Holland Track - March 2015

We left Perth on Saturday 28th of March at around 7.00am and drove to Hyden where we had lunch before heading out on the Hyden-Norseman road which intersects with the Holland Track near Emu Rocks.  

The Holland Track dates back to 1893 in what was an intense time for the state of Western Australia.  The discovery of a rich gold field at Fy Flat near Coolgardie in September 1892 had generated incredible excitement and prospective prospectors everywhere were on the move.  Coolgardie is located about 600klm NWW of Perth which is a long trek even today when we have bitumen roads and  well equipped 4WDs.  

In the summer of 1892 they carried shovels and picks, tents, basic cookware and travelled on horseback, in carts or on foot pushing wheelbarrows through some of the harshest, driest terrain in the country.    It is a region of thick overgrown scrub with few features and very little water.  The water that did exist was minimal and extremely difficult to find, mostly consisting of small soaks and gnamma holes.


 Many perished, many disappeared never to be seen again and others only made it part-way before they had to turn back.   Mick Cronin managed to blaze a trail through some of this country but it ran too far North and emerged at Southern Cross rather than Coolgardie.  The need for a clear track with known watering points became increasingly critical and the challenge was taken up John Holland a Sandalwood cutter and Kangaroo shooter from Broomhill who was joined by Rudolph Krakouer, David Krakouer and John Carmody.  

The expedition waited until the worst of the summer heat had dissapaited, departing in April 1893 with five ponies, a dray and a 100 gallon water tank.  With amazing efficiency a cart trail was cut through scrub so dense that, as my old Dad says  "A dog would have to get out on the road to have a bark".  It took two months and four days to complete the 500 kilometre Holland Track which was immediately utilised by hundreds of hopeful prospectors heading to Coolgardie.  

Three years after the Holland Track was cut an extension to the railway line from Northam to Coolgardie was built.  This effectively ended travel on the Holland Track as people chose the easier, quicker and much safer train trip.  The Southern portion of the Holland Track was slowly overtaken by farmland as vast tracts of land was cleared in what would become the wheatbelt.  The region surrounding the Northern portion of the track was too arid for farming and consequently the track was left unused and virtually forgotten until the 1950's when parts of route were rediscovered by Errol Smith and various others.  

Further exploration was done by different groups over the years and in 1984 an expedition including Adrian Malloy and Graeme Newbey retraced the Southern portion of the track.  In 1992 these two intrepid individuals used a tractor and timber rake to re-cut the Northern portion of the Holland Track making it accessible to 4WD enthusiasts.  Since then it has become widely used and is regularly maintained by the Toyota Landcruiser Club who ensure it is well signed and useable.  

We were an expedition of four vehicles, Terry, Me and Jezz our dog, Demitri our neighbour and Paul another neighbour.  Another couple, Ian and Bernie were travelling from Denmark and intended to join up with us on the first night. We started on the track at about 1.30pm just east of Emu Rocks.  The first day had been mostly taken up with travel from Perth so we only managed about forty kilometres on the actual track.  It was still quite a drive with deep mud filled holes, ruts, and alternative tracks around the worst sections.  Demitri, "I felt confident" tackled one of the deep holes rather than the easy alternate drive around and ended up bottomed out and stuck in some deep stinking mud.  

After much laughter and some photos of his predicament Paul towed him out and we continued on.  At about 4pm we came out at Mt Holland which was to be our rendevou point with Ian and Bernie.  It was a slightly confusing area with many tracks and our GPS indicated a campsite about three kilometres further on.  We found it and set up camp, not realising there was a campsite right at the base of Mt Holland.  Unbeknown to us Ian and Bernie who were behind us found the campsite at the base of Mt Holland and set up camp there.  We heated up our Oxtail stew and garlic bread and wondered where Ian and Bernie were and they had their dinner wondering where on earth we were.  The campsite was very beautiful, high up and surrounded by spectacular tall Eucalypt trees with rich red bark and shiny leaves.  The trunks caught the last light of the day and a half moon was rising so I put my wide angle lens on the camera to catch the moment.

We sat around the fire for a few hours and then went to bed in the rooftop tent.  Paul also had a rooftop tent and Demitri had a remarkable thirty second tent which somehow magically seemed to put itself up.  Somehow, Demetri had been nominated tea boy and butler for the trip and it was a role he adopted with admirable enthusiasm.  He was up first in the morning, had the fire lit and kettle boiling.  The rest of us stayed safely in our tents until we were sure all of this work was done and then emerged to enjoy freshly brewed coffee along with bacon and eggs cooked by Terry.  Apart from an apparently troublesome insect bite on Demetri's bum..........the night had passed without incident.  


As we were packing our gear Ian and Bernie pulled up which was wonderful.  Our four vehicles left the Mount Holland area around 9.00am and headed to Sandalwood rocks for morning tea.  


Sandalwood Rock is a very low small rock which must have been named for the Sandalwood trees which would have originally been prolific in the area.  Sought after for its beautiful perfumed oil, and beautiful rich yellow fine grained wood, Australian Sandalwood trees are small, gnarly and very very slow growing.  The age of trees and the harsh dry conditions produces a rich, earthy and complex scent with many layers.  Below is a photograph of me and Jezz in front of a dead Sandalwood tree with a second live one in the background.   


