Bus was trundled off to a local panel beater. John had previously checked out his work and pronounced it satisfactory.
Some time before, the passenger’s side front corner of Bus had an altercation with the corner of a brick retaining wall beside its parking area. The wall corner lurks beneath a bushy mass of grevillea, and there is not much room for error, on either side. When we originally built the parking bay for our caravan, a flat area had to be cut out of the sloping block, and the width of the cut was limited by the location of pipes to the house.
The result of John’s misjudgement was a scrape on the shiny metal surface of the bumper corner, and a bit of a ding in the Bus body behind that. Fortunately, vital parts like lights were not affected.
Slightly dinged front corner
As well, some of the dreaded Coaster rust had appeared under one of the back door windows. That had to go. The front corner would be fixed at the same time.
Bus was away for a few days. We were in no rush – better to have the job done thoroughly.
We were most impressed with the repairs. The man took photos of the work on the rust as it was done. He cut the rusted section out and replaced it. Even knowing it had been done, we could not tell by looking at it that there was ever anything wrong. Same with the front scrape, though the mark on the bumper remained as a bit of a tell-tale.
Repaired front corner. Bush hiding the ambushing fence corner in foreground.
So – a very pleasing outcome, and at a very reasonable price.
No sign of rust under window now
After Bus was collected, we drove home, loaded up the dog, and went for a drive through the hills, to Monbulk – just to make sure the cranking batteries were fully charged after sitting for a while at the workshop without the isolation switch in play.
To remind Couey that travel is good, we returned via Lilydale Lake and took her for a walk and a swim in the outlet creek. Back at home, I opened vents and windows to remove perfume of wet dog!
Next day, Bus was washed thoroughly with the pressure hose. We would not be likely to take it out again until summer is over, next year. The onset of hot weather ties us to garden watering and we do not like to be away during the fire season.
We had discussed taking Bus on a trip to Adelaide, this month, because John wanted to go there to watch his grandsons compete for the ACT in swimming championships. Decided that he would drive his car over, alone, stay in a caravan park cabin, and I would remain holding the fort – or at least the garden hose – at home.
So we put on the covering tarps to protect Bus from the elements and all the stuff that falls from the neighbours’ trees.
A few days after our return from NSW, the Practice Nurse pronounced my leg ulcers all healed up! I could even resume water aerobics in a couple of weeks. Travel had been good for me.
Springtime at home
Friend M had continued her adventuring in WA, after the Kimberley cruise. Whilst waiting for the second lot of repairs to the Troopy, in Kununurra, she met up with friends travelling up that way. One lady with a 4WD motorhome had room for an extra on their trip along the Gibb River Road, so M joined her. They managed to drown the Mercedes in a creek crossing that was deeper than it looked, while exploring a station track, so travelled to Derby with the retrieval truck. I wondered if she was a vehicle jinx on this trip! Fortunately, the damage was not too great and they returned to Kununurra, where M picked up the Troopy again. She then spent some months travelling in WA with those friends.
In early September an email from M told me that she’d had an incident at Morgan. They had stopped for a meal break at the pleasant riverside park, where we’d often stopped on our travels. She slipped walking down the grassy slope from the toilet block and sat down heavily – on her foot, which went crack and crunch. In much pain by the time they reached there for the night, the Mildura hospital decided it wasn’t broken, and despite discomfort she did, after a day’s rest, manage to drive home. Subsequent checks revealed a couple of hairline fractures to the ankle bone and two badly torn ligaments/tendons. I finally found someone who is worse than me on crutches! She was very happy when she eventually graduated to a moon boot, just in time to embark on a cruise to places like New Caledonia, with one of the ladies she sometimes travels with. On the second day out, they contracted the norovirus that was sweeping the ship and spent most of the rest of the cruise locked in a cabin, being fed bananas and boiled rice. Don’t think this was one of her better years.
John, who had been showing increasing interest in the idea of a cruise, decided then and there that he wasn’t paying good money just to get sick – it seemed that this virus was affecting a lot of the cruise ships operating in Australia this year. I wasn’t particularly interested in cruising – except for the Kimberley coast – so was quite happy that he dropped the idea.
Woodworking with grandson
A toothache that had been occasional whilst we were away gradually became more of a regular event. I parted company with a molar – not too many of those left, now…
John had yet another round of surgery to remove skin cancers on leg and a hand. The latter became infected and prevented him from bowling for several weeks. The man was not happy.
About 5am, Couey indicated, by nudging John and grunting, that she had an urgent need to be outside! Yesterday’s illicit snack had worked its way through her system and the results were not pretty. Nor easy to clean up after. But I did my best. John passed on that chore.
