Longer tales from the Road – Menindee

This post is the first of what I hope will be a continuing series – Longer Tales from the Road. Episode 1 is about Menindee.

For those who have been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know I am a strong starter but often trail off so who knows how long it will last! Examples in point are my series on Wollongong, and then Eco hacks. Come to think about it I never wrote the last two posts about coffee either

With my Great Southern Road Trip on the horizon, I thought it was a good time to start this occasional series. These stories will not be about the travel per se, but longer tales from the road of the places I have visited and the interactions I have had while road tripping around this big island.

I usually travel solo but on this road trip to Broken Hill in June 2020, I had a travelling companion, Michele, my work buddy. 

Enough of the chit chat let’s get started.

Dirt road and blue sky
On the road to Menindee

Episode 1 – A day trip to Menindee

Today’s travel itinerary includes a day trip across to Menindee from Broken Hill. It’s a little over an hours drive on a sealed road. 

The township springs up out of the dirt necessitating a rapid deceleration from 110 kph to 50.  The town is dusty, brown and straggly. The streets as dotted with small houses with tin rooves, and fibro sheeting. There are some with rebellious green gardens while others stopped fighting nature long ago, and have let the heat win. The brown yards are adorned with an interesting array of various statues, rocks or junk.

COVID Testing?

As we slow down we see a couple of people sitting on plastic storage boxes at a table by the side of the road. They looked bored, one is on the phone,  the other tossing a water bottle in the air.  There is a blue sign declaring FREE COVID TESTING. These bored people are with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and they’re providing a vital service to remote communities and travellers.

Once we parked the car, Michele and I crossed the road to offer to buy them a coffee, after a warm thank you, they declined. We were not the first to offer and they had had their fill of caffeine for the day. Anita and Helen are Flight Nurses with the RFDS and for the past 4 months, their normal duties have been replaced with a mobile COVID testing service. Each day they move from tiny town to tiny town testing townsfolk and people driving through. They average 4 – 6 tests a day with the results returned by SMS to the client in 24 – 48 hours. Results for Aboriginal people are rushed through because of their higher vulnerability. 

I have to admit I felt a bit choked up about this and had a real “I love Australia” feeling flood through me.  Free rapid testing, 500 km away from the nearest big city with less than a day’s turnaround?!  Now that’s a wonderful thing! Thank goodness for Medicare!

(US citizens take note: Over a certain income level all Australian citizens pay a 1.5% levy to pay for free or subsidised health care for ALL.)

Anita and Helen

Anita is based in Broken Hill, but Helen, a Queenslander, had been stuck in NSW for 4 months. The original six-week secondment had been extended because the Queensland border was closed. She’d been separated from her family for all that time but was grateful she had her two dogs with her.

We stood and chatted about their experience and commitment to public health. Helen was hoping to source a Gate Code to get through the Dog Fence from someone, somehow so she could get back home.

Thank you, Anita and Helen!

Now here’s a bit of Australiana I knew nothing about? A dog fence? I’ve heard of the rabbit-proof fence but never the dog fence.   As it turns out in this northwestern corner, where the New South Wales, South Australian and Queensland borders merge there is a dog fence. The aim is to keep dingoes north and away from the sheep and cattle. 

Apparently, it is more successful in keeping the people and kangaroos in. The fence is usually just shut with a series of gates, but because of COVID and border closures, the gates are now locked tight with digital padlocks and you need a code to open them. If Helen did get a code she would have to contend with flooded roads because while 2020 brought the virus it has also brought welcome heavy rain. 

After 15 minutes or so we crossed the road and got some lunch. 

Why would you go to Menindee?

Menindee has a sign posted population of 750.   There is certainly enough to keep you busy for a day or two and now is the time to do it! As international travel becomes a fading memory, we can at least enjoy a home grown road trip!

