Cutting up the Cut Line
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS LESSER-KNOWN TRACK FROM BOURKE TO BIRDSVILLE
An Outback adventure that can be done over a few days or a few weeks! Sound interesting? It did to me so that’s why I took off on a Friday afternoon and hightailed it north-west towards Bourke. You see, heading west from Bourke there is an adventure oasis that begins with a road called ‘The Cut Line’. Now this track doesn’t get the press of the Darling River Run or even a Broken Hill to Tibooburra trip… but I promise you it’s every bit the adventure.
This trip commences in Bourke on the banks of the mighty Darling River. From Bourke there’s a chance to grab last-minute supplies including free water from the Back O’ Bourke Centre before a 30km run of tar. Then you’re onto The Cut Line. You will want to drop your tyres down to appropriate touring pressures before continuing onto the dirt.
The Cut Line passes through sections of sand, clay and gibber and it’s this variability, together with the isolation, that makes it such a great drive. It is one of the most remote roads in NSW and passing only one or two vehicles a day is not uncommon. It’s this remoteness that gives way to two main options: You could comfortably sit on near enough to 100km/h and experience that freedom you only get from driving a deserted road with a huge dust cloud trailing away; or you could take it much slower and just soak it all in. Me? I like a combination of both.
Heading along The Cut Line I saw roos, emus, goats; and that most iconic Outback reptile, the Shingleback Lizard. These lizards are awesome because, unlike emus (where you are only ever likely to see their backsides as they disappear into the scrub), the Shinglebacks will sit there and rely on their favourite defense mechanism – a tail that looks like a head. This means it’s easy to get up close and personal with one of these guys; and often they will show off a bit by poking out their famous blue tongue.
Towards the western end of The Cut Line the landscape changes again as the road passes over sand dunes and across salt flats. This was the first taste of dune country for the trip and it was merely a preview of what was to come. Just before Tibooburra lies the outdoor pastoral museum. More than simply a look into the history of graziers of the area, it also signifies another change in landscape where mountains of boulders seem to spring up from nothing.
From Tibooburra the trip takes a more traditional route through Sturt National Park, to the dog fence and Cameron Corner. Cameron Corner is one of those peculiar places you only find in the Outback. The Corner Store, which is pretty much a pub, sits hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town. Although just about as remote as you can get, the Corner Store offers brilliant hospitality, a campground and a nine-hole golf course with three holes in each of NSW, SA and QLD.
While at the store, I met a bloke who works maintaining the dog fence. If there is a more remote and lonely job in this country I don’t think I’ve heard of it. This particular guy has a family with two kids waiting for him at home and it’s not like he can just pick up the mobile phone and give them a bell. My hat goes off to him and to all those who work maintaining the world’s longest structure.
I mentioned a preview of sand dune country earlier. West of Cameron Corner is the real deal. We like to call this section of road The Rollercoaster. It is just endless ups and downs and losing your stomach over each dune. This really is a fun drive.
Now most would follow the Strezlecki all the way west before turning north towards Innamincka. This trip, I was doing things differently – so that right turn came a little sooner and I ventured along the Old Strezlecki Track. While the main Strezlecki Track is more of a road, the Old Strez is definitely a track. In fact, at times, it comes down to two wheel tracks through the grass or sand. Currently the north section of the Old Strezlecki Track is closed indefinitely – so at this point the journey rejoins the main Strezlecki Track to Innamincka.
To explore Innamincka you need a Parks pass and a camping permit, both of which can be purchased from the Trading Post (the general store). Exploring Innamincka is highly worthwhile as you learn about not just the aborigines that lived here for thousands of years but also the first white men to come through this way. You might recognise their names – Burke and Wills. Both men died trying to cross the country and sadly, in the case of Burke, it was mostly due to his stubbornness and unwillingness to accept help or advice (especially from the aborigines).
There’s plenty of camping options at Innamincka but the pick has to be Cullyamurra Waterhole. What an amazing spot set against such an arid environment. There’s yellow belly in those waters and sadly a failed fishing attempt was all I could muster. I did, however, manage to catch a couple of blue claw yabbies and some freshwater prawns. I know from previous experience you need a whole bunch of these yabbies to have a feed… so it was this pair’s lucky day. Back they went.
The quickest way from Innamincka to Birdsville is via Walker’s Crossing, but in keeping with the theme of the trip I decided to take the Cordillo Road. Wow! What a drive this road was. From crossing Coopers Creek at the causeway at Innamincka (which was up and flowing hard) to the miles of ruts and waterlogged track.
The track was a challenge and would soon cause my first breakdown of the trip. Driving along one of the many sandy sections, I heard a crunch followed by a squeal from the trailer. Bugger! Sounded like a wheel bearing, which I thought was not so bad as I had spares. Thirty minutes and I would be on my way again. I checked the hub and it felt cool. “That’s strange,” I thought, then I had a closer look.
The nuts on my leaf spring had rattled loose and the bolts had been damaged as they popped out. I do not have a spare leaf spring or bolts. In the end I managed to wedge the spring up under the chassis and tie it off with a strap. Only 350km to Birdsville… time to limp.
The bush repair worked and I managed to see Cordillo Downs Shearing Shed (the largest in Australia). The sandstone walls on this shed come alive just before sunset with an absolutely gorgeous orange glow. Be aware there is no camping allowed here, so if you stay for ‘Golden Hour’ be prepared for a little night driving to make camp. I made camp further up the road and, like a reward for a hard day behind the wheel, the stars came out across a stunning night sky.
The next day I managed to limp the rest of the way to Birdsville where Sam and the guys at the Birdsville Roadhouse sorted me out with some new bushes and bolts for the trailer. Much appreciated, lads. Once in Birdsville you realise what an adventure centre this place is. There were people here heading to or from the Simmo and others heading south down those famous Outback roads. As for me? I was hitting the tar and heading north to where my next adventure waited.