Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Drysdale River Station, Ellenbrae and the road to Home Valley

Where are we now?

Route to Home Valley

We are at Home Valley towards the eastern end of the Gibb.

What happens if something goes seriously wrong?

A risk when you are travelling in really remote areas is that you have an accident, suffer an injury or something else and nobody ever passes you on the road or you are out in the bush in a place where no one is every likely to look.

When we left Perth we registered an EPIRB - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon to ourselves. This is a satellite beacon which we are allowed to use only in cases of dire emergency - in other words, a real and imminent risk of death or serious injury. 


This gadget is about the size of a small paperback and if we set it off, it will indicate the fact that we have done so and our location to the central authorities via a satellite system.


If you set it off, someone will eventually turn up, maybe by helicopter, maybe by ute or whatever. The means is not important, the fact is - some one will come to see what is wrong. 


We cannot get it to say what is wrong, merely that something is wrong. We are told that severe penalties are imposed in the case of misuse or use for a reason which is judged not to be serious enough. Breaking down or running out of fuel would count as misuse and would only be regarded as valid if we had been stranded for sometime, were now running out of water and were in danger of dying. We keep it in the van cab and transfer it to our backpacks when we go out walking (snakebites would be an acceptable reason for use). We have never had to use one and we hope we never will.

Driving on roads with corrugations

This is what a typical road surface with corrugations looks like. On all roads there is usually “a best line” which is an imaginary lane down the road where the corrugations (aka washboarding) look less severe than anywhere else across the road.

Corrugations 001

Survival requires following the best line in the road no matter which side of the road it is and hence we drove a lot down the wrong side (right hand side) because it is often smoother there and we also tried to keep our speed up. This may sound a little contradictory but seven years ago when we did our 4WD training, we were told that the road is


often smoother on the wrong side because of the way the corrugations are formed. This picture is taken as if we were driving on the left of the picture towards the rocks in the distance, and the road looks smoother on the right hand side, at least it does to me. The challenge when driving is that the smoother line changes sides continuously and sometimes is not there at all or has to be found by trial and error - all of the time looking out for vehicles coming towards you who might also be on their wrong side of the road.

We also were taught and that if you can get find the correct speed for a section of corrugated road, you will glide over the corrugations rather than bump over them. Glide is a generous word, think more of retaining your fillings rather than having them shaken out. 

If you slow right down and actually stop, the starting process and getting up to speed again is very very bumpy. You do this once and then try never to do it again. The other art is trying to avoid sharp rocks. We have let our tyres down to 35psi from 45 psi and hence they are much softer and supposedly more resistant to damage from sharp rocks. It is also the case however that we have to restrict our speed to not more than 80 kph and also avoid sharp low speed turns because there is a danger that we might take the tyres off the wheel rims.

Road Grader

To get rid of the corrugations, a Road Grader is used. This travels at a slow speed scraping off the high bits and putting the result into the low bits.

Road Grader

The wheels of the grader then roller everything hard (in theory). The Gibb is graded along its whole length as soon as it opens usually in May, it is then regraded mid season and sometimes towards the end of the season. This year it has already been graded twice because heavy rain fell in early May and washed away the first grading. A regraded road is a pleasure to drive along, one in need of grading is a punishment.

The correct technical term for corrugations is “washboard” and there is nothing which can be done to stop corrugations forming other than to make sure that vehicles drive at speeds below 5 kph ! (so the washboard scientists say). Having read the papers written about their formation and in particular suspension resonance, I understand the problem better and why there is a sweet speed and why slow speeds are bad etc.

Shire Map

The Gibb stretches across two Shires (the border is to the east of Mount Barnett Station) and it seems to us that it is better maintained in West Kimberley than in East Kimberley.

Drysdale River Station

Drysdale River Station is an iconic location 59 kms off the Gibb on the Kalumburu Road. People come here because of its reputation and also because it is a stopping point on the way to the Mitchell Plateau, the Mitchell Falls and Kalumburu itself.

The road from the Gibb up to Drysdale was so bumpy that we feared for our teeth fillings. Whilst there were stretches of reasonably smooth dust and rock, the majority was severe corrugations which were awful if you drove below about 50 kph and nearly awful if you drove at all.

Drysdale Sign

Drysdale Station is big, about 1 million acres (about 2.5 times the size of the county we live in) but a station this size would only keep around 4000 cattle because the land is relatively barren, so tourism is how they now make most of their money. 

