I had a mammogram recently and the whole experience made me tear up with gratitude and joy. An odd reaction perhaps, but my joy and gratitude was for the free health screening services provided by the Australian government.
Free Health Screening
I have written about the bowel cancer screening program which is provided to all Australians over 50 in a previous post. Once you turn 50, the Government sends you a kit every 5 years to test your poo for blood. If you get a positive result, like I did last year, you’ll be scheduled for a colonoscopy.
Free mammograms are available for all women (cis or trans) between 50 and 74. It is recommended you have the procedure every two years. Breastscreen NSW provides the service in my home state, but each state has a similar service.
Every two years.
My regular two-year check up was a lovely experience. I know that sounds a bit cheesy but bear with me! For many women, the idea of having their breasts squeezed firmly between two plates is not much fun. Yes, it is uncomfortable and yes, someone you don’t know will be handling your breasts and “smoothing” them out on the plate BUT the surroundings and the care and kindness offered by the people who work there, make it a pleasant experience.
The clinics are nicely furnished and softly lit. The receptionist greets you in a friendly and courteous manner. You’ll be asked to fill out a form. Since there were still COVID restrictions at the time I had the procedure, most of this form had been filled out two days prior to my visit when the lovely receptionist rang me. This meant I didn’t have to be at the clinic any longer than necessary.
Once in the treatment room, the radiographer asked me to get undressed from the waist up and checked my identity again. The lights were dim and the room was well heated.
I was then positioned in front of the machine and the radiographer told me how to stand and gently guided me to get the correct positions, before retreating behind the screen to take the shots. These days the images are recorded digitally rather than on film. You have a front image and a side image of each breast.
It takes about twenty minutes, then you get dressed and leave! You get the results after about two weeks. A letter is also sent to your GP. If there are any abnormalities your doctor will contact you.
I couldn’t find an Australian video showing what to expect but here’s one from John Hopkins.
You don’t need a referral for the screening once you are over 50. Like the bowel cancer kits, you’ll get your first invitation as a fiftieth birthday present! After that, you’ll get a reminder every two years.
Ultrasound vs X-rays?
I spoke to an ultrasound technician (My Cousin Kris!) and she said that ultrasound images are superior to x-rays especially for women with smaller breasts because they have better resolution.
Ultrasound scans are not part of the free screening program and you will need to pay for it yourself unless the place you go to bulk bills. She recommended you get an ultrasound every second time you get an x-ray screening image to increase the chance of detection.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in close to 20,000 Australians each year. It accounts for 6% of cancer deaths. The 5 year survival rate is high (91%) because of services such as the screening program which allows for early detection. Early detection of any cancer is vital for successful treatment, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of the Breastscreen Service?
So don’t be scared – bare your boobs in the name of good health!
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end and the final stage of my road trip to Broken Hill was the drive from Cobar to Orange for an overnight stop, and then back home to Wollongong.
Cobar to Orange
Another full day of driving. I am not sure why I add that detail. Firstly, it’s a road trip! That’s what you do on road trips – drive! Secondly, this is Australia; it’s a long way between towns, so of course, it’s a full day’s driving!
The desert is well behind us, the roads are good, and we’re up to Disc 8 of the Steven Fry Chronicles. The fields on either side of us are now filled with waving grain crops, there’s some yellow canola and the ubiquitous purple of Paterson’s Curse is still brightening things up. It’s a curse because it is toxic to livestock and in particular horses. Sheep can tolerate eating some, but the weed spreads easily and degrades pastures.
We started early after a good rest at Cobar Caravan Park. The low background hum I heard the night before is still present. Machinery? Something to do with the mine? Before we leave town we visit the Fort Bourke Lookout where you can peer right down into an open cut mine. Even with the steel cage between you and the sheer drop, it’s a bit scary.
Our first stop, 130 km east is the town of Nyngan. Some people may remember Nyngan being flooded in 1990 when it was isolated for many weeks and its people evacuated. Nyngan is on the Bogan River. Just mentioning that is enough to make many Aussie’s smile. BOGAN!! Seriously? I take my hat off to the people of Nyngan! What a terrific sense of humour they have. Nyngan has a Big Bogan! A bogan being Aussie slang for an uncouth or unsophisticated person. Nyngan’s Big Bogan certainly is a tourist attraction. We had to line up and wait to get a photo. He’s in a park across the road from the Beancounters’ House, presumably an accountant’s office.