After that drama, John slept in a bit. Sleep had been vanquished, for me. I gave dog, who was now perfectly happy, a couple of runs in the enclosure, read and pottered about getting my breakfast, while we waited for him to arise. His sleep in was ok, as we had a much shorter distance to go today. He had done well to manage such long drives, until now, even if they were not actually required. Why do it the easy way?
Left the park at 9.40. There had been showers through the night, and it was a cool morning. There were more showers just after we crossed the border into Victoria – naturally.
We should have taken the truck route around Shepparton, but John had not set the GPS truck setting today and then didn’t believe me when I told him to turn onto the OD route. So we trundled through the traffic and got stopped at every possible set of lights.
I had been planning a coffee stop at Lake Nagambie. But since we last came this way, Nagambie had been bypassed and we sailed on by before even realizing.
Around Seymour, could see big cumulus clouds over the distant mountains. Quite pretty.
Cloud over the Great Dividing Range
Stopped in Yea for the usual bakery lunch. That was not a good move today. Note to self: avoid Yea lunch stop on Sundays. Especially Sundays in winter. The town was crowded – a local football match, tourists, a mass group of bikers, people on their way back from the snowfields. Lots and lots of vanners too.
There were no multi grain rolls left at the bakery, so I settled for a cheese and salad sandwich, which was not as easy to eat, as the filling went in all directions. John got the last pepper pie. We ended up eating standing up on the grassed central area, as all the tables and seats there were taken. It was 1pm when we left Yea, so we really had landed in there at peak lunch time.
Refuelled at the really easy to access servo at Glenburn. $1.229cpl. That meant the tank was still going to be quite full whenever we began our next trip.
Had a bit of an alarm at the servo. John noticed that the Terios parker lights were on, even though he said he’d turned the Bus lights off. He asked me to sort it while he went and paid for the fuel. I couldn’t turn the damned things off. Nothing worked, not even turning off the ignition key. I disconnected the bus-car power lead and put it back in again – and the parkers came back on. I was starting to wonder if we’d have to try disconnecting the car battery.
Then John came back and, as he walked around the front of Bus, he realized its parkers were on, after all – and the car was controlled from the Bus. He hadn’t turned them off at all, and I couldn’t tell from behind the Bus because the sun was shining directly on it. I was not impressed.
When we approached the corner of the Melba and Maroondah Highways, between Yarra Glen and Lilydale, the traffic lights facing us were red. There were a couple of motorbikes at the front, waiting to go, then a couple of cars, then us. We waited … and waited. An inordinate time. One bike took off through the red light. Then the car behind him moved up into that space – and the lights changed. For some reason, the two bikes would not trigger the lights.
Reached home at 2pm.
I thought I would put dog in the house and back yard whilst we unhitched the car in the street, then drove both into their parking places. Thought dog would be happy to explore her yard again. Not so. I had to work hard to drag her up the drive and into the house. Then ,while we were unhitching she was trying to jump the gates. No way was that Bus moving an inch without her on board! So out she came, and onto Bus. Once it was parked, we let her roam with us whilst we were unpacking, and she was happy.
It did not take long to get the remaining perishables, electronic gear, cameras, our medications and so on, into the house. That was it – another trip over, bar the washing. Almost six weeks away this time.
Hopefully, the worst of Melbourne’s winter was now over.
Nights away: 39
Kms travelled (Bus): 3314kms
Fuel Cost: $802.05
Accommodation cost: $1534.00
Savings through discounts: $151.50
Dearest accommodation: Broken Hill Tourist Park $42.30 pn
Just for interest I calculated an average for Bus fuel and accommodation per night of this trip. Came to $58.90. Then we spent extra money on fuel for the Terios, and – obviously – food and the like. As a contrast, when we set out on our full-time travel in 1998, we budgeted $400 a week to cover fuel, accommodation and living expenses, and managed comfortably. I think that, now, we’d need just about double that.
This morning, I took Couey for her morning walk, to the back area of the park where John had walked her yesterday. She suddenly made a great lunge away from me, pulled the lead from my hand and scarfed down something that sounded crunchy. A bone of some sort? She must have noted it, somehow, yesterday, because there was no preliminary investigation this morning. Could only wait and see if whatever it was upset her system. For a cattle dog, with dingo ancestry somewhere back in the breed, her system is remarkably intolerant of a range of things. Very much at odds with the instinct to scavenge.
Left the Forbes park at 8.55am. Wearing long trousers and polo tops now.
I noted for future reference the good looking dog walking areas by Lake Forbes.
Yesterday and today we saw lots of truck loads of hay going north – fodder for drought affected areas, we thought.
Today we were into more irrigated crop land and plenty of sheep and cattle grazing areas. The more arid mulga country was left well behind us yesterday.
