Thursday, September 27, 2012

27 September 2012 - Buronga Riverside Caravan Park, Sunraysia, NSW

This morning was spent attending to practical maintenance issues, or at least by Chris: flushing out the caravan drainage system, vehicle washing, changing the water filter, all jobs where I could be of little assistance.

Further discussion brought us to yet another decision; to stay a couple more days so we could enjoy the first of the ten days of Music Festival, or Country Muster, as some say. So we walked up to the office, dodging the lines of caravans streaming in, considering the possibility of extending our stay to be diminishing by the minute. Sure enough we could not stay on at this site however we could have another powered site for one night. We had already decided to stay another two if possible, and so elected to take an unpowered site for the two nights. We were given a road cone and “Reserved” sign to place in our designated spot, which we duly did.

It was close enough to lunch time by the time all was done and dusted so we unpacked our picnic and consumed it inside, not for the first time.

After lunch we headed across the river into Mildura, picked up one of the last copies of the newspaper before hunting out the art gallery. The Mildura Art Centre is situated adjacent to the Rio Vista Historic House, the second residence of the father of Mildura, W B Chaffey, his two wives and eight children. It should be noted that the wives were not concurrent, but the second, the niece of the first, took over the reins in more ways than one when Mrs Chaffey 1st died of pneumonia soon after childbirth. Interestingly they were both named Hattie, and the second of these lived long and faithfully caring for this grand house until her death in 1950. The house was immediately purchased by the council for the purposes of an art gallery, however in more recent times a modern extension to the building has served to house the artworks and the house is there as a heritage piece, an artworks in its own right.

Chris was particularly taken with the redecoration of the house, the wallpapered ceilings and walls, with their intricate corners and all the complications a painter and decorator could possibly be faced with. He advised both the receptionist and I that it had been carried out with much skill. There is still much more work to be done however Chris was not keen to offer his services. He is retired after all.

We drove on a few kilometres down river to visit the Old Mildura Station Homestead. This is in fact a recreation of the first station established by the Jamieson brothers in 1847, later purchased by the Chaffey’s, on the high banks above the Murray River.

Actually the European genesis of the station is not quite as simple as that. In 1847, one Francis Jenkins swam 900 cattle and ten horses across the river from New South Wales to this site. Believing he had settled in South Australia, he travelled to Adelaide to register his selection. Meanwhile the Jamiesons obtained a “Depasturing Licence” for leasehold from Melbourne and took the property instead.

We were appreciative of the many interpretative panels explaining the history of the region, the paddle steamers of the river system and the irrigation scheme, which is more than I can say for one woman who entered one of the buildings while we were absorbing this mountain of information. “More bloody reading!” she said. “I’ve had enough!” Obviously she is not a keen would-be historian such as we are.

From the homestead site, we could see the lock on the river and so we decided to explore this too. With the river as high as it is, it came as no surprise that the lock is not currently in use. We walked crossed the Lock Island to the weir and found that it too was not in use, in fact the huge structural pieces of this were all stacked up on the island. We wondered how this was installed when required; perhaps with very heavy machinery?

We stood and looked at the volume of water in the river at this spot and that a little downstream where the Mildura Homestead stood and considered the crossing of all Jenkin’s livestock. We hoped the water levels had been less in that particular year.

The lock is one of the many on the river, this completed in 1927.

From here we returned to the vehicle and to camp. The temperature had soared to its forecasted 36 degrees, the morning having started with a slightly barmier 17 degrees. How the temperatures fluctuate here. Each day is a “what to wear?” dilemma.

At 4 pm we were ready with our chairs and bottles of water and on our way across to Frog’s Hollow, the camp common. This afternoon we all had been invited by singer Graeme Smart who is here no doubt to entertain at the festival, to a free concert. Clouds gathered as he struck the first chord, thunder rumbled from afar as he started on his second ballad and lightening danced about our heads by the fifth one. Half an hour into the programme, the heavens opened and we all fled back to our caravans carrying our furniture. 

Obviously he and his wife managed to safely cover their electronics, because the music recommenced once the storm had passed. We chose to listen from the caravan having already started preparing for dinner.

Tomorrow we will pack up in a cursory manner and shift across the park to a more informal posse before setting off into the city centre to make the most of the free entertainment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

26 September 2012 - Buronga Riverside Caravan Park, Sunraysia, NSW

We continued to discover other positive facets of this park this morning when Chris had to use the dump site; he said it is the best we have ever had occasion to use. You can see that we cannot sing the praises of this caravan park enough!

A rather hideous "houseboat"
And so buoyed by the wonders of the area, we drove across the border and parked near the Mildura wharf, a spot we can actually see from our caravan site here in New South Wales. There we marvelled at a houseboat tied nearby, an absolute eyesore. The occupant makes the most of tourist curiosity having placed a donation point for those visiting, looking at or photographing his abode. Later we saw a couple of police wandering about inspecting the area but really there is little one can do; no harm is being done.

