One of the things I wanted to see was a large open cast gold mine. Something I had seen on documentaries on TV but never in real life (so to speak). I had seen online or read somewhere that the town of Cobar had two such places.
Due to rain we were unable to drive down the Darling River unsealed road between Bourke and Wilcannia. But there was always the option to take the slightly different route to Wilcannia on the main roads, and via Cobar. The town of Cobar is in the central west of NSW about 750km from Sydney on the eastern edge of the outback.
The Peak Gold Mine
Actually this mine produces copper as well as gold. That’s two for the price of one. Pull all the rock out of the ground and process it not only for the precious gold but also for the increasingly valuable copper.
The place is well signed, just outside the town and has a free to enter viewing platform overlooking the mine. Not sure why so many other similar places we came across never allowed this. Really odd I thought. The views into the bowels of these mines are fantastic.
Sights like this always impress me. It’s the sheer scale of these operations.
The Big Beer Can and The Big Verandah
The Australian penchant for making ‘Big’ things is on display in Cobar town centre too. And what better than a “Big Beer Can”? Especially on a hot day.
Sadly the hotel/pub was not open. But there was another hotel just down the street which had its own claim to fame on a list of big things…
The hotel verandah (or balcony) is 130m long and wide enough for four runners to race (and come to a stop) a 100m sprint. It is said to be the longest hotel balcony in New South Wales. Better than that the pub was actually open for a cold one.
Moving on West…
Cobar is yet another place that deserves more time to be explored. But our accommodation was booked and so it was back on the road. The long straight drive down the Barrier Highway to Wilcannia and White Cliffs.
Although many of the unsealed roads were closed the odd one was still open. So, we took off into the Back o’ Bourke to have a look around. Into the outback…
Although Dani and I had seen several Emus during our time around Lightning Ridge, we had not managed to get close enough to photograph them. They say that you should not get too close to these large birds but that would seem harder than it sounds. They are very timid.
This area is definitely Emu country. They are easily spotted in the fields or low bush at the side of the roads. There must be thousands of them hidden in the denser bush areas.
One mainly gravel road that was open took us out into the back ‘o Bourke where we saw several of these strange tail-less lizards crossing the road…
I think the official name for these creatures is Tiliqua rugosa but I am not sure of its common name. Maybe one of you readers can help. What do they call them in Australia? Is it a blue-tongued skink a bobtail or a shingleback?
If you see a sign like this one then you just have to stop for a beer. Right? No pub for 150km! No choice then mate. Pull over in 3 for cold one.
Well we did just that. 150kms is a long drive when you are thirsty. This was the Warrego Hotel and bar in the tiny outback spot of Fords Bridge.
All of these tiny hamlets (if you can even call them that) seem to have sports pitches of some kind. There are very few peole who live in these places but there are more who live in the surrounding stations (or ranches or farms – depending where you come from).
Anther tiny settlement with a good old outback pub is Enngonia. Heading north to the Queensland border, blink and you miss it. As small as it looks there is a pub, War Memorial Hall and sports fields. The pub doubles as a general store selling pretty much all the essentials.
We even drove up as far as the Queensland border but the police were there to ensure nobody left the leper state of NSW. Especially if they had come from the ‘cluster’ capital of Sydney. Fucking pathetic if you ask me but what the hell?…
I wanted to go to Mount Oxley but the road was closed. We only got to see it from a distance. It is an oddly flat table top mountain in an otherwise flat landscape and stands out on the horizon, not unlike Ayers Rock (Uluru).
There is an odd mystery associated with Mt Oxley. Early explorer Charles Sturt noticed that sometimes, around sunset and after a very hot day, booming noises seem to emanate from the mountain. Sturt himself thought it may be due to gas explosions. He even noticed craters appearing in areas where he thought there had been ‘explosions’. No conclusive explanation has been found for the noises and craters but one possible theory could be correct. The sudden contraction of the rock upon cooling at sunset after exposure to the heat of a very hot day causing the rocks to crack with a bang!
