East of Broken Hill as the land flattened out, the straight stretch of road seemed longer, and the sun seemed to beat down more fiercely.
Travelling through much the same country of low tussock grasses, there was only the odd stunted acacia trees to break the landscape. It was totally devoid of any characteristics; just flat, dry, featureless land with lots of feral goats, a number of wild emus and sometimes the odd stray sheep or 2 to break the monotony of the long straight road that seemed to go on and on forever.
The river beds were totally dry and a few signs warning of kangaroos dotted the roadside… we were yet to see one, dead or alive.
About 85-kilometres out of Broken Hill we passed Topar Roadhouse. Established 1895 this little road stop operates as a restaurant, shop, post office, pub, campground and a fuel stop… and was a busy little stopover for trucks and campers.
A number of massive road trains hurtled past as we continued on and it was a welcome relief to pull in at Spring Hill Rest Area for a break.
Occasionally the long straight road gave way to a windy stretch of road and a few low rolling hills and at one stage we had to slow for an emu to dawdle across the road.
On the outskirts of Wilcannia we bypassed the turn off that led along Miners Way to White Cliffs, just 95- kilometres to the north. We had travelled to this lovely little opal mining town on our last trip.
Precious gemstones were first discovered at White Cliffs in the 1880s and it is Australia’s oldest commercial opal field.
When mining first began, miners started building underground dwellings to escape the outback heat and even today most of the people still live in these underground homes.
Our next stop was Wilcannia on the Darling River and our first impression as we drove down the main street was that of a sad, unkept and unloved little town with most of the shops and pubs now shut. Buildings were vandalised and broken, some were burned-out or boarded up and others covered in graffiti.
Even after a quick drive around the town to check out some of the historic buildings and the Darling River it didn’t get any better.
The lady at the information centre in Broken Hill told us not to believe everything we had heard about this little town – ‘it is only on Centrelink day you don’t want to visit’, she said. Well, I don’t think that lady has been to Wilcannia for a very long time as it hadn’t improved since our last visit… in fact I think it was worse.
It didn’t take long to see what there was to see and move on. In fact, it would be possible to pass through this historic town and completely miss the beautiful sandstone buildings dating back to the period between the 1870s to the 1890s when the town was in its heyday. Today the buildings are a sad memento of what was once a prosperous era.
It was hard to believe this town was once the 3rd largest port on the Darling River for paddle boats shipping grain and sheep to Adelaide.
It was also the centre of a number of coach routes that travelled western New South Wales and at the time boasted 13 hotels, a brewery a population of 3000 and a local newspaper.
We could only imagine the rich and vibrant history of this little place that was once known as the ‘Queen City of the West’. Today it has a ranking of one of the worst towns to visit in New South Wales and the Darling River is only a shadow of what it used to be.
Apart from the magnificent River Red Gums still perched on its banks it was almost dry with only a slimy green puddle on one side of the bridge, it stunk of urine and there was so much rubbish scattered about.
What was once a small service centre for the surrounding grazing industry for the wheat and sheep industry has now given way to scrub, feral goats, emus and was very much a struggling town with inhabitants battling with a lack of jobs and educational opportunities.
The Barkindju tribe have lived in this region for 40,000-years and in their local Aboriginal language Wilcannia means ‘a gap in the bank where the flood waters escape’ – I don’t think this region had seen flood waters for a very long time!
The old punt bridge, next to the more recent bridge where we stopped for lunch on a previous trip, was built in 1896 and is a relic of its time. It once had a vertical lift span to let the paddle steamers through… a reminder of Wilcannia’s old role and of what the Darling used to be like before the drought. It was hard to believe in 1887, 222 steamers stopped here.
As with all these river towns, eventually road and rail traffic took over from the steamer trade and by the1920s the town began to decline and lost much of its former glory.
Leaving Wilcannia, we headed east through a Darling River flood plain passing the Paroo-Darling National Park turnoff, the 4WD track to Menindee and the Cobb Highway that led to Ivanhoe.
After crossing the Darling River the shrubbery appeared more plentiful and as we continued the countryside became quite wooded, still very sparse in areas, but the acacia bush and the odd gum tree gave it a bit of life and we seemed to stumbled upon less goats.
We passed a flowering boot, bottle and hat tree seemly in the middle of nowhere that had obviously benefited without the rains. These flowering shrubs weren’t here on our last trip so it appeared someone had a great sense of humour and a lot of time on their hands.