And speaking of police, as we pulled out on to the bridge approach this morning, we noted a police road block for those coming from the Mildura side. No doubt the line went something like, “Welcome to New South Wales. Please state your name and address into this breathalyser!”

Leaving the land cruiser down by the river, we walked up into the city centre and wandered up and down every street, looking for a barber and spending more money on clothes (for me), a newspaper and a DVD. Don’t you just love it when you go to pay for clothes that are already marked down to an excellent price and then find the till price is even 33% cheaper! I should have bought two or three pairs!

We did finally find a barber who offered no concessions for seniors or any other specialty. You can guarantee they would not be doing so during the Music Festival either. Think of all those old codgers coming out of the bush requiring some grooming; the barber will be rubbing his hands together with glee.

Returning to the vehicle, glad that we had parked away from the centre of the city where an eager parking metre officer was busy handing out tickets, we set off across the city, upriver to Kings Billabong, where we parked up and ate our lunch looking out over the wildlife reserve struggling to decipher the drowned tree stumps from the large water birds.

The billabong, or lake, is bordered by a wide stretch of the Murray River and is home to a multitude of flora and about  a hundred different species of birds. It was this body of water which was chosen by the Chaffey brothers as the central water supply to establish the Mildura Irrigation Settlement. By 1891, a pumping engine was installed at Psyche Bend to pump water up into the billabong, which in turn was pumped up to the higher level of the surrounding country for irrigation. The original plan was to develop irrigated lands covering 22,000 hectares with an ultimate goal of 115,000 hectares.

I have mentioned these Chaffey brothers in the context of irrigation before when we passed through Renmark; it was here they began their grand design. It was Alfred Deakin, then Victoria’s Minister for Water Supply who found these two geniuses in Canada in the mid-1880s and lured them to Australia.

Sadly the 1890s were years of drought and depression and the promised cornucopia springing from this new-fangled irrigation system did not meet everyone’s expectations. George Chaffey was virtually run out of town but his brother stayed to receive the praise and glory to which they were entitled, once everyone got over those bad years and could see the bigger picture. Charles did go on to create successful schemes elsewhere in the world and as a consolation prize here, the bridge we cross here from state to state has been named the George Chaffey Bridge.

But back to the billabong: we wandered down to the water’s edge after dining and fell into conversation with a teenage fisherman from the “Highlands”. He was up at Mildura with his parents staying on a houseboat while his father attended some art workshop and his mother sat in the shade reading a book. From this charming young man we learned much about carp, koy carp, red perch, bait, rigor mortis versus death twitching in fish and a multitude of other fascinating facts and thoughts. While rather obsessive about all fishing matters, he exhibited intelligence, courtesy and renewed our faith in the youth of today.

We then drove over to the Psyche Pumps, the buildings erected for the irrigation system referred to above and wandered about these delightful river side spots. There was a marker showing the height of the 1956 flood which has gone down in the annuls of Mildura history as far more spectacular than those of the past few years. In 1956 this camp would have been well beneath the muddy Murray waters for sure.

We wended our way along a maze of river tracks until we came to a car park for the Bird Hide Loop Walk, a three and a half kilometres easy walk across the billabong flood plains. While inside the hide, rain started to fall heavily on the tin roof. I assured Chris it would soon pass, he agreed it surely would in a day or so; I was proved correct. Even minutes later, there was no evidence of the rain on the ground or the vegetation. 

Psyche Bend pumphouse
We returned via a series of further river tracks, passing through great areas of vineyards and returned to camp passing through Mildura. It has indeed been another excellent day.

And just to put these places in perspective and record here for my future reference:

Mildura has a population of about 28,500 which varies depending on what source you use. Its regional population is around 60,000 which explains the complete services to be found within the urban boundary. The town is just fifty metres above sea level which is particularly interesting when you think how far the Murray River still has to flow before it arrives in the Southern Ocean, this explaining its slow progress.
The major industries include agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and retail. The Mildura region grows the following percentages of Australia’s fresh produce:
  • ·         95% dried vine fruit    (Think of Sunraysia raisins)
  • ·         74% table grapes
  • ·         65% almonds
  • ·         41% pistachios
  • ·         33% olives
  • ·         24% citrus
  • ·         20% wine grape harvest
  • ·         16% asparagus
  • ·         11% carrots

Wentworth on the other hand, our point of contact with the Murray just days ago, has a population of just 1,248 and is at an elevation of 37 metres ASL (another interesting thought when it comes to the fall in the river)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

25 September 2012 - Buronga Riverside Caravan Park, Sunraysia, NSW

And tonight we are back in New South Wales!

And more than that, how fickle this all is! So let me speak to that: to excuse our random behaviour more than most, you need to understand the great fuzz that is hovering over all of our otherwise sensible travel plans. 

