Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Visit William Creek

Visit William Creek. It’s tempting to leave it at that. Just go.

If you get a move on you can catch the William Creek Gymkhana that celebrates its fiftieth anniversary on 28 March.

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If you haven’t heard of it (and most Australians haven’t, never mind tourists) William Creek is one of the smallest towns in Australia, tucked away on the remote Oodnadatta track near Lake Eyre.SONY DSC

The town – although that’s hardly the right word for a place that consists of a pub, a caravan park and a café, with a population of eleven people (and that’s high for William Creek) – sits within the confines of Anna Creek Station. ‘Confines’ isn’t the right word either; at six million acres Anna Creek is the largest working cattle station in the world. It’s roughly the size of Belgium. Don’t expect to spot any cattle.SONY DSC

It’s hard to find the right words to describe William Creek, other than to admit it has to be one of the most intriguing, and entertaining, places I have ever visited.

You can drive from Adelaide to William Creek in two days, as Clyde’s parents did in the early 1950s with two young children and everything they owned loaded onto the back of a truck, heading for the pub his father had bought from Scotland, sight unseen. He wanted a pub in the country.

SONY DSCWe took three days, preferring to approach the place that Clyde once called home with a degree of caution. His memories were mixed, coloured perhaps by his mother’s enduring sense of shock at the remote tin shack her husband had bought and the sudden transformation of their fortunes. It was a boy’s own adventure for seven year old Clyde in some ways and a lonely, harsh experience in others. At seven he was expected to slaughter goats for meat; he earned pocket money by trapping and skinning rabbits and dingoes; and it was his job to drive the truck out to Breakfast Bore to fetch water.

But don’t let that put you off going to William Creek. Trevor Wright, who now runs the pub and the caravan park, has transformed the place into an oasis of welcome for tourists, travellers, backpackers and grey nomads with a sense of adventure.

It’s changed a lot since Clyde’s parents took that long journey north, driving on dirt roads across a landscape that grew progressively flatter and emptier the further north they went.SONY DSC

They would have driven, as we did, past dunes of red earth and the snow-white plains of salt encrusted Lake Eyre South, alleviated by occasional ‘jump ups’ – humps of earth topped by reed-like plants that carried the faint promise of an underground spring. What must that young family from Scotland have thought?

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Most of the journey to William Creek is on bitumen now, and you don’t really need a 4WD for the last section of dirt track either, not unless you’re planning to explore off road and that may not be the wisest decision – there’s no mobile phone coverage at William Creek. At the very least take an emergency warning beacon, or a satellite phone, and if your car breaks down the golden rule in such a remote desert climate is never, under any circumstances, leave your vehicle. A car is far easier to spot from the air than a person.

SONY DSCSONY DSCWarnings and caution aside, you won’t get better food or finer company than at the William Creek Hotel, especially if Trevor is there to talk to. He’s the tall bloke with hair the colour of the salt flats that stretch across Lake Eyre. It’s Trevor who put a collar on the Bird the dingo, to stop him getting shot. Bird is likely to be asleep on the veranda, unless he’s hanging around one of the planes, hoping to hitch a ride to Anna Creek Station where his girlfriend lives (apparently.)

And here’s a weird coincidence: we got talking to Sue who was working with Trevor for a few months and it turns out she used to live in Sydney.

‘We live in Sydney now,’ I said.

‘What part?’

‘Balmain.’ (Not many people have heard of Birchgrove and everyone knows Balmain.)

‘I’ve got a friend who lives right next to Balmain, in Birchgrove. ‘

‘Actually, we live in Birchgrove too.’

And it turned out we were practically neighbours, all living on the same street. Six degrees of separation.

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SONY DSCAs well as the pub and caravan park, Trevor runs the local air tours business, led by chief pilot Talia and her team of extremely capable young pilots; Tom flew us across the Painted Desert that from the air looked a lot like a lemon meringue pie and Rev piloted a scenic flight across Lake Eyre that left me awe-struck at the vast expanse of such an ancient landscape.

