Just on twelve months ago Lindy and I were traveling south on the Willangee road near Eldee Station (north of Silverton and Broken Hill) and I noticed on my Ozi Explorer screen (car navigation) the waypoint for Mt Robe and looked across at the summit thinking that maybe next year I would investigate activating it. I really love this part of the country and I thought I would probably be back out here again in twelve months with perhaps another trip to Milparinka .
Skip forward some months and plans were put in place for another attempted trip to Farina in SA via Milparinka, the corner and the Strezlecki Track. The plan was to again volunteer at the visitors centre in Milparinka for a fortnight then head south, call in to Pimpara Lake Station for a few days remote camping and then down to Broken Hill to re-stock and if possible, do the the Mt Robe climb. After that it would be back north again via the Wilangee Road, on to the dog fence and then out through Cameron Corner and over to Farina. So, some weeks ago I began ringing around to try and find out on whose property Mt Robe was on and whether I could gain access. As it is only some 5km east of Eldee station, I started there.
Eldee station is a ‘station stay’, in other words, they provide accommodation and recreational access to their station. Quite a lot of properties are now offering accommodation and other services via their Shearer’s quarters or remote camping in their unique and often spectacular countryside to provide tourism services and or supplement their income. And whilst I would put Eldee on the slightly more expensive list, I was prepared to stay there two nights if I was granted permission to climb. After a couple of failed attempts at making contact, I finally managed to speak to the owner by phone only to be told that it was not on their property but that it was on Purnamoota station on the eastern side of the Barrier Range. He was unable to give me a phone number and wasn’t sure of the spelling of the owner’s name and so it was on to whitepages.com trying various spellings until I managed to strike the correct one and Bingo! I now had the name and telephone number for the station.
Now I don’t know about you but I am never too sure how much information to give out when describing what I want to do (ie – climb and operate radio from the summit) to the property owners. I usually preface the conversation with something like”Now this is going to sound like a strange request…” and then go on to ask permission to climb and give background as to why. It is always easier when the person has heard of Ham radio but mostly they haven’t and so the explanation becomes somewhat longer. At the end of the discussion I then hold my breath hoping the answer is ‘Yes’ but bracing myself for a ‘No’ as occurred in the case of Mt Shannon last year.
This time, luck was with me and I was granted permission subject to there being no sheep mustering occurring in that particular (10000 acre) paddock at that time. Also I was told that I would have to climb on foot as there were no tracks to the top anyway. I was told to ring back closer to the time as this was now about one month out.
Mt Robe is the second highest SOTA peak in the Upper Western region of NSW at about 474m and like all the others in this region is only worth one point. The first European to climb and name the peak was Charles Sturt in 1845. I believe he named it in honour of Frederick Robe who was at that stage about to be made the 4th Governor of the colony of South Australia. Sturt’s expedition to find the inland sea also opened up the country all the way up to and beyond Birsdville in far SW Qld. In the 1850’s pastoralists started moving into this country taking up selections and in the late 1800s silver was found in the vicinity of Mt Robe which started a rush and the town of Purnamoota was born. It did not last long as richer fields of silver lead and zinc were found further south in what became known as Broken Hill. Today Purnamoota is a vast pastoral mainly sheep station of some 130000 acres or about 500 square Km. Little remains of the actual town other than the Assembly Hall built in 1888 (now part of the shearer’s quarters) and the homestead which was also a small stone cottage but now much extended and modernised. The owners told us there are even a small number of graves still visible on the property.
I planned to attempt the Mt Robe trip while we camped at Silverton which is located 22km NW of Broken Hill. Camping at Silverton’s Penrose Park) is a great experience. Penrose Park is 73 acres of reserve on the banks of Umberumberka Creek. The reserve was set aside in 1937 for miner’s families to attend picnic days and general recreation – a sort of getaway from mining life. It was managed by a Trust and further developed over the years. Now there are many powered and non powered camp sites in a semi bush setting along with some cabins as well. There is only one shower block but a number of toilets blocks scattered around the complex. Add to that about six tennis courts, a mini zoo, an old steam train engine plus you can get great meals and coffee at the small manager’s office. It is just a short walk into Silverton itself via the Umberumberka Creek bed which brings you out at the old Gaol. Well worth a visit as it contains extensive collections of memorabilia from the era. There is even a small display of AR QSL cards and other ham radio memorabilia collected from Amateurs in the area. This is also a good place to start the Silverton Heritage walk – so lots to do and see in Silverton. Did I mention the pub? Good meals and great photo opportunities as this pub has featured in more films and commercials than most of us have had hot dinners.
But back to the activation. With no phone service at the camping area I headed up to the water tank hill above the hotel and rang Purnamoota Station and was relieved to be granted permission to go the following day. Prior to coming out on this trip I purchased a new phone but soon discovered the GPS was faulty and as I was expecting to be out of phone range for the next few weeks on our travels, I decided to send it back from Broken Hill so it could be repaired and be back home by the time I got home. With no phone I planned to be spotted by radio only but to make sure I also rang Andrew VK2UH who kindly put up an alert up for me plus an email to the SOTA group to ensure that someone might listen out for me.
By now Lindy and I had been joined on our outback trip again by friends Neil and Jean a week or so before and Neil had decided to accompany me up the hill which I was very glad of for both the company and the safety aspect. He had wanted to come up North Barrier with me last year but unfortunately staked a tyre at the bottom of the climb and had to retreat so never saw what all this SOTA fuss was about.
