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So after another windy night we awoke again at about 6am. Geoff and I were usually the first up, well Geoff then me and we would potter around getting the fire going and making coffee etc for the lazy people who didn't get up until about 6.30 am............. oops Erika has just told me that this was the morning she and Geoff got up at 5 am to take some photos of the Sunrise!.  Here's one of Erika's fab photos of the Sun rising over the Nullarbor.



For breakfast we had porridge again, which is a great thing as it gives you lots of energy for the coming hard work.  We headed out of camp at about 8.45 am and off to the search site.  Today we were concentrating again around the 60 g site and we did a combination of line and random searching.  Kath found a couple of tektites and Erika found one too, which was great as it meant we had all found something.  Now this might seem a bit lame that we are getting pleased about finding tektites but it shows two things - 1) that our searching methods were valid and that 2) we can see small objects that are alien to the surrounding local rock.  After a brief break for lunch we carried on searching in the same area and found a few more tektites but still no more meteorites.


Headed back to camp at around 3pm and we had some exctitement as both Kath's tent and Alex's swag were not where they should be.  There had been some very strong gusts of winds whilst we were out searching and we had wondered whether anything would have blown down/away in the camp, and yes they had!  So we retrieved Kath's tent and risked our health to get Alex's swag back and all was fine.  Then we had even more excitement, Geoff found a cave on the way back and decided to have a look down it.  Unfortunately he dropped his GPS down it so he had to come back to the camp and get some tongs so he could grab it as it was just out of arms reach.  What was even funnier was that when he went back to get it he dropped his iPhone down the same hole as he was reaching for the GPS!  Luckily he was able to retrieve both with little hassle!


So after an eventful afternoon we mulled over the day's events and discussed our plans for the next day.  We had lamb steak cooked on the hotplate with baked potatoes cooked in the fire with fried onions and beans, again it was delicious.  There really is something to be said about how food cooked outdoors on a fire is especially tasty - of course it also helps that we were so knackered from walking round we were all very hungry!



Geoff cooking the lamb steaks.


After more chatting and joke telling we all headed off for bed around 9pm.  It was very windy so I was expecting a disturbed nights sleep with tent flapping noises etc.........(hopefully no more animalistic sniffing!)


Well we're back in London after our long but tiring trips back from Australia.  I went via Singapore and Erika and Marlene travelled back through Dubai and we all arrived back on Sunday.  Back into work and 20 trillion e-mails and letters etc to deal with and now for me the jet-lag has well and truly kicked in and I feel rubbish (been awake at 4am for the last two days), lucky Erika is fine!


So we'll continue with our journal from the time we spent in the Nullarbor and the third day of our desert adventures..............


Again we are awake at 6am, I helped Geoff get the fire going.  It's quite easy to do as the coals are still hot from the previous night and so you just have to put some dry twigs on, wait a couple of minutes and hey presto a new fire!  Again we pottered around the camp, making sure everything was tidy and had some breakfast.  I had a bowel of cerals for brekfast and Erika had a jaffel (sp?) with the left over rabbit stew in, which apparently was delicious.  There was cloud cover today again when we got up and it was cold with the strong south-easterly wind blowing.  Kath and Erika made the sandwiches (the pair of them should open a sandwich shop if ever they get bored with doing science!) and we got our kit together and headed out to our search site for the day at about 8.45 am.  Geoff was very excited as he got to drive the quad bike!



You can see in this picture a big pole with a 'flag' strapped to it.  We used this pole and three others like it  to mark the spots that had been calculated as where the meteorite or meteorite fragments should have landed.  This make searching much  'easier' as it gives us a point of reference that we can easily refer to as we are walking around.

Today we did box searching between where the 60 g and 100 g mass sites.  This type of searching involves all of us walking in a line between two points, once we get to the end we turn around and move along a bit and walk back then when we have done a number of these transects e.g. walking north-south or east-west we do the opposite so our total search pattern is in the shape of a box.  This is maybe a bit hard to visualise so Erika has drawn a very nice diagram to help......................


meteorite search2.jpg

We finished searching about 2.45pm as we had done a lot of walking and we were very tired, also the cloud cover had burned off so we actually had some sun which was nice but the wind was still a bit on  the fresh side.  It might sound strange but actually doing such detailed searching is extremely tiring, both physically and mentally.  You are having to concentrate very hard on looking at the ground around you and you are constantly bending down to look at things that catch your eyes.  In addition to the heavy (in places) vegetation an additional challenge is the fact that nearly all of the limestone rocks and pebbles sitting on the ground surface are covered in black lichen,which actually looks pretty similar to fusion crust on a freshly fallen meteorite - great!!!  We also found that walking slowly is actually more tiring than if you were walking at a normal speed.  We had quite a discussion about this and Geoff said it has something to do with the fact that you are using your muscles in a different way.  I found at the end of this day that my feet were really aching and quite painful, which I was a bit worried about as I was wearing my old faithful field boots and wasn't expecting any feet issues.



