This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2015 Travels May 20


The day began warm and sunny.

It was the usual start to the day, though John was up earlier than usual. He went off to the Bowls Club where he listed his name for a game tomorrow afternoon. Then he went on to the Chambers of the Black Hand, whose literature says they have rolling tours throughout the morning. Not so. They told him to do the afternoon tour. This was arranged, with pick up from the caravan park at 2.30pm, for $35.

There were a couple of local tour operators who came to the park to pick up customers. They did a steady trade. Coaster buses were their vehicle of choice. Every time one of them came past, Couey would jump up to look, but she ignored the others. I thought that one must be a similar model to ours, and sounded the same.

Couey was not happy when John walked off and away to the pick up point by the office. I had to put her inside Bus, where she sat for a while with her nose plastered to the window.

While John was away, I read, spent time on laptop, and took Couey across to the area where she could run after the thrown ball. She regularly amused some of the neighbours who watched us come and go: when we set off, she must carry the ball and was out front, pulling on the lead. When we returned, she was docilely at heel and I was carrying the ball.

Cloud was building up through the afternoon. By about 4pm it was particularly dark in the north and northwest.

Skies becoming threatening

Then there was a series of rally strong wind gusts, on a day that had hitherto been quite still. Fortunately, the body of Bus blocked most of that wind from affecting the awning. There was dust in the wind too. For a little while, I thought that I’d be trying to do a solo drop of the awning in high wind, as John was still away. Then the wind dropped a bit and rain came. It was fairly heavy at times, and continued on and off, through the rest of the afternoon and night.

Storm looming over the park

I dropped one corner of the awning a couple of notches, to prevent water from pooling and to encourage the run off at the end away from the route to the en suite.

The rain was good for the region, in general, and there was a fair total overall.

John said the tour was very good. He was really impressed with the sculptures. They went down about sixty feet, which he did say he didn’t feel very comfortable about. Part of the tour was, of course, to look as a display of opal and jewellery they had for sale. John said there were some really nice things there. The problem was that I did not want to go down to see same. Down being the operative word. He thought they might be persuaded to bring some items to the surface for me to look at, but I was reluctant to make that sort of fuss.

Tea was hamburgers on a slice of toast.

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2015 Travels May 19


This morning was a mix of cloudy spells with blue skies and sunshine. There was a pleasant breeze. It was still nice and warm; the shorts are getting some use.

Usual sort of morning. John slept late. I spent a little time on my laptop. Downloaded photos from the camera SD card to save on computer. Then had to fiddle about a little bit to organize them into folders. The process seemed much more clunky with whatever programs run the interaction between this new Pentax camera and the old one. Thought I’d read somewhere that Pentax was now owned by one of the big Asian based camera companies. I was trying to keep all my photos accessed through ACDSee – the old Pentax program – and it did not seem to be easy.

After lunch we moved back into tourist mode again.

Drove to the mail collection centre. My parcel of mail was there.

Decided to tackle the Blue Door Tour – one of the longer ones. This mostly winds through the Three Mile and Four Mile Fields, for a long time the main mining area of Lightning Ridge. The ground is honeycombed with mine shafts and there are many of the quirky “camps” on claims.

Blue Door route

This is also one of the few areas where there has been open cut mining. Mostly, opal occurrence is too patchy and unpredictable for open cut mining to be worthwhile. But some areas of these fields were so rich in opal that it was undertaken. Some of the old open cuts have been filled in, some are still open.

Open cut and site of Opal Centre

Our first stop was at the Chambers of the Black Hand premises. These structures are in one of the original mining areas. A miner decided to carve a great variety of sculptures underground in old mine shafts. As you do… A guided tour takes in this attraction – the old shafts full of assorted sculptures in the stone, and part of an old mine – undecorated. Ando had told us to stop in here and mention our link with him to the guys there. It did not seem to have much impact! They were waiting for the customers booked on their 3pm tour. John signed up to do a tour tomorrow and they all tried to talk me into going too. Nup. I do not happily do underground. John doesn’t usually like it much, either. I was never quite able to work out what he was thinking when he was arranging with Ando to go down his shafts.

A little further on we stopped again, this time to take some photos of a shack on a claim, where rocks had been used to hold down the corrugated iron on the roof. In these parts, cheaper than nails I guess. We’d seen this back in 2009 too. This time there seemed to be fewer rocks, but the roof was still on.

Rocks on the roof…

Across the track from this a large area was fenced off and there were recent earthworks. A sign  board indicated that this site would be the planned Opal Fossil Centre – a multi-million dollar project with buildings designed by architect Glenn Murcutt. The model pictured on the board looked really impressive. Ditto the scale of the earthworks being done. The building would be two storeys underground, with the ground level roof being used to collect water and generate solar power, so the place will be self sufficient in both. I thought, from the earthworks that it was utilizing an old open cut. It is being developed by the local community, in stages, as funding permits, and was planned to be open in another four years or so. It should be a wonderful tourist drawcard and, with current opal mining focus shifting to fields well outside of town, showed some of the locals were looking ahead to ways to sustain interest in their town.

While we were stopped here, nearby one of the local tour companies had a group noodling on some dirt heaps on a claim.

No shortage of shafts and dirt heaps here

Next stop was the Fun Bus. An active imagination could conjure up all sorts of ideas here! But it was actually a claim adjacent to the old Lunatic Hill open cut. An old double decker bus was part of the structures on this claim.