Then came another rest area to stop for a cuppa, something to eat and to swap driving. It wasn’t the cleanest of stops and left a lot to be desired so we quickly made a sandwich, and with our coffee in our travel mugs, made tracks again.
We slowed for three elegant emus to prance across the road then for some sheep grazing on the side of the road. A herd of goats crowded an empty water hole and it made us wonder how they managed to survive out here in the scrub with no water that we could see. Emus too were thriving.
Further down the road we slowed again… this time for a woman plucking feathers for a dead emu in the middle of the road. Oblivious to the traffic that skirted around her, she obviously had a death wish too.
This highway was road train heaven with one after the other. There was quite a bit of other traffic also, with lots of caravans, motor homes and campers heading in both directions.
At one stage we were waved to the side of the road to allow a wide load to pass. We pulled off to the side as far as we could as a big red spool on the back of a semi-trailer slowly passed, followed by another transport vehicle.
Red dirt, dead trees and the odd gum crowded the plains that lined the long straight road that was only occasionally broken by a slight rise.
We passed the lonely Emmdale Roadhouse that just seemed to pop up in the middle of nowhere.
Emmdale was about 113-kilometres into our 260-kilometre drive from Wilcannia to Cobar and had limited camping at $10 a night for unpowered sites and 4 powered sites at $20 a night.
As we chugged along herds of goats and kangaroos made a presence on the verge of the road, none of which were interested in moving out into our path.
The kangaroos appeared quite lethargic and not the slightest bit interested as we went whizzing past. The drought was having a big impact not only on the country but also the native animals.
We passed MaCullaughs Rest Area and a bit further on came Bulla Park which was not the cleanest of road side stops mostly because there were no amenities.
There were lots of road stops along this stretch of the Barrier Highway, most with amenities and tables under shelters and quite clean compared to what had been on the western side of Broken Hill, but this particular one was the exception!
Just after the last rest area, road works slowed us to 40-kilometres an hour for the next 12-kilometres with passing vehicles sending flying rocks at our windscreen from those who were too impatient to obey the road signs.
About 70-kilometres out of Cobar we passed the Mount Glenfell Historic Site turnoff and although we were really impressed with this site when we visited last trip we decided against 30-kilometre drive along the gravel road.
However, you do need to have the right vehicle to get there on the rough road and if you’re interested in indigenous art, enjoy bushwalking and you are pretty fit then this is the place for you!
It really is a pretty special place where you can enjoy the Mount Grenfell Art site walk, a short easy track taking in 3 main galleries of Ngiyampaa rock art. Ngiyampaa walking track is a slightly more challenging hike to Choy trig station at the summit.
As well as being beautiful this countryside was also desolate and at times depressing.
Goats and kangaroos grazed by the side of road in search of the elusive blade of green grass but it was the kangaroos that seemed to come off second best. It was as if they didn’t have the energy to hop out of the way of oncoming traffic.
We passed quite a few carcasses and skeletons of dead roos in different states of decomposition, mown down by the huge road trains that thunder through with their massive bull bars.
We eventually pulled in to Lilydale Rest Area for a break. One van was already parked up for the night but we decided to push on. Over the road a discarded caravan with missing wheels sat abandoned in another rest area and further on in the bushes a burnt-out car lay partly camouflaged.
Meadow Glen Rest Area was only 30-40 kilometres from Cobar, and as it was late in the afternoon, we decided to call this home for the night.
This very popular spot was large enough for lots of vans and was certainly popular with campers, all with the same idea as us.
The next morning started with a colony of cockatoos waking the entire campsite at 6:00am so we were on the road early heading for Cobar.
Cobar is a pleasant little place located at the crossroads of two major highways of NSW and is the gateway to the Outback.
The Kidman Way heads through to Bourke while the Barrier Highway continues on to Nyngan where we were heading.
The Kidman Way was named after Sir Sidney Kidman, who was a famous pastoralist and cattle king, owning over a 100- cattle stations along the path, with many still owned by his descendants.
It traces the vast length of his stock routes, which was used back in the day to move herds to and from major markets in Outback NSW.
Today, this highway is a fully sealed road running almost 800-kilometres through outback New South Wales and is an interesting drive that is packed with lots of history.
Starting south of Cobar at Jerilderie the Kidman Way officially ends at the near-desolate town of Barringun on the New South Wales – Queensland border.
The route passes through interesting and some historic towns such as Darlington Point, Griffith, Hillston, Mount Hope and Gilgunnia south of Cobar, then to the north; Bourke, Enngonia and Barringun where it becomes the Matilda Highway and heads further north through Queensland all the way to Karumba in the Gulf.
