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Broken Hill to Longreach

We meet the Outback!

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Much of the drive from Broken Hill to Bourke was almost as featureless, or perhaps more accurately, unvarying as the worst of the Nullarbor. Again, we saw much roadkill with the attendant swarms of scavenging birds of varying types. We did however see quite a few live kangaroos and emus which we found encouraging. On the way through, we stopped for lunch at a strange little roadhouse in Emmdale where we were served by two Swedes on working visas. We were also fascinated by our first sighting of apostlebirds which are quite plain but rather fun to watch – a bit like parrots in mufti!

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Bourke itself is a pleasant little town on a bend in the Darling River, well-kept and worthy of more than a one night stop but with several fixed dates ahead, we have had to rush many places. Despite the rush we are absolutely fascinated by what we see and full of admiration for the early pioneers and indeed for those who continue to work in the Outback. As with so many places, the Darling River was named, by Charles Sturt in 1828, after an official of the day, in this case Ralph Darling, Governor of New South Wales. A few years later, the explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was instrumental in establishing a township which he named Bourke after the Governor, Richard Bourke. It is largely an agricultural town with its roots in transport routes for the area.

When we left Bourke, we were truly “Back o’ Bourke” and, by definition, were now in the Outback proper. Our earlier than usual start resulted in our seeing many more kangaroos and emus than usual and we had to be extra alert as they were closer to the road. I stopped at one point as I could see two kangaroos crossing on the road ahead as a road train thundered towards them. They both made it although the second one only just by putting a burst of speed of which Usain Bolt would be envious. If we had been closer and if the road train had hit one, we could have suffered severe damage from a flying kangaroo! A coffee and cake stop in Cunnamulla was only slightly marred by swarms of flies which attempted to take our food as we were eating – one of the downsides of some country areas. Cunnamulla is also a small town at the intersection of transport routes and on the Warrego River.

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The Outback in the areas we have been driving through has consisted of vast red soil plains broken by occasional flood plains. Trees are generally sparse and spartan with few growing more than twelve feet high. Predictably, most are eucalypts of varying types but we have also come across many acacia trees, although none in blossom as they were in WA. I am sure there are many other types of trees and shrubs which I should know but my memory is not up to that and, in fairness, we haven’t often stopped to examine them for identifying features. It is a harsh landscape and the people who settled here were definitely tough folk.

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On crossing the border into Queensland, we had to set our watches back an hour as they keep a different time from New South Wales (no ‘daylight saving’). After settling into our motel in Charleville, we took a walk along the banks of the, mostly dry, Warrego River and enjoyed seeing some lovely riverside trees and a variety of different birds. We are not ‘twitchers’ but we do like to keep track of the different birds that we have identified on our travels. In this case the name of the town is believed to have been named by an Irishman after the town of Charleville, County Cork. This of course being another colonial way of keeping alive memories of 'home'. It is a larger town than others and is in fact the administrative centre for its shire. It was a crossroads for stock movement routes and also played its part in the early days of Qantas. The town also boasts a Cosmos Centre where visitors can view the surface of the sun in safety and also use telescopes for night time viewing of the sky which seems so much darker in the Outback. This is again one of the things that we had to forgo due to the shortness of our stay. Charleville also had one of the 'giant' items that are to be seen around Australia, in this case a giant Kangaroo!

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From Charleville we travelled on to Augathella, a very pretty little town with a very attractive little ‘cop shop’. We had breakfast in Meat Ant Park and were just finishing when a little girl joined us at the one table in the shade. She had come for her 4th birthday along with her Mum and other Mums and daughters. The little girl and her Mum had driven an hour to get into town and many of the others had driven similar distances. The park gave pride of place to a large figure of a meat ant which appear to have their name from their usefulness in clearing away remains of dead animals in the bush. Augathella is a little unusual in having had several names. Originally it was called Burenda, then was renamed Ellangowan (a name still in use locally) and finally was called Augathella which is apparently an Aboriginal name meaning 'camp at the waterhole'.

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I did much of the driving today as Judith’s workload finally caught up with her and I drove through Tambo, after stopping for Judith to take a photo of the Tambo Teddies Crossing sign. A little way out of town, Jet Set (and Judith) complained about not even visiting the teddies, so I did a big U turn and back we went. Apparently, some 25 years ago the town was in a bit of a slump and people were asked to come up with ideas to lift the town and one lady came up with the idea of producing teddy bears. She did not think the business would last long but it is still running, albeit with different owners, and produces beautiful, if slightly expensive, teddy bears. Apart from teddy bears, Tambo also has the dubious distinction of being the site of the first crash of a Qantas aircraft. The name Tambo is another with Aboriginal origins having several meanings including 'hidden place'.

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By now the vast areas of red soil were covered with grass which had been bleached to a uniform pale straw colour, probably about 18 inches high.
This grass was the same whether on open plains or under trees. We seem to be heading into near tropical regions as we started to see many bottle trees in fields lining the roads. We had intended to have lunch in Blackall but just short of the town we found a rest area by the Barcoo River which proved to be a wonderful place for birdwatching – and with plenty of shade. We could easily have spent more time there but had to press on.

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In Blackall, we found the Black Stump which is the source of the expression “Beyond the Black Stump”. The original stump was destroyed by fire and has been replaced by a large piece of petrified wood. Blackall was named after, guess who - yes another official, this time the second Governor of Queensland, Sir Samuel Blackall. The region had been explored in 1846 by Sir Thomas Mitchell then in 1856 by Augustus Gregory who gave a less positive opinion on the country than had Mitchell. A survey station was established here in 1887 and places west were said to be beyond the black stump. The original black stump was moved to make it more accessible to tourists (not that accessible though!) and was subsequently replaced by a large chunk of petrified wood.

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We had hoped to get to Longreach in time to visit one of the main attractions so didn’t stop to look at the magnificent display of vehicles and machines in Ilfracombe (a very different town from the one in England!). As it happened we arrived too late to make a visit worthwhile so could have spent more time by the Barcoo and in Ilfracombe – our journey is full of 'what ifs' but I suppose that’s life.

Posted by SteveJD 02:51 Archived in Australia

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