The Fun Bus

The elderly resident still mined there. He had a stall selling his opals; he was packing his display away, so I guessed he only set it up at times tours were due to come by. However John had a look at the offerings and bought a $40 bottle of small pieces that he thought he could use as inlay features in his woodwork. We chatted with the miner, who told us that he’d been robbed several times.

In the old open cut, it was apparent where it had intersected the old shafts that were in prior existence.

Open cut and old shafts

We took the track around to the Lunatic Hill Lookout, but did not get out of the car because we’d been chased by three dogs that had come out of one of the camps by the track. They gave every sign of wanting to eat us. Retreat was in order – ours!

The track was rough in parts. I hoped the Terios tyres were up to this stuff.

Opal mining machinery is strange…

One of the features on the Blue route was a rather eerie looking old “church” that was built years ago for a film set. Didn’t stop here again as we’d spent time here in 2009, but it certainly is an interesting oddity in a place that is full of unusual features.

At the end of the tour route, we could have continued on the track to the highway and gone back into town that way, but we chose to wind our way back through the fields.

There were some unusual and funny signs around the place. One camp had a road sign warning of loose stones, propped up outside. Statement of the bleeding obvious!

Another borrowed from a popular song with a sign that it is a long way to the top – if you drop the toilet roll. Some of the old shafts on claims are used as long drops…. practical.

Back to our camp. Had a chat with the new neighbours, finding some similarities with them, in terms of prior careers and having taken early retirements to travel.

I ran out of time to change the leg dressings today. Tomorrow. Not a task I looked forward to, so easy to put it off.

Tea was pork chops, marinated in oregano, lemon rind, oil. It really makes them yummy. Had mash and wombok coleslaw too.

Had an email from friend M. Still in Broome. Her friend had been in hospital overnight due to one of his chronic health problems, and undergone extensive tests. They’d had to wait for results in a few days, so had taken the chance to go up the Dampier Peninsula to the top – weren’t all that impressed with the resort there and were now on the way to camp at Middle lagoon. I knew M would like that, not so sure about C.

At nights, we’d been able to hear a few generators going in the distance. Thought they were probably ones powering camps on nearby Kangaroo Hill. Tonight, there was quite a loud one going somewhere near the Bore Baths – someone free camping there?

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2015 Travels May 18


The morning was blue sky, warm, sunny, some high cloud. Last night had been warm – almost too hot to have the doona on.

I really appreciated the wonderful shower in our en-suite and not having to do battle with a flappy shower curtain. Pretty roomy space as these things go, too. Given the contortions needed to go through getting a waterproof covering onto my bandaged leg, that was a bonus.

Our neighbours of the disgruntlement, who moved in the day before yesterday, have to move again. Their third move within the park! Their friends who were on the other side of us were a day late arriving, so they thought the friends were not coming and cancelled a day of the planned stay. Now, of course, they want that day back but too late, the en-suite has been booked on, so it is musical sites. Now they are even more disgruntled… Of course, it is not their fault, but that of park management, who should have been able to meet their several changes of plans, or maybe even have been able to read their minds and predict the future.

Our next lot of new neighbours came in later in the day. They have friends on the site adjacent to them – much better organized and much better communications.

Apart from dog exercise, we lazed about in the morning. Well, John slept in for much of it.

After lunch, went off to be tourists for a little while.

Plenty of opal mining areas to be toured…

First, drove out the road past Ando’s claim and went out to Lorne Station, where we stayed in their caravan and camp area when here in 2009. We just went up the drive to the Reception/Camp Manager’s cottage area, turned around and drove out again. It did not look to have changed any. Before coming up here this time, we had debated between staying at Lorne, with its “bush” ambience, or trying out the Opal for the first time. I was pleased we’d chosen the Opal.

Then took the Green Door tour route.

The four self-drive tours around Lightning Ridge and its vicinity are marked by painted old car doors – great way to recycle junk. These doors both show the way through what is often a maze of small tracks, and mark features of note, which were explained in the notes I had purchased.

The main point of the Green Tour was to go to the area where opal mining first began here, on an area called Ironstone Ridge. It may be that this formation does attract lightning strikes? The  story is that the place gained its name back in the 1870’s, decades before opal was found; the area was used for grazing, when travellers passing through found the bodies of a farmer, his dog and a couple of hundred sheep that had been incinerated by lightning.

We drove back out the main road towards the highway, then turned north at the first green sign. The narrow, winding, semi-rough track followed a low ridge through the Ironstone Ridge area, to Nettleton’s first shaft.

Along the way we noted various claims and camps and the wild orange tree, that is regarded as a signal for likely opal below. The roots of this tree go deep along fault lines and it is along faults that opal may have formed.

Wild orange tree – sign of possible opal below

Around Lightning Ridge, opal is mostly found on low ridges that were once river and creek beds. So the ridges wander around. Back then, there was a lot of silica in the silt of these waterways, which eventually formed into opal. Over time, the surrounding country has weathered down, leaving the low ridges exposed, with opal underlying them in parts.

When opal mining began here in the early 1900’s, if a miner sank a shaft – all done by hand with pick and shovel – and it did not bottom on opal, he abandoned it and went and dug a new one. There was no tunnelling outwards, as happens now.

