Sunday, August 5, 2012

Winding Down and Wending Home

31 July - 4th August

Departing Lightning Ridge after another swim in the Spa Baths marked the end of new faces and places and a return to the old and familiar.

Our first stop was in Burren Junction - a place we first visited in the 70s - BC. Back then we had a midnight swim in the Burren Bore after a fun filled night at the local pub. This time I snapped a wonderful picture at a different pub, but we drove on past of nest of caravans ensconced at the Bore.

Arriving in Narrabri David wanted to meet up with Len Sevil, one of his cricketing mates from the 70s, which took a couple of hours.

After one of our longest travelling days we finally arrived at my sister's place at Dungowan, well after dark. A couple of nights at their place, thankfully not in the camper, convinced us that winter camping near Tamworth is not desirable. A fantastic sunset, lighting up the whole sky was followed by a vicious frost, which closed the New England Highway north of Armidale.

Sunset filled the whole sky at Dungowan

A heavy frost the following morning

From Tamworth we had a night with Di and Jim, our friends in Bellingen and a night with our son and his family in the Hunter Valley. After a morning watching an Under 6 soccer match we were finally back to earth, and returned to the realm of domestic life and family connections.

Max in action at Branxton

Must go now and turn on the air-con so I can watch the Olympics in comfort.

But, I will really miss the big skies and open space of the outback - favourites since my childhood.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lightning Ridge

28 – 30 July

Leaving Nindigully we headed for Lightning Ridge, our last planned stop. It’s only about 3-4 hours’ drive passing through the villages of Thallon and Dirranbandi, both centres for the cotton industry. All the way from St George the roads have been decorated with cotton bolls from the recent harvest. Hebel is just north of the NSW-Queensland border, and has a great little cafĂ©, but not a lot more. Crossing the border marked the end of our Queensland sojourn which began on June 11 about 6 000 kilometres ago.

The border between NSW and Queensland
A bit battered and skewed, but a welcome nevertheless

Driving to Lightning Ridge had one unpleasant encounter. Having invested in some roo whistles, sonic devices to deter kangaroos from becoming road kill, it became clear that the whistles don't work on dead animals. Approaching a sweeping corner, and with oncoming traffic, David was unable to avoid a bloated carcass and consequently the camper is now a bit smelly as well as grotty with travel grime.

At Lightning Ridge we booked into a rare caravan park as the free camp near the Ridge didn’t seem very suitable. The Opal Caravan Park is new and is opposite the Artesian Baths. It has the best amenities block I have seen, with hair dryers provided for both men and women and glass shower screens rather than curtains, or more usually, no curtain at all. They are making a big effort to attract customers by providing afternoon entertainment (live music) and a campfire each night in a central fire pit.
Welcome to Lightning Ridge
The shower cubicles at Opal Caravan Park

At first glance Lightning Ridge looks much like any other country town, except for the preponderance of opal shops. But a Car Door tour soon exposes the other Ridge. It quickly becomes apparent that the Ridge is a town with two distinctly different personas.  The mining camps consist of dwellings that look very makeshift, almost like shanties, among the mullock heaps. The people who live there have no access to services such as power and water so have adopted creative solutions to overcome this problem.
A typical Lightning Ridge Camp dwelling - a lot better than some 
Above and below: The Artesian Spa baths are open 24/7 and are free
The artist John Murray, a local, has a gallery at the Ridge

The car door tours also reveal some unusual dwellings such as the Bottle House, Amigo’s Castle and the Astronomer’s Monument. There is also a cactus nursery which has been in operation for over 60 years.
Car door sign. Lunatic mine was one of the largest open cut mines in the town
Amigos Castle
Astronomers Monument - dedicated by its builder to Nicolas Copernicus and Galileo

We took 2  other tours in the Ridge – the Black Queen performance and the Chambers of the Black Hand. These companies are very organised and have their own buses to collect patrons from their accommodation places.
Company tourist bus

The Black Queen is set in a house constructed with bottles arranged in decorative patterns, as you might with sequins. The performance tells an amazing story of the woman who constructed the house and its present owner, Gail Collins. There is also a magnificent collection of lamps through the ages which Gail describes in detail This was an excellent performance, and we returned the next day to photograph the scene is daylight.

Some of her oldest lamps
The green lamp on the left is from the Mitchell Library; the yellow lamp on the right belonged to US President Garfield who was assassinated
Symmetrical patterns made with glass bottles on the Black Queen's house
Leopardskin tree in the garden

The Chambers of the Black Hand is set in a section of a mine which began operation in the early 1900s. It is a magnificent gallery of sculptures, many painted as well. The sculptures are carved from the cream and pink sandstone typical of the mines in Lightning Ridge. They include heroes of myth and legend, superheroes, television characters, animals, political figures, Egyptian tomb decoration, Buddha and many more. It is a truly remarkable place, and it’s obvious that the creator of these sculptures has great talent.  

