Hi there,

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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Bullara Station

18 – 20 /06/2017
Bullara Station (Western Australia)
Distance Travelled:
545 km

damper eaten

Leaving Tom Price, we knew it would be one hell of a drive to get all the way to Exmouth in one day (around 630 km, or 8 hours without a break). We had also heard there were a few interesting places to stop at along the way; amongst these was a working cattle station at the base of Cape Range, known as Bullara Station. As such, we decided to break up the journey and take a pit stop in our travels.

The morning began well enough. We drove out of the campsite and made our way down the main street of Tom Price. We didn’t get too far before we stopped briefly at a large monument to this mining town. To be honest, there wasn’t much of a fanfare about this great feat of human engineering or the hard-won history of this corner of Western Australia. But at a junction, just off the main road, there was a large discarded mega-dump truck that they boys were able to stand in front of and take few photos in the early morning light.

Tom Price - Mining truck

Having taken a snap or two, we jumped back into the car and finally got an early start on our journey. With the sun low in the sky, as we zipped off down the highway, we felt like we were ahead of the game.

Typing the words “Bullara Station” into Google, we asked our sage electronic advisor for the best way to proceed. “Turn right onto State Route 136” we were informed. “Fair enough,” we thought (having never been led astray before), “let’s go…”

Perhaps our first clue that we had in fact been led astray by our ever-faithful electronic companion should have been the half-rusted road sign that pointed down the trail. As it turns out, one should probably think twice about taking a heavily loaded camp trailer down any byway with the moniker of ‘Nameless Valley Drive’. On second thoughts (and in case anyone actually mistakes this for a ‘travel advice blog’) perhaps I should be very clear on this matter: “never, ever, drive a fully loaded camp trailer down a road called ‘Nameless Valley Drive’”.

However, we unfortunate souls did indeed drive along this stretch of tarmacked road. It wasn’t until nearly 20 or 30 kilometres had passed that our good fortune (and the bitumen) suddenly ran out. Coming to a T-junction we were unexpectedly faced with three options: On one hand, we could persevere down the bumpy gravel road of ‘Nameless Valley Drive’ and would have (probably) eventually emerged back on to the main highway once more. On the other hand, we could turn our car north… but, oh man, would that be one hell of a detour (for anyone who cares to check out a map, you’ll find that the road north would lead us in the complete opposite direction to where we were heading). Finally, we figured we could also bite the bullet, turn around, and follow the bitumen back to Tom Price. While this would mean backtracking quite a way and resulting in a slightly circuitous route to our destination via the small town named Paraburdoo, at least we would be on our way once more...

Although neither of these options thrilled us, as soon as the boys heard the name “Paraburdoo”, they were hooked on the idea. “Paraburdoo”, “Paraburdoooooo”, “Paraburdooooooo” (try saying it out loud, using the voice of Yogi Bear from the 1980’s cartoon of the same name, and you’ll be able to experience the full oral and aural pleasure that is inherent in this otherwise nondescript appellation).

With apologies to Hanna-Barbera

And so, with our tail firmly between our legs, we returned to Tom Price and set off again in the direction of Paraburdoo.

Fortunately, the road in this direction was well maintained and a joy to travel upon. We drove for many hours, listening to audio books and music, until we eventually called in for lunch at a small roadhouse known as “Nanutarra”. Despite the large forecourt and spacious real estate surrounding each of the bowsers, there was bugger all food on sale inside the café attached to this place. Pulling up, we also spied a convoy of trailers who were drawing up at this enclave of petrol and food.

While I filled the car, Nat and the boys high tailed it into the store, attempting to beat the masses and check out what meagre offerings were on sale inside. Having given our car a good drink and the windows a hearty scrub, I soon followed the rest of the clan with some haste into the store. Turning towards the shop, I saw an army of grey haired nomads who had begun lurching their way towards the front door. Eyeing my nemeses, it seemed to dawn on us all of us at the same time that we on a collision course to the front steps of the shop – and there was not going to be enough snacks to fill ALL of our bellies...

… Luckily, with my good hips and unadulterated knees, I was able to dodge this gaggle of silvery haired stalwart road-warriors with a mix of weaving this way and that (not to mention elbows ready to knock aside any of the marauding interlopers who might get in my way! Huzzah!) – until I finally set a triumphant foot on the steps of this oasis of food and drink.

Having finally secured the high ground, I turned to the zombiesque crew (who were clawing their way towards me, groaning and wailing). I glanced down at the uneven ground upon which I had bounded over to reach the staircase, and gave a wry grin. “Try and catch me now” I cackled as I sauntered up and took my place in line with Nat and the boys; who were hurriedly urging the shop attendant to put the last few remaining pies into a bag…

…So, with petrol and pies paid for, we promenaded down the stairs – past the tangle of older travellers (who were still groping their way to the top) and sat on a park bench to have lunch. Perhaps it wasn’t the most salubrious of surroundings; but our meagre morsels tasted all the sweeter for knowing that they were the spoils of a hard-won battle!

Nantura road house – Yup, it's a long way to pretty much anywhere from here...

