I was up at 8am. John about 10-ish. We both spent the morning just pottering about.
There was some cloud around in the morning, but it was a warm day.
We were in town, after an early lunch, by 1pm, for bowls. I played in the pairs game, with another visitor to town. We came second for the day, and each claimed $10 prize money. I quite enjoyed the game – it helps to do well!
John enjoyed his game but did not do so well. L tried out his bowls. afterwards, then we all reapaired inside for drinks.
I had to call into the supermarket, for some Baygon. There were ants at camp! Any caravanner will tell you that ants are the bane of their existence.
I made salads to go with left over rissoles, for tea.
John was still pursuing the dream of opal mining, helped along by drinks after bowls, and some more imbibing back at camp. He made some phone calls. He had to climb up the ladder on the back of Truck, and onto the roof rack, to get a sufficiently strong signal. The man was determined. However, he did not succeed in interesting the couple of friends he phoned, in investing in a claim. I hadn’t been too worried – except maybe about him falling off the roof rack – because I figured the men had too much common sense to be taken in by pipe dreams.
The sky was really clear at night – lots and lots of brilliant stars. But that meant the night was colder.
There was considerable cloud cover today, but it was still warm.
Usual morning start – me up early, had my breakfast outside in the fresh air, sewed until the other half of the establishment was ready to take on the day.
The Trakmaster group pulled out about 9am. Their destination for today was Narran Lake, not all that far to the SW from here, but reached by dirt tracks. It was not a place we had been, so I tucked it away in the mind for future research.
John was still pursuing his expected parcel, so we drove into town. There, we did some shop browsing, during which I bought a good stainless steel kettle for the van, to be used on the gas stove when we were not hooked into external power. The old one, which we’d had since 1991, had expired of a holey bottom.
John became very exasperated with the youth manning the counter at the Post Office. He was not very good at explaining their rules. Sorted out eventually, what he was trying to tell us was that parcels and mail could only be collected from the side window, either before the mail truck arrived – at some unspecified time in the morning, or else after 3pm. But no parcel right now!
We meandered through an art gallery that was totally uninspiring.
Then John decided we should go on a hunt for the Mines Department, which we did not find, much to my relief. John was still pursuing the idea of becoming an opal miner! A couple of the locals we got casually chatting to said “No way – too expensive to operate”. There was also the slight problem – hitherto ignored – that neither John nor I like being underground – and that is where opal comes from. In my case, it is a total no-go area.
On the way back to the van for lunch, we drove by the artesian bore baths to have a look. I didn’t find them all that attractive looking, certainly felt no urge to sample same at any future time.
To date, I was finding Lightning Ridge a much more pleasant town than any of the other opal towns we had visited over the years: Coober Pedy, Mintabie, Andamooka, White Cliffs, Yowah. There was more substance, a greater sense of permanence and pride in the place, and more order. This might be due to being in a less arid area. Anyway, I did really like it. That did not, in any way, imply that I wanted to own or lease any of it, though!
It was back to town at 3pm, for mail. The parcel was there: a new lock for the Treg hitch, sent by Hardings, to replace the one that John thought was getting too worn. There was also a bag of mail from home that contained little of interest, apart from a magazine from Birds Australia.
We visited an opal shop that we hadn’t noticed before, away from the cluster at the other end of the main street. It had only been open for two months. I really liked that they sold only Lightning Ridge solid opal, from their own mines – an older one at Jacks Hill and a newer one out Grawin way. Their made up opal jewellery items were mostly individual designed items, fashioned to suit the particular stone, as opposed to precast settings where a stone has to be cut to fit the setting, regardless of its unique characteristics. Silver was more featured than gold, and I found the designs nicely understated, compared to some of the over-the-top stuff one sees that, in my view, detracts from the innate beauty of the stones. I thought the dark opal of Lightning Ridge went well with this minimalist approach.
Well, I’d found MY source of opal. No need for a mine! No need to look any further – or scrabble around in the dust. There was a wonderful, irregularly shaped opal in that shop, set in a thin silver framing, with brilliant greeny flashes in its dark depths – a simple pendant on a silver chain. It was just screaming out to become my 2009 birthday present.
