No Boundaries                   

 

Dubbo to Broken Hill, cause the car got its way

 Dubbo has been the backdrop for a good share of trials and tribulations for us as we have had major work done on each visit to this mid NSW city - a busted suspension on the van, a wind damaged awning and the latest was repairs to the fuel system on the Patrol after a series of breakdowns in the area.    Western Plains Nissan had replaced all injectors (for the second time within days) and also the fuel rail - all under warranty, but they still could not tell us what had caused the problem.  It was the "unknown" that was worry-some.   New injectors don't "just" fail at 250klm!!  Is it any wonder that we planned to travel short distances around the Dubbo region to help regain our confidence in the vehicle before we headed into isolated areas out at Bourke and beyond.

Taking the long way round to Trangie via Parkes, Bogan,Trundle, Tullamore and Albert

We decided to do a run heading south to Parkes, and then north-west, via Trundle, Tullamore and Albert,  almost completing a circle up to Trangie, which is only 30 odd kms west of Dubbo.   We have to thank the situation with the Patrol for taking us around these areas - we loved all of these towns!  First stop we turned into was the Parkes Radio Telescope, affectionately dubbed "The Dish" - a chance to tick off an item on Kym's bucket list.  This radio telescope was the setting for the 2000 movie shot in 1969 about Australia's involvement in the Apollo 11 moon landing.  Just off the Newell Highway, the approach to the telescope grounds goes past a driveway that was familiar to us from the movie.  We were able to picture some of the scenes - and yes, there are sheep on the grounds - still!  Parking is easy even with a big rig.  We won't go into technical detail of the visit too much.  Best if you experience it yourself.  Is it worth the entry fee?  Yes.

At the junction of the road to Trundle, and 30 kms west of Parkes is the town of Bogan Gate.  We are sorry Bogan Gate, but you really did seem to live up to your name.  We stopped in the park across the road from the pub to have lunch and were entertained by the antics of some fast beer consuming patrons in their make-shift 'al fresco' lounge area on the footpath, with none other than a sheep huddled amongst them.  

Going into Trundle is like going into a town from the wild west movies with many buildings preserved from early in the last century.  Adding to its past era impression is the main street, so wide that you could drive a cattle herd through.  Trundle takes the honour of having the widest main street in NSW.   Most imposing building in town is the Trundle Hotel, constructed with compacted earth and rendered with cement.  It has a verandah that goes forever.  87.6 metres to be exact, and the longest verandah in NSW.   Other interesting buildings include the original cinema, butcher's shop, pubic halls, Post Office, banks and bakery.  Take it all in just as the locals do - very slowly.  Having said this, their community is obviously very active as Trundle has hosted  events ranging from the Australian Marble Championships to an Abba Festival, and holds an annual Bush Tucker Day.   What's more, Trundle Showgrounds has a camp area for RV's.

A half hour drive away passing alonside cotton fields is the quaint township of Tullamore.   The Tullamore pub is a friendly place to cool off, and while away some time tuning into local chit chat.  We got some information about the town's early Irish connections, and learnt about the shenanigans at the annual  Easter Irish Festival.   The showgrounds here also hosts RV stopovers, and apparently has little room to spare when the festival is on.   After Trundle and Tullamore, we didn't quite make it to the next 'T' town of Tottenham, which would have put us at the geographical centre of NSW -  something left for next time.  Instead we took a north turn on the Nyngan Road.  'The Rabbit Trap', a point of interest on the Camps Aust Wide and Hema maps had taken our interest.

The 'Trap' is at the town of Albert, and the Camps guide also listed a camp area at Albert's Rabbit Trap Hotel.  This was good news to us.  Arriving at Albert, you realise that the Rabbit Trap Hotel shelters more people than the rest of the town.   Its presence and its setting just scream 'character'.  Eric Joliffe, the author of the 'Saltbush Bill' series obviously thought so as well, as it is said that the hotel was inspiration for some of his cartoon creations.    There is a welcoming verandah sheltering rows of rough cut timber bench tables and chairs, and from this verandah vantage, you can imagine years of faces that have peered back towards you from the bar stools that line the length of the windowed frontage inside, and peer back at you.  

A handful of the houses remain occupied, there is a large engineering works nearby, and part of the hotel complex is a series of modern cabins across the road where there are a couple of powered RV sites for a fee.  Alternatively, you can stay unpowered for short stints alongside the well kept little park, also across from the hotel.    We read somewhere that the town population is 11, still pretty accurate at the time of our stay - except that this was Friday night in the country.  By the time we'd settled into our site and put on our town best in ready for dinner, the pub was buzzing.   Population explosion to at least 60 on this Friday night.   The fact that the publican had newly arrived didn't bother the locals - in fact you got the feeling that they were out in force to ensure Friday night rituals remained.  The meals were great, the conversation easy, and to its credit, the pub has some great historical displays and info along with some local tourist guides for travellers.  

When we talked about the town of Albert to the outside world, we found that it wasn't as big a secret as we thought.  At the time we were there, it had a famous son in Jason Owen, who was singing his way through the then X-factor TV series.   We left  being unsure whether the  'Rabbit Trap' point of interest on our map, and the hotel were one and the same.  We've since heard that Neville Owen, X-factor, Jason's Dad, owns the local engineering works, and there is a giant rabbit trap in his workshop which is a work in progress.   Plans are for the completed work to be placed on the pub roof.  We'll just have to go have another drink there some time to check it out.

