Grazier’s curiosity leads to outback track that has become a family legacy and a four-wheel drive magnet

Grazier’s curiosity leads to outback track that has become a family legacy and a four-wheel drive magnet

It is 50 years since John “Goog” Denton and his family spent every weekend for three years bulldozing a 120-kilometre scrub track from their homestead north of Ceduna to see what was out there. 

Key points:

  • Googs Track was bulldozed in the 1970s
  • Thousands of people now travel the track from north of Ceduna to the trans-Australian railway line
  • Googs Lake and 363 sandhills are highlights of the route

Googs Track has become an iconic four-wheel route linking the Eyre Highway with the trans-Australian railway line at Malbooma, near Tarcoola, in South Australia’s outback.

Its dirt footprint weaves through native scrub, climbing 363 sandhills, revealing isolated precious freshwater rock holes and a spectacular lake.

It is not known how many tourists travel its bumps each year, but National Parks and Wildlife Service permits show up to 2,650 people have camped at Googs Lake each year over the past three years.

Goog’s widow, Jenny Denton, said the travellers came by foot, horseback, motorbikes, pushbike, and most makes and models of four-wheel drives.

John “Goog” Denton and Jenny Denton built the track together.(Supplied: Jenny Denton)

Controversy over land clearing

Almost two years into the bulldozing, three South Australian government departments — Lands and Environment, Conservation, and Highways — wanted to stop it because the road was illegally on Crown land and native vegetation was being removed.

The local community signed petitions backing the Denton family and the road pushed through.

Yumbarra Conservation Park and the Yellabinna Regional Reserve and Wilderness Protection Area were declared after Googs Track was finished.

Mrs Denton said her late husband’s dream began in August 1973, when the family farmed cattle and sheep on a 2,347-hectare property north of the dog fence.

“We’d sit on the verandah overlooking the scrub and Goog would say ‘I wonder what’s out there, Mother, between here and Tarcoola’,” Mrs Denton said.

Friends and family celebrated the track opening in 1976.(Supplied)

It took a year to push the first 24km using a Fordson tractor with a blade, and then later a bulldozer.

The track was to become weekend life for three years during the cooler months for the Dentons, their three children, Jenny’s brother Denis, her mother Coral Beattie, and their many friends.

Family project creating track

John Denton was nicknamed “Goog” because he sold eggs from his bicycle growing up in Whyalla.

He had left school by the time he was 12 and was working on the family farm in the Kalanbi area, north of Ceduna, operating heavy machinery.

It was there he became enchanted with the endless vista of scrub.

Jenny Denton grew up at Nullarbor and Fowlers Bay, where she was no stranger to hard work.

The Dentons built three four-wheel drive Land Rovers from spare parts.(Supplied: Jenny Denton)

The couple worked together on their property so when Goog started the track, it was naturally a family project.

Money was short, so the first bulldozer was made from the parts of two.

They would travel to the start point each weekend in three four-wheel drives the family also built from spare parts — one each for Goog, Jenny, and Denis.

They worked over winter, bringing their fuel, food, and water, camping under the stars with Slim Dusty blaring from a cassette player.

The Denton family counted 363 sandhills along the track.(Supplied: Jenny Denton)

Goog and Denis drove the dozers while the others cleared the road picking up sticks.

Daughter Debbie Burge was five when work on the track began, her brother Jeffrey was three, and her older brother Martin was seven and already driving a car.

“We learnt to drive out there as soon as we could see over the dashboard and we’d help move the vehicles along,” Ms Burge said.

She would have been eight when it finished and already an experienced driver on some very rough track.

The whole family would walk behind the dozer picking up stumps and sticks, clearing the road.

The Dentons camped out as Googs Track came into shape.(Supplied: Jenny Denton)

Book recalls adventure

Mrs Denton has written a book about their adventures pushing the track, including stories of frozen engines, transporting and rebuilding a hut for camping, and discovering beautiful waterholes.

She marvels at how Goog never used a compass but could navigate using the stars and sun.

“We bought him a compass one year and he said ‘What do I need that for?'” she said.

The track runs past Mount Finke.(Supplied: Jenny Denton)

The track was finished in August 1976, when it connected with an existing track to the north, near Mount Finke.

“Commonwealth Hill Station owners with the help of some Aboriginal people in the 1950s had tried to cut a track south to Thevenard to ship wool,” Mrs Denton said.

Using only axes, it became too hard and was abandoned, but it saved the Dentons months more clearing work.

Significant path for tourism

National Parks and Wildlife Service Eyre and Far West Region manager Tim Hall said the parks Googs Track passed through were co-managed in a partnership between the Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation and the South Australian government.

“It holds great importance to the area’s traditional owners, the broader far west community and others seeking to experience this four-wheel drive route and explore the area,” Mr Hall said.

Googs Lake is 15 kilometres long.(Supplied: Jenny Denton)

It is also ingrained in the Denton family.

Ms Burge paid tribute to her mother’s role in the project.

Jenny Denton has written a book about the family’s life building Googs Track.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

“For all the miles he did on the dozer, you probably did as many on foot clearing the track of sticks and stumps and the odd stone … and many times carrying one of us kids up and over sandhills because we would’ve been whingeing about sore legs,” Ms Burge said.

Those who attend the 50th celebrations this week might choose to dip their hats at Goog’s Memorial near Googs Lake in honour of the man who set out to make the track.

Goog died in his sleep on Christmas Day in 1996.

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