2013-03-14 -29 135
In the desert of the Woomera Prohibited Area, near Prominent Hill Mine Site.
I've been working as a construction engineer on the Prominent Hill Mine Site for about 9 months now, and have been constantly on the lookout for accessible geohashes. This is no small task up here, as the mine is very tightly restricted, both for travel around the mine site itself and for being in the Woomera Prohibited Area Defense Land, for which special police clearance is required to spend any time inside.
Today I was at work checking the geohashes, as I do, when I discovered one only about 10kms from my site - a rare occurrence. For some lucky reason, my boss the project manager was away today at a meeting in Adelaide and my foreman was sick, leaving me the only person 'of responsibly' on our small construction site. Having dropped off our crane beam welding technicians at the camp at 6pm, I had dinner, then returned to the project manager's Toyota Prado to investigate the hash.
Now, what I was about to do was extremely dubious from a site-rule perspective. I was taking the project manager's car for some unauthorised activity, I was taking unpopular roads without support or anyone even knowing where I was, I was leaving the mine site after work hours, I was leaving the mine site altogether (which requires a special form I did not have) and I would eventually be travelling on foot in an unpermitted military zone outside my proper area of concern. Not to mention being alone in the desert at sunset with no way anyone would find me if something went wrong. Breaking all the rules here - presumably none of the mine staff regularly look up 'Geohashing' on Google.
Driving back from the camp towards site (about 5kms apart), I turned off the main road towards the Virgo Borefields, quietly whistling to avoid suspicion. After driving about 5 more kms south on the only road available to me, I came across the mine boundary, which is usually a locked gate baring access to the dangerous missile testing grounds beyond (fun fact: after Cape Canaveral, Woomera Test Range is the most active rocket testing region in the world! ).
Weirdly, this gate was not only not locked, as contra-indicated by the sign next to it, but it was wide open. This was the point at which I had planned to turn around and go home. Sadly, I was fated to continue. Hoping the gate would remain open for my return (!).
After a few turn-offs onto crappier and crappier 4WD roads, and seeing both an emu and a kangaroo (extremely rare in these deserty parts), the emu managing a long run at over 50kms/hr - my car's speed - I reached the closest a road got to the hash: 2.4kms. I couldn't really drive on the desert as this would be environmental vandalism in this delicate ecosystem, plus I would be bringing potential trouble down on me about 50-fold, so I got out and jogged.
The ground was quite good to run on, slightly squishy, and the rocks and small bushes not too hard to avoid. I quickly got very puffed and thirsty in my long pants/shirt high vis apparel but this did not slow me as I was determined to return by nightfall. Zig-zagging about 3kms worth away from the sunset I at last reached the hash, with one bar of 3G mobile reception, and took lots of photos before jogging a return.
The return was much worse. The sun was quickly setting over the mine's massive tailings dam, I was getting fairly exhausted, and I wasn't quite sure which way to head to get back to the car. Eventually, bounding over stones and stomping on unavoidable bushes, I identified the dry creek bed in which I'd hidden the car. Following this for a km or so I started to hear the sounds of distant dingoes howling at the sunset. I was really keen to get back to the car before it got too dark.
After some distance, constantly wondering if the next clump of bushes was the one my car was lurking behind, I at one point turned my head around to discover I'd overshot and had been following the wrong creek: there was the white blob way off to my right in another creek. Whoops! Glad I noticed that.
As I turned to run towards the car I soon started hearing these unfamiliar panting noises behind me: it seemed the dingoes were chasing me down. The sun had now set behind the tailings dam.
At last I reached the car and bounded in, quickly closing the door behind me. No dingoes around. Maybe it was all tricks of the mind. I'll never know, because I started up (good, engine still works) and did a U-ey out of there.
Back to Camp
Luckily, the gate was still open - my last true fear, and I nonchalantly returned to camp with my flashing light to write up over a beer the geohash I'd been hanging out to get for months now. I doubt I'll attempt to do one this irresponsible again, at least in this graticule, now deflowered.
Finally, on my return, I realised that I'd attained the Restricted Access award, for having to obtain special police clearance to gain entry into the whole Woomera Prohibited Area, even though the geohash was outside the actual Mine Area for which I was inducted. It's also number 10 on a list of the world's most secret places you'll never visit . Nice!
| Felix Dance earned the Restricted area achievement
| Felix Dance earned the Land geohash achievement
|Felix Dance earned the Virgin Graticule Achievement|