AN Iconic Bushie Following a Dream.
Running north-south along the eastern edge of the Great Victoria Desert from Ceduna to Malbooma old railway siding on the Transcontinental Railway is a 200km (and 300 sand dune) pearler of a classic Outback adventure more commonly known as Googs Track. What’s more it is the inspiring story of an Aussie bushie following his dream.
Born with the very impressive handle of Stanley Gilbert John Denton in 1938 on Eyre Peninsula, Stanley was affectionately know as Goog – a nickname bestowed on him early in his life when he sold eggs for his mother.
Like many bush kids of the time, he left school at 12 and worked on the family farm north of Ceduna. By 13, he was scrub-clearing, driving crawler tractors for other family members and neighbours. Bred ’em tough back then, compared to some kids today who think the world has ended when their mobile phone battery runs dead.
Goog found his perfect match when he met Jenny who had not seen any big city lights until she badly broke an arm at age 12 and was taken to Ceduna! Talk about two kindred spirits. They married in 1965 on Jenny’s 18th birthday and moved to ‘Loan Oak’, 5,800 acres of scrub some 36km north of Ceduna; living in a caravan whilst the house was being built. A Lister engine generated electricity; there were no floor coverings, no running water or telephone; and a kerosene fridge kept the food cool.
But it was home, and it was where they raised their three children Martin (Dinger), Debbie and Jeffery. Loan Oak was also where, sitting on the veranda of an evening peering north with a ‘tallie’ in one hand, Goog would say to Jenny: “I wonder what is out there Mother, between here and Tarcoola?”
In 1973, Goog and Jenny’s brother Denis went to the north of the property to finish a pipeline and came home late.
A non-too-pleased Jenny tells in her own words: “I asked him, ‘where the hell have you been, Father’? And bugger me he said, ‘just having a look to see what I can find out in the scrub. We only went a little way but would love to go further, it has really got me thinking now; there must be rock holes, lakes and some unreal stuff out there’. He was pumped with excitement.”
The first steps had just been taken towards Goog realising his dream. Clearing the track began with Googs Fordson tractor fitted with a front-end loader blade and a two-wheel drive Toyota ute. As they got further north and the dunes started to get bigger and steeper, an Allis Chalmers HD14 and a bulldozer were introduced.
And in what can only be described by me (a Land Rover owner) as an inspired decision, Goog purchased a couple of old Landies as support vehicles. It took three years of endless weekend work, but in August 1976 the rail line was reached and Goog had created a short-cut to the Tarcoola pub and races.
Sadly Goog died in 1996 but he has left an amazing legacy which is being enjoyed by increasing numbers of 4WD enthusiasts. Not only is it a great yarn but it is also a great track. Just out of Ceduna, Kalanbi Road points north to the dog fence (remember to close the gate). The Denton’s Lone Oak Homestead is off on the left but the real adventure starts at the Yumbarra Conservation Park where there is the ultimate sign: ‘4WD only’. Isn’t that a sight for sore eyes?
Initially the going is very easy with low dunes and open country (which was looking pretty average after bushfires). Regrowth was slow but improving as we headed north and ultimately we reached areas unaffected with plenty of shade and some terrific camping spots. One thing Googs Track does not lack is flat, shaded camping spots.
Wildflowers were also prolific with all the colours splashed across the landscape contrasting with the more bland scrub. White, yellow, pink and purple flowers were all there, but a bright red grevillea was the pick of the bunch.
One of the highlights is Googs Lakes – a series of salt lakes with the largest 14km long and 1km wide. Although it appears some goons always have to try, don’t be tempted to drive onto them as inevitably it is soft under the crust and the chances are you will get bogged to the axles. Some areas have had to close for revegatation as (judging from the tyre tracks) too many visitors clearly haven’t respected the fragile environment – even trying to drive up the dunes around the lake. Sad stuff, really.
There is an excellent camping area with a toilet, but you need to bring in firewood. Googs Lakes became a halfway point and the family built a shack which became a weekend home away from home as they got further and further north. Unfortunately the powers that be (South Australian NPWS) decided it didn’t fit in with the Conservation Park image and it had to be demolished.
In its place is a very moving memorial which has been set up for Goog; and his oldest son Dinger who was tragically killed in a car accident.
North of the lakes, the track strikes into Yellabinna Regional Reserve. A track leads off to the east towards Lois Rocks and then on to the dingo fence before it becomes a private track… where it’s time to turn around.
Another 5km and a track heads west to Jellabina Rocks; but read the Hema map very carefully because what looks like a 20km one-way round trip only takes you to a point from which ‘the track continues to Jellabina Rocks’ which are actually another 60-odd kilometres further out. A trap for young players.
Back on the main track the dunes start to get a lot more interesting with some getting to 25 metres high, very soft and very ripped up. The wisdom of dropping tyre pressures back at the dog fence gate is now evident and low range is a good option as too much speed had the 130 bouncing vertically by the third set of ruts on ’roids… where others have been bogged just before the ridge.
Nev, in his auto Prado, found high range and a lowered right foot worked and the resultant ‘tossed salad’ in the back actually left his gear better organised with heavy items at the bottom and light ones on top!
Mt Finke is a 369m high lump of granite in the middle of dune scrub. Five kilometres off the track there are entry/exit points from north and south; and excellent campsites at the base. The hike up the craggy and rocky rise is a great way to ensure kids sleep at night; and if it weren’t for a suspect hammy and sleeping in, we would have thought about giving it a shot!
The track leaves the Yellabinna Regional Reserve just north of Mt Finke and technically ends at Drum Camp where 44-gallon water drums were left by the Malbooma Station owners when abandoning their road building attempt from Malbooma to the south. Goog cleaned up what they had done, although the track has now been realigned to the west and comes out on the Transcontinental Railway.
Goog cut the track for a couple of reasons. Firstly to open access to the railway line so local cockies could get their wool to market easier; and whilst this never actually eventuated, the other goal of a quicker route to the Tarcoola and Kingoonya pubs and annual races was achieved in spades. Sadly the closure of the last gold mine has left Tarcoola a ghost town where time has stood still – but it’s a fascinating place to wander around. The hospital, school, police station, railway station, pub and homes all stand as monuments to the town that was.
Some 75km east, also on the railway line, is Kingoonya – where publican of the Wilgena Hotel, John Brett, was sitting on the verandah waiting to greet dust-blown travellers with a cold beer and lunch. Now this is the sort of Outback pub we enjoy stopping and having a yarn at… and a place where Goog would have been right at home.
WHERE: Googs Track is north of Ceduna, Eyre Peninsula, SA.
HOW TO GET THERE: Just west of town, take Kalanbi Road north to the dog fence and Yumbarra Conservation Park. The track runs all the way to the Transcontinental Railway.
CAMPING: Terrific bush camping all along the track. Formal camping grounds at Googs Lakes and Mt Finke. You need to be self-sufficient in the bush zones as no facilities are provided. Camping fees apply.
SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES: Best to be as self-sufficient as possible as the nearest supplies are Ceduna at the south end or Glendambo or Coober Pedy in the north.
TRIP STANDARD: This is a very remote trip so don’t take chances. NPWSA doesn’t recommend trailers. Most dunes are blind so a sand flag and UHF radio tuned to Channel 18 are the go. Carry recovery gear, including a shovel and air compressor; and be prepared to drop tyre pressures to 16psi.
MORE INFO: Jenny Denton’s book ‘My Memories of Pushing Googs Track’ is a great read and provides excellent background information. Available at: googstrack.com