Time to go home … reflections

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October 6th 2014
Published: October 6th 2014
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I am sitting in the shade (because it is very HOT) on the foreshores of the waters of Wyangla Dam … about 40 kms south east of Cowra and just a short drive away from “home” which is where I will head tomorrow. Well, into Canberra anyway which although technically not my “home” is certainly stepping back into my life and the real world. I was not sure there was another blog in me after I wrote my last entry, but there is.

I’ve covered a lot of kilometers in the last 4-5 days through a diverse and ever changing landscape. And sitting here today taking a deep breath before diving back into the “real world” I have been reflecting on the impressions that I will take home with me. It’s been a great trip but I’ve not encountered the country that I expected.

But first let me fill you in on the last 4-5 days. From the lush, soft and comforting banks of the Edward River in the Murray River Regional Park I headed back into outback country. First to Deniliquin where coincidentally (who but me could have organized this) it was the weekend of the Ute Muster. Some years ago Deni (as the locals affectionately call it) wrote themselves into the Guiness Book of World Records by having the most utes (blokes and gals included) together in the one place at the one time, doing who knows what that qualified as “unique”. One of the main tourist attractions in Deni is the Ute atop a huge pole at the Cobb Highway (Long Paddock) Visitors information center in town. Struggling for attractions I say! But then I am really not part of that world or generation. Definitely out of step! Just after Lou left me last Thursday morning and I was sitting peacefully by our early morning campfire waiting (wishing and hoping) for my Sacred Kingfisher to reappear before I left, the serenity was shattered by a huge 4-wheel drive ute that came roaring into our camp space, covered in mud, and I mean covered, and squealed to a stop beside me. Out hopped two young chaps (young enough to be my grandchildren actually) who loudly called good morning and noisly went about grabbing fishing rods, racing through the bush and yelling questions at me as to whether there were any fish here. They were very personable young men and I was happy to fall into conversation and it was then that I discovered that they were headed to “Deni” for the ute muster. Oh, I said, this weekend? Yes, yes they replied. Oh, I said, I am going to Deni this weekend too. When I enquired where they had been to get so muddy (in this wide dry land there is not too much mud on the roads) they said they had been trying to find Lake Moira. When I informed them that I too had been looking for a way into Lake Moira (because according to the somewhat out of date literature I had been reading it was a good place for bird watching) they looked at me askance and said they hoped I wouldn’t do it it “that” – pointing at my beautiful Sally. No I laughed, I am definitely not an off road girl. Well, they said, there are no other roads in there at the moment. And that was that.

I didn’t hang around too much longer … their energetic and noisy presence in my peaceful place was more than I was ready for, so I hit the road. First into Mathoura where I spent a minute or two looking at the ArtBack Sculptures that celebrate the pioneer use of the Cobb Highway (or Long Paddock). These sculptures decorate many of the small places that were significant to the drovers and their herds on their long cattle drives, but they left me uninspired. I threw aside my original intention to stay another night in that area once I’d had a look at the place – dry, worn out and uninspiring, despite the “sculptures” and headed to Deni. Yep, the ute muster was happening – I was overtaken numerous times en route by roaring engines and wild driving utes stacked to the gunnels with firewood, arm chairs, bed rolls and who knows what else. I was happy and relieved to discover the site for the muster was somewhat out of town across the river, but nevertheless the roar of the engines was distinct and a constant low rumble that made me edgy and tense. When I enquired about an unpowered site at a caravan park on the river for the night the proprietor gently told me that I might prefer to try somewhere a little further out of town as it was going to get pretty noisy in here tonight. At the next park they didn’t warn me off, but did tell me that because of the muster whether I took a powered or unpowered site it was still going to cost me $38.00 for one night. I took a powered site regretfully acknowledging that I need to do some washing, have access to clean drinking water to fill the tank and a much needed shower and hair wash.