I have to be honest and say I was feeling a bit disappointed as after a hard day and with sore feet I hadn't found anything, not even the tiniest tektite!  I had picked up a couple of meteorwrongs so I knew I wasn't missing anything and Geoff and Alex had both found tektites (and indeed meteorites on the first day) so I was a bit gutted.  During the day Geoff had been telling us about the caves that run under the Nullarbor - more of these in a later post - and told us how big ones will often 'blow' - if you put your hand just outside the opening you can feel quite a strong current of air coming out, which is noticeably cooler than the outside air.  As we were heading back to the Prado Geoff called me over to show me a hole that was blowing.  I was delighted he did for two reasons - one I hadn't seen a blowing hole before (!) and also just after I walked off I spotted a big tektite!!  For a split second I thought it was a kangaroo poo as they can look like tektites but I realised that it was on its own (kangaroo droppings tend to come in groups) and it was a tektite. And then about 10 metres from the big one I found its smaller brother or sister!  Typical, I find nothing when we are actually hunting and then 2 nice tektites on the way back to the car!  But this just shows you that we were always looking, wherever we were walking and whatever we were doing, you just can't help it.  Alex said that the large tektite is quite unusual for the Nullarbor - most of the large tektites have been picked up and used my aboriginal people to make tools.  I wonder whether this one was one that was missed or maybe someone hundreds or thousands of years ago found it an collected it to use later and then dropped it....................

Caroline tektites.jpg

Caroline's tektites - note this photo was taken back here at the NHM, clearly not in the field!


After heading back to the camp we all chilled out around the fire with some beers, tea, wine etc and had some snacks. Geoff cooked dinner tonight and we had a delicious Spag Bol with a special Geoff twist - red beans, which made it even more delicious.  We had quite a laugh over red wine would go in, Alex said no that it was for drinking and we had limited stocks but we put some in when he wasn't looking tee hee Erika was so impressed with all the food she decided to keep a photgraphic log of each one, so here is Geoff's lovely Spag Bol, note the red beans so maybe more a chilli/spag bol hybrid........



We headed to bed at about 8.45pm and again it was a pretty cold night so we were looking forward to getting snuggled up in our swags/tents and sleeping bags!


Well I am sitting here in the Departures Lounge at Perth airport waiting to board my flight to Singapore on the first leg of my long journer back to London and the Museum.  This is going be a shorter than normal post as yet again I seem to be suffering from technical issues and there is a long delay on what I am typing actually appearing on the screen.........hhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmm and we'll be boarding an about 5 mins.


Anyway, we have had the most FANTASTIC time on our search and also working at the WAM with Alex and Geoff.  Erika and I will be continuing to update the blog with the rest of our adventures in Oz once we are back in London.  We will certainly do our best to update it regularly but also please bear in mind that we've both been away for a month so e have a lot to catch up on when we get back to our desks!

Speak soon!




Here's a pic I took on the plane.........


bye Perth.jpg


Nullarbor day 2

Posted by Caroline Smith Oct 8, 2010

Hello again!


So here are Erika and my reminisces of our second day in the lovely (cold) Nullarbor.............


We woke up at about 6am and pottered around until we had breakfast at 6.30.  Geoff made some lovely porridge which is a great way to start the day, especially as it was cold, misty and drizzly when we woke up.  We spent some more time re-arranging the truck and also making sure that the kitchen area was neat and tidy.  This is very important to keep this area clean so that flies and other visitors are not attracted to this area, we don't want dingos or any other animals eating our stuff!  Another important job was to get the quad bike out which Geoff was very excited about using!



Here's the porridge in action!  As you can see we have a couple of gas stoves for cooking, as well as the fire.  Kath is making her own porridge (small pan nearest camera) as she can't have gluten (special Kath porridge!) and ours is in the big pan next to it.  We put the kitchen right next to the truck to shelter this area from the wind - we didn't want all our kitchen stuff blowing away in the almost incessant strong winds.  Kath and Erika made some lovely sandwiches for lunch and we also used some of the left over rabbit stew to make jaffels - aka toasted sandwiches.


