Monday 25th October
This has been a long week so you will be pleased to see lots of photos as well as lots of words. I took 251 photos this week.
We are still at Lightning Ridge.
The short time in the spa waters last night stopped the sandfly itch and I slept until 7.30. Donnis slept until midday.
I took a walk uptown and waited patiently for sleeping beauty to wake up. Eventually we took off for the western gemfields at Coocoran, The Sheep Yards and Glengarry, about 70 klm distant.
The trip was a real eye opener to see the contrast of primitive living conditions alongside the ability to come together as a community and provide some public facilities.
We travelled some 14 klms of gravel road, most of it in fair condition, dodging the odd King Brown Snake and errant Red Kangaroos. Despite the dust and isolation we were impressed with the overall cleanliness of the pub.
We tried our hand at digging in the mullock heaps for a “bit of colour” but soon tired of this immense task.
We also had a drink at one of the pubs and met some of the locals and got their stories.
We again got an up close and personal encounter with an echidna and this time I got some great clear and in focus photos.
On our way home we stopped at a freedom campsite for a potential for a night or two.
Amazingly we ran into Frank whom we met at Surat a week ago. He has been travelling for 12 years with his dog. It seems that he has a lady friend way down in Victoria and they are talking about buying a lease out at the Coocoran gemfields and setting up a partnership of an old caravan or two, and drilling for opal. Good luck to him.
I should mention that every day we meet interesting people. Not only those on the road full time but those on holidays and those that escaped from the “other” world many years ago. Today we met a few characters at the gemfields and right here in the Crocodile Caravan Park.
There are also those who came here to escape from the world, from family, from ex-lovers and from the LAW. As I was taking a photo of a general store at Grawin Donnis noticed a man sitting at a table hide his face from the camera.
Ahem. We also went to the artesian spa at sunset.
I have not scratched at my sandfly bites all night. I am also ready, nay more than ready for bed. Goodnight!
Tuesday 26th. Still at LR.
You could say this was another Wow day.
Up early today. 7am for me 8am for Donnis.
Off on a bus trip to the Cave of the Black Hand. Now how do I explain this so you can get some idea of what we saw and experienced.
OK. The bus dropped us off at the entrance where we were quickly equipped with safety helmets which we were warned not to take off as the helmet and the following safety lecture were required under Occupational Health & Safety Regulations. With that behind us we descended down a flight of 82 stairs cut into the rock emerging at a showroom carved out of the rock 20 metres below the surface.
From here we descended another 60 steps into the lower level where mining is carried out. Much of the early mine shafts from 1910 and the 1960’s and 1980’s. It was interesting as well as a bit scary to see what conditions the early miners worked under. I tried to imagine myself working that far underground in a shaft not much wider than my shoulders chipping away in the dark, waiting to hear the sound of the pick on opal instead of the soft thud of clay. Only then could I light a candle to see what I had found. The opal is only found in a narrow band of rock below the base sandstone but above the soft clay which was the floor of the ancient sea 100 million years ago. With no modern conveniences such as power tools, shafts over 2m high and a barrow size width, air conditioning, electricity, communications with the outside world and a facility to remove the dug out material as you work, I know for sure I could not work as they did in those days. Perhaps I could work in the modern conditions but it sure is a lot of work for, in most cases, little or no return.
After the mine tour we climbed those 60 stairs back to the showroom and were shown into the mine owners own collection of sculptures and paintings he has carved out of the solid sandtone. There are many chambers running off each other, well lit and all are familiar images well known to all of us. I particularly enjoyed the politicians gallery and the image of Kevin Rudd with a knife in his throat from an equally recognisable Julia Gillard.
The image of John Howard on a pedestal took centre stage.
There were 450 images and carvings.
We had a great 2 hours underground.
Back to the caravan park and we got into conversation with a Winnebago owner who arrived just before we went out. It seems he is here for the wheat harvest and he drives a header. (harvester) He mentioned they are looking for drivers of mature age with a clean driving record. Normal license is all that is required and full training is given.
Hmmm! It would be fun. Just for the season. Full training.
Later, talking at Happy Time (Long Happy Hour) it was mentioned the local 60 bed nursing home are looking for aged care nurses.
