We left St George after breakfast and headed for the opal fields in Lightning Ridge in NSW. The plan was to take a quick look, then head on down to Bourke for the night. But things never go exactly to plan, do they?
Our first hiccough was an unscheduled stop at the Nindigully pub. Remember the issue with the GPS? Well, we figured this was all plain sailing, turned it off, and ended up on the wrong highway. About then the driver required a pit stop (if you catch my meaning). Fortunately, this pub was on the way, a short distance to the right. And it turned out to be right beside the Moonie river, which was full! As you will have gathered, seeing more than a few puddles in these inland rivers at this time of year is a rare and wonderful thing. While Pete attended to his business, I went out with the camera. Which goes to show taking the wrong road can sometimes be a Good Thing.
But having taken the wrong road, we had to get back on track. That meant a narrow secondary road over to the other highway. There were substantial puddles on both sides of the road and a sign warning that water was across it, but we thought we’d give it a go. If we did come across a water obstacle, we’d think again – they do say “If it’s flooded, forget it”. But on the other hand, I can’t count the number of times we came across signs saying road works where there weren’t any.
We didn’t encounter any water across the road – but we did encounter drovers moving a mob of cattle along the Long Paddock. The beasts all looked fat and glossy, pigging out on the fresh green grass. It must have been a huge change for them after the years of drought. And good luck to the farmers. I hope they make a squillion in what promises to be a good year (up here in the Maranoah, anyway).
We had lunch at Lightning Ridge. This is another tiny town that’s made a name for itself. Opal miners work the dirt here, looking for colour and that icon of jewellery, the black opal. About a million caravans were parked on the streets, proving the town’s propaganda had done the job of persuading the growing numbers of Gray Nomads to come and visit. You can do a tour of a working mine, see an opal cutting demonstration, and get a glimpse of the town’s history. The people who live here are tough and need every bit of their ingenuity. It would have been worth a half day, but we had places to go.
The weather was changing by the minute, the brilliant blue sky streaked with plumes of high cirrus cloud. They were just the outriders: by the time we reached Bourke, cloud covered most of the sky.
It turned out that Bourke was full. There wasn’t a bed to be had. The reason was the Birdsville Races. I spoke a little about this event when we visited Birdsville earlier this year. The races are run in early September (just a few days from when we reached Bourke) and many travellers were on the move to get to the iconic Queensland town. But the rain that had filled the inland rivers had also caused floods. The roads to Birdsville were impassable, so people had diverted to Bourke. (The rain became so bad up there, the races had to be delayed. That’s a once in a lifetime event.)
We had to move on. Close to sundown in country Australia is not a great time to be on the road. Kangaroos and emus are both thick as two short planks when it comes to road sense, and both will make a nasty mess of a fast-moving car, as well as themselves. Not to mention a wandering bull or two. We headed for Cobar, 160km away. As it happened the band of cloud obscuring the sun hadn’t reached the horizon, so I could catch a snap of typical bush, white-trunked trees and red earth, lit up by the westering sun.
Cobar receives the gold star for worst motel on the trip. We came into town just after dark and decided the place on the corner opposite the RSL and a few metres from the main street would do. The room was tiny, wide enough for the bed and not much else. The bathroom was a narrow lane at the end of the room, just wide enough for a toilet, sink, and shower, for skinny people only. The sliding door was opposite the sink and it snuggled up to your butt while you brushed your teeth.
The RSL (Returned Services League) clubs in country towns are always a good place to get a cheap meal, which was one reason we chose that motel. But the RSL was closed on Monday, so we had to choose from the two pubs in the main street. We thought the food was expensive, but the meals were huge. I think Pete’s parmigiana must have come from a pterodactyl. We could easily have shared one meal between us. But one always discovers things like that too late. On the bright side, we won some money on the Pokies.
Tomorrow we’re heading for Hay, which frankly, sounds as boring as batshit.