We left the camp at about 11 am and drove up to the first site with Geoff on the quad bike and Kath, Alex, Erika and me in the Prado.  We carried out two types of searches here, line searching and radial or star searcing.  Both of these are systematic search patterns, the idea being you know exactly what ground you have covered and also that you can be confident that you have not missed any areas out.  We did not find anything at this first site so we decided to move onto the second search area.  We walkied up to the area in a line but walking at our own pace and also in a fairly random pattern.  Erika thought she may have found a meteorite but it wasn't to be - it was a meteorwrong!  Unfortunately there are rocks in this area that do look a bit like meteorites. These are iron-rich sedimentary rocks which can often be rounded in shape, have a dark brown surface and will cause the compass needle to deflect a bit - all the sort of characteristics that we expect with a real meteorite.  I said that I didn't think it was a meteorite but we logged its position with the GPS just in case and collected it to double check with Alex the next time the group got together.



This is an example of the sort of areas where we were hunting. This is one of the more tricky areas to hunt as there are lots of dense bushy areas - these are the areas where most snakes were spotted!  Hence why we called those types of areas 'snake bush'!


No meteorites this day but I found the tiniest fragment of a worked tektite towards the end of the day.  By about 4.30pm we were getting tired and our concentration levels were going so we decided to head back to the camp.  All day it had been very overcast and this makes it not very easy to scan the ground as there is little contrast - the light is very 'flat'.  Searching in these conditions is very tiring on the eyes and by the end of the day I was getting a bit of a headache and my eyes felt very tired.


We did some administration where we noted down the GPS co-ordinates of where we had searched and then we prepared dinner, which tonight was chorizo, potato, onion and tomato dish that our Michelin starred chef Prof Bevan prepared.  Again it was DELICIOUS!



After dinner we chatted around the fire, told more jokes and discussed our plans for searching the next day.  Although it had been very cloudy we did get one benefit - a most spectacular sunset, which our star photgrapher Erika captured. Note ALL THE PHOTOGRAPHS ON THIS BLOG ARE ERIKA'S AND MUST NOT BE USED WITHOUT ERIKA and NHM PERMISSION!!!!!!!!!



Another job after dinner was to go spider hunting!  As mentioned in a previous posting we had been asked by the entomologists at the WAM to collect spiders for them, so we decided tonight would be a good night to carry out the inaugural spider wrangling of this trip.  Of course this may also have been influenced by having full stomachs and a bit of dutch courage!  Spider hunting is quite easy, we walk around the camp with our head torches on and look for the sparkling eyes (lots of them!) of the spiders, then we hunt them down!  I participated by helping spot the spiders but that was it! I took no part in catching them but simply helped by shining my head torch helpfully whilst the catching was going on by Geoff and Alex!  I was very impressed with Kath and Erika - after their initial reluctance to help, by the end of the safari they were very engaged and even were helping with the catching!


After the excitement of the spider hunting and catching we headed off to our tents and swags, hopefully to get a good sleep to prepare us for the next day.


After our arrival on the night of 20th Sep we all went to bed quite soon after having a little bit to eat as we were all very tired.  Erika and I shared one tent, Kath had her own and Alex and Geoff were in swags - Geoff was under the Monster Truck and Alex slept on the tray at the back of the truck.



This is us having some coffee the first morning after our arrival.  Alex's swag is on the back of the truck.  Note also the distinct lack of sunhine - it was greay and overcast like this for most of the time we were out there.  We also parked the truck and Prado in the shape of an 'L' to help block the strong winds which were mostly coming from the SE, hence why it was freezing cold for most of the time we were there too!! They don't tell you that in the brochure


Kath and I had been awoken in the night by strange noises from outside the tents.  After quizzing Alex and Geoff we decided that it wasn't them but there was certainly animalistic 'sniffing' in the early hours of the morning!  Erika hadn't heard those noises but she had heard dingos howling in the night - we wondered if these noises were connected.........


We spent most of the morning setting up the camp in a more detailed and organised way and also we moved Kath's tent away from the truck and put a tent up for me.  It was very difficult putting up the tents so that they were well-secured. The ground is mostly solid limestone with just a few inches of fine soil covering it and amongst this soil are many large pebbles so it was very difficult to get the tent pegs in - especially some of the ones that had come with the tents - I've seen more robust paperclips!  Luckily Geoff had bought some extra beefy pegs so we used those, good job too given the weather we were to encounter later in the stay.........