Known as ‘The Copper City’, Cobar has been a copper mining town since its discovery in 1870 and is filled with grand old buildings, which stand testament to the town’s prosperous mining history. It really is worth a quick stop to check out the mines and wander around the town.
However, there is much more to the community than its mining stories.
Prior to the discovery of copper, the district was made up of huge pastoral holdings which relied heavily on the Darling River trade.
It also has a strong Aboriginal heritage being the traditional home of the Ngemba and Wongaibon Aboriginal people.
The name ‘Cobar’ is said to have come from ‘gubar’, a word used by the Ngiyambaa people for the red ochre they found in the area and used for body-painting.
And even I had a story to tell… I remembered Cobar well from a previous trip when I was attacked by a magpie while out riding.
The nasty little bird glided silently down and swooped on me as I struggled to pedal the only hill in the town to the lookout overlooking the big open cut mine… and he actually drew blood at the back of my ear.
This little town certainly had a strong sense of community, great landmarks, many unique stories and the locals were so friendly.
Leaving Cobar, we crossed the Kidman Highway intersection that led to Bourke and continued along the Barrier Highway heading to Nyngan.
Following alongside the railway line we travelled through much the same country side we had been travelling over the past couple of days.
Goats were in abundance.
Herds of relaxed feral goats grazed by the roadside wreaking havoc on the landscape with their hard hoofs and large appetites.
Strangely enough we didn’t come across one dead goat on the side of the road, which led us to believe goats really must be quite a smart creature.
The next rest stop was Florida, 48-kilometres on.
We had only just pulled in for lunch when 2 caravans pulled in beside us, or should I say one hobbled in.
One guy climbed out of his car with a worried look on his face and pointed at the tyre on his van – it was as flat as a pancake and apparently happened just as they turned into the roadside stop.
He then set to work to replace the tyre while his wife watched on and barked instructions, and I was not so sure about the other couple… they set up their camp chairs and observed the whole operation, obviously enjoying the mornings entertainment at someone elses expense!
After talking to one of the ladies she told us of a free camp behind the main street in Nyngan at ‘Shearing Shed Park’. They were heading into Cobar for the ‘Mardi Gras’ weekend and we were beginning to wonder what we had missed by not staying in Cobar.
Along this stretch we passed Hermidale, another ‘blink and you miss it’ place with only a small roadhouse, but as small as it was, there was still a general store come post-office and service station and like any good Aussie roadside stops there was still room for a tavern with a good beer on tap.
With Guy taking notes in the passenger seat I was a bit concerned what he was writing down for my blog – ‘light rain yesterday, evident by the wet road’! – this country was as dry as a bone and there was definitely no sign of rain.
Next line – ‘The election was also called for the 17 May so I think that means we will have think about that one and look into a postal vote when we reach Sydney in a couple of weeks’.
There were still lots of pines in this area but this stretch of road gave way to a few gums that seemed to get bigger and more prolific the further we travelled east.
We were still following the railway line and we passed a few turnoffs to places we had never heard of, such as Boomroomuga!
Further on we passed the sign that said ‘Welcome to Bogan Shire’ and wondered where we were heading.
As we neared Nyngen the barren countryside gave way to flat grass, wheat, pastureland and cattle country.
We passed ploughed country, the first we had seen in weeks, and of course with the slight breeze little whirlies were dancing across the ground in front of us.
We passed a few dams with water in them and an amazing solar plant just out of town. It even had a lookout.
Nyngan is the capital of the Bogan Shire… and presumably the birthplace of ‘bogans’. It is also the start of the ‘Outback’, sits on the Bogan River and marks the point where the Mitchell Highway becomes the Barrier Highway.
Not only did a huge sign tell us we were entering the ‘Outback’ as we drove into town, but the railway station proudly proclaimed it was the first station in the ‘Real Outback’.
I knew we were in the ‘Outback’ simply because there were flocks of Apostle Birds everywhere, they only reside in the Outback!
The district was originally inhabited by the Ngiyampaa Aborigines and the first European in the area was Thomas Mitchell when he explored the Bogan River in 1835. He recorded the local Aboriginal word ‘nyingan’ meaning ‘long pond of water’ while camping on the site of the future township.