We are keen to set off west to explore Western Australia but are also cognoscente of the sultry heat of the north during the southern summer months and the fact that much of the northern reaches are frequently cut off by the rains during that period. We are also aware that the distance required to cover this expansive area, through both Western Australia and the Northern Territory, are not to be sniffed at nor to be duplicated in an irresponsible manner. And then in the middle of that, we have a family engagement to which we have been summoned back in New Zealand, initially understood to be in mid-January 2013. Based on that we committed ourselves to spending Christmas with our oldest daughter and her family, she being our one particular “child” who cherishes Christmas beyond our own personal adherence. We subsequently learned that the Special January Occasion is likely to be celebrated in February to fit with genuinely important considerations, which would have triggered a later return to New Zealand rather than the commitment for Christmas. However a commitment is a commitment, and at this stage apart from that, we are still in the dark as to what date we can expect to return to recommence our travel. All of this wafting about, totally self-inflicted because of our wise or unwise sense of obligation, has created Plans A through to Z. You will be aware that we have abandoned those first considered Plans, and are now up to about Plan D and more recently, even this morning, we moved on to Plan M, N, O or P!

Chris was also concerned about the forecasted rain and aware that we were camped in an area very much at the mercy of the weather. He was also not too sure how passionately I was about wanting to stay on for the Country Music Festival. This morning after packing up lunch for an outing, we spoke frankly about our options, which considered the fact that the area probably did not have enough to keep us here for too many more days. We decided to uproot and move on to this camp in Mildura. We were quite surprised to learn of the availability of a powered site here, however we will be leaving the day before the festival kicks off.

So we came on through late in the morning, just thirty kilometres or so through, skirting around through Dareton and Coomealla, past vineyards and orange orchards where irrigated and through areas not unlike those pasted through as we had travelled south from Broken Hill away from the river. Arriving here, we could not believe how canny we were in selecting this camping ground; it is truly delightful situated right on the banks of the river directly across from Mildura, which sits in Victoria.

We spent our afternoon across in that state spending money as if we were suffering from withdrawals: new toilet chemical and refilling with gas from BCF, sourcing a replacement for the water filter from the Jayco agent, having printing done at the ever helpful Officeworks, re-provisioning at Coles in the city centre and purchasing the follow up volumes to that my husband bought me for my birthday more than a month ago; the infamous Shades of Grey trilogy. And should you have been waiting for further comments regarding this literary work since I first mentioned it, I will say just this. It is a bit like Shortland Street; not worthy of artistic merit, quite ghastly, titillating and you just have to know what happens next. And that is as much as I will say!

But I should mention before I close how cold it was beside the river last night; we snuggled up tight in a rather futile attempt to ignore the temperature of 1.7 degrees Celsius. In Victoria, summer is still a way off! The internet suggests it may be a barmier 7 degrees overnight here tonight. We shall see.

Monday, September 24, 2012

24 September 2012 - Abbotsford Bend on the Murray River, near Curlwaa, Victoria

In writing the above “address”, I realise that this is totally confusing. We are on the southern bank of the river which means we are in the state of Victoria however Curlwaa is actually in New South Wales. The reality is that we are in one of those very vague spots that will not show correctly on any internet location map. These are the very best places to camp.

We were away from our roadside camp by 8.30 this morning, having spent an excellent night. There was a time last night, even after dark fell, I was convinced we were to be subjected to tooting by every road train that passed, however they were considerate enough to let their dislike for travellers go by bedtime.

The road continued through the arid pastoral lands, passing small mobs of sheep, a few cattle here and there, a few kangaroos and emus and a lot more goats than we had seen over the past few days. We had to brake heavily for a ewe and lamb as they ran stupidly across the road and again for an eagle as it became caught in the head wind.

The wind was no less than yesterday and the landcruiser worked hard all the way south toward Wentworth. We passed more lakes, some full and some simply dry depressions in the landscape, and then the Great Darling Anabranch, a river that seemed to carry as much water as the main river, albeit much slower. We noted the excellent roadside area there we might have stayed at had the Popiltah proved unsuitable.

Crossing the Perry Sandhills
Just two kilometres north of Wentworth, we turned on to the Old Renmark Road and drove out to the Perry Sandhills, a huge area of shifting sand dunes. We walked and ran and slid and laughed through the deep red sand and imagined how much fun the grandchildren would have here. The sandhills have been used in scenes in numerous international and Australian movies, and back in the Second World War were used as an artillery practice range. In places they are apparently twelve metres high and span four hundred acres.

We drove on to the Information Centre at Wentworth and learned much from the very helpful staff member there, including the fact that all the camping grounds were booked out. She showed us on a map all of the places one could free camp and so we set off to suss them all out.