Hmmm. Donnis would not mind working for the next 6 weeks.
We went to dinner at the pub across the road.
I made an observation about caravan parks. We do not stay in many, but at least once a week for a night, maybe two. Most we have stayed in up north have been near empty. In fact the one at Dirranbandi had only two of us and the other person was a permanent. This caravan park at LR is full almost every night and the owners say this will continue until the end of November and die off until March next year when it starts all over again.
Before sunset we had our usual artesian spa and cleared up the remaining mozzie and sandfly bites. It also sapped us of energy and I am ready to snoo
Wednesday 27th October.
Woke early in Lightning Ridge as it is moving day.
Moving day is complex. Apart from the washing up and putting dishes away we have to stow things away so they do not fly around while we are travelling. Also all the windows and hatches have to be closed. The TV aerial is centred and lowered. The mats picked up dusted off and put away. Any outside furnitutre such as tables and chairs are folded and stowed away. The grey water tank is emptied and the hose rolled up and put away. The fresh water tanks are filled and the hose put away. The fridge is turned to DC power. If on mains power it is disconnected and the cable rolled up and put away. Garbage is emptied. The stabilising jacks are wound up. The awning is retracted and locked into place. When we leave a site we fill up with fuel and empty the black water cassette. All this takes about 2 hours before we can get on the road.
Today after doing all this we parked at the information centre and took the car into town to get my prescription filled. Now that I am a pensioner it costs $5.40 instead of the $27.95 I have been paying for the last two years. The prescription lasts 4 weeks and I have 5 repeats.
After that we went to an unsupervised, unguided mine inspection. Just Donnis and myself. Let me tell you it is a bit eerie walking around a mine with limited lighting and a weak torch and no signposts. There are tunnels within tunnels and dead ends galore.
Donnis needed to go to the powder room so climbed the circular staircase the 60 feet to the top. By the way, climbing a 60 foot circular staircase is tiring and murder on the inside hip and knee. Anyway, that left me down there by myself. No sound, except my own breathing and footsteps. Did I say eerie before? It was good for me to stay down there another 20 minutes by myself and conquer any fears of being underground.
Ummm. They are still not totally conquered.
Afterwards we did lunch at the Bowling Club before heading off on another car door tour, this time with the appropriate clues as to what we are looking at. Along the way we were excited to find an unusual bird which Donnis photographed. To the best of our research we believe it is an Australian Ringneck Parrot.
We also saw lots of old rusting cars and machinery too many to photograph all of them.
After that we left Lightning Ridge and travelled about 8 klms down the Castlereagh Highway towards Walgett but stopped at a rest area where we are camped for the night in a paddock a few hundred metres off the road.
We had a wonderful dinner of cold boiled eggs, bruschetta, sun dried tomatoes, olives, shallots, camembert cheese, feta cheese, olive oil dip and a small side salad. Of course a glass of wine made it even more memorable. Later a cup of tea with cream filled lamingtons I found at the IGA.
There is no moon but lots of stars. The occasional car or truck rolls down the highway but apart from that it is black and quiet. No radio, no TV. We do have mobile coverage.
Time to read a page or two of my book. It has taken 6 weeks to read 284 pages.
Hmmm! I must be too busy writing these posts.
Thursday 28th October.
Woke early, near Lightning Ridge. I woke early because, I usually do. It was a bit chilly at first but the temperature rose by degrees each hour. I took a walk around the campsite armed with my metre long claw. This is a device with a thumb and forefinger style arrangement on the end of a pole. It has a pistol grip and a trigger. With it I can pick up rubbish with no need for gloves to protect my delicate digits. I picked up enough rubbish to fill two shopping bags, 99% of which was in the day use rest area near the toilets and picnic shelter. Only a few tissues were in the area generally used by campers.
I do try to pick up rubbish when we freedom camp. It achieves two things. It cleans up the area in which we are camped and gives me a sense of putting something back and earning our stay.
A plaque in the picnic shelter states this is the area which first claimed the name Lightning Ridge. The story goes that a shepherd, his dog and 600 sheep were killed by lightning sometime around 1870. The conjecture lies in which hill it was. There is another higher hill nearer LR which also claims to be the original hill. The other is mostly ironstone as is most of LR. This hill, by my uneducated prospecting, is also ironstone so either hill could be the original site. We have seen photos of lightning striking the main street in LR and the locals all profess a healthy respect for lightning which they get more than their fair share of.