Neil and I set off for Purnamoota station around 9.30am the following Thursday morning and arrived at the station homestead around 10.30am or so. We were greeted at the door by Cynthia who gave us a bit of a run down on the station, the homestead and the history. It was quite amazing to realise that a small town had existed here at the end of the nineteenth century and that pre-dated Broken Hill itself and as I mentioned, it is a thriving sheep station. Mount Robe is a further 10km north of the homestead and at the foot of the summit are the stone ruins of a small mining settlement. There were also a number of mine shafts close by and the ground all around was shining with silicate. The area was mostly silver mining and Cynthia told us that in the early days plugs of silver were found lying on the surface. We didn’t see any and I am not sure neither of us would recognise it anyway.
The drive out was very easy at the beginning
and I was starting to think it would be a ‘walk in the park’. I didn’t even pull the Troopy into 4WD until we started to climb a very rocky ridge and where the track now started to fade from little use. I was soon in low range and just picking my way across the ridge and down through a dry creek bed and up the final climb. Once at the top of the lower ridge, Mt Robe continued to climb away to our left with the trig point no longer in view and a small valley with the ruins just in front of us.
We took the view in over morning tea and then, Neil with his small pack and my camera and me with the squid pole and back pack, we set off over very rocky ground for the summit. The weather was beautiful compared to Wagga at this time of year but even at the bottom a stiff breeze was blowing which continued and increased all the way to the top where it became a howling gale. The climb was relatively easy and took around 30 minutes climbing about 160m to the peak of 474m. Some weeks before I picked my route by viewing the area from Google Earth (GE) and indeed where we parked it confirmed it to be the best place for the final ascent. In GE I noticed some low scrubby bush dotting the landscape, however these in fact were not scrubby bush as such but small Eucalyptus trees maybe some 3-4 metres in height. Otherwise the ground was covered in grasses about 10cm high and interspersed with desert succulents, wildflowers and lots and lots of stone – most of it full of silicate. It had been a good year out there from about February onward. Cynthia had told us though that the country was very poor prior to that and the stock on the station had been severely impacted.
The views from the summit were spectacular. To the west are the Mundi Mundi plains and if you have been across the Hay plains and thought they were vast then they pale into insignificance by comparison. And this is where the wind was rushing in from. I would hate to be there in that wind in the middle of summer!
The gale made it impossible to operate from the trig so I selected a bunch of these small eucalypt trees just over the brow of the hill and where the wind wasn’t quite so bad. I lashed the squid pole to a branch and ran out the antenna and was soon up on 7090kHz. Very pleased to hear Paul VK5PAS who was S9+. I broke in and Paul was first in the log and after swapping signal reports he kindly left me to the frequency. Soon I had 15 contacts with most giving me reasonable signal reports. There were even some calls I didn’t recognise, so that was good; It means we are still attracting chasers to this part of the hobby. I did switch to 20m toward the end of the activation but had no luck and with the wind having already collapsed the squid pole once so violently I thought it was broken I decided to pack up and head down. Once back at the car we decided that we should explore the ruins further down the ridge. We counted at least five or maybe six separate ruins with one or two chimneys still very recognisable. It still amazes me that people lived and worked in this very harsh and unforgiving environment. At least one mine shaft was visible but we didn’t investigate it as there were probably many others we couldn’t see and a fall out here would have been very hard to manage. A few photos more and we set off back to the homestead.
The return drive down was unremarkable except for one of the steep down hill bits where the Troopy decided to start sliding sideways. Fortunately we were just crawling along so no damage done – just a tad unnerving. We called in to the homestead and found Cynthia out watering her garden in the hope that it would attract the rain forecast for the following day. She had asked us to call back in so she knew we were safely back. I asked permission to photograph the old Assembly hall on the way out and were told we could so we set off over there to look. These days it is part of the Shearers Quarters. Some more photos and then off back to town. I measured the distance from the homestead to their front gate – a mere 13km.
A nice cup of coffee at the Broken Hill Visitors Centre and then back to Silverton. All in all a great activation. The following day was wet and it doesnt take much rain out in this country for the authorities to close the gravel roads and so we stayed now for another day. By that afternoon though the weather improved with the sun out but still very windy. It was enough though to open the roads north. I took the opportunity to explore the old Silverton Gaol. If you decide to go you need to set aside a couple of hours as the displays are very comprehensive. There are eighteen rooms full of displays , many of which concentrate on aspects of life in the area in the late nineteenth century.
The following morning (Saturday) we packed up and refuelled in Broken Hill and then headed north up the Willangee road. This gravel road heads out north west across the Mundi Mundi plains and again we passed Mt Robe. It then slowly works its way toward the Corona road. From the Corona road we made our way to Teilta Lake where we planned to camp overnight. Last year we stayed here for five days following rain and where the roads were again all closed. This stay put paid to our aim of heading to Cameron Corner and then around to Farina via the Strezlecki track. From here we made our way up past the dog fence and on to Theldarpa station. We were all very optimistic we wouldn’t be stopped by rain again. But alas, it wasn’t to be and over the next few days we ended up again back in Silverton but at least not rained in up north. We left for Wagga the following day. Neil and Jean continued on for another few weeks.
So, what is next up that way? I have my eye on Mt Gundabooka which is just south of Bourke and is the highest summit in the Upper Western. Also in my sites is Mt Koonenberry which is north west of Broken Hill. So, let’s see what happens in the next few months.
Many thanks to Andrew VK2UH/1DA for putting up my alert and for those who spotted me and also managed to work me.
Below is my track.