We encountered one of those vanners who speeds as soon as a section of road with overtaking lanes is approached. Grrr. We’d come up behind him fairly quickly – a dead give away that we were going faster than him. We then tootled along behind him, at 70-80kms, for more than 15 minutes, until coming up to the overtaking section, when he suddenly speeded up. We did get past him, but had to use the whole length of a long overtaking section to do so, and just managed it. The, of course, we left him totally behind. Why do drivers feel the need to do that?
The GPS took us around the West Wyalong Truck Route. Very nice of it.
The damned fridge door sprang open again. A chunk of frozen meat fell out when it opened, scaring Couey, who apparently does not like meat airborne. Another quick stop for me to close it. Definitely going to have to install a strap fastener or something, at home.
Took a break at Narrandera, near the Information Centre. Couey had a good run in the park area there. Ate the sandwiches I’d made this morning.
I tried to persuade John that we could stop the night in Narrandera, but he was in get-home-fast mode, it seemed. I phoned the caravan park in Tocumwal, where he decided we’d aim for, and booked us in.
Refuelled in the town. $1.319. Getting steadily cheaper as we come south. My calculations showed we got 7kms to the litre on that tank of fuel. We’d had a tail wind for much of the last two days.
Crossed the Murrumbidgee, which was fairly low.
Stopped for a coffee break at the pleasant Bundure Rest Area. Quite an extensive area, in amongst trees.
Bundure Rest Area
John was tired, now, of course. We should have stopped at Narrandera. I drove the rest of the way to Tocumwal. Arrived at 2.50pm. Not quite such a long day as yesterday.
At the Tocumwal Caravan park paid $36 for an en-suite site, after discount. The site was drive through – a bonus, and we could keep the car on the back. The en-suite was adequate, but a fairly flimsy transportable unit, so starting to show wear and tear. It was almost impossible to get the door to close, for example.
This park had a dog run area, fenced, where dogs could run off lead. It was not a huge area, but long and narrow, along the side fence, an area that would otherwise just be lawn and garden. The run was clean too – a bin was provided inside. We could throw the ball for Couey and she could gallop around. This was an excellent facility and I wished more caravan parks would adopt it.
Dog run at Tocumwal caravan park
John napped for the rest of the afternoon. The dog too, after her first, long gallop about.
I walked to the shops in the main street and found an IGA supermarket that had the Saturday Age and Weekend Australian. Wonderful! My reading matter for the rest of the day and night.
I cooked John fish and fries for tea. I was not very hungry – the effect of long travel days, so just had a few fries and an egg.
Departure day could not be delayed any longer, much as we were thoroughly enjoying our time here. There were medical appointments to keep, at home, in four days’ time.
Left the caravan park at 9am. Fuelled up in town. $1.389 cpl. Headed roughly south again.
The day was warm. The were wearing the t-shirts and shorts that had been weather appropriate for the past few weeks, but wondering if we’d need to rug up before the day was out.
Between the Ridge and Walgett, we were passed by a smallish, European made, lightweight van, heading north. It was swaying from side to side really badly, on the uneven road. I would not have liked to be towing it!
Near Walgett, we picked up truckies’ talk on the CB radio, about a caravan jack-knifed by “the bridge”. We didn’t see anything amiss as we went through town. Thought it might have been out on the Brewarrina road, where there is a series of bridges.
On the uneven road between Walgett and Coonamble, the fridge door suddenly swung open. We had to stop so I could close it. That had never happened before. On our very first trip in Bus, the spring on the freezebox door broke away; since then, the little door was held shut by the main fridge door, and stayed shut when I was delving into the fridge – didn’t really need the spring. However, it seemed that now on the rough surface, the couple of blocks of frozen meat that were still in there had shifted and forced both doors open, even though the fridge door was latched. On the way again, we discussed whether we’d need to install some sort of extra closing device before our next trip.
Took a coffee break (using the trusty thermos of hot water) in Coonamble, at the very pleasant rest area there, where there was plenty of parking.
Taking a break at Coonamble
We had seen seas of yellow canola flowers along the road verges and in some of the paddocks.
Near Gilgandra, the distant Warrumbungles were hazy in the heat.
Had lunch in Gilgandra. I had originally thought this would be tonight’s destination, given that John often tires easily. But he was feeling fine and wanted to go on, so we stopped in one of the parking areas beside the Windmill Walk.
Windmill Walk Gilgandra
Dog and I had a pleasant short walk along part of this. As we ate our sandwiches, admired the big old trees beside the Castlereagh River.
Castlereagh River Gilgandra
South of Gilgandra we started to see more and more roadside wattles in bloom, which added cheer to the day.
We were stopped – naturally – for roadworks. After all, we were on the Newell Highway! As we waited for the lady with the Stop/Go sign to let us move, I noticed something new to me. On the edge of the bitumen, near where she had taken up her station, was a white painted stick figure. No room for misunderstanding about her position, then!