Before we did so, we paused at the park near the confluence of the Darling and Murray Rivers and climbed the observation tower to observe the scene better.

Wentworth was once Australia’s busiest inland port, or at least in the 1880s and is the oldest town in the region. The wharf was originally built in 1879 and during its heyday, thirty one steamers were docked here in just one week.

Lock 10 is one such camp, marked in several of our travel bibles however the river is high and the camp spots few. We spoke to one chap who with his wife had been there last night, however had just been advised by some council womble that they had to move on. Given that Wentworth is part of the Mildura Country Music Festival, and these events are created to promote the economy of an area, and the fact that the formal camps are booked out, one would think the powers that be would be more tolerant.

Our camp beside the Murray River
We decided not to push out luck here and checked out this spot about six kilometres toward Mildura. We crossed the bridge over the Murray and turned onto the dirt road along the river, eventually deciding on this spot close to the river’s edge but screened by a row of pampas-like reeds. Gums line the river, old and tall, we can hear the traffic on the other side of the river but it is at a very acceptable distance.

We went for a walk further downstream to check out our fellow campers. The first couple have been camped here on and off for nearly two weeks and hail from grain growing country near Wodonga further upriver. Their experience here waylaid any concerns we may have had about staying.

Beyond Laurie and Nessie are a large group of campers, perhaps an extended family whose fat Labrador dog came bounding out to greet us, boisterously jumping against my jean clad legs. The next was a caravan with an incredibly noisy generator whose occupants had already made a start on their evening wine. It was somewhere close to this lot we watched a very large goanna cross the track in front of us. Needless to say, I am being particularly careful where I place my feet. Both the camping grounds stayed at last made special mention of the fact that snakes had been seen in camp. T’is the season, no doubt.

Ian and his dead white owl
Finally we came upon a very elderly couple seated in deckchairs fishing for carp, or at least that is all they had managed to catch so far. Judy remained solidly in her chair calling for help from time to time when she became stuck, probably to call attention back to herself. Ian on the other hand, a delightful slightly shrunken chap of probably ninety or more regaled us with stories of fishing, the years he spent shearing on huge outback stations north of White Cliffs and beyond during his single years, the years he and Judy managed the Mungo Station before it was made a National Park and other wonderful reminiscences. He then showed us a baby white owl he and his wife had rescued from the attack of a kookaburra, wrapped up in a shirt in the boot of his car. They intended to take it to the vet when they returned to Mildura later in the afternoon, however as he tenderly extracted it from the Coles shopping bag, it was clearly dead. I stroked its beautiful feathers, soft and white, and was saddened by the demise of this beautiful bird. Ian said they would take it home and give it a decent burial rather than simply throw it on to the riverside as they were doing to the carp they caught.

A very large houseboat which we had seen down near the lock passed by and by the time we made our way back up river to our camp, we found they had tied up to the gums along from us. Fortunately they are far enough away we should not hear their revelry.

Here at camp as the sun travels lower in the sky, the tweety birds are noisy in the trees all about. We have found ourselves a perfect spot to stay and may remain here for some days, providing there is no rain here or upstream for the duration.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

23 September 2012 - Popiltah Rest Area, Silver City Highway NSW

Last night’s sunset did end up as being superior to the night before offering the mauves and blues that Kerry, the camp caretaker, had promised. We were satisfied after all with our detour to Menindee.

It was after nine o’clock this morning by the time we had packed up, but then time was irrelevant, because we subsequently passed in and out of other time zones. Broken Hill decided some time ago to do its own thing about time, and since most of its ties were with South Australia with the rail link for ore export, and those initial settlors coming across the border from the west, the powers that be decided to share the same time zone as South Australia rather than those on the same latitude north and south in New South Wales. 

So if I told you how long it takes to drive that bitumen road back to Broken Hill, and how long we spent refuelling with both diesel and water, and then what time we had lunch on the road fifty kilometres south of the city, you would simply be confused. I realise I have contradicted myself regarding the water supply; we had been reluctant to simply rob water from this city so finding it available at the Information Centre was a bonus.

So instead I will just say that our route back to Broken Hill was uneventful, even without the scurrying of sun seeking lizards.

As we headed away for the second time from Broken Hill we passed through southern parts of the town hitherto unvisited and seemingly more attractive. However we did wonder about the prevailing winds and the dust storms that do still occur from time to time, even if they are fewer and less ferocious than those in the earlier part of last century.

And speaking of wind, we struggled along against it as we drove first north west and then south, as it blew in from the west. Fuel consumption will not work out very well when we next do our calculations.

We stopped for lunch near Pine Creek, pulling in down off the road to an area that is strictly for dry weather use. The first official rest area on this road to Wentworth is this one, 137 kilometres south of Broken Hill and a pretty spot too.

