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  • Karen Ellis / Camel Treks Australiia

Signature Expedition with ADE, 18 pack camels & 8 staff. MIKIRI EXPEDITION / MUNGA-THIRRI EXPED

I joined Australian Desert Expeditions for one month along with 7 others including Andrew Harper OAM ( Desert Walker, Photographer, Senior Cameleer and ADE founder ), Dr Max Tischler ( ADE Arid Ecologist & Cameleer ) Dr Jake Gillen ( Arid Botanist )Mary - Ann Ochota ( UK Film Maker ), Jo Bertini ( ADE Artist ), Trudi Thomas Morton & Ann Hamilton ( Cameleers ) and myself who came along under the guise of 'Honorary Cameleer'. This trek was not open to general public and was ADE's Signature 2015 / 16 Scientific Expedition.

The Expedition was conducted within the driest region of the Australian continent, the Simpson Desert now refered to as the Munga-Thirri National Park which is one of the world's best examples of parallel dunal deserts consisting of sand dunes that stretch over hundreds of kilometres. It lies across the corners of three States - South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Exploring the sheer magnitude of the endless landscape and the ever-changing environment between the red dunes was fascinating. I walked over salt-crusted lakes, vast stretches of grasslands, dense scrubland and even tall stands of hakea and gidgee. There had been some rain and in sections the ground was covered with yellow and white flowers blooming through the channels and across the sand dunes. The scents of the flowers were powerful and sweet, one in particular gave off an intoxicating aroma at night in order to attract moths for pollination.

I enjoyed walking with purpose, watching the ground for chipping stones, griding plates and stones. It's worth noting that in the northern region it is void of stones and gibber plains, therefore stones were highly regarded for grinding and cutting. A specific plant that offered recreational relief was traded between Aboriginal groups as far north as Mt.Isa in exchange for these griding stones. We headed for a specific region in the hope of finding Mikiri. The Wangkangurru people lived in the Simpson Desert, ranging over the southern desert in good seasons and falling back on a series of native wells or Mikiri when the country dried out. The Wangkangurru left the desert voluntarily in 1901 and walked south to the Bethesda Lutheran Mission at Killalpaninna.

David Lindsay visited nine native wells in January 1886 with a native from Murraburt Well. Linguist Luise Hercus and historian Vlad Potesny and adventurer Denis Bartels relocated these wells in the 1980s. There are possibly several other wells and waterholes in existence. There are several waterholes on the Kallakoopah, and Yelkerin and Mudloo. Andrew Dwyer with Chris Amos, John Fellows and Jamie Davies relocated them again in July1997.The nine wells visited on this expedition wereMurraburt, Bilpa, Balcoora, Pudloowinna, Beelaka, Wolporican, Perlanna, Boolaburtinna and Kilpatha.

*Worth noting is the fact that common travellers are only permitted to travel 200 meters off the main tracks across the Simpson Desert without specific permission from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Infact Andrew and Max had to obtain over 14 permits to conduct this expedition.

Beyond the purpose of searching for Mikiri, Jake collected and pressed countless plant specimens which will continue to affirm the diversity in desert plant ecology. Max dug pit fall traps at night recording native specimens that made delicate desert tracks atop the red sand dunes at night. A definite highlight was being able to observe the Desert Hoping Mouse with her large ears and long beautiful brushed tail tip. Her release and hopping style as she moved away added to her uniqueness and distinct difference from a common house mouse.

I observed many wild camel tracks and on several occasions we had feral bull camels come to visit and assert their magnificence. Andrew's patience in chasing them away was to be admired. I can vividly recall one morning standing atop a red dune watching him successfully convince an impressively sized bull to 'bugger off'. I loved listening to the howl of wild dingoes, the clear starry mornings and nights, our communal breakfasts in the dark before sunrise, shepherding the camels in the mornings and afternoons and loading their packs which carried everything we all needed for a healthy experience on our lengthy journey.

To the best of my knowledge Andrew Harper is the only operator in Australia currently using traditional Afghan design pack saddles on his camels. He is most certainly the only operator working in remote wilderness areas, exploring where no white man may have walked before or again.

The Mikiri Expedition was of particular interest to me as I have had a long association with Aboriginal people. My first teen love was a Pitjantjatjara boy who opened my eyes to the lives of his family. Later for many years my camel trekking business worked with the interpretive support of the Ngarrindjeri people further south in the Coorong. Today we work with the support of the Adnyamathanha people who are the Traditional Owners of the Wilpena and Flinders Ranges area and are co- managers of the Flinders Ranges National Park. Australian Desert Expeditions conducted this particular survey in association with the Wangkamadla people and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Munga-Thirri National Park.

It's worth noting that Australian Desert Expeditions is an Australian registered charity with tax-deductable status. A donation to the Australian Desert Expeditions Public Fund goes directly to the scientific & ecological research of Australia's Deserts.

Karen Ellis

Camel Treks Australia

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