Gunbarrel Highway

Last updated

Gunbarrel Highway

Western Australia
The highway is "as straight as a gun barrel" in some places
Australia relief map.jpg
Red pog.svg
East end
Red pog.svg
West end
General information
Type Track
Length1,347 km (837 mi)
Major junctions
East endMulga Park Road,
Victory Downs Homestead
West end Carnegie Homestead
Region Central Australia
Far North
Permits4 required
Fuel supply Wiluna ( 26°36′S120°14′E / 26.600°S 120.233°E / -26.600; 120.233 ), Carnegie, Warburton ( 26°13′S126°39′E / 26.217°S 126.650°E / -26.217; 126.650 ), and Warakurna Roadhouse.
Sign marking the boundary of Victory Downs, the beginning of the original Gunbarrel Highway. This section is now known as the Mulga Park road. Victory Downs sign, Northern Territory.jpg
Sign marking the boundary of Victory Downs, the beginning of the original Gunbarrel Highway. This section is now known as the Mulga Park road.
Sign at Wiluna, Western Australia. Wiluna-sign-25-Jun-2007.jpg
Sign at Wiluna, Western Australia.

The Gunbarrel Highway is an isolated desert track in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. [1] It consists of about 1,350 km (840 mi) of washaways, heavy corrugations, stone, sand and flood plains. The Gunbarrel Highway connects Victory Downs in the Northern Territory to Carnegie Station in Western Australia. [2] Some sources incorrectly show the highway extending west to Wiluna. The road was built as part of Australia's role in the weapons research establishment called Woomera which included Emu Field and Maralinga, both atomic bomb testing sites. The name comes from Len Beadell's Gunbarrel Road Construction Party so named as his intention was to build roads as straight as a gunbarrel. [3]



There were three main reasons for the construction of the Gunbarrel Highway. The first was to provide access for a future meteorological station which was needed to forecast upper winds prior to the testing of atomic weapons in South Australia. [4] The second was for instrumentation along the centre-line of fire for rockets launched from Woomera, and the third was to allow surveyors from the National Mapping Council to continue the geodetic survey of little known areas of outback Australia. A consequence of the construction was the completion of the first east-west road link across the centre of Australia.

First stage

The road was built in four stages beginning in 1955. In early November, the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party (GRCP) assembled near Coober Pedy in South Australia, half coming from Adelaide together with a bulldozer, and half with a grader from Maralinga, led by Len Beadell. The starting point was Victory Downs homestead just over the border with the Northern Territory, and 24 kilometres (15 mi) west of the Stuart Highway. [5] Work began on 13 November 1955, and continued westward to Mulga Park. An interruption occurred after about 35 kilometres (22 mi) when the grader's blade mounting bolts were snapped after hitting a submerged Mulga tree root. Beadell made a hurried return trip to Alice Springs for parts. The road reached Mulga Park on 2 December, where construction ceased for the year, as the bulldozer's starting pilot motor had failed. Beadell continued ahead on a ground reconnaissance, then on 7 December made an aerial survey which departed from a natural airstrip in the Mount Davies vicinity, and flew towards the Rawlinson Ranges where the future weather station was to be located. With the knowledge gained, Beadell led a ground party of four Land Rovers to the site where a stone cairn was built on 12 December. The site was named Giles after Ernest Giles (the first European to explore the area in 1874). Beadell's Land Rover suffered a broken rear axle during the return towards Mount Davies, so an axle was borrowed from one of the other vehicles which was left behind to be recovered the following year. [4]

Second stage

In February 1956 the second stage continued from Mulga Park to the Musgrave Ranges, then in March via the Mann Ranges and Tomkinson Ranges to Giles where the party arrived on 29 March. [2] Beadell had hoped to take the road via Surveyor Generals Corner, but it was too rocky for road building. The first priority in establishing the weather station was to find water, and a boring plant was obtained from the nearest railhead 800 kilometres (500 mi) to the east. It was slowly towed to Giles by the grader, and on the fourth drilling attempt, suitable drinking water was discovered. Work on the Giles establishment continued throughout April and May, which included laying out the airstrip. In June Beadell and the GRCP were called away to begin work on the Mount Davies road. [5]

In 1957, no further work took place on the Gunbarrel Highway; however, Beadell continued work at Giles during the early months.

