Spring road trip to Broken Hill, Australia.

I’ve been planning a road trip to Broken Hill for a few years.  The dry dusty desert with its red soil, saltbush and the flat, flat plains is a radical change from my usual views of the deep blue ocean and sandy beaches. A wide vista with nothing but nature on all horizons without a man-made structure in sight contrasts against a built-up busy city with its forest of cranes clicking together even more Lego like apartment blocks.

After my first visit, back in 2013, I was so enchanted by the place that I had intended on moving there for a year on a short-term secondment for my job. The dry heat is a respite from the enervating humidity we have on the coast. While my hometown of Wollongong may not get as hot, the drippy February days that hover at 80%+ humidity can become intolerable. The dry heat of the ‘Australian Outback’ is easier to endure. That escape to the desert never eventuated and hence the plan for the road trip in the October school holidays.

The car was packed on Thursday night and I was away five minutes after the school bell on Friday afternoon with my travelling companion and colleague, Michele.

It’s a long way!

It’s a bloody long way to Broken Hill from Wollongong! The one-way trip is a little over 1,100 klicks! Too far to go in one hit, even if you share the driving.  Our first stop was Wagga, or more correctly Wagga Wagga, just over four hours drive south-west.

We stayed at a very good AirBnB. Sue and Roy are long time hosts and enjoy meeting the people who stopover at their stylish Californian Bungalow. It’s in a great location being right near the railway station and easy walking to the CBD of this ‘vibrant regional city.’  They provide a very good breakfast which includes fruit, homemade bread and cereals. The garden is lovely and although we did not have time to enjoy it, I am sure that it would be very pleasant to sit on their veranda amongst the colourful flowers and relax. At less than $90 for the night for two bedrooms, it was also excellent value!

Next day we hit the road early anticipating a full day of driving. It was our original intention to go via Ivanhoe. However, there had been heavy rain the week before and more forecast for the next few days. The rain had been so heavy that the dirt road from Ivanhoe to Wilcannia was closed to all traffic so we needed to go via Hay on the sealed Silver City Highway.

Dirst road and blue sky

Check the road conditions

Before you start your road trip to Broken Hill or any other place, you should check road conditions by logging into Live Traffic.com . I have an all-wheel drive Subaru Forester which can easily handle some light 4-wheel driving, but you should consider the capability of your own car before heading way out west. The road conditions, while usually OK, can become corrugated and potholed after rain. Your Toyota Starlet will probably not handle it!

Mining town

Our home for the next four days was best described as “rustic”. An old miner’s cottage with comfy beds, great hot water and enough space to sleep six comfortably.   Although needing a little love and a better lounge, it was clean and tidy and in a good location being about a ten-minute walk into the main part of town. The kitchen was good but missing a few basic items. It even came with an (empty) pool!

Broken Hill was and still is a mining town. Surrounded by arid semi-desert. It has a current population of 17,000 and at its peak, it had around 30,000 people and 70 odd pubs! Many of these pubs have closed over time. Some lay forlorn and forgotten while others have been repurposed as guest houses or galleries. These days around 20 are still operating.

The town is bisected by a huge pile of mining tailings – the Line of Lode. On top of the pile are the Miners’ Memorial and a precariously positioned café. The view over the flat plains is terrific.

Miner's memorial Broken Hill
Miner’s Memorial

Things to do in Broken Hill

There’s enough to do in Broken Hill and the surrounding attractions to keep you busy for 3 – 4 days. It’s much closer to Adelaide than Sydney and now that that border is open that’s another option for travelling to outback Australia.

Silverton, 30-ish km west of Broken Hill.

While in Broken Hill we visited Silverton. Apart from being a heritage-listed ‘ghost town’, Silverton is the site of one of the Mad Max movies. While you’re out that way visit the Umberumberka Reservoir and the Mundi Mundi Lookout. The lookout is very popular at sunset with a 360o view that goes on forever. I tried some astrophotography, but the moon was too bright being a day off full. Next time I will need to time the trip with a new moon.

You can spend a day wandering around town and doing the heritage walk. There are some fabulous old buildings, which are well worth the look.

With some COVID19 restrictions still in place, there was not much open on Saturday night and the streets were pretty empty, except for a bright blue ute that was making itself heard!

