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Published: August 30th 2014
A day of rest, that's what we needed. And what we had. A beautiful peaceful day spent in the sun on the banks of The Darling River at Wilcannia. After a sleep in, a lazy cup of coffee and an hour or so reading my book in bed, I finally dragged myself out and set out to explore upstream from the caravan park on foot with my camera and Polly in tow. What a treat. I think I must have spent about an hour away from camp, enjoying the silence and feasting on the beauty of the river and capturing the wildlife with my camera. The bush is dry ... very dry ... and the river not overly full, but upstream from the caravan park, where there is a weir that holds the water back, the river was wide and rather lush looking. More the way I imagined it should look.
To my delight I spotted a bird of prey (don't have my bird book, so am not sure what it actually is but they are plentiful out this way) perched at the top of a tall tree with dead/bare branches at its tip. I was able to take heaps
of photos, and then decided to hang around until it took off. Of course, when it did, I was looking the other way!!!! Taking a shot of something else. I guess I just don't have the patience required to be a "real" photographer!!! In the photograph of him that I've included with this blog, it looks for all the world as if there is a baby bird sitting on an adjacent branch, but its not ... just the shape of the timber.
I saw Emus (knew they were around somewhere close as I almost stepped in a very fresh pile of Emu dung. Managed to catch a shot as they hastily disappeared into the scrub once they knew I was there.
After lunch, we decided to walk into town across the bridge, and I was delighted with the old sandstone buildings that grace its streets. But what really captured my attention was the beautiful street art that decorates walls, poles, telecom boxes, in fact anything at all. And the stunning beauty of the many young people who sadly seem to have little to do but hang about the streets.
Other highlights of our time in Wilcannia ....
the shingleback I almost trod on while I was pointing my camera skywards trying to catch a shot of a circling bird of prey. And on the morning of our departure, we were privileged to watch a water bird apparently learning to fly .... we were in fits of laughter as we watched this bird gather its courage and finally launch itself in flight from the old tree on which it was perched. I captured most of its antics on camera, and have included here a collage of some of the highlights. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Back home with armfuls of firewood, we lit up a bonza camp fire and spent the remainder of the day just chilling out, and anticipating our drive the next day to White Cliffs. White Cliffs
the opal mining town. It’s a place of harsh beauty. Rich red soil, prickly low growing scrub, wide open cloudless skies and pile upon pile of white rubble brought up from the ground below. You need to watch where you are going if you veer off the marked roads and paths - one careless step and you could well
end up at the bottom of a yawning dark shaft that used to be an opal mine. Everything is stark out here!!! And the place seems empty until you go looking a little more closely. The pub in town is crowded, but you’d not know it from a casual drive by. The skyline reminds me of a rubbish tip – strewn with old rusty machinery, broken down trucks and cars of every vintage, and what appear to be humpies made from stone, tin, fibro, rock. But then you go inside, and its like walking into Aladin’s cave. White painted stone walls dripping with jewelry we couldn’t afford even if we wanted to buy it. Precious opals of all shapes, sizes and colours. Cafes and restaurants. Outside the portals (because that is all they are really, just structures to mark the entry point to these wonderful caves) are struggling vegetable and ornamental gardens strewn with all kinds of homemade decorative “things”. Carved eagles, artificial nesting structures for birds (because there are no trees to speak of). And everywhere, the detritus of discarded mining equipment.
We discovered an amazing rusty garden this afternoon as we wandered the streets. One enterprising resident
has laboured with love and dedication to create the most amazing garden from old broken, rusting bits and pieces obviously collected from old mining sites. Old nuts and bolts have been lovingly constructed into people doing things which replicate mining tasks or just general living. A delicate cello of life like proportions has been fashioned out of old metal strips. It’s too amazing to describe. Hopefully my photos will fill the void my lack of words is creating.
Yes, it’s a strange place White Cliffs. I don’t think I could live here. We’ve been here for two nights now, and I’ll not be sorry to leave. I love what I am seeing … and the vastness and emptiness of the landscape around the town is massive and has to be seen to be believed. Hopefully some of my photos will give you a feel for the “space” that engulfs you out here. But I struggle to understand why people choose to live here, or even why they came here in the first place.
But there are people living here who have been here for 30, 40 and more years, and who obviously love it. We chatted to one
woman sitting on the pub verandah when we walked through “town” this afternoon … she had a little white dog that of course Polly just had to say hello to. “How long have you lived here” we asked. 34 years was the reply. “What brought you here in the first place” we asked. Was it the opals? “Oh no” she said. “We just love the place. We kept coming here for many years as visitors and then just decided to move here. It’s a great community”. And I guess she is right. The history of this town is well and proudly documented in signs all around the town, and the praise and admiration of the current generations for the pioneers and fore runners are clearly written for all to read.
We had a little fossick ourselves this afternoon. To no avail of course, but we fell for the “advice” of the proprietor of the Red Earth Opal Mine and Café who told us this afternoon that “opals were to be found just lying on the ground around any of the old diggings”. In the early days, he said, they just threw out the brightly coloured stuff … they didn’t
want that, just the delicate white opals. The muluck heaps are full of opals he assured us. So we christened Lou’s new camp shovel by walking to the old diggings at the back of the caravan park and having a scratch in the earth. But when we hadn’t turned up our fortune after at least 20 minutes of hard work, we decided that we were just not made of the right stuff and returned to camp for a wine and some dinner. I reckon the chap who fed us that line is still laughing!
Anyway … I hope you enjoy my photos. There are several in this blog that are collages of some of the things that have grabbed my fancy both here and in Wilcannia. The street art in Wilcannia, the water bird that we were lucky enough to observe taking what for all the world looked like his first ever flight on the Darling River the morning we left there, and of course the White Cliffs Rusty Garden. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that tickle my fancy most.
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