Australia has a propensity for “Big Things” as tourist attractions. Like The Big Pineapple in Nambour, Queensland, The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, NSW. There was a Big Potato in Robertson NSW that looked like a big poo! The Big Prawn, The Big Oyster, The Big Lobster! One of my personal favourites The Big Merino in Goulburn. Anyway, I digress,
Another scenic route (aka the long way round!)
Nyngan also has a couple of seriously good op shops. Michele, my travelling buddy and I had made a point of stopping at op shops on our road trip. We came away with some good buys and contributed to local charities. (Don’t worry folks it fits in with my year of zero pledge! I will get rid of as many items as I bought when I get home!) Next time I travel, I am going to take a close to empty bag and buy what I need from op shops as I go.
After Nyngan we head south and travel through some very small towns and right about now my phone which has been mucking up, decides to fail altogether. We don’t have a map. The roads are well signposted but I like to have an idea of where we are and how long before we get to our destination. We stopped in the small town of Tottenham, the geographical centre of NSW, to buy a map without any luck. Next Tullamore, still no map, but the phone has come back to life. Next Trundle and Parkes, our lunch stop.
Parkes – The Moon and Elvis
Parkes is a little bit famous for a couple of reasons. It has an Elvis Festival and secondly, it has a large radio-telescope which played a crucial part in the Apollo Moon Missions in the 60s and 70s. The movie, The Dish, was set in Parkes. Although we didn’t visit the dish this time, we had a great lunch at Wholesome Blend, a healthy, tasty salad bowl and a good coffee.
As you do when you visit places like Parkes, we checked out the real estate prices. Very reasonable indeed! I decided I could live in Parkes. Only four and half hours from Sydney and three and a half hours to Canberra, it’s close enough, but far enough away from city life with a good community around you. It’s even got the NBN (broadband internet).
The broad plains and rolling landscape between Parkes and Orange are delightful. Bands of yellow canola are interspersed with the green of wheat and other grains. We pass through Manildra and it’s flour processing mill and roll into Orange about 3 PM.
We have told our AirBnB host we’ll be arriving at five so we stop at Cook Park. Cook Park is a cold climate park and is set out in the shape of the Union Jack with bisecting diagonal pathways. It was certainly worth the visit with some colourful peonies and tulips on display.
Orange hosts a Food and Wine Festival and is renowned for its “foodie” status. There are a lot of wineries in the surrounding area. However, we found it hard to get something for dinner. Because of COVID restrictions, most places required a booking. We hadn’t booked and everywhere was packed because of reduced seating requirements. After two circuits around town, we managed to get into the Parkview Hotel and had some very fine bangers and mash. (Pork and fennel sausages, truffle-infused mashed potatoes and squeaky fresh green beans.) I must admit I was ruing my Year without Alcohol pledge in such a fine wine town but trust me my soda water was delicious! (Note: no non-alcoholic beer or kombucha in a cosmopolitan Orange pub even though it was available in Silverton!)
The AirBnB The Swales was marvellous and I’d highly recommend it. Our host Mal was helpful and the very canny way they were able to divide their substantial home into two separate sections by simply closing two connecting doors, was very clever. They provided the makings for a good DYI breakfast.
Last day on the road.
Orange is about 4 hours from Wollongong so we did not plan any further stops and left town around midday after scoping out op shops and having one last look around. We bought a bottle of wine to give as a gift to Louise who had lent us our desert dress-ups. (See this post) Heading east from Orange there are places to stop and if you’re not in a rush to get home, have a look at Bathurst and Katoomba. Katoomba is the heart of the Blue Mountains and is a popular day-trip spot for tourists and locals. After that, it’s just suburbia and traffic and life back in the saddle! Sigh!
From Jewel-sea to far horizons.
It was great to see the blue-blue ocean again and smell the salty air but as I looked at my still dusty, insect-splatted car with the red bull dust trickling out from behind the number plate, I remembered how beautiful the flat red heart of Australia is too.
The words of Dorethea’s Mackellar’s poem sprang to mind and I concur with her wholeheartedly.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
I’m planning my next road trip already! Six weeks in Victoria in 2021, provided the border is open of course!
“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.