At Dubbo, John was all for continuing on to Parkes, so I phoned a caravan park there and booked us onto a site for tonight. In preparation for today, I had not done any research into parks further south than Gilgandra, so had no idea about the quality of the park I phoned, but it did have en-suite sites.
Refuelled at Peak Hill. $1.365cpl.
The Dish near Parkes
When we went to book in, John came in too. He heard the man on Reception tell the lady in front of me that they were in a TV black spot, so he hoped TV wasn’t important to her. John announced we were not staying here – and walked out. I apologized to the man. Not much else I could do. Hell – it was only for one night, but you can’t separate an addict from his screen.
Back onto the highway and on to the next town Forbes. It was 4.30pm when we reached the Big 4 Holiday Park there. Yes, they told John, they did have TV in the park, but no available en-suite site. The addict was happy, me less so. They gave us a site right by the amenities block, where we could keep the car hitched onto Bus. Very helpful staff. Our powered site cost $30.60 after discount.
There was a small grassed area at the back of the park where John was able to give Couey a run.
It had been a long day’s travel. Not recommended for the health of my leg. I was surprised at how well John had held up.
We had happy hour drinks with a couple parked nearby, who were going north to Qld. Very pleasant people and it was after dark when we went back to our respective rigs.
Tea was simple: pasta with a stir through sauce from a jar.
John watched cricket. Obviously of importance to him, even though Australia had already lost the series.
Across both of our stays at Lightning Ridge, this year, I had been amazed at the number of different “breeds” of caravan there are, these days. They just seem to have suddenly proliferated. There were so many brands I had never heard of, or seen before. Guess if I bought magazines or went to shows, I would know more. But I had wondered, as dog and I walked around the park, and gazed at yet another new name, how many of these brands will still be being manufactured in, say, five years? It is, I suppose, evidence of the market growth as the baby boomers hit retirement age and invest in rigs to go travelling.
In the morning, before the day’s influx of new rigs
The modern trend was, obviously, away from the sterile white van cladding towards silver, black, with lots of multi-coloured decals and general bling. One can only hope that the quality of the build and finish on a lot of these matches the external hype.
I wondered what it was like inside the mainly black vans, on a hot day?
I’d like to know what this shrub is
Another evident trend is towards increasingly larger vans. They need to be, of course, to contain the multiple lounges, large two door refrigerators, washing machines, on-board bathroom and separate toilet room, that seem to be the keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ items of now. I heard one van owner boasting of his dishwasher!
With a bathroom like this, who needs to tow one?
It is just a pity that some of these large van owners are not all that adept at towing same. At the Opal, all the sites are drive through. You would think that getting a van onto such a site would be an easy undertaking, but it was surprising how many drivers managed to mess it up. Some swung out too wide and ended up well over into the next site – time for a go-round. Or they forgot to allow room for their awning to go out – oops, time for a go-round.
One guy pulled into a site over from us, went through all the unhitching rigmarole, then thought to check the back of his van, which was almost two metres still out in the roadway. But he had plenty of room to park his 4WD in front of his van, instead of the usual at the side!
The en-suite sites had the additional complication of the little building to the side of the site. We saw one driver try to remove his awning by driving too close to the overhang.
Not exactly difficult to park on…
Some of these people must have enormous issues when they have to actually back onto a site.
It was not just caravans that have succumbed to the “big” syndrome. I saw some very large motorhome buses come in, usually towing a large enclosed trailer with car, trail bikes, sometimes with a boat on a frame on the trailer top. All eventualities catered for! The drive-through sites of the Opal cater for these behemoths, even though occasional ones needed two sites to put all their additional gear on, but a lot of parks don’t.
The Coaster feels like the poor cousin of such rigs. But I bet we use a hell of a lot less fuel. In the same way, our previous Trakmaster caravan was tiny, compared to the king sized fancy vans, but I bet we got that van into places they never even dream of.
The poor cousin…
One day I did lose my cool with the inept driver of one rig, and he didn’t even have an excessively large van.
The Opal has a designated check in lane for new arrivals, with enough roadway beside this to cater for residents driving in and out. It is well done. One enters the park across a cement culvert over a big drain. The culvert is easily wide enough for two vehicles to pass side by side.