As with all of the other Stations we have visited, Drysdale has its own runway. 

Drysdale Runway

The runway is grass and kept cut short so that not only can the Mail Plane land to deliver and collect, but so also can the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), planes offering tourist flights and anyone else who is flying by. In the wet season, air is the only way that anything can be brought in or taken out and therefore it is an essential facility.

Drysdale has one postal delivery a week - Tuesday being the day that the Mail Plane comes.

Pat and the post box

Because we are here on a Monday, we are in time to post our postcards. They will be flown to Derby the following day and then make their way back to the UK in about a week.

Drysdale Phone 1

Drysdale also has a Coin Operated Phone - famous because it is coin operated rather than phone card

Drysdale Phone 2 

and even more famous because it is kept in a fridge. Why? everybody we asked did not know but everyone did agree it was a good place to keep a phone when the temperature was hot. That the fridge is not plugged in is irrelevant.

Drysdale Bar

The Station is also famous for its Bar (VB $7.50 a can) 

Drysdale Menu

and its food, in particular its burgers

Drysdale Burger

Pat and a Burger

which one person decided was more than a meal.

Our interest in toilets is probably obvious by now and so to ensure that this interest is recorded here, the toilets a Drysdale were excellent

Amenities Drysdale

as were the clothes washing facilities.

Drysdale Pitch

We got a pitch with some shade

Drysdale Wildlife

and plenty of noisy wildlife which loved to sit above our heads and squawk at us.

We came here so that we could take a flight over the Mitchell Falls and the Northern Kimberley but fate struck and we could not. The first flight of the day was fully booked so we put our names down for the second. They needed four passengers and we were the only two so our flight was cancelled. The next day was the pilot’s day off………… so we decided to cut our losses and head back down the Drysdale Road and go to Ellenbrae which is famous for its Scones and Cream Teas. At least that would be some sort of compensation. 

We could of course have driven further north to the Mitchell Falls but everyone said that the road got even worse and we felt that it would be pushing our luck to try it. So far we have had no mechanical problems despite what where we have driven and we want it to remain that way.

Back on the Gibb

And so after a rather abortive and bumpy drive up the Kalumburu Road to Drysdale and back (118 kms), we were back where we started and took the turning to Wyndham, Derby being a 400 km distant (if one kept to the Gibb only and ignored the side roads) memory.

Ellenbrae Station

Ellenbrae is another just under 1,000,000 acre Station with around 4,000 cattle. Here they only round up the cattle when the price makes it worth while, hence they have turned to tourism to make ends meet.

Ellenbrae Station Location

As you get closer to Elenbrae, if you are observant you will see this sign by the side of the road.

Scones Sign

Ellenbrae Station is famous for a few things, one of them being its Scones, Jam and Cream for $4.50. There are two other things it is famous for but we will come to those eventually.

Ellenbrae Road Sign

Ellenbrae does a lot to say welcome, and to make itself seem different to the rest.

Ellenbrae Entrance Sign

It is helped by being only 5 km off the Gibb

2 km to go sign  Elenbrae Welcome

and therefore every kilometre there is another sign encouraging you onwards.

Ellenbrae Arrival

Arriving at the office and cafe and everything else is a bit like arriving at a green oasis 

Ellenbrae Office

EB Gardens

and the gardens were very well maintained which is quite a rarity in the often parched outback. 

EB Notice Board

Clean Apollo

Parked outside was a clean Apollo Van

Dirty Apollo

so we parked our rather less clean but well travelled van some distance away so as not to let the side down.

Tea and Scones on the Veranda

Tea and Scones are taken on the veranda, last year they served just short of 10,000 scones

Ellenbrae Scones

Enjoying Scones

and here is the evidence that at least one person enjoyed her scone (as also did the photographer).

There are two campsites, Ringer’s (a Stockman) and Jackeroos (male trainee Stockmen). I know you may question this apostrophe but the evidence for its existence follows

Ringers Sign

and Mrs Harvey has come to the conclusion that Australians have no idea at all about the use of Apostrophes

Patron s

and offers as further evidence this sign from the Camp Kitchen in Broome.


Both campsites had quite good shade but no fresh water since the nearby Billabong

Ringers Swimming Hole Sign

served as the source of water

Ringers BIllabong

for the toilets and showers and also for swimming.

