Tag Archives: Big Trip

Back ‘o Bourke

Part of the outer facade of the motel

Part of the outer facade of the motel

It’s an old Australian saying. Back o’ Bourke there isn’t much. You’re right out in the scrub, beyond all hope of redemption. But as it happens, that’s not how it worked out for us.

We decided to head for home once we arrived at Port Augusta, which meant we avoided the south east corner of Australia altogether. Well, we’d been there, done that, and we’d been away from home for a while now. So we drove by day, stayed in motels by night, up through Broken Hill and on to the Mitchell Highway, which would lead us to Charleville, then home.

On the road we encountered the Darling River. It’s the second half of the Murray-Darling system that flows down from Queensland, forms the border between Victoria and New South Wales and flows into the sea at South Australia. It’s Australia’s largest and most important river system, providing irrigation and transport to the south-east corner for a couple of centuries, Even now, the Murray supplies Adelaide with its drinking water. Mind you, Adelaide has the reputation for having the very worst drinking water in Australia – but that’s another story.

I would not have imagined that river traffic would have come so far inland, but it did. We decided to stop overnight at Bourke, which is on the Darling River and had its own riverboat port. This time, instead of staying in a typical traveller’s motel on the highway, we booked into a place which was renovated buildings dating back to the nineteenth century. The owners had done a wonderful job or renovating a row of old shops and cottages and making them into self-contained motel units with a heap of character. Here are a few pictures.

The toilet is hidden behind a screen

The toilet is hidden behind a screen

An old fashioned bath with a modern shower fixture

An old fashioned bath with a modern shower fixture

Beautifully renovated and furnished

Beautifully renovated and furnished

A four poster bed

A four poster bed

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The bath and shower were olde worlde, the toilet cubicle was only for best friends. The TV and modern tea and coffee making equipment was hidden in the cupboards. All in all, it was lovely, the buildings set in lovely gardens overlooking the Darling. The old river port was a few hundred metres away. I watched the sunset, hoping to see the birds go to bed. But this is the best I could do.

A pink and grey galah flies off above the river

A pink and grey galah flies off above the river

 

Chasing rainbows

Esperance showing the Recherche Archipelago

Esperance showing the Recherche Archipelago

Esperance is down on the southern West Australian coastline, an absolute jewel for those willing to take the time to visit. Showers accompany us along the road from Albany and rainbows appear – on both sides of the road. By this time the Pajero’s windscreen resembles the surface of Mars, with a sprinkling of craters and two cracks that inch a little further every day. It has also acquired a patina of insect bodies but even so, this rainbow is a jewel.Rainbow 1

The full arc of the rainbow through grubby glass

The full arc of the rainbow through grubby glass

We’re staying with friends I haven’t seen for twenty years, but we reconnected via Face Book and I’m looking forward to the visit. Needless to say, our sat nav isn’t much help to navigate to a farm but we follow the instructions given on the phone and find the farm entrance just on sunset. Yes, this is the right track. Well graded gravel, even the zig-zags between the wide puddles. It has been wet wet wet here. A couple of kilometres from the gate we find the third house and I get out to check we’re at the right place. We are.

The canola crop is ruined.

The canola crop is ruined.

We stay for three nights. Joe and Charlotte and their eldest son farm 23,000 acres where they plant canola and raise cattle and sheep. Their machinery shed is mind-boggling. They have headers and bull dozers and road trains and ploughs and I forget what else. The big machines cost close to a million dollars each, mostly high-tech with computer controlled functionality and air-conditioned cabs (the headers, anyway). Pete is fascinated by the sheer scale of the operation. It costs $3 million to plant a crop, and they might make $5 million. If they get to harvest. This season will be poor. Australia runs in cycles of flood and drought, and this year has been the wettest for decades. The canola stands in shallow lakes, the yellow flowers reflecting prettily in the water.

There’s always work on a farm and Pete goes to help the boys bring in sheep while Charlotte and I go off to do the tourist thing at an area called Duke of Orleans. The scenery here is breath-taking. The granite outcrops are just as spectacular as they are in Albany, but the rock seems more colourful. The sea is turquoise blue, and the beaches are brilliant white, full of silicon. The sand literally squeaks under your feet as you walk. The islands of the Recherche Archipelago dot the ocean, steep granite mounds, such a contrast to the pancake-flat platforms of the Abrolhos Islands. It’s late in the day, and the showers have stopped, although clouds still drift across the sky in groups and the wind is fresh, whisking up the white caps. I manage a few reasonable pictures and then we head for home, talking all the while.

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Next day, Joe takes us out to a granite outcrop at the top of a hill to see if we can find some orchids. It’s quite an adventure. The paddock we cross is waterlogged and despite High rock Esperance1the four wheel drive, Charlotte is not the only one who wonders if we’ll be pushing the car. Oh we of little faith. We’re a little bit early for the orchids but a few have shown their faces. These outcrops are baking hot in summer. Only the toughest plants, like the dryandra, can survive. The delicate orchids wait their turn with the mosses and lichens, responding to the first rains. Charlotte tells me her oldest son was married here, overlooking the land. What a place for a wedding.