The Ironstone Ridge opal field

From the vantage point at Nettleton’s Lookout one looks across the flat black soil plains towards the newer Coocoran fields to the northwest. They are not really visible though. I had an idea they were not on ridges like around the Ridge, but maybe more on flattish sedimentary country, like out at the Grawin fields to the west.

Outlook to the flat plains of the west

A large rock carried an inscription/explanation of the role of Charles Nettleton in the start of the black opal mining industry here. Nettleton had been a gold miner and was travelling through the area, when some people he was camped with picked up some fiery black stones and showed him. Seems he wasn’t really sure what they were, but his miner’s interest was aroused and…

Black opal is so called because the background is dark, not necessarily black. It is the most valuable and prized of the several varieties of opal, and the Lightning Ridge area is the main world source of it.

Nettleton’s original shaft

Apparently there is now some debate about the actual formation of opal, and it may not have been the same in all places. That could be something to research at home? Len Cram wrote that there were at least four different ways that opal formed, that he knows of.

Apart from the early Nettleton’s shaft, fenced off, with its memorial and inscription, there were lots of shaft holes all around this area. Some of them looked pretty recently worked.

Not a place to wander about on a dark night…

Perhaps newer technology and methods make some of the old areas still worth mining? Whilst wandering about, I found two claim markers made by a man whose address was not far from us at home. They were only pegged in the past couple of years. Wonder if Ando knows him?

There was a “house” out there built from cans and bottles. It was not lived in, but open to look in and had a Visitors Book to sign. The empty beer cans make solid walls; the empty wine and beer bottles, set lying down, make a form of stained glass window. I guess it was a project for someone, who may have really enjoyed the provision of the raw materials? Probably not very practical  building materials though – hot inside all that metal in summer?

Re-purposing is a way of life on opal fields…

A man and dog came walking up the rise from the flats below; he lived on a claim just down the track from the lookout. We had passed signs by the track for opal sales, psychic readings, and “visit the milkman” – the significance of that was lost on me. We chatted briefly.

Retraced the route back to town. The Green Tour route was only a few kms.

Went to the PO to see if our forwarded mail was in yet. Queued for ages. There was one man at the counter, giving advice to a couple who were mailing something and needed help. He dithered about for at least fifteen minutes with them. The other two visible staff were vacuum cleaning and passing back and forth from a back room, but not serving. Eventually, when the queue had grown to several people, one deigned to come to the counter. She told us the parcel pickup was at another location. It would have been useful if the PO had a sign or notice to that effect displayed somewhere. Bloody poor service.

Drove to the parcel pickup place, a couple of blocks away. No mail parcel. Staff said that an Express Mail parcel, sent from Vic late last week, would not get here until at least tomorrow, and probably Wednesday. Wonder how long an ordinary parcel would take?

Back to camp.

This park was so busy. I was not surprised, because of its high standard. The word must get around. The new arrivals started coming in about 10am – from other places in town? Or from the free camp out on the highway? From early afternoon until after 4pm, there were queues at the check in. The drive in lane dedicated to those booking in could take about four or five rigs, but sometimes there were another four or five out in the road. All the powered sites always seemed to be full by night.

Cloud came in later in the afternoon. Looked like there might be a storm brewing, but it dissipated.

Tea was sausages (nice ones from our freezer), mash, wombok coleslaw.

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2015 Travels May 17


Another pleasantly warm morning. As I had breakfast, sitting outside, could hear the sounds from the pistol club that is behind the caravan park. There is a Serbian Church next door, but there was no sound from them. In a small settlement like Lightning Ridge, the presence of this church is an indicator of a significant element of the population.

Caravan park gardens, and church next door

After John got going, we drove into town.

First stop was an old tin cottage that dates from 1910. Since opal mining only started here in the first years of the 20th century, this hut dates almost from the beginning of the town.

Maybe they were shorter a century ago?

We explored around, and in it, for a while. Obviously it had been amended and altered over the years, but its essence remains.

Corrugated iron – termite and fire resistant

Inside the hut

The backyard dunny

After that, it was to the Bowls Club, where John went in to suss out games. He came out and said he’d just put his name down to play on the afternoon of the 17th. I pointed out that today was the 17th. He went back in and removed his name, not feeling like playing today. He was definitely in holiday mode now – no idea of days or dates.

We went on, to have a browse at the regular Sunday Markets, set up in the surrounds of the Information Centre. Since they only go until noon, and it was almost that, the stalls were packed – or packing – up. Still, there was a bit to look at. On the recommendation of one stall holder, I bought half a boiled fruit cake from another stall – for $6.50.

Chatted with a couple of stall holders who still had some opal on display. When I asked him, one of the miners said there was still plenty of opal in the area. John got talking to a wholesaler of opal parcels and found he could buy a little parcel for $400. Fortunately, it was not here on the spot, as I could tell John was interested. He did get the man’s contact details for his office in town.

I talked to another stall holder, who said he’d had a good morning. I bought a couple of booklets by a man called Len Cram, about the Ridge and its opals.

