Pure his­tory

The wide open fields of The Cordillo downs sta­tion have a story or Two To Tell.

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS MICHAEL BORG PICS MATT FEHLBERG

Pic­ture your­self cruis­ing down a seem­ingly end­less dirt road for lit­er­ally hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres. The wide open coun­try­side shim­mers prac­ti­cally ev­ery­where you look and that sense of true­blue ad­ven­ture has been giv­ing you but­ter­flies since the day you left home. That’s pretty much ex­actly what you can ex­pect from a trip out and through one of Australia’s largest cat­tle sta­tions, Cordillo Downs Sta­tion, SA. In say­ing all that, I can 100 per cent un­der­stand why some peo­ple might think the out­back is just a bar­ren land­scape of noth­ing­ness. I mean, heck, that’s what it looks like from the post­card photo right? It’s no se­cret that you can dead-set drive for hours and hours on end and see noth­ing new around these parts. But, be­lieve it or not, that’s ex­actly what is so spe­cial about a place like this. Yep, the mag­ni­tude of this place is half of its beauty. After all, it is lit­er­ally the size of sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries! Add in a moun­tain of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance and you’ve got your­self an in­trigu­ingly beau­ti­ful place to learn, re­lax, un­wind and to­tally re-ground your­self. It’s a bit like the tai-chi of Australia you could say…

But be­fore my­self, and our lit­tle tribe of 4WDers be­came the karate kids of the out­back, we ac­tu­ally spent the best part of two or three days be­hind the wheel just to get to this point. You see, Cordillo Downs Sta­tion is about half­way be­tween Birdsville in Queens­land, and Innamincka in South Australia, which is

Strz­elecki Desert coun­try. So it’s a nice and re­mote re­gion to tour, and a bloody long way from the bright lights of Sydney!

After spend­ing a crack­ing night un­der the stars at Innamincka, we headed north through the Cordillo Downs Sta­tion. The only prob­lem was half the tracks were still wet­ter than a pod of dol­phins; even the fuel truck couldn’t get into Innamincka to fill up the tanks. As you might have guessed, the first leg of the track out was still closed from all the rain, which meant we had to take the scenic route back east and around the coun­try side. But, boy, were we glad we did! As luck would have it, the scenery around here was ab­so­lutely hunky-dory. Ac­tu­ally, nope! That doesn’t de­scribe it well enough; that route was noth­ing short of post­card ma­te­rial! Not in that re­lax­ing beachy kind of way though, it’s more of the pure Aus­traliana sort of land­scape. You know, red sand hills lit­tered with spinifex, to­tally bar­ren flats or stony table­lands, not to men­tion those strik­ingly abrupt cliffs in the dis­tance, too. As harsh as this land is, it’s ut­terly spec­tac­u­lar at the same time.

HIS­TORIC WOOL­SHED

Per­haps one of the main at­trac­tions on the Cordillo Downs Sta­tion is the old his­toric wool­shed, which is now her­itage-listed given its unique na­ture. Its walls are con­structed of stone, which are a few feet thick – crikey, they aren’t go­ing any­where in a hurry, eh? Why did they

use stone or solid rock, you ask? Well, there aren’t many trees out this way, and you couldn’t ex­actly or­der a load of tim­ber when you’re liv­ing smack bang in the mid­dle of nowhere in the mid­dle of the 1800s, now could you? So typ­i­cal of the tra­di­tional Aussie bat­tlers they made do with what they had, and man­aged to build the largest wool­shed of its kind for that pe­riod out of rocks sourced from the land.

CORDILLO DOWNS’ PAST

The his­tory of this place is quite fas­ci­nat­ing to say the least. To be hon­est, you’ve re­ally got to be here to get a good idea on what it was truly like back in the day. But here’s a bit of a his­tory les­son to help fill in the blanks any­way.

First taken up in 1875, Cordillo Downs grew over the years to have a larger pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple and build­ings than the town of Innamincka. That’s not re­ally sur­pris­ing when you con­sider it was once con­sid­ered to be 7800sq km in size. That’s more than one mil­lion and nine hun­dred thou­sand acres! It ran more 85,000 sheep, mak­ing it the largest sheep

of the time. It also had 28 horses, 450 head of cat­tle and one camel for years, plus it boasted more than 120 stands for shear­ers dur­ing peak shear­ing season. It grew so big

that it had its own post of­fice, black­smith, sad­dler and po­lice sta­tion. It even had its own polling boxes dur­ing elec­tions, and with the amount of fam­i­lies liv­ing on the sta­tion a full-time school teacher was em­ployed to cater for the kids. There were nine full-time bound­ary rid­ers, whose job it was to check and re­pair the fences, and four full-time mus­ter­ers and net­ters just to name a few of the peo­ple find­ing em­ploy­ment from the sta­tion.

