We are ever so slowly making our way to Broken Hill. Car’s going fast, but the distance is great and we get distracted by the wonderful sights along the way.
After Gunnedah, we had a quick lunch stop at Coonabarbaran with its very walkable main street.
Further along, we pulled up stumps for the night at Gilgandra, camping in the grounds at the Royal Hotel. A Facebook site well and truly worth following is ‘Country Pub Camping’, a veritable bible of fabulous pub camping sites. We paid nothing to camp here, had no power, but could access the pub’s toilets and hot showers. We returned their generous offer by eating and drinking well in the hotel that night.
There’s a bit more than meets the eye in this affable little Aussie town. Gilgandra is the town that put the Cooee World War I March on the map. This walk in 1915 saw 25 men depart Gilgandra and finish in Sydney, a distance of 515 kms. Along the way, their calls of Cooee attracted 263 young men to sign up.
Dubbo is a major service town, normally not a place I would choose for a stopover. However, Taronga Western Zoo is a beguiling carrot to dangle. The massive area is made accessible by motorised cart or bikes or your own car. We walked – probably covering about 8 kms in a very leisurely way. A ticket entitles you to 2 days and well … je ne regrette rien!
Not far from Dubbo is Parkes, home to the world famous Dish, a satellite. Built in 1962, the Dish gained fame with the 1969 moon landing when America opted for the clearer Parkes photos than their own.
The Dish is still operational today and a walk through the small, thoughtful museum fills in the knowledge gaps.
Worth noting is that Parkes also hosts an annual Elvis Presley festival which is extremely popular.
In Narromine, we moved into the heart of the Castlereagh, Bogan and Macquarie River catchments. A little town with good coffee and a great butcher who makes his own salami won us over.
Sheep and grain blessed Nyngan was a relaxing stop over.
Born on the back of copper and gold, is the very interesting town of Cobar, ‘jewel of outback NSW’, our next stop. The town’s peak was in the early 1900s – population 45,000. Today, the population is 4,000.
Wearing yesterday’s misfortunes of world wars, plumetting copper prices, mining deaths, drought and isolation in a stubbornly resilient manner, Cobar today beats one hell of a healthy heart in this red dirt country. Mining is still a viable industry thanks to Peak Gold Mines.
Roadtrains thunder along and caravanners drift in and out at a surprisingly regular rate.
From Cobar we headed to Wilcannia, once an important port on the Darling River when paddlesteamers from South Australia plied the river with wheat and wool. The early 1900s brought wealth along with people to the town.
Sadly, the waters of the Darling, while clearly flowing well because of recent flooding, were often low and then road transport overtook river transport.
Today, Wilcannia’s predominantly indigenous population sits at 700. Housing, employment and health are real concerns as was highlighted last year with the town’s rather high covid rate.
Wilcannia gave us our very best camping experience of our trip so far. Warrawong Camping means camping alongside the Darling River and its billabong. Plenty of water, plenty of birds, plenty of space and rather grand amenities are all here.
White Cliffs 95 kms from Wilcannia bears the blood, sweat and tears of opal miners past and current. Dugouts are common given the high temps and high cost of building materials. A steady 22C is the trade off for living underground. The moonscape landscape is home to a multitude of mine shafts and tunnels. The famed Pineapple opal can be found here.
Blokes gotta bloke here at the White Cliffs pub. Shearers arrived in good numbers, telling us they’d waited 4 long days for flood waters to recede before they could leave their properties and get to a pub. Their vehicles were caked in red mud, windscreens a blurry mess, but as one shearer told us, ‘Just have to keep the number plate clean and the cops are OK with the rest.’ Worth noting is that shearers are in short supply in Australia. More needed.
The outback is incredibly green right now. The recent rains and floods may have wreaked havoc, but the landscape change is astounding. We expected a typical dry brown landscape but not so. As I write, the swollen waters of the Condamine River in Queensland are slowly heading south to flow into the Darling River and many fingers are crossed in the hope that more floods are not on the cards. La Nina is not going anywhere in a hurry. Years of devastating drought have broken.
The Ukraine war or whatever excuse the powers to be come up with, has certainly affected petrol prices. $A2.20 a litre is brutal and word is it won’t be dropping anytime soon.
Next stop: Broken Hill