That suited us. We were heading for Cameron Corner and the old track was a short-cut that took 36km off the journey. Seeing we were taking a 110km side trip on our way south to have a beer at Cameron Corner that was a bit inconsequential but it seemed good advice.
Ranger “Duck” Robertson at the Dig Tree told us the new Strzelecki Track was in a bad way. Trucks were busting trailers to bits on the bulldust holes. So many trucks were on the Strzelecki these days with all the mining that it should be bitumen all the way.
A lot of freight trucks were now running from Brisbane instead of Adelaide. Go the old track, “Duck” reckoned.
So did Jeff Matthews, our helpful friend at Innamincka, who warned millions of trucks plying the unsealed main road from Lyndhurst to Innamincka had battered it.
Off we toodled down the Old Strzelecki, named after Polish explorer Pawel (Paul) Strzelecki, who shot through from Poland after he was spurned as a suitor and accused of theft by a boss. Strzelecki was a self-proclaimed count, a self-taught geologist and a self-announced explorer who was the first to find copper in Canada and named our highest mountain Mt Kosciuszko after the Polish king.
A sign at the start of the old track warned it was an unmaintained road but it wasn’t too bad – narrow, rocky, a bit washed out but easily traversed without needing 4WD.
Halfway down a broad, unsealed, unnamed road cut east from the Strzelecki Track into Queensland. It looked to be used by a lot of mining traffic. Oil and gas was the go out here.
We doglegged it on to the southern stretch of the Old Strzelecki and about a kilometre down came across a wall of dirt piled across the track. Three flags were stuck in it. No one had said anything about the track being closed.
A fine wide gravel road ran off to the left but no arrow indicated it was a detour. We debated what it all meant and elected to follow the nice new road east, hoping it was a detour that would take us south again.
Turn south it did after a few kilometres. It ran through a gas field with signs right and left pointing to “Mudera No. 3”, “Mudera No. 6” etc. Our doubts grew. Eventually all roads pointed to Mudera.
We spied a truck over at one of the points, headed for it and were confronted with a large high vis man with a bearded, fly-netted head. He was shaking his head.
“You’re lost aren’t you?” We nodded happily.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said sternly. “This is a gas field. It’s dangerous. You need to get out of here. They’re venting all the time.”
He vented a little more as we tried to explain. “We’re trying to get to Cameron Corner on the Old Strzelecki but it had dirt piled across it back there. We thought this was a detour.”
“It isn’t. It’s a gas field. The Old Strzelecki is washed out. You have to go all the way around on the other Strzelecki.” He vented a bit more but we pointed out no one had told us the old track was closed. No signs indicated it was closed and no signs said we couldn’t come along the road that looked like a detour.
“That’s because you are too early,” he said in a more friendly fashion. “We’re not expecting you yet.”
By “you” he apparently meant some of the 30,000 travellers who explore the Strzelecki, Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks region every year in the cooler months.
We thanked him, drove back to the flagged dirt piled on the Old Stzelecki, examined the obstacle and ignored his instructions. Behind the dirt was a big mudhole that had dried up. Tracks went around it and the dirt mound. So did we.
A couple more sections were a bit tricky but no problem. Soon the track turned into a well-maintained gravel road serving another gas field.
A large skeleton with a dislodged mining cap swung in the breeze on the side of the road. It had been carefully built from old cow bones – clever but vaguely ominous given the sometime terse relationship between inland travellers and the mining industries.
We turned east on to the Cameron Corner road and began undulating over hundreds of sand dunes. That beer at the beckoning bar of the Corner Store was looking good.