Battered and broken on the Gary Junction Road

By Glenn Marshall 15 Min Read

Heading east from Kunawarritji on the Canning Stock Route, take Jenkins Road which leads to Gary Junction. Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road crew forged the Gary Junction Road in the 1960s. It took a couple of goes as the grader broke down and had to be towed back to Giles for repairs. Gary Junction is where the Gary Highway and Callawa Track meet the Gary Junction Road. 

The Gary Junction Road, which is more of a highway than the Gary Highway, which is just a little bit of Len Beadell humour, heads east to Alice Springs. There is a bush campsite at the junction with no facilities and a little bit of shade.

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I was blessed with the number and variety of wildflowers and flowering natives thanks to late rains. The landscape is so green and healthy, the best I’ve seen it. I spotted a couple of feral camels, the first for the trip. Not long after I came over a crest to find one sitting in the middle of the track. He did not want to move. But he didn’t have much choice. And when he did move, it moved quickly. 

What went wrong?

About 60km west of Jupiter Well, I realised there was a problem with my rear wheels. They seemed to be locked and would squeal when I tried to take off. I’d had handbrake problems in the past and when I noticed the lever was stuck down but would twitch when I drove forward. I knew was in trouble. 

The decision was made to limp to Jupiter Well, stopping every few km to check things out. I noticed the rims were heating up but not the tyres as the TPMS temps were static. 

By the time I’d reached Jupiter Well, I was mentally exhausted with thoughts on solutions rolling around my brain. It was late and after chatting to a mate who is a mechanic, I followed his advice. Cooked dinner, set up the rooftop tent and hit the hay. 

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Jupiter Well is a nice campsite amongst the casuarinas. There is a rudimentary drop toilet and a hand pump with potable water. A short walk from the hand pump is to the original Jupiter Well, dug by the survey team in 1961 It was re-dug in 1985 but is now dry. 

The next morning, I calmly set up ready to start work on removing the first rear wheel. The brakes and the rotor to access the hub. And the handbrake. The plastic nutgear that I use to indicate if the wheel nuts have loosened or in this case, the bearing temps have risen, had melted on both wheels. With the drivers-side the worse. This meant the bearings might be shot too. I can honestly say, I was not looking forward to this job at all. 

In the meantime, my wife was in the process of contacting RACV to see what the recovery process might be. This is where Starlink proves its value. Allowing constant contact with my wife and eventually RAC and RACV. After talking to the RAC mechanic, the call was made to organise the recovery instead of trying to fix things on the spot. With the risk of damaged wheel bearings and axle, I was relieved. 

How did I fix it?

RAC hand-balled it back to RACV and that’s where the fun began. It was obvious that the support person had no idea about remote bush camping or being remote in general. Looking at Google Maps he tried to tell me that Halls Creek was the closest town. Maybe as the crow flies but not by road.

“We can organise for you to be taken to Halls Creek via that Canning Stock Route Road.” 

I gently explained that the CSR was not an option. The route would have to go through Marble Bar, there was no one at Halls Creek to help and it wasn’t the safest option. 

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“But it’s 1400km to Alice Springs from where you are located, what is your plan B?” he said.

“Are you looking at Google Maps, it is only 760km” I replied. 

You see Google Maps ignores the direct route along the GJR from Kintore, instead leads up bush tracks to reach the Tanami Road.  

“Do you have food, water, toilets and showers at the campground?” he asked.

“This is a bush campsite, I have plenty of drinking water onboard and enough food to last a few days, there are no showers or toilets at bush camps in the desert,” I replied.

“No toilets? What do you do if you need the toilet?” he asked innocently. 

“Dig a hole,” I replied. 

I heard laughter in my ear, 

“You’re joking right, you dig a hole?”

See what I mean?

Who you gonna call?

It wasn’t long before he rang back to tell me that someone was coming to take the Prado as far as a mechanic in Alice Springs. But that is all. Having RACV Total Care entitles me to 200km towing plus $2400 in member benefits that cover accommodation, car hire or taxis. The cost of recovery was $10,000 which RACV covered. One of the reasons why I never leave home without Total Care cover. 

Now that I knew that I was being recovered, it was time to find a mechanic to fix the Prado. I’d recently been on a trip with the manager of ARB Alice Springs, so I touched base with him for advice on a good mechanic. He rang me back an hour later to tell me Toyota and the mechanics he trusted were all booked up for two weeks. 

Thankfully he offered up the ARB workshop to get the issue sorted. And also got back to tell me that Terrain Tamer had the handbrake kit on the shelf. So he’d picked one up. He also offered me his spare room, so accommodation was sorted as well. I really appreciate the network that’s been developed over the years with great people ready to help at the drop of a hat. 