It could well have been Neville Owen who had helped us out when we first arrived in town.  We had swung by the engineering workshop on our way in having noticed a wheel bearing dust cover was missing from the van.   The Patrol seemed to be behaving itself so far - no black exhaust, smooth acceleration and it appeared to be towing comfortably.  With confidence lifting, we had decided to take the plunge and start our long-awaited tour into far western NSW from here.  But there is now way we were going to do this without a replacement dust cover to protect the bearings in those conditions.  We were beginning to lament the possibility of having to return to Dubbo if we couldn't source a dust cover along the way.    The fellow from Albert's engineering workshop was helpful and did try to adapt a couple of things for the purpose, but not successfully.   He suggested we try one of the local businesses when we got to Trangie the next morning.

The road from Albert joins Trangie at a T junction on the Mitchell Highway.   A right turn at the T takes you back to Dubbo;  turning left would take us in the direction of our heart's desire.  A dust cover was all that stood between us and that left turn.  With fingers crossed we called into Terry Motors on the highway.   There on a dusty shelf, were sealed packs, each containing two covers.  The owner scratched his head and said he'd no no idea how long they'd been there, nor their price, finally offering up...  'a dollar a pack 'll do'.  Confirming again that country congeniality is still alive and well, he obliged us further with an offer to lend us tools for fitting if needed.   So for the grand sum of $2, our problem was solved.  We had a few spares to boot, and we were heading west with the morning sun behind us and Nyngan on the road ahead.

A short stop at Nyngan

Nyngan is a town that has had its fair share of publicity since we were there.  It seems that the two caravan parks have successfully lobbied the local Bogan Shire to have the showgrounds closed to RV's for short term stays.  Subsequently CMCA have removed their RV Friendly Town status.  It is a shame, as it is a neat little town in not unfriendly territory where the community has developed a few tourist venues that are worth a visit.  We did some shopping in town, and particularly recollect a helpful and friendly conversation with a lady who served us in the hardware store.  It is funny the little things that stay in your memories.  So often they involve the people along the way, and how you find them, just as much as an amazing view, or some grand fact of accomplishment or nature.     

There is a ex-Defence force helicopter on display high in a central park in town that we had to check out.  We found out that it had  connections to the commemoration of a devastating flood the town experienced in1990 when many townspeople were evacuated by helicopter.   We experienced more Nyngan hospitality from the volunteer door-lady at the Museum.  She was keen to inform and assist as we whiled away an easy hour mulling over the exhibits at what was once the busy town railway station, now no longer in use.   We got some early 1900 tips for travel etiquette in Australia.....and mused that some of these could still apply.  Moving on, just out of town we stopped at a shady park  verging on the Bogan River and enjoyed the cool shade over lunch as we looked towards a long straight drive north-west in the November afternoon sun.

Mulga Creek on the Mitchell Highway

One of the straightest lines on a NSW map is the 203 kms of the Mitchell Highway between Nyngan and Bourke.   We wanted to stop overnight just a little over half-way at the settlement of Byrock.  The map showed the colloquially named 'Mulga Creek' Hotel  and Caravan Park here.  Just as 'mulga' is Australian vernacular for 'the bush', the Mulga Creek Hotel Caravan Park  matched our vernacular and expectation of the 'back of beyond'..... and this was just the beginning of it.  We were charmed by the park, the pub and its surrounds.  Apart from a couple of groups of workmen and the local wildlife, we had the place to ourselves.   (This included a trillion tiny frogs that loved the dampness of the bowls and basins in the toilet facilities.)  When we arrived our host went ahead of us to clean the facilities explaining that coming into summer they get few travellers, so the daily clean is not always daily, unless warranted. 

We loved this place!  The park had character, dotted with old machinery, farming relics and rough-hewn and wrought iron camp kitchens.  We discovered that there were a couple of points of interest to take in within walking, or as turned out, pushbike-riding distance, so we decided to stay a couple of nights.  We'd taken an unpowered site for $10 night - it was a priceless experience for us.  We still recall listening to Macca and 'Australia All Over' relaxing outside our van on Sunday morning at Mulga Creek  with the radio show and callers reinforcing our thoughts about how magical our country is. 

The Byrock Aboriginal Rock Holes are a short stroll behind the park.   The waterholes are situated amongst flat granite rock outcrops.  Surrounded by the stark outback environment, the sight, still and quiet of these waterholes was a truly reverent experience - especially if taken in with the changing light of dawn or dusk.  Interpretative boards provide information about the Rock Holes' Aboriginal history and dreamtime stories. 

The Hotel has an access key to a nearby gated road that leads to the historical Byrock Cemetery.  The cemetery has been painstakingly restored by local residents to honour the pioneers and perpetuate their stories from the late 19th and early 20th century.   It is a little distance, so we enjoyed a bike ride to get there.  Inside the compound there is a roll-board of all who are buried here, their ages and cause of death.  The details are a testament to the isolation and harsh conditions of the area in these times, with the average age of death of the 79 souls listed just 20 years of age.  Causes such as croup, convulsions, broken bones and just having 'perishing in the bush' were commonplace.  That ride back along the haunting and silent red dirt road remains as one of those unique experiences that keeps us addicted to this lifestyle. 

