That takes us to our turn-off at a small ghost hamlet beside the highway. It died when the highway came through, carrying everybody past at an air-conditioned 110 km/hr, and the people who lived there didn't have the good sense of the folk from Cootaburra. Now we are on back-roads, and even though each time we go there another small section has been sealed with tar, there is still enough dusty bumpy road in the next hour and a half to make us glad when we reach Yandackworroby.
The "towns" of this area are minimalist. Kelly's Ford is just a camping area, often deserted, Windyworroby is no more than a community hall, and Sassafras is merely an abandoned barn where two dirt roads cross. In that league, Yandackworroby is a thriving metropolis, with almost a dozen occupied buildings along a 500-metre strip of road, including a small school, a shop, and a pub. There is also a small museum that I will tell you all about, some other time.
An Australian "pub" is cousin to the British pub. It is a public house, a hotel, a place that serves alcoholic drinks to the public. Most people drink beer, but spirits and soft drinks are to be had, and wine is often possible. Some pubs are giant booze emporia, but country pubs in places like Yandackworroby are important social centres, and resting places for the passing traveller and bushwalkers like us, heading into, or out of, the nearby wilderness areas.
Opposite the pub, several large pine trees provide welcome shade, and there are rough timber tables and benches on a verandah which is shaded for most of the day. You enter the bar through dangling squeaking screen doors that slam sullenly behind you, for this is sheep country, and something has to be done to keep the flies out. You order your drinks, say a few words, pin your business card to the wall if you have one, and then push back out onto the wide verandah. Time passes slowly enough for people to be able to talk to each other.
Aside from bushwalkers and travellers, there will always be a few locals who know what the rainfall has been in the last week. This is vital information, for we will rely on past rain to keep us in drinking water over the next few days.
Even if the creeks aren't running, one decent rain shower in the night will feed the drips in the camping caves. With luck, we can gather a litre of water each hour at each drip. But without recent rain, we must carry all our water with us, so we value the information we get from the farmers at the Yandackworroby pub. Even now, in the midst of a drought, there is reasonably good water in the area, wrung out of the clouds as they blow over the surrounding mountains.
Sometimes, though, the farmers are working. On our last visit, I slowed the car down as we approached Yandackworroby from the Kelly's Ford end, because a hand-painted sign on the trampled grass of the verge said "sheep on road". Rounding a corner, we found a mob of sheep muddling along the road, followed by a utility truck. (A utility, or ute, is what Americans call a "pickup". Australia invented this vehicle, so I will stick with our name for it.)
One sheepdog rode on the ute, sitting on the roof for a clearer view. Three more dogs were working the herd along the road, directed by a man who stood to one side, clear of the dust clouds the sheep were raising. I stopped the car: we were only a few hundred metres from the pub, and my son and daughter are keen photographers. I thought I would just wait for the mob to pass by the pub, and then drive peacefully up, but I had not reckoned on country courtesy.
The walking man looked back to us as my two teenagers got out. He waved, and with three loud whistles and two hand signals, the road was clear, the sheep cowering on one side of the road under the baleful glares of the crouching dogs.
I drove past slowly to park in the shade at the pub, leaving my son and daughter to walk up with the sheep, taking photos as they came. There was just enough time for me to set a round of drinks on a verandah table before they and the sheep arrived, they to drink, the sheep to mill in the road outside the pub. For some reason, the screen door of the bar had been propped open, and several of the sheep managed to lurch aimlessly inside. A quick word from the ute's driver, and the three hard- working dogs put the sheep back outside. All the while, the dog on the back of the truck kept its position. We speculated briefly that it was having a birthday.
Right next to the pub, a paddock gate stood open, and without any visible or audible instruction, the dogs drove the sheep through. As the sheep dispersed voraciously into the fresh green grass of their new home, the dogs jumped onto the back of the ute, and the man closed the gate. The woman in the ute parked it in the shade, and they both dropped into the pub to settle the dust.
When they came out onto the verandah, I asked about rain, and gathered some local gossip, carefully saying nothing about what we had just seen. Then as the couple were leaving, my son wondered aloud what the dog on the back of the truck was doing. "Ah," the man said, nodding slowly, "That's me spare, just in case one of me other dogs gets a puncture."
I elected to leave it there. There are some things you just don't ask about in Yandackworroby. To learn more about the Yandackworroby Cup, click on Yandackworroby Cup
To learn about the Fancelli sisters, who now live in Yandackworroby, click on The Fancelli sisters. To go back to my home page, click here