We had finished putting up the tents and Geoff had disappeared for some individual 'quality time' and when he re-appeared he was holding a 'Nullarbor Chicken' aka a dead, skinned rabbit!!  Now before anyone starts going on about animal cruelty rabbits are NOT INDIGENOUS to Australia and are in fact a massive pest, hence why in the early 20th century the Australian authorities spent a great deal of time, money and effort to erect rabbit-proof fences to stop the rabbits spreading across the country and other eradication methods.  Now what would have been a waste and cruel would have been if the rabbit was killed and we had done nothing with it, as it was in the pot it went for a delicious rabbit stew that night and it was certainly needed as we had a very tiring day ahead of us.  Of course I should say that Alex also went solo for a bit in the morning and came back with a meteorite!!  We were very impressed and took this is a positive sign of things to come.


We headed off to the search site at about 11 am, now for those of you who think this indicates we were being slack and only starting work at this time remember that we had been up since 6am and we had been on the go non-stop since then!  We walked from our camp in a line about 20 m apart, constantly searching the ground for any rocks that looked out of place.  Often people ask me how we go about looking for meteorites in the Nullarbor and it is really as simple as that, you walk slowly whilst constantly looking at the ground.


Of course you do have to keep looking up to make sure you are not about to walk into a bush or fall down a cave and sometimes you see a little friend in the distance, here's Skippy having a check on what we were up to!  You might also notice that there is a lot of vegetation, as I said in the previous post there were far more bushes and grass tufts than I was expecting, this really did make hunting quite difficult and very tiring.


About 2kms from the camp Geoff exclaimed 'you don't belong here'! - He had a found another meteorite, the second one of the day.  I really thought at this point that the meteorite gods were shining on us............


After about an 1.5 hours of walking we made it to the site where we were to start our search.  We had been given the task of looking for a specific meteorite that had come from a fireball detected by the Desert Fireball Network.  I won't go into all the details/background but you can find out more details here about this exciting project


We went to the first site where the meteorite (or fragments of meteorite) was predicted to have fallen.  This area has been searched before by one of our collaborating teams but they did not have a long time onsite and so were only able to carry out a quick search campaign.  This was the main reason for us to go out a second time to the same area - to have a systematic and detailed hunt for the meteorites from the observed fireball.  We scouted around a bit and we got our bearings as to the places we were due to search over the next 10 or so days.  We didn't find any meteorites but Geoff and Alex found tektites, Geoff also found a blue tongue lizard and Erika and Kath found a snake (!) which is very unusual for this time of year.  It got very windy, we were pretty tired and we saw some ominous looking clouds coming towards us so we decided to head back to camp.




Geoff finished preparing the rabbit stew and we helped by preparing vegetables and getting beers for everyone, Alex was in charge of rice and did an excellent job - cooked to perfection -  I was particularly impressed as I have never mastered rice.  The stew  was ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS and we had a fun night sitting around the camp fire telling jokes and stories.  The wind was very cold and we decided to head off to the snug of our respective tents/swags at about 9.30pm.


Hi All


Ok I am back on my laptop using an internet dongle thing so hopfully I'll be able to post this post successsfully and with less hassle and faff than the last one.  Erika borrowed my laptop on Monday night and reszized a load of the images so fingers crossed............


Let's see if these images work.........  Here's some of us packing/getting ready before we left for the Nullarbor on the morning of the 19th.



HOORAY SUCCESS!!!!!!!!!!!  Various boxes with food in.  Note also the fridge/freezer (called Engels) at the back.



Packing in the Monster Truck, the quad bike is strapped in at the front, more of that in a later post!


So, as I said we headed out of Perth on the morning of 19th September. Geoff and I were in the  Monster Truck and Alex, Kath and Erika in the Prado.  Monster Truck led the way as it is speed limited to 103 km/h.  We got out of town and went on the Great Eastern Highway and after leaving the suburbs of Perth we were out in the countryside.  The road runs east towards Kalgoorlie and often is flanked  by the Trans Australian Railway and the Golden Pipeline.  We stopped at Baker’s Hill for a fantastic pie (they are famous for their pies and they are DELICIOUS!) and then continued on to Coolgardie.  Coolgardie is a mining town and is located where the first major gold strike occurred in what is now called the Eastern Goldfields (an area which is still producing a large amount of gold today).  Alex and Geoff have given us quite a history of the gold mining in WA and told us that there were strikes prior to the Coolgardie strike but these were short-lived.  We turned off the Great Eastern Highway at Coolgardie and headed down the Norseman-Esperance Road.  After a long 8 hour drive for Geoff we decided to stop at the five-star resort of Widgimooltha. 