On this day, I was coming back from a hunting and gathering expedition to the IGA, about lunch time. There was a queue of new arrivals, such that the check in lane was full with three or four rigs, and there were another three or four parked at the side of the road, waiting to enter. One side of the culvert top was occupied by a 4WD and camper trailer, waiting to check in. And there was a rig whose driver hadn’t booked ahead, and thus had to go try find somewhere else with a powered site to stay. He had driven into the park from the check in lane and turned around, as they do, but faced with the rig on the culvert, decided there wasn’t room for him to pass it. So he stopped, right at the entrance – no room for anyone to come past him from behind. And behind him were half a dozen residents’ cars, waiting to drive out. And out in the roadway, with my right turn indicator going was me, stopped, blocking my lane of the road, waiting… and waiting… and waiting. Whilst about four lots of new arrivals were checked in and moved off. The clown had no spatial judgement whatsoever. There was plenty of room for him to pass the parked trailer, and then some. In fact, it took me a while to realize that the reason he was stopped was because he thought there wasn’t space. I thought he must have broken down, at first. After a good ten minutes of this stalemate, the rig parked next to him moved forward and a Terios sized space was created between him and the next parked rig, through which I could weave. Not exactly legal, but…. As I got level with him, I did ask what the hell he thought he was doing, creating such a snarl up – or words to that effect. When he replied there wasn’t room, I said one could drive the Queen Elizabeth through that opening! Well, it was hot and I had melty things in my groceries….so I was cross. After that, he did indeed inch his painful way very slowly out to the road – with a good metre of space on either side to spare. Wonder where he got his licence?
During the time we were at Lightning Ridge, John played bowls a couple of times. He won the first prize on one of these occasions: $20 worth of vouchers that could be redeemed at a selection of local businesses, including the Bowls Club itself, for drinks and food.
Seen on my morning walk
Having a meal out was a rare occurrence for us, both at home and when we travel. This was partly because there were only a few decent eateries close to home. But mainly it was my own damn fault because John says I cook better meals than he can get elsewhere.
We do have an excellent local café, at a nearby native plant nursery. It does lunches only, so I tended to meet friends there for lunch, on occasion.
This is a very dog friendly park
When we are having travelling days, John likes to buy lunches of the not-good-for-him variety: pies, pasties, sausage rolls. I don’t eat such things, but am happy to go for a good cheese and salad roll, or a subway with roasted vegetables.
During our time at Lightning Ridge, we bought pizza for tea one night. The smells coming from the wood-fired pizza van at Opal Fest had been reminiscent of our pizza oven at home, and oh-so-tempting. But the wait was too great on the day in question.
About a week later, John suggested pizza for tea. He was even prepared to drive and pick them up. So he ordered his usual hot and spicy choice and I requested a vegetarian one. I expected that the mushroom, zucchini, eggplant etc mentioned in the menu as topping for this, would have been chargrilled first. But, no, they had been put raw on top, before the pizza was cooked. While the result was much more al dente than I’d anticipated, it was strangely nice. John had bad indigestion all through the night.
In a week when we were not doing much except relaxing at camp, John suggested we lunch at the Bowls Club, to use up his prize vouchers. The Club is the main venue in town for eating out, the other being the place that makes the pizzas. There is not a hell of a lot of choice.
Given its status as the main foodie place in town, and that it had been the venue for the big, important Opal Fest Dinner, I was anticipating a very nice lunch. The atmosphere in the dining room was similar to that of a pub bistro, at home. The menu matched!
The service was abysmal. We stood at the counter for about five minutes before one young woman interrupted her conversation with the other staff, about her social life and friends, in order to slouch over and take our orders.
I had salt and pepper squid. Adequate, but I suspected it had come pre-coated and frozen from a catering pack. John had beer battered flathead, which looked identical to what I had served him, a couple of weeks, previous, from a frozen packet bought at the IGA. He said it tasted similarly of sawdust. The chips were nice. Before you think that it is hard to mess up pre-prepared frozen chips, a cautionary tale. I once left daughter and son, then aged 18 and 16, to fend for themselves whilst I attended a conference. My father kept an overall eye on them from his flat in our backyard. Son complained about the first meal daughter attempted – sausages and chips. Turned out that no-one (meaning me) had ever told her you were supposed to heat the cooking oil before putting in the chips! Never assume…
Part of our morning perimeter walk
At least the eating out gesture had been made. The vouchers had been used. The sadly pedestrian meals had not cost us much.
We would repeat the pizza meal another time, although John might choose a less fiery option, but I couldn’t see us going back to the Club to dine – ever.
Hebel is a very small village, some 70kms from Lightning Ridge. It is in Qld, just across the border. One activity promoted by the tourism brochures at Lightning Ridge is to go for a day trip to Hebel and have lunch there at the General Store.
We had passed through Hebel, on our 2009 trip north, but decided today to go for a drive up there and have a look at a couple of other places on the way.
Hebel began as a Cobb and Co staging point in the latter part of the 1800’s. Like many other villages along the border, it also became a customs duty collecting point, back in the days before Federation, when each State ran its own Customs and Excise laws. That function disappeared after 1901, when the new Australian Government took it over and ensured uniformity of these levies across the nation.