Then to the PO. so John could post a birthday card to elder daughter. The Opal Cave shop was over the road, so we wandered over to look in there. It was a big place, totally geared to dealing with mass tourist shoppers. I think just about every visitor to town visits it. The stock – and there was an enormous amount on display – ranged from the very cheap and kitsch souvenir extreme, right up to some very lovely pieces of opal priced well into five figures. They stocked a lot of triplet and doublet opal in pre-cast settlings, thus keeping the prices for these attractively low (doublet and triplet opal is very thin shavings of the stone, glued onto a potch backing).

We had been in here on our last visit and made it clear from the outset that we were not here to buy anything, other than some postcards. Still, the man behind the counter kept trying to guess what might tempt us and telling us to look at this and that, and generally applying the hard sell tactics. I really dislike this so we did not stay long.

Drove back to camp, via some different back streets. Passed the Lightning Ridge Caravan Park, whose sign said they had en-suite sites. More information for my mental file. It does have the advantage of being right in town, if walking to the shops is one’s priority. Could do that from the Opal, too, but it would probably be a round trip of about 4kms. Just from the quick impression gained as driving past, I liked the Opal better.

Lunch was late. John wanted an “electric sandwich” – a jaffle toasted in the electric sandwich maker, which he’d spied was lurking packed away in the oven. I had cheese and salami that would make a decent filling for him. Made myself a salad. The fruit cake was every bit as delicious as we’d been told.

Relaxed for the rest of the day, in between taking Couey for walks and over to the undeveloped area for ball chases. Her morning had been spent in the Terios, while we did our stuff, so she was owed some exercise,

John watched footy on TV. I read, and checked my emails on my laptop. I texted my son to pass on birthday wishes from me to grandson, who turned nine today.

Changed the dressings on my leg. I thought there may have been some improvement. Hoped! John got me to have a look at his leg, where a couple of the wounds from the removal of skin cancers several weeks ago, were being very slow to heal. He was troubled because the lower leg and foot were swollen. I said he should be wearing his compression stocking. He could not find that, so got me to put on an elastic bandage, which he said I did not make tight enough. After a couple of hours took it off because his toes were darkening. Not tight enough – yeah, right! I offered him one of my stockings. Tomorrow, he said.

It clouded over in the late afternoon. On such occasions, sunsets seen from Nettletons Lookout, out to the west, are supposed to be really colourful. We discussed driving out there but couldn’t raise the energy to do so. The sunset did not look at all colourful from the park.

Tea was lemon chicken, with rice and zucchini.

I watched some TV then went to bed. John stayed up late working on his computer game.

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2015 Travels May 16


I woke, as usual, about 8am, to a beautiful warm, sunny morning. It was a delight to be taking Couey round the park for her initial morning walk. We went around the perimeter of the powered sites area and spotted a place set up for van and vehicle washing, and a dump point. This park had everything!

Our route continued around the edge of the unpowered area and back to our site. A good length walk and dog was well ready for her breakfast.

I enjoyed mine sitting outside in the sun, which was just the right warmth.

After John was up, I did the washing accumulated since back in the Canberra stay. Two loads at $4 each. The laundry was well set up, in keeping with the rest of the park. I had no trouble finding a machine free, or line space. There was a light breeze – a good drying day.

John was feeling very tired today. Fair enough, after battling with the rotten road yesterday. He said we should, basically, have an “in” day.

I set up my laptop and sent an email to friend M, currently hanging about in Broome.

In the early afternoon, after I’d gotten the washing in, John decided on some activity.

We drove to where his friend Ando had his mining claim and residence.

Ando’s place on Kangaroo Hill

I believed that the terms of mining leases preclude having proper permanent residences, thus opal claims have a great variety of structures as their “camps”.

Ando had a small shack/house, plus an old railway carriage. There were a number of these on claims around the area. I must ask Ando, some time, whether this was a matter of one person buying a decommissioned carriage and bringing it up here, with others copying the idea, or whether some enterprising individual bought a number and sold them off.

The guest accommodation…

Remembered that Ando had been telling us about his drama, last year, when the ground under one end of the railway carriage had given way – old shaft under there – and it had partially gone down the hole. He had described to us the hard work of getting it lifted back up again and supported properly. At the time, I had said to John there was no way we were parking Bus on the claim!

We could see at least three mine shafts on the place – covered with heavy wire grilles, as they are supposed to be. There were waste dirt piles all round.

Ando’s claim was in the area known as Kangaroo Hill, just on the edge of town, right where the sealed road changed to gravel. As the name suggests, it was up on a rise and he has a good view of the black soil flats extending below the ridge. Not bad. Would be a great place for a proper house – provided the underpinnings were solid ground…

Country to south and east of Kangaroo Hill and Ando’s diggings

Ando had lived here full time for a while and ran a business taking tours around the town and area. There were still signs advertising these, around the place.

He had told us on the phone that he’d laid in a supply of wood so that, if our visit had coincided with his, we could have campfires and a BBQ. We could see the signs of that by his terrace area at the back of the shack.

BBQ set up at Ando’s

While we were wandering around, exploring and taking photos, a man came out of his house on – presumably – a different claim, over the back. Found out later that this friend of Ando’s keeps an eye on the place, but knew we would probably be coming up to look around, so did not need to check us out any further.

Road towards Lorne Station from Kangaroo Hill

Next stop was the Information Centre. There was a fair sized fossicking dirt dump maintained there, for visitors to have a try at. Occasionally one hears of worthwhile opal being found in it.

