A feeling of being closed in, a disinclination to travel to Sydney just now and warmer weather saw us (Mr MG and I) setting off on a hastily organised and whirlwind road trip to north-west New South Wales last week. I love the feeling of being on the road and as soon as we drove away from Mudgee my spirits rose with the anticipation of what might lie ahead of us.
There has been rain in the west and the countryside is looking splendid. Indian mustard is creating a carpet of yellow as far as the eye can see: that is until broadacres of wheat and canola interrupt the view. It is going to be a bumper year for wheat this year.
An added excitement along the way was to see an emu (probably male) with its five chicks which can be seen alongside if you look closely.
Our first stop was at the little town of Warren on the Macquarie River. Next to the ‘Windows on the Wetlands’ art gallery is the Tiger Bay Marsh which is full of water and boasts a large collection of birds which make it their home. Warren is approximately 600km from the sea, so I’ve no idea why the wetland is called Tiger Bay. Nor are there any tigers!
It was early afternoon by the time we arrived, so many of the birds had settled down for their afternoon nap, but we were able to see a fine collection of ibises, spoonbills, magpie geese, pink-eared ducks, hardheads (ducks) and eurasian coots. There were signs warning that snakes might be about, but I’m happy to report that despite ideal conditions, none of those made their presence felt.
The next leg of our trip was from Warren to Walgett, almost due north. We hoped to be able to drive to a bird viewing platform in the Macquarie Marshes, but as there was an expanse of water over the road we were unable to progress further. There were plenty of honks, twitterings and other bird calls emanating from the long reeds nearby to assure us that plenty of contented birds were in the process of making their nests and raising chicks.
The road was, well, narrow and somewhat rough with no room to pass unless the person in front pulled over, which this truck driver did, thankfully. We stopped at Carinda (population 22) and had a beer at the pub where David Bowie famously played ‘Let’s Dance’ in 1983 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbD_kBJc_gI
In Walgett, on the Namoi River, our accommodation was somewhat less than we are used to, but we had a great meal on the verandah of the Sports Club, enjoying the balmy evening air as well as the food.
After a restless night (trucks at 4 am) we were on the road again, heading towards Brewarrina and then Bourke and after a short while we passed a sign informing us that we were now officially in the Outback. Brewarrina, on the Barwon River is famous for its traditional Aboriginal fish traps which have been in existence for thousands of years. These are dry stone walls in the river bed and have great significance for the Aboriginal people. They are constructed in intricate patterns so that fish can be ‘herded’ into pools and caught.
Some very healthy and well-fed pelicans had placed themselves strategically on the traps: a posse of postprandial politicians if ever I saw one.
Bourke, a town on the Darling River (nearly all these towns are on rivers) was somnolent in the Saturday afternoon sun by the time we arrived. Nothing was open except the pub, so after we’d settled into our accommodation and taken a walk along the banks of the river and watched the milk coffee coloured water sliding by, we sat on the deep front verandah of the Bourke Port Hotel and enjoyed listening to a guitarist playing and singing with a group of friends. I could have sworn Slim Dusty himself was there.
Our final day: a long drive which was enlivened by our enjoyment of the verdant countryside and the colourful roadside verges, mostly weeds it has to be said, but vibrant and striking nevertheless.
Although these small Outback towns are struggling with population drift, there is enterprise to be found in cafés and galleries and there are fine old buildings still standing. We had an uplifting trip with lots of interesting interaction with folk, both local and travellers, along the way, and delightful bird and animal sightings. Just the tonic we needed in these strange times. I think another journey will be planned before too long!