To bring us back to reality, we rode back to the pub for a chat over the bar, and took in some of the whimsical trademarks that the Mulga Creek pub have made their own.  They include a collection of bush hats that hang from the ceiling, lots of signage and paraphernalia from past eras, and a series of parking meters at the street parking area out front.   A cooling drink went down well before our camp and a siesta called us home. 

Getting to know Bourke

A new day saw us keen to knock over the remaining eighty k's of that straight and narrow bitumen stretch of road and set up a base for a few days to get acquainted with the town of Bourke.  As the saying, penned originally by Henry Lawson goes, 'if you don't know Bourke, you don't know Australia'.  We wanted to test the significance of Henry's observation for ourselves.   The legend of Bourke's isolation, its geography, history and reputation were all something that we were keen to experience for ourselves.  

Bourke of today has a population of  around 2500.  We were surprised to learn what a busy and key trading centre it was in the past, and especially that it was for a time, one of the world's busiest inland ports.  Paddle steamers worked the Darling River and carried a large volume of our export wool trade before rail and transport later became a more reliable means.   The Darling is still a major focal point of the town.   Historically its been both a life-giver and a life-taker through droughts and floods that have shaped the steeply gorged river edges, and its eternal twists and turns.   We settled in at Kidmans Camp, a caravan park on the northern outskirts of town with a road that leads down to the river behind.  The camp was a veritable oasis in the nigh 40 degrees heat with lush grass underfoot, shady trees and a swimming pool, yet still laid out with thought for keeping some of the outback character through its cabins, outbuildings and camp kitchens.  

One of the first sights on the way into town is the sprawling and derelict abattoirs.  There are a few other derelict buildings that are ghosts of a long past, but there is also some very well preserved pioneer buildings still in use in the town centre.     There are lots of steel grills that give you the impression that this is not a place where security should be taken lightly.   Apart from this bit of foreboding, Bourke does have an infectious lay-back atmosphere that is  bolstered by the languidness brought on by the heat hanging in throughout those November days and nights.     The pool at the camp was well appreciated.

After the first night sharing our bed (and our mouth and nose cavities) with a nocturnal plague that easily penetrated the van's insect screens, dusk saw us using subtle lighting at night so that we could keep the windows open to catch any breeze, but not attract the bugs.  This was cause for nudge and giggle between female occupants  of both ours and our neighbour's caravan.   Across from us were Colin and Michelle Bingham, who were touring from Queensland in their Roadstar Daintree.   Conversations about useful accessories to have on the road led to Kym and Colin comparing their outdoor LED lighting systems - both apparently have a thing for 'bright' bush nights and fantastic outdoor light shows.  With the ladies shaking their heads and preferring more romantic 'glamping' lights, neither were they disappointed that the insect plague was keeping us a little more in the dark for the time being.                                                                 

We were surprised to find that another neighbouring couple at Kidman’s Camp were other friends we'd met in our travels 3 months earlier at Seaforth near Mackay, on the central Queensland coast.  Who said this was a big country?   Chris and Mandy Page had started out on a ‘trial basis’ to see if the lifestyle was to their liking.   We could see there was no going back for them now. 

 Other Bourke highlights included exploring some of the dusty and primitive river tracks.  The Information Centre situated in the distinctly new and architect designed Back o’ Bourke Centre provide a series of ‘mud maps’ for these tracks.    Bear in mind when self-discovering these that signage is rare, there is a maze of tracks not necessarily shown on the maps, and most are mud and not navigable after rain.  A sight that has stayed with us is the substantial remains of an old river craft hanging from a tree a considerable distance from the river – a reminder that this landscape changes radically.

During our stay, the scenes, sounds (sometimes profound silence), and wildlife down by the river were indeed, iconic Australia.  There was a healthy water flow that emitted a coolness strong enough to make a dent in the heat haze when close to the river.   What sparked our imagination was the replica built multi-levelled Bourke wharf. Platforms were built a various heights to facilitate water levels as the river rose or sank.   One mud map directs visitors to the 3 metre high weir which is the site of Australia’s first lock.   With recorded flood levels of over 14 metres, the lock’s usefulness had obvious limitations.  The recently defunct Lift Up Bridge is an example of a more successful resourcefulness by our forebears.  It has stood those same fluctuating water’s whims for 120 years.

The Back o’ Bourke Centre offers a cool reprieve from the summer temperatures, and you can fill in a few hours reading and being entertained by some interactive displays about everything local and historical.   We were surprised to see crops of oranges, grapes, melons and vegies growing on irrigated plots on the outskirts of town, and we enjoyed a chance chat with an aged farmer who told us he had lived in Bourke all his life, his father before him having been offered the land for settlement as a returned WWII soldier. 

We can't help but feel that when we get to revisit Bourke, (and we will), it will be like ‘touching a nerve’ all over again.  Despite the distance and bugs, the dust and the heat, there is a 'mettle' about it that stirs the emotions.   For now, we were keen to start our Darling River run while the road conditions remained favourable.   As one local complained to us, a sprinkle of rain and the authorities close them – for us city slickers, this might not be such a bad thing.  To stretch out our departure, we ventured down to the river took some 'slow time' to watch and wait the arrival of the Jandra Paddleboat  as it made its way towards us and the landing jetty.