Recovery time

Jamie and Kylie from Red Centre Solutions departed Kulgera and arrived at Jupiter Well by 3:30 pm the next day, incredible driving. Once they arrived, we discussed the logistics of loading the Prado and driving to Alice Springs. Before cracking a couple of cans, cooking some dinner and then hitting the sack early.

Rising at 5 am, camp was packed up before loading the Prado onto the trailer. The acrid smell of cooked brakes filled the nostrils, not nice this early in the morning. We wanted to get away early if we had any chance of making it to Alice Springs today. Losing an hour and a half at the WA/NT border won’t help. 

We passed Len Beadell’s 11 Mile plaque and then the abandoned Nyinmy community. The road was in good condition along this stretch, the big side mirrors on the F250 making it easy to keep an eye on the trailer and Prado. 

We stopped regularly to check the tie-downs and see if any bolts had rattled loose on the trailer. Some of the corrugated sections were taking their toll. Our speed averaged 50kmh so it was going to be a long day. 

Sturt Desert Peas were spotted in the gutters of the track in one section, and we passed by the community at Kirrikurra where you can check out Len Beadell’s burnt-out ration truck. In 1963 when Len and the Gunbarrel Construction Crew were cutting the track. The ration truck burst into flames east of Kirrikurra. The wreck was later moved into the community as it was being damaged by passers-by. 

The corrugations were horrendous for a long while east of Kirrikurra. Even in the commodore lane that runs beside the main track. The Gary Junction Road certainly has plenty of points of interest. That’s what makes this such an interesting drive. Mount Tietkens rises 543m above the spinifex, named after the explorer William Tietkens who passed this way in 1889.

The lunch stop was at the border and 1:30 pm suddenly became 3 pm. Checking in with Paul from ARB, I let him know we wouldn’t be there until tomorrow. With over 400km of dirt to go, the corrugations were hurting us. 

Fueled up at Kintore, which is overlooked by the stunning Mount Strickland, we continued east as the sun began to get closer to the horizon. Mount Liebig and the Amuhurunga Range are a highlight of the drive, the colourful range stretches along beside the track. Camp was found in the dark up an old mining track. 

The next morning we came across a couple of camel herds between Mt Liebig and Papunya, both had a couple of adolescent camels within the herd, showing that the ferals are breeding, unfortunately, not one kangaroo was sighted. 

The corrugations east of Papunya are bone-rattling baddies no matter what speed you’re travelling and with the Prado on a trailer behind the F250, the speed was turtle slow, so every bump was felt. Thank goodness for the Haast Bluff turnoff. 

Once reaching Namatjira Drive, the bitumen starts through West MacDonnell Range National Park, hallelujah! The balance on the trailer wasn’t right, with too much weight at the rear. This was fixed by turning the Prado around which worked perfectly and suddenly 80kmh was possible. Alice Springs here we come. 

Let’s fix the Prado

Arriving at ARB, the trailer was reversed down the driveway so that I could drive it off the trailer and into the workshop. Well, that was a fail, because as soon as the Prado was off the trailer, the back wheels seized up again. 

The manager of ARB, Paul Cooper, decided it was best to get the driver-side rear wheel off to see if it could be freed up or at least see if the bearings had seized. With the right tools and know-how, Paul had the wheel and brake rotor off in no time and the cause of the issue was suddenly revealed. 

As you can see in the images, the handbrake mechanism was melted, and the cable snapped. The heat build-up when I limped to Jupiter Well was immense and I was lucky not to have caused more damage. With the broken parts removed, the rotor brake assembly and wheel were reattached and I was able to drive into one of the bays in the workshop.

After removing the wheels and rotors on both rear wheels, we discovered that the passenger-side rear handbrake was also damaged, as were both rotors. A handbrake kit had already arrived from Terrain Tamer and Paul quickly sourced a second-hand axle assembly that included the rotor, handbrake assembly and handbrake cable from Sprint Mufflers and Exhaust, while I sorted a rotor from Repco. 

The next morning the axle assembly was dropped off and we got to work replacing the handbrake assembly on the passenger side. It was fiddly work with little room to play with. Thanks, Toyota. But eventually, it fitted. The axle was then removed from the drivers-side and the replacement was installed. Once the cable had been refitted, the handbrake was tested and the tolerances adjusted before fitting the new rotor. The brakes were bled before the wheels were put back on. Within 12 hours of being at ARB, the Prado was on the road again. 

This wasn’t the way I’d envisaged the Gary Junction Road adventure turning out, but what it proved is that people are willing to help out a bloke in need and RACV Total Care paid for itself 10 years over. I was also relieved that Jamie underquoted the recovery, something will be heading his way soon as a way of saying thanks. The key to this whole thing was staying calm and working out a solution that, in the end, worked well. Starlink was also a plus, as it allowed me to easily communicate with my wife, RAA, RACV, ARB Alice Springs and Red Centre Solutions. 



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