Hamilton Downs Youth Camp – the stay.

In late 2017 or early 2018 my wife (Jenny) and I were lucky enough to score a Caretakers position for three months (May, June and July 2018) at Hamilton Downs Youth Camp in the Northern Territory. 

As the crow flies it’s about 38 kilometres West of Alice Springs but by road it’s around 70 kilometres. Go North from Alice and turn on to the Tanami Road and then turn left on the Hamilton Downs Road after about 35km’s

The first twenty five or so kilometres of the road is a cracker. Smooth, and wide with the only likely obstacles being a few easily seen and avoided bull dust holes and cattle which are easily seen but somewhat unpredictable. The last ten of fifteen kilometres are less than great.

In the photo the road looks OK but there are quite a few exposed rocks and holes. To maintain the road one of our duties was to “drag the road” This was done by dragging three tractor tyres behind the camp ute  in low range second at about 6kph.

The theory is that the tyres knock the tops off the corrugations and knock the rocks off the track. It works to an extent but it’s a very boring way to spend six or so hours.

We did have a lot of other duties though – mostly cleaning. Before a group arrived we had to put the mattresses out on the bed frames and wipe the dust, of which there was PLENTY, off them. We needed to make sure the bunkhouse floors were clean and as dust free as they could be. The kitchen benches, stoves and floors needed to be as clean as you would expect in a kitchen. Needless to say the showers and toilets needed cleaning as well. While a group , of up to 65, was there we offered assistance as well as cleaning the ablutions block at least daily. We also supplied firewood and collected their garbage for disposal. When the group left we cleaned the mattresses and put them away and cleaned everything and waited for the next group to arrive. The groups consisted of school groups of between about 30 to 65 staying from between three to ten nights.There were other groups too – walkers from the nearby Larapinta Trail staying one or two nights. We only had one corporate group of about 30 people stay for a couple of nights. While we were there the longest break we had between groups was three days.

There were a lot of little daily tasks too. Checking the water tan levels for both drinking and untreated bore water. Checking that the batteries for the solar plant were charging / charged. Starting and running the fire truck and pump. Checking the gas tank level. And of course the weather observations for the Bureau of Meteorology. Generally maintaining the grounds was also in our remit. We also needed to find time to do a weekly shopping trip to Alice Springs which normally took a whole day – about ninety minutes each way, visit the post office, do the shopping, etc. The day was made shorter by travel to and from the camp being forbidden between sunset and sunrise.

Between all that we managed to sit of the front veranda for quite a few spectacular sunsets over the Chewing Range.

And from the side veranda.

HDYC is completely grid independent with its own water supply via a solar pumped bore and a reverse osmosis filter plant. We had a large gas tank that usually lasts about six months. Electricity was provided by 14kW of solar panels and about 40kWh of battery storage – more than enough power to run the camp. Even in winter with the short daily harvest period of about five hours the batteries were charged before about three pm. Of course, there’s also a generator for when the solar harvest is lacking.

While were there we had a few visitors ranging from staff and management from other cattle stations who happened to be “just passing” and made a 50km detour to come and say hello to a Centralian Python that took up residence in a birdbath for the day.

We had a few frogs visit the toilet in the house too.

Here’s a photo of the cottage that we got to stay in for the three months. It’s a great little house.

What follows are some photos of the various buildings.

New bunkhouse. Sleeps 32 in four rooms of four double bunks.
The Old Bunkhouse. Sleeps 30. It is one of the original Hamilton Downs Station buildings.
Kitchen. It has a full blown commercial kitchen for the use of the visitors.
Another view of the kitchen.
The Smoke House. Sleeps only 6 in single bunks.
Looking down towards the old buildings from the Caretakers Cottage.
And finally the caretakers Cottage.

The Caretakers Cottage is where the phone (satellite), the internet (satellite and slow and patchy) and of course the TV again satellite are laid on for the reasonable and frugal use of the caretakers.