Third stage

The third stage of the highway began with a solo reconnaissance by Beadell from Giles to Warburton on 12 March 1958, when the weather was still very hot. In his book Too Long in the Bush, Beadell described the forbidding conditions in a chapter which he called "An Unshared Nightmare". [4] Daytime temperatures were between 40 and 45 °C (104 and 113 °F), which resulted in an overheating engine and fuel vaporisation. The extreme heat melted plastic parts of his instrument panel and radio transmitter, and loosened nails in his boots which caused the heels to fall off. He lost his appetite and drank hot water only. His course took him along the southern edge of the Rawlinson Range towards Lake Christopher, then southwards through the eastern edge of the Gibson Desert. After battling through a series of jumbled sand ridges, and having three flat tyres, he found that his water supply was almost exhausted. When clear of the ridges, some rocky hills led to his discovery of a small pool of water in a creek run-off, which saved his life. He arrived at Warburton and rested for three days prior to the return journey to Giles via a different route.

After a delay caused by rain, building of the next section started on 22 March from Giles, keeping to the north and west of his earlier reconnaissance route, avoiding known obstacles. The road passed close by the position where it was estimated that Gibson had perished, then turned south towards Warburton, which was reached by early May. While at Warburton, Beadell and his team built a new airstrip much closer to the mission settlement. [4]

Fourth stage

Building of the fourth stage did not commence until an altered arrangement for the survey took place. On this occasion, Beadell was joined by an additional surveyor Major H.A. "Bill" Johnson, with whom he had served in the Army Survey Corps. [5] Each had a Land Rover in the advance party, and they were followed by two other Land Rovers and a supply truck. The second group included an officer from headquarters in Woomera, and an aboriginal affairs officer. [4] Meanwhile, most of the GRCP returned to Giles, leaving the heavy equipment at a future turn-off (Jackie Junction) 69 kilometres (43 mi) north of Warburton. The survey from the turn-off west towards Carnegie Station took place from 14–28 May during which a mountain was found. It was subsequently named Mount Beadell in honour of Beadell. [2]

Construction of the final section began at Jackie Junction on 3 September, was abeam Mount Beadell on the 25 September, Everard Junction (with the Gary Highway) around 15 October, and reached Carnegie Station on 15 November 1958, just over three years from when the Gunbarrel Highway was begun. The length of new road built from Victory Downs was 1,347 kilometres (837 mi). [2]


By any standard, this is a long and tough haul through very remote territory. Its isolation requires travellers to be totally self-sufficient with water, food and fuel (the longest distance between fuel outlets is 489 kilometres (304 mi), between Warburton and Carnegie Station.) Part of the road between Jackie Junction and Warakurna (near Giles) is now known as the Old Gunbarrel Highway, and is no longer maintained due to the construction of the more direct route, the Great Central Road. [6]

The route passes directly into Aboriginal land and it is a legal requirement for travellers to hold a valid transit permit at the time of travel. Three free permits are required in Western Australia and a permit is required to enter the APY Lands in South Australia. [7] [8] Permits for the abandoned section from Warakurna and Warburton require at least two vehicles and either a HF radio or satellite telephone and require a minimum of five working days turnaround. [9] In addition, entry to the abandoned section is only permitted at Warakurna or Warburton. Access to the abandoned section via Jackie Junction is not permitted, Jackie Junction Road is on sacred land and not open to the public. [10]


Gunbarrel Highway Map v2.svg
The Gunbarrel Highway (as originally constructed) is shown in black.

See also

Related Research Articles

Connie Sue Highway Track in Western Australia

The Connie Sue Highway is an outback unsealed track that runs between the Aboriginal community of Warburton on the Great Central Road and Rawlinna on the Trans-Australian Railway. It lies entirely in the state of Western Australia, crosses the Great Victoria Desert and Nullarbor Plain, and is approximately 650 km (400 mi) long.

