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.