The road condition report the evening of 10th February said that the flood level at the Victoria River crossing was receding and the water across the road beyond Timber Creek was passable for high clearance vehicles. I resolved to leave the next morning as long as there was no further rain that evening and attempt to get through.
So on the morning of the 11th February I left Katherine and took the Victoria Highway towards Kununurra. I was apprehensive, to put it mildly, largely as a result of many of the anecdotal reports you hear from people that know of others that have been swept off the road by strong currents, or that became victims of flash flooding. The actual occurrences of such happenings are relatively rare and as long as you employ common sense and approach the water with caution you will be reasonably safe. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway, every time I looked at the edge of the tarmac and saw the floodwater lapping there. Really my main concern is my lack of experience of these conditions and what the correct actions are in any given circumstance. So I guess I’ll learn.
I mentally broke down the journey into three segments, the first being from Katherine to the Victoria River crossing, then to Timber Creek and finally on to Kununurra. Several of the floodways had water crossing the road but in each case it was little more than 3-4 inches and hardly moving. When I reached the Victoria River however it was in full flood and a frightening sight, but the road was clear so I crossed quickly and carried on to the local roadhouse for a strong coffee. Roadhouses are always good for getting road condition reports because of the constantly passing traffic, although I should say here that in the 120 mile drive from Katherine I only saw four other vehicles. Anyway the chap was able to assure me that there was little water across the road between there and Timber Creek but after that Bridget might not be able to cope.
We continued the 50 miles to Timber Creek and stopped again to refuel and ask about the road. Just as we stopped a chap in a Mitsubishi car pulled up and asked if I had come via the Victoria River, to which I affirmed. He asked the conditions and I told him that it was fine as long as there was no more rain and then I asked about the road from Kununurra. To my delight he said that although there was some water over the floodways I should have no difficulty, and indeed we didn’t.
We arrived at Kununurra during a storm and throughout the night there was a violent thunderstorm. The following morning I heard that the Victoria had risen around three metres and the road was again closed. The road ahead is said to be passable through to Fitzroy Crossing but I would need to take special care at Telegraph Hill and Fletchers Crossing.
Given the previously recorded engine troubles that Bridget has, she has driven quite superbly from Katherine. We have been cruising at a steady 55-60 mph and she has shown no further inclination to leak petrol from either carburettor. The temperature on the second day was ideal at around a mere 29ºC and it has been raining more or less continuously so Bridget has not overheated at all.
I had almost forgotten the warning about the water at Telegraph Hill when we came upon it and I wasn’t at all sure that we would be able to get across. I got out of the car, took off my sandals and walked into the water. At it’s deepest it was around a foot but with the flow it would build-up against the car to around 18˝ and there were potholes in the road caused I think by the water. At that moment another car came down the road and I told the lady driver the depth. I was brought up always to make way for ladies and this was not going to be an exception. I watched carefully as she drove across and decided that Bridget should be OK. I chose the line of attack carefully and we managed to avoid the potholes. Keeping the engine revs high Bridget drove through like a veteran.
The second crossing at Fletchers was deeper and the current was faster. I thought I might wait for the level to recede a little when a roadtrain came along. He pulled up beside me and opening the passenger door leant out and said, “Keep over to the left as far as you can and follow behind me closely. My lorry will break the water for you, but if you get stuck I will pull you out.” I recognised the driver as a chap I had spoken with earlier whilst filling up with petrol at Kununurra and I was very grateful for his assistance. It worked perfectly and the remainder of the journey to Halls Creek was mundane, but wet.
From Halls Creek the next location of any size is Fitzroy Crossing and after that the city of Broome.
According to the road report the remaining journey via Fitzroy to Broome was now passable for all vehicles but using care at floodways where water was across the road. This was great news as I had received various opinions that the road would not be suitable fro Bridget today. We left Halls Creek at 7:50am and had an interesting but uneventful drive to Fitzroy Crossing. The scenery is quite beautiful at times and the fact that water was often lapping at each side of the road I had become accustomed too and able to ignore more or less.
However the swollen Fitzroy River at the crossing was violent and brought me down to earth very effectively. Once again my mind was irrationally concentrating on flooding and what actions I should take if we get marooned by rapidly rising water levels. Then we came across water across the road that was different than anything I had previously seen but had been aware could happen. It was no deeper than previously experienced but it was spread over a much longer distance than we had formally been exposed too. Bridget took it all in her stride which is more than I can say for me. However we got through and then I saw the water just beyond the Willane Bridge Roadhouse and remembered and understood what one person had referred to as the “Inland Sea”. It was like a huge lake but it stretched out on both sides of the road with an occasional tree sticking out from the water as if to say “This should be dry land”. It certainly made me very nervous until we were within 30 miles of Broome after which I settled down.
We arrived safely at around 5:00pm and it’s not raining!