You’ll find a pub,  a caravan park,  a school and a corner store/cafe.   The Redsands Takeaway sells food, limited groceries and odds and ends including fishing gear. I chatted with the owner while she made my cup of tea and sandwich. She told me apart from the meals for tourists and truckies, she also prepares fifty lunches and dinners each week for the local (sic) Meals on Wheels in Ivanhoe, a mere 200 km east. They also double up as the school’s tuck shop (canteen) and stick rigidly to the healthy schools’ canteen policy.  This allows the 90 children and 18 staff a bit of variety.  By the way, they also do a pretty good cheese and tomato toastie! 

The Redsands Cafe

Menindee Lakes

A little way out of town you’ll find the Menindee Lakes a series of freshwater lakes that supply Broken Hill with drinking water. They are also popular recreational areas where the folks around this way come to water ski, fish and swim. The lakes started as natural depressions along the Darling River which filled only during floods. In the period from 1949 to 1968 the lakes where dammed and weirs and regulators installed to control the flow. 

The lakes are also very popular with photographers. The flooding of the lakes has left lots of dead trees in the water and there are often spectacular sunsets. I took this image on my first visit to Menindee back in  2013.

Kinchega National Park

Apart from the Menindee Lakes, you’ll also be able to visit Kinchega National Park. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to drive on the sand and gravel roads.  Even though the road was in good condition there are a few spots where a regular car would bottom-out and get stuck.

The Park has the remains of an old homestead and a wool shed. You’ll find some nice picnic spots along the slow-flowing muddy Darling. It’s amazing to think that people settled here in the mid-1800s. Their lifestyle must have been tough compared to our pampered existence now.

Menindee Grapes

There are significant table grape plantings in the area,  but this industry is in doubt because of a lack of water security. I won’t go down that rabbit hole in this post, but there is a great deal of controversy about water rights along the Darling River. The river system has a total length of over 3,000 km with its origins in Queensland. It feeds into the Murray before flowing through Victoria and then onto South Australia. After every state takes their bit there is not much left draining out to the sea. Original settlers used steamboats to move cargo from Queensland down to South Australia, but the variable and unreliable water supply lead to many disasters. The variable and unreliable natural flows have been exacerbated by over-allocated water licenses. 

Menindee Caravan Park

As I write this another 4 months down the track, with COVID almost done, in Australia at least, I wonder how Helen went. Did she get a code? Did Helen and her dogs get home to their family? As it turned out we met Anita again two days later when she was in Wilcania.

This time she did accept our offer of a coffee.

A little off road photography dress-ups.

Chess Tournament

It’s mid-afternoon and 32oC on an early December day in Sydney.  My buddy*, Isaac and I are sitting on a park bench in Hyde Park watching a chess tournament. Tournament may be a bit generous, but let me tell you the atmosphere is quite tense! 

There is a group of 9 people in the inner circle, all men over 60, probably over 70 shouting and gesticulating as Mr Black (we’ll call him) picks up his Bishop to make a move. His choice is roundly opposed by the Inner Circle except Mr White who is gleefully saying “Bye-Bye”.

I am unsure what language they are speaking. The Inner Circle is made up of people who appear to have Asian and European backgrounds. English is no-one’s first language. I am guessing that bye-bye is an agreed term for checkmate in this chess game. 

Mr Black goes boldly ahead with his move and the game is swiftly over. The pieces are gathered together and a new opponent sets up to face the victorious Mr White. 

On the tier above, there is another tight group of players using a regulation-sized board. From my angle, it appears to be a serious game. The onlookers, standing with one hand on their hips have the other held on their chins as if holding their mouths shut. The easy conviviality of the giant board players is missing and no-one is shouting out suggestions. 

The Outer Circle of 20 -30 onlookers is populated with people like me. Folks drinking coffee, eating ice-creams and enjoying the shade of the large trees that surround the chessboard. There is a nice breeze brushing across our sweaty skin and there is a feeling of slow calm peacefulness. No-one is in a rush. Languid laziness has set in. Even the pigeons and bin chickens (aka White Ibis) seem to be less raucous than usual.

