Just getting away from home is an adventure in itself.
Packing the vehicles to go on an extended tour always takes a lot of fine tuning and figuring out just where to store what without increasing the weight carried. This year I have had to build a ramp for our ageing dog Jeddah, who is starting to suffer from stiff joints.
There are so many things to do. From making sure that all windows and doors are locked to storing the computer external hard drives in a safe place, to removing ink from the printers, to switching off all power outlets and water mains, clearing out the refrigerator and freezer, filling up the rat and mouse-bait containers and securing the house and outbuildings. Then the garden has to be pruned before winter and hanging baskets moved to where they can survive the winter frosts.
The caretaker of our house has been given a written list of instructions so that the gold fish are fed and the property maintained whilst we are away. And so….a new adventure begins……
The expansive saltbush plains between Burra and Morgan soon sped by under an overcast sky. It was a cool day as if winter had already arrived. The old Nissan purred along at a steady 80kmh whilst others sped by in great haste. It wasn’t long before my passenger’s head started nodding off. Sleep however, was interrupted by the dog barking at a passing truck. The bakery at Morgan served up its usual treats which we enjoyed on the banks of the Murray River at the Morgan Ferry Crossing. Not long after this event and after chatting with other travellers we set up camp at the Cadell Camping Area a short distance from the Cadell Ferry.
Today we tried out our new Eco-Billy which boils water within minutes by stuffing it’s inside cavity with twigs and dry leaves. We were most pleased with the result and enjoyed a cuppa.
Heading in an easterly direction we passed by vast ploughed fields of potential wheat as they came to bear through the Mallee-lined roadway. We crossed the Murray River at Mildura and after we left the vineyards behind the vast expanse of the Hay Plains came in to view. As the road turns and twists across this plain one wonders why it was not built in a straight line. You may see the large B-double trucks approaching from a different angle almost as if they were coming along a side road. Wheat fields give way to cotton fields. This year the plains are still inundated with water after three exceptional years of rain and the once stark environment is now brimming with new growth, plant life, animals and insects. The Murrumbidgee River was running a banker when we crossed over at Hay and followed The Long Paddock trail.
The Long Paddock stretches from Moama in the south to Wilcannia in the mid-north of the state. You may read of it here http://stockroutes.info/story-and-song/20-long-paddock.html Not long after leaving town we came across the Sunset Viewing area. Although we had arrived at the wrong time of the day we could well imagine what a sunset would look like here. The road north reminded us again of the famous line of the Banjo Patterson Poem ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ where he describes the sunlit plain extended.
CLANCY OF THE OVERFLOW
A.B. (Banjo) Paterson
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan years ago;
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just on spec, addressed as follows, “Clancy, of The Overflow.”
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar);
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
“Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”
In my wild erratic fancy, visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plain extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city,
Through the open window floating, spreads it foulness over all.
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street;
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
And the hurrying people daunt me,and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal
But I doubt he’ll suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow
It was so to us on this day and we got a feeling of well-being driving through the country after good summer rains. The greenness was almost overbearing. Water was ponded on the side of the road giving habitat to a variety of bird-life. At One Tree Hotel we saw a group of pelicans at a waterhole on the plains. This good season must be close to the same one that came about in 1875 when a Teamster and his friends got their wagons bogged close-by. For three months they ate Kangroo and Damper before the countryside dried out enough to let them move on.
At Booligal we took the road east to Hillston and we flanked the Lachlan River all of the way there and beyond to Lake Cargelligo.
The gravel roads necessitated slower driving and we were able to see a variety of birdlife and especially Pelicans, Straw-necked Ibis, Kurrawongs, Cockatiels and a variety of ducks along the way. Desert Seagulls (Crows), Kestrels, Kites and Falcons were having a feed on the growing insect population. We passed by Cowl Cowl Station, a large enterprise in modern day farming utilising irrigation water from the Lachlan River and deep, fresh water aquifers, Cowl Cowl Station produces wheat, corn, beans, chickpeas, barley, canola and cotton as well as wine grapes, goat meat and cashmere. Taking the gravel road from Lake Cargelligo to Condobolin via Lake Cargelligo Weir was an experience within itself. At the weir we saw a man-made fish escape route built as a tunnel for fish to be able to swim upstream in a tunnel which takes them past the weir overflow.
More gravel road prevailed for a while until we found an alternative route over on the north side of the river which had been sealed. We arrived at Condobolin about an hour before sunset which gave us time to wind down from the day’s drive.