John looked at some bags of uncut opal pieces they had for sale. The sales lady was also the cutter, the men of the family did the mining. She had been taught cutting by the local opal expert – the man who wrote the “Black Opal” book. She took time to point out to John how certain pieces of opal should be cut, and told him that the key quality that makes a good cutter is the ability to “feel” the stone.
We went back to camp to ponder all that.
I sat outside and sewed some patchwork. John fitted his new hitch lock. The old one went into the dark cave that was the van boot, probably never to be found again, should it be needed!
It was another normal morning at our establishment, with one of us sleeping much later than the other, and one of us reading and sewing outside the van, in the morning sun.
I received a Mothers Day text from daughter.
We drove into town, in time for lunch at 12 at the Bowls Club, resplendent in our “whites”.
The dining room was very crowded. The lunch event was obviously popular. I guessed there were not a whole lot of dining options in town. However, no other bowlers were evident. You know that feeling of being the odd ones out, and wondering if you have made some sort of mistake?
The $15 lunch was a buffet. There was a variety of salads, most heavily mayo’ed. The grain bread was excellent. There were some casseroles; I passed on those, which may have been pre-cooked then reheated. My gut doesn’t handle reheated protein well. There were desserts too – pavlova, mud cake, fruit salad. I had never seen chocolate mousses disappear so fast!
After lunch we made our way out to the bowls greens. Aha! THAT was where all the bowlers were. Given their absence at the lunch, I wondered what they knew about the food that we didn’t? But, to be fair, the final games of a big weekend tournament were in progress, occupying many of them.
Our social bowls started nearer to 2pm than the supposed 1pm. The game was meant to be a fun event, with winners decided by the draw of the results cards afterwards, not by actual scores. The entry was free – and with dinner thrown in! So that’s what the other bowlers knew. Meal after the game. …
Some of the other participants had not played before, which made things “interesting” but light hearted.
After the game, we went inside for drinks. We sat with L and W, who were good fun. L was a jeweller’s widow. She used to be an excellent opal cutter, before her hands clawed. Like many on the opal fields, she was of European origin, with a fascinating French accent.
Opal cutting is a valued skill. Anyone can learn the basic techniques, but it takes real skill to work out the best way to sand off unwanted surrounding rock and potch, to bring out the best colour in the stone, without shattering the opal.
We also met P, who was a psychologist with the area health service; he had “owned” a claim since he was nine years old! He lived out on it, but was too busy to do much mining.
We sat through the “market night”. One bought a range of tickets; then numbers were drawn. If your number was drawn, you went out and chose from a very impressive array of prizes, lined up on tables at the front. There were items like an electric BBQ, a heater, electric blanket – substantial stuff. Presumably local businesses had been generous in supporting the cause. I think they must have drawn about forty numbers in all. We didn’t win anything, but L got a toaster and jug package.
We then moved into the dining room for dinner, which was roast lamb and vegies, followed by sticky date pudding. It was very good – we hadn’t eaten so well in one day for ages.
All the women present were given a box of chocolates and a raffle type ticket.
L’s team won the bowls card draw – she received a bottle of port for that. In the free raffle, I won a potted chrysanthemum. I am not really into travelling with plants, and was able to swap it for L’s port – she said she had lots of the latter at home. Apparently it was a usual bowls prize. That alone said something about the nature of Lightning Ridge!
We made an arrangement with L to meet at the social bowls day on Tuesday, so she could try out John’s bowls. She was looking for a new set and his were the modern variety starting to be adopted.
John got talking to a man who currently worked a claim. He told us that the opal fields immediately around Lightning Ridge were pretty well worked out, and that most of the currently operating claims were now in the out of town areas like the Grawin, Glengarry, Sheepyard Flat and Coocoran. He told John we absolutely must go and look at these outer areas.
John also talked to another man, who told him about picking up abandoned claims for $2000. I could tell that John was about to become hell bent on becoming an opal miner! I was going to have to have stern words along the lines of: Hey. Stop. Think. WHY are these claims abandoned? Could it be something to do with having no opal left? Maybe also a reminder that he does not like underground….
He chatted with a couple who came from Victoria’s Goulburn Valley – almost “home”. They spent half of each year – the cooler months – on their claim here, and summer at home. Best of both worlds. I got the impression they were not really miners – it was more a lifestyle thing, like a holiday house. Now that I could understand.