The trees are parasitic as their root system taps into that of close by Acacia trees to access nutrients and establish.   In the early years, Australian Sandalwood was harvested in huge unsustainable volumes to supply the worldwide perfume and incense industry and consequently, in many areas it grows no more.   When you break a dead branch off a Sandalwood tree you can smell it instantly and if you burn a piece of sandalwood the aromatic smoke fills the air making a wonderful bush incense.  The nuts of the Sandalwood tree were eaten by the aboriginal people and are rich in fat which is rare in bush foods.  They taste nutty with a hint of coconut and are good roasted.  I always search out Sandalwood trees when I am in the bush, I love seeing their stunted twisted trunks, smelling the rich scent and cracking and eating the nuts.  

We had a cuppa and some Tim Tams at Sandalwood Rocks and sat around for a while listening to Demetri complain about his bite which was now red, angry and itchy.  With a degree of pride he showed everyone his affliction and we took photos and gave him some cream to sort it out!!  


Our convoy continued on to Centenary Rocks where we stopped for lunch and ate Stew Sandwiches and peanuts.  On the way we had spotted a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus) on the track.  I took some photographs and then carefully moved him off to the side.


 They are such weird little beasts, the patterns are intricate and the spikes are incredible and quite sharp, you almost need gloves.   They exist on little black ants and manage to collect dew on their skin which then flows down to their mouth through tiny hygroscopic grooves located between the spines.  


After lunch, we continued on to the Agnes Gnamma Holes which were named after John Holland's young wife Agnes who was probably the first women to travel the track when she accompanied her husband to Coolgardie in December 1893.  Agnes died just a few months later of Typhoid in May 1984.  The gnamma holes are tiny and indicate the critical importance of water to the early travellers of the region.  Our convoy continued on past Diamond Rocks and set up camp for the night at Thursday Rock.  

We climbed to the cairn at the top of Thursday Rock to watch the sunset and take some photos and then sat around the fire eating an entree of Dutch cheeses and biscuits followed by chicken satay sticks, salad and baked potatoes.  Jezz the dog had slept on the ground the night before but during the day we had found a camp chair lying on the side of the road. It must have fallen off someone's ute.  We opened it out for her and she jumped in super quick to take advantage of the unexpected good fortune.  She seemed very pleased with her elevated status in her very own chair with the humans around the fire.  


There was another injury.......Demetri stubbed his toe on the firewood.......there was some blood......and a band-aid, but very little sympathy, although we did take a photo to record the moment.  



Each vehicle had various contraptions set up for showers......ours was pretty basic and consisted of two 1.5L plastic bottles which we sat near the fire to warm up.  It worked fine, just enough hot water to have a good wash so we could go to bed clean!!



I woke up before sunrise and went for a walk around the rock before breakfast.  Demetri was already up and had the coffee ready to go so I got a cup to take with me on my walk.  There were a few birds and evidence of old camps at different points around the base of the rock.  I found the remains of a large tree which had a perfect round hold cut through the trunk and had been burnt many years ago.  As always people had passed before and I wondered about the tree and the person that had cut the hole and why?  I returned to camp, Terry cooked some delicious crispy bacon and eggs and then packed up our gear. We left Thursday Rock and continued on the Holland Track stopping a few times to photograph lizards and have a snack.  


Around 10.00 am we came out on the Victoria Rock road and headed south and then east toward Cave Hill.  Cave Hill and the close by Burra Rock form part of the woodlines region where, in the early days thousands of acres were clear felled to supply timber for firewood and to shore up mineshafts.  To supply water to the men in the woodline camps and for locomotive boilers, large dams were constructed on the granite rocks in the region.  The dams were usually positioned in a natural cleft in the rock and then walls made from granite slabs constructed to catch and direct the flow of water from the rock surface into the dam.  Cave Hill has five dams which still catch and hold water today.  



The road to Cave Hill was excellent apart from a few sections of heavy corrugations.  We arrived at Cave Hill for lunch and headed to the main dam for a swim.  It was deep and cold and really wonderful to be swimming on top of a granite rock in the desert.  Jezz loves water and will swim for hours and hours.  She generally jumps in with a huge splash and then paddles along making splashes with her paws, gets all excited and tries to bite the splash and so on and so on.........  


While we were swimming the sky had darkened and it looked increasingly like rain so we set up our camp and covered everything with tarps.  Ian and Bernie left us to head South as they had to be back in Denmark the next day and wanted to get a headstart.  Dinner was a BBQ with chops, left over salad and baked potatoes.  We sat around the fire and philosophised for a while before going to bed.  Jezz was very happy to be sleeping in her chair once again.  

It rained all night, heavy drenching rain and wind.  The tent stayed dry and it was wonderful to just lie there listening to rain.  We woke up to a bleak drizzly morning and some huge puddles. Our tea boy was on strike, in fact, he had disappeared entirely, so there was no hot coffee and it was a battle to get the fire going.  Eventually we got some hot water for coffee and managed to cook the sausages and eggs, and our unhappy tea boy returned so we all had a good breakfast together before packing up our very wet gear and heading off.


The track out from the rock was underwater so we all had a pretty interesting time getting out.  The mud was thick and slippery and the vehicles sunk down heavily but all made it out after a bit of drama.  


Our convoy turned onto the main road to Widgemooltha which was mostly underwater.  We stopped a few times to check the depth and get some photos of the mud then hit the bitumen and ended up at the Widgie Pub for a drink at about 11.00am.  


At this point Paul left us as he headed off to Melbourne to pick up his new camper trailer.  Demetri headed into Coolgardie with us and then left for Perth while we headed North to camp in the Jaurdi Hills and visit Rowles Lagoon and Ora Banda over the next few days.  It was an excellent trip, which we plan to do again, allowing a few more days to explore the region in more depth.