|"For sixty miles they toiled with the axe".|
"This mulga is the hardest wood I've ever chopped", declared Blakeley to Coote on his return to Ai Ai Creek on 2/8/30. Blakeley and the men had spent many dirty tiring hours clearing an airstrip, and the umbrella mulga had proven particularly difficult to remove, until Mick, the expedition's Aboriginal guide solved the problem by digging and chopping the trees out by the roots.
Mulga, (Acacia aneura) although very variable in form is typically a small tree, about eight to ten metres in height with open grey green foliage and a short brown twisted trunk. The obliquely ascending branches often starting close to the ground give some forms a bushy appearance. The tree grows best on sandy loamy plains adjacent to hills and mountain ranges and in some locations can form dense contiguous groves several hundred metres long and up to fifty metres wide. Unfortunately for the expedition, the northern MacDonnell Ranges is considered an ideal habitat.
The tree is found in all mainland states within the 250 to 300 mm rainfall belt, but seldom on limy soils. It is a useful tree, the timber is very hard, dense and durable, commonly used for fence posts and many types of bush carpentry, it takes a high polish and makes excellent souvenirs. The leafy tops and side branches have been used as fodder in times of drought and camels find the tree to be the right grazing height and palatable.
Blakeley probably didn't appreciate these attributes as the expedition cut it's way through the dense forests of mulga in the vicinity of Mount Liebig. Progress was very slow and punctures numerous, the radiators in the trucks boiled frequently and the vehicles were constantly battered by the stiff strong side branches of the trees. Frustrated by the lack of headway, Taylor reinforced the bumper bar of the Thornycroft with a gidgee log and the sides of the truck with stout mulga branches and proceeded to clear a path by charging the trees.
This was a dangerous job and the driver and passengers ran a real risk of being staked by branches spearing into the unprotected cabin. While the rate of travel may have improved, the vehicle took severe punishment from the jarring shocks as the occasional large tree stopped the truck with a jolt. Sutherland had his doubts as to whether the truck could withstand this treatment and suggested easing up in their mad charge through the scrub. A couple of weeks later on their hasty return to Ai Ai Creek in search of the overdue Coote, the truck overshot the track and ploughed into a group of mulga at about twenty miles an hour.
The Thornycroft suffered considerable damage, both headlamps were smashed and the already battered cabin was left barely secured to the chassis, the last glass window was broken and the crew were now quite unprotected from the whipping tearing mulga branches. Blakeley called a halt to repair the damage, the windows were boarded up, except for a small space for the driver to peer through, and the lopsided cab had to be braced with, ironically, stout mulga branches. The cabin was always askew after this incident and an uncomfortable place to be.
Blakeley made passing acknowledgment of mulga as excellent firewood and a good windbreak, otherwise he cursed the dense groves of hardwood.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006