ANOTHER BIG WEEK OF PHOTOGRAPHS.
Monday 19th January
The day started overcast but the clouds soon moved away so the sun could give us another scorcher.
By the time I had a coffee at mid- morning I was packed and ready to go with hopes of some more cloud and maybe some rain along the way to Armidale.
Between Tenterfield and Glen Innes I stopped at a place called Bluff Rock
an imposing jump up of a rock formation in a sea of gently undulating hills. A memorial plaque is set in stone at a parking bay across the road from the rock. It seems there are many versions of the significance of the rock but basically a white shepherd was murdered by a group of aboriginals in 1844 at nearby Bolivia Sheep Station. (when I say “nearby it is about 40 klms away) It seems men at the station chased the tribe to Bluff Rock and threw all the aboriginals over the edge killing some and injuring many. Looking at the rock you have to wonder why all who were thrown over the edge were not killed. Then again you have to wonder how a small group of white men could throw a whole tribe of men women and children over the edge. Anyway please do not shoot the messenger. I am just repeating information found on the plaque and on several web sites. The stories are substantially the same but the size of the aboriginal group, their tribal name and how many white men chased them differ in each version I read.
I came through two heavy downpours one of which occurred just as I was exiting Guyra. The noise on the windscreen and roof of TERIOS gave me cause to ponder. Hmmm! That sure is heavy rain. Michael, another character witness, was travelling about three minutes behind. Neither of us knew the other was on the road. The storm hit Michael just as he was arriving in Guyra and noting the hail stopped to ride out the storm. I had taken off my prescription sunglasses and simply did not notice the heavy rain included hail! On arrival in Armidale I noticed a serious drop in temperature. Brrr! I had not bothered to bring warm clothes as I expected heat wave conditions for the next week.
Tuesday 20th January
Thankfully it was a sunny day – well at least it started out that way.
Michael and I walked to the courthouse and waited to be called. This was Michael’s second visit to Armidale to give evidence as a character witness.
It was my third visit.
Neither of us were called. During the lunch break I walked back to the motel to collect my heavy duty raincoat as there was some pretty large thunderhead clouds building to the east and some angry black rainclouds to the west. As we left the courthouse both met overhead and rain and lightning erupted. One lightning strike in particular was in the courthouse plaza and made me jump about a metre off the ground. Call me crazy but I walked the half kilometer to the motel whispering to myself only a few more minutes before I would be safe from the lightning. Phew I was never so glad to get inside away from the continual strikes.
Wednesday 21st January
Another day sitting in court waiting to be called.
Suddenly I heard my name and found myself in the witness box taking the oath confirming my identity. I gave answers to questions. Cross examination was a one line question to which I sort of snorted, laughed, answered no and it was all over for me. I had done my duty. Although it was midday there was no point leaving as I have a seven hour drive ahead of me so plan to leave in the morning.
After lunch I went to the Armidale Bi-Centennial Gardens and Arboretum.
The water in the ponds is a brilliant blue colour but I can find no information on-line why the colour is so vibrant. The arboretum was completed ready for Bi-Centennial Celebrations on 1988. I took several photos including one which includes a Lomandra Longiafolia (basket grass) in the foreground. Imagine my surprise to find a photo taken from the same location with the grass in the foreground on ABC Local Website when researching information. Have a look at the photo here https://open.abc.net.au/explore/32411
Another storm rolled in about the same time as yesterday.
Tonight I met with my friends at PJ’s Thai Restaurant in Armidale. It is located in an old house painted in bright colours.
Thursday 22nd January
I started my long journey to Lightning Ridge at 8am. I passed through Inverel before 10am so continued on to the once wealthy and busy town of Warialda. The town is one of many struggling to exist. A once vibrant industry which kept this town prosperous for so long has gone. It was coffee time so I took time to walk around the two main streets and take note of the old buildings and had coffee.
Next stop was Moree where I refueled and bought fresh vegetables and fruit for Donnis. Both commodities are available in a well stocked IGA store but Donnis feels the prices are a bit steep but also when those fresh fruit and veggies are gone there are no more supplies until the next week. I thought that I was ahead on time when leaving Moree but soon realised I had another 269 Klms to travel which meant at least another three hours.
Next stop was Collarenebri where I stopped beside the river to make a thick breadroll and ham lunch washed down with water before hitting the road again. The temperature was in the low 30’s but tempered by a breeze off the river.
Finally arrived in Lightning Ridge in time to greet Donnis as she finished her shift at the hospital.
After dinner we collected workmate Julie and went to the hot bore pool just on sunset. There were about a dozen other people already there all doing the hot bore pool gradual immersion into the constant 40° heated water.
Here is how it works. First shower in either a cold or luke -warm shower. Walk over to the pool where a series of steps lead into the hot water. Sit on the top step with water around the ankles. Then after awhile slide down a step until you are sitting in the water. Gradually slide another step until water is around your shoulders then take a few careful strokes to reach the other side of the pool and return. Then reverse the process to slowly exit the pool. Shower and return to the pool. While sitting with water around our waists we watched a beautiful sunset and a little later a sliver of moon rose and Venus sparkled like a jewel in the purple darkening sky.