The weir had a steady stream over the spillway and it gave a soothing backdrop sound. Early morning however and a swarm of Galahs woke us up with their chattering. It was also colder than expected and we broke out our sleeping bags for the following nights. We drove a back road to Trundle of TV series Country Town Rescue fame.
Trundle must have the widest Main Street in Australia!
We drove on to Bogan Gate and Parkes and once there struggled to find parking just to go to the toilet. The next leg for the day’s journey was a pleasant drive to Wellington where we visited the Japanese Gardens
Japanese Gardens at Wellington
and eventually Gulgong where we stopped at the Showgrounds for the night. A Picture Postcard drive today and the weather stayed fresh!! Amenities were a bit ordinary at the Showgrounds but for a cost of $14 for the night it was acceptable. Gulgong is an interesting little town with a Henry Lawson Museum and an Opera House, no less. The streets are quite narrow and with cars parked on either side of the road there is only really space for one way traffic. This time, however, we were on a mission to another destination but Gulgong will be a definite prospect for a revisit, probably in the warmer months. The mist hung thick ion the valleys as we made our way past the Ulan Coalmine and then on to Merriwa where merino sheep are the mainstay of the community’s existence. We bought some brekkie and had it under the shade of the trees just out of town. Merriwa to Scone is an equally scenic drive over undulating hills. Scone is a farming area and is particularly noted for breeding thoroughbred racehorses, and is regarded as the Horse Capital of Australia.
After making enquires at Merriwa and Scone we decided to tackle the back-roads to Gloucester via the Tomalle and Pheasant Roads over Barrington Tops Forest Reserve. We had a look around Moonan Flat, on the banks of the Upper Hunter River and the quaint Victoria Hotel made mostly of corrugated iron, beckons many a visitor.
The old and the new crossing the Hunter
The gravel road skirted around the hills at first but after a while it became a long steep climb along a very narrow and winding road which led us up to 1400 metres above sea level through a variety of flora landscapes.
It was a spectacular drive and I needed to use 2nd gear in low range to lug the little van over the top. The gravel roads were a tad rough in places but manageable. We saw a Lyrebird and a large Goanna and some Parrots in our journey. After 150km and four hours of travel time we arrived at a friends place in Gloucester where we stayed for the night.
It was a very long uphill drive between Gloucester and Walcha as we meandered our way up and on to the Great Dividing Range once again. We got stuck behind two b-double cattle trucks and our median speed was 13kmh in low range. This gave us time to view the scenery as it slowly dropped away below us. Later in the afternoon we came to Glen Innes where we overnighted for two nights.
I had read about the old Glen Innes-Grafton Road, some years before, and was determined to have a look at it at last. The road which followed along where bullock drays had made their way in the 1840’s, was opened in 1867 and hailed as an engineering feat of that era. It linked the New England towns to the coast and was 180km in length. It descends from the high of the Great Dividing Range more than 1000 metres along a sometimes narrow track which has 40km of cuttings and a 20 metre hand-cut tunnel. Work on the tunnel was performed by convict labour. A number of towns sprang up during the gold-rush years. Towns such as Mann River, Newton Boyd, Dalmorton and Buccarumbi supported a population of over 20,000. Known as the Big River Country, five rivers flow through this area. They are the Mann, Nymboidia, Henry, Boyd and Orara cut through this area. It was an overcast and cold day when we started our outing but the clouds soon dispersed as we dropped down into the valleys below to bring out bright sunshine and a beautiful day. We bought Anzac Stringybark Honey at a farm near Newton Boyd where a memorial tells the sad tale of how 30 men from the immediate area enlisted to serve in World War 1 and only one returned. As gold petered out farming and timbermen filled the district, the hordes of people left the districts and peace a quiet returned to the valleys. Only rusted timber and iron shacks remain of the once booming towns.
The Old Glen Innes-Grafton Road
We had lunch at Dalmorton on the banks of the river and eventually made the drive back to the Gwydir Highway that links Glen Innes to Grafton these days. Then the long climb up the range began and once firmly in the Gibraltar Range and up and along the twisting road to the top of the mountains, the heavens closed up again and we drove through a hard downpour of rain before arriving back at Glen Innes and a cold environment. Our destination the following day was to make for Tweed Heads via Tenterfield, Casino, Lismore and the Freeway, where we attended to family matters for a week.