All in all, it was a great day and evening, much better than I had expected. We had never before encountered such hospitality at a Bowls Club. It was a huge club – a typical NSW one with lots of poker machines. They hold big tournaments here, through the year, with thousands of dollars in prize moneys. There was a similar free dinner and fun event for Fathers Day.
Son had texted whilst I was bowling, then phoned when we were back at the van, about 8pm. So i’d had contact from both my children. Just about a perfect Mothers Day, after all.
I got up about 8am. The somewhat warmer night and early morning was very welcome. The day turned into a lovely one of about 25 degrees.
John slept late, as he had been playing computer games until the early hours. By the time he was up and going, it was too late for the promised opal lesson from T, who was busy cleaning the amenities.
After all breakfasted, we drove into town because John was expecting a parcel to be collected from the Post Office. Predictably, it was closed.
We looked in some of the several opal sales shops, including the largest and most tourist-geared one, that had a real assortment off all sorts of stuff: clothing, postcards, lots of the cheaper end souvenir items. The bulk of the opal items on display seemed to be the cheaper doublet and triplet ones (thin slivers of opal glued to potch) rather than solid opal.
Lightning Ridge is best known for its black opal, which isn’t really black but dark, which makes the colour flashes of the opal much brighter. It looks very different to. say, Coober Pedy opal, which is a light colour.
We did see some lovely jewellery in some of the shops, but of course the nicest items were not cheap. Or maybe I just have costly tastes. There was also quite a bit of depressingly ugly stuff. Most shops seemed to have more opal from other parts of Australia, rather than here. I guessed that was because the Lightning Ridge black opal was the most expensive – and possibly less available?
John bought a book on cutting opal from raw stone into finished gems. We got the Saturday papers.
A visit to the Information Centre was in order. As well as the usual local information, postcards and the like, this was unusual in having, in the grounds, a heap of fossicking dirt that visitors could scratch through. It was replenished from local diggings – after it had been sorted by the miner for the best material. But it provided an easy opal “noodling” experience for tourists, and maybe there was always the hope that the donor had missed a good bit!
I bought a fridge magnet and a guide to the Car Door Tours. These self-drive tours were a special feature of The Ridge. There were four routes: red, green, blue, yellow. One navigated via old car doors painted the appropriate colours. The concept was quirky, typical of the ingenuity of such places, where old “stuff” is re-used as much as possible. It was also clever, in an area of opal diggings where tracks were un-named and went every which way.
John called in to the Bowls Club to get the details about tomorrow’s event, purportedly. He was really hoping to sneak in a practice session today, but there looked to be proper games happening. Anyway, he found out it would be lunch at midday, followed by bowls and a cost of $15 each.
We drove back to camp for a late lunch.
Later in the afternoon we went for a walk, out into the Lorne scrub, following wheel tracks. Found a spot where there seemed to be a variety of birds – to be returned to another day, with the binoculars, which we hadn’t taken today.
When we’d checked in yesterday, the manageress had warned us to be very careful of the truly nasty Hudson Pear, which grew in spots about the property. It was a super-prickly cactus type plant; she said the spines would pierce shoes and even vehicle tyres. Yikes. Well, we saw some of the species on today’s walk. I believed everything said about the spines – long and strong. An introduced feral pest, of course, not native. It was brought to the Lightning Ridge area as a garden plant and got away. Its nasty spines have made large areas of this part of NSW useless for grazing.
Up by the office there was a “speccing” heap – a pile of opal bearing local white dirt, put there for campers to dig through, looking for opal. Being the cynic from way back, I tended to doubt whether whoever donated it really thought there was much of value in there! Anyway, for form’s sake, we went and did a bit of scrabbling around in it – finding nothing.
Had happy hour again by our fire ring. Took photos of the full moon rising over the trees. Very full and dramatic it was, too.
It was a great atmosphere, with us able to tell ourselves we were out in the bush, watching the moonrise.
We had steak, with green beans and mushrooms, for tea. John cooked the potatoes in the fire coals. They got to be rather on the well-done side!
Being Saturday, it was entertainment night at Lorne. Manager B had been setting up a sort of stage and sound system for it, this afternoon. It kicked off about 8pm. Seemed like it was singing and some dancing, maybe karaoke style? We did not need to go across to the entertainment area, as it could be heard all over the campground!
I wrote letters on postcard folders to the grandchildren. John computed until late, again.