It became a municipality in 1891 but little was known of Nyngan until 1990 when it was swamped with the worst floods of the century. The towns people laid 260,000 sandbags on top of the established levee but the waters inundated the entire town, causing $50 million worth of damage and necessitating the airlift by helicopter of 2000 citizens, virtually the entire population. A helicopter now stands in pride of place in the centre of town to commemorate the occasion, a gift from the Australian Government to the people of Nyngan.
It is also home of another ‘Aussie Big Thing’ with ‘The Big Bogan’ statue the new kid on the block. Standing at 5-metres tall the statue comes complete with an esky, a Southern Cross tattoo on its arm, a spear and a pair of our national shoes – THONGS… so if you stop in town be sure and have your photo taken with this prominent feature that stands proudly at the Teamsters Rest Area… it doesn’t get more fair dinkum than this!
The ‘Shearing Shed Park’ wasn’t a bad place to pull in for an overnight stay. It’s a free camp and all they ask is that you keep your shopping dockets from around town and place them in a container near the loos. The toilets and grounds were very clean and although quite noisy to start with because of trucks passing through and a few locals, it did quieten down later in the evening!
Sometimes there’s the uncertainty of parking in a place you’re not familiar with, especially when 1 or 2 locals make the location their home, but they were harmless enough, and with our rooftop tent set up in between a couple of vans we felt quite cosy and safe.
We also met more people travelling to the ‘Mardi Gras’ in Cobar, which turned out to be a ‘Grey Mardi Gras’ – apparently a long weekend of jammed packed entertianment to celebrate the golden era of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
On our previous travels the road from Nyngan took us north along the Mitchell Highway into the real ‘Outback’… and to ‘the back of Bourke’. Follow our story as we head to Bourke and beyond…
From this point we could continue along the Barrier Highway through Nevertire, Trangie and Narromine to Dubbo but because we had travelled that way before we decided to take the long road via the Oxley Highway through Warren and cotton country.
You could ‘never tire’ of scenery around Nevertire. This typical little one pub railway town, although located on the Mitchell Highway, is also at the western end of the Oxley Highway and only 19-kilometres south-west of Warren where we were heading.
Trangie further west, is a small country service centre and is well known by travellers for ‘Goan Waterhole’ where at certain times you can find a spectacular display of mosses and water plants and is home to many birds.
The town is dominated by the ‘Trangie Silo’, which is evidence of importance of wheat in the area and there were vast cotton fields outside the town.
Sheep, wool, sorghum and fat lambs are also important to this area.
The area is thought to have been occupied by the Wongaibon Aborigines prior to white settlement and ‘Trangie’ is an indigenous word said to mean ‘quick’.
The town originally developed on ‘Weemaabah’ station, established, in the 1830s, which the ‘Cobb & Co. Coach’ service from Dubbo to Bourke passed through stopping at the Swinging Gate Hotel a little further up river. However a township didn’t develop until the railway arrived in 1882.
33-kilometres on from Trangie is Narromine, which itself is only 39-kilometres west of Dubbo at the junction of the Mitchell and Newell Highways.
This is an area most famous for its aeronautical history showcased by the Narromine Aviation Museum, which is home to aviation memorabilia, historic photographs, and three unique aircraft including the world’s only replica of the 1907 Wright Flyer Model.
Another silo also dominates this town as you drive in… and don’t miss an opportunity to have a photo taken at the statue of Glenn McGrath. Narromine is the hometown of the former Australian cricket star.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the trail of white cotton tufts lining Oxley Highway during harvest season and the seemingly endless rows of massive round cotton bales sitting in the paddocks, then it is certainly worth the drive just to see a sight you don’t get to see in many country towns.
We slowed for cattle to cross the road and further on we passed large road trains carrying huge cotton rolls!
Warren promotes itself as the ‘Wool and Cotton Capital’ and is situated on the Macquarie River. It is a lay-back country town with a unique charm and and definitely worth a visit if you are passing through.
Further up the highway was the tiny village of Collie, with only a few houses and a pub that advertised a free campground out the back. The name Collie is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘water’.
Further on we pulled over into Marthaguy Rest Area for a break.
Gilgandra was next on the map.
Gil, as it is known by the locals, was a great little town and is well advertised on signs as the ‘Home of the Coo-ees’ and the ‘Town of Windmills’. We loved this little town, which was the main reason we came back!
The Coo-ee March took place in 1915 when 35 men left from Gilgandra and marched 500 kilometres to Sydney to enlist for World War I.
Along the way they recruited over 200 men, announcing their arrival with a call of ‘coo-ee’! This march sparked 7 other such marches from Aussie country towns.
