From red river rums through the mulga lands to the rolling spinifex grasslands surrounding Alice Springs, the Stuart Highway crosses the Tropic of Capricorn and then heads up on through the central desert to the tropical Top End.
Mavis Sweetman, a nurse with the Australian Women’s Army Service recalls the start of her long journey north. Letty Cuttahey was also a nurse on her way to Adelaide River in April 1943. Letty recalls her convoy journey alongside the troops.
Road conditions for the convoys were poor, and adequate water supplies along the track were vital. Connors Well was one of the first lunch stops for the convoys, Ti Tree was another and its small store sold beer for three shillings a bottle. When drunk in the coolness of the underground dining room, it was said to be worth every penny. Harry Cranz was one of thousands of troops who made the long journey north.
Harry Cranz, Soldier
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You left the bitumen just shortly after Alice Springs. The trucks had a limit of 20 miles an hour. The trucks stopped, the old army rule of 10 minutes every 2 hours. It was very, very hot and terribly dusty. The first night was at Barrow Creek, the second night at Banker. You got a shower at these places, water was scarce, it was hot, you’d go in for the meal and it’d be eight o’clock at night. Meat and a big spud in its jacket, and probably cabbage.
The original overnight staging camp at Barrow Creek was moved to a site 30km north at Taylors Creek in 1942 and named New Barrow Staging Camp. With 1,000 personnel permanently based there it was by far the largest staging camp which included a detachment of signals, refrigeration, a field bakery and a canteen service. Jim Gaten was a leading hand carpenter with the Allied Works Council, responsible for constructing many of the camps. Jim gives an insight into the kind of structures built to accommodate the thousands of service personnel.