In the Centre, I bought an attractive mouse mat, a bird list guide to the area ($2), and the mud maps and guides to the Car Door Tours ($1). We bought John a good polo shirt and I got a couple of postcards. We chatted with the lady running the place. She had been in town for only eleven months and had a house on a claim. Said she was doing up the house.

There had been statistics kept of visitors since 2009, as evidenced by visitors to the Info Centre. The numbers seem to have levelled out in the last couple of years. Maybe they would rise again this year, with the lower Australian dollar “encouraging” domestic rather than overseas travel? Her numbers for this year to date, seemed to be up. The overall numbers certainly show the value of the tourist dollar to the town.

John could not be bothered sussing out the bowls club about games, so we continued on to the IGA supermarket – the only supermarket – where we very quickly picked up the few items on my list, like Factor 50 sunscreen for John.

He was anxious to get back to Bus to watch, on TV, Carlton playing football, at 4.30. But, after all the rush around the IGA, the broadcast match was not of Carlton at all. He watched what was on. I read, outside, enjoying the warmth, fresh air and the birds – mostly miners and parrots – in the trees.

We had a neighbour swap today. The ones closest to us changed their mind about leaving, and managed to get an extension of a couple of days, but had to move sites to do so. The new neighbours who replaced them had booked an en-suite site, but had arrived a day earlier than they had anticipated and so had to take a night on an ordinary powered site – about which they were a bit miffed. They did not like the site they had been allocated, she later told us, as they were not close enough to the amenity block. I thought, but did not say, that they should consider themselves lucky to have gained a powered site at all.

I watched as they came in, and made an absolute hash of getting onto the site, almost taking their awning off on the en-suite roof. Hard to believe you could mess up driving frontwards onto a drive through site!

After they had gotten sorted, he came over, ostensibly to make friends with the dog, but really to inform us they had friends coming in later today, onto the now empty site on our other side. It was almost like he was expecting us to volunteer to move, so they could be adjacent. Real sense of entitlement there. I’d met it on occasion when working in tourism jobs – never pretty! I guessed there would be a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, around our site. Better not be through it…I WILL be nice….

This morning I put out a couple of scotch fillet steaks to defrost for tea. Prepared mushrooms and red wine garlic sauce (packet), beans and potatoes. Ice had obscured the writing on the freezer bag, and my beef turned out to be lamb. Could have been worse…

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2015 Travels May 15


We both slept in on a very chilly morning. Still managed to leave the park by 10am. The park was just about empty by the time we left.

I liked this park, but one black mark was that the cleaner was doing the nearest block before the usual 10am departure time. The other amenity block remained locked up.

After turning onto the highway from the park, we had not even managed to get into top gear, before being stopped by roadworks. Stop? We’d hardly started…

Not even in top gear yet…

Made our way back through the town and out the Coonamble road – the Castlereagh Highway. The country side was flatter and drier and we moved north. It was a lovely blue sky day.

Not all that far on, there was a silver corrugated iron sculpture of a cockatoo or galah, by the road. As we trundled by, could see no sign to explain what it was or why it was there. Further on there were two, and then three. The intrigue sent me scrambling for the information brochures. Seems Gulargambone – which village we were approaching – relates to aboriginal for “many galahs’ or something similar. Mystery explained.

Coonamble cockatoos

We did not stop in Gulargambone but it looked a pleasant place. I noted a caravan park. Could be interesting to stop a night or two on a future strip, and look about.

Beyond Gulargambone the paddock dams were full and the grass indicated there had been recent rains.

Refuelled at Coonamble at a servo that was also a bus stop. There were a number of people off the parked bus, milling about; a couple of them were very slow to get away from the front of the diesel bowser to let us pull fully up to it. Couey got all excited, thinking she would be getting out here, and started up her barking routine. That made them move!

The diesel was $1.359cpl.

Coonamble appeared to be another town where it would be fine to stay a night or two.

The road surface had been quite bumpy and lumpy, in sections, since Gilgandra, but got even worse after Coonamble. More roadworks too – much needed!

A snake wriggled across the road, at speed, in front of us. Hmmm – so they were still out and about in these parts.

By the time we stopped for a break and to eat lunch, at Walgett, I was feeling somewhat seasick and not really hungry. We parked at the Rotary “Primitive Camp Area” on the southern outskirts of Walgett. This area had toilets, shade and was attractively laid out – an attempt to attract campers to the area by providing a free camp area. However, in the half hour that we were there, several “local’s” cars cut through the area, using it as a short cut, at a fair speed and kicking up lots of dust. Two cars stopped briefly, side by side, and small somethings were exchanged in a two way transaction between the drivers before both sped off. Definitely didn’t think it was somewhere I would want to stay overnight.

Walgett Primitive Camp Area

Made John a sandwich, but I only had an apple for lunch. We managed to give Couey a run, before the cars speeding through put a stop to that.

After Walgett, there were puffs of cotton beside the road – escaped from harvesting or transport of same. There was also a large grain loading facility by the railway.

The road became awfully uneven. John slowed right down, but we were still being thrown up and down.

We were both really glad to reach the outskirts of Lightning Ridge, heralded by a rest area on the Castlereagh Highway, with a huge metal sculpture opposite. This quirky fellow was Stanley the emu, To my mind, he typifies the nature of the town.

