Monday 22nd October
Domestic duties was the order of the day. That and a bit of relaxing and doing nothing. No sightseeing. No gathering information about Coonabarabran.
Tuesday 23rd October
Last night I missed what I thought was the first episode of Series 23 of The Amazing Race. This morning I discovered I have missed the first three episodes! I spent the morning watching the missed episodes by downloading on the laptop. I will probably regret this action as the download of those files impacts on my monthly download allowance.
Other than watching those episodes today was much like yesterday although I topped up the fresh water tank and prepared for a travel day tomorrow.
Wednesday 24th October
After a morning of ensuring all batteries were re-charged I called in to say good-bye to Aunt Maude and after topping up with diesel I was on my way by 2pm. The trip via the Oxley Highway to Gunnedah was interesting as the hilly, thickly wooded countryside soon gave way to longer rolling hills and then flat grazing and wheat fields. The deep red outback type soil turned to a sort of yellowish orange soil and then a grey and finally black soil the closer I came to Gunnedah. The flat landscape is dotted with pyramid shaped hills, some worn more than others. These are the remnants of old volcanic plugs possibly much older than the volcanic plugs in the Warrumbungles 150 Klms to the west. Originally I drove through the town and planned to camp about 13 klms on the Tamworth road at a place called Red Bank. After a bit of on-line research I found the Council operated campground at the Showgrounds, after being closed since November 2011 were re-opened in August this year. The decision to close was not appreciated by members of the travelling public especially as the cost was $12 per night compared to $31 per night at the caravan park. It seems Gunnedah has found a new lease on life with coal being mined nearby and suddenly the town is feeling the wealth. The caravan park can charge whatever it feels because it is filled with mine workers. As with many mines these days, workers are fly in fly out so they do not spend much money in the town. Certainly they do not spend their money at the places travellers spend their money. Lots of politics came into play but as travellers by-passed the town in a sort of grey nomad wave of protest it seems local shops noticed sales were down and pressure was put on council to entice travellers back. It seems odd that the town is classed as RV Friendly but council went out of its way to make it RV Unfriendly for a while.
The railway line is 200 metres from camp and I sure hope the trains settle down for the night.
Thursday 25th October
Some time after I crawled into my doona cocoon for the night the noise (grunting, shunting, rattling clanking, banging, whooshing of empty one way full the other way coal trains) from the railway line must have stopped as I fell asleep and woke this morning to the relative quiet of the highway. It is interesting to note that passenger and freight train lines were closed some years ago but with the re-opening of the mines the freight line has been re-opened. One hundred klms to the west, the railway line to and through Coonabarabran is closed.
The author of the Australian poem, My Country, was Dorothea McKellar, who lived much of her life in the Gunnedah District.
Most Australians would only know the second stanza of the poem which begins…I love a sunburnt country… In fact that is the stanza I know and although I was aware there was more to the poem I have no idea what the other stanzas are. The full poem, subject to copyright is shown at the above official website. I visited a sculpture of Dorothea in the Anzac Memorial Park.
Another person with a passing link to Gunnedah was Breaker Morant the soldier sentenced to death by Lord Kitchener during the Boer War. There is a sports park in town which to me is strangely named Kitchener Park but even more strange is the park internal roadway is called Breaker Morant Drive.
A full history of Breaker Morant can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaker_Morant
Gunnedah calls itself the Koala Capital of Australia but I have seen many Koala’s in the last 12 months so did not feel like paying money to see them again.
On the western entrance to town is Pensioner Hill. The legend goes that about the time of WWI pensioners built humpies on the hill and many lived there until they and or their offspring were eventually re-located by council some years later. I understand the last three humpies were still occupied on the hill sometime in the 1960’s.
On the eastern side of town is Porcupine Hill, so named not because of the animal but because of the Porcupine Grass found in pockets near the top of the hill. Some remnant rainforest trees and plants are also found in pockets on the hill and according to the scientists the grass points to a time when this area was even drier than it is now. The rainforest points to a time when the area was much wetter than it is now. See http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/tamworth-area/gunnedah/attractions/porcupine-lookout
(I somehow doubt the explanation for the name as being aboriginal as porcupines do not exist in Australia)
The lookout gives views across the Liverpool Plains to the horizon.