Emergency Snake Bite

Prominently displayed was a notice giving us the emergency procedures for a snake bite - we have seen a few snakes and are hoping not to have to use the procedures.

Ringer s Donkey Shed

This is the amenities block at the campsite and on first inspection we were not very impressed.

Flushing Toilet  EB Shower

There was one flushing toilet and one shower 

EB The Bath

which also had a bath in it

EB How to fill the bath

which was filled by a hose - we have not seen a bath since we left the UK so we were not totally dismissive of this luxury.

We could not imagine how this would be sufficient for any number of campers.


Both campsites are famous for their Donkeys, not the equine variety but the water heating variety.

Donkey Instructions

To jump forward a few hours, once the Donkey was alight it produced copious quantities of very hot water

Donkey Alight

Mrs Harvey Showering

and we had no problems having a really good shower. This photograph is taken from the outside of the shower room

Shower Room View

and this is what you see from the inside looking through the “window". For “window” read the gap between the top of the wall and the roof. The only time we have had a more open view of our environment was in the Antarctic when we looked out onto glaciers and icebergs although the temperature was about 40C lower.

We later found out that they restrict the number of campers at this site to around 20 in order not to overload the toilet and shower and that fact alone makes it a very good site. 


And as dust fell on the Boab trees and our quiet campground with a good view of the stars, we decided that it really was rather nice and one of the better ones we had stayed at.


Purely for this record, we checked out the nearby Jackeroos campsite in case it was better furnished and decided it was not. Whilst it had more showers, the toilets were short drop and we have had enough of them at the moment. If you are wondering what a short drop looks like and how it works, do not. 

Ellenbrae Boab

The other thing Ellenbrae used to be famous for was its Boab Tree by the laundry which was thought to be about 1000 years old. But on May 4th 2016 after some very heavy rain, it fell over and is now being removed. Removing something of this size is a bit of a task however and of course they rarely require firewood because it never gets really cold here. 

The following morning when we left, we went back to the Homestead to fill up with fresh water and also made use of the Dunny (aka Short Drop). 

Dunny  Folded Toilet Paper

We were the first of the day to use it and I found that the toilet paper had been folded into the same V shape we have found in the best hotels and on Singapore Airlines when we flew out. This attention to detail impressed us.

EB Goodbye

Ellenbrae grew on us and we enjoyed it very much.

We are now continuing our drive towards the eastern end of the Gibb and therefore approaching a return to civilisation. 

Home Valley Station

To get to Home Valley Station, we have to drive further eastwards along the Gibb and cross the Durack River.

Durack Sign

This is one of the two bogies of the Gibb and it is often reported on separately in the Road Reports as to its water level and until that gets sufficiently low, crossing it can be impossible or difficult. So we approached it with some concern until we actually saw it

Durack RIver

The Kimberley has been so rain starved in the Wet Season just ended (they blame El Nino) that now it was really only a deep puddle and presented no problems at all, just slide into 2nd gear, foot away from the clutch, a bit of accelerator and go for it (never touching the clutch).

One of the great sights along the Gibb is the Cockburn Range and when this appears, we have to stop just to admire it.

Cockburn Range Appears

As is always the case with photographs, they do not do justice to what was actually seen in front of us. They do not convey the enormity of the landscape, the heat, the insect noises, the silence, the smell or any of those things which add to a view. Never-the-less, this photograph will always remind us of it.

Cockbold Range

We are now experts and detecting oncoming vehicles from their dust cloud and there is one in the centre of this photograph above.

Car Caravan and Dust cloud

And in due course, a car and caravan appears. We have got so good at this that we can predict the type of vehicle from the size and shape of the dust cloud.

Two Travellers Living Life Forwards

A bit further on is an official viewing point with a table upon which we can stand for one of those landmark pictures. What this picture does not show is the graffiti written just beneath it


“Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forward”. We like to think that we now understand our backwards life better and are still living life forwards.

The Pentecost River is also evident on the horizon but that is a challenge for a couple of days time and Home Valley Station is a few kms down the hill.

Incidentally, this is the one spot on the whole of the Gibb where you can get a mobile phone signal. Those who are aware of this pull in to the viewing spot, turn their mobiles on and after a few seconds, all of the emails, text messages, voice messages and anything else awaiting them get downloaded. You can also pick up mobile internet here. After we had stayed at Home Valley, we briefly went back up the hill to pick up any new emails etc.

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