The road that runs parallel to the Darling river toward Wilcannia was also closed and this was one we wanted to take. That road is also the access to two national parks; Gundabooka and Toorale. There are more than enough reasons to visit the Bourke area again. Maybe… in the not too distant future…
As regular readers of this blog (if there are any) will know, visiting cemeteries in remote places is something of a habit for myself and Dani. The town of Bourke has a particularly interesting cemetery just on the south side of town. I thought it warranted its own post…
The other cemeteries I have blogged about were either in small towns (like Lightning Ridge) or places that went from boom to bust (like Silverton). In those paces all the graves seemed to be in no particular order. Here in Bourke however the cemetery was deliberately broken up into separate areas based on religion or even nationality. It had never occurred to me before but if a Catholic church has an adjacent graveyard then everyone buried there would be Catholic. Similarly in a Methodist church’s graveyard those buried would have been Methodist. At least in 99.9% of cases right?
Bourke cemetery is the first place where I had noticed the segregation on religious grounds. This was sectarianism or religious apartheid in the afterlife (even if you don’t believe in that stuff). All the main Christian faiths were there. Catholic, Church of England, Presbyterian and Methodist. But separated! There was even a small Muslim section – see below. Better still there was a section towards one corner reserved for “Chinese”.
Just in front of that mosque shack are the graves of the Afghan camel men. Such men and their camels were the pioneers of transport in this part of the world before river boats and railways. They are buried facing Mecca.
Then I saw this area….
General? Perhaps they were of no religious denomination, atheist or unknown. Couldn’t they have buried the Chinese in the “General” section? Instead of way back in the corner?
In case you were wondering; the Aboriginal area was not defined. Their graves were traditionally located on their own ceremonial land. In more recent times however the graves of Aboriginal people are mixed in with the Christian areas.
By far the most famous person buried in Bourke cemetery is Fred Hollows. I have written a separate and special post about him. If you haven’t already read it then you really should. You can find ithere…
Dani finished school term one today. He brought with him the school photographs taken during the first week of term almost 10 weeks ago.
While I am still trying to catch up (in this blog) on the places we visited during the summer holidays, Dani now has three more weeks off school. Unlike the UK where the kids (and teachers) have a week long half term holiday here in Australia they continue to Easter, Christmas/summer etc holidays and then take that week. So this Easter we have three weeks of fun to look forward to.
In Spain they too go without a half term week’s break. But there they tend to store those up for extra long summer holidays.
Tooth Fairy (still) Waits…
Dani is slow to lose his milk teeth. None have fallen out as yet, but he has two lower incisors growing (fairly large now) behind them. Like a shark! Two rows of teeth! We took him to the dentist a couple of weeks ago and he said if they have not fallen out by the end of the Easter holidays then we had to take him back to have them pulled. Ugh!
Apparently the going rate per tooth here is one dollar. Cheap enough. He will lose four in the next few weeks whether he likes it or not. I have even offered to knock them out for him, which of course he just laughs at. He knows me too well. But at least that gets him trying to wiggle them loose.
The Innocence of a Child
While we were coming back from school today I mentioned that the tooth fairy may be paying a visit during the holidays. It must have triggered his curious mind. Because then Dani asked me something genuinely innocent yet so honest. He was so serious that it was actually quite funny and I had to twist a laugh into a cough.
He said, “I don’t understand something. How can Santa and the Easter bunny make and deliver toys and chocolate eggs. It just doesn’t make any sense. And how do the eggs have plastic wrapping on them?”
Now I don’t really want to be the one to spoil this part of his innocent childhood so I managed to divert his line of questioning by just replying; “Well there are lots of things that don’t make sense in life. Aren’t there?” He repeated how confused he was by it all and I just retold basically the same line. Then he switched subjects in the blink of an eye. It seemed to work.
There is something wonderful about children believing in things like Santa, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy. It will be a definite milestone in his childhood when he learns the truth. Or will it? Who knows what the truth is these days anyway?
I am prepared to wait, for now. But should he find out from his parents or from other children in school, perhaps making fun of him? Tricky one…
Hidden in the middle of the most bizarre of Sydney’s suburbs – Alexandria – sits a huge warehouse building that has been converted into a massive shop for all things football. The place is called Ultra Football. (That’s real football by the way.)
As if to inspire all the youngsters who go there looking to buy their football kits, is a giant mural of the one and only Diego Armando Maradona.
This is a brand new painting too. Copied from a photo of Maradona in his days playing for the Italian club Napoli back in the 1980s. We watched the artists putting the finishing touches to it last weekend when Dani went to a kids party nearby. Leaving Dani at the party, his mum and I went for a meal just a few metres away from this mural. Sharing the same building, sat in the corner of the sports shop/warehouse, is a small Italian restaurant called Curva Cucina & Bar. A very good little restaurant I might add, even if the location is a little odd.
