Working in the Tanami

by Johan
(Perth, WA)

Bush work in the Tanami Desert

Bush work in the Tanami Desert

I once worked as a field assistant in the Killi Killi hills B, not too far from Giles weather station run by a young couple those years. We were doing exploration work in the Tanami for Mt Isa Mines. Two Geologists, a driller and offsider, a cook and one field assistant.

I had just landed in Perth a couple of months previously and had run out of money in Alice Springs. I went to the Employment Offices next day, had an interview in a Motel that evening and was on a Land Rover going north-east very early the next morning, with no field assistant or Outback experience.

I was travelling with the two Geologists who came to town for fresh supplies and to employ an extra body in the team.

We took the road to Marble Bar and veered off on a new track made by this team to a camp between some outcrops in the Killi Killi hills.

Our camp toilet was a 44 gallon drum with the bottom cut out, placed over a hole in the ground with a half hessian cover on the south side for a bit of privacy towards the camp. We called the toilet Cape Kennedy because we kept forgetting how soon that tin heats up in the sun in the mornings. Funny how high you can jump when you go sit on hot tin just after breakfast.

I remember seeing smoke on the eastern horizon one morning and everyone in the camp was getting edgy. I never experienced Australian fires, and could not understand that a few clumps of spinifex on the sand and some small trees could threaten us.

We cleared all flammable stuff around the camp for a very wide firebreak. We dug a hole for ourselves away from the vehicles, moved the water trailer near the hole ready to wet the hessian we were going to place over ourselves, and placed our 44 gallon drums of water as a barrier towards the fire. We waited another couple of days until the fire got to us and it passed us without too much heat or smoke or drama.

It was while the fire came past that someone remembered the detonators we left in a shallow cave next to the camp. I was slightly disappointed it didn't go off, being the one with the least experience of explosives...

We drilled and also blasted small shafts in the bedrock, taking the rubble out with a home-made winch and bucket. I remember sitting behind a 44 gal drum with rocks falling all around us. Now I realise how stupid we were to be that close to the blasting.

Dingoes would come and sit at the edge of our camp in the evenings. If we went into the tent and came out with a gun they would quietly disappear. Put the gun away they would re-appear.

We sometimes drove many, many kilometers from our bush camp to go have some fresh tucker cooked by the lady the Giles guy convinced to leave France and live in the outback.


Comments for Working in the Tanami

Click here to add your own comments

Jacqui from Rabbit Flat?
by: Birgit

Jacqui from Rabbit Flat?

It seems a few too many kilometres, but then again, it's not like there are dozens of French people living in the Tanami. Or even dozens of people...

by: Johan

Hi B,
Yes! Jacqui at Rabbit Flat.

I'm talking about 40 years ago. Got our supplies from Alice Springs. We had no refrigeration except for a Kalgoorlie Safe and our fresh meat and vegies went quick and our beer was warm.
We were willing to drive to the ends of the earth for a fresh steak and a cold beer at Rabbit Flat.

They had big freezers with a plane bringing in regular supplies. Jaqui could cook the best meals, although the big steaks were still our favourite, with cold beer. We did not mind to take the occasional trip out there just for the food and beer and great company.

One visit there our driller and his off-sider had a disagreement which left some cuts and black eyes, but they kept working out in that hot sun afterwards without further arguments.

We over-stayed our welcome and got caught by the Wet heading home. First we had to leave the drill rig and trailer with rods on the side of the road near our camp. Then the supply truck. We got out with the two Land Rovers, but it took a long time. You would bog down as soon as you leave the road to dodge flooded sections.

Emileo, Adrian, Hector, Colin and Mick (Flash), if you are reading this, thanks for introducing me to the Australian way of life, and to the Outback.
You can contact me on johandre{@}

by: Birgit

Well, Jaqui's still there :-).

(And people still get caught out by the Wet...)

Thanks for sharing your memories. I really love those stories from way back when. Wish I'd had a chance to see this place back then. I've only been here for 15 years, and even during that time things have changed far too much for my liking...

The meaning of Tanami
by: Anonymous

Does any any one know what Tanami means or is derived from?
I worked at The Granites Gold Mine in the late 80s and was the last year at Rabbit Flat. Things don't chance much around those parts. Fuel and beer still cost the earth the place still looks like Fort Knox but Bruce is always up for a chat (if he feels like it.)

by: Birgit

Fort Knox? And I thought it looked quite inviting... :-).

Hm, can't really help with the name. As far as I'm aware it's just an Aboriginal place name and has no specific meaning. (But don't quote me on that...)

Exploration in the Kili Kili and Gardiner Range
by: Dave

I was part of an exploration team in the 70's working in the Killi Killi hills and up to Sturt Creek in WA.
There were no roads and had to do our own grading.
We were camped at Laringani Bluff in the Gardiner Ranges.
We were camped there for 7 months and relied on airplane supplies, landed on our homemade strip.
Occasionally someone would drive into Halls Creek.
We were camped on a permanent waterhole and were able to grow our own vegies.
Very fond memories.

Rabbit Flat's population doubled
by: George

Reading about Bruce and Jaqui at Rabbit Flat reminded me about a time back about 1975/6 when I was working as an outback safari tour guide.