Many of these peo­ple ac­tu­ally fell vic­tim to this place’s harsh en­vi­ron­ment with sev­eral dy­ing of thirst, in­clud­ing one Abo­rig­i­nal-Chi­nese bound­ary rider who per­ished in 1900. His re­mains weren’t found un­til 1906 – it doesn’t get much more re­mote than that!

This sta­tion was op­er­at­ing well be­fore the time of trucks and ve­hi­cles. So to get any larger sup­plies onto the sta­tion, the ex­per­tise of Afghan cameleers was called upon. The Afghans with their camel teams hauled huge stores of sup­plies and equip­ment right up the Strz­elecki Track from Fa­rina to the sta­tion. The cargo in­cluded heavy ma­chin­ery (pulled in as pieces), which is pretty im­pres­sive when you con­sider it was a 1200km round trip that took around two months to com­plete. Even when trucks were in use, the cameleers were still bring­ing in sup­plies un­til the 1940s.

In the later years, Cordillo Downs made the switch from sheep for cat­tle, mainly be­cause wild dogs had been a mas­sive prob­lem for the whole time. In fact, a lot of Abo­rig­i­nal women were em­ployed as shep­herds to try and safe­guard the flocks when times were at their worst.

CADELGA RU­INS

Roughly 88km north of the his­toric wool­shed you’ll find a crum­bling mess of ru­ins known as the Cadelga Ru­ins. This is ac­tu­ally the old home­stead of the Cadelga Sta­tion, which was taken over by Cordillo Downs back in 1903.

Now, it doesn’t look like much from the road, but once you get out and have a closer look you re­alise this place would have been pretty fancy in its day. I mean it was never the Ti­tanic, but be­ing hand­crafted out of stone and tim­ber, the work­man­ship that would have gone into it should def­i­nitely be ap­pre­ci­ated. It’s sit­u­ated nice and close of a wa­ter­hole, which still has plenty of wa­ter to this day – they sure knew how to pick ’em back then, eh? Now this place is a fairly pop­u­lar place to es­tab­lish camp for the night, but out of peak season it’s a pretty re­mote spot. So I can all but guar­an­tee you’ll have the whole place to your­self.

If you visit dur­ing the warmer months, you’ll re­alise just how harsh this place would have been to live in. I mean, it’s hard enough with air-con­di­tion­ing! Swarms of flies and ex­treme heat were the main bat­tles, but if you’re out here around July like we were, the weather is ac­tu­ally quite pleas­ant. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll even get to see hun­dreds of lit­tle corel­las gather to­gether in a flock and fly into the sun­set to top off the arvo; ab­so­lute magic, that is!

There are a few old car wrecks ly­ing around, and you can’t help but won­der ‘what on earth is that do­ing out here?’ It all adds to the mys­tery of this place, I sup­pose.

BIRDSVILLE BOUND

Back on the road and you’re on the fi­nal stretch to Birdsville. In to­tal, you’re look­ing at about 419km be­tween Innamincka and Birdsville, all of which is dirt or un­sealed road. At the time of our trav­els, the road wasn’t in all that bad con­di­tion, apart from a few hairy washouts that seem to creep up on you and the odd plain of gib­ber stones. There are a few ruts around, but while there’s a few bumps and ruts around it’s not too bad if you keep your speed un­der check. Once you cross the Queens­land border, the road in­stantly be­comes a well main­tained stretch – al­most like a high­way com­pared to the south­ern sec­tion! You’ll see shim­mers of salt lake here and there, which shine and daz­zle like a lake full of di­a­monds. And if you’re lucky enough to see this place after rain like we did, it’s truly a spe­cial thing.

PLEAS­ANT SUR­PRISE

To be hon­est, I didn’t re­ally know what to ex­pect from this place. But my trip through Cordillo Downs Sta­tion will stick with me for a long time to come. The his­tory and sto­ries you’ll hear and learn about are en­ter­tain­ing at the least.

And some­thing tells me our tim­ing was near on per­fect – maybe some­thing to do with the fault­less weather, damp and dust­less tracks and sprouts of mag­nif­i­cent colour, when it’s usu­ally dry and des­o­late. What an amaz­ing place to travel; I can’t wait to head there again!

CloCk­wise from top left: The road con­di­tions are al­most high­way-like north of the border; Cordillo Downs Sta­tion ap­pro­pri­ated the former Cadelga Home­stead in 1903; Although derelict, the Cadelga ru­ins stone and tim­ber con­struc­tion is im­pres­sive; the Ru­ins are sit­u­ated near a wa­ter­hole.

CloCk­wise from top left: The wool­shed sup­ported 120 shear­ers dur­ing peak season; The ma­te­ri­als for the wool­shed’s ma­sonry were sourced lo­cally; Track clo­sures didn’t stop our con­voy from en­joy­ing the spoils of the wool­shed at Cordillo Downs Sta­tion.

from top: Troopy Dan tests his met­tle on a Strz­elecki track en-route to the Cadelga Ru­ins; Whitey sets up camp at Birdsville after a long day tour­ing and ahead of the Big Red Bash fes­tiv­i­ties. No rest for the wicked!

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