This is the second post about my road trip to Broken Hill and covers part of the trek back east.
For much of the time as we drove through the Aussie Outback, I had the song by James Blundell and James Reyne looping through my head.
“way out west where the rain don’t fall, working for the company drilling for oil….”
The catch was that it was raining! The week before we headed out, the township of Broken Hill had actually flooded! (a flash flood!) Some of the unsealed roads remained closed and there was water lying in ditches by the roadside. As a result, things looked green and relatively lush.
The wildflowers had bloomed and there were flashes of colour everywhere. Many of these “wild” flowers are in fact escaped garden flowers and technically feral weeds. Nonetheless, there were fields of purple Paterson’s’ Curse, yellow daisies and mauve sweet asylum. The perfume and the buzz of bees made a heady mix for the senses.
Following the Darling
After four days in Broken Hill and environs, our next stop was Cobar. Thankfully the roads were open and we were able to do some dirt driving. I bought my Suby just for this purpose! We took the scenic route, turning north-east at Wilcannia passing through Tilpa, Louth and Bourke before heading almost directly south into Cobar. A mere 677 km, 220 of it dirt.
Our route more or less hugged the Darling River. You could see it was well below its banks and the river red gums still desperate for a flooding to kick start their reproductive cycle. It’s very hard to imagine that towns like Menindee, Bourke, and Wilcannia had ‘ports’ with active paddle steamers moving wool, minerals and wheat to the South Australian coast in the 1880’s.
It was a seasonal route even back then before wide-scale theft of water by large corporations in Queensland. (Yes! I’m talking about you, Cubbie Station!). The river height obviously varies greatly with new bridges built very high and looking more like sky platforms than bridges.
The terrain was flat and still dominated by saltbush and spinifex. There were emus but strangely, I didn’t see any live kangaroos. There were, however, large wedge tail eagles in abundance, both on the ground eating road kill, and soaring high above us.
Wilcannia is a small, but once grand town. The heritage-listed civic buildings indicate that it was a thriving place. Now it has a small, declining population of around 550, seventy five percent of which are indigenous Australians. The town’s welcome sign was not very welcoming. Since Aboriginal people are in a high-risk category for COVID19, the potential for a tragedy is high if visitors share their germs. One of the underlying themes of our road trip was to spend a little bit of money in each place we visited to help out, even in a small way, the local economy. Given we were not symptomatic, we decided that use of the public toilets, a cup of tea and cake were essential!
Towns like Wilcannia have gotten a bad rap over the years as being unsafe, but I certainly felt welcomed and sitting by the river on a glorious spring day was well worth the stop. The locals were friendly and chatty. As I was lining up the shot of the Post Office, a fellow who was sitting in his ute waiting for his friend to post a letter. moved forward for me so I could get a clear shot! He reversed back when I was done and we exchanged a raised hand and a friendly smile.
Tilpa and Louth.
These small villages fit into the “blink and you’ll miss it’ category. Tilpa, unless we missed the main part of town, had a tennis court and a pub. That’s it. The pub was very busy with many well-used 4WDs parked out the front and two large tables full of people ignoring social distancing rules.
We nearly didn’t go to Bourke. Taking the scenic route added 220 km of dirt road and 3 hours to the trip. The road had been closed and initially off the itinerary, but I’m glad we did. The town was bustling. Again filled with attractive heritage buildings from yesteryear. We had a very good pizza at the Port of Bourke Pub washed down with a (non-alcoholic) beer! In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised that most of these Western pubs had non-alcoholic beer available, you can’t always get it in Wollongong. (See my post about why I am avoiding alcohol for a year)
We walked down to the “port” on the river and watched some kids jumping into the water, enjoying their school holidays in an old fashioned style without a digital device in sight! An elegant old building being used as a guest house was up for sale. I could do that. For a while. Another adventure to add to the “after I win the lottery” list.
The last stretch of road from Bourke to Cobar was sealed all the way. The desert was replaced by woodland with eucalypts and small shrubs. It was getting late, the sun was low and the spectre of bounding kangaroos crashing through the windscreen was a concern. Sadly, the only critters we saw were feral goats. I gave up counting. So many, too many.
Cobar like Broken Hill is a mining town. It is also a haven for those who like old architecture. We stayed in a cabin at the caravan park, which was very good. Spacious and well set out with a good amenities block. We didn’t have time to see much as we arrived late.
There was a dull but persistent humming in the background wherever you went in the town. At first, I thought it was the rumbling of trucks passing, but I think it may have been a ventilation fan or some other mining machinery.
On to Orange.
The next morning the final destination for our road trip was Orange, the self-proclaimed foodie capital of NSW, and the topic of my next post. Once again taking the scenic route (read: the longest way around!) via Nyngan and the geographical centre of NSW.
I acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land we travelled through and thank them for allowing us to enjoy their beautiful places.