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.

Broken Hill Road Trip Part 2

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. 

Friendly (?) locals at Louth


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.

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.