My memory fails me somewhat as to where we started this Melbourne Cup Weekend Cruise, but I’m fairly certain that it was Licola and that we headed out towards Glencairn and the Barkly River on our first day. This time of year it’s always going to be somewhat wet and, with a collection of eight vehicles, it was important that we could find large enough camping sites for each night. There are a lot of gaps as to where we went on this Cruise, and trying to piece things together was not an easy task and is likely fraught with many errors. Anyway, there is a sort of start and finish to this story, and some bits in between.
Our first camp was along the banks of Mount Skene Creek, next to Middle Ridge Road, just past the bridge over the Barkly River. After camp was set up, one of the first orders of the day was to present our new Jeep owner (previously a Patrol owner) with a wicker basket. For those who remember, there was a Jeep ad doing the rounds that year, which featured a wicker basket with perfectly cut pieces of wood in the back of a Jeep, illustrating how versatile the Jeep was, so it was something that we couldn’t resist. We were also well prepared for the on and off rain that kept annoying us all day long.
Now this is where the story becomes somewhat hazy, as we apparently went back up Tamboritha Road to take Dingo Hill Track to the Caledonia River, but we met another group coming back up who said there was no way through due to the flooding, so we turned around and headed to the Pinnacles and then down Billy Goat Bluff Track to the Crooked River for our second night’s camp. One thing I most certainly remember is that when we came to the Crooked River, there was no way that we could cross; it was in full flood and flowing fast. So we set up camp not far from the river and not long after heard a vehicle driving through the river. We went to investigate, and someone had decided to cross from the other side. The Landcruiser (a rather new one) just made it to the bank on this side of the river before it died and when the driver opened the door, water just poured out and it was a mess. There was nothing that we could do and I understand that vehicle was flat-bedded out. I also thought that it would be a bit insensitive to take photos of the drowned vehicle.
The next morning things were worse, as it has rained overnight, so we decided to take Randalls Track to the Dargo High Plains Road and then to Talbotville. It was certainly looking gloomy as we climbed Randalls Track and remained so when we started to descend down Collingwood Spur Track down to Crooked River. It was always going to be a hit or miss affair as to what the Crooked River was going to be like, but hopefully it would not be as bad as the Wongungarra River further downstream. When we arrived at at the junction of Collingwood Spur Track and Crooked River Road, we went to have a look at the Wongungarra River and immediately decided to give it a miss.
The sight that met us was not a good one and for a moment we were taken aback. A brand new 4WD was in the middle of the river pushed against debris by the force of the water and our first thoughts were whether there were people inside. It quickly became obvious that the vehicle had been abandoned and so we decided to got to Talbotville. The section of Crooked River to Talbotville had just one crossing, which was flowing and reasonably deep, but quite narrow, so not an issue getting through. At Talbotville we met other campers and discovered the story about the stranded vehicle. Apparently, the day before, the same vehicle with wife and kids aboard had gone across the Wongungarra River and returned and attempted to do the same this morning, with very dire results.
It had been raining all night and the river had clearly risen, so why they had attempted another crossing was bizarre to say the least. Fortunately, no one was injured and it apparently took a bulldozer, a week later, to get the 4WD out of the river. But the story doesn’t end there, as two travellers that we met at Talbotville, who told us the story, were going to attempt the crossing and go to Wonnangatta Valley. Well, we had to go and watch. The pair were clearly wary and hitched their two 4WDs together with a number of snatch straps and then the first vehicle went across with a safety line in place. As it turned out, our decision not to cross was the smart decision, as the road not far from the river was completely blocked by a large fallen tree.
So we decided to leave the area and find a spot somewhere closer to home as it was still early. On the way out of Talbotville, we came across a 4WD on McMillans Road that had rolled over after sliding off the greasy track. But as there wasn’t anything that we could do, other than get in the way because there were enough helpers there already, we kept on going. All the tracks around the area were treacherous and had to be taken with extreme care. We eventually found a campsite at Pretty Boy Hill Saddle picnic area, some way out of Dargo, and set up in preparation for more rain. Later in the afternoon, a Parks Ranger came visiting and during our chat found out that the weekend had been fraught with all manner of incidents due to the weather and wet tracks. And with more rain on it’s way, we were kind of glad that we’d chosen to leave Talbotville.
The next day it was an easy drive back to Melbourne, with wet camping gear on board, as things weren’t going to dry out any time soon. As an aside, we found out later that quite a number of people had been stranded in various places in the area due to the heavy rains over the previous days. Apparently air drops of food and water were made some days later to some stranded between where we camped the second night and Talbotville, as getting out proved impossible, or very risky due to continuous rain.