Other activities include the Living Desert State Park, a rail museum, the cemetery which has another heritage walk, and if you’re into it, there are a few galleries including Pro Hart’s Gallery. The Palace Hotel is also popular being one of the sets for the iconic Aussie movie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I’d also recommend having a meal in the bistro.

Priscilla Inspired Dress ups!

Speaking of Priscilla, Michele and I planned some dress-up photoshoots which were plenty of fun. Portrait photography is not yet my strong suit but it’s an area I want to work on. My Scottish travel buddy Iain and Iain McIain also came out of the closet and joined in on the act. The 2020 Broken Heel Festival normally held in early September, was cancelled due to COVID. Judging by the posters up around town it would be well worth heading out west for!


Stay tuned for my upcoming post; Road Trip to Broken Hill Part 2 where I will give more information about our return trip through the townships of Wilcannia, Bourke, Cobar and Orange.

Year of Zero – third quarter review

Well accountability partners, it’s the end of September already and time for my 3rd quarter review of the Year of Zero. This year is simultaneously dragging on at a snail’s pace and flashing before our eyes like a racing car. COVID19 remains in the headlines and continues to cause massive disruption. 

It’s hard not to become complacent about hygiene and social distancing restrictions. However, it is obvious the impact will be long-lived and wide-ranging. 

My Year of Zero and the resultant frugality has given me some stability and a focus for my energies which have (as I have reported) been waning. I am on track to achieve my savings goal. 

3 old fridges being used as mailboxes!
Repurposing fridges as letter boxes

My self-report in the declared categories follows:

  1. No overseas travel

Once again nope! None! I couldn’t if I had wanted to! An easy win!

Score: 10/10

  1. No extended travel within Australia

I have had some short intrastate trips this quarter. 

  • Twice to visit family on the mid-North Coast,
  • An overnight stay on Cockatoo Island 
  • A weekend jaunt to Armidale with family 
  • When this post is published I will be in Broken Hill with a friend. 

These trips fit in with my allowed short adventures category and have been within the budget set. Plus I can add that I have been helping the economies of our struggling tourist sector.

The Old Leyland  P76!
The Old Leyland p76 in a scrap metal pile!

Score: 10/10

  1. No new stuff

My goal is to buy no new items and only replace things that have broken or worn out. I have done better this quarter than at the half-year review.

Allowed items: 

  • I did some more wardrobe decluttering and bought a couple of new-to-me items from the op shop.
  • I had to buy another new car seat for my Grandson because the other new one I got was not suitable and a bit uncomfortable.

Items not on the list:

  • I bought three new books. I did originally borrow them from the library but ended up deciding to buy them as reference books. 
  • Some silicone muffin cases to cut down on using single-use patty cases. 
  • A replacement for the travel cup I made before and then smashed 🙁

Score: 8/10

  1. Reduction in expenditure on groceries

After a big hit last quarter, I made some really good savings this time around. I was able to live from my pantry and freezer for another  6 weeks. I managed to use up everything this time and I did very little cooking. I bought some fruit and fresh green veggies and that was it. It wasn’t the most interesting menu BUT I feel good that I wasn’t wasting stuff. 

Score: 10/10

  1. Side Hustle Happenings

I may as well just copy what I wrote last time. Except for one course at the community college, all my earnings came from the day job.

Score: 2/10

  1. Only sign up for free courses

I only did one course this quarter. A Mindfulness in Schools course. It wasn’t free, but my school paid for it so, theoretically it was free for me. I didn’t sign up for any other courses, not even free online ones. I am not sure whether that means I should give myself 10/10 or 0/10 for not doing anything new?

On reflection one of the books I borrowed was about how to meditate so this was almost like a course….

As I wrote in some earlier posts, my motivation has been running pretty low. I watched a lot of Netflix this quarter.

Score: 6/10 (as a compromise)

  1. Sell some of my stuff

Once again not really possible. 

Score: 1/10

  1. Concentrate on free activities

If you count Netflix as a free activity I aced this one! I’ve watched SO much telly this quarter. Some new (to me) series like Schitt’s Creek, Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid Heat. (Amazing!!), Line of Duty Season 5. Crappy movies, re-watching some old favourites like Offspring and so much more I can’t remember.  I didn’t even have the energy to be inventive in the vein of my Hugh Grant Film Festival. I just vegged! 

Score: 10/10

  1. Rewrite/revisit my 60 for 60 goals

I can cross off Broken Hill road trip and astrophotography this quarter. Not free but it’s two more items off the list. 

