I travelled the Nullarbor plain from South Australia to Western Australia many times, by train, bus and vehicle, the first when it was a dirt road in the early seventies in an EH Holden. Working in the mines of WA I and having family in SA I can’t remember how many times I have travelled the Eyre highway.
Whilst driving across the Nullarbor Plain, the road travelling through the southern corner of the treeless plain, one could easily assume there is nothing to see. One would be misled by the optic nerve as although I have stopped at many places across the south west coast I have only scratched the surface.
I was generally restricted by time but once I began to explore this region I planned visits allowing extra time in my travel plans.
One such journey in the late 80s included a visit to the Eyre Bird Observatory. The turn off is 16ks to the east of Cocklebiddy road house situated two hundred and eighty kilometres from the South Australian border.
This trip was a little different as I took along long time friend and prominent South Australian artist Barbra Leslie from Adelaide; she then painted her experience and dedicated an exhibition to the experience.
At the time I owned one of the most unaptly named vehicles you could imagine, an American Econoline four wheel drive van, the name suggested economy, at six miles to the gallon I disagree. Converted to a mobile home with a chuck wagon kitchen behind the rear doors and sleeping quarters behind the driver and passenger seats it was a rare machine. Built on a Ford 350 four wheel drive chassis, powered by the 490 cubic inch Ford engine coupled to the C6 automatic trans this vehicle would pass anything on the road apart from a fuel station.
It was good for Barbra as she was not a well person and the amenities in the vehicle supported comfort, she had not undertaken such a venture before and felt quite safe until we exited the beaten track and headed for the Eyre Bird Observatory, a place she had dreamed of experiencing.
The turn off the Eyre highway is 16ks short of Cocklebiddy roadhouse heading west, Cocklebiddy is 270ks west of the SA border. The initial road toward the Eyre Bird Observatory is 15ks of dead straight dirt road leading to a communication tower, the road is serviced and in reasonable condition, remember I am talking the late 80s. From the communication tower things get more serious and access requires a four wheel drive, when you get to the Baxter Cliffs atop the Wyle escapement the task ahead become more apparent as you can see the sea on the horizon in the distance.
The descent down the face of the Baxter Cliffs to the 15ks of heavily vegetated sand hills washed up in front of the cliffs over many millions of years was of concern to me and terrifying for Barbra. At snails pace we crept over the steep unserviced track, the exposed rocks puncturing one of the vehicles water tanks, once on the escapement floor the rolling sand hills, thick scrub and towering gums reveal a multitude of bird life. Just before the beach the track leads to the Eyre Bird Observatory historic old telegraph station next settlement on from Eucla when the telegraph line was in use. The old building is now used by resident parks and wildlife officers, we visited the resident receiving advice finding we had to vacate the area before dark as camping was not permitted. They were astonished to find my mobile first floor flat had negotiated the purposely unserviced access with ease and took several pictures before we left.
The beach was amazing, the waves crashing along the sandy shoreline, we waited for twilight and Barb snapped pictures of the golden splash of light during that magic ten minutes of the fading day. No wonder it’s called the Eyre Bird Observatory, once on the escapement floor below the Baxter cliffs they are everywhere, species native to the area and no other place on earth.
The climb up the Baxter Cliffs escapement was in the fading light, Barb photographed the climb before we began the ascend, she eventually painted the moment, terrified and contented at the same time she held on with a face of hope as the vehicle slowly traversed the jagged rocks. We travelled the crest of the cliffs as the suns light fell below the sea, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats all could be approached within metres and some touched as they sniffed the strange new experience. When back on the Eyre highway Barb was elated.
At the Cocklebiddy roadhouse they don’t call it fishing they call it catching. The south west coast is alive with places such as this and they are well worth the effort if intrepid enough to explore.