FRIDAY 8 MAY COONABARABRAN TO LORNE STATION 310kms
We both slept in until nearly 9am – naturally, since this was a day for pack up and move!
When John went to do his outside packing up, he found the source of last night’s loud bang.
We keep the Chescold camping fridge outside, as a drinks fridge. This avoided a lot of “discussion” over the relative merits of food Vs beverage, in the limited interior fridge space. On these freezing nights, John had been turning off the Chescold, but he forgot to do this last night. Partially frozen Zero certainly had great penetrative power in a small space! Interestingly, the beer cans were intact.
While John cleaned up the mess in the fridge, from two exploded cans, I had a chat with the lady from the broken down rig. Their needed car parts still had not arrived; they were booked to be elsewhere by now, but their arrangements were all disrupted. They were certainly not going to be positive referees for that make of 4WD.
Despite these distractions, we still managed to leave at 10.15am.
The drive back to Baradine was a really pretty one, initially passing the flank of the Warrumbungles. The road from there to Coonamble was better quality bitumen than I’d expected. We travelled through farming country, seeing cattle and some crops.
The road was, in part, a designated route for travelling stock, with wide unfenced areas each side of the road, and with dams at regular intervals on that roadside area. At one point, we proceeded – slowly – through a large mob of cattle. With a thin aluminium skin on both Truck and the van, it was a good idea to avoid close encounters with large, horned beasts like those. It was an even better idea to avoid transferring what they had deposited on the road – in copious amounts – to the surfaces of said Truck and van! It was a very smelly section of road.
There were a couple of stock “camps” beside this road, with vans, horses and dogs. In these drought times, there was a lot of stock travelling stock routes like these, where there was slightly better grazing to be had than on their home properties.
A passing ute threw up a stone that took a chunk out of the windscreen, in front of me. It was not the first, by any means. Judging by the punishment ours had received over the years, Defender windscreens were really tough. I wondered if that was because they were actually flat, rather than curved.
We also went through several swarms of locusts, a goodly number of which remained plastered to the front of Truck. That was going to be a tedious cleaning task, some day soon.
Coonamble was a fair sized town, and looked as if it would be an adequate place to overnight, if we came this way again. Here, we crossed the Castlereagh River again and paralleled it much of the way north to Walgett. It joined the Barwon River, east of Walgett, with the waters eventually flowing into the Darling River, well to the west. It was rather awe inspiring to think that, ever since coming over the Dividing Range between Yea and Yarra Glen, over a fortnight ago, we had been driving in the Murray Darling River system catchment area. I wondered when we would eventually leave it?
I was surprised at how much surface water there was near Coonamble, and between there and Walgett. I knew there had been a lot of rain in the area at Easter, but much of it looked to be more permanent. There was one swamp area, south of Walgett, with lots of different water birds evident there, but we did not stop to do any bird spotting.
We did stop briefly at a rest area on the southern edge of Walgett. It had good shade trees, tables, shelters – and a distinctly odorous pit toilet. Unfortunately, the morons had been busy – fastener missing from the toilet door, water basin partly demolished. So, despite the overall attractiveness, I concluded that it might be a dubious spot for overnighting – too close to Walgett?
Walgett was a sad looking town. It reminded me in some ways of Bourke – vandalized empty shops, heavy duty mesh screens on house and shop windows, strong iron fences and gates around hotels and motels. It was fairly obvious that it had a similar demography and issues to Bourke.
There were signs of cotton crop movement in these parts: the white fluffy bits on the roadsides that looked like a giant had made merry with bags of cotton balls.
We passed through another herd of travelling cattle – another layer of crap, literally, for the undersides of the rig.
The town of Lightning Ridge was some 6kms along a side road from the highway: the Bill O’Brien Way. (I never did find out who he was, to be so immortalized). The approach to town, and the place itself, was very different to the other opal mining settlements we’d visited, over the years. To begin with, the surrounding country was less arid, so it just seemed a normal grazing area. The occasional distant mound of earth provided a clue that this was not just another small country town, as did opal-related roadside signs. But the town was both more substantial and much more “normal” country town than I had expected.