Half the Darling River Run  

The next part of our trip lived up to every expectation.  We adored the emptiness of the vast flat dirt covered plains that subtly changed from black to rich red not far after leaving Burke.  The emptiness was broken occasionally by glimpses of emus and wild goats, flocks of birds.  Less often, there was some incredulous markers dating back to pioneering times, and other more recent markers that were prime examples of Australian wit and resilience.   We were forewarned that most of the run barely glimpses the River.  A couple of rest areas, a couple of bridge crossings and few properties downstream where campers are invited to stay were our only river sightings.  We chose to travel on the east side of the river as far as Louth, where we pulled up for a couple of nights across river from the few houses centred around the pub. Bourke to Louth is a stretch of  about 100 kms, passing the entrance gates to half a dozen properties, as well as a historical marker which commemorates the terminal point of Sturt's exploration in 1829.

Louth takes on new life during the first week of August for the annual race day - an event that continues to grow in popularity, attracting over 5000 visitors in recent years.  The latest census puts the population of Louth district at 103, and excepting the hotel and the original Post Office, now converted to a B&B, for most visitors it's a case of BYO accommodation and camp out.   A few remaining old buildings, cemetery and other monuments of the past echo times when Louth was more than the village it is today.  During the late 1800's it was a service centre both for trade that plied up and down the river, and across country coaches.   Where once there were three hotels, the remaining watering hole, and centre of Louth is Shindy's Inn.   A cold beer on a hot November day went down well here as we pondered what mischief these walls have witnessed over time, and also browsed the collection of pioneering artifacts that hang around the dining room walls.  

How did we spend two days here?  - mostly, very relaxed!  No need of a 'What to See' guide to Louth.  We nestled ourselves in at the riverside camp, walked across the stately bridge and around the village.  We were entertained by a group of black kites in ominous but graceful flight overhead, and looked out over a motionless riverboat and the various flood-lines on the riverbanks below.   Kym took a cool dip in the muddy shallows of the river;  Lyn was happier to have a paddle in it.    

No visitor to Louth doesn't take the time to marvel during a visit to the cemetery, at the dedication of its founding pioneer, Thomas Matthews, and his 7 metre monument in memory of his wife, Mary.  The story goes that a river-boat captain using navigation technology helped Thomas align a cross that towers on top of the monument in such a way that it reflected the sunset precisely to the front door of their house on the anniversary of her death each year.   I do believe that Thomas remarried, so we were left wondering how his second wife felt not only about this phenomena, but also having this towering shrine such a prominent point on the village skyline.  Perhaps it was a bit of 'second wife' empathy at force as Lyn discovered after leaving town, that the photo she took of Mary's monument was minus the cross - it's crowning glory - just a very nice stick in the air, basically.

     

From Louth to the next village south of Tilpa we took the western road, just to make a change, and also to do some camp reviews along the way.  The first of these camps was Trilby Station where we were given a very friendly and open greeting by co-host and owner, Liz whose husband Gary is a sixth generation settler to the area.   After hearing a 'ship'-load of entertainingly told stories about how Liz was entranced by the lure of the local landscape as well as the local lad, how her family grew up around her here, and times of triumphs and trials we had received a good indoctrination to Trilby Station.  Earlier that year the station had hit the news when sheep were air-lifted out and supplies were air-lifted in - the second year in a row that floodwaters had isolated the station from road access for months at a time. 

Liz invited us to take a self-drive tour of the station using a mud map she supplies to visitors.  We were a bit surprised by what the station offered in the way of campsites, with a well established area with powered sites, including camp kitchen, or the alternative more secluded level grassy areas along the river's edge.  Hot showers are available to travelling guests in the shearer's quarters.   Liz tries to make everyone's stay an enjoyable one with notes to points of interest for drive, cycle, walk or bird-watching enthusiasts, as well as providing fish and yabby catching accessories and tips.  Canoes are also available for use.  If you are into more of a 'station experience', the family are often looking for volunteer help with farm chores for a couple of hours a day in return for camping concessions.   Swapping relaxing for farm chores was not what we were looking for at this time.  Our agenda was making it to Tilpa for the night, so both content and impressed after a driving tour and Liz's hospitable welcome, we made our notes and moved on.   

Liz had put us in mind to visit Idalia Station a bit further along the road.  Keeping it in the family, Idalia is run by her sister-in-law's family, and they had newly opened up a camping area, which at the time was not so well documented for travellers.  We made our way into the property, following signs in and just a little distance off the main road.  When we reached the homestead, there were no signs of life, so Kym made a call out on the two-way.   Back came a response from Jane that they were out 'working the sheep a good 20 - 30 minutes away'.   When Kym explained that we were passing through and wanting to do a campsite review,  Jane welcomed us over the two-way and gave us direction to drive in alongside their home and make our way to the camping area beyond - not a problem!   Their campground truly was an oasis in the desert - Jane had apologised that the lawns weren't freshly mowed!   Lushly lawned and shady powered sites lined the river's edge.  Another easy place to while away a few days, without a doubt.

Last call-in before Tilpa was Kallara Station.  There were so many people around-about Kallara, that it it was like a mini settlement - certainly more people then we had seen since leaving Bourke.  Kallara offers accommodation that ranges from family units to fisherman's lodges to caravan and camping sites.  We got the same friendly welcome in response to our enquiries, and were a bit blown away to be invited into the homestead dining room to sit in cool comfort while we got down to friendly business.  Thank you to the McClure family for also making us feel accepted and comfortable.

