Gary Junction Road

The Gary Junction Road (also called the Kintore Road, Desert Road or WA Border Access Road) is a major outback highway providing an essential link between Alice Springs and many Aboriginal communities in western area of the Northern Territory and eastern part of Western Australia, including Papunya, Kintore, Kiwikurra and Kunawaritji.

The Gary Junction Road is an unsealed road in Australia built by Len Beadell as part of a network of roads for the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, South Australia. In its original form, the Gary Junction Road ran from Liebig bore in the Northern Territory to Callawa Station in Western Australia. On present day maps, it is depicted as running from the Tanami Road (Narwietooma turnoff) to Gary Junction, just east of the Canning Stock Route, a distance of 852 kilometres. The road was named after Beadell's only son Gary.

Access to this road can be via the Tanami Track, northwest of Alice Springs, or west through the MacDonnell Ranges and Haasts Bluff to Papunya. The latter route is much more interesting, but slower. It could easily take you a week just to reach Papunya if you stop at all the best spots along the ranges.

In 2007 and 2008, the Gary Junction Road was in good condition and fuel was available at the four Aboriginal communities scattered along its length, although getting progressively more expensive the further west you travel. A permit is required to travel this road but is easily obtained on-line. Note that actually two permits are required, one for the NT section and another for the WA section.

Track Notes, Maps etc.

Brief history

Beadell and his Gunbarrel Road Construction Party (GRCP) commenced work immediately after completing the Sandy Blight Junction Road in August 1960. Starting from Sandy Blight Junction, the first stage was built towards an existing bore track near Mount Liebig 180 km to the east (67 km west of Papunya). Liebig bore was reached on 16 September. The party then returned to Sandy Blight Junction to continue the western section, with the ultimate goal being Callawa Station near the north-west coast of Western Australia.

Construction west of the junction began 5 October, and the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia was reached 12 October. Beadell took star sights and placed a signpost displaying the latitude and longitude to mark the border. The road progressed westward and reached the present site of Jupiter Well on 7 November. The location was about 330 km from Sandy Blight Junction.

On 8 November the grader broke down with a major transmission failure. Further road making came to an abrupt halt, and a lengthy towing operation of 800 km back to Giles began, using the bulldozer to tow the grader, with the water trailer attached behind it. The average speed of the bulldozer train was 3 km per hour, with an estimate of about a month for the journey. Every two hours while the bulldozer was travelling, a halt for greasing the track rollers was required as well.

This operation was scarcely under way when the cook's ration truck with all of its food supply caught fire and was burnt out on 12 November. Beadell was forced to make an emergency dash to Alice Springs to obtain replacement food, a return trip of around 3000 km. Meanwhile the towing operation continued, and the team was reunited 10 km west of Sandy Blight Junction. The slow moving convoy reached Giles 26 November 1960.

Completion of the Gary Junction Road was delayed by more than two years, and recommenced in 1963 after the GRCP had built the south to north Gary Highway. Construction began 18 May 1963 from Gary Junction east towards Jupiter Well to link up with the earlier stage. There was little difficulty in building the road to within a few kilometres of the well, but a large sand dune blocked the way. By using the Land Rover as an anchor, a four-wheel drive truck attached to a long winch cable was able to get up the dune, and the remaining vehicles were successively winched, including lastly the grader. A bulldozer was not part of the road making operation at this time. Jupiter Well was reached 25 May 1963.

Below: Gery Beadell's burnt out ration truck at Kwirrkurra Community on Gary Junction Road

Callawa Track

Beadell and the GRCP returned to Gary Junction, and on 4 July started work on a road from there 45 km north-west to intercept the Canning Stock Route at Well 35 (Minjoo). After crossing the stock route, they continued through the Great Sandy Desert battling sand dunes and the Percival (salt) Lakes to join an existing track at Callawa Station. The connection was made 21 July, and although Beadell preferred the name Gary Junction Road, the track became known as the Callawa track to the west of Well 35. The total distance constructed from Mount Liebig to Callawa was 1350 kilometres.

A new road between Gary Junction and Well 33 was built by Mike Jenkins and is shown on maps as the Jenkins Track. It is 70 km from Gary Junction to Kunawaritji or Well 33 via the track. A road, part of which is called the Telfer Road, now connects Kunawaritji to Port Hedland on the west coast, via Lake Auld and Marble Bar, thus completing a direct link from the west to Alice Springs.

The position at which the grader's transmission failed was to become known as Jupiter Well. The well was dug by a survey crew from the National Mapping Council in August 1961, and was named after the planet Jupiter when a member of the survey party noticed a reflection of the planet in the still waters of the well at night.

The Callawa Track had a short functional life, as it was replaced soon after by the Wapet Road (or Kidson Track), and has now become overgrown. Recent maps no longer depict the track. In August 2004, Connie Sue Beadell and mother Anne led a party of eight vehicles along the original Callawa track. Apart from the extensive preparation required beforehand, a fuel drop was necessary at the halfway point. Connie said "The tyres were another issue entirely. The party had a total of 70+ punctures for the whole trip, bearing in mind that 5 of the 8 vehicles that started did not finish the entire distance." The Wapet Road joins the Great Northern Highway near Eighty Mile Beach.

The Callawa Track is not a trip to be attempted without extensive preparation, most importantly fuel, water, tyres and navigation. A fuel drop midway is a necessity pre-trip as the fuel economy for this level of Off-Track travel can range between 30 to 50 litres per 100 kms. For that distance you will not be able to carry enough fuel and water to see you through. The road is not marked on current maps and is not a track to be followed in any sense. We suggest you contact Beadell Tours before contemplating travelling on the Callawa Track.

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