The river running through Deni was in the same state as the Murray in every other town we had thus far visited. And I found no trouble leaving it the next day. After shopping at Coles (Sally looked quite at home in the car park surrounded by utes of all shapes and sizes each disgorging very young people of every shape and description but all wearing the aura of “ute muster culture” (I resisted taking photos of them, I thought it was just too much of a give away as to what I was thinking!!), and headed into the Murray River Regional Park that ran along side the river a little out of town to the east. I had considered staying there another night, but again, dry dusty banks, very little and terribly muddy waters, hot wind and very little birdlife encouraged me to keep moving.

And so I found myself driving the Cobb Highway through some of the flattest country I’ve ever seen, with no vegetation taller than 50 cms, not a cloud in the sky, ruthless sun beating down and a head wind – I was in the outback again. But this time, whether because I was on my own this time and therefore feeling a little more vulnerable (I think Lou said later that she felt the same vulnerability leaving Deniquilin in an easterly direction) it felt more like the outback than ever before – much more so than anything around Broken Hill or even White Cliffs. Austere is how I would describe it, and I shuddered to think how alone and vulnerable those original drovers and pioneer people must have felt – I at least had my two way radio, no mobile phone coverage of course. And there was quite a bit of traffic – certainly still a few utes heading to Deni.

I did not stop for many photos – just twice while driving, once to capture Mummy Emu with her 9 chicks crossing the road and hastening to get out of my line of sight, and once to capture the vastness of the plains against the shadow of human intervention even out here – power lines! I pulled gratefully into the 1860s built Royal Mail Hotel at Booroorban (a Cobb and Co coach stop) where there were large trees to shelter under while I had lunch under the erstwhile scrutiny of a bored and slightly peeved proprietor who sat reading a book on his veranda. I just know he was sighing about another tourist making use of his trees without spending any money in his pub. So, in order to use his toilet, I purchased an ice cream, and got to have a peek inside this remarkable old building in return.

It was good to reach Hay and again I made for the river after a quick drive thru town to get the lay of the land. Same story, different river – the Murrumbidgee this time. Sandy Point is the local swimming beach and boat launching place and you can camp there for free. Same scenario, dry, dusty, windy. Hot. But they do water the grass in the middle of the picnic area (with water pumped from the river of course), so that is green. This is the place where the drovers used to swim their cattle across the river until eventually some enterprising chap put in a ferry. The banks of the river are not steep on this corner and you can see that it would have been easy to run the cattle into the river and chase them out and up on the other side.

I was hopeful of another sunset photo or two just out of Hay where they have set up a sunset viewing platform in the middle of nowhere about 16 kms out of town. But one look at the sky and I knew it was pointless going to this place to try and get a photo of sunset – not a cloud in the sky, and nothing on the ground to silhouette or break the roaring fierce golden orb as it approached and slip beneath the 360 degree horizon. So I gave that a miss and instead drove 5 minutes to the Shear Outback (the shearer’s Hall of Fame) across the western side of town in the hope of a wind mill or water tower silhouette in the sunset. But the gates to the Centre had already closed and again, the sky was cloudless, the sun unrelenting and it really didn’t work at all. A couple of clicks just to show I tried.

The next morning I set out early to cross the plains in an easterly direction to West Wyalong – glad I started early as the lass at the servo told me it was forecast to be 36 degrees. And there I was heading out into the sun. The first 100 kms were awesome in their savagery and harshness. The only birds I saw were ravens (crows) and eventually a few ghalas. I was hoping for sight of a wedgie … but no, not even an emu or a kangaroo. Have all the birds and animals left this land because they know it is dying?? I drove through about 4 kms of cattle grazing on the side of the road (still they have Long Paddock margins either side of this highway) devouring everything in their way. It was fascinating watching the vegetation and the landscape change as I drove east. First the trees appeared, though stunted, then they got taller, thicker, then the crops started – wheat, maize, barley, and eventually canola.

The district surrounding the drive into Grenfell through a little town call Barmedman where I went because they were home to a mineral spring pool with healing properties and allowed free camping alongside, was positively lush and gentle in constrast to the drive earlier that day. The mineral pool almost no longer exists – there were a few children splashing in what remains of it, but it was three quarters empty and nothing like the photo in the tourist brochure, and the camp ground was mowed – but no facilities and yet still cost $10 a night. I was pleased to place it in the donations box because this is one little town that is fast dying – a main street with a handsome swag of old but empty and derelict shop fronts. The town used to have two pubs – only one working now. And the houses – must be 15 years at least since any of them have seen a lick of paint and sufficient water to maintain a garden.