Yesterday, while dumping at the dump point, I discovered the usual screw on cap to the dump point has been bolted closed. As well, although a tap is included, there is no short length of hose as there is with every other dump point we have used. The only opening was a mesh covered grid. This means any solids or semi solids will not immediately wash down the grid. You need water to hose it all down. Guess what? No hose. Just a tap. This has to be the worst dump point we have used so far.
The toilet at the information centre was no better and is probably the second worse toilet we have encountered, the worst being at Tambo.
Maybe I should start a spread sheet on toilets and dump points and assign star ratings.
Anyway we love LR and could stay here longer but the information centre/Lions park entrance to town sure broadcasts a poor message to travellers with the sub-standard dump and toilet.
In case anybody is curious, we usually turn on our wireless modem in the morning and in the evening. If we are freedom camped we need to turn on the inverter to supply power. During the day we are either travelling or out exploring so we turn off the modem and computer as they are not needed. Often we carry the iPad with us but here too it is turned off when not in use. Sooo… we usually check emails morning and evening as well as make phone calls on the mobile during our free hour which is 9am to 10am and 7pm to 8pm depending on the clock in the state in which we are at that moment. We also call on Skype mornings and evenings but sometimes, using the iPad we call on Skype at any time provided we have mobile coverage.
We also need to keep batteries charged regularly. I have taken so many photos the battery is flashing low for the second time in two weeks. Not bad though, about 400 photos, many with flash on one battery charge.
Later the battery died as I was about to photograph a frill neck lizard. The lizard took a flying leap into the bushes. Little Orphan Annie used to always say “Leapin’ Lizards”.
We drove back into LR and did the final two car door tours we missed yesterday and retraced our steps on another to find a “church” built for a movie a decade ago.
Another trip to the spa for a soak for Donnis and a shower for myself and we headed back to WWWGO for another night outside the town. All going well we will head south to Walgett tomorrow.
Friday 29th October
We finally broke the bond which was keeping us in LR. We would have no problem staying there longer but we do have things to do and places to see.
About 70 klms down the road we drove into Walgett. In only the short distance to the centre of town I made the decision not to stay and headed out of town on the Kamilaroi Highway in the hope the next town, Brewarina, would grab our attention. Although Walgett is where the Namoi and Barwon Rivers meet I did not like the feel of the town. Too many security screens on shops and the town looking at odds with itself. On each side of the road between these two towns there was a yellowish grass growing. The strong wind was blowing a tumbleweed across the road. There were so many of these tumbleweeds being blown across the road it was like a moving yellow carpet into the distance. After a lunch on the banks of the Barwon River at Brewarinna we decided once more this town was not for us so we pushed on for Bourke, meaning a long trip of almost 300 klms in one day, more than we prefer. Bourke, is on the Darling River and has lots of historic sites for us to look at – tomorrow. Tonight we have a spectacular lightning display out west and I suspect it is heading our way. In case that happens I have attached tie downs to the awning.
We are camped at the Kidman Camp a nice caravan park with grass at every site and roses growing everywhere you look. The rose fragrance is particularly noticeable at night. The area has lots of places with the name Kidman. Not named after Nicole either. He was a cattle Baron in the outback.
Before hitting the sack I noticed friend Greg who lives at Ben Boyd in NSW logged onto Skype. We gave him a call and discovered he is not far off our rough travel plans so we will include a visit to their remote location. Sometime in the next few weeks.
The spectacular lightning finally arrived during the early morning hours but apart from two claps of thunder and a dozen drops of rain the rest of our night was undisturbed.
Saturday 30th October
We planned to go to Mt. Oxley today but on arriving at the Information centre to get a key, we were told the road to the mount is closed until Monday. So we travelled almost 200 klms in the Imprezza along mostly gravel / mud / sand to Lednapper Creek in the expectation of seeing a huge wildflower display. We did, however most of the flowers were on the side of the road before we got to Lednapper. However we did see over 100 emus. These shy and fatherly birds can run very fast and do not like to have their photos taken. Usually they saw us a few hundred metres away and took off into the scrub.