Beside the mural is the new (“special” 4th) Napoli club shirt designed as a cross between Napoli’s traditional blue and the blue/white striped Argentinian shirt. I don’t know as I don’t follow football much these days, but I guess they brought that shirt out as a tribute to Maradona when he died last year. He would have loved wearing that one for sure.
Many young kids today, just getting the football bug, may not know Maradona. They may well know Messi and Ronaldo, but Maradona was far better than both of them – in this old dad’s opinion. This Maradona mural should prove a worthwhile investment for the people at Ultra Football as it should attract a lot of attention from true football fans.
The suburb of Alexandria can only be summed up in one word – weird! The area has a peculiar mix of just about everything from shops, cafés, office & apartment blocks to converted warehouses like ‘Ultra Football’. There are plenty of car showrooms too including all the top brands such as Ferrari, Porsche and Tesla (to name just a few). There are also several micro-breweries in the area so not all bad. In fact one of them appeared in an earlier blog post – see here…
Not at all my scene but hey… Perhaps I will explore more and write a separate post on Alexandria. After test driving that Ferrari…
Do you know anything about the late Fred Hollows? He is someone I had never heard of before visiting Bourke. But this man definitely deserves a special mention. Once I found out about this man I was so impressed I just had to go to the Bourke cemetery to pay my respects.
The Fred Hollows and his Legacy
Fred Hollows was born in 1929 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Originally studying to become a minister, he got a summer job at a mental health facility that opened his eyes to a different ways of thinking. He decided to study medicine, and after graduating he began assisting eye surgeons. Fred became so interested in ophthalmology, he moved to the UK to specialise in it. He returned to Australia in 1965, and became Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of New South Wales.
In 1968, after seeing two senior Aboriginal men as eye patients, Fred went north to where they lived in the Northern Territory. He was so shocked at the poor standard of health in the camp, particularly in eye health. Fred was especially concerned by the large number of children and adults suffering from blinding trachoma. In 1971 he was later asked to go to Bourke where he found the same shocking conditions. It was then that he decided to do something about it and fight for better eye health.
Fred and his (now) wife Gabi worked together on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. This took them to over 465 Indigenous communities in outback Australia. Fred also visited developing countries including likes Nepal and Burma where he saw the same poor eye health.
“It’s obscene to let people go blind when they don’t have to.”
– Fred Hollows
Fred pioneered the factory production of affordable intraocular lenses (IOLs). These lenses were used to treat cataract and significantly cut the cost of restoring sight. The lenses were expensive when made in countries like Australia, but cheap and accessible when made locally. He realised that by setting up factories to produce the IOLs cheaply in places like Nepal and Eritrea it would make a world of difference to so many who would otherwise be blind.
Fred’s work took him to many developing countries in order to train eye surgeons. Even though he had developed cancer he once discharged himself from hospital to fly to Vietnam to undertake such training.
Gone too soon…
He was so well thought of that nobody called him Professor Hollows or Dr. Hollows. Just Fred. And he liked that. Fred had such an affection with Bourke and the people in the area that he asked to be buried there. His grave is surrounded by rocks from nearby Mt. Oxley. They are laid out in the shape of an eye.
Fred died in 1993 and was given a state funeral before being taken to Bourke where he was laid to rest. The original grave stone was replaced in 2006 by a sculpture that embraces his love for the area, climbing and nature. Its polished surface is reminiscent of the clinical grade plastic intraocular lenses that were used in cataract operations that restored sight to those who had gone needlessly blind.
Every once in a while you discover someone quite remarkable. Someone who truly can be called a great human being. Fred Hollows is one such person.
Fred’s work is continued by The Fred hollows Foundation.
I was never going to try and write a full biography for Fred Hollows here in a relatively short post. But his story, of how one person can make a huge difference, is truly inspiring. I would urge you to research the man and find out more about Fred’s story.
After all the rain we have had I thought it would be a good idea to go up and see the main reservoir for supplying Sydney. It lies to the west of Sydney. It’s called Lake Burragorang and the water is held back by a large construction known as the Warragamba Dam. As luck would have it every route near the dam – which is normally open to the public – was closed. We were not the only tourists trying to get a look at the full reservoir. Quite a few people had the same idea as myself and many cars were turning back at the sight of locked gates. We will try again in a few weeks time.
It was lunchtime so we decided to find somewhere local. And what a great little restaurant we found.
