Driving across the Nullarbor Plain is one of life’s great experiences. The Nullarbor was known to Aboriginal people as "Oondiri" – the waterless. Wildlife includes wombats, kangaroos, emus, camels and birdlife. There are a number of lookouts with spectacular views of the majestic Bunda Cliffs.
In 1867 Allfred Delisser surveyed the area and called it “Nullarbor” from the latin ‘nulla’ no and ‘abor’ tree - no trees.
The plain extends 300 kms inland, a natural barrier between South Australia and Western Australia.
The Rainbow Serpent
In Anagu (Aboriginal) Dreaming (Legend), Wanampi the rainbow serpent, carved out the rolling hills and the Head of the Bight landscape as he was chased by two men. They speared the serpent hiding in a rock hole at Pedina Lake, (200kms north). The serpent shaped the lake and his blood spilled as he writhed to escape his attackers. The Nullarbor Plain is dotted with cave sites where Warampi pushed out of the ground to see if the men were still chasing him. Warampi escaped to the ocean and his head rests at Twin Rocks but he can still be heard breathing in the caves under the Nullarbor.
The Nullarbor Plain, once an ancient seabed, is one of the largest arid KARST foremations in the world. It is a limestone plateau which began forming over 50ma when much of Australia was covered by ocean. It spreads over 200,000 square kilometres, extending 260km to the north and terminating in the south with the spectacular Bunda Cliffs up to 100 metres high and stretching west 400km.
On the surface of the Nullarbor, sinkholes and dolines lead down to small caves in the upper limestone formations. However, deep under the plain, huge caverns extending over 800m long penetrate the Wilson Bluff formation below the water table. In some caves there are deep lakes. There are caves near Nullarbor Roadhouse. (Ask for directions there).
The harsh Nullarbor landscape belies thousands of years of occupation by Indigenous Australians. There are 60 known archaeological sites on the Nullarbor revealing hand prints, paintings and flint tools. Allen’s Cave on the western plains is the oldest archaeological site in arid Australia.
In the 1870s vast areas of the Nullarbor were leased to pastoralists. The vast Fowler's Bay run stretched over 400 kms from Streaky Bay to west of Nullarbor Station. Today little remains but abandoned homesteads. Koonalda is one.
The Dog Fence, stretches from the Bight for more than 5300 kms across 3 states- an unbroken barrier of wire, built to protect sheep country from the ravages of the dingo.
No Pests Across the Border
There are no sparrows or starlings in the west - any that migrate are stopped near Eucla.
A vigilante watch for produce is kept at quarantine points at Ceduna for South Australia and Border Village for Western Australia. Eat your fruit before you get there.
In late 1897 French newspaper journalist Henri Gilbert took 3 months to walk across the Nullarbor.# It was one leg of his journey walking around the world (wherever possible), through different countries after accepting the challenge of a £10,000 bet from his friends, six wealthy Frenchmen. Henri kept his journal up to date and included newspaper cuttings and photographs. He got signed proof by telegraph station managers, town mayors etc wherever he went. When he reached Port Augusta he said “The most difficult part of my journey round the world came to an end".
The first to cycle across the Nullarbor in 1896 was Arthur Richarson, the son of a Coolgardie doctor. Francis Birtles took 44 days to cycle from Perth to Sydney in 1909. Travelling over “monotonous limestone plains” contending “dust, storms and flies”, he encountered prospectors and surveyors with camels plotting the tanscontinental railway, One water hole he came to was full of drowned rabbits, another had camels wading through.
Francis and a friend called Fergusson followed up with a motoring trip in 1912. They were well prepared with food, petrol, spare axles, shovels and matting. They dodged stumps and dug it out of sandpatches and mud. Faced with a log across the track, he though how easily his bicycle could have been lifted over. To amuse themselves, they timed the wildlife, concluding dingoes travel at 25 miles an hour, an emu at 30 mph, kangaroos 15, rabbits about 18. He couldn’t wait long enough to give sleepy lizards a true test, but thought it to be about 1 mile a day if they were in a hurry.