Tutankhamun's death mask
Wall of an Egyptian tomb
The Pied Piper of Hamelin, plus his mice
Dora the Explorer
A family of gorillas

While watching the entertainer we discovered that the couple sitting in front of us were from Narrabri, and after a few questions I discovered that David had taught them in the early 70s. Both admitted that neither would have recognised the other – David was about 22 and Helen McGregor, now Gett, was about 15, and both have changed significantly since then.  Helen now has a grandchild at high school. This meeting enabled David to catch up on the current activities of many of his ex-students, teaching colleagues and cricketing mates. Among these was Peter McGregor whose son Sam is captain of Australia’s water polo team now competing at the Olympics.

We also discovered that one of David’s cricketing mates, Len Sevil, still has a Stock and Station agency in Narrabri, so we had to call in on him on our way through. Len is 11 years older that David and still pretty sharp.

The stay at Lightning Ridge marks the end of our camping trip, and fittingly we spent the evening at the park’s campfire pit with a group of travellers, burning the last of our gidyea (or gidgee) wood.

Sunset at Lightning Ridge


Nindigully Pub

26 – 27 July

On leaving Bollon we had a quick stop in St George for coffee and then travelled 45 km south east to Nindigully Pub, a free camp beside the Moonie River. En route we passed the first of many cotton farms which depend on irrigation for their survival.
Cotton bales waiting for procesing near St George

The camping area at Nindigully is along the river bank and is very informal. The pub has provided toilets and showers for travellers to use for a donation. It is a popular place for both locals and travellers, especially for its Happy Hour. At 4.30 pm a staff member bangs on the cowbell on the verandah and yells out “Happy Hour” and like sheep we all dutifully troop up the hill to help keep the Pub in business. It’s a very convivial time, and a great place to meet people and share travel tales and useful tips.
Moonie River, Nindigully
A lot of birdlife lives in this area
Our campsite, Nindigully
Nindigully Pub
The verandah bar
The picnic and play area

Nindigully used to be a more vibrant community and still has a community hall and a few other buildings. It is often the venue for B & S Balls and New Year’s Eve functions, and apparently accommodated the rally participants we encountered in Bollon the night before we arrived.  When we were there two groups also decided to hold their bucks nights there, but fortunately they stopped partying at midnight.

Nindigully Pub was also the location for the movie Paperback Hero in 1998 starring Hugh Jackman and all the film cast and crew lived there for the duration. The walls of the pub are decorated with all kinds of memorabilia. 
Commemorating the making of the movie here
Inside the bar of the pub, a display of hats

Cunnamulla and Bollon

24 – 25 July

The journey from Charleville to Bollon took us through Cunnamulla and lots of straight roads edged by bushland. For the first time on the trip emus were much more plentiful than kangaroos, both in the paddocks and as road kill. Fortunately for us two emus with a death wish stepped out boldly across the road in front of us with just enough time for us to miss them.
Long, straight roads with very wide verges are very typical of country roads in Queensland
We stopped briefly in Cunnamulla; it seems like an attractive town. We called in at the office of the Warrego Watchman to see James, Penny’s boss, then had lunch and travelled on to Bollon, about 200km east.
Cunnamulla's main street
The Cunnamulla Fella, immortalised by Slim Dusty
The Cunnamulla office of the Warrego Watchman, Penny's new employer
Obsolete printing machinery inside their office
Corellas decorating the trees along the banks of the Warrego River

Bollon is a quiet village between Cunnamulla and St George with a free campsite along the Wallam Creek. The community has provided toilets and showers for free use by travellers.  There is a newly completed walkway explaining the aboriginal heritage of the area, and a local cemetery to add to the ambience. At the edge of the village a family keeps injured kangaroos in the yard for rehabilitation before they are returned to the wild. One that has lost an eye is a permanent resident and is quite friendly, expecting food and prepared to let you scratch his nose and chin.

This area housed an aboriginal settlement in the 1960s and the board gives their names.
Reflections on Wallam Creek, Bollon
Two entwined tree types growing as one.
A plentiful supply of carp in the creek
Roos undergoing rehabilitation, except the large one which is blind in one eye

The village was livened up by a visit from a car rally travelling from Adelaide to Noosa. All the rally vehicles were 2WD and old and optioned up, but the support vehicles were all 4WD.

We stayed in Bollon for 2 nights, just enjoying being camping and the weather fine with some nice sunsets.

Rally cars parked in the centre of the village
The VB car, sponsored by Silverton Hotel
The VW looks a little worse for wear