Score: 6/10

  1. Zero-waste-eco-warrior

I am maintaining a steady course with this goal. My zero-waste kit has come in handy several times now. I have stopped using tea bags, and single-serve coffee mixes replacing them with loose leaf tea and ground coffee. A double win here as it tastes better as well as saving on waste. My goal is to continue to find more ways to reduce plastic packaging. I have found a way to recycle the plastic blister packs from my contact lenses locally.  

Score: 7/10

  1. Year of Zero Booze

Winner winner chicken dinner! Still going strong with no booze and on 30th September it will be 276 days. Kombucha, the occasional zero alcohol beer and herbal tea are still doing the trick. 

Score 10/10

This quarter my score on the frugal-o-meter is once again 67%! It certainly seems like I’m a glass three quarters full person!

Furious Fiction 15 -September 2020

You know the drill! Another month, another Furious Fiction story. This month I had to deviate from my Frankie adventure as one of the prompts was a picture of a cruise ship.

The prompts for September 2020 wereScreen Shot 2020-09-07 at 20.29.48

Check out the Australian Writers Website to see who wins Furious Fiction this month.


Stevie and Nic’s Romance at Sea.

“Should we go inside?” Stevie asked “It’s starting to get cold. We don’t want to get sick, not now!”

“Wait a little longer? We can watch the sunset one last time.” Nic replied

“Stay here and I’ll get us a jacket. We can switch sides and watch the moon rise too.”

Nic liked that about Stevie.  So thoughtful and romantic, sprinkling the world with loving-kindness wherever they went.

It was hard to believe they had met less than a month ago. Nic had first spied Stevie sitting in a full lotus position at the Yawn-Dawn Yoga Class. Decked out in white baggy pants, tight singlet and one of those stretchy bandana things that claim you can wear them fifteen different ways, Stevie was the epitome of stylish serenity.

Nic?  Well, Nic couldn’t even hold tree pose for more than 15 seconds without a significant death wobble cascading the tree to king dancer to forward fold all with the grace of an elephant.

“Did anyone notice?” Nic asked themselves as they stayed head-down-bum-up in the only pose they knew they had mastered: downward dog.

Stevie had noticed. Yes, Stevie had certainly noticed Nic. Nic was so unsure of themselves. Their perky energy not harnessed or restrained, but bubbling over in a torrent of words as if they feared the silence. Feared silence and the thoughts it may bring.

When they had introduced themselves to each other,  Nic started laughing.

“Haha we must have been made for each other! Stevie Nic,” Pointing from one to the other. “You know, like Stevie Nicks! The singer…” Their voice trailing off as they realised that  Stevie had in fact, got the joke. Realising it wasn’t that funny and they were probably just making themselves look sillier by the second. Contrary to Nic’s fears, Stevie felt like they had scored the winning goal and found a potential life partner.

By coincidence, their 8-day cruise had been extended by another 14 days. The cruise company said the all-expenses-paid extension was beyond their control. Many of the other passengers complained. For Stevie and Nic, it was a chance to cement their relationship even further. No point whinging, whichever way you sliced it they had more time to spend together.  More time to discover if this holiday romance had hope once they were on land.

****

Stevie came back up on deck and broke Nic’s reverie. They put their jackets over their shoulders and kissed softly.

“Last day tomorrow,”  Nic sighed.

“Yes, back to normal, well new normal anyway!”

“Yes, new normal.”

*****

In the morning as they lined up to disembark they had to wait for the Medical Officer to stamp their forms.

COVID-SAFE in bold red letters.

This passenger has been isolated for 14 days and tested negative for COVID.

They walked gingerly down the gangway into a barrage of questions from the jostling media frenzy, “What was it like? How many people died?”

New normal indeed.


Gender ambivalent storytelling?

I am hoping it is a gender-ambivalent story and that Stevie and Nic could both be male or female or neither. The story is not about gender but about people making the best of a tough situation. It was a new experience for me to deliberately use non-gendered pronouns to replace he/she and him/her.  Some of that difficulty arises from it not being my usual form of speaking or writing and also because they/them frequently refer to a plural form.

I am not sure if I succeeded and this story was penned in the final few hours of the Furious Fiction’s competition window after I had tried to force Frankie onto a ship, then developed 3 other stories lines before hitting on the Stevie and Nic story. It’s not my best story, but I got it done!

497 words submitted at 20:15 on Sunday night.