In the sand dune country of the Simpson Desert, where the sand is red and the sky is blue, is an old station homestead called Old Andado. The homestead is perched in the valley between two parallel red sand dunes so is the perfect opportunity for a genuine desert experience. Not only that but the little ramshackle corrugated iron homestead with its dusty concrete floors is a living museum of the past. No one lives here now but inside it is as it was. A relic. It’s a home filled with the contents of a persons life that belongs to another era of time. The beds are made but covered in thick dust. There’s trinkets in the cabinets, pots on the old wood stove, a tea pot in a knitted cozy on the table, clothes in the wardrobe, a bottle of perfume on the dresser, drums of flour and sugar, photos of family, a long abandoned child’s tricycle out the front.
This is Molly Clark’s beloved home. Molly is still here but her body lies in a peaceful grave at the base of the sand dune 200 metres away. Her final resting place forever. She died in 2012 at the age of 89. I can feel her presence though as her home is exactly as she left it, full of her life. The old front door is unlocked and upon entering it’s like stepping into another era preserved by a patina of red desert dust. Frozen in time. A living museum.
Old Andado in 1993 was listed in the Heritage register so today is an untouched piece of history for 4×4 adventurers like us to wonder through. You half expect Molly to step around the corner and offer you a cup of tea and a scone. But it’s just silent. Just the desert wind blowing through the screen windows. The same wind that brings the dust. The atmosphere inside is so hard to describe and it certainly makes you more than a little introspective. It’s fascinating. I feel like a ghost from the future, intruding on a scene from the past. It’s eerie but peaceful. Looking at it with rose coloured glasses on a cool winters day, her life looks kind of idyllic but it would have been incredibly hard. Fifty degrees in summer under a few sheets of tin and a meat house out the back.
Molly Clarke with her husband Mac and three sons arrived at Andado Station in 1955. Tragically she lost her husband and her oldest son in the 1970’s. Then she lost her livelihood when the NT government forced her to destroy all her cattle due to a brucellosis and tuberculosis outbreak in southern states. Molly sold the property but retained the old homestead and a 45 square km block. With remarkable ingenuity she found a new business venture in tourism and set up camping facilities at the homestead and cooked meals for visitors.
After 50 years, poor health meant that she finally had to leave and move full time into Alice Springs, but right until the end Old Andado was always her home. It still is. The epitaph on her grave stone reads “At home in the country you loved. When the times get tough, the tough get going”. That tells us a little bit about Molly Clarke.
For a time volunteers and a caretaker looked after the homestead and her granddaughters continued on the legacy of preserving it. At the time we visit here today, there is no caretaker and nature is stealthily making its presence felt.
For now, I kind of like it though. It adds to the authenticity of an era now gone. It would be sad to see it disappear totally into the sands of time though.
In the visitor book on the kitchen table is a recent comment from one of the owners “It’s been a bloody long time between visits from me. I knew the place would be covered in dust and lots of dead plants. Sad to see after everyone’s hard work. Time to let bygones be bygones and secure the future of the place”.
Sounds like all is not lost and Molly’s legacy out here on the remote edge of the Simpson Desert may well continue for future generations. That’s a good thing. There is just so much potential to keep Molly’s tourism dream alive. It’s a special place.
To be able to camp here between the red dunes is a true Simpson Desert experience. I understand why Molly loved it here for so long despite the hardship and the remoteness. Her front verandah is the epitome of peacefulness. The silence is absolute and standing on the crest of a red sand dune under a vibrant blue sky looking at dune after dune on the horizon is just mesmerising.
The 4×4 Track here from Alice Springs is incorporated into the Binns Track which stretches from Mt Dare to Timber Creek at the top of the NT. We however, came here especially just as a long weekend jaunt from Alice Springs. The 330km track via Santa Teresa took us a bit over 5 hours and was a lovely scenic drive. A bit of bull dust, corrugations and sand but overall an easy drive. Certainly a fantastic way to experience the red dunes of the Simpson Desert without having to drive all the way across to Birdsville.
So to Molly Clarke, we thank you. I’m sitting here in Molly’s kitchen writing this.We were first here 30 years ago and it feels exactly the same now as then. Molly had gone into town at the time. It feels like that now.