Since then, Hebel continued its existence as a small service centre for surrounding pastoral properties. The sealing of the Castlereagh Highway north to Hebel in the 1970’s laid the basis for it to become a tourist route.
Local lore has it that some members of the bushranging Kelly Gang lived in the area under assumed names – and Hebel’s original name was Kelly’s Point.
We first heard of the village in 2005, when we worked with a man who had, for a time, owned the General Store.
We took advantage of a pleasant, fairly sunny day for our trip.
Not long after turning north on the highway, I noticed what looked like a well trafficked gravel road, angling off to the NW, named Lone Pine Road. I wondered if it was the way to the Coocoran diggings, which we had never visited. Then the Nine Mile and Ten Mile diggings of the original Lightning Ridge diggings were on the right of the highway. We could see the Nettletons First Shaft area, up on a low ridge.
Maps show the large Lake Coocoran to the west of the highway and I wanted to go have a look at that, thinking there would maybe be water birds to watch. We turned off onto a promising looking dirt track. A little way in, it ended at a locked gate. We followed another track. In the distance, the lake appeared, looking as though it was full of reeds. I could see no open water.
Our final track following attempt ended up being a power pole upkeep track, also ending at a locked gate.
Following tracks that went nowhere
We had to be careful on those tracks as there was Hudson Pear growing beside some of them, and the thorns on those can go through a car tyre, let alone a human foot.
From a distance this plant looks deceptively pretty, but it is a major pest.
Not a bush to blunder into!
Back on the highway, noticed that on most areas of slight rises in the land, there were signs of little exploration drills having been done, for opal. Wonder how long it will be before the next big find in the area?
The rises were separated by a series of dry floodways with depth markers. There is a series of swamps and channels, trending to the SW, that obviously fill in flood times. Lake Coocoran is part of that chain, as is, I think, the Narran Lakes further down.
Turned off the highway to go see Angledool, another place where there were once some opal diggings. Apparently it was also called New Angledool, but I have no idea where the old one was.
As we turned off the highway to the east, there had been a sign saying opals for sale but we saw no further directions to same, or indications of any commercial activity of any sort in the area. It was a strange little locality – a few lived-in houses and a number of empty ones. We saw two churches, but no indications that either is still used.
Stopped at the old hall, a fascinating structure, now derelict but still photogenic.
It had an unusual roofline – a hump running the length of the roof centre. A couple of old post and rail parts of the fence might once have been hitching rails for horses.
It was hard to work out what it was made from, apart from the obvious corrugated iron of the roof – maybe a form of mud bricks? Sad to see it falling apart, but I guess that is a story repeated many times over in settlements across the nation, made redundant by modern transport and farming developments.
A sad picture of abandonment
Gave Couey a run and ball chase on a track beside the old hall, That started dogs on the nearby farm barking, Oops.
Decided Angledool is really spooky.
Deserted old house at Angledool
On to Hebel. A bot before the border, the road crosses several channels, one or two of which could make for pleasant bush camping locations.
Couldn’t see much change in the village, since our last visit. The hotel had a few cars parked outside but was not exactly doing a roaring trade.
Across the road, the General Store had been prettied up a bit more, was all, We went in and had a browse in there. About a dozen people were eating out on the veranda dining area. The Store info emphasized the home made food that it sells. John had been highly anticipating getting a lovely home made pie for lunch, but did not like the look of the ones on offer – most unusual for him. He got an ice cream. I bought a bottle of mineral water and a stubby holder.
The General Store and associated businesses – motel and small caravan park – were for sale, priced at $520,000, because the owners had been there for nearly twelve years and wanted to retire. It seemed to me almost totally dependent on passing traffic and this would be seasonal in nature. The Castlereagh Highway is not really one of the main north-south routes. To me, it would not be an attractive place to live.
Hebel General Store
We walked around the Historical Circle display, featuring historic facts about Hebel, trying to make the most of what there is. Example being the information about the old bottle dump that used to be by the hotel. This was so big that it was a navigation aid on the Sydney-HongKong plane route!
Hebel Hotel Bottle Heap
The historical display was quite well done and worth the browse around.
An interesting perspective…
Drove the very short distance to the Bokhara River picnic area, with its adjacent free camping area right by the river, and quite attractive. There were a couple of vans set up there and another pulled in while we were eating our packed sandwiches. The picnic area was very pleasant.
Couey had to stay in the car though. I did not want wet dog in the car and there was no way we would be able to keep her out of the river. Took her for a short walk on the lead and she just kept trying to lunge and pull me towards the water.
While we ate lunch, chatted with some other travellers who were returning south after a trip to Cape York. They had taken a commercial tour up the Cape, from Cairns. Said they were relly glad they had not tried to take their own 4WD, as the roads were atrocious.
Rabbits not welcome in Qld!