Len Beadell Australian explorer

Leonard Beadell OAM BEM FIEMS was a surveyor, road builder, bushman, artist and author, responsible for constructing over 6,000 km (3,700 mi) of roads and opening up isolated desert areas – some 2.5 million square kilometres – of central Australia from 1947 to 1963. Born in West Pennant Hills, New South Wales, Beadell is sometimes called "the last true Australian explorer".

Anne Beadell Highway Australian outback track

The Anne Beadell Highway is an outback unsealed track linking Coober Pedy, South Australia, and Laverton, Western Australia, a total distance of 1,325 km (823 mi). The track was surveyed and built by Len Beadell, Australian surveyor, who named it after his wife. The track passes through remote arid deserts and scrub territory of South Australia and Western Australia, which often have summer temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius. Sand dunes predominate for most of the track.

Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku Local government area in Western Australia

The Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku is a remote local government area in Western Australia near the Northern Territory/South Australian border. It is 1,542 km (958 mi) from Perth.

Great Central Road

The Great Central Road is a mostly unsealed Australian outback highway that runs 1,126 km (700 mi) from Laverton, Western Australia to Yulara, Northern Territory. It passes through a number of small communities on the way.

Gary Highway Track in Western Australia

The Gary Highway is a remote unsealed track in central Western Australia running through the Gibson Desert and the Great Sandy Desert. It was built by Len Beadell's Gunbarrel Road Construction Party in April and May 1963 and named after Beadell's son, who was born in February that year. It connects the Gunbarrel Highway from Everard Junction in the south, to the Gary Junction Road at Gary Junction in the north. It is one of only two north-south tracks in the central deserts of Western Australia, the other being the Sandy Blight Junction Road, also built by Len Beadell.

Giles Weather Station Western Australia

Giles Weather Station is located in Western Australia near the Northern Territory border, about 750 kilometres (470 mi) west-south-west of Alice Springs and 330 kilometres (210 mi) west of Uluru. It is the only staffed weather station within an area of about 2,500,000 square kilometres (970,000 sq mi) and is situated mid-continent and near the core of the subtropical jetstream. This means it plays an important role as a weather and climate observatory for the country, particularly eastern and southeastern Australia, and particularly for rainfall predictions. The station is on the Great Central Road and the nearest township is the Warakurna Aboriginal settlement, 5 kilometres (3 mi) North. Giles is within the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku and is in the foothills of the Rawlinson Ranges.

Neale Junction

Neale Junction is an isolated location in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia, where the Anne Beadell and Connie Sue Highways intersect. It is 172 km (107 mi) west of Ilkurlka. Neale Junction was named after Commander Frank Neale, who flew a Percival Gull through the area during the Mackay Aerial Reconnaissance Survey Expedition to Western and South Australia in 1935.

Warakurna Community Community in Western Australia

Warakurna is a large Aboriginal community, located in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, within the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku and is situated on the Great Central Road. It is at the western end of the Rawlinson Ranges. At the 2016 census, Warakurna had a population of 268, including 237 who identified as Aboriginal Australians, most of whom speak Ngaanyatjarra at home.

Sandy Blight Junction Road Track in the Northern Territory and Western Australia

The Sandy Blight Junction Road is a remote outback track in Australia joining the Great Central Road, Western Australia and Gary Junction Road, Northern Territory. It was built under the direction of legendary surveyor Len Beadell as part of a network of roads for the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, South Australia. It is located approximately 500 km (310 mi) west of Alice Springs.

Gunbarrel Road Construction Party Team of Australian road builders

The Gunbarrel Road Construction Party (GRCP) was the name bestowed upon a team of road builders by Len Beadell in 1955, after which the well known outback track Gunbarrel Highway was named. Over a period of eight years, Beadell and the GRCP built more than 6,000 kilometres of dirt roads in remote areas of central Australia for the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, South Australia. By the time they had completed their work in December 1963, the GRCP had built eleven major roads in twenty-four separate stages across South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Gary Junction Road Track in the Northern Territory and Western Australia

The Gary Junction Road is an outback unsealed road in Australia built by Len Beadell in the 1960s as part of a network of roads for the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, South Australia. In its original form, the Gary Junction Road ran from Liebig bore in the Northern Territory to Callawa Station in Western Australia. On present day maps, it is depicted as running from the Tanami Road to Gary Junction, just east of the Canning Stock Route, a distance of 852 kilometres. The road was named after Beadell's only son Gary.