The busy city life on the Gold Coast always amazes us and though we did live there at once stage of our lives, the modern pace is far too fast for usnow. Saying that though, we were stuck in a Freeway Traffic Jam on the way out to the Hinterland for an hour before prising ourselves free at Nerang to depart the rush and then made our way to Canungra, Beaudesert, Rosewood, Marburg and environs to visit friends, who live on the slopes of Mount Stradbroke, not far from Lowood. Low range gears were once again used to drag the little van up the steep incline.
The last climb up and over the Great Dividing Range was from Esk to Hampton and we managed that without too much trouble. This day saw us drop in for a morning cuppa with friends at Goombungee and again in the afternoon at Chinchilla.
At Miles we stopped to collect some firewood off the side of the railway line and I used my trusty old Bowie Knife to cut a length of rope to tie the wood together. Some 7km out of Miles I realised that I had left the knife on the rear spare wheel and ofcourse it was now nowhere to be seen. We retraced our steps but had no luck in finding it. I had that knife for nearly 40 years!! Such is a senior moment.
We were making for Judds Lagoon, a favourite camp place for us, but when we got there, just on dark, we found that it had been ‘discovered’ by grey nomads and no less than 15 other campers, many running noisy generators to power their satellite dishes. We opted for a quiet place some distance away and down a bush-track in the long grass. We had driven too far for the day but soon relaxed outside whilst chewing over the days’ events with a glass or two of refreshment. The next day was going to be a long day too. There were road-works in progress for the 60km from Yuleba to Roma and we were frequently stopped by Lollipop Men (and women) with their STOP/SLOW signs. Most of them waved at us and we commented that they must all have known that today, 14th May, was Judith’s Birthday! We had planned to stop over at Mitchell to enjoy some time in the Artesian Spa but it was still closed for renovations after the devastating floods at the end of 2011.
Neil Turner Weir at Mitchell
The town and normally popular camping area at Neil Turner Weir was virtually deserted and so we pushed on and another longer drive ensued, which took us to a lovely spot on the Wade River about 20km west of Charleville. Our campsite was right on the river. Two resident Wood Ducks, lived, no less that 10 metres from us, and we made sure that we did not disturb them. Our solar panels came out and we settled down for the rest of the day and the following to enjoy a good campsite and some campfire cooking
Life and death on the river: Out of the clear blue skies a Whistling Kite appeared and circled our camp in a low sweep. He perched on a tree branch on the opposite side of the river ruffling his splendid brown, gold and white feathers back into order. It wasn’t long before the kite dropped down to the surface of the river and scraped the water with his claws but powered back up to his perch empty handed. He peered to the water and made a second and then a third attempt. On the last he snagged a small fish and took off flapping his wings in a relaxed manner. Within a few seconds we heard the whistling sounds overhead, made by the wings of a crow, as this carrion eater and opportunist hunter swooped down on the kite and harried him to give up his catch. The crow’s mate followed at a short distance behind and the entourage disappeared down the river and out of sight. We could only but wonder what the end result of this escapade might have been. Death to the fish. We had thrown the Yabbie Trap out in to the river but after nearly 24 hours had only caught one Blue-claw Yabbie and three Freshwater Prawns. So we returned them to their river. Life, to the Yabbie, and to the Prawns. Meanwhile the ducks grazed peacefully in the mud on the banks of the river with seemingly no care in the world.
A chilly morning greeted us the following day and the ice lay thick on the 4×4.
At Quilpie we did some shopping, refuelling and other menial tasks and went on to the Town Common where I did a messy engine oil change on the Datto, whilst Jude rigged up a temporary washing line and dried the clothes that we had run through the washing machine at the Caravan Park. Heading Northwest from Quilpie towards Windorah we wanted to camp on a billabong next to Thylungra Station but it looked unexciting and so we pushed on for short while further and found a prickle-free road-works quarry, where we camped for the night. The road was quiet and the dried out Mulga and Gidgee wood provided a hot fire to warm our souls until we turned in for the night.
Thylungra Station was the first property acquired by Patsy Durack. He was immortalised in the book by Mary Durack…’Kings in Grass Castles’. The Duracks, Costellos and Nat Buchanan were responsible for opening up pastoral lands in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The scenery in this area certainly lends its name to grass castles as the Mitchell Grass forms a beige sea across the plains supporting sheep and cattle and human endeavour.