Flowers on the rocky outcrop

Flowers on the rocky outcrop

While Joe and his son move another mob of sheep, Pete fixes Charlotte’s ride-on mower and Charlotte and I drive out to Cape Le Grande. You’ve probably noticed the French place names. The French poked around the Australian coast many times, in lots of places but they seem to have left their mark especially around that southern coast. Bruni d’Entrecasteaux visited this area in 1792, and named both Esperance and Recherche after ships in his expedition. The weather is stunning, with blue skies and light breezes, an absolute invitation to climb on the rocks and walk on the beaches. We admire the scenery and the wild flowers, and encounter a kangaroo fossicking around on the beach. She seems untroubled by our presence, apparently grazing on something. We have no idea what.Esperance beachA roo on beach

Looking over the sea at the islands I’m reminded of a story I read somewhere, that a black American pirate operated out of here. My recollection is correct. Here’s the story of Black Jack Anderson Australia’s only known pirate.

From here we’ll be heading for home, east across the Nullarbor. Join us, won’t you?

Heading for the hills

Back in the car again we head for the hills. Literally. Perth is hemmed in to the west by the Indian Ocean and to the east, the Darling Range, an escarpment which rises abruptly, if not very high. We aim to stay a night in Albany on the south west coast, cutting off the bottom corner of Western Australia with its tall stands of temperate forests, boutique wineries, wild surfing beaches and spectacular limestone caves. I have fond memories of those places, but I’ve been there many times and this is, after all, a whip around Australia.

Canola in the foreground and behind grazing sheep

Canola in the foreground and behind grazing sheep

The landscape changes quickly, replacing the coastal sand dunes and limestone with gravel and rounded granite outcrops. Taller eucalypts form dense forests. This is the home of jarrah, a beautiful, fine-grained hard wood found nowhere else in the world. It’s heavy wood that when cut almost glows with the deep red of dying embers. When I was a kid the timber was used for fruit boxes and fences – and at our place, speargun handles, the shape roughly sawn and then carefully sanded by my older brother. Now, the trees are protected from logging but they are under threat from the soil born fungus phytophthora cinnamomi.

I spent many a happy hour in those forests. The climate here is mediterranean, with almost all the rain falling in winter. In summer the bush endures intense heat and rainless months. The trees shut down, leathery leaves hanging from branches, conserving precious moisture. It’s a time of survival where even the locals don’t budge until nightfall. But in winter, the hollows in the hills fill, the many streams begin to flow, and the run-off feeds the dams that supply water to Perth. It’s a magical time for children. While my father collected fallen timber to take home to burn, my brother and I would explore the streams gurgling through rocky beds softened by bright green moss brought to life by the rain. If we were lucky, we’d find rapids where the water chuckled and clattered over stones smoothed over centuries, or a deep, silent, shadowed pool. If we were even luckier Mum would have brought sausages, which we’d cook over an open fire and eat in a slice of bread. With billy tea, of course.

Albany from Google Earth

Albany from Google Earth

The forests give way to farmland, wide hectares of canola and short, arid-tolerant wheat interspersed with sheep and cattle. Sometimes we find a small town, almost always next to a river. The road is good, and despite the increasing showers, we reach Albany by lunchtime.

It’s a pretty little place with a spectacular natural harbour formed by low granite hills. Two islands in the outer harbour (King George Sound) protect the town from the pounding gales of the southern Indian ocean. I note with interest that the narrow passage into the harbour is called Ataturk Entrance. The reference is historical. Troop carriers loaded with Australian soldiers left for WW1 in 1914 from this port, for many their last glimpse of home. Those soldiers went to Egypt to train for the campaign against the Turks at Gallipoli – where the Turkish army was led by Kemal Ataturk. The name was given in 1985 as part of a reciprocal arrangement with Turkey to honour the dead on both sides of that pointless conflict. Nice.

Granite rocks line the edges of Albany Harbour

Granite rocks line the edges of Albany Harbour

The weather still threatens but the breaks in the clouds allow for some great photo opportunities, the water silvered by sunlight. In the distance, ocean rollers crash against the outer islands. The seas are rough, and rich.

The sun, shining through breaks in the clouds, silvers the water

The sun, shining through breaks in the clouds, silvers the water

Whaling was a major industry here, and indeed, was a reason the area was colonised. It’s sobering to learn that the last whale was taken as late as 1978. Now, whale watching has replaced whale hunting but I can do that in the warm, calm waters of Hervey Bay at home. There’s a whaling information exhibit where they used to process the whales, along with the last whale chaser, Cheynes II.

Rather than risk getting wet trying to find a place for dinner, we book into a motel with a restaurant. Dinner proves to be less than a foodie’s delight. It can sometimes be hard to get as many vegetables as we’d like when travelling, so we order the soup of the day, which we are told is minestrone. Except it is shredded chicken and mashed vegetable. We eat it, but point out the error to the wait person, who explains that he simply told us what the chef had written down. Uh-huh. For main course I order the chicken caesar salad, correctly described in the menu. But the kitchen used iceberg lettuce, not cos, and there is no chicken. Pete is unimpressed with his pork chops and even less impressed with the soggy vegetables and salad offered in the help yourself bar. I can’t help but feel that our complaints are seen as a nuisance more than anything else, although the cost of the soup is removed from the bill.

That’s one hotel crossed off the places to stay list. Never mind. Tomorrow night, we’ll be staying with friends.