6/12/16 Duke of Orleans Bay is located east of Esperance, halfway to Cape Arid National Park where the road ends. From there, to connect with the Eyre Highway to cross the Nullarbor, we’d have to backtrack 85kms west to Esperance and then head 200kms north to Norseman, the start of the Eyre Highway east. It’s a long way around, and mostly in the wrong direction. So, after discussing road conditions with a couple of blokes at The Duke, we decided to take a short cut.
The 200km-long Parmango Road heads north-east to connect with the Eyre Highway at the Balladonia Roadhouse, saving about 170kms. It’s not your usual run-of-the-mill backroad though. After the first 40kms of bitumen, the road changed to a wide, well-maintained gravel surface. But, the further north we went, the road narrowed and got rougher. The tyres were aired-down by 10psi, and we loped along pretty steadily at 60-70kph. We weren’t in any hurry and were enjoying the track as it was scenic and interesting.
As far as being a short cut, though, it took us two days to do the 200kms. We’d planned it that way. We camped overnight halfway along the track at the old Deralinya Homestead. Built in the 1890s as a sheep station and abandoned in 1926, the small stone homestead and couple of outbuildings fell into disrepair. These days, they are in good condition, restored by the absentee owner, stonemason Roger, who happened to be camped there doing some work when we arrived.
Roger and his mate have been doing the restoration work since 1990, guided by a painting of the homestead done in 1906. He showed us around the old buildings, pointing out the restored stone and timber work which was very much in keeping with the look and texture of the original structure. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of how different life must have been for the early settlers. Roger was chuffed with the eccentricities of the original construction of the buildings that weren’t even close to being square. Lime cement (not concrete) had been used throughout the walls and floor, made on the property using lime kilns that were still evident. A working brick oven was located in the front yard, built by the original settler who apparently loved bread so much that he constructed ovens throughout the property wherever he was likely to camp for a period of time.
In the scrub a short walk from the homestead, an extensive area of flat granite forms a natural catchment for rainwater. Taking a walk, we came across a few gnamma holes, deep natural holes in the rock that collect and store rainwater for a good period of time following rain. One hole was still covered by three rock slab “lids” to prevent evaporation of the contents, and another contained what I reckoned had to be several hundred litres of water. How useful would these holes have been to the first peoples and the early settlers in this dry country! In the books that I’ve read recently about early explorers in WA and SA – “Eyre: The Forgotten Explorer”, Ivan Rudolph; “Sturt’s Desert Drama”, Ivan Rudolph – gnamma holes and native wells regularly sustained the explorers when they were on their last legs.
The usually unoccupied homestead was fascinating in its own right, and with the owner there, we were very fortunate to be able to learn a bit of the history of the property and its earlier inhabitants, along with his efforts to maintain the historic integrity of the homestead to which he intends to retire in a few years. It’s wonderful that he kindly allows travellers to visit and camp at the old homestead on their way through.
In as much as the 109km drive in to Deralinya Homestead from the south was pretty good, the 83km drive out the next morning to the Eyre Highway was just the opposite. North from the homestead, the track became a slow, rough slog. If it wasn’t corrugated, it was stoney, and if it wasn’t stoney, it was corrugated. And often as not, it was both. A quick but spectacular thunderstorm that passed overhead as we arrived at Deralinya the day before had dropped some rain on our next stretch of track. For the first 30kms, we sloshed through section after section of water lying across the track. It was no problem for the Landy and Kruiser to negotiate, though. Then we came to sections where it wasn’t water but mud across the track. This was followed by dry sections of bull dust. The van and Landy were firstly wet down, then covered with a layer of mud and then a layer of fine bull dust that turned the rig and tyres white, along with us if we happened to touch it. At best, we managed 40kph and at worst, 20kph. With occasional stops to cool down the shocks and heat up a cuppa, it took us most of the morning to get up to the bitumen.
Our little shortcut had been a big adventure that we really enjoyed. Even so, it was a relief to at last reach the Eyre Highway and Balladonia Roadhouse. Pulling in to refuel and air up, we spotted Charles and Joy, who we’d first met at Esperance and then again at Duke of Orleans Bay. They were heading east in their van and we camped together that night in a shady spot off one of the many tracks into the scrub behind Woorlba East Rest Area, at the start of the 90 Mile Stretch. We were the only ones there and, although a little windy and dusty, the campsite was a pleasant one. We finished the day wrapped around a nice drink or two.
“Not many cars on the road, hey!” Pete, speaking loudly over the corrugations ahead of a cloud of bull dust.