We drove straight through the town and out to the Opal Caravan Park, on the Collarenabri road. This park had been established since we were last here in 2009, and was almost opposite the thermal Bore Baths.

The very obliging lady on Reception was fine about cutting down our pre-booked stay from two weeks to ten days, as we had stayed longer than originally planned at Canberra. Our en-suite site cost $45 a night. Instead of the park chain discount, she gave us a free night, which was worth more. I bought two polo shirts, with the very attractive logo of the park on.

I was very pleased to have booked ahead. The ten en-suite sites were all full, and the ordinary powered sites pretty well occupied too, even though the extensive park must have over a hundred sites. The travelling public have “discovered” Lightning Ridge, it seems.

Everything was drive-through, making life so much easier. The ground surface was rounded small river gravel. The sites were a good size, with landscaping between each pair of sites. This was still becoming established – when fully grown in a few more years, there will be lovely shade. The caravan sites were clearly marked with white painted markers that looked like cement, cast in large basin-shaped moulds – very effective.

There was a large unpowered camp area – gravelled – and a more “bush” camp area beyond that, on the natural black soil surface of the area.

Our en-suite was excellent. A good size. The shower had a glass door – no clingy shower curtain here – wonderful. It was nicely tiled and very clean. The exterior was corrugated iron. The colours of the park all reflected the arid lands colours of this environment – very tastefully and practically done.

John reckoned this was the nicest caravan park we had ever stayed at. I thought he might have forgotten a few good ones, but agreed that this was right up there.

They also had a few cabins, a good camp kitchen, BBQ area and swimming pool (despite being within walking distance of the Bore Baths). There was an opal fossicking area on one boundary. John found out that we could give Couey ball throwing exercise off in the bush area near that, right away from the main park area. They also offered doggy day care, if we wanted to go off on tours.

This was a place that was truly into meeting the needs of travellers.

Set up for our extended stay here, then just relaxed. We were into shorts and T-shirts, finally. Blue sky and sunshine. Bliss.

I cooked fish from our freezebox for tea, with French fries.

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2015 Travels May 14


John did not get out of bed until 9am, yet we were still away at 10am, despite a visit from a neighbour who wanted to chat to John about the rig. I do like to talk to other travellers in parks, but not those who watch from a distance for a day or two, then decide they must come and talk at hitch up time!
I loaded Couey into the car, before John started up the Bus. He drove it out of the site and I then lined Terios up behind the Bus, so we could hitch it up. The dog did her usual howl and bark in my ear, in the car, but it does not worry me like it does John. It certainly protected the neighbours from the canine protest act. Once we were all hitched up and ready to go, I took her out of the car and she was all keen and eager to get on board Bus before it left without her. Think I have finally hit on the best routine.
It seems an anomaly that my actual hearing is much better than John’s. yet he is super-sensitive to the dog’s noise in a way that I am not. Can’t figure it out.
John set the GPS for Dubbo. It directed us first to Canowindra, though slightly hilly country that made for an attractive drive. From there, I hadn’t been sure of the best route to take, but the GPS took us along minor roads through Cudal and Molong, to Wellington. The route was fine with not much other traffic, although the surface was a bit rough in parts and around Molong the road edges were bad.
It was midday when we reached Molong. Some old buildings that appeared interesting. I noted a caravan park – for future wanderings. The word “molong” apparently means “place of many rocks” and there were certainly lots of large granite rock outcroppings to add variety to the scenery. An area definitely worthy of a wander around in the future.
Decided we’d take a break in Wellington, to give dog a walk and also get some lunch. Found that the town was very strung out along the main road, which turned and twisted. A strange layout. We passed a number of closed shops through the very elongated business centre. My map showed the Information Centre and we assumed there would be parking nearby. Wrong. The parking area out front was occupied by cars parked – as is usual in these parts – reversed in at a 45 degree angle. No much use for us…There were no spaces for longer rigs. We continued on around a corner and parked down a side street, by some netball courts. A long way down the street, as tree plantings in the road were just a bit too close together for us to fit between. From there, it was quite a hike back to the Info Centre. We were a bit concerned about the security of the rig, where we’d left it.

Bus is down there – a long way down there…

There was a cafe on a diagonally opposite corner as we walked, but no indication that it was open. I asked the lady in the Info Centre where we would find a bakery or cafe. She replied that there was a bakery further back, near a newsagents.
John waited, with dog, in the park area opposite the shops, whilst I went and bought lunch, then we ate same at a table in the very pleasant park. My salad sandwich was alright, my coffee excellent, but John’s pepper pie was gristly. He had wanted a pastie, but this shop did not have any. The dog scored some of the pie, which meant that it really was bad.

Parkland Wellington

When I’d gone into the Info Centre, there was a gathering of a number of indigenous people, presumably local, on the footpath nearby, but they had gone when we walked back. The gathering had looked purposeful, but I couldn’t find any indication what that might have been.
Near where the gathering had been, there was a 4WD with caravan, that had managed to somehow kind-of jack knife itself into a space between two cars. It was a fairly standard brand of caravan, but onto the back had been added an on-demand hot water service, a large diameter poly pipe container, and a big 4WD vehicle spare wheel, roped to the two existing van spare wheels on the back of the van. I wondered about the effects of all this extra weight, hanging off the van at the back, and the resulting handling characteristics on the road. Then, as we passed, I noticed on the A frame at the front, there was a very large metal box and some other stuff. Maybe that corrected the balance? But, had they come to grief somewhere, I wouldn’t have fancied their chances of making a successful insurance claim.
I didn’t quite know what to think about Wellington. The parklands around the Info Centre were lovely, but the lack of parking for rigs like ours was a major deficiency – to me, indicating that they were not interested in truly catering for the traveller. Before our lunching experience, I’d had it bookmarked as a town we would go to for a few days in the near future, exploring. Now I was not quite so sure. We glimpsed some lovely old buildings that it would have been interesting to wander around. All this region is old, dating from the squatting heyday of the 1830’s and 40’s. Much history, here.

