On The Road, New South Wales/Queensland

Journal

2014 ROAD TRIP TO QUEENSLAND

DAY 1
Monday 7 July 2014
Eltham to FINLEY,NSW

It was a cold morning and a late 10.30am start before we finally left Eltham on our road trip to visit my cousin Aprile in Queensland and begin a painting trip with our camper trailer. We headed out towards Shepparton and had a couple of stops to the Subaru shop for some rubber floor matts and across the road to a 4×4 store to have our trailer hitch sorted out. We are wondering about the weight of the car/trailer ratio. We are being reassured its ok, but to look at the way the weight is hanging on the back tyres makes us wonder if indeed we will see any wild back Qld country.

The days are cold and short and of course the sun sets early. We had very little daylight time left before we headed into a camping ground for the first erecting of our new camper trailer. It wasn’t all that difficult; second time around. And for $20 a night very reasonable for a powered site. Not that we needed power – we had our own battery pack and nothing with a power plug; thought I did use it to charge my phone. This was the first night for setting up the bed. It was an incredibly warm and comfortable night, under the doona – the air outside was somewhere around freezing.

DAY TWO
Tuesday, 8 July 14
FINLEY TO DUBBO

About twenty minutes to fold up the camper. There is a lot of mucking around with all of the gear and getting things in and out of the trailer.

There seems to be a bit of heavy weather heading our way from the north west. the weather report on the TV news seemed to confirm that too. Of course rain will put a damper on any camping. Snow down to low levels!! At least for now we are in the hotel and that will help. Tomorrow we just keep on pushing up north.

Not much to report about the days activities – road, trucks, trucks, caravans and more trucks. Stands of grey box trees, Murray pines and iron barks.

Passed through the town of Jerilderie NSW where my father was born and had a look at the very old school my father must have attended. He was born in 1903 and the school build the century before…

Decided it was best to try and hurry up and get to Ipswich as fast as possible and not spend too much time setting up the trailer and its cold and winter is not the best time to be camping.

Took a motel at Dubbo for the night – in the morning there was a thick white frost covering everything and we had to scrape the ice off the windscreen when we finally got away.

DAY THREE
Wednesday 9 July 14
Sheepyard (Near Lightning Ridge, NSW)

Heading towards Ipswich and saw a sign to Walgett. I had often wondered what had become of Walgett. Many years ago I spent some time in Walgett with an Biggibilla, an Aboriginal friend and an artist Jenni Roe. We were travelling with Biggibilla with the task of meeting the Aboriginal community and setting up an art school. I was to teach painting, Jenny ceramics and Biggibilla to teach the local youth about their culture. Biggi was an elder from the region; he had told us. Jenny and I were to return to Melbourne and put together the funding proposals for a three month stink in the community. We spend a fortnight putting together details papers about the cost of art materials and all sorts of bits as well as some funding for ourselves. Never heard a word about our submissions. Much later we heard that the manager had taken off with the funding… Was this true? Who knows. It’s more than 30 years ago now and I wanted to go and have another look at Walgett as we were so close. So we department from our first task and headed north west instead.

My memory of Walgett was of buildings boarded up with steel grills over the doors and windows and it being an unsafe place to wander at night. At least Biggi had Jenny and I pretty nervous. Sure enough, the shop fronts were still pretty dismal looking with wire grills and steel doors. We found a lovely café run by a community for the disabled. It was very clean and the food good and simple. Paintings and carvings were also part of the show. There is a art community now. Clearly something must have happened during the years.

Leaving town we saw a sign to Lightening Ridge. It was also out of our immediate route. But oh so close and once more I had always wanted to visit the opal mining town. So now we are completely off track and heading to Lightening Ridge.

The country is very dry now and the green has all gone from the landscape. We are in quite rugged country with Bulloke and desert trees.

We see a turnoff to Sheepyard and other opal communities. We keep on to Lightening Ridge and call into the tourist centre. I found the chaos and business of the town a little too much. Where to camp for the night? Everything seems so full of people. Tourist information says to head back to Sheepyard if we are really interested in looking for opal and no you do not need a permit to fossick. It you did go for a permit you need to also complete a safety program. It was 75 ks back to Sheepyard. What to do? We were loosing light. OK, lets go. We take the drive back towards Walgett and turn right to Sheepyard. It’s a dry looking country now. Plenty of sheep on the road looking for a feed and far too many colourful wild goats on the way. The road was also littered with dead roo carcasses and sheep that had been hit.

As we entered into the opal mining sites the country became rougher. White mounts of stones from exploration sites littered scrub. The landscape seemed generally grey; grey trees, grey earth grey road; with areas of red sand. The opal mining dumps grew bigger and soon all sorts of rough tin humpies appeared. It is a real hill billy community. Bush humour abounds with signs nailed to trees that read ‘cars with brakes give way’ and this way to the Hilton and so forth. Tin sculptures litter the community – bits of car bodies and broken vehicles everywhere. Mine shafts that are left dangerously unprotected that are too deep for snakes and other wild animals to crawl out of. Abandoned equipment and dreams that are made and broken everywhere. Sheepyard is a pub with a generator and old buses and huge dumps of underground earth piles everywhere.