What remains in our memory of Tilpa township?   - A store, a hall, a tennis court, a classic century old country pub and a sense of humour.   Two signs on either side of the main road note 'Australia's shortest Heritage Trail'.  Someone very creative has painted a series of doors in the pubs beer garden.  We were intrigued having a conversation with the bar attendant due to her strong Irish brogue, and the fact that she had found herself out in this sleepy and isolated village on a 'working Australia' holiday.   Good on her!  She wasn't so pleased with us for making our mark on the front bar.  At the Tilpa Pub, for the cost of a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, guests are invited to leave a word or work of art on the well graffiti'ed walls and halls.  With barely a space to be found, we thought we'd start with a clean slate on the front bar.   No doubt they've since made a clean slate of our strokes.  If  you're in Tilpa let us know.

 During the afternoon, having set up camp at Tilpa Weir we dipped our toes in the rushing river water as it passed over the weir and onto riverbed rocks below.   We sat alongside the top of a fish ladder and caught cool splashes and glimpses of the odd fish passing through.   The Darling is comparatively wide and shallow here, and the banks less steep so the view across the river and beyond towards the western sun is an expansive one.   As the sun started to near the horizon a semi-load of sheep were off-loaded on the other side and we watched on for a while as they flocked down to the water like bees to honey, and were later rounded up by a number of dirt-bike drovers.   With dusk now about to peak, we witnessed yet another of those 'big screen', big sky sunsets that never fail to give us a spiritual high and promote reflection on how lucky we are to indulge in this lifestyle. 

               

 As the next day's light emerged we left the weir to take the road east of the river again, heading for the Paroo-Darling State Conservation Area.  There is one other camping area along the Darling run, but for us the bush telegraph had worked well.  Liz from Trilby Station had warned us that Old Buckanbee Station (which usually accommodates campers) were taking leave for a while, and signs as we passed by clearly displayed that their camping season was closed.

 The landscape does start to vary a little from that distinct red that was prominent either side of Louth - less red, and more orange-sandy or brown.  What we did discover, and was later confirmed when we chatted with a National Parks ranger was that there are distinct variations in the colour of the dirt depending on subtle changes in altitude - the browner dirt being on lower lying areas.  A handy hint if ever one found themselves caught in the rain out here.

 We were getting used to, but not tiring of the nothingness these roads bring.  Apart from a head of cattle being driven alongside the road, waves to the drovers, cattle grid after cattle grid, an odd spinifex blasting whirly-wind and lots of flocks of corellas and galahs, it was another uneventful 100 kilometer drive.   Our night at Tilpa Weir, we were the only campers;  previous to that during our two nights on the riverbank at Louth, three other vans or tenters had pulled in over the time.  Apart from these and the villages and stations, we were want to see more than half a dozen other vehicles along the entire 300 kilometre run between Bourke and Wilcannia.  Lucky for us we were oblivious to the fact that the fuel system in the Patrol was still a time bomb ticking away.  We were just enjoying the solace.

The Coach and Horses Campground in the Paroo-Darling National Park was no doubt aptly named in an era before our time.  We pulled our coach in for a watering and rest-over and were surprised at what we found.  It is a well facilitated and maintained camping ground in shady and peaceful surroundings.    We met Gerry and Margaret here, and as often happened when we came upon another Queensland-made Sunland vanner travelling interstate, there was a bit of comparing of notes - pretty good experiences all round.   We also met the Dingley Deserters - Geoff and Peta in their serious for outback Bushtracker, and found a lot in common to chat about.  We love the improptu rendezvous as we travel, and its always interesting to see where and how we cross paths again - as does happen, and more than you'd think.

Another visitor to this campsite was ranger, Dinity from NSW National Parks.  She was a bit surprised at how 'dug in' we were for just a couple of nights, including 2nd bathroom in the form of an open air shower with water drawn from the river.   We are often asked how we manage to live together in such confined quarters.   This is part of the answer - we spread out where we can with the likes of the verandah under the awning, and take advantage of every individual outdoor venue - in this case you could say, relaxing and reading nooks under shady trees and a waterhole feature.  Kym tried his hand at fishing, but had more luck with the yabby nets.  We did learn that net-lifters come in all forms as we had one raid on a yabby haul that we kept bagged in the river shallows.  We know not what, but it wasn't the human variety.  

After two nights at this camp, we were ready to move further south along the Darling, cross the Barrier Highway at Wilcannia and take a pre-booked campsite at Allambie Station.  We were very excited about getting to Menindee , the lake and Kinchega National Park, with further tentative plans to eventually get to Broken Hill.  Menindee was not to be - but how lucky we were.

And the car dies

A lonely dirt road had taken us from Bourke over the past five days and 300 kilometres.   We just turned onto the bitumen of the Barrier Highway a few kilometres outside Wilcannia, and the Patrol died.  No urging would get it going again.   Contact with RACQ advised that the nearest Nissan workshop was at Broken Hill, 200 kilometres away.  To our good fortune, the nearest suitable tow-truck was 5 kilometres away in Wilcannia.  It quickly dawned on us that it was 'goodbye' to our plans for Menindee, and a 'hello' instead to Broken Hill.