One of the 'amenities' at the Widgiemoooltha resort..............



Alex booked us some rooms – Erika, Kath and I had the luxury of an en-suite room but Alex and Geoff shared a room without a bathroom, this sort of accommodation is apparently called donga and according to Geoff ~90% of accommodation in WA is like this!  Many are in fact made of old shipping containers but these ones were purpose-built accommodation. 




From left - Dr Geoff Deacon, Prof Alex Bevan, Kath Bermingham and me sitting on our terrace at the fabulous and glamorous Widgiemooltha roadhouse resort


After a fairly good night’s sleep, only interrupted by the occasional road train hurtling past, we set off for another day of driving to our final destination – the field camp! 



This is the typical sort of scenery in the Eastern Goldfields, driving down to Norseman from Widgiemooltha.



Now this is more like the Nullarbor - note the distinct lack of trees.  However, since I was here last in 2006 it is MUCH GREENER as there has been some significant rainfall over the winter.  This is great for the farmers who have cattle and sheep stations in the region but not so great for meteorite hunters.  I commented to Geoff that when I visited first I felt that the stark and barren landscape of the Nullarbor was really quite foreboding but now with the amount of greenery around it actually looked quite appealing.


After about another 5/6 hours of driving we left the Eyre Highway and started on the dirt roads leading north and into the wilds of the Nullarbor.  This was tricky driving for Geoff especially in the truck and also as it was beginning to get dark.  I was helping to navigate using a combination of GPS and also maps etc from previous Nullarbor adventures.  Luckily I did an adequate job and we only took a wrong turning once, which I realised almost as soon as we had so we didn't get lost or lose anytime having to backtrack.


We arrived at our chosen campsite at about 9pm and it was really quite dark which is not ideal for setting up a camp but we had planned for such an eventuality with our packing and all our essential kit was easily accessible in the Prado and Truck.  The first thing we did was Kath and I helped Alex dig a firepit, this is vital as the fire provides warmth for cooking, hot water etc (obviously)!  It was getting very cold so we were very grateful that we got the fire going so quickly and also that Geoff had cut some logs at a stop we had made earlier in the day!  Clever Geoff!!


As we were so busy setting up a basic camp so we could all sleep comfortably after the long journey we don'y have any photos of us setting up the camp but we took a lot whilst we were there so I will share those with you in later posts.


See you soon and I'll post another blog tomorrow or Friday...........




Caroline xxxxxxxxxx


Ok this is the second time I have written this as for some reason the blog decided to go weird and jump back two pages without me doing anything - honestly, Erika witnessed it!!


Anyway.............. as we (Erika an I were saying) as we have been out of contact/internet access whilst we were in the desert we kept a journal of our adventures and experiences and Erika was the official star photographer of the trip so we have lots of pictures to share with you, which we hope will help our avid followers   get an idea of what it was like living and working in such a remote place.  Actually we have had a rather frustrating afternoon at trying to get this blog post as my laptop is playing up (please can I have a new one IT?) and we are now in an internet cafe near my hotel.  Luckily Erika is proofreading as I type as the computer has a rubbish keyboard and keeps missing out letters (honestly it's not the quality of my typing!).


Ok so now we begin...................  we did more shopping and packing on the Saturday (18th), I wasn't much help as I'd ben out on the Friday night with a very good friend of mine who lives in Perth and so felt a bit tired the next day, which meant I mostly sat around not doing much.  Luckily I don't think the others minded too much - I hope!  Erika, Kath, Geoff and Alex got all the food and equipment packed in the monster truck and we headed back to our respective hotels/homes feeling tired but very excited about leaving the next morning!!  Oh I shouldn't have forgotten but we did have some excitement.  At some point in the afternoon we got a massive chip in the front windscreen of the Prado, we reckon a passing car must have kicked up a stone as the Prado was parked outside Geoff's house and it wasn't there when we first arrived.  So that was a load of faff sorting that out and also bloomin' expensive as it was a Saturday evening callout (after 5pm) so came to ~$350, nice.  We had to get it fixed though as there was no way we could have gone into the desert with a massive chip in the windscreen.  Ok let's give you some of Erika's handywork..............


Denied!!! Images are all too bloomin' large!  Ok I am now getting a bit fed up and so we will post this and see if it works.  We will have another go and I will try and edit the image down to a more acceptable size (even though we thought we had done that............)  Who said technology was supposed to make our lives easier!




Erika and Caroline