Although each separate group of onlookers are sitting the regulation 1.5 m away from each other, the intense force fields from 6 months ago have been dropped. Our fear seems to have subsided and everyone is happy to enjoy a communal space. Close but not too close. 

*My 5-year-old grandson.

Is it just me or is everyone in a COVID funk??

I published this on September 16th but it turned up in my drafts folder… not sure what happened there….

Am I suffering (post)-COVID funk? Last week I talked about the idea of mini habits suggested by Stephen Guise and the strategies used by Michele Bridges in her 12WBT Challenge (12 Week Body Transformation) as ways of getting myself off the couch, or more correctly out of bed and into action.

Let me set a few things straight, it’s not that I am NOT exercising or eating OK it’s just that I know I can do better.  A lot better. I know that once it’s done I feel GOOD after I have exercised first thing in the morning. That smug sense of self-satisfaction gives me a real boost for the rest of the day. My problem has been maintaining or re-establishing my preferred routine.

There have been two factors that have led to my routine crashing around my feet, one novel and one that happens every year. Firstly, the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 and the second, winter.

Been here, done that, sort of.

I can see from my Facebook memories that this time last year and the year before and most likely the year before that, I was in a similar space. On top of that, we have COVID.

Speaking with friends, reading social media posts and a quick search of “post COVID funk” on Google shows that I am definitely not alone.  There are a plethora of articles already published claiming   we’re all feeling like this. That is, unmotivated and not liking it.

Articles published by the Sydney Morning Herald right through to a blog post about getting back into your bass guitar practice are offering support and advice.

The advice is consistent. Get off social media and get outside (after you finish reading this post of course). Stop watching the news. Eat well, sleep better, connect with friends.

The bass guitar blog even agrees with me on the benefits of mini habits

It is common to hope for motivation to show up to make us want to practice. But a more useful strategy is for us to show up for a small, doable task – regardless of motivation being involved or not – and then celebrate the fact that we did the task.

Motivation is overrated.

Regular short practice bits (and feeling better about ourselves for having done them!) are underrated.

Focus on a short task – one scale, one verse of a song, one technique exercise. Then high five yourself for having done them. The good feeling the high five creates will have you coming back tomorrow. (If you want to know more about this, check out this book).

More serious concerns

My personal situation is not a dramatic problem and I anticipate my laziness will begin to evaporate once we head towards spring and the mornings are brighter and warmer. I have a secure “essential job”, I have a house where I can retreat to if needed. I really have very little to worry about.

There are real concerns that some people will develop more serious health issues and potentially post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the months of uncertainty and stress. For many Australians, particularly those on the east coast, COVID hit when we weren’t yet over the devastating fires of summer. Just as families were getting back on their feet, we were locked inside. Health care workers and other “front line” people haven’t had a chance to catch their breath. They have lurched from one crisis to another.

According to a report from The Black Dog Institute (one of Australia’s peak mental health bodies) people who have had  positive diagnosis of COVID-19 are also at a specially high risk.

“In past pandemics, patients who experienced severe and life-threatening illnesses were at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, months to years following their illness [12, 13]. Appropriate systems and supports need to be put in place to screen patients, especially hospitalised patients who have survived COVID-19, to screen for common mental health problems and to provide appropriate psychological supports.”

Problem solved.

I have spent enough time wallowing and when I look at the hardship some others are experiencing, I am embarrassed. I need to recognise the privilege I have and stop whingeing! I’m going to use the idea of mini habits and JFDI to drag myself up by the shoelaces and get out there and exercise.

Next month, I  am going to look more closely at mini habits or more specifically Tiny Habits. I will post a review and executive summary of  the Tiny Habits book by BJ Fogg. (Similar idea to Guise’s mini Habits)

In the meantime,  I am off for a run.


If you are suffering from severe anxiety and are seeking more useful help than I am talking about here please reach out to people who can help.  There are some great resources here at the Black Dog Institute’s website.

Australian readers can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for mental health support.