Pietro’s Italian Restaurant
Normally I would have thought that was a wasted trip. Over an hour out of the city. But then we stopped to find somewhere to eat. And we found a little gem!
Pietro’s Italian Restaurant is in the small village of Warragamba. The village was only constructed in 1940 as a worker’s settlement for construction of the dam. We had a quick look inside and it was getting busy. It seemed like they were expecting a few large pre-booked parties but they had one table free. From my first quick scan of the joint I knew we should take it.
Like Man vs Food!
Saturday nights and Sunday lunchtime Pietro’s has a set menu; $70 per person for a nine course meal. Some of those plates are not large but others would be enough on their own for many people. This was like that American TV show Man vs Food. Great! Fantastic! What more can I say?
The quantity was never in question. There was no way we were going to eat everything. When the final dish turned up – a 12 inch pizza! – I just had to ask if we could take it away with us. The quality was very high also. This was a great find and a return is definitely going to happen. Only next time I want to pre-book and intend to take more time and make the meal last a lot longer.
For the record we had:
Cold meat and cheese
Pasta dish with bolognaise sauce
Pork belly with a large plate of chips
Meat with potatoes and peas
Before all that they even served up a plate of meatballs in Napoli sauce as an appetizer! A meal in itself for some! Absolutely amazing if your a food lover. Ultimately it was 10 dishes/plates/courses. It was all fantastic but the pork belly and calamari were particularly excellent. We ended up taking away a full pizza and half of the past and calamari dishes. That will be more than enough for an evening meal at home.
So as a soon as we can visit the dam I will book a table for this huge feast at Pietro’s. Maybe I should get into training. I can start by watching a few episodes of Man vs Food…
By now the rest of the planet is probably aware that there has been plenty of rain and floods in many areas of Australia. Particularly the east coast and more specifically New South Wales.
Not exactly a new thing…
A similar thing happened just over a year ago. It was a perfect opportunity for the opposition parties to have a go at the country’s Prime Minister. Blame him for the floods? Yes. There is no depths that these low life politicians will stoop to. They had already been blaming him for the dry period and more specifically for the many forest fires that had occurred – mainly before we arrived last year. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of the PM but pleeeeaaase!!!! As if any politician is in charge of the weather.!!! About this time last year he would have continued to get a load of shit for the rain but then that coronavirus showed up. And the rest, as they say, is history…
Apparently – from people I have spoken to – it is quite normal to get a couple of years of wet autumns following a particularly dry period. So this was to be expected (as far as I can tell).
Also, just like the whole country was not on fire just over a year ago, the whole of Australia is NOT under water now. Yes, there are thousands who have been evacuated from their homes (many as a precautionary measure) but the vast majority of them are living on flood plains. Yes. That’s right. It is as simple as that. There has been a shit load of rain and many houses have been flooded. Mainly on the banks of large rivers. So let’s not turn this into some end of world event. And definitely let’s not mention that “C” change word eh? Because that’s bollocks as well.
Today the sky was mostly clear and blue. The sun shone and the temperatures reached 30ºC. That’s 86ºF in old money (or American dollars – as the USA still works in Fahrenheit). Not bad for an autumn day. A huge change from the constant rain of the last seven days or more.
Plenty of people took to the beaches and the waves today in Sydney. You would think the sun hadn’t shone for a week. And in fact it hadn’t. It has rained continuously for a whole week. There has been talk of 50 year flood levels even 100 years. Who knows? But the reservoirs had to fill up some time. It is just not a regular occurrence like it is in, say, northern Europe.
There’s a saying that “The Outback” begins at Bourke. Rather at the Back o’ Bourke – the back of beyond – across the Darling river where you are officially said to be “out back”. Hence Outback.
Located some 800km northwest of Sydney, the first thing I learnt about Bourke was that I had been pronouncing it incorrectly. It is actually pronounced how you would say burk (or berk), which is British slang – calling someone a berk is to call them a stupid or silly person. I had been pronouncing it like “boar” with a “k” on the end.
The small town of Bourke (population about 2000) sits on the south banks of the famous Darling river, just west of its start. The Darling river winds its way through this part of Australia almost like a coil. So much so that it is about six times longer than the actual distance from its start to where it meet the Murray River way south of here. Check it out for yourself on Google maps or similar.
