Last day of winter in the heart of New South Wales

We awoke to the sound of rain on the van roof. Bidding farewell to our new friend, Myra, (who dried the breakfast dishes while we packed up), we drove through the rain to Warren, a town of 2000. After hastily switching from shorts to jeans in the van, we stocked up at the IGA, being careful not to buy much fresh food as we’ll have to surrender uneaten fruit or veg when we cross into the Riverina irrigation area.

It was 12 degrees Centigrade – half of what we’re used to, so I opened a can of soup for lunch, at a roadside stop on the red earth, with cypress pines and spring wildflowers.

We’re on the homeward run and are looking forward to seeing loved ones, but as we approach the chilly south, we are pleased that spring is on the way.

Then on through pea-green fields of canola (such a contrast to the grey tones of the eucalypt and cyprus forest) to Condobolin, past the geographical centre of the state of New South Wales.

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Macquarie Marshes – not so marshy but still intriguing

After reading the information about Macquarie Marshes, we decided to extend our stay to get a closer look. We did a circuit of approximately 200km round the northern section of the Marshes. Even though this year is dry, we still had to make a river crossing, much to David’s delight (he went back and repeated the exercise twice).

We passed through extensive flat, dry areas that flood in wet seasons, as well as a spectacular wetland at Monkeygar Creek. We drove over a rough track with deep potholes through a small nature reserve and picnicked by the deserted homestead of Ninia. The bird watching was good, and I spotted a few types that I hadn’t seen before.

I’ve included a shot of some beautiful parrot feathers – does anyone know what bird they belong to?

Finally, the dawn this morning from the door of our caravan – the beauty of wilderness.

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Willie Retreat – beware the emu

We are at a property called Willie Retreat, near the RAMSAR-listed Macquarie Wetlands, not far from Walgett in New South Wales, Australia.

The property has some amazing birdlife, including a bowerbird which has built its bower in the campground and an emu that has imprinted on the owner and defends her from unwelcome guests who try to invade her after hours.

The owner, Myra Tolhurst has won an Australia Day award from the local shire. Myra was a mine of local information and agreed to pose for a photo with David.

We travelled through saltbush plains, brigalow scrub, cattle paddocks and laser-flat cotton fields.

I have also included a couple of shots of an old cattle yard we lunched beside. The rails appeared to have been fashioned from recycled iron railway sleepers. The final photo shows the lumpy, multi-hued saltbush plain with river gums following the watercourse behind.

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Meet Stanley and come visit 3 pubs in the scrub

After lunch we passed Lightning Ridge’s newest icon, an 18 metre emu called Stanley. Originally conceived by local artist John Murray for the Birdsville Track, due to bureaucracy, it ended up in the artist’s home town of Lightning Ridge, where it was only opened this May.

We then took a self-drive tour through opal fields past a cemetery with a classic Aussie grave (Akubra hat and longneck beer bottle on it) to 3 pubs in the scrub.

First came the Grawin Opal Miners Golf Club known as the Club in the Scrub, where we had a drink and met a local called Reg and a friend.

The two of them took us to visit the new Sheepyard War Memorial and Reg described how he had been a key force behind its creation. It had a special feel, with a lone pine similar to those at Gallipoli and memorials to Korean and Vietnamese wars. Beyond the war memorial we came to Sheepyard Inn.

Finally we got to the Glengarry Hilton. We didn’t have time for a drink there as we’d left a prescription at the chemist before lunch and been told that it would be ready by 3.15! Apparently they close for lunch.

They have their own way of doing things out here. Living is cheap for a miner – no power or water bills and rates and lease of $200 a year respectively.

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Lightning Ridge – town of eccentrics

In Lightning Ridge, inland New South Wales, Australia, many signs are written on car doors, as there are plentiful old car-wrecks lying around. The local tourism people have made car door signs a feature, with four colour-coded self-drive tours.

Instead of driving, I followed the Red Door tour by foot between the mine sites. Then after lunch, we took a bus tour of the mining area, went down a mine and watched a demonstration of opal polishing. I was particularly impressed with three dimensional opals, that are polished by hand using an instrument similar to dental drill. But they were pricey, so I didn’t succumb to the temptation.

The town has more than its share of eccentrics, who have built amazing, illegal structures on crown land without permits that are now heritage-listed. We met 80-year-old Brian who in his time had played bit parts in many films including Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max Thunderdome. Even the mine we visited had been used as a set for a movie called Goddess of 76 (remember the Citroen Goddess)?

Apparently there are now only 100 or so working miners, plus hobbyists who work a claim during their spare time, but the town has more than its share of both millionaires and people on welfare. Tourism has grown in importance as mining has declined.

For swimmers, I have included a photo of the fantastic indoor swim and dive complex, built largely with funds raised by the local community.

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Crossing the border: from cotton to opal

We started the morning with a walk along the Ballone River at St George, where a high red pole indicated last year’s record flood level. St George is pleasant town servicing the cotton and cattle industries. A mural in the main street depicted cotton harvest and production.

A couple of fellow travellers were working out on the exercise equipment beside the river pathway, killing time while their 4WD was being repaired.

After a cappuccino and cake, we headed south past self-sown roadside cotton and through the village of Hebel. Here I was photographing the store and a biker posed in front of it.

We crossed the state border from Queensland to New South Wales in a remote arid part and continued to Lightning Ridge, famous for mining the beautiful black opal. I think of my father who made my mother a beautiful opal and gold pendant.

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Cowboys and girls on the Inland Way

After learning about the local oilfields and natural gas deposits by going through the Big Rig museum at Roma, then being tempted to a cappuccino and pumpkin scone, we hit the Inland Way to St George, southwestern Queensland, Australia.

This is a stock route and we shared the highway with two herds of cattle and their stockmen and a stock girl – much more interesting than yesterday’s roadworks, although we had some road trains carrying ore.

We are back on the red earth and have now left the long grass for mulga scrub.

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