Heading down from Hall's Ck. we arrived with a tour group at Rabbit Flat just on dark. Walked into the bar area to be confronted by a somewhat hyper Bruce who delivered the news that the day before he had single handedly delivered Jacqi's twins with the assistance of a very scratchy RFDS hook up.

Bruce's main concern at this point was that here he was with a bar full of beer and no one to celebrate the happy event with. I assured him that was about to change as I had thirty odd thirsty travellers keen to share his hospitality.
It was only after we were all suitably anethitised
that I told him we had a midwife and a few nurses
on board, and it was a pity we had'nt arrived 24 hours earlier.

I can't repeat Bruce's reply on this site.

What a night, no one went to bed, and it was a
very subdued hungover bunch that headed down the Tanami next day. I still remember every corrugation, pothole, bulldust patch all the way to the bitumen just outside the Alice.

Great memories
by: Birgit

Haha, what a great story! And what a night. A historical occasion for sure. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

Where the Tanami got its name
by: Leanne

Tanami is not an Aboriginal word but hails from the Afghans who once opened this area up. This is a mistake many people make when they come across a word they don't know. Many places in Australia have names that hails from all parts of the world. (Coolangatta, for example, comes from the Irish language).

Tanam is a form of singing from that region and back in those days was so named for those who sang as they travelled. 'Tanami' is the name for those who sing in that way.

Tanami memories
by: Melanie

It really brings back memories reading other accounts of Tanami experiences.

I worked as a cook at the Granites and lab tech at the Tanami goldmines around 1990 -92. The Granites was a 'dry' camp which meant we smuggled beer in and the Tanami mine had a wet mess but we enjoyed driving to Rabbit Flat or even just an open space and light a fire in an oil drum just for a change, on our meagre time off from 12 hour shifts. The camps could be quite claustrophobic. I was one of about 15 women and 150 men at the Granites. Its got 300 now I think.

Met Bruce but Jacquie was a kind of exotic mystery. I knew they had sent their children south to boarding school.

It was a hard life but a huge adventure and the desert gets under your skin.

Our camping night on the Tanami
by: Helen

On a bus tour across the Tanami we arrived at Rabbit Flat only to find it was closed for the day. Our coach captain informed us that we would be pitching our tents for the night along the side of the road. He told us it would be very quiet as no vehicles use the road at night.

We all put our tents up and settled down around the camp fire. Eventually we all decided it was time for sleep so settled in our tents. About midnight we heard a very loud rumbling noise getting louder and closer. It turned out to be a very long road train which gave us three loud blasts on its horn and almost shook our tents from the ground as it passed by.

This was our memorable night on the Tanami.

by: Anonymous

Chasing information about Reg Snelling? Snelling Autos and the Kiranja Store on the Tanami was his creation.

Any info is greatly appreciated.

Geological mapping Survey BMR
by: Michael

I have fond memories of my time as a Field Assistant in the Tanami in 1971.
Our base camp was at Tanami bore. Our team relocated the original track from Gordon Downs to the existing Tanami Road on a ten day traverse to cover the whole the Survey area.
This road(track) was used by us to get to the Survey areas on Monday morning before leaving it to bush bash and navigate all week with aerial photos flown in1949 before hitting the road between Supplejack Downs and Tanami Bore. While we were on a fly camp with a helicopter to survey the more remote locations one of our Field assistants (Jimmy) who was left behind to keep an eye on the base camp actually spent a considerable time going between Base and Rabbit Flat ( about 30 miles if I recall) to restock his Port supply. He got to know Jacqui and Bruce quite well I believe.
A great piece of country especially if you've had the opportunity to get off the "Track" and to spend some quality time exploring it.

Tanami c 1987
by: Brian Benson

Worked on construction of Tanami goldmine back in 86 or 87, Thistle Engineering boys, what a great bunch of lads and boss David R.
No fifo them days, we drove up from Alice, 11 or 12 in a troop carrier hired in Alice. 12 weeks or so and one Sunday off in that time. 6 till 6 day. Beers in beer alley.
After work cheaper than wet mess! 2 lads would drive down to Alice and load up the work ute to capacity with slabs and then drive back the 500 ks or so, nice little trip! And nice that the Top End killer who was shooting people at random bypassed us at Tanami and did not drop in! No phones , just the newspapers on truck delivery each Friday. Free beers and seafood saturday nights, fires and fights. We put in all the pressure piping up to 10 - 12" dia. Freezing mornings but into shorts by 10am! And the flies!! They loved aeroguard!! Plenty of stories on that job!!
Ah the good old days!!

by: Anonymous

I have Australian boyfriend and whenever he will leave he always reason out that he will work in Tanami desert at Rabbit Flat and we will lost our communication because he cannot use his mobile. Is it true that you there is no internet there and taking pictures are strictly prohibited??

Tanami Origin
by: DC

Another belief for the origin of the Tanami name is from the Walpiri people who called the area `Chanamee', meaning `never die', because they know of some deep rock holes distributed through the area that never run dry.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Outback Travel Tips.

Return to top

Return to Outback Australia Travel Guide home page