Camping out in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands – 1979

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Camping out in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands – 1979
Half a dozen stubbies – entry “fee” to Vokes Hill l”Country Club’. South Australian Outback ,1979
South Australian desert in full bloom, 1979

‘When we camped at sundown the experienced bushmen In the party lit the camp fire, carved the mutton chops for the evening meal on the tailgate of one of the Range Rovers and produced some very welcome cold cans of beer from the portable refrigerators. ..at night (in zero temperatures) we slept snug in our sleeping bags under the stars, covered by small tarpaulins, feet towards the fire. No pitching tents to slow us down on this trip. As we woke at first light the occasional dingo could be seen, shy, careful but interested in what we were up to’. Extract from “After work, After play, After all” 

In July 1979 I was little more than two months into incumbency as South Australian Minister of Environment and Lands and blissfully unaware that Premier Corcoran would take us to a disastrous early state election just three months later.

I wanted to find out about this vast arid area in the north west of the state, particularly the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands. Legislation recognizing the rights of the traditional owners to their land had been introduced while Don Dunstan was still Premier and was still on the parliamentary notice paper for debate when he retired in February.

With half a dozen experienced officers from both departments we set out from Coober Pedy, travelling north west, paying our respects to the Aboriginal communities in the area.

At Vokes Hill we got a taste of the larrikin outback humour in a photo we took of an improvised signpost for the ‘Vokes Hill Country Club’ where the track from the now deserted township of Cook on the Trans Australian Railway joins the Anne Beadell ‘Highway’. Closer inspection reveals the true magnificence of this mirage in the desert, under the management of ‘Fred and Bryan’. A swimming pool and sauna complement the licensed bar-restaurant and golf course. Membership fees ‘ ‘½ doz ECHOS’, a particularly South Australian name given to ‘stubbies’

We turned south off the Anne Beadell ‘Highway’ (named after his wife by the legendary surveyor Len Beadell) and travelled a further 270 kilometres to Cook, at that time still a small township serving the Trans Australian Railway. Just prior to our trip there had been almost two inches of rain in parts of the desert country and the ephemeral plants were in full bloom.

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