As we drove into town, John was very pleased to see a very prominent bowls club! He was not so pleased when he realized that Lorne Station, where we were booked in, was “a bit” out of town, like 5kms. Then came his crucial question – had I asked if they had TV reception? Well, no – I just don’t think TV, not in my priority sights, I’m afraid. I gave the unhappy one the option of turning around and going back to find somewhere else to stay, in town. He declined, thereby removing any further grounds for complaint, as far as I was concerned!
As we left the town area, heading south, the opal mining rationale of the place became much more evident. By the turn off to the airport (airstrip?), was the older area known as Kangaroo Hill. Here were the mounds of white clay earth and the quirky, innovative dwellings that typify the fields. We passed a dwelling made from an old red railway carriage. Beyond the airport turnoff the road turned to gravel and dirt.
We were welcomed at Lorne by a gregarious couple who had run the camp ground, for the owners, for the last four years. Our powered site cost $100 for the week – very reasonable.
The place was nothing flash, or groomed. The ground was mostly bare, with scattered clumps of saplings. The main area of powered sites – maybe 14 or 16 of those – was fairly standard drive through places, fairly close together with no screening or definition. When we arrived, most of these were occupied by – of all things – a group of 11 Trakmaster caravans! Shades of 2007, at William Creek! I had been told, when I’d phoned to book, that they were expecting a large group in, but it hadn’t occurred to me they might be Trakmasters. There was a range of the vans, from the small Perentie, up to the large ones. They were on the annual E-W trek, from Byron Bay in NSW, to Steep Point in WA, where they would be by July 4, so they would not be stopping for long, anywhere!
There were a few other campers, and vans on power, and some scattered more widely over the large area, away from power, including a Bushtracker van. The more distant reaches of the area were criss crossed by vehicle tracks in dried mud – guess it rained over Easter here, too. There were odd cabins/small houses, and row of backpacker cabins. Presumably, most of these structures were originally station worker accommodation.
We did not have many options about where to park. There was a powered site, very exposed, close to a traffic route, next to a Trakkie van, just dirt and a power pole. Or we could have one away from the herd, next to a fence around an (empty) cottage. This had a little fire ring and a small clump of saplings, and we chose it – pronto! Our power and water connections were on the side of the cottage. We had no threat of ultra close neighbours. Not that we are anti-social, just…….?
The amenity block, though a bit rough, like the rest of the place, was clean. An effort had been made to pretty up inside the Ladies, with flowers.
We set up, being thankful that our power lead and water hose were loooong.
I had a brief chat with a couple of the Trakkie people, mostly about the brand. Because the annual trek was escorted by experienced leaders, those new to inland, outback and rough road travel could learn with a degree of security. Others just enjoyed the group camaraderie.
An opal miner – T – came by, with a couple of dogs. He told me he was born 100kms from here and had lived all his life in the area. He had been a permanent dweller here for twelve years and lived in a small house on the other side of the camp area. He showed us a small jar of opal pieces – it was the usual act of making a beeline for the new arrivals! He let us know – fairly subtly – that he sold opals. I had noticed a sign up in the office saying that no responsibility was taken for opals NOT bought at the office! Fairly pointed, I thought. Buyer be very beware. He did offer to show John how to clean up opal chips, tomorrow, so John might go learn how to do that. He would probably have to withstand another sales pitch, though – at which he isn’t all that good where opal is concerned. T was very talkative. I hoped he didn’t get to be a pest, as can sometimes happen.
We drove back into town. Naturally, the Defender made a beeline for the Bowls Club, where John arranged to play on Sunday, in association with a Mothers Day meal. So that was BOTH of us to play – and in formal uniform too. Just what I always wanted on Mothers Day – not!
On the drive back, we collected some wood. John lit a fire and we had our happy hour by our fire ring.
Although this was a commercial camping operation, it did have some of the feel of being camped in the bush. I had decided already that I liked Lightning Ridge and liked being out here.
As far as John was concerned it WAS the bush as there was only one or two bars on our phone and no internet. He had erected the TV aerial on its usual pole at the front of the van, but just to get it out of the way – there was no TV.
I made vegie patties for tea. John did not like the idea of these at all – the clue was in the word vegie! But I noticed that he did go back for seconds.
The night got down to about 5 degrees – much better than where we had been.
It was a one degree night. The new heater was much appreciated in the morning – turned it on and scurried back to bed to let the van warm up before venturing out again.
Got going, complete with sandwiches for lunch, mid-morning.
