Tom & Matt’s Four-State Road Trip
Day 20 — Monday, 15th August, 2011 — Broken Hill, NSW, to Nyngan, NSW

 

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Apologies once again to those who have become addicted to a daily serving of this blog — I have fallen behind again in my writing duties. Spending time catching up with my brother and sister-in-law, Collin and Yvonne, I didn’t have time to do more than finish off yesterday’s entry and, in fact, am writing this after I have arrived home in Woonona. The entry for tomorrow, Day 21, will also be written from home and will possibly take me another 24 hours. But, after all, we took this trip to enjoy the journey, not to write a blog!

Sort-of going home

Broken Hill is the last place in which we stay in a motel for this trip. Today we head for Nyngan where we will be staying with my brother, Collin, and his wife, Yvonne, and somehow staying with rellies is almost like going home. You don’t have to establish a relationship with some anonymous person behind the reception desk or even check out the best eating places in town for your evening meal. OK, so we still have another day’s travel after that, but it just feels that much closer to being home and completing our adventure and the following night we will each be in his own bed. Looking forward to that!

But first we have to get there. Google Maps tells us it will be 588 km* to Nyngan from Broken Hill. Since I am writing this after the event, I can tell you it was a shade more than that but still under 600 km*. But there are only two significant settlements in between, Wilcannia (where the road crosses the Darling River) and Cobar (another mining town some 260 km* east of Wilcannia and still 130-odd km* west of Nyngan). So it will be a lonely trip in some ways.

* 588 km is about 365 miles; 600 km is about 372 miles; 260 km is about 160 miles; 130 km is about 80 miles.

 

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It took us a while to find a supermarket in Broken Hill as the city centre seems to be dedicated to old hotels and eating places. Then, having stocked up on what we would need for lunch and having refilled the petrol tank, we hit the road.

It was a clear day but fairly cloudy and, as you can see, the road fell into the familiar pattern (for us, by now) of just going on and on and on . . .

 

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77 km* from Broken Hill is a roadhouse that now bears the title “Topar Hotel”. Almost 50 years ago in my student days, I was hitch-hiking from Adelaide to Sydney via Broken Hill and found myself here, waiting for a lift. In those days it was not recognised as a roadhouse (meaning a place where travellers can stop to buy petrol, foo, and a few other things) but was called “Little Topar Tank” and was just the hotel, universally referred to as “the pub.” I do not remember it fondly as I had quite a wait for my next lift.

I snapped this picture hurriedly as Matt zoomed past and did not plan on getting the big blue sign in the middle of my photo. But it does serve to show all the facilities it now boasts: petrol, meals, public telephone, picnic area, barbecue place and parking for trucks (lorries). I would still hate to be stranded here as a hitch-hiker!

* 77 km is a bit under 50 miles.

 

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I have forgotten where this was but, as we drove past, we observed all this water lying on the side of the road and stretching back some considerable distance from the road.

The chances are that, although it is clearly the result of the abnormally high rainfall some parts of Australia experienced earlier in the year, the chances are that it actually fell many hundreds of kilometres away in Queensland and has taken this long to wend its way down the Darling River basin to this spot. The land is very flat (as I may have mentioned once or twice) and the floodwaters spread out very far from the river when it can. This photo may have been taken some 50 km* or more from the river itself.

Such water is the very lifeblood of biological existence in many parts of Australia.

* 50 km is about 30 miles.

 

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A couple of times I have mentioned crows.

This lot (known, for reasons I have not investigated, as a murder of crows) was scavenging on roadkill. There are six birds altogether in this picture. If you look carefully you can see that we are following another vehicle (on the top of the next rise) that would have passed this spot only perhaps 30-40 seconds earlier. The birds had flown up for it (as they are doing for us) and returned again before we came along. You might also notice that the remnants of this particular roadkill are all but gone — not much more than the blood stain left.

 

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On and on and on goes the road.

Having enjoyed the 130 kph road limit in the Northern Territory, we are strongly of the opinion that other States could well adopt such a limit on those roads (such as this one) that are of sound-enough condition to be safe at that speed and remote enough not to have very much traffic on them.

 

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It’s not just the road that is flat. Looking out the side window (you can detect a reflection in the window glass), as far as the eye can see there is just tussocky grass with just the hint of some hills on the left horizon.

 

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Two hours and almost 200 km* after leaving Broken Hill, we reached the outback town of Wilcannia. It is located where the Barrier Highway crosses the Darling River and has been there at least since the 1860s. I know the 1860-61 expedition of Burke and Wills crossed the Darling at Menindee (about 160 km* south-west of Wilcannia) so I don’t think they visited Wilcannia, but it was certainly here at the time.

I took this snap as we approached the outskirts of the town and the whole town, although not visible because of the trees and shrubs, fits within the scope of the photo.

