(Haven’t been able to enter this as no telephone, no internet – punishment for going bush, but catching up now)
Sometimes in life you can be lucky. Thanks to brilliant chiropractor Anna back in Dubbo, we’re on our way again in just a couple of days – which were otherwise pleasantly spent, enjoying it more than the last time we were here, when it was somewhere between 45 and 49 degrees each day. We also bump into Dungog friends Anne and Barbara, looking chipper after a week roaming National Parks, and spend a great evening ‘catching up’. Now, as we leave, it’s raining across the western plains and cloudy each day – hope the roads are passable further west. Who would have thought we would have rain to worry about?
It’s away west on gunshot-straight roads to find ourselves in a leafy red dirt campsite by the old reservoir near Cobar – there are a couple or three campers around somewhere, but they’re out of sight of us so it feels like we’re the only people in the world, – except for the apostle birds wanting our lunch and the elegant pelican making her stately way along the river.
A couple of glasses of wine after barbecue dinner has us wondering whether we might stay a week or more,. This idea starts to falter when it begins raining overnight, stops long enough to walk Charlie, keeps pouring during breakfast. Finally, when we are surrounded on both sides by deep, wet mud, morphing into lakes, it’s time to get out and, sadly, move into town.
There’s always a compensation – our van park is within biking distance of the main street. Cobar is a fascinating old mining centre, with lots of graceful 19th Century architecture. The name Cobar comes from the indigenous people’s pronunciation of the word ‘copper’ – due to its inception as a copper mine.
‘Hey you’ve got a Jack Russell on the back of that bike there!’ He’s getting into his dusty old car – long beard, scruffy trousers, kind face.
‘Sure,’ says Ted with a smile.
‘I got one o’those – well, he’s got a bit of Jack in’im somewhere. You’re not from Victoria are you?’
‘No, New South Wales… what about you?’
‘Ar well, I’m from New South Wales now – living in me car ever since we got outa that high rise in Melbourne where they locked us up.’
I can’t help gasping. ‘You were in one of the those high rises?’
‘Yup, not any more though’
‘How did you get out?’
‘We tunnelled our way out – been living in the car ever since.’ He grins, starts his engine and screams off at 10kph.
However, can’t stay, Cameron Corner is waiting for us, so we’re heading for…
We’ve been driving under gray skies for so long it’s pure delight as we break out of the clouds into blue and white skies and splendid sunshine. These people out here aren’t very good at corners – the roads are still ramrod straight, although the salt bushes are getting smaller and the trees more sparse. We’re getting used to the mirages on the road – amazing to us town dwellers. For a while there are wild goats everywhere, occasionally crossing the road just as we arrive. There are sheep too – black faced and spread across vast spaces – no grass, just small nameless (to us) plants and the inevitable blue grey salt bush.
We find an almost caravan park by the half empty river, just out of Wilcannia. Here Charlie is again run at by three large dogs. Scary moments for a little dog – and more particularly his big mother (yes me).
Wilcannia is also a heritage site – marvellous old stone buildings – the court house, the police station and residence, an old stone supermarket. It used to be the Queen of the Darling in ferry boat times – now the only way they can keep water is with a weir. We wander happily, Ted going mad with his camera, ever the historic building-lover.
We’ve made a big decision – we’ll take the shorter track, dirt between White Cliffs and Tibooburra, instead of the all-bitumen via Broken Hill, as it hasn’t rained for a couple of days.
It’s not far on the bitumen before we see White Cliffs in the distance – it’s hard to miss it, with the sides of shallow hills peppered with dugouts. At first – and second and third – sight, White Cliffs these days depends on tourists more than opals.
It’s a short exploratory stop including coffee (in our van – best coffee in Oz)
Finally we’re OFF the bitumen and, hopefully, not into deep red mud. Soon we read a sign that they actually close the road if there’s too much rain, so we should be okay.
Now the land is getting more and more sparsely spread with vegetation, sometimes flushed with green in patches because of the recent rain, but there are more and more gibber plains, shining like cockleshells on a beach. We stop for lunch in a sea of red dirt – the 360 degrees of big sky and red dirt makes my chest swell with the wonder of it – here we are, finally, where we dreamed of!
The road starts to curve now, as we have to take the high road between vast salt lakes. We also find out why they close the road when wet. The vast plain is threaded with creeks with seasonal rain. We ford dozens of them, sometimes only separated by just a few hundred metres. Sometimes the signs says ‘Dip’, sometimes ‘Floodway’, and sometimes ‘Causeway’, seemingly unrelated to how deep they are (maybe it’s related to which Roads Manager of the day was on duty). Some are bitumened to make them easier to cross. We’re on our way to Milparinka, old gold-mining centre.
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