Up Coopers Creek without a paddle

Our good mate Chris Blakemore related a story lately that I’d like to share, not his usual tips and tricks or comments on matters ‘technical’, but more a story from the home front … it seemed his folks (70+) were sort of up Coppers Creek without a paddle.

Bev and Phil Blakemore, newbies, I don’t think so!
From crossing the Nullabor in a Morris Mini in the 60’s, to pulling vans across the same for years after, to owning and travelling in a variety of 4WDs and set ups, I reckon they’ve got most of it covered.

Their Winnebago/trailer/Suzuki arrangement is pretty well set up, again based on experience. 

Phil has been through this area before, including spending time in nearby Charleville when past floods devastated the region and went to volunteer in the clean up. 

They have mobile phone and uhf, but no signal could be found.

Here’s their story.


Bev & Phil were travelling Queensland in their Iveco motorhome, towing ‘Susy’ on a trailer. I note that there’s the canoe on top of Susy, so our title might not be entirely accurate, but you’ll get the idea as you read on.
After leaving Windorah, they’d planned to spend a couple of days free camping near Coopers Creek.

Here’s Bev’s account of the next 10 days …

‘We headed east towards Coopers Creek where we planned to free camp for a couple of nights. We followed a track on the north-west side of the creek only to find that most, if not all the camps were taken, so we crossed the Cooper (on a very narrow bridge I might add) to the north-east side, where there were camp sites about 100 metres from the main road. We thought this might be a bit noisy being this close to the main highway (road trains and rattily bridge as well) so we decided to go further along the creek where it would be much quieter. We had to cross 2 gullys, one being much deeper than the other and we found a beautiful spot amongst the trees and right by the bank. It hadn’t rained in ages, we were in drought stricken country.’

Bev and Phil took Susy for a drive along the tourist trail, through common land and headed back to Windorah (approx. 12km) to get some supplies and stock up on some less than desirable water (brown just like the Cooper), and then the rain came.

‘We received 40mls that night, the dusty soil turned into black sticky mud. It was painfully obvious we weren’t going anywhere for a while. The strange thing about the area was it didn’t look muddy.  But walk on it and you soon found out.  A person would grow 3 + inches in height and the mud stuck like glue.  Very difficult to remove.

The motorhome is dual wheeled and the tilta trailer has a dual axle with the wheels quite close to the mudguards. Apart from getting bogged quickly, any mud build up between the wheels and the mudguard could cause a lot of damage, similar problems with the duel wheels on the motorhome.
So … throw away any clocks and watches, just watch the skies and the ground (no more rain till we leave please).’


How did you get around?

We didn’t want to cover our shoes with mud every time we went out and Pepe (our dog) needed to go walkies, so Phil got the secateurs out and made a pathway with leaves and twigs. That helped in reducing the tracking of mud.’




You had no idea of how long you were going to be there, were you stocked up?

‘We decided to start rationing immediately. We took stock of the pantry (plenty there), we only have a small fridge, but with everything we could stretch meals out, so really our biggest concern was having enough drinkable water. About 100 metres from us, we met our neighbours and like us they captured water from the awning. All up, about 70mm of rain fell over the next couple of days. We could use the creek water for toilet and the fresh water for top and tail baths, leaving the water that we bought with us for drinking and cooking. We figured 6 days supply (it lasted 10).’



What did you do to fill in time?

‘We shared morning teas with our neighbours and they with us. We had plenty of reading material and I had my knitting. Every day we saw the ground around us drying, little by little, but the road was still muddy and slippery, which was due to the banks on either side of it. The days became warm and sunny, but we needed a bit of a breeze to help with the drying process.’


So all good?

‘Well during this time of forced immobility, Phil experienced what could have been a disastrous accident. He was standing on the ladder, reaching across the ‘over the cab’ bed, when the ladder snapped. He fell heavily on his back, his head belting hard against the floor. Portions of the ladder shot into the cab, the rest fell on top of him. He suffered bruising to his legs and his elbow took quite an impact, breaking the skin, he also had a split on the back of his head. He was fortunate he missed the corners of the cupboard, it could have been much worse and alerting someone or gaining access to help him would have been so difficult.

Further investigation of the ladder revealed a weakness in the design and it hadn’t any load bearing information on it anywhere. Obviously it lacked strength in the material to carry someone of Phil’s weight and he’s not a heavy person by any stretch of the imagination.



In the mean time the Cooper had risen a metre due to the flow on from the Thompson and Barcoo Rivers. The folk who were camped on the lower reaches of the south-east side were alerted at 2.30am to pack up and clear out. When we finally made it out we saw that their camping spots and available exit were under water.’


So what did you do?

‘We just waited … and watched the sky. Where I sat to have our meals, I could see movement on the highway and we couldn’t budge. AND … the flies, millions of the little blighters, we had to gyrate with a switch from a tree to off-load the little mongrels before entering the motorhome. I’m sure they just sat, waiting and watching us and enjoying the show. Those that made it inside were punished and Pepe became quite snap happy. I also wandered around with our metal detector. We are now the proud owners (along with a million other metal detector owners) of half a dozen or more tent pegs, a sardine can, too numerous to count beer bottle caps and tab pulls, a socket handle and socket, a can of fly spray in a tree (no I wasn’t aiming the detector towards the tree, I just saw it there) … and $8.’


fishHow was Phil doing?

‘On the improve, so on Friday he managed to drive Susy through the gullys to Windorah. He dropped off information to the police station including contact details if anything goes amiss. With shopping list in hand he replenished the fridge etc. from the local store. He talked to some locals, who not only offered their tank water but the use of their phone. Phil contacted the family to let them know we were safe … just stuck. We were very grateful for the generosity of these town folk.


We left the water in Susy as the motorhome didn’t need any more weight once we decided to make our move, it was great to know we just had back up.

 We still couldn’t get the motorhome out without risking getting bogged, so Phil decided to do some fishing to see if he could get us a meal of Yellow Belly.   His first throw got snagged, but then he got lucky and landed a Catfish.
As he was struggling to extract the hook a couple in a tinny pulled up and told him to knock the Catfish on the head, then handed him a 3 ½ pound Yellow Belly. Apparently they only take 2 fish each day and always hand one over to someone on the bank on the way back to their camp. How generous were they eh? It was a beauty and obviously from a good paddock (do fish have paddocks?).’


riverWhen did you get out?

‘Ten days later!

A few vehicles had ventured into the campsites, but they were totally different rigs with 4WDrives. Our friends next door stayed with us delaying their trip to make sure we got out okay and they were prepared to pull us through should we have needed a tow. I went ahead with Susy and trailer and Phil  followed. There were deep and damp ruts in the bottom of the gully, the Susy hadn’t any difficulty at all.

Motorhome was next and it never missed a beat, we had escaped! Oh boy were we ever relieved, it was good to be on the road side of the camp sites without being stuck with the sticky mud.

We said goodbye to our neighbours and headed into Windorah to let the police know we were out. As we were transferring the water into the motorhome our good Samaritans from Windorah noticed us and pulled in, we had a chance to again convey our gratitude.


Will you be doing it again?

‘We may be not back to the Cooper.  We have it mind to cover the Dandenongs in the not too distance future. As for the communication side of things, we are seriously looking into the satellite phone for future remote locations.  One thing which  will always remain with us though was the kindness and generosity of the folk from The Cooper.’

If you, like Bev have a story to tell, please send it in, we’ll RView.


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