Grenfell – the “historic main street” – a similar story, struggling current businesses slotted in between old historic buildings where the locals have gone to the trouble of dressing the windows with historical displays recall the halacone gold rush days and better times past. I bought a pie, and drove to the birthplace of Henry Lawson which is marked by a huge gum tree planted by his daughter in 1924, two years after he died. It reminds us that these were the gold field flats where miners lived in humpies and tents as they strove to find their fortunes. Now it is a recreation and sports ground.

On to Cowra which in stark contrast to all other towns I had thus far passed through was thriving and buzzing with people (it’s the Long Weekend) and finally here … to my final stopping place and time to reflect. As I said in the beginning, it’s been a fabulous trip. But I’ve not discovered the country I expected. One needs to get out and see what is going on in this our nation. I know I am probably simply showing signs of my age – I always used to despair at my grandmother’s fears for my generation’s future, so perhaps it is just a sign of my age. But I do fear for my grandchildren’s future and the world we are passing onto them and I wish I had been able to do more to preserve this precious land. Here are a few of my impressions at the end of the road.

· This land is despairingly thirsty and water is so scarce. Its spring … summer just about to start, what will it be like?

· Human greed is unrelenting in its demand for personal satisfaction no matter what the impact or effect.

· Too much water is still being pulled out of the Murray Darling river system.

· We are growing way too much wine.

· Thank goodness for national parks – without them there would be no natural vegetation or bird and animal life left. It is vital to ensure they continue and thrive.

· Rural populations are struggling. The average Australian in the bush or rural Australia is living if not in poverty, then certainly close to the edge of it.

· Small rural towns are showing incredible pride, resilience and determination to survive but a distinct failure to thrive.

· There is strong local pride in European history throughout the land. There is modest recognition for indigenious culture, and absolutely no apology for its passing.

· There are too many multi-nationals controlling the use of our land; and they are NOT providing employment opportunities, despite the myth that they are. This from the mouth of several locals we chatted to.

· Wind …. Wind, wind!!! I’ve travelled quite a bit before, and I don’t remember a trip where the wind hounded and plagued us as much as it did on this trip. I have it in the back of my mind that one of the signs of climate change and a planet in distress is “wind”. Maybe I’ve just seen too many sci-fi movies (although I’m not really a watcher of such movies). But the wind has been constant. And watching clouds of top soil being blown away. Even here, at Wyangla, the wind is blowing noisly through the she oaks under which I am parked to the point of being distressing. And huge clouds of dirt from the roads and barren shoreline where the water has receeded, are constant.

· Where are the birds? Where are the herds of kangaroos and emus? Where is the native vegetation, the wild flowers? The weeds and introduced species of fauna and flora have taken over; feral goats, cats, rabbits. The lakes and rivers are teeming with carp. Patterson’s curse, and those flowers I photographed along the roadside for one of my earlier blogs (I forget what they are called), but they are not native and they are out of control, everywhere. Even in the Murray River Regional Park, where the undergrowth was a carpet of lush purple – pretty, except we know what it is doing to the native flora and fauna.

That’s it. I’m signing off. No more blogs until my next trip. Back home now to be Granny, and reunite with family and friends. Thanks for following my blogs and coming with me on this trip. And thanks to Lou for being a great travel mate. Not sure I would have travelled a lot of those roads on my own Lou, it was great to have your companionship and friendship. One important trip statistic ... over 4,000 kms travelled.


6th October 2014

Time to go Home
Thanks, di for your reflections on your travels. As you say, so little water and so much wind! I grew up in the bush and am well acquainted with droughts and the adversities of life on the land in later years also. Country towns all over are experiencing the same problems I think. It's sad that what was once a way of life is now a struggle for existence. I know I never want to go back to that again. I need to be within sight of water now to be content. Well done to you and Lou on your epic trip! Enjoy your time with the family. Cheers Annette

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