This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

2015 Travels July 30

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About two hundred metres from the caravan park are the Lightning Ridge Bore Baths.

Many of the park’s guests walked to the Baths, sometimes wearing their bathers, sometimes wearing clothes that hid more of the ravages of time. The ageing body is not a pretty sight in bathers – I am the first to admit it!

Lightning Ridge Bore Baths – Hot Artesian Spa

There is a string of several such bore baths across northern NSW. They are a real feature at Moree, where they are incorporated into at least one caravan park. Some travellers move from one lot to the next, especially where there is free or cheap camping nearby that enables them to stay for an extended period.

The basis of this popularity is the belief that such bore baths have beneficial or healing properties. The water is warm to hot and, coming from underground as it does, must contain a variety of minerals.

Mid-winter bathers

The artesian water of the bore baths is at least two million years old, in that it is that long since it fell as rain on the intake beds of the eastern highlands, and was absorbed to become groundwater.

The formation and movement of artesian water

In that time, it has moved through the various porous rock beds to places way beyond where it fell as rain. These vast areas of underground water make up the Great Artesian Basin.

Pioneering settlers discovered some places where this water came to the surface naturally – a clue as to what lay below. The mound springs found along the Oodnadatta Track come to mind here.

Map at the Baths showing extent of the Great Artesian Basin

In other places, the pioneers drilled bores down to the artesian waters of the Basin, and up the water came – in vast quantities. And – in some places – at extremely high temperatures, such as we found when we visited Purni Bore on the western edge of the Simpson Desert, in 1999.

The artesian bores watered stock. In some places the water was potable enough to supply drinking water for farms and even towns.

But much of the water that flowed from the thousands of bores that tapped into the Artesian Basin flowed away unused. It is now known that the stores of underground water have been significantly depleted and so bores are being capped, so their flow can be controlled or stopped. Environmentally, this helps conserve the stocks of underground water. However, in places the outflows from bores had created large wetland areas, attracting birds and other wildlife. The capping of some bores has eliminated those.

Sign at the Bore Baths

At Lightning Ridge in the early 1960’s, a group of local graziers sunk the bore and constructed the Bore Baths. The water in the baths is in the 37-41 degree range. Use of the Baths is free and they are open 24 hours a day, except for a couple of hours in the mornings when they are cleaned.

There are signs at the Bore Baths saying No camping. For obvious reasons, dogs are not allowed into the baths area.

For many of the opal miners on the fields around the town, this would have been their means of getting clean. It is only more recent that the facility has become an attraction for tourists.

As we were parked near the road to the Baths, I did notice that there was the occasional traffic to the baths, through the night.

The flow of this bore is now controlled, so the flow quantity is reduced, but there is still sufficient through flow to keep the waters hot and clean. By the caravan park fence that is closest to the Baths, there is a large dam, which I thought contained some of the outflow water from the Baths. This was directed off for use by miners in the dirt washing process that was part of opal mining.

Schematic showing effects of bore capping program

We did not partake of the waters. A sign at the entrance warned that people with heart conditions should not venture into water that hot. John eliminated! Even if the two open wounds on my leg did not preclude me, I didn’t find the idea of the baths all that attractive. This was quite illogical, because the through flow probably ensured they were cleaner than the local swimming pool where I used to do water aerobics. I had, in the past, dunked myself in well used watery places like Coward Springs on the Oodnadatta track, and Mataranka. Maybe, next visit, I would venture in?

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