Old Bourke Wharf
The old wharf could do with a bit of John Murray influenced painting I reckon. Especially the back walls. Under the wharf is out of sight, so there are signs of blatant vandalism. That said the wharf is historic. It was formerly the largest inland port in the world for exporting wool on the Darling River. The town would have been very busy in those days – from 1860 up to 1930.
The Bourke court house is unique in inland Australia, in that it was originally a maritime court and to this day maintains that distinction.
Because so many people used to pass through here with the loading and unloading of the river boats it was normal that some would stop over. But now some of the hotels that once thrived are mostly empty. There are some quite grand designs too.
One of the saddest sights for me was the wonderful Central Australian Hotel. Still standing solidly like a forgotten temple of art deco architecture, this awesome building is now closed and empty. Such a waste! Apparently Bourke’s one and only Art Deco building. I hope somebody does something to restore and reopen this building.
It’s all a bit sad in my opinion but it is hard to see where anything like a revival can come from. Tourism would seem the only industry likely to expand in these parts – and only then by a small amount.
The town centre does have a certain charm and there are several heritage listed sites including the old court house and post office.
The problem we had here was that pretty much everything was closed. Not due to Covid-1984 – for once – but due to it not being the “visitor season”. Despite being the kids school summer holidays this period is normally just too bloody hot with temperatures reaching into the 40s. The main time for visitors – and when things like the river paddle steamer runs – is usually April to end of November. Add to that the fact that there had been a few big downpours of rain recently which meant that most of the outback unsealed roads were closed (see below).
Bloody typical. We came all this way and can’t do most of the things we had planned.
Despite there being enough recent rainfall to close most of the local dirt roads, the Darling was too low for the paddle boats. Again, we were out of season!
North Bourke Bridge is Australia’s oldest movable span bridge and one of the most historic bridges in New South Wales. First opened in May 1883 it is the sole survivor of the first two lift bridges built in New South Wales.
Bourke’s Own Cola Drink!
Forget Atlanta, USA; the home of Coca-Cola. Forget Harrison, New York state, the home of Pepsi (OK, I admit, I had to look that one up). Bourke has its own cola. Splashe Cola! Now I am no expert as I generally do not like the stuff and hardly ever drink colas. But according to our new resident cola drinks expert – Dani – this Splashe Cola was fairly good.
The company currently makes ten different beverages. The name of the company used to be Rice’s Cordials until 1998 when it became known as Back o’ Bourke Cordials. I prefer the new name…
Australia has around 570,000 km of unsealed roads. That’s about the same distance as to the moon and half way back! It is inevitable that you will end up driving on some of these roads. The condition of these roads varies from compacted dirt – which turns to rusty-red mud when it rains – to loose gravel. Sudden pot holes and large rocks come as extras – if you are unlucky.
Many are passable with two wheel drive vehicles but many are off limits without a 4×4 motor. Even with the four wheel drives when it rains the local council may try to close some of the dirt roads. This is exactly what happened when we were in the Bourke area.
The plan was to try and drive the unsealed route from Bourke to Wilcannia, following the Darling river. But the recent luck with unsealed road closures around Bourke forced a quick rethink. Plan ‘B’ was to head directly south to Cobar and then take the Barrier Highway to Wilcannia.
Last year I wrote about one of Dani’s school assignments. You can read that post here.…
Basically the kids were asked to write about a famous Australian and Dani chose Chris Hemsworth – aka Thor from the Marvel comics movies. I then wrote about how many ‘degrees of separation’ there are between Dani and Thor. There were two – or three – depending how you interpret that stuff.
Well now there is only one!
Dani’s Spanish grandmother knows Chris Hemsworth’s daughter’s Spanish grandfather. We knew that some time ago. But what are the odds that their grandchildren would end up being classmates? Now Dani knows Hemsworth’s daughter! Well actually the odds are a lot lower these days. Much lower than when we were living on the other side of the world in the northern hemisphere.
Being in the same country helps. As does being in the same town or city. And it turns out that the Marvel Studios has relocated to Sydney for some years so most of the regular actors in their films have also relocated to the city. All that has definitely reduced the odds.
Selfie? Yeah, it’s fine…
Dani is cool about it but it must be hard for kids of famous people. Especially when half of the boys in the school have sports bags or lunch-boxes with Marvel characters all over them – including Thor of course.
People have asked me if I have seen Thor at school pick up time. Well I haven’t and I doubt that famous people do that sort of thing. But if we do meet at the school gates and he wants to do a selfie with me, I suppose I will let him.