers.
There are no settlements between Coober Pedy and Laverton, other than the Ilkurlka roadhouse that was opened in 2003, 167km west of the Western Australia – South Australian state border at the intersection of the Madura Loongana Track (Aboriginal Business Road) and the Anne Beadell Highway.
The roadhouse caters mainly for local Aboriginal communities and may be the most isolated roadhouse in Australia. There are no provisions on the 780km stretch between Ilkurlka and Coober Pedy.
The track passes beside the former British atomic test site at Emu Claypan, through the Dog Fence, restricted nature conservation areas and Aboriginal lands, all of which require travel permits.
Also of interest is the wreck of a light aircraft near the track in Western Australia.
The road also passes through Mamungari Conservation Park in South Australia which is one of Australia’s twelve World Biosphere Reserves.
Because the track is remote, GPS and either HF radio or satellite phone are necessary.
In good conditions, it took us four days to complete the journey. However, hazards such as flat tyres, breakdowns and the occasional flash flood must be taken into account.
Apart from the section between Laverton and Ilkurlka the track gets no mainenenace and is badly corrugated, particularly between the Dog Fence and Emu Claypan. Many travellers get as far west as the Claypan and turn back.
A ‘half-Anne Beadell’
OTA team members Deb and Dave White did the shorter trek from Coober Pedy to the Emu Claypan. Deb White takes up the story:
99-percent of the trip to Emu on a highly-corrugated, washboard surface it was only the comparatively pleasant one-percent distance via detours that
gave relief for vehicles and occupants.
Why travel on this road, I hear you ask.
When you have a husband who has a fascination with all things to do with Len Beadell, who opened up this part of the land for the British missile testing
range in the 1950s and 1960s, you just have to venture into this remote part of the continent.
Also, the slight discomfort to people and almighty carnage to vehicles were more than compensated for by the absolutely beautiful panoramic scenery.
The trip had two goals: to experience another of Len Beadell’s ‘roads’ and to visit Emu, the campsite and airstrip surveyed by Len for the British
Atomic bomb tests in the early 1950s.
endeavoured to sight each of the survey markers and benchmarks made by Len when he surveyed this access track for the tests. It was with great excitement
that we spotted something standing out from the sand and bush, to discover that it was indeed one of the markers.
The Tallaringa Track begins a little way to the West of Mabel Creek Station and continues through the Dog Fence in Tallaringa Conservation Park, to join
the Anne Beadell Highway west of the Park. Our first campsite was in the Conservation Park. As with the entire trip, it was very beautiful here.
Tallaringa Well was very close by and suitably signposted by Len. This Well has a history of supporting nomadic tribes for eons, although it appeared dry
to us and obviously needed a fair amount of digging down to the water source.
The colour of the sand and earth in this part of the Great Victoria Desert was warm red and heightened in colour by the sheer contrast with the colours
of the surrounding vegetation. The intensity of this contrasting of colours was magnified considerably when the sun was low in the sky.
Driving through all this beauty and realising by distance made good that we were approaching the area where Len found the enormous claypan, I was wondering
if we had strayed off the track somewhere. Then, all of a sudden, just as Len had written in his book, we topped a small rise and there it was: exactly
as he described it. It was the flattest, clearest stretch of land we had seen on the trip.
nosed our way onto the adjoining ‘airstrip’ and motored to the northern end, where we turned off the strip a little and found a perfect campsite, complete
with already-collected firewood!
We soon established ourselves, ready to enjoy the solitude and prettiness of our situation for the evening. In the setting sun, with the campfire crackling,
I sat down with a glass of red and enjoyed listening once again to Len’s famous Shepparton Talk, played through the iPod dock. I had wanted to be able
to do this for several years and now was able to.
One more ticked off that bucket list!
We found that famous Emu footprint (and lots of others) after which Len had named the place. A very satisfying day.
morning, we turned around and set off to return to our starting point at Coober Pedy, a two-day journey. On the way we turned off the track and visited
ground zero, 16 kilometres from Emu. This was fascinating to me, seeing how the energy release of the atomic devices had completely vaporised the 30-metre
towers that supported them, leaving only the heavy-gauge feet of the tower legs; badly misshapen and with tie bolts ripped partly out of their concrete
From there we returned to the track and had another one-night camp in the Tallaringa Conservation Park.
The Defender/Tvan combination performed perfectly, as we knew it would. I have often said when asked, that the Tvan can be taken anywhere you can
sensibly drive the Defender, and that means almost anywhere in this great country.
Travellers are few on this road, with the only sighting being a couple of campers in the distance, plus a broken down Toyota (rear axle bearings) parked
on the track where it was stopped and could not be moved.
The 530-kilometre run to Emu and back to Coober Pedy was a very satisfying trip, with lots of good memories and photos. As always with our outback adventures,
we enjoyed the daily contact with the HF radio network, VKS737. The operators on this network are very professional and friendly, and give us a strong
feeling of security should something go amiss.
Note: A South Australian Desert pass is required for accessing the Tallaringa Conservation Park and a permit is required to access the Woomera Prohibited
area; from the Range Officer at Department of Defence, Woomera. Telephone number: 08 8674 3211