William Creek is a camper’s paradise with everything you need by way of hot showers, clean loos and laundry facilities. The site we picked even had a spot of shade, courtesy of a small peppercorn tree. Flocks of galahs, cockatoos and crows that swooped around the camp site fell silent at sunset and the lighting was discreet enough to see where we were going, but not so intrusive that it drowned out the stars.

And if it’s stars you’re interested in, then you should visit Arkaroola, high up in the Flinders Ranges. That’s where we went after we left William Creek.

More of that in the next post…

 

15 comments on “Visit William Creek

  1. Carricklass
    March 19, 2015

    This sounds like an amazing trip, very poignant for Clyde. Yes, everything had changed and for the better. You really should write a book on Clyde’s life, sounds like such an interesting story, though I’m sure that not everything was smooth. I met a retired surgeon a few months ago, who told me that he and his wife had written their life stories for their children. In three parts, one each for them before they met and then the joint one of their lives together. It’s private and not for publication, but for their children. I thought it was a great idea, what about you and Clyde????

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    • countrywomancath
      March 19, 2015

      I think that is a marvellous idea. I have done the same for my kids- but with drawing my memories and acknowledgements of what their lives have meant to me.
      I believe that I will try to start writing some of the history down. We have lived through such massive change and the ideals and goals of past times can still be relevant today. Thank you for the spur along.

      Like

      • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
        March 19, 2015

        Having seen your drawings Cath I have no doubt your children are in for a rich inheritance. I wish my parents had written more about their lives but maybe I should have asked more questions. There’s so much we can learn from each other.

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      • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
        March 20, 2015

        Cath I bought Clyde a copy of that book on William Creek for Christmas (based on your recommendation) and it is beautiful. Stunning work and fascinating to read about the artists’ journeys and endeavours.

        Like

    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      March 19, 2015

      What a great idea. I sometimes think I’d love to write about Clyde’s life but then I worry that I wouldn’t be objective enough. I keep asking him to make notes, maybe I should buy him a tape recorder. He has such fascinating stories to tell.

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      • countrywomancath
        March 20, 2015

        what a great idea Deb. You are pretty good at putting down stories! I believe that you could be very objective as it is his life’s experiences that you are noting down.
        Would be a very interesting read. Had a copy of William Creek – the book done by artists. Amazing.

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  2. Eliza Waters
    March 19, 2015

    What a wild landscape. Like places in the American Southwest, one wonders how folks eke out a living in such places. The Painted Desert does look like meringue! Sounds like a fun adventure.

    Like

    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      March 19, 2015

      Eliza I kept thinking I was driving through the American ‘wild west’ – courtesy of American westerns with John Wayne. I’ve never visited America but I’m beginning to think I should!

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      • Eliza Waters
        March 19, 2015

        You absolutely should if you can. Like Aust. it is big and varied in landscape. Spring and fall is best time to visit, IMO, unless you like snow & ice, or beastly heat & crowds. For amazing western landscapes check out this guy’s work – thrilling! http://wp.me/p1XNt4-19H

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    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      March 19, 2015

      Thanks for that link Eliza, stunning photos!

      Like

      • Eliza Waters
        March 19, 2015

        Michael’s photos are indeed stunning – glad you liked them.

        Like

  3. nantubre
    March 19, 2015

    take me with you . . .

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  4. Adele Hughes
    March 19, 2015

    Trevor looks like a typical wonderful bush character – full of fun, stories & laughter. It really is an amazing country out there isn’t it Deb. xxx

    Like

    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      March 19, 2015

      Trevor was a fantastic guy, easy to talk to, not looking to impress anyone and the kind of man most young pilots would be lucky to work with. They tease him that he works to ‘Trevor Time’ and he’s often hard to pin down but he gets things done – he runs a fleet of 15 aircraft as well as the pub and the cafe and the caravan park! Incredible.

      Like

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This entry was posted on March 19, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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