By the time we arrived back at the unit, showered and had a cup of tea I was ready for bed. The quiet dignity of the people around the pool and therapeutic properties of the water is not only relaxing but seems to wash away all bodily aches and pains. Quiet conversation with fellow pool people just adds to the atmosphere.
Friday 23rd January
I spent the morning walking around the streets and noting the many styles of housing many of which are made from found materials. A local tour guide refers to houses which are made from “recycled” materials.
A video at the John Murray Art Gallery sums up the Lightning Ridge raison d’être. People come to LR and experience a certain type of freedom. Many stay, many return. Looking at the mix of people and their houses I can understand the freedom of expression and lifestyle here. I did notice a young pregnant aboriginal woman walking down the street drinking a beer at 7am.
I recommend looking at the John Murray Art Gallery (http://www.johnmurrayart.com.au/ he has a quirky way of looking at the world around him and has the freedom to express his view via his art.
After lunch Donnis went to her shift at the hospital so I went for a drive around the backblocks andf mining section of town. This is where the real adventurous, eccentric, freedom loving, creative, alternate lifestyle people live, work and play. There are no formed, sealed or named streets or roads. Houses, shacks and other forms of habitat are constructed wherever from whatever can be found or if wealthy enough, bought. Those habitats are built within the boundaries of a mining lease and winding gravel tracks pass around the claims without any sense of a plan.
All of the dwellings in this mining area are referred to as “the camps” which are off the town grid, with no water, electricity or sewerage. Officially LR has a population of around 2,000 with an unknown number living off the grid. That population is made up of 55 different ethnic groups. The people ion these off grid camps are a secretive lot and if/when they find an opal they pack up and leave, preferring to sell their find in a big city rather than broadcast their find locally.
I really cannot explain why but we love the town with its air of decrepit poverty mingling side by side with restrained wealth. All the shops and business houses have security screens over windows and doors.
Did I explain that it is hot? Just two or three Klms out of town you are back in the unforgiving sparse desert growth. With the midday sun beating down and a hot wind shoving its way through the spindly gnarled stunted trees it certainly reminds you to be self -sufficient.
Uh Oh I forgot to bring my water bottle!
In the afternoon the new nurse, Mick, arrived to share the cabin.
After Donnis and Julie finished their shifts the four of us went to the Hot Bore Pool for an hour of relaxing soaking.
Saturday 24th January
Another hot day here in LR. I am reliably informed that it is always hot here in LR. In the morning we drove via TERIOS 4WD to the very first black opal mining shaft on the western side of LR. It is interesting to note the different style of shacks in the old area of LR compared to the new. The old area mining leases are measured in hectares whereas the newer sites seem to be measured in hundreds of metres. The old site still has open vertical shafts with just a token gesture at providing security so nobody falls into the shaft. On the new sites it seems most of the shafts are either closed off or run 45° into the ground rather than the 90° traditional shafts. The newer shafts seem to have a small outhouse type structure built over the entrance to the shaft. The outhouse then allows the miner to be able to lock the shaft when not in use.
In the afternoon I visited the LR Golf Club, Race Track
The golf course is a series of dry desert like fairways interspersed with raised tees and greens. Some of the greens are small centres of green grass as are some of the tees.
The race track is somewhat unusual in that it is in a, well, not quite a straight line but a gentle arc. It is not a traditional circular race track. The length is 1200 metres and is straight out racing. There are no rail tactics on this course.
Next was the cemetery, which like the rest of the town is baked hard. Most of the gravesites are marked with a simple white cross with details of the deceased written with a marker pen. A few graves had headstones. What was sad from my point of view was the large number of “Unknown” graves.
Sunday 25th January (Australia Day Eve)
LR has four self drive tours known as the car door tours. Reed, Green, Blue and Yellow car doors mark the way. A map and explanatory guide are available from the Tourist Information Centre for a $1 donation.
Today I did the yellow car door tour. This tour includes the Chamber of the Black Hand
the most popular opal mine tour. The mine is on several levels each of which have chambers carved out of the solid rock. Each of those chambers has carvings of famous and infamous people and places in history. It was interesting to note that on this tour there are many open shafts with little attempt to close the openings.
Located nearby is the new excavation for the Australian Opal Centre.
It will be a two story building, Recessed into the ground and insulated by the earth.It will collect its own rainwater, generate its own power and be filled with fresh air and natural light. It will house the greatest collection of opal and opalised fossels.
Adjacent to the site is the site of a massive open cut mine called Lunatics Hill. This was an open cut mine of which there are very few in the area…hence the name. However a $2,600,000 opal was extracted from this mine in 1986. The area around LR was once part of an inland sea and the layers shown on the open cut photo show layers of sediment dated to 120,000,000 million years ago.
All the town water comes from the same subterranean source as the artesian pool. The water is cooled before being piped to houses within the town limits. It still has a slightly sulphurous smell. Most houses, including the hospital have a separate tank water supply for drinking purposes. Our water is filtered a second time through our own filters before we drink it or use it for tea or coffee.