The publican says we can pitch our camper just by the old bus. We do and find some colour and potch in the mullock heap first up. Beginners luck! And then we see much potch in the tailing. We were told there was not much around – all been picked over. There is soooo much tailing everywhere and there must be so much opal in these mounds. Its easy to see how opal fever begins. We set up the trailer and cook a sort of stir fry with some of the fresh food we have. I didn’t want to go to the pub – beginning to crave the sense of outback and getting away from people. As soon as the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly. Soon it’s cold and time for bed. There has been a strong wind all day and lighting a fire seems out of the question and its now too dark to really get a feel for our surrounds. We heat up the hot water bottles and what a difference it makes. We sleep well.

DAY FOUR
Thursday 10 July 14
Sheepyard (Near Lightening Ridge, NSW)

Cold morning… I wear leggings under my jeans. Take a stroll down a wash away creek in the hope I am avoiding wandering onto any opal claims. There is evidence of claims everywhere and not a good idea to step onto another person’s patch. Fossicking is considered OK around these parts as long as its not on a lease. Pretty soon I am finding potch and little bits of colour and pleased with my find along the dry sandy creek bed. It seems to me a good place to begin as surely the water that washes off the mullock heaps into the creek would wash the dust off the stones. The such a find dust the white clay like rock; its into everything.

Meanwhile Mervyn has been talking to the lady at the pub and she has suggested we go and fossick on the nearby tailing dumps – where all of the new tailings go and where most people fossick. We drive back and have a look and my god – there is just so much to look at it seems impossible to know where to begin. and its so fresh I cannot imagine looking through all the stuff. We look for a while and give up and think the old mullock heaps seems simpler. Even if they have been over many times they are weathered and to my mind easier.

We drove around and looked at the other communities in the district and at all of the old make do bits of equipment strewn through the scrub. This area is what Lightening Ridge used to look like – a back block hill billy wild west place. The residents live in make do humpies, though some even have bricks and motor and cactus gardens. Most humpies have tin and poles and not much else; perhaps a few old car bodies for parts. Most cars are in need of panels; though there are quite a few new looking 4 x 4 vehicles; perhaps the more successful miners. Deep shafts litter the place; some with pieces of tin over them and others with a star picket fence and barbed wire. There is not much to prevent falls if you were not careful.

The people are mostly wiry with long grey beards and its obvious water is scare. The dam where the washing of the rocks takes place through old cement mixers is also dry.

Called into a community shop that is also an art gallery. Mostly knitted and crocheted goods from locals. There were small vials of opal and two jars of colour stones that I admired.

Overnight I thought about those stones and whether they would be a good buy or not; given we were going onto Queensland back to Lightening Ridge the next day. I did not buy them…

Made a fire in the mullock heap next to the camper and cooked vegetables in the camp oven. A pretty little black and white flycatcher hung around. I made a pastel of the quickly changing pink mauve sky over the tailing piles. Mervyn did two small pastels while I was stone hunting earlier in the day.

DAY FIVE
Friday, 11 July 14
St. George, Queensland

Woke to ice inside the tent… Thought it was very cold overnight. Extra Cold. Unbelievable. Mervyn got out of bed and made a fire. Even our gas stove didn’t want to work it was so cold. Have taken to wearing thermals to bed; under the pyjamas.

Most of the time in leaving camp is about how much time it takes to pack the boxes away; not how much time to set up and pack up the camper. That’s now the quick bit…

It was past midday by the time we left Sheepyard and drove back past the other communities. Called into the Art shop for another look at the coloured stones. Had thought about them during the night. They were really lovely and I bought both jars for a good price…

Back in Lightning Ridge I knew I had got a bargain when I looked at the range and price of the opals on offer in the store. There surely were some beautiful stones for sale; but the price… I think I saw the best and most vivid black opals I have ever seen today in the shops in Lightening Ridge. For sale also was a stunning large piece of polished Labarordite that had come from Canada. It would have looked good in my showcase…

There was not much daylight left by the time we left The Ridge and actually crossed the border. Parts of the countryside are so dry and any stock we saw was sadly thin and close to the road. It breaks my heart to see cattle sitting by the road; I can still see them in my minds eye.

Leopardwood Trees and Quantong trees, Bulloke and other desert trees give character to this corner of the country. The flat dry gave way to some grassier pastures as we headed back east towards St. George. We deliberated as to whether to keep driving – or stay at St. George. It’s just that the sun goes down so early and there is not much time to drive in daylight. Seems too dangerous to drive at night judging by the carcasses lining the roads. We really only came a couple of hundred kilometres today.

There is a noise that appears to be coming from the wheels when we make a turn. Must be all of the fine white dust we are carrying in everything – opal dust.

We decide to stay at St. George. This is new country for me. The largest town in this part of the state. Several motels and warm showers. Time to stop off for a good shower and a meal in town. A night or two of camping and the odd motel – and maybe we will get to sit under a tree and camp for a few days in one place… I wonder.

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