Ask Lyn what her thoughts of country tow-truck drivers are?  On the one hand - thank God for them, because we have managed to safely commute around a bit of the countryside at their grace now.  On the other hand - cautious drivers? - not necessarily!  One could say they know their local roads 'like the back of their hand'.  At least that's what we're happy to accept.   The comfort factor that these guys endure is not so great, but they've adapted without a thought to it.

In this instance we were well entertained through a long hot, dusty and bumpy drive with the only air conditioning coming through open windows.  There was lots of chatter from Brian, our driver from Wilcannia Auto Repairs.  He had operated this business for a few years, so there were some interesting stories to tell.  We pulled up a few times to chat to other locals and every oncoming vehicle got a wave.  The conditions meant that the towey's phone conversations were an open line, shouting above the rattles and road noise.   One thing we will never forget, was Brian's response when every contact asked how he was going, to which he would reply in a slow, dry Australian drawl - 'If I was any fitter, I'd be dangerous'.  Fit he was, and certainly capable and willing to see us where we needed to be. 

With the Patrol on the tilt tray, and the caravan in tow behind, he maneuvered the truck through tight spots to get us into our chosen site at Silverland Caravan Park on the western outskirts of town.   He took the time to make sure we had everything we needed to settle for however long it was going to take for the car problems to be diagnosed and repaired.   He transported Kym across town to the dealership and back again.  We are very grateful for the support Brian gave us that day.  He did tell us of his imminent plans to leave the Wilcannia business, and his excitement about some overseas travel ahead.  We hope that this all came off for him, and if he has any hours of need along his journey, he meets an equally friendly Samaritan.

 

Contaminated Fuel

After a few days of prodding and pulling apart the Patrol, Broken Hill dealership declared the prognosis to be contaminated fuel - not so much contaminated by water, but rather by 'flakes' of an undetermined nature.  Immediately Nissan pulled out of any further warranty obligation.   More questionable to us was the fact that neither Moree nor Dubbo Nissan dealerships (who between them had replaced two sets of injectors and the common rail within the last 1500 kilometres), were willing to enter into any discussions about not having looked any further beyond replacing these parts.  This bit of negligence could have left us stranded in far more difficult circumstances given the isolated country we'd been travelling in. 

While searching for answers, we looked back to a fuel stop we'd made at Mudgee in central west NSW as being most likely contender for the start of our fuel system woes.   We've since been convinced after lengthy discussions with the very experienced Steve Marriott at Fuel Doctors that it is more likely that the problem was the result of accumulated contamination over time and many fuel fills.   One last fill had possibly compounded the situation - virtually like 'the straw that broke the camel's back'.    Steve has also convinced us in this world where fuel storage and conditions are not subject to any regulatory standard or scrutiny, regardless of whether in the city or out the back of beyond, consistent use of Fuel Doctors tank and injector cleaner is one of the best insurances we can take as far as preventative action.

Three weeks' wait saw the development of a very strained relationship between us and the then Broken Hill's Nissan service manager.  There is nothing more frustrating than having someone make commitments they continually fail to keep and also fail to make any effort to communicate any changes with you.  The Nissan's fuel system needed to be rebuilt, which required the fuel pump to be sent to Adelaide.  We are generally patient people and understand that resources are limited in regional areas and distance and transport take time.  We were a bit incensed when we walked in several days after we'd been told the fuel pump would be put on the transport to find it was still sitting on the show-room bench.  If we were incensed then, this was mild in comparison to what we felt about this manager by the time we took final delivery of the vehicle.   Thanks to the mechanics who eventually completed the job, but no thanks to Nissan's front man - not a single time frame or communication undertaking that he made along the way was followed through with us.  Definitely a case of 'tell them anything'.   We'd rather honest, but unwelcome truths any day.   

Broken Hill

If you have to be stranded anywhere, Broken Hill is certainly one place that is out on its own - it is rare and rugged, as well as cultured and crass.   What surprised us was an uncanny and unexpected connection we felt to this town by the time we left - a feeling that has stayed with us.  Although the circumstances made our stay a bit like a brief but anguished love affair, and at the risk of offending long time locals, we now feel like we have some emotional investment in this town.

Being without a vehicle meant there were both disappointments and challenges.  We'd always considered in our planning that Broken Hill would be a springboard for exploring places like Cameron Corner and Mutawintji National Park - not this time.  On the other hand, the situation led to other experiences that without the car circumstances, we would not have had.   Having to depend on our bicycles to get around is probably one keystone to our affiliation with Broken Hill.   Another was undoubtedly the people we met, both locals and visitors - some a passing brush, and others leaving a longer lasting imprint.    

Many times we rode our pushbikes in the November sun from western side of town to the east, into the town central or around a few tourist spots.  Lyn will never forget the first morning's ride and the surprise sight of the towering mullock heap.  It stretches for 7 kilometres across the middle of town.  You soon become used to the the fact that it is part of the horizon from almost every vantage point.   What was just as intriguing was all of the other 'normal' things you see on a bike that you don't see in a vehicle drive-by.  You get an up close and personal view of everything from footpaths to back-yards, long narrow lane-ways and brief 'how do you do's' with people passing by. 

Beware three-corner jacks.  These nasty little devils are not the human type, but rather a NSW declared noxious weed very commonplace in Broken Hill, and extremely noxious to bicycle tyres.   After many puncture repairs even following us on through NSW and into Victoria, we eventually took the learned advice of a bicycle shop owner and invested in thorn-resistant tubes filled with Linatex.  This has proven successful in fending the 'jacks' off.