As we wandered about scouting for the best level spot here at the edge of Lake Popiltah, we chatted with a couple who had called in about four years ago; then the lake was bone dry and sheep grazed what little growth had appeared. Apparently it was like that for fourteen years. This lake is one of many that make up the flood lands of the Great Darling Anabranch mentioned a day or so ago as one of the outlets of the Mendindee Lake system. Unlike the Menindee Lakes, the birds here are less, just the pied butcherbirds, apostlebirds and noisy miners, but they all delight and I am well satisfied. The lake is surrounded by black box eucalypts and the trees that provide shelter here are white cypress pines. We are parked immediately adjacent to the road however the traffic will soon abate I am sure. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

22 September 2012 - Menindee Lake Caravan Park, Menindee, NSW

Poor television reception and channel identification along with confusion over time zones did nothing to enhance Chris’s enjoyment of yesterday evening; he missed the League semi-final he had been looking forward to. I have much simpler needs; a good book before nodding off, and I did not even hear the trains go by. The trains are a bit of a joke; who would have thought that out here in the back blocks we would have the main line between Adelaide and Parkes, NSW just a hundred or so metres behind the camp. And since the road crossing is not one with flashing lights and bells, it is left to the infrequent freight train to announce their presence. One thing we shall remember about our camping spots here in Australia apart from the magical wildlife and excellent weather, will be the locomotives and road trains. Fortunately the latter do not seem to frequent this little corner of the world.

After rising in a leisurely fashion, we spent the greater part of the morning reading before heading out for our abbreviated driving tour, abbreviated by the road closures. First we called in to the grocer who assured us that someone had just left for Broken Hill so the daily newspapers would be available in a few more hours however they were closing up shop at 3 pm. So we headed off into the Kinchega National Park comfortable in the knowledge that we would not be deprived of our weekend fix.

Kinchega National Park was once part of the Kinchega – Kars pastoral lease, held by the Hughes family since 1870. At one point it covered an area of 800,000 hectares, extending from Menindee to Broken Hill and out to the South Australia border. In fact to see a map of the station at its grandest point is quite astounding; that anyone can be in control of that much land! In 1967, the Kinchega section of the lease was dedicated as a National Park, covering an area of 44,000 hectares. The last shearing was held in the woolshed in 1967 when the six millionth sheep was shorn, as part of the handover ceremony.

There are apparently thirty five campsites along the bank of the Darling River, however most if not all of these are currently inaccessible due to the road closures. This would possibly explain the number of campers there are out on the other side of town, away from the Park, camping for free.

So with access to the old homestead, the lake and river edges all out of bounds, it just left the woolshed and so that is where we headed. This was built in 1875 of red river gum and corrugated iron, once boasting sixty two stands. One half of the complex is still standing and in excellent order, or at least as much as it needs to be for tourism.

Unfortunately my camera decided to play up and not only have I had to delete the excellent photo of the road killed fox on the red dust road and the bees busy in wonderful borage flowers, I had to forgo the joy of recording this lovely old structure and the shearer’s quarters adjacent which are available as accommodation for those who want something a bit different.

We were two of many couples mooching about the complex, and two of eight who picnicked in the shade close to the creaking iron windmill, but by the time we had read through the wonderful detailed history of the station, the only ones left to enjoy the myriad of bird life all about.

When the Hughes first took over the lease, they brought sheep across from their holdings in South Australia. They also brought in tank and well sinkers to provide permanent water and by doing so were able to lift the carrying capacity of the property from 35,000 head to 72,000.

Apparently in the late 19th century the number of sheep carried in the general region of Broken Hill numbered about 135,000, but within a decade, due to drought, devastation by rabbits and over stocking, the region was running about 31,000. The general problem with pastoral farming and any other farming in these inland areas was the fact that the great explorers who surveyed these lands passed through in good years and were ignorant of the extreme climate cycles. It was on their word that entrepreneurial adventurers took up food production in one form or another and many struggled hideously. In the last century some of these fragile areas have been able to produce as promised but only due to technical advancement where man has been able to take nature firmly in hand.

We certainly enjoyed our trip into the park although would have enjoyed it even more had we been able to undertake the other jaunts promoted in the Park brochure. I could say we will do that all next time, however who is to say there will ever be another opportunity.

Driving back across the red dunes we noticed a flock of perhaps one hundred birds wheeling high in the sky. I was sure they were pelicans and sure enough, Chris soon fixed the binoculars on to them and had to agree. We had never seen them so high, so numerous and moving in such a manner.

We returned to Menindee, just thirteen kilometres away, collected our reserved newspaper and came on home. We turned the computer on hoping that one of the family might be as idle as us but they were all obviously too busy getting on with their own lives. For that we are grateful, our only wish is that everyone is happy and well.  

This afternoon as I write this, the clouds have come over in greater numbers than a good sunset has need for. My expectations are low; thank goodness for last night’s show.