Along the way to Windorah we saw flocks of Budgies, Cockatiels, Brolgas and isolated Emus. Wedge-tail Eagles and Crows fed on road-kill kangaroos. Other Red kangaroos sat grazing in the sun close-by to the road. We also came across three adult feral pigs guarding eight piglets, who were willing to pose for a photo. We crossed Cooper’s Creek at the start of the Channel Country. At the crossing there were a number of campers spread out along the riverbanks. At Windorah we visited the Information Centre where we viewed a photograph of a Freshwater Crocodile which was caught at a waterhole in Coopers Creek in 1992. The crocodile was taken to the Queensland Museum for further scientific studies. It is a mystery on how this crocodile managed to get so far inland as the place it was caught is close to 1000km from either the Gulf of Carpentaria or the North East Queensland Coast where these animals are found.
Windorah is also known for its power generating solar collectors. The big wide sealed road took us north from there to Jundah and later Stonehenge. Jundah is the administrative centre of the Barcoo Shire which includes the towns of Windorah, Jundah, Stonehenge. We were told that every resident who was capable of working and doing a job was employed and that there were no unemployed persons in town. We had lunch atop the Swanvale Jump-up where fantastic, wide views, of the surrounding countryside, helps one to get a feel of this land made up of mulga scrub and Mitchell grass plains with the Thomson River meandering its way across the plains providing water and feed for herbivores and the food chain of lesser sized animals and including an oversupply of feral pigs.
We had made our way back to Stonehenge as I had wanted to drive a track which was advertised depicting the essence of the country. Unfortunately the road was under repair after recent heavy rains and was out of reach. We stayed in the small caravan park in the middle of town for the night and did some ongoing vehicle maintenance jobs and had a lazy afternoon.
The local Galah and Corella residents of Stonehenge started their chatting at 5.45am. I took Jeddah for an early morning walk with the light of the new day slowly emerging above the tree line on the horizon. The moon hung like a coolamon in the sky. Today the journey takes us along the back-roads to Winton and being a gravel roads I dropped the tyre pressures for the 4×4 and the van down to 24psi. I also do not drive faster than 70kmh. This has worked for me in the past so we will see how we go.
It was a long drive. My passenger was doped after waking up crook today and saw little of the journey after I had administered some mooty. The never-ending plains eventually gave way to some isolated hills and after that it was mainly mulga thicket over a long flat plateau which eventually dropped down towards the Winton Plains. Saw the first vehicle for the day after 140km and that was it! The road within the Barcoo Shire was in very good condition. Once into the Winton Shire it deteriorated markedly and care had to be taken especially when driving through ‘blind’ dips. Near Lark Quarry road-works were taking place and about 35km out from Winton we made it to the sealed road. We drove out to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Complex 24km out of town on the Longreach road. We are members of this organisation and wanted to see the new complex which had its opening in 2011. It is impressive. Back in Winton we refuelled and bought some necessary stuff and then set up camp at Long Waterhole for the night.
It was another long drive to Cloncurry and close-by iconic places such as Combo Waterhole and the McKinley Pub. The old bloke who used have the Waltzing Matilda Tent sideshow at Kynuna, passed away a few years back and now there is only Blue Heeler Hotel left to attract visitors. Due to the big rains of the past few years the plains grasses had grown with vigour. Then it dried off and then the winds have blown it on to the roadside fences creating a natural art.
We opted for a caravan park stay at ‘The Curry’ and the next day took the long way to Mount Isa driving gravel roads with twists and turns and washouts, just to see what the town of Duchess looked like. There isn’t much left of the once booming mining town. Mines were now scattered around it throughout the hills but their operations are more specific and profitable. The publican of the Duchess Hotel, when asked how he survived, told us that he supplied four mines with alcohol for their canteens and that the turnover was quite a good earner.
At Mt Isa we spent two nights in the Sunset Caravan Park and found the last available site there. The site was not used much as it was difficult to get access to it as it is wedged in at the back of the park between a permanent resident and a large tree, but as our van is quite small in comparison to most vans these days we fitted in like a glove. Having not been to Mt Isa for many years we looked up so old haunts and some new ones too.
Still north of the Tropic of Capricorn the evening was mild and we cooked our food over a hot coal fire. The night was dead quiet with no breeze and no other sounds. All we could hear was our refrigerator cycling in and out.
Day two on the Sandover and we were delighted by the antics of thousands of Budgerigars. They would fly across our path in flocks of five to a couple of hundred. In a flash of green, they would they twist and turn in their flight-path, joining up with another group to expand in size and then breaking off again to follow their own path.
The Sandover Highway follows a long straight line with an occasional turn here and there. Eventually it starts to wind it’s way to the south past the Aboriginal Communities of Alparra and Utopia with Ampilatwatja a short way off to the north.