Bus was as we’d left it, at least.
The countryside continued to be pleasant. Cypress pines, whoch we’d seen a few of just before Wellington, became more prevalent. A sign of drier country, I think.
The GPS took us on an OD route around Dubbo – excellent. After our last experience in that town centre with its tight roundabouts, going around the outskirts was preferable.
From there, on up the Newell Highway towards Gilgandra. Were some glimpses of the Warrumbungles, a purple hazy smudge on the horizon. The usual truck traffic on the highway, likewise the usual roadworks and stops for same.

Back on the Newell…

Reached Gilgandra at 3.15pm. Went into the Gilgandra Caravan Park. After FPA discount, 29.70 for our powered site. The helpful owner guided John onto our site, where we could keep car hitched on the back. That section of the park was just grass – no annexe slab. It was a number of years since we’d last been here and the park had been significantly improved since then. It was very pleasant, with a nice camp kitchen and a new-looking amenity block as well as the old one nearer to us. Overall, spacious, neat, green ,clean. It was good to hook up to town water again, after Cowra. Much more convenient.

Gilgandra caravan park

After our minimal set up, John took Couey through a nearby gate to a narrow, mown area along the fence line. The gates in the park fence allowed access to the Castlereagh River, behind the park. John and dog did not venture through the long grass and scrubby stuff to the river itself, but he threw her ball along the narrow mown section; the surrounding long grass caused some interesting ball hunts for her.

Later, we walked around the park, for some exercise. Last time we were here (with previous dog and so in the 1990’s) there has been an older couple set up semi-permanently in a far corner, with a large and productive vegetable garden growing. There was no sign of that camp or garden now.
Tea was spag bol.

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2015 Travels May 13


We had rather a slow start to the day, again, though John was up earlier than was usual for him, in order to get on with fixing the TV aerial. He had to drive down town to a hardware store, in order to get things he thought he’d need.

The park owner was not allowed, for legal reasons, to lend us the necessary ladder to access the Bus roof, but there “just happened” to be one lying about on a cabin veranda.

So, with some help from me holding things, the winding mechanism was fixed, and a generous application of silicone spray was spread around to make its operation easier.

I always breathed easier when John descended safely from any ladder work. With two replaced hips, he was supposed to keep feet planted firmly on solid ground, of course!

There seemed to be quite an exodus from the park today, for no obvious reason.

After all was repaired  and lunch was had, we drove into the town. I was really rugged up in the warmest of winter layers I could find in Bus. It was freezing outside. I’d unearthed a wool beanie, knitted scarf ,and gloves, from the back of a cupboard.

We headed for the Information Centre, via back roads that took us past the railway station. Trains no longer came to Cowra and I thought some of the old infrastructure, and the rather substantial station, might offer some photography options. But it was just too cold to get out and go exploring for same.

At the Info Centre, I collected some material about places we planned to visit, and also some on the Cowra Rose Gardens, which were in front and to the side of, the Info Centre. Since we were already there, I went for an interesting wander amongst the roses. John and dog stayed in the warmth of the car.

I was sure that, on a better day, I’d have taken the trouble and time to note the names of some of the roses, with a view to obtaining same and planting them at home, where our rose garden needed a makeover. However, I was heartened to see that, despite presumed expertise, some of their specimens had the dreaded black spot, too.

We then drove an alternate road back across the river – a low level one that involved going under the main highway, past a number of decorated poles and pylons, and across a low bridge, almost a ford, across the river. The parklands in this part of town were very pleasant. In better weather Couey would have loved a walk there and a splosh in the river, but that was not going to happen today.

John dropped me at the Cowra Patchwork shop, whilst he went off to different shops. I had a colour plan emerging for my next quilting project and wanted to take any chance I could to hunt for fabrics. I bought some fat quarters – for the uninitiated, picture a yard piece of fabric, cut in half lengthways, then in half across, to create four “fat” quarters. Quilt shops pre-cut lots of these and put them out on display to tempt browsers like me. Also bought a couple of books showing quilt designs.

Back to Bus and a heater turned up to high.

John gave the park man some port – which he’d previously mentioned he liked – as a thank you for his help. This was certainly a caravan park that I’d come back to.

I made potato rosti, bacon and eggs for tea.

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2015 Travels May 12


Another slow start to the day, meaning the elder one of us slept late, while the younger one exercised and fed dog, and breakfasted at my leisure. Brunch for one was early lunch for the other!

Drove into town and then on out to the Breakout Centre – a display about the attempted escape of Japanese POW’s in 1944 – located on the site of the former POW Camp. It is out of town a few kms, in farmland – rolling country. The prisoners probably didn’t appreciate it, but they had very pleasant scenery.