21 September 2012 - Menindee Lake Caravan Park, Menindee, NSW

A wind storm came up late in the evening; I was about to write “desert storm” (it sounds so much more romantic). I wrenched myself away from my book, dressed and joined Chris outside in the dark and wild gale to disassemble our awning and the furniture beneath. This is not the first time we have had to do this during our travels and no doubt will not be the last. By morning all was once more calm promising another beautiful day.

We left Broken Hill without bidding farewell to Pam and Ralph, because they had left early to call up to the hospital and can only hope we will catch up down south at the Music Festival. The hundred and ten kilometres of good sealed road to Menindee passed through the low hills of the Barrier Range and soon crossed great expanses of grassland, or what is considered as such in this part of the world. Saltbush and other low scrub bushes cover the land, populated with sparse flocks of sheep and roos and greater numbers of emus. There are few trees big enough to shade any but the knob tailed lizards,  who persisted in playing chicken. We swerved successfully missing all but one, however we cannot vouch for the skill of the other drivers on the road. The purple flowers of the borage continued to delight and the time zone change back to Eastern Central Time to amuse.

This camp had been recommended to us on the strength of its glorious sunsets over the western shore of the lake. I had checked both this and another close by out on-line; both advertised their tariffs at $25. The entry to the camp is perhaps a kilometre of wide red dust road through arid countryside, not at all suggesting an oasis in a mass of waterways. Checking in we discovered the tariff had risen by $3; the girl at the desk was unapologetic about the increase. When we explained we had made a particular effort to check the up-to-date price on line, she shrugged and told us she would tell the website person. Later we found the price yet again advertised on a leaflet at the local Information Centre at the lower price. You may think we should be accustomed to this false advertising; it is unlikely we will ever find it acceptable.

The camp is in a lovely position above the lake shore but the water at the tap is non-potable. The only potable water is from a rain water tank by the amenities so we are carting water and have receptacles of water for this and others for that. We had counted on having water on tap here for all round use as the many days ahead of Menindee are most likely to be in the bush without water or power, hence we have to ration our consumption. It would be very convenient to have separate water tanks to cater for such situations however we normally manage quite well without.

We had some difficulty unhitching because the tow ball would not release from the coupling. This has occurred before however usually a fiddle with the brakes and clutch solves the problem. After about half an hour of messing about and jumping up and down on the rear of the vehicle, it came free. Lunch time had passed; such frustrations are not easy on empty stomachs. Chris resolved to change the fitting as soon as we reach civilisation again.

After lunch we drove into Menindee, just a couple of kilometres down the road duly advised at the entrance of the population of 980 and the altitude of just 70 metres ASL. Driving around the few streets we did wonder where they all lived. Unlike the houses in Broken Hill that are mainly of corrugated iron, these here are of fibro plank apart from the few very old buildings that have been renovated over the years.

The second oldest pub in New South Wales, the Maiden, still survives as does the legacy of Burke and Wills’ great expedition in 1860. It was here, the last settlement before the back of beyond, they set up their camp, and here the surviving members of their party returned to await the leaders. One of their cameleers, who did survive the earlier part of the expedition, finished his years here and lies buried beside the road, his name on an undated gravestone.

We had booked in for two nights believing that there was enough to keep us occupied here for that time. What with the historical significance of this Darling River township and the various drives through the Kinchega National Park, we were confident we would be kept more than busy. However the delightful chap at the Information Centre soon put us straight regarding the roads about the place, most now closed because of the good wet weather over the past few years. I am happy for the birds and beasts, for the farmers and those whose business relies on these matters, but alas, not for us.

The nine Menindee Lakes are part of an amazing water storage system initially created by nature, later manipulated by man. Full, the system holds over three and a half times the water capacity of the Sydney Harbour (that same old measuring stick).

The scheme was dreamed up in part way back in 1894, however it was not until 1949 it was given the go-ahead. It includes a weir in the river, designed to raise the water level by fourteen metres and floods four smaller lakes which have become Lake Wetherell. Water from this now large lake can be released back into the Darling River or diverted into Lake Pamamaroo. From this lake, the water can be released again back into the river or through to Lake Menindee beside which we are camped. And from this lake, the water can be diverted on through the Tandou Creek and thus into the Great Anabranch. It all sounds quite confusing but is in fact quite brilliantly simple.

According to our informative mate in Menindee, the whole scheme was paid for by the South Australia government because they wanted surety of flow in the Murray into which the Darling flows. This is a fact that they seem to be conveniently forgetting as three states debate the future of flow regulation for the entire Murray – Darling River system. However this is his opinion and the plaques by the weir suggested that it was the New South Wales government who footed the bill.