Some days we used the bus service to get around, and for just $2.50 each we could hop on and off all day.  We'd been told not to miss having an icy cold milk shake in the 60's style Bell's Milk Bar.  We decided that the bus was the best option to get us there.  Bell's is on the other side of that giant mullock heap, (or Line of Lode as it is officially known), that divides the town.   We planned our day around bus times and connecting services.   More fool us - we proved that we are still 'city slickers'.  After getting off our bus in town to await a connecting service, back came our original bus and driver 20 minutes later to continue our journey.   We had a giggle with the driver who explained that he is the only bus and driver, and apart from his mid-shift lunch break, he is all connecting services.   He was very amiable, and we did get to know him quite well.  The Icecream Soda Spiders we enjoyed at Bell's Milk lived up to expectations too.

Broken Hill has the usual array of residences that belong to the haves or the have-nots, along with the 'care a lot' and the 'care nots'.    But it struck us that here, the harsh conditions, and the dust that commonly blows up across mine diminished vegetation or the vast nothingness beyond the town limits made the disparity between them much greater.  Many of the houses are original miners cottages, but the way some have grown up from there defies comparisons.    There are cottages that have been reinvented as stylish and modern sprawling homes, some with well watered lawns and gardens to rival a botanical display, while yet others, are crooked remnants of their former self.  Not uncommon are patches of various coloured corrugated iron, (used for walls as well as the roofing), and yards filled with things dead - ranging from bramble to long defunct appliances and vehicles.   You definitely see much more on a bicycle!

One connection to the Hill is long time friend, Chris Manners.  Lyn had tried to imagine what this place could be like when Chris had shared stories of her childhood and her father working underground.    When Chris heard where we were, she was excited to make sure that we got to see and appreciate some of the highlights of the town, not least of all being her Mum and Dad who had returned to the area, and were living almost in the town centre.   We got a grand welcome from Meryl and Don who made us feel at home over a cuppa, and told us some more about their life and history in this town.   Obviously the conditions hadn't worn them down as their home and gardens were 'House and Garden' style with lush lawns laden with colourful leaf and fruit.   We bumped into Meryl and Don a few times, and always they were quick to put a smile on our faces or offer some help, giving us a lift home with armloads of supplies.  We are very grateful for the hospitality shown by Chris and her family.

There are a number of impressive civic buildings in Broken Hill well worth taking more than a passing glance at.  Some, like the Post Office and Trades Hall date back to the 1890's when a frenzy of brick and stone construction took place as the mines and town came into their own.    Later built structures dating through the early to mid-1900's reflect times of good fortune and a very different demographic to the Broken Hill of today.  During the town's population peak of over 30,000 in the 1960's, there were generations of families who stayed in town subsisting on the mines, and schools, hospitals and sporting and leisure facilities flourished.  In the present, since mining operations have consolidated, and this industry like most, is much less labour intensive, the head count is closer to 18,000.   Of these there is an over proportion of seniors, and less than one-third of the townspeople occupied in work.   Is it any wonder that some of the buildings and the spaces the community once commanded more often now echo in emptiness, and the town is often referred to as a 'living museum'.      

Creativity has flourished here in many forms.  If you step inside the Palace Hotel, you'll see the larger than life art deco walls, reminiscent of the 1930's.    At the Mint and Art Centre you can view the local landscape in the  'Big Picture' (claimed to be the largest acrylic painting in the world), alongside a range of exquisitely crafted silver jewellery .   At Whites Mineral Art and Mining Museum, ex-miner Bushy White has simulated an underground mine environment and features his unique artworks formed from crushed minerals as well as an extensive display of mining artifacts.  

You can't visit Broken Hill without taking in some of the 30 odd art galleries, or at least getting a glimpse of the lives and works of two renowned members of the 'Brushmen of the Bush', Pro Hart and Jack Absalom.    Quirky, not afraid to experiment and unconcerned about the opinions of the elitists of the art-world - that's the story you get when you wander through the halls of the three storey gallery that was Pro's home.  His garishly painted Rolls Royce greets you in the front driveway.  Inside, apart from an amazing range and quantity of work, photo exposes and newsprint clippings of his life and times, you also become privy to Pro's studio  - not at all unlike a bushy's back-shed, and looking as if he could walk in at any moment and begin another project.  You get also that despite his indifference to the critics, it was difficult for him to say no when it came to community benevolence.   He was at home amongst the working class, and had an unswerving passion for this part of the world.  We later spent more time at Kintore Reserve in Blende Street downtown interpreting the links to a miner's life in Pro's sculptures that tower over the parkland.

Jack Absalom is one of two surviving members of the 'Brushmen' and for Kym, one of the inspirations of his eternal zest for this lifestyle.  Kym says that Jack is our original television 4-wheel driving  adventurer who, through his TV series, taught  him many a thing about survival, safety and appreciation of our vast outback.   Jack's interpretation of the outback through his paintings on display at his Broken Hill home is something to behold.  The use of colours in the various shadows, shades and moods of his raw Australian landscapes is outstanding.   Jack's wife, Mary welcomed us into what was a cool inner sanctum of their front room gallery after we'd treadled in the searing heat outside.  Kym wasn't disappointed when an aging Jack engaged him in brief chit chat before retiring to again to his own 'inner' inner sanctum.