Talawana Track

The Talawana Track is a remote unsealed track that runs between Windy Corner on the Gary Highway and the Marble Bar Road in Western Australia, a distance of 596 kilometres. The majority of it was built by Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party in 1963 as part of a series of connecting roads for the Woomera rocket range in South Australia. It was the final road they built.

Mount Davies Road Track in South Australia

The Mount Davies Road is a remote unsealed outback track which runs from Mount Davies (Pipalyatjara) in the far north-west corner of South Australia to Anne's Corner on the Anne Beadell Highway 397 kilometres to the south-east. It was built during 1956 and 1957 by the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party (GRCP) surveyed and led by Len Beadell for the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera, South Australia.

Carnegie Station

Carnegie Station, or Carnegie pastoral lease, is located north of Laverton and east of Wiluna in Western Australia and is the most eastern of pastoral leases found on the Gunbarrel Highway.

Jackie Junction

Jackie Junction is a remote location in Western Australia on the Gunbarrel Highway. It was named by the road builder Len Beadell after his youngest daughter and is at the junction of the original Gunbarrel Highway and the road to Warburton. It is 69 kilometres (43 mi) north of Warburton.

Giles Airport

Giles Airport services the Warakurna Community and the Giles Weather Station in eastern Western Australia. The airstrip was built during April and May 1956 by a team led by Len Beadell as part of establishing the weather station for the British nuclear tests at Maralinga and the Woomera Test Range. It is adjacent to the Gunbarrel Highway and the more recently constructed Great Central Road.

Mount Beadell

Mount Beadell is a mountain located in the Gibson Desert region of Western Australia. It is named after surveyor and explorer Len Beadell, builder of the Gunbarrel Highway. The location is very remote being 155 km (96 mi) west of Jackie Junction and 295 km (183 mi) east of Carnegie Station, the western terminus of the original Gunbarrel Highway.

Maralinga to Emu Road

The Maralinga to Emu Road is a remote unsealed outback track that links Maralinga to Emu in the western region of South Australia. It was built by Len Beadell for the Weapons Research Establishment of Salisbury, South Australia in 1955.

Vokes Hill Corner to Cook Road

The Vokes Hill Corner to Cook Road is a remote unsealed outback track that links Vokes Hill Corner on the Anne Beadell Highway to Cook on the Trans-Australian Railway in the far west of South Australia. It was built by Len Beadell for the Australian Government's Weapons Research Establishment in late 1961.


  1. Hema, Maps (2005). Australia’s Great Desert Tracks NW Sheet (Map). Eight Mile Plains Queensland: Hema Maps. ISBN   978-1-86500-159-3.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Shephard, Mark (1998). A Lifetime in the Bush:The biography of Len Beadell. Adelaide: Corkwood Press. ISBN   1-876247-05-3.
  3. "Author to speak at Hd. Valley". Victor Harbour Times (SA : 1932 - 1986)(55). 24 April 1974. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Beadell, Len (1965). Too Long in the Bush. New Holland Publishers (Australia). ISBN   1864367199.
  5. 1 2 3 Bayly, Ian (2009). Len Beadell's Legacy. Seaford Vic 3198: Bas Publishing. ISBN   9781921496028.CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. Hema, Maps (2005). Australia’s Great Desert Tracks SW Sheet (Map). Eight Mile Plains Queensland: Hema Maps. ISBN   978-1-86500-161-6.
  7. "Entry permits for access to Aboriginal Lands - Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage". Department of Aboriginal Affairs (Western Australia) . Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  8. "Permits". Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  9. "Permits". Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku . Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  10. "Permit Application" (PDF). Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku . Retrieved 27 January 2019.