Menindee Lake sunset
After calling into the Friendly superette and reserving a copy of the weekend paper for tomorrow, we drove out to the Main Weir to admire the full lakes and the amazing numbers of water birds enjoying the conditions. We also noted the very many free camps alongside the lakes and the many folk who had taken advantage of the facility. Apart from the fact that the road to reach these brilliant spots is all dirt, we regretted we had checked into the caravan park. The tranquillity of the lakeside camps looked so enticing, although I imagine the mosquitos also find it so.

On our return to camp, we noted the large vineyard not too far from camp, which looked so out of place in this arid scene. Obviously water from this scheme irrigates the lush vines.

Over dinner we watched the sun set over the lake, a pretty sight for sure. Perhaps tomorrow there will be a few clouds to make it even better.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

20 September 2012 - Silverland Caravan Park, Broken Hill, NSW

We have spent this, our last full day in Broken Hill, enjoying a somewhat fragmented day, doing bits of this and bits of that. The first bit had not been put on the list but was placed on the top soon after Chris found one of the back tyres on the land cruiser as flat as a pancake. I was happy enough to assist Chris with the removal of the rogue, however was even happier when Geoff came across the park and offered his services while we were checking in the manual for the correct place for the jack. I chatted with his wife, Robyn, who came over to supervise, about Silverton where they were headed for the day. They also shared a story about having had a flatty themselves on the Oonandatta Track on their caravan, after having seen no one for hours. By nothing short of a miracle, a couple of truckies appeared out of nowhere to assist which was just as well; the change of the tyre eventually took a combination of three jacks. I was glad that our flatty had occurred in the convenience of the camping ground.

We had business at the post office, the bank and the barber, had we been able to find one. Chris is desperately in need of a haircut and not keen to repeat his last experience with a female hairdresser who is likely to snip snip away for hours and still leave a mess. I have offered to attend to the grooming myself and he may well have to relent. Time will tell.

Pro Hart's  Broken Hill
We headed for the Pro Hart Gallery which Chris reminded me that he had visited with his parents from England about thirty years ago. On arrival at the gallery however, he found nothing familiar but so much better that the tin shed where he recalled meeting the artist himself working at his easel.

Pro Hart is well known here in Australia, mainly for his Naive style depictions of life in the outback. There is much more to his art than that however I have to admit to loving that the best. I, in my very uneducated manner, would suggest that the likes of John Murray of Lightning Ridge, Howard Steer whose work we have seen in various studios about the country and Justin Cowley’s whose work we saw yesterday at Silverton were all hugely influenced by this ex-miner from Broken Hill. His work has been collected by innumerable celebrities across the globe, but is less likely to be seen in the traditional galleries of the nation. Kevin “Pro” Hart produced a prolific number of works, suggested to be about 100,000, earned more than a comfortable living from his efforts, was not highly educated and dared to take part in commercial activities such as carpet advertisements on television. He was a passionate body builder, amateur musician, talented pistol shooter, collector of cars and motorbikes, of valuable art ; none of these pastimes fitting neatly with normally celebrated artists, or at least those whose work hang in the celebrated galleries of the world. He died just short of his seventy eighth birthday in 2006 but his legacy lives on, in this excellent gallery here in Broken Hill and his five children who have all gone on to make names in one form of art or another in their own right.
Pro Hart's sculpture in the Outdoor Sculpture garden
Our next port of call was to the gallery of Julie Hart, Pro’s youngest daughter, where we could see the influence of her father’s training and guidance of whatever genetic talent was inherited.

As Broken Hill’s mineral resources have become more difficult to extract from the earth, the city has sought other means to promote itself and provide for its future. Tourism is alive and well not just because of the fascinating history of the place but for the wealth of artists who have made the city their home. We have only touched on some of the galleries but could have visited many more.

We drove about the city still fascinated by the street names; Argent, Beryl, Boron, Bromide, Calcite, Cobalt, and so on; all names of minerals. We drove over to South Broken Hill to see what we could see and found ourselves outside the old power station now reinvented as a state-of-the-art movie studio. I have already made mention of the number of films that have used the region for location shots. Given that there is unlikely to be too much urban sprawl about here for a century or so, this seems to be an ideal place to serve as background for country scenes.

Some of Broken Hill's wasteland surrounds
Back at camp, we learned that Ralph and Pam are heading up to Cameron’s Corner the day after tomorrow, leaving their caravan here in the park. The border junction of South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, named Cameron’s Corner is 470 kilometres away from here, up a mostly gravel road. They intend to take their tent however Pam is doing some research on cabin and hotel accommodation. Ralph admits to being eighty one years old  and Pam is much younger, but still ten years older than I. I do not envy them their proposed trip but then is it so very different to ours up to the tip of Cape York? Just to say they were there?

We also learned a little more about the Country Music Festival that is on at the end of this month in Mildura and Wentworth which we will most likely gate crash. Camping space will be at a premium and Pam gave us some valuable tips on where we might find a spot to park our wheels; they with Melody and Doug have pre-booked a space in a caravan park.  I can foresee a week of heavy entertainment accompanied by heavy eating and drinking. Just when we were doing so well with our healthy living!

