National Geographic : 1992 Apr
it was difficult to breathe without inhaling the pervasive flies. Moments like these gave me all the hint I wanted of the Simpson sum mer, when temperatures stand in the 40s (100s) like a stubborn bullock. "Is there ever a breeze then?" I asked Richard Nunn. "Yeah, like from a heater, and it's dusty." W HAT'S A BLOKE TO DO when the mus ter is done? Go to the pub. Seven teen kilometers southeast of the Anna Creek homestead, the broad red carpet of the Oodnadatta Track rolls right to the door of the William Creek Hotel. The population of William Creek has risen to 11, "But I think we're still the smallest town in South Australia," said Chris Brown. He's the publican and operates the hotel, along with his wife, Heather, and business partners Andrew and Jenny Saunderson. Local residents are the pub's most regular customers, but what keeps this century-old place in business is a new wave of tourism. "Four-wheel drive has changed the out back," said Chris. Those who no longer find the perimeter roads challenging are crossing the Simpson itself, on lines bulldozed by unsuccessful oil-exploration crews in the 1960s and '70s. "Three jarring days of 20 kilometer-an-hour driving" is how one man described the trip. William Creek does its heaviest trade in fuel, food, and drink during the winter, when as many as 150 people a day come by. If the six rooms aren't always full, it's because most overnighters use the campground. Road traf fic can never be said to be heavy though. When Jenny grabs her three-iron and calls, "I'm going to have a hit," she's driving golf balls straight down the track. Walking the back fields at William Creek one morning-fields of scrub and stone that meet the horizon with scarcely a vertical blip-I met Gordon Litchfield, who owns Wilpoorinna Station, a five-hour drive south of here. He gave me a cup of coffee from his campfire pot and introduced me to the horses he was taking to that weekend's races and gymkhana at Oodnadatta. A gymkhana fea tures stock-horse races that test mustering skills and also field events such as the ladies' bullock tail throw. The Anna Creek crew had been preparing for it all week. When I arrived in Oodnadatta (later than planned; a tire blew out in a ditch), I was stunned by the number of people I knew. All had passed through the cattle station or Wil liam Creek, including a mob from Oodnadatta who had driven five hours to William one Sunday because their own pub was closed. "It's one big family out here," I was told. Oodnadatta is an old Aboriginal word that probably means "blossom of the mulga tree" but may mean "rotten ground." The town is half a kilometer long and holds a population "This branding went well," reflected one ringer, or cowboy. "No one got hurt." In a good season onAnna Creek cattle sta tion-the world's largest-a dozen-plus ringers bunk at the homestead of the Belgium-size property. Working the 40°C (1000F) summers here, "you'reso dehy drated you can't even raise a sweat."