On the way back to Lightning Ridge, took the turnoff on Lone Pine Road. Passed a couple of homesteads and some big fat sheep. The road deteriorated quite badly. It had previously been driven on whilst wet and had dried with big, deep, ruts. There were a couple of vague tracks leading off it. After maybe 7 or 8 kms, we turned around. I was pretty sure it did go to diggings, but there were no signs to same so presumably visitors were not welcome. I could see why the Visitor Centre in town did not have any information about it.
Our day out to Hebel was also our wedding anniversary. John didn’t realize.
Before we’d left home, John had me download all the twenty one e-books I am allowed at one time to borrow from my local library. This was done using our home broadband with its huge data allowance (because of John’s penchant for World of Warcraft). My books stay accessible for three weeks, after that they get “expired” and cannot be read.
Our Telstra mobile plan allowed us 8Gb of data downloading per month. After that, we still had access but at a very slow speed. When we were away in 2013 we used the internet for the usual emails, my checking of some forums I followed. I downloaded books as needed, and John played his games. The data allowance lasted just fine.
This trip, John was using his new-ish tablet to take some photos and was still messing about learning its operations. I didn’t pay much attention – one of his toys.
Someone unhappy because her sleeping space occupied by a TV viewer
When we checked into the caravan park here, there was a sign to the effect that their Wifi access was kaput and they were waiting on a repair person. So the usual “free” daily hour of access for guests was not available. We didn’t normally use this anyway, so it wasn’t an issue.
I began to have trouble downloading my emails. Like – a Send/Receive could take 45 minutes. I don’t have that many emails… I complained about this once or twice to the technocrat husband, who brushed off my complaints as being due to my supposed technical incompetence.
I then assumed, given the park’s problems, that it might be a general town issue, somehow.
A couple of days after my latest complaint, John opened up his laptop to check if he needed to enter anything on the club bowls website that he was running. Things did not work as they should. Suddenly, it was no longer just my issue. He checked to see how much of our data allowance had been used. Shock! Horror! All gone!
I pleaded innocence. And more innocence. I hadn’t downloaded any more books. Etc. John didn’t think HE had used his laptop all that much, to date, on the trip. Eventually, he thought to check the tablet and worked out that some setting had been left turned on, that resulted in heaps of data allowance being gobbled up. The red face wasn’t mine…
Just an interesting sky
So we faced the prospect of more than two weeks before the next data allocation started. Our emails would be grindingly slow to download – if they did so at all. Forget any other function using the internet. At one stage I wanted to check out a caravan park website; nup, wouldn’t download.
Even worse, my three week e-book expiry time came and went on my e-reader. No more books. Fortunately, I had stockpiled some regular paper books, bought with Xmas vouchers “just in case”. So I went back to reading the old fashioned way, which I kind of preferred, but which is costly at the speed I read.
Eventually, and much frustration later, John decided that the ultra-slow speed of our attempted data access was much slower than it should have been, under the terms of hius contract. He phoned Telstra. (It has been rare that a trip goes by without him having to contact the telco about something). It was agreed that, yes, things should not have been that slow. They would be adjusted. But what actually happened was that we seemed to immediately get restored to totally normal access. Nice Mr Telstra. We were just regretful that John hadn’t done that ten days earlier.
Apart from lessons to be learned about the use of “gadgets”, it was a rather thought provoking exercise on how dependent we had become on internet access. At least when we thought we should have it. I could quite happily go off camping somewhere remote and not even think about emails, or whatever. But in this scenario, there was a real sense of deprivation. Hmmm…
The Grawin is the name given to a series of opal fields some 70kms west of Lightning Ridge by road. They were mostly developed slightly later than the fields around the Ridge.
There are actually four general opal fields of The Grawin, though each has localities within it: the Grawin and Glengarry which have been mined almost as long as Lightning Ridge; Sheepyard which dates from about 1985 and is the most southerly; and Mulga Rush, the newest, dating from 1999. The best of the black opal is found out there. One piece, about the size of a fist, was named “The Light of the World”.
Some say that the Grawin area is like Lightning Ridge used to be, back in the “old days”. That comment is usually made quite nostalgically.
There are three drinking establishments at the Grawin fields: the Club in the Scrub, which is adjacent to the very rough golf course, hence the “Club”. There is the Glengarry Hilton, ironically named. The Sheepyard Inn is the most distant of the three.
There is a small general store, of sorts, at the Grawin. And that’s about it – apart from lots of holes in the ground, many miner’s camps which are mostly ramshackle affairs, some very large dumps of waste dirt from the mining process, and a maze of tracks connecting the camps and diggings. There are none of the modern amenities or services of Lightning Ridge – nor any formal law enforcers – and it seems that those who live out here like it that way.