A local attraction was the Newcastle Hats factory and shop, out in the industrial area. It was heartening to find this type of industry in a country town. We supported it by buying John a new hat for bowls, in a style he had wanted for a while, but which wasn’t available in his local bowls shop. It was very reasonably priced. I bought a pretty, pale blue, soft cotton hat, with a fairly narrow brim, for $6.
My “to do” list had, for years, included exploring the Pilliga Scrub, and that was today’s plan.
The Pilliga is the largest inland native forest in NSW, and really significant in terms of its biodiversity. For a long time, it was logged for cypress pine and ironbark, but that ceased in more recent years. That history meant that many tracks criss-cross the area and several tourist drives had been created using such tracks. They would be major fire trails too, as the Scrub is prone to nasty bushfires.
We drove out towards Baradine, on a sealed road, then turned right and onto dirt tracks to drive the Butlers Lane Bird Route, a circular drive that eventually brought us back to the Baradine road.
It was a stop-start drive, as we went for short wanders, looking for birds. Did not see as many as we’d hoped – it was so dry – but did spot a “new” honeyeater, the yellow tufted honeyeater, which is a variant of the helmeted honeyeater, a special local bird of our area at home.
Although light on birds, the forest itself was interesting, with black and white cypress pines, different eucalypts. It would be wonderful to see after a decent rain spell, and in spring.
We had lunch by a small creek, partway round the circuit. It was a very pleasant few hours in the bush, during which we saw no other vehicles.
Back onto the bitumen and to Baradine, to look at their new Forest Information Centre. This was an impressive structure, featuring interior pole uprights of the local timber, and with interesting displays. We were the only ones there, and we spent over an hour browsing.
From Baradine, took the unsealed No 1 Break Track, due east, to the Newell Highway 51kms north of Coonabarabran, and thence back to town. That took us through more of the Pilliga Scrub country, as well as through farmland closer to Baradine.
Then we did a sizeable shop, not being sure of the shopping facilities where we were going, but certain that goods would be more expensive there.
I phoned and booked us into the camping ground at Lorne Station, Lightning Ridge, for a week from tomorrow. This would be a totally new area for us to explore and I assumed we would need at least that long there. From perusal of tourist information, and snippets previously stored away in my mind from articles and online material, I thought Lorne sounded more interesting and perhaps a slightly higher standard than the available options in town, at that time.
Not exactly crowded out by neighbours, here…..
Bought fish and chips for tea, not planning to be near a take away tomorrow night. The flake was the worst I had ever had – wafer thin, yet really tough, soggy batter.
While we were occupied on our laptops, after tea, there was a really loud bang, from outside, but close. We thought a bird or bat might have flown into the van, but a quick look around, in the dark, didn’t show any distressed critter. Things do go thump in the night, sometimes.
Today there was no reason to get up early, so of course I was wide awake at 8am.
What was needed today was to tackle the overflowing washing basket. I did three loads in the park’s machines, including the van bedding – after John vacated same. My black track pants came out all white streaked and I had to hand rinse them. For God’s sake, we can land a man on the moon, so why on earth are we incapable of inventing an industrial washing machine that works properly?
I did some more patchwork piece sewing, in between loads.
As I sat outside the van, sewing, watched a van come into the park, towed behind a tow truck. It brought back memories of when we arrived that way, in Broome in 2000. There was a new looking 4WD on the tilt tray. Later, in chatting with the couple from the van, found out the car’s computer had shut down their engine – on the big hill near the Siding Spring turn off. That could have been really nasty. Their new car warranty did not cover a tow to the nearest dealer – in Dubbo – and they had to pay for the transport of the necessary parts to the NRMA mechanic here. I reckon that was a very rough deal. They were not happy travellers. I crossed that brand off my list of potential new vehicles for us.
After lunch, went for a walk through town, to the Visitor Centre, where I got a leaflet on birds of the Pilliga. We bought a new fan heater – only $25 – and, back at camp, gave the old one a ceremonial farewell before we binned it.
John found today’s walking difficult. My suggestion that yesterday’s bowls may have had something to do with that, was not well received.
The route of the new inland railway – if it ever gets built – had just been announced: via Parkes and Dubbo, then east of here, to Moree and thence into Qld. It would be so beneficial if the railway is actually built between Melbourne and Brisbane, and rail freight replaces a lot of trucked freight. How wonderful would the Newell Highway be, without many of the trucks that now travel it?