Chris popped out again to pick up the repaired tyre and we are now all set up and ready to move south east tomorrow morning, on a side trip to the Menindee Lakes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

19 September 2012 - Silverland Caravan Park, Broken Hill, NSW

Today was a day for driving tours and probably not the best choice given the less than perfect weather. We set off quite early out to Silverton, twenty five kilometres north west of the city. The road is all sealed but is at the mercy of whatever lies beneath, hence the shop which doubles as the Information Centre at Silverton being called “Beyond 39 Dips”. I am sure however that there are many more; perhaps the 39 refers only to those marked with “Dip” warning signs.

The first Europeans to pass through the area were Mitchell, then Sturt and then Burke and Wills on their 1860 - 1861 ill-fated expedition. Pastoralists followed close on the heels of these explorers.
Discovery of silver at this remote spot on the Barrier Range occurred in 1875 when a couple of chaps were drilling for water, as so oft happened. The town was established in 1882, the population quickly increasing to a peak of 3,000 in the 1880s and the Silverton Tramway opened in 1888 connecting the town to South Australia.

The boom was short lived, the ore soon depleted and Broken Hill offering opportunities unable to be matched by this small isolated settlement. By 1901 the population had reduced to less than three hundred, however the town remained a place of rest and recreation, hosting the annual New Year Day picnics where almost the entire population of Broken Hill climbed onto the train and travelled the distance to Silverton. It was on just such an occasion in 1915, four months before the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli, that Broken Hill became the scene of the only World War I enemy attack when a couple of men in an ice-cream cart flying a Turkish flag fired on the occupants of the train.

Today tourism keeps the wolves from the door of the forty four remaining residents. Perhaps the word “remaining” is incorrect. Those choosing to live in the few remaining buildings that have avoided falling in to ruin have come in more recent times; artists and eccentrics who entertain the many tourists who pour out to Silverton, which has featured in more than a hundred and forty films and commercials.

Initially we drove on through the settlement, onto the Mundi Mundi lookout along the western slopes of the Barrier Range. From there we saw nothing but great expanses of flat land, bare but for low scrub, stretching on and on to the horizon, the edge of the earth.

We drove on a further five kilometres to the Umberumberka Reservoir, one of several reservoirs providing water for Broken Hill. The promotional literature describes this as most scenic and certainly any expanse of water in the outback is wonderful, an oasis, however it is not an attraction to fall over backwards about.

Views all about Silverton
The dam was built between 1912 and 1915 and relies on rainfall in a catchment of 407.5 square kilometres; the average rainfall is just 225 mm.

Back in Silverton, we called into both the Silverton Outback Art Gallery and The Horizon Gallery and admired the lovely art works on display, and played peekaboo with the charming tot assisting her mother hold the fort in the latter gallery. It was in one of these galleries we saw photos of a horrendous dust storm over Silverton in 2003, which proved the comments I made yesterday regarding the demise of these ghastly events in Broken Hill to not be true for Silverton. We spent some time at The Coin Carvery chatting with Andy who does amazing things with coins, the only person in the country with permission to desecrate the coins of the Commonwealth no longer legal tender, so he says.

A few spits of rain and our rumbling stomachs sent us back to the car; we drove to Penrose Park which those Broken Hill revellers once frequented on New Year’s Day and any other day they could spare away from the mine. There we sat under cover then paid a call to the various animals and birds kept in pens and cages for the pleasure of voyeurs. The miniature horse, Sarah, looked so sad all on her own and I would have gladly set the galahs free to join their cousins in the bush had I opportunity. Chris cautioned me otherwise reminding me that cage raised birds last less than five minutes in the wild.
We headed back toward Broken Hill and then turned off half way back and drove about thirteen kilometres or so through sheep grazing land, salt bush and other low bush, over dry creek beds and on across the low range, passing through  a working station to reach the Day Dream Mine. This was, during its limited working years in the early 1880s, a settlement of 500 folk, but now is nothing but a few decaying relics and the site of a mine tour.

Land about Silverton
Back in Broken Hill we filled up with fuel, found a loaf of bread at Woolworths, something we had not been able to do yesterday, and drove up to another of the many lookouts over the city. Returning to camp we found Ralph and Pam, the Tasmanian travel companions of Melody and Doug, setting up close by. They had stayed another day after we left them at Cobar and then driven up to White Cliffs, another opal site much like Coober Pedy. Their opinion was that if you had been to Coober Pedy and Lightning Ridge, a visit to White Cliffs was probably superfluous. We had decided that a few days ago without the advantage of experience.

The rain never came to much apart from a few try-hard showers. The forecast suggests there will be little else however the temperatures are expected to rise over the next few days, with a sunny day for tomorrow.