The people camped beside me are in town with their portable ice skating rink. They have two rinks which they pack into containers. The other is still in Forbes. It takes four days to set up and four days to dismantle and they usually stay in towns for 5 weekends before looking for their next town. They say they have packed rinks every weekend and almost all the patrons are children and teenagers. They supply figure skates as part of the admission price. The whole operation is run by two people except for setup and packdown when they hire a local labourer. Naturally they are popular wherever they go in the outback towns as most people have never been ice skating and the novelty lasts for 5 weeks… enough to make their money and move on to the next town.
I took a walk around the main shopping centre and found a number of empty shops with for sale or for lease signs in the windows. Regardless of the closed shops, the town looks busy, healthy and prosperous.
Friday 26th October.
Before leaving Gunnedah I went for a coffee and was stopped in the street by a young Aboriginal man. He is a member of the Kalimaroi tribe who once roamed these plains, their ancestral tribal lands extends from near Coonabarabran to Tamworth and lands to the north and south. The tribe totem is the Red Kangaroo and he is not allowed to kill or eat any part of that animal. His dream is to have a rig like ours so he and his wife can travel and see the coast of Australia. Although he is a Kalimaroi man and their tribal lands extend almost to Coona, when questioned he admitted he had never been to the Sandstone Caves less than an hour drive from his home. The caves are in another tribal land influence and he cannot go there to a sacred place unless invited and accompanied by tribal elders. Yet I was able to visit alone.
Packed up and drove the long and arduous 73 klm to Tamworth along the Oxley Highway. Tonight I am again in a caravan park and will stay here tomorrow night as well. The drive was through flat countryside dotted with the golden grain, wheat almost ready for harvest. The ground looks very dry and it is hot outside. Also dotted around the distance are those pyramid shaped hills. Given they are the remnants of long ago volcanic plugs, could this flat expanse of land be the long ago bottom of a caldera long since worn down by time and the elements?
For lunch today I had dry SAO crackers with Swiss cheese, roasted capsicum, fresh tomato slices, cracked pepper and salt. I was reminded that as a child mum always took a big supply of SAO when we went camping. As kids we made our own lunch consisting of SAO as a base with a slice of Kraft Cheddar Cheese, a slice of Garlic sausage and topped with tomato and pepper n salt. I cannot seem to find Garlic sausage in the Deli anymore. Does anybody else remember the wonderful garlic sausage or in second place the Devon sausage?
Saturday 27th October
In the morning I took a walk around several of the main streets which form the shopping district of Tamworth.
I was surprised I could not find any of the old bank buildings. Perhaps they have been facaded so they no longer look like a bank. I also took a drive to the top of Lookout Hill and then across town to The Golden Guitar Country Music Museum. All very interesting but did I want to pay an admission fee to see wax facsimiles of country music singers all the while with Slim Dusty singing about the lights on the hill in the background? I think not. Instead I used the admission price to go to the movies tonight. Tamworth is a big busy inland city best known as the Country Music Capitol of Australia. The annual music awards are held here the week of the Australia Day Awards and holiday, 26th January. Although I saw a few shops closed and empty, the city is alive, vibrant and seemingly wealthy.
Sunday 28th October.
Today I drove the Oxley Highway through the small historical towns of Bendemeer and Uralla. Most of the trip was climbing through the Moombi Mountains Range and on the other side the air became thick with smoke from bushfires. The delightful New England city of Armidale is on the slopes around the Dumaresq River and it was here that I turned off on the New England Highway and started the climb into the mountains and over the notorious Devils Pinch on Black Mountain. I arrived in Guyra for lunch and soon discovered that outside the air conditioned comfort of WWWGO it was windy and cold. (fellow travellers warned me it will be cold in Guyra, even in summer) I needed my warm jacket once more.
Guyra is 1330 m above sea level, 500 m higher than Mt.Beauty (where I left from a month ago) and 500 m lower than Mt.Bogong. It can snow at any time of year in Guyra and nearby Black Mountain. Since leaving Mt.Beauty on 26th September, WWWGO has travelled 1,400 klms winding through south, central and north western NSW. That equates to only 45 klms of travel each day! I have gone from the cool/cold mountains across dry and arid plains to cool/cold mountains again. It last snowed in Guyra two weeks ago.
By sundown the temp had plummeted and an even colder wind blew up. All I can do is hunker down for the night within my doona cocoon.