The night was cold – again – and the new heater was much appreciated, after the “new” smell had dissipated. It was much quieter than the old one.
TUESDAY 5 MAY CAMP BLACKMAN TO COONABARABRAN 40kms
After we had packed up camp and hitched up the van, John jacked it up, first one side, then the other, so he could adjust the brakes. He later felt that it hadn’t made much difference, but at least he’d tried. The van brakes did not seem as effective, since a new brake controller unit was put in, last year.
The drive back to Coonabarabran was really pretty, with some lovely autumn coloured trees.
Again, there was quite a lot of gear work involved, on the narrow hilly road.
Booked into the John Oxley Caravan Park, on the northern edge of the town. It was still within the 50kmh town speed limit, so the noise from trucks in the night was not too great. It was a large, park-like place. $22 a night.
We cruised around and chose a site. Unhitched – and then realized there was no water tap on our site, or within reach. So we hitched back up again and moved to another – which was the site I’d preferred anyway!
John telephoned the local club and managed to get himself into a bowls game, this afternoon. He dropped me off in the centre of town, on his way. I got some supplies for tea, found a shop that sold heaters and had a browse. The walk back to camp, in the sunny afternoon, was uplifting. Just about all was well with the world.
John enjoyed his bowls and some beers with “the boys” after.
Tea was pork in plum sauce, with rice.
I heard on the news that it was one degree here last night, and I expected it would be similar tonight.
I got up about 8.30 after a very solid night’s sleep. John slept later. We both felt much better than we’d expected to – very impressive. However, a quiet day in camp was called for – walking to the toilet was enough activity today.
John spent much of the day doing things on the lap top.
The currawongs of the Park were very enterprising. Yesterday, it was surprising to find a pair way up high on the top of Lughs Throne, trying to part us from some of our lunch. We were not so silly as to leave food unattended on the table at camp, but this morning discovered one thoroughly investigating the contents of our grey water bucket. Yuk.
For me, today was notable as the day I actually started work on my first-ever patchwork quilt. Cutting out the pieces at home, before we left, didn’t really count……Today, I sorted the pieces into 96 little piles, that would eventually become 96 hand sewn pattern blocks and then a whole quilt – all made by hand. There were little heaps spread all over the bed, bench and stove cover. After gathering them up systematically and stowing them safely, I sewed part of the first patch. Momentous event!
John decided he would cook us a BBQ tea. We spread baking paper on the metal plate of the fireplace near us, and he cooked sausages, tomato and zucchini on that, and spuds in foil in the coals under. It was all very nice.
Today was son’s 35th birthday, so we phoned him with birthday wishes. Each year at this time, I muse on how he nearly got to be a month older. My doctor, roused from sleep in the early hours of the morning to attend the imminent birth, arrived still dressed in his pyjamas, did the necessary – including the paperwork – then departed. It was just luck one of us realized, later that same day, that the date had been entered as 5th of the 4th.
I wrote postcards, checked my emails, and read till bedtime. John played computer games till late.
We discussed whether we wanted to stay longer and do some more walking. There was no shortage of interesting seeming tracks, but we decided that we’d mastered the best walk of all, and after the Grand High Tops, others might be an anti climax. Time to explore elsewhere.
It went without saying that it was another freezing night.
We tried hard to get going at a reasonable hour. Drove to the Pincham Carpark and managed to be on the walk track – Pincham Trail – by 10.30, which was pretty good for us, these days.
The first 3kms or so was lovely walking, alongside Spirey Creek, crossing it several times on bridges. There were still a few small waterholes in the creek, the focus of a variety of birds. However, in the interest of weight reduction, we didn’t have binoculars or bird books with us. Just little first aid kit, lunch, and lots of water.
Took a side track detour UP to Spirey View – a lookout. It was only 140 metres each way, and well worth the effort for the views to the Grand High Tops. However, it just emphasized how much further we had to climb!
The day was partly overcast. The drifting cloud may have affected our photo quality somewhat, but made the walk a bit cooler, which was good.
The lovely walking then soon ended and we started the serious ascent up the Spirey Ramp, a superbly constructed wide paved footpath. The high quality of the paving was rather incongruous in a bush setting, but great to walk on. I remembered that part of this was being built when we were here in ’97. It must have cost a heap.