* 200 km is about 125 miles; 160 km is just on 100 miles.

 

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Two hours was a good time to stop and we pulled into this little picnic area at Wilcannia to pull out our gas cooker, heat some water and enjoy a morning mug of coffee. Those are our mugs sitting on the table in the foreground.

As well as recording our stop I wanted to show the Aboriginal art on the wall of the toilet block in the background. Wilcannia has less than 800 people (according to the 2006 census) and more than half of them are Aboriginal. There has been a certain amount of racial tension in the past but the Aboriginal Land Council in Wilcannia seems to be doing a good job at giving local indigenous people pride in their own culture and I can make the observation that the art on the toilet block has been carefully and competently executed (there is more on other walls of the building).

 

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And so on towards Cobar. I snapped this hilltop vista as we came over a crest somewhere around a locality known as Wongalara, maybe an hour or so east of Wilcannia. Although the angle of the photo makes the road seem to fall away steeply, it is much more gentle than it appears and the crest is not all that much higher than the surrounding countryside. But you don’t need much height in this sort of country to be able to see a long way.

 

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Just had to photograph this! Way out in the middle of nowhere, we suddenly came across a traffic light requiring us to stop. It is designed to regulate contra-flow traffic where some roadwork is allegedly going on (note the absence of a bitumen surface on the road).

We duly stopped and waited and, after a while the light changed to green and we could move on. But no vehicle came towards us during our wait and no other vehicle travelled through with us when we got the green light. If it comes to that, we saw no workmen and can only assume from the couple of vehicles you can see parked on the side and on the left of the road that some sort of roadwork was supposed to be going on.

 

Title Bulla Park (though why it is called “Park”, I don’t know, as there is nothing park-like about it) is another location on the road about, say, two hours from Wilcannia, perhaps a little less. We stopped in the provided picnic area at Bulla Park to make our lunch — the last time we would do so on this adventure. Matt (who has proved himself very competent at such activities) cooked up some ham and onions and we had them in sandwiches with avocado instead of butter, a slice of cheese and pepper and salt. Delicious! Tea (for him) and coffee (for me) to follow.

I deliberately framed this photo so that that it included the rusty old fireplace in the foreground (which nobody seems to have used for some considerable time) and the road sign in the bacground. That road sign informs the reader that we are on the Barrier Highway (which runs from Riverton, a bit north of Adelaide in South Australia, through Broken Hill and to join the Mitchell Highway less than a kilometre before Nyngan) and, if you have good eyes, you may be able to read that it is 141 km* to Wilcannia and 119 km* to Cobar. In the middle, between those two distance indications, is a white shield with 31 on it, indicating that this is highway 31.

* 141 km is about 88 miles; 119 km is about 74 miles.

 

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There are many, many wild goats in this area. We must have seen a couple of hundred of them as we drove between Broken Hill and Nyngan (mostly between Wilcannia and Cobar). Yet the roadkill we saw never seemed to include goat bodies — kangaroos, foxes, the occasional sheep or even a bullock or two, but no goats. I get the impression they are very savvy animals and know to get well off the road if a vehicle is coming. Then, like these two, they just stand and look at you, defiantly.

Goats are not native to this country and those that have gone feral are regarded as a pest — though some people opportunistically make money by trapping or shooting them and selling the carcasses to freezer works. I have no idea what happens to the meat after that but suspect it is exported to countries where goat meat is regarded as more normal than it is in Australia. I am told it is delicious but have not yet tried it.

 

Because I am the camera man and Matt is the video man (though he seems to have given up on that task), you get very few photos when I am driving in the afternoons. And so I have to report, without pictures, that we arrived in Nyngan about 4:50pm, having left Broken Hill about 9:30am. The distance is a little under 500 km* and, although there are no photos, we passed through Cobar, a town of about 5,000 people that exists mostly for its copper mine, athough it is also the shopping town for many pastoral families around the district. An aunt of mine (by marriage) lives in Cobar; and an uncle and his wife (another aunt, of course) used to live and work on a station property in the area, though they live elsewhere now.

Nyngan is a town I have visited many, many times, although I have never lived there myself. My parents lived there for some years while I was a student at University and in Theological College. When they left (about 1967), my brother, Collin, stayed on, married a local girl (Yvonne) and has lived there ever since. Another brother, Bill (also known as LeRoy) moved back there a few years after he left with my parents and still lives there. After my father died, my mother eventually moved into a retirement village in Nyngan and remained there until her death in 1990. So I have had many reasons over the years to visit the town.

As I commented to Matt as we were leaving the town (tomorrow), it is a community with a well-developed sense of local pride and is a very pleasant little town to visit, even though it is, in the mind of most Australians, very isolated.

* 500 km is a little over 300 miles.

 

 

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