Leaving Nanutarra Road House, amidst a clattering of canes that had been raised in anger and protest (Ok, so I may have lapsed into hyperbole and started to embellish a little on our story here…), we soon passed through some more magnificent scenery that this region of the world had to offer.

Before too long we pulled up at the somewhat understated gates of Bullara Station.

Bullara Station

Manoeuvring down the driveway of Bullara station, we pulled up at the homestead. The reception was set behind a simple wrought iron gate leading to the front door. Wandering into reception, we were greeted by a friendly young lady who took our details and radioed ahead to her colleague in the station, who would soon meet us and show us around. While at the reception, we also enquired about what fun and frolics were on offer here. We were regaled with stories about 4x4 driving tracks, fishing holes and languid walks around great sand dunes just outside of the campsite. “Awesome” we all thought, bring on tomorrow and we’ll hit all the best spots.

Heading out of reception, we returned to our car and drove a little further into the station; past the shearing sheds and an assortment of other farm buildings. Pulling up as instructed, we soon met a young chap who showed us to out allocated spot.

Bullara station

“If you’re quick at setting up”, said the young chap, as we pulled up at our dusty, yet shady spot; “Damper John will be gathering serving up shortly”

“Who is Damper John” we chorused, enthralled by the idea of being served food after all this time on the road.

“Oh, he’s an old bloke who makes damper every night around the camp fire. Everyone’s welcome to share a bit” came the reply. “Take a couple of drinks and something to spread on the damper – it’s a good night”. Then the young fella disappeared back into the dust of the early evening air, ready to meet the next new arrival in this far-flung corner of Western Australia.

With promise of a warm fire and a bit of a nibble to fill our bellies, we sprang into action and had the trailer set up in record time. Nat and the boys soon went to secure a spot around the campfire, while I finished off the last few bits of set up (slightly reminiscent of the show down at Nanutarra earlier in the day). In the end, I turned up with a beer in hand and plonked myself down amongst the circle of 40ish people around the campfire; where I was able to finally relax and breathe in the smoky, cool, evening air.

Looking around the circle, it was clear that some of our fellow travellers had been at this ritual before. Several of our number called out across the circle to their opposites on the other side of the fire, asking how they had faired on with this or that expedition today. But, amidst all of this, there was a roaring fire. Flames licked up the sides of large dried logs, and smoke curled up towards the darkening sky above.

Not long after I’d sat down within the circle, a tall man (who was sporting a leather Akubra hat, blue shirt and khaki shorts) emerged from the back of the group. Speaking with a thick Yorkshire accent, he drew everyone’s attention towards himself and welcomed us all to Bullara. He gave a fine speech and read a poem that he’d penned about his time in this place several years ago. As it turns out Damper John had spent the last six or so of the past dry seasons here in Bullara, living a caravan on his regular patch of earth near the fire. As he spoke, he gave the occasional subtle nod to three damper loaves cooling on a wooden bench of to the left. We learned that he’d been preparing these throughout the late part of the afternoon, as the throngs of travellers had begun to gather. With speeches and poems finished, Damper John cut into three of the lightest loaves of damper that I’d ever experienced. In turn, these were duly passed the around for all to share.

Slathering our slabs of damper with butter, vegemite or peanut butter, we sat back and chatted to those other travellers who had congregated around us.

The rest of the evening was passed around the campfire, until it was time to head back to the trailer, make some proper dinner, and wind down for the day. Eventually, one by one, we went to bed – with the promise of heading down the 4x4 track in the morning and go fishing in the many water holes butting up onto the coast at the edge of the station.

Freshly cooked damper by the campfire at Bullara Station

As the rest of the clan drifted off to sleep, I returned to the now deserted campfire and spent a few hours sorting through photos and writing this blog. But in the end, the fire died down and I sat looking at the stars before heading to bed as well.

The next morning, with the rousing speech of Damper John still rolling around in heads from the night before, we were pumped and ready to get cracking. Needing a hearty breakfast to get us set for the day, we wandered up to the little café attached to the reception building and ordered a round of Devonshire teas for us all. As we waited for the scones to be cooked, the kids played in the garden and made friends with guinea pig and other pets owned by the station hosts. Sipping our coffee and licking jam and cream from our chins, we turned our faces to soak up the rays of the warm morning sun, before wandering back to the car so we could head off on a backroads trip to the ocean.

Tasked with getting the gear ready for the day, I was the first to return to the car. As had been common practice since acquiring a chip in our windscreen, I glance first at the front window to check if all was still OK.

…”Bugger”, I thought, as I soon realised that we were most definitely NOT ok. My eyes were immediately drawn to a long snake-like crack that had worked its way up through the bottom half of the window. “Oh, bugger…” I repeated, under my breath.

Last night had been cold! And by ‘cold’, I mean freezing. As such, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that the heating/cooling and expanding/shrinking of the glass would have caused more than a little stress upon the pane. However, what did dawn on me quickly, was the idea that what had once been a $90 repair, had suddenly skyrocketed to be a liability of around five or six hundred dollars – and all this was done in the blink of an eye…

Needless to say, we decided against our 4x4 off-road experience today. The crunchy sound that was coming from the window was a warning that could not easily be ignored – especially as we still had a few hundred kilometres to cover before we could get to a windscreen repair shop.

Phone reception at Bullara was weak to say the least. However, the good folks that ran this place had had the wherewithal to install a cell phone booster box near their repair shed. This little box wasn’t overly strong, but it did throw out enough signal to get a bar (or two if you were lucky) every now and then. Huddling around the shed, with a bunch of other travellers who were desperate to get some form of connection to the outside world, we eventually tracked down a window repair shop in Exmouth that would be able to get us back on the road again.

Having given our details over the phone to the mechanic, we figured there was little else to do than to explore some of Bullara Station on foot...

As such, we wandered away from the throngs gathered around the old repair shed and took a walk towards a trail at the back of the station. Heading past a row of farming equipment and disused, weather-beaten cars, we found our way out of a series of heavy iron gates and into the paddocks beyond. The gates closed behind us with a resounding clang; pulled shut by a creaky makeshift pully system.

Bullara Station - This Way... to adventure!

Wandering down the trail, we passed flocks upon flocks of galahs and crows; all nibbling on grains from feeding silos and drinking their fill at water troughs. The sky boiled with clouds, which were pushed across the sky by the high up winds. However, down here on the ground, the air was still and warm.

Along the trail, we kept our eyes peeled for a special inhabitant that we’d heard frequented this area. Amidst the tails told by Damper John the night before, he’d also urged visitors to take a wander and see if they could spot the Bower Bird (family Ptilonorhynchidae) that called Bullara Station it’s home. AS such, Nat, the boys and I on a quest to find this elusive creature. Luckily, we were given a little help in our search, as we turned the corner and stumbled across a less than subtle roughly painted sign that signalled the bird was nearby...

Bullara - Shhhh, Bower Bird's nearby

Try as we might, and despite the colossal sign trying to point us in the right direction, we just couldn’t seem to find the bird or his obscured nest for quite some time. Off the track we went, plunging deep into the scrub, in a desperate search to find this mysterious beast. With no luck amongst to dust and thorny bushes, we returned to the track and up and down for the best part of half an hour. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Eagle Eyes Nat spotted it! The bower bird had made its nest in the crook of an old dead tree. The characteristically shaped bower, made from individually placed stalks of grass, was currently adorned by offerings of white objects and clear glass. Scattered some way from the entrance was a smattering of discarded green and blue items from previous attempts at attracting a mate. We’d heard from others around the camp that until recently the front of the bower had been decorated by a mix of green and white pebbles, but seemingly this colour scheme had not been to the liking of potential mates.

Bullara - Bower bird nest

Having snooped around the nest for a while, with no sign of the owner coming home, we decided to press on down the track. We knew from the folks around the campfire that this trail would end at an expanse of sand dunes that could be explored.

Turning a corner, we emerged from the trail onto a vast region of sand. Although they weren’t on the same scale as grand deserts like Namibia or the Sahara, they were still pretty cool to wander around. The boys had a great time diving down the dunes and leaving trails of foot prints on the otherwise pristine sand. We also spent hours following various animal tracks that weaved their way through the sparse foliage poking up through the sandy earth. Occasionally an Antlion nest (family Myrmeleontidae) would appear amongst the scrub, and we watched as little critters fell to the doom in the jaws waiting at the bottom of the pit’s slippery slopes (Ahhh, the circle of life…).

Bullara - Antlion trap

As the clouds started to roll in, we left the critters of the Bullara sand dunes and made our way back to camp. As we arrived, the kids made a bee line back to the central campfire, where they struck up a conversation with Damper John. It turns out that we were just in time for the king of damper to begin his afternoon process of crafting bread to feed the masses later that evening. Our own little budding master chefs got in on the gig and helped out/watched with interest as the floury mixture was combined and lightly kneaded, before being placed in heavy cast iron pots and covered with coals. Occasionally over the next 40 minutes, the coals were moved and the damper checked to ensure a good crunchy crust was formed. In the end, Damper John and his two little apprentices turned out a trio of crunchy, fluffy loaves onto the wooden bench.

Bullara - Damper John and his two new apprentices!

As the crowds started to gather, we listened again to tall tales around the campfire, before breaking bread with our neighbours for the night. We hung around the campfire for most of the evening, chatting and gathering intel from fellow travellers.

The boys busied themselves with playing petanque / boules and having a steaming wash in the wood fired outside shower. However, before long, it was time to turn in and bring out Bullara adventure to a close.

It would be an early start in the morning, as we would be on a mission to get arrive at Exmouth in time to have our windscreen fixed; before diving headlong into the coastal wilderness of Ningaloo National Park.

But, for now, we must sleep.

Bye ‘d bye,


....Oh, before I go, if you want to see a few photos of Bullara that are a little more specky than we managed to capture, you might want t check out the website of Gemma Clarke. There's even a snap of Damper John's 'world famous in Australia' recipe for the camp bread he has become known for.  I toyed with the idea of posting it myself (I mean, he does give a copy of the recipe to everyone who comes to the evening get together), but I just couldn't bring myself to poach the work of someone who so obviously loves what he does.

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