The Ramp became steeper as we got close to the Breadknife. Then we came to a really long flight of steel stairs, which were really hard work. My calf muscles were doing their usual cramping as the gradient got steeper, so I let John forge on, while I could take as many recovery stops as I needed – and there were a lot of them.
The steps ended near the base of the Breadknife – an incredible feature – a tall, impossibly narrow wall of rock. It is a dyke formation – created when molten lava forced its way into a long narrow crack in the rocks beneath the surface of the parent volcano. Over time – lots of time – it cooled and became solid, the surrounding softer rock eroded, leaving the dyke standing above the land. It is some 600 metres long and over 100 metres high above the ground here.
The track along the base of the Breadknife was narrow and rocky, but still climbing.
I came to a sign that read Lugh’s Throne 150 metres. This was the top of the Grand High Tops and our lunch stop. It may have been that far as the resident currawongs flew, but felt much longer by my feet, and included some parts where I had to crawl up big boulders.
By now, I was telling myself, very sincerely, that it was time I started acting my 63 years and stopped doing things like this!
This section of track was really nasty. You saw a saddle through the trees – it looked like the top, but when you staggered onto it there was yet another saddle a bit further on – and then another. Always up. Finally, the ridge was reached – but you must go up along it to reach the Throne.
John was there half an hour before me, a feat which pleased him no end. I was just happy to get there at all, three and a half hours after setting out.
We sat on the Throne – Lugh was the Gaelic Sun God; lots of the Warrumbungle features have Gaelic names. Ate our sandwiches, looking down along the Breadknife, not that far away but now below us – a measure of the steep climb of the last pitch. Lughs Throne is 960metres above sea level. Belougery Spire was close to one side and the flats of the campground distant.
Two hopeful currawongs kept us company – they had befriended John well before I got there.
We were the only people up there and, in fact, we had only met one other walker after leaving the Spirey Lookout. This may have been due to our late start, but it was certainly not a walk tackled by the casual stroller! However, the views were worth the effort – I think?
What goes up must come down again, and preferably before dark. With some reluctance, we dragged the weary bodies upright again, and continued on.
The 600 metre track down to Dagda Gap was steep, narrow and stony. There we parted from the Circuit track, turning onto the Dagda Shortcut along the back of The Breadknife and around its northern end, to meet back up with the main track to meet the staircase section again. The walk around the base of The Breadknife was nice and gentle.
Just when we were enjoying the walking, the top section of the Spirey Ramp was so steeply downhill that it was painful. One had to actually lean back all the time – human braking – which was really hard on hips and knees. It was worse for John than me.
After that, the walk back along the creek was mostly level, but a slog, because we were so tired.
Reached Truck at 4.30pm, so the 12.9km walk took us 6 hours. According to the gradient map provided in the walks book, we climbed (and then descended) some 360 metres in about 2.5kms, from the Spirey View track to Lughs Throne. Doesn’t sound much, put like that, but it was classified as “very steep” walking. I concur!
It was wonderful to collapse onto the soft seats of Truck, for the drive back to camp.
Figuring that we had energy for one slight burst of activity, gathered up the necessities then DROVE up to the showers! No way could I have walked there.
The water was, miraculously, really hot, and lovely on all the tired bits. I had it as hot as I could stand it and there were clouds of steam. Then a 5cm long frog startled me by squeezing up out of the drain hole in my shower. It hopped over to where the metal shower floor was cooler and sat looking reproachfully at me. I hoped his black colour was the way he started out and not the result of being nearly cooked.
Happy hour by the campfire again. Tonight, I even had a couple of beers, in the interests of rehydration after the walk, of course.
I needed an easy tea to make, so we had baked beans and tinned spaghetti on toast.
Our clearing had not been too crowded during our time here. Generally there had been three or four other rigs in the large area. Most people only seemed to stay two nights, which I did not think was enough time to do justice to the area, even without doing the big walks. Tonight, a whizz-bang had arrived, but set up a good distance away from us.
We felt weary, but not too bad. I expected to be stiff tomorrow as it was a while since we had done such a hard walk. But the very real sense of achievement over rode any physical discomfort. John was really pleased with how he managed the walk, since there was a lurking doubt in his mind whether he would be able to do it, at all. Even his hip was not hurting too much.