We headed out of town to the highway. Stopped at the highway corner to inspect the tarted-up “agi” that is the feature of the welcome signs. An agi is an old cement mixer, used to wash the opal dirt and so make separating out any opal bearing rock easier. There are lots of these on the fields.
Noticed a little informal memorial around the back. Very much Lightning Ridge style…
It was only a few kms down the highway to our next stop – Stanley the emu. This is a very large sculpted emu, the creation of artist John Murray, whose gallery is in town and whose iconic works often features stylized emus. Stanley is a true creature of Lightning Ridge, being crafted from “stuff” found about the place, including car doors.
Over the road from Stanley is the modern rest stop and free camping area.
Rest stop and free camp area
Then we turned onto the Cumborah road. The country was quite green, the dams were full, and there was quite a bit of surface water lying around. Someone had earlier told us that the green of the country was deceptive – that some earlier rain had caused the weeds to grow and there was not a great deal of proper feed yet – in that sense, the drought is still on.
By one stock grid was a sign saying “farmed goats” – presumably to stop some people thinking the goats were feral, and shooting them. Could see the any tree foliage in the goat paddocks was cut off in a neat, dead-straight line, at about reaching height for a goat.
Travelled through a variety of landscapes: grazing land, crop land, cypress pine woodland, mulga country. It is a varied and interesting drive.
Cumborah village appeared a battling little township that consisted of some occupied houses and a few farm related services. We turned to the north here and some 13kms later came to the turnoff to the Grawin. The sealed road ended at this point.
A few kms along the dirt road we turned off to follow a track through the golf course to the Club in the Scrub.
Golf course at the Grawin
Browsed about in the building, reading notices and looking at old photos.
The Club in the Scrub
John saw a man leaving with a box of freshly cooked chips that smelled great, so we ordered a $6 box. Lunch! I paid $10 for a laminated mud map of the fields, produced by a local guy called Duck. The man behind the bar was careful to tell me that the route it showed through the fields was not accurate, that some left turns should be right ones. I couldn’t quite follow his explanation, but figured that any map was better than none. According to the GPS unit in the Terios, we were driving through featureless paddocks out here!
On the Grawin weather rock
While we waited for our chips, watched a handful of local ladies playing bingo.
Sign points to the through road
A noticeable feature of some claims beside the track through the Grawin was the vacuum pumps positioned above the shafts – to suck up the dirt from below, as opposed to loading it onto some sort of hoisting machine. High tech on the fields!
We stopped at the big waste dumps at Mulga Rush.
Mulga Rush dump heaps
Only dump trucks allowed up there
John walked up to have a bit of a fossick on the heaps up top. I took Couey for a short walk, complete with muzzle, which she hates, but one doesn’t know what might be around out here.
View from the top
Then she went back into the car and I walked up to the top of the current dump and took some photos.
Noodling on the dumps
There were a few other people – all tourists, I think – scrabbling around up there, too. John did not stay long.
Roads every which way
We drove on towards Sheepyard Flat and stopped at the War Memorial on the way.
It was really well done – just in the scrub, overlooking a small lake which was probably once a washing dam.
The Memorial commemorates all of the conflicts that Australians have fought in.
Continued on to the Sheepyard Inn. This has made itself into rather a commemorative place for Vietnam War veterans. The emphasis on this suggested that a number of vets have fetched up in the mining camps of the area. Inside what is essentially a large shed, there are several large whiteboards where visiting vets record their names and numbers. There was a surprisingly large number of such records posted.
Having stopped there, we felt the need to patronize the place. John had a beer. I bought a can of Coke and wandered about, taking photos.
The area was an absolute maze of tracks.
The density of claims and shacks on them, in this area, was quite high.
Some of the vehicles we saw being driven around the tracks here were testament to a relaxed attitude to some laws, in these parts. Roadworthiness or registration were not always a priority, it seemed.
A sign at a track corner “Cars with brakes give way” may well have been intended as more serious than just a joke.
We got lost after leaving Sheepyard. Turned left when should have turned right. After about ten minutes driving, realized we were out of the mining area and heading south. U-turned and got ourselves onto the right track after an unintended tour of downtown Sheepyard. There were some mean gutters and ditches across the tracks around Sheepyard. Guess it kept speeds down.
When we were driving through these fields, they all appear flat but they, in fact, follow a long, low, shallow ridge.
We did not go into the Glengarry Hilton. A number of day trippers have lunch there, but we’d had our chips earlier. I was now going to take the sandwiches I’d made for lunch, back to the Bus, to toast for tea.
Back on our 2013 trip here, we had gone out to the Grawin several times for John to fossick on the dumps. Little appeared to have changed in the intervening time. It was still an interesting day out and one I would do again, on any future trip, just because there is so much to look at, and it is so unique.