We also dodged literally hundreds of goannas
and various bearded dragons
both of which are also quite shy but when confronted they put their head and tails erect, making themselves larger. If this doesn’t work they puff up their beard and if this fails they flatten themselves onto the ground and leave their spikey scales pointing upward.
Donnis drove most of the way with me shouting instructions when and where to stop so I could take photos. We also saw a Little Eagle
one of only two true eagles in Australia, the other being the Wedge Tail Eagle. One other oddity was a lone Shingle Back Lizard struggling across the track. The track was often little more than a cars width, at other times it was as wide as 4 lanes. Some parts are still boggy with mud and water and other parts were deep red sand hills
which sapped the speed out of the car and constantly tried to alter our course. Out here the only two road signs were “DIP” where the road did dip and sometimes had mud or water. The other sign was “GRID” of which there were hundreds. We finally found a road sign pointing in the direction I thought we should travel! Only problem was it was overpainted green but on close inspection found it did say Bourke 95klms. 95 klms! It was also the deepest and longest section of red sand road and we were never sure we were headed in the right direction. We never saw another vehicle or person in the entire trip. Lunch was a couple of pies including a Back o Bourke Lamb pie. We wrapped them in a tea towel and stopped to eat at Lednapper Creek crossing. The pies may have been nice if it had not been for the overabundance of salt their maker chose to use.
Hmmm. This is a “let me share a thought with you” section.
In our travels, now and in the past, we note the big two supermarkets, Woolies and Coles, generally operate in the bigger centres closer to the coast. Once you travel over the Great Dividing Range those two supermarket giants have no interest in providing service to people away from major population centres. It is all about profit for them. This gap in the supermarket market in the smaller outback towns is supplied by IGA or Foodstores, mostly IGA. We have become fond of IGA, firstly because they are prepared to service smaller population centres but also because they generally stock more Australian owned, made and grown products. It also means there are different products to choose from. The other thing we have noticed is that many of the IGA stores are owned by the same people in different towns. For example the Cornetts Group owns around 40 stores mostly in Qld. The Khan family or Group owns around 10 stores in NSW and Qld. So it seems apart from a few independants even the IGA are owned by a few families. Hmmm. The old profit thing again.
You may recall in post number 158, “I love a sunburned country” how I described a mystery eucalypt.
Well… those lovely people camped next to us at the time, Matt n Di Z were watching TV last night and the plant was featured on Gardening Australia so they called to let me know. For those interested it is a Eucalyptus Macrocarpa and the following link will give more information. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eucalyptus_macrocarpa.jpg
It is a native of Western Australia.
Sunday 31st October
Well here we are at the end of the week.
It rained last night. Not overly heavy but steady for a few hours. Although the rain could not cause flooding, the Darling is increasing in flood levels due to water further upstream. It seems the dam at St.George, on the Balonne River is increasing as well so more water has been released. That water has now reached the darling and consequently water levels are rising.
Today was a rest day, so to speak. Donnis did a load of washing and I did a batch of savoury muffins. I took some time to look at the oldest vertical lift span bridge in NSW. Completed in 1863 it is a bridge over the Darling and is/was known as “the Gateway to the Never Never”. It is no longer in use but has been preserved as historically significant.
Together we took a drive into town and visited the cemetery where we saw the grave of Professor Fred Hollows renowned for bestowing the gift of sight to the poor.
Along the way hordes of grasshoppers (locusts?) were swarming across the road. Could this be the beginning of the plague NSW farmers have been warned about?
We also took a drive along a gravel road to view the paddle boat known as “JANDRA” currently berthed at a billabong behind the caravan park. With the rising river it cannot operate and even the road to its berth is going underwater as are the pontoons and walkways.
Regrettably it is not a historical paddle steamer nor even a replica but it would have been fun to cruise up and down the river.
The most auspicious part of the day was that DIL Nicole, Errol’s wife, gave birth to a daughter at 7.09am. Amelia Dorothy Wilson weighed in at 6lbs 15oz. Mother is doing fine. The names were taken from the maternal great grandmother on both sides of the family.
Congratulations Nicole & Errol.
Welcome to the world Amelia Dorothy.