There is a karma that comes to us in the most unexpected ways through the outreach and networking that we have enjoyed with the RV'ing fraternity over the years.  Emblazoned in our memory is the sight of a Ford Falcon emerging through dust as it wielded a very deliberate track across the caravan park and towards our caravan.  We hardly had time to consider who our visitor could be when the cheerful and hand-shaking gentleman introduced himself as Chris from the Caravaners Forum.  We have since heard from many sources that Chris is the unofficial 'mayor' of Broken Hill and he often goes out of his way to show forum visitors around.

It was good to get Chris's local take on things.  Another miner in his past working life, he was able to give us more insight into some of the mine workings and bring more of the local lore to life.  Our trip up to Thompsons Shaft and the Miners Memorial on the heights of the Line of Lode were more meaningful when embellished with Chris's memories and familiarity.   What really blew us away was his generosity in organising to take us on those out of town trips that had been teasing us from the pages of glossy tourism brochures, but were beyond our bus or bicycle reach.   Chris gave a couple of days of his time to chauffeur us on sightseeing trips.

The first of these was to the Living Desert Reserve and Sculptures, where that connection between art and the outback landscape continues.  The stark sandstone sculptures, large enough to have to look up to, tell each individual artist's story.  They are hauntingly beautiful against the backdrop of big blue sky and sparse and arid land beyond.  We almost made it into South Australian territory when Chris drove us out to the lookout over Mundi Mundi Plains.   I guess we have to admit to being obsessive travellers as that road ahead across those empty undulating plains was definitely calling us on.  With Chris as our driver, our reality was that he steered us on to take a look at Umberumberka Dam.  The construction of the dam wall involved carting drums of concrete by horse and cart from the train in Silverton from 1911 to 1915.  The project was an essential one for the survival of Broken Hill, and is still in service.  It has been nominated as a Historic Engineering Marker as it is still one of the most complete surviving steam-driven water supply systems in Australia.

You have to go to Silverton, and again we have Chris to thank for this experience.  So like the movie scenes, you sort of do a double take to check that the buildings are not just facades on a movie set, although there is a fair share of empty shells of homes that once were, and free standing walls or relics in the midst of nothing.   We shared a beer at the bar, and just for good luck, another in the beer garden of the Silverton Hotel.   Chris's tour included Penrose Park which was originally set up as a recreational reserve for miners and their families in the 1930's.  Although the facilities are now a little time weary, you can appreciate how popular it would have been for families to enjoy leisure time in gardened and shaded surroundings.   There are camping and powered caravan sites still available, and in different circumstances we probably would have spent a couple of relaxing days here amongst the animals and birds that it also havens.  

               

Meanwhile back at the Silverland Caravan Park where our van was lodged in town, few people came and went.  It wasn't the most popular park, but the facilities were kept sprucely clean, and we enjoyed the on-site swimming pool on many of those hot days, especially as we mostly had it all to ourselves.   Amongst the people that did come and go, we met more wonderful 'Samaritans' that were especially empathic to the fact that we didn't have our own transport for the time.   We were very grateful to Yvonne, and a couple from South Australia, Alison and Bill Micke for helping us get around and being generous enough to make our days easier and more pleasant.  We've kept contact with Alison and Bill, and have, and most likely will continue to meet up further down our travels - another reason that this lifestyle give us so much pleasure .  It was Alison and Bill who have since given us the news that the Silverland Caravan Park has closed down - sad news for us because our memories are still there.

When we were towed into Broken Hill, we had thoughts that there may be opportunities to take up casual work in town while its workforce depleted over the summer holiday season.  It soon became apparent that there was little enough work to go around for the locals, and as can only be expected, job openings were closely guarded.   The workshop bill for the Patrol's fuel system rebuild was rising over the $6500 mark.  From our campsite at Silverland, we began searching the internet for short term work and considered travelling in any direction in NSW, as well as Victoria or South Australia.  At one stage we were almost South Australia bound, but it was a call involving the grape harvest around Menindee that eventually led us to another seasonal opportunity 750kms south east of Broken Hill, and down the Murray to the border town of  Cobram - we just needed our car back to get ourselves and our home there.   

With our immediate future sealed, we continued to contend with broken promises and continually extended time frames about the Patrol being completed from the Nissan Service Manager.   It was frustrating circumstances in which to leave the town we had otherwise come to respect and appreciate.   From a delivery time of 10.00 am....... then midday........ then 2pm - we eventually passed through the southern town limits heading on towards the next chapter of our journey after 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  We were thankful we were in Daylight Saving time and there was still daylight enough to get to Wentworth, where the Darling meets the Murray, and about 260kms away.

We have since had a comment from an acquaintance who remarked - 'Broken Hill - ahhh, nothing out there, just drove right on through it'   All we can say, is, their loss!  There is so much about Broken Hill that we have hardly touched the surface here - we also visited the Railway Museum, the Geocentre, the Musician's Club, the Flying Doctor's Memorium, and triggered our imagination with historic stories about the WW1 Turkish attack (claimed to be the only enemy attack on Australian soil), down-town riots and shootings, and a union uprising.  Do yourself a favour, and plan plenty of time to explore Broken Hill.

                     

Next - A dash down the Murray to Cobram