According to the world's most reliable source of scientific information, tourism promoters, the Finke River is the oldest river in the world. This is not backed up by the world's second most reliable source of scientific information, Wikipedia, which seems to be of the opinion that multiple Central Australian rivers have equal claim to the title. My question is can you really call a dry, flat expanse of sand a river?
Downstream, and I use the word loosely, of Finke Gorge National Park, the Finke River runs (again, figuratively speaking) for about 100km through a private pastoral lease called Henbury Station. Henbury was our first stop to look for dragons during my 2012 field season. The oldest man-made structure on Henbury is a log cabin that's served as the Henbury homestead for over 100 years. It's a beautifully preserved single room log cabin and a phenomenal piece of Australian outback history. For most of the past 100 years Henbury has been a working cattle station and the homestead compound has been built up accordingly around the log cabin. The homestead also sits right on the bank of the Finke. This is the Henbury homestead at sunrise, the Finke riverbed is barely visible in the far left (look for the dry sand peeking through the trees):
When we arrived at Henbury, after some quick introductions, the station manager offered to show us to our campsite so we could start looking for dragons right away. The first step was to get across the Finke. The station manager took off in her Hilux, and I followed in the ANU Landcruiser. Ten minutes into the first step of the first thing we had to do on our first day of fieldwork and I watched as her wheels started to spin in the sand of the Finke. She was bogged! Since I was still free, our first idea was to recover her Hilux by attaching it to our Landcruiser with a snatch strap and having me accelerate in reverse:
We quickly abandoned this recovery method as the strap was looped around the Hilux's trailer ball and that is most definitely not a good idea. Instead, the station manager sent for two station hands and a bunch of wooden planks to put under the tires and give them some traction. We decided to try and get around her so we could start setting up our campsite. Despite having reduced our tyre pressure to as low as I was advised was safe with tube tyres, without the benefit of the well-worn tyre tracks we quickly got bogged as well:
One thing I have learned about Australian culture: if you ask an incredulous question, such as "will we be able to get through that soft sand?" and the response is "Ah, you'll be 'right, mate!" your chances of being "'right" are, at best, 50/50. Anyway, to make a long story slightly shorter, the third vehicle that came to help us also got stuck, making that a total of three vehicles stuck in the Finke River.
It took eight people, a lot of digging, several malt beverage bribes, lots of splintered boards, and finally a couple of sand ladders, which are basically giant-sized cheese graters, to get us out of there.
By the time we got to our campsite it was almost sunset, and the day's "dragon hours" were over. The "dragon hours" are those hours when the sun is hot enough for the dragons to be out basking. They're about 10am - 4pm at the start of September. So instead we opened the last of our beer (our entire case of Coopers - 24 bottles - was consumed that day) and went for a swim. The Finke River, though mostly dry, is famous for its permanent waterholes.