Monday, 15 September 2014

KKK No 12 - Homeward Bound

“K K K”

No: 12

Homeward bound via
Inland SA and Western NSW

Even though the Nullarbor Plain is loosely described as stretching 1200km from Norseman WA to Ceduna SA, its land types and topography vary significantly along its lower highway route, encompassing mature forest, semi-arid saltbush plains, hilly scrublands, open grazing pastures and farmlands cultivated to grain. 

Eastern Nullabor Plains
The vast open Nullarbor Plain lands (‘null arbour’ - no trees) lie farther north of the highway. We saw no domestic livestock at all, only birds, 2 lizards, one snake and, sadly, three dead (road-kill) Wombats.

We enjoyed the Nullarbor and its changing scenery, from arid to grasslands,  passing  thru 200km of grazing country, then the western extremes of SA’s huge grain belt approaching Ceduna, with its Quarantine stop some 486km in from the WA border, but only took a quick look around this busy coastal town with its charming old stone architecture.

After refuelling, continued along the Eyre Highway inland through continuous wheat farms, in to the grain-hub village of Wirrulla with its large grain silos.

All around Australia, town Councils vary in their attitude to caravaners – some welcome, others shun – and tiny Wirrulla is a shining example of the former. A concrete pad with power, toilets and hot showers is provided for $10 per day, adjacent to the supermarket and pub, and you can’t get much better than that!

Wudinna Grain Silos
Following a 7 degree cold night at Wirrulla we drove 70 km through more wheat before arriving at Wudinna with its huge grain storage facilities, and a striking granite statue, which acknowledges the district’s importance as a granite quarrying centre. 

Granite Statue at Wudinna
We continued along the highway through rolling ridges bordered either side with eucalyptus trees concealing the now ubiquitous fields of wheat, but still no livestock to be seen, just km after km of grain, then, as if to break the green monotony, a bright blaze of yellow heralded the first canola crop in more than 1000km since WA .

Expansive Grain Growing
Our planned o/nite stop on 28/8 was for Kimba in the central north of the Eyre Peninsular, which we’d been told was RV friendly, a nice public campground in town with internet connectivity. We ran our quiet Honda 240v generator all afternoon to charge up phones and iPads etc, and power up the laptop to make a start on writing this Blog.

Got an early start next morning passing through fertile farmland again until Lake Gilles Conservation Park where the land changed to hilly forest ridges, then flattened out to low saltbush scrub plains as we neared Iron Knob, birthplace of Australia’s iron ore and steel industry.

Iron Knob
Iron Knob is almost a ghost town now with only a handful of residents, but the original two mines of Iron Knob and Monarchs still operate on a “FIFO” basis, having produced non-stop since the discovery of exceptional quality iron lodes in the 1890’s. 

Iron Knob Museum
Talk is that Iron Knob’s mineral reserves will last only a further 25 years and the already unkempt empty houses and buildings which dot its few streets will be joined by the rest of this tiny village to become a ghost town. The modest, though informative local museum details the mines’ history and rewards its few visitors with free coffee or tea in appreciation!

Horricks Pass - Flinders Range
Two hours later we’re back on the road driving through poor country of saltbush and flat claypans and on into Port Augusta at the head of Spencer Gulf. Backed by the Flinders Range, the town boasts early settlement history, but apart from quick fuel and supermarket stops, we didn’t linger here.
Main Street Wilmington
The country around Port Augusta is influenced by the Flinders Range, which was presently quite green as we drove up through scenic Horrocks Pass and on thru Wilmington, after which the grain belt returned all the way to Orroroo, a pretty, well-kept prosperous looking town with lovely gardens down its clean main street, and is a credit to its residents.

Massive Red Gum
Open green farmlands, then we came upon a giant red gum tree, said to be over 500 years old, with a girth exceeding 10 metres. Then on through Peterborough, noted as a railway town being the intersection of the E-W (Port Pirie-Broken Hill) and N-S (Alice Springs –Adelaide) railway lines. Its original name Petersburg was changed in 1917 due to anti German sentiments.