If your passing through Gilgandra and you are inspired by the Coo-ee March, a trip to Hitchen House Museum is a must. This is the home of the Hitchen brothers, who were responsible for initiating the march. The museum has some very interesting memorabilia from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
Gilgandra also has a great ‘Visitor Information Centre’, which is home to the ‘Coo-ee Heritage Centre Memorabilia’ from the 1915 march. Situated in the ‘Gilgandra Coo-ee Memorial Park’ just along the Newell Highway, this centre is well worth a visit. The staff are very friendly and helpful, it is surrounded by beautiful grounds and has a lovely ‘Windmill Walk’.
The centre also displays items relating to the ‘Breelong Massacre’ on which Thomas Keneally’s novel (1972), ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’ was based.
The novel was based on a massacre that took place after an Aboriginal man, Jimmy Governor was insulted for marrying a white woman who in turn was taunted for marrying an Aboriginal by the women of the household where Jimmy, along with his brother Joe and cousin Jack Underwood were employed to cut fence post.
As a result, the constant taunting embittered the Aboriginals towards the women, which in turn was followed by grieveances between the families. Injury was added to insult when Thomas Mawbey refused to purchase any more fence posts, embittering the Aboriginals even more towards the women of the homestead. The situation finally came to a head when Jimmy and the boys decided to confront the women in their home, which ultimately ended in the massacre (with a tomahawk and waddies). Three people died during the attack – the Mawbey’s 14 year old son, their 11 year old daughter and a school teacher boarding there at the time. Their 16 year old daughter died a few days later.
Jimmy Governor, his brother Joe and Jack Underwood became the most notorious of the bushrangers of the region with the brothers using their exceptional bush skills, and the assistance of the Aboriginal population of the region to avoid the authorities.
They led police on a frantic chase back and forth across the region from July to October of the year 1900 with Jimmy eventually captured by locals near Wingham on the Manning River on 27 October. Joe was shot dead north of Singleton on 31 October 1900.
Jimmy Governor was tried for murder in November 1900, and hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol on 18 January 1901.
Jack Underwood who was caught only a few weeks after the massacre was tried at Dubbo, found guilty of murder and hanged at Dubbo Gaol in January 1901.
Interesting enough, these 3 men were the last people to be declared ‘bushrangers’ in NSW.
For those interested in farm machinery, the Rural Museum was located only a few hundred metres along the highway and housed a vast collection of agricultural artefacts including antique farm machinery.
After a nice little lunch break in the memorial park beside the information centre we left Gil and continued along the Newell Highway passing another rest area only 9-kilometres out of town.
We had passed quite a few rest areas as we cruised through Warren, Collie and Gilgandra but only a couple were suitable to pull into for the night, the others were to close to the highway and lacked amenities.
The lovely lady at the Visitor Information Centre had told us of a great camp in the small town of Eumungerie, halfway between Gilgandra and Dubbo… and it was at this tiny town tucked so far back from the highway that if you blinked you will miss the sign completely, that we set up camp for the next 3-days.
This small village evolved from a roadside inn/store known as ‘The Coalbaggie Inn’ that was established in 1874. A small settlement grew between 1872 and 1881 as various selectors took up land surrounding the inn. The original settlement being named after the Inn – Coalbaggie.
The railway arrived in 1901 and a timber mill opened on the line at Coalbaggie Creek and other development was spurred on.
The village was dedicated as Eumungerie in 1904 – Eumungerie being an Aboriginal word for ‘quandong’, a native peach tree.
Eumungerie Recreation Reserve was such a lovely place that our 1 night soon turned into 3.
The caretakers, Kevin and Mareen were lovely people as were local farmers Chris and Direll, the custodians of the grounds.
It a cost $5 a night for an unpowered site, $10 for a powered and we had the luxury of showers (cold), clean amenities, camp fire pits and the ‘Drovers Dog Hotel’ just across the road.
Big silos lined the sides of the train line, but there hadn’t been a grain train for many months… no grain, no train! Although a maintenance train did pass through!
This tiny community was doing it really hard because of the drought. There were 10 students at the school and apparently when the numbers dropped to 5 the school will close. The general store had closed it doors, and the post office had shut up shop and moved to the mangers residence!
All that remained in this little town was the local watering hole, the ‘Drovers Dog Hotel’ that brought residents together and the Eumungerie Recreation Reserve that brought tourists to the town!
If you are driving past and looking for somewhere to rest your head for the night, park your van or tent at the reserve, have a meal at the pub and…
… support a local farmer and a small town!