Site of the POW Camp

A replica of one of the guard towers stands near the car park. As we discovered, it rather spookily plays an information recording as one approaches – must be movement activated.

Guard Tower replica

Little remains of the buildings and other structures that were there, as the facility was dismantled and mostly sold off, including some of the original land.

Not much remains….

The Cowra POW Camp was much bigger than I had realized, both in area and in numbers contained. Although planned and built for 1000, it came to house more than double that number of prisoners. Another surprise was the mix of nationalities held there, not just Japanese but also Italians, Chinese, Koreans, some from the Dutch East Indies.

It was the Japanese who staged the outbreak. Given the psyche and culture of the Japanese soldier of the time, being captured was a major disgrace and source of shame. It was almost a duty to try to escape, or die trying. About 400 staged the breakout, about 230 of those were killed or committed suicide in the resulting conflict before the escapees were recaptured. Four Australian soldiers died.

By contrast, many of the Italian POW’s really liked the place ( especially many of those who were sent out to be farm labour in the district). So much so that they did not want to leave at all. Some of these Italian POW’s managed to escape too – not in 1944, but in 1946, well after the war’s end – to avoid being repatriated back to their homeland! The last of these escapees was not rounded up until 1950. Some of the Italian POW’s returned to Australia in the 1950’s, as migrants.

We walked around some of the paths through the old camp area, reading the various information boards.

Did some food shopping, then back to Bus.

Realised this afternoon that the lovely, lush, grassy area where we have been throwing a ball for dog and letting her have a run around, is in fact the area where the campground’s recycled sewage is sprayed! It smelt a bit after the sprinklers had been on. I was now a little concerned about the wisdom of ball retrieval on the area…

Tea was chicken noodle soup based chow mein. An old standby.

John was trying to adjust the TV aerial and the winding mechanism fell apart. I was just grateful that it was him trying to work it at the time, and not me! Since it was dark outside, and to fix it he would need a ladder and maybe some parts, and the thing could not now be wound down for travel, we agreed we’d have to stay an extra day, not leave tomorrow as planned. John went off to tell management, hoping our site would still be available, which it was. The very obliging park owner came back with John, bearing a TV cable to lend us for the night. Very nice of him.

It was a cold night.

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2015 Travels May 11


A slow start to the day. The Cowra night was nowhere near as cold as Canberra had been.

I had a wonderful morning shower – continuous hot water. But there was the problem of the shower curtain getting too up close and friendly. I hate shower curtains!

After an early lunch at Bus, set off to visit the Japanese Gardens.

Cowra was the site of imprisonment of Japanese prisoners of war during WW2. These modern gardens are symbolic of subsequent friendship and Cowra’s modern emphasis on peace.

The town also has a Peace Bell, a replica of the one that stands in front of the United Nations building in New York. It was apparently a great honour for Cowra to receive one of these.

John and the bell

We left Couey in the car. The day was not hot, so she was fine there. Entry to the Gardens cost $13 each, which turned out to be good value.

The Gardens were huge and it took us quite a while to wander through them and admire all the different outlooks and cameo views that such gardens feature. These were beautifully done, and in our view, worth visiting Cowra for, all by themselves.

The upkeep required would certainly generate employment in the town – all the highly manicured lawns, for starters.

What an intensive design effort must have gone into the Gardens, in the first place, because there were so many micro elements and features within the larger whole. Just nothing had been left to chance – except maybe the odd wild bird that had taken up residence.

There were little features to look at around every curve, like a particularly shaped rock, or a diosma bush trimmed to a circular shape.

One needed to look at the immediate foreground, as well as the distant vistas, I loved it and John was pretty impressed, too.

Traditional Japanese tea house

The only part that left us cold was the bonsai display house. I know that creating bonsai is an ancient art that takes huge skill and time, but to me it is cruelty to plants.

Way back in 1998/9, we spent the Xmas holiday silly season hiding out in Toowoomba, away from the hordes at the coasts. I used to enjoy walking in the Japanese Gardens there, but they paled into insignificance beside the Cowra Gardens.

In the inevitable gift shop, we succumbed to temptation. I bought a set of wind chimes – large hanging tubes. Something I had wanted for a while but had not been able to find quite the right ones. I wanted to be able to hear them on even a slight breeze, but for them not to have a tone that would scare me awake in the night if there was a sudden gust of wind. These had really pleasant tones.

John was very taken with a dichromatic glass small platter in tones of blue, so we bought that too. Both items were reasonably priced, I thought.

After the experience of the Gardens, any other sightseeing today would be an anti-climax, so decided to head back to Bus. But the road that had taken us to the Gardens, led on to a scenic hill lookout, so we went that way.

That, too, was worthwhile. There were extensive outlooks over the town and surrounding countryside. We walked from the car park area up a short foot road to the top. This was also a walk for dog.

It was attractive countryside around Cowra. From the lookout, we could also see the Lachlan River winding around the town.

Cowra from Lookout

Continued on – driving down the very steep and narrow, one-way, road from the lookout, direct to town.

Packed our new treasures carefully away in Bus, under my bed.

I made hamburgers for tea, using a slice of toast for John’s, instead of a bun. Maybe a bit more healthy? Mine came with no bread. Did that make it not really a hamburger at all? I pondered that philosophical question whilst cooking…