Welcome to Peterborough
Here we joined the main Barrier Highway connecting Adelaide with Broken Hill, and open pastures grazing sheep replaced the grain belt, as we continued on to Yunta, little more than a roadhouse in this sparse outback of central South Australia.

A further 35km brings us to Manna Hill, with its lovely old railway station, perhaps ten houses and an old pub, whose front yard humorously displays a “legal Pot tree”, and where we spent the night in their rest area, sharing it with a young attractive Sydney girl, who arrived just after dark, enroute to her work in Alice Springs, travelling and sleeping alone in her old Volvo station wagon! 

Manna Hill Railway Station
Sat 30/8: day 147. We’re out of Manna Hill by 8:20am and back into semi-arid and flat scrub plains as we continue on, through the wee hamlet of Olary comprising only three very old stone buildings; further down the highway we came across another bit of Aussie roadside humour, a Hills Hoist clothes line on a creek-bank mound, with all the washing pegged out, complete with laundry basket, and not a house for miles around.

In the middle of nowhere!!
A little further along we arrive at Cockburn on the SA–NSW border and stop for a quick look and photo – nothing much to see here, so drive on through more poor hilly scrublands; however, as we continued the country improved, though still semi-arid red country, basically the bottom end of SA’s Strzelecki Desert, all the way to Broken Hill.

Broken Hill, “the grand dame of the outback” with a population of 33,000 is home to BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, and dates from fairy-tale beginnings in 1883 when Charles Rasp, a station-hand boundary rider pegged a 40 acre mining claim, thinking he might have discovered tin, thereby sowing the seed that flourished to become this nations richest company and the world’s richest source of silver, lead and zinc.

Overlooking Broken Hill
When Charles Rasp told his boss George McCulloch, the station property owner about his find, McCulloch suggested they form a syndicate, comprised of seven of the sheep station’s employees to fund its development. Each invested £70 to form BHP in 1875 and the value of their original shares today would be in excess of a billion dollars each.

After more than 130 years mining a 300 million tonne mineral system, both town and company are still going strong. Broken Hill is a typical old mining town with many grand old, heritage listed buildings, together with many, many small miner’s cottages all adding their charm to the character of the place.

We toured the city, lunched at the central lookout, then departed mid afternoon and drove 200km to Wilcannia where we spent three days in Victory Van Park in nice grassy surrounds shaded by giant red river gums on the bank of the mighty Darling River, the nations longest at 1472km.

Way out in the middle of nowhere, Wilcannia in 1860 was Australia’s third largest port after Sydney and Morpeth near Newcastle; in 1887, 218 river barges arrived and left here. There were more than a dozen hotels and a pop. of 13,000, and by 1880 there were 3000 people and 13 hotels. Today’s pop is 600, of whom 500 identify as being aboriginal.

Wilcannia's Historic Buildings
Wilcannia has for years been known as a ‘trouble town’ and has the highest ratio of Police in all of NSW. Sadly, Wilcannia now relies on government welfare to exist, having little local economy, but its former legacy is apparent today on streets lined with historic architecture.

2 Sept, (day 150) we depart Wilcannia after (rare) 5mm rainfall overnight and drive through the 12km wide soft riparian soils that comprise the Darling River flood plain; then climbed up into higher, hard red country of timbered rolling ridges which in turn became red Mulga scrub before changing again to open forest grasslands timbered with Box and similar eucalypts.

250km bought us to Cobar, a very progressive town of 5000 with a copper mining background from 1870. Had lunch and a look around then took the Kidman Highway north for approx 51km, to where we had read about a nice off-road free camp, well back from road noise, on clean, flat red soil in open Mulga, with lots of firewood – one of our best camp spots yet. We stayed there two nights all to ourselves, ran the 