18 January 2000

Well, we've certainly had some adventures since our last report. After leaving Thargomindah last Thursday with the intention of driving down toTibooburra and Milparinka we stopped at the pub (that's all that's there anyway) at a place called Noccundra which is on Nockatunga station to fill up with petrol. Continuing on from there we had travelled only another 70 kms towards Tibooburra when the car suddenly started losing power, and finally stopped altogether. The problem appeared to be fuel related and all I could put it down to was dirty petrol from when we filled up at Noccundra (we took the last of the petrol out of their bowser and the boss had to go to Nockatunga station to get another 200 litre drum from which he filled us right up – and the jerrycan, which we had also used). Anyhow, after sitting there 70-odd kms from Noccundra a few trucks came by on their way to Epsilon station. Unfortunately, they weren't able to get us going but they did say they would get in touch with the pub at Noccundra and make sure they knew we were stranded out there and that if we didn't get back in someone would come out looking for us. They also told us they would be coming back that way later that night and would take us in if we were still there. So we spent the day in the shade of some trees at a creek crossing reading and observing the wild life and periodically trying to get the ute going (unsuccessfully) and generally biding our time until someone came for us. In the evening, the ute decided to behave itself somewhat and we limped back to Noccundra. Imagine our surprise when the people there said they didn't know anything about us being stranded; it seems the truck driver called his office on the two-way and asked them to telephone the pub at Noccundra about us, but for some reason they never did. Anyhow, true to his word the truck driver did come back that way and made sure we had got back.

The next morning the guy at Noccundra pulled the fuel filter off the ute and it was full of dirt. He seemed to think the filter hadn't been changed for a long time, but I am sure the problem was the petrol he sold us - for reasons which will become clear later. So he cleaned the filter out until it was passing clear petrol and put it back on, and off we went again. He told us he would 'phone ahead to the corner store at Tibooburra and tell them to expect us. This time we got 90 kms out and the same thing happened again. Only this time we were stuck out in the open on a blazing hot day, so all we could do was rig some blankets and reflectors to keep the heat out of the ute as much as possible and wait it out again. It was pretty hot and uncomfortable, but we were never really in any danger as we had plenty of water (even thought it, too, was hot) and food (although we didn't feel much feel like eating). Some time in the afternoon two 4WD's travelling together came by and we flagged them down and asked them to call in at the corner store in Tibooburra and tell them we were stuck again and required assistance. This they promised to do and after making sure we were OK and had plenty of water, off they went. About 7:00 pm a 4WD approached from the direction we were heading and a girl got out and said she had been contacted by the corner store at Tibooburra and was to take us back to Naryilco station for the night. She said someone would come out in the morning and take the ute back to the station to be looked at. I was reluctant to leave the ute with all our gear in it and said I would see if it would start and then take it as far as I could towards the station before leaving it. Much to my embarrassment, the ute chugged along (although slowly) all the 30 kms to Naryilco. By now a pattern was starting to emerge: as long as we drove it slowly in the cool of the early morning or at night, it was not too bad, but it would not go in the heat of the day. This was mystifying to me and did not sound like dirty fuel. After dinner and a good nights sleep at Naryilco, the station's mechanic next morning again cleaned out the fuel filter, and also drained the petrol tank and blew out the fuel lines with compressed air. I also got him to drain the petrol out of the 20 litre jerry can I carry as a back up and although you couldn't see the dirt which must have been left in the petrol tank, you could certainly see that left behind in the jerry can - hence my certainty of a bad lot of fuel at Noccundra. After refilling the petrol tank and jerry can with fresh, clean unleaded petrol, we set off again for Tibooburra, after the people at Naryilco had confirmed with the corner store at Tibooburra that we were coming. Unfortunately, the problem again occurred and after stopping and starting a number of times we finally limped into Tibooburra (about 110 kms from Naryilco) around midday. I was again becoming unsure that the problems we were experiencing were due to the dirty fuel and was beginning to think them the result of excessive heat in the engine compartment (the water temperature was normal) causing a vapour lock in the fuel lines, and had already decided to take the ute on to Broken Hill (another 330 kms further south) to have it looked at by the Mazda dealer there.

So after spending the afternoon quietly in Tibooburra, which has the reputation of being one of the hottest places in Australia - and it certainly lived up to that reputation the day we were there, and seeing all there was to see (which took about three minutes - but nevertheless it is a nice, quiet friendly little town, full of history and atmosphere) we set out not long before dusk towards Broken Hill. The lady in the corner store at Tibooburra phoned ahead to the roadhouse at Packsaddle telling them we were on our way, and we were to telephone back to her when we got there. As it turned out, we again had problems and limped into Packsaddle at 2:00 am this morning - long after it had closed and everyone gone to bed. It had taken us 7 hours to travel 160 kms. We decided to sleep in the ute at Packsaddle (we didn't have too many other options) and come on to Broken Hill in the early morning, So about 6:15 am we rang back to Tibooburra and told them we had got as far as Packsaddle and were going on, and they were going to ring the people at Packsaddle when they opened later and tell them we had already gone through. So on we came and reached Broken Hill (170kms on from Packsaddle) without too many problems (driving about 60kph) at around 9:30 this morning. The car is booked in for Thursday and after talking to the Mazda dealer I suspect we may have a u/s front CV (constant velocity) joint which is "dragging" and generating excessive heat in the engine compartment and thereby causing a vapour lock. Time will tell.

Meanwhile there is plenty to see and do in Broken Hill and we have had a pleasant day (after having first grabbed a few hours sleep at the Motel) just poking around the city centre and going out to Silverton this afternoon. Silverton is (almost) a ghost town 27 kms WNW of Broken Hill. It looks like you would imagine Dodge City to have looked: wide, dusty dirt street, old storefronts, tumbleweed, etc. It is a fascinating place, and the pub has been used in many film and TV commercials (Mad Max II, A Town Like Alice, and about 20 others).

From here, once I am satisfied the ute is OK again, we will probably go across to the Flinders Ranges, up to Blinman, then across to Parachilna, up to Leigh Creek and then along the Strzlecki Track and cutting across to Cameron's Corner then back the way we came - through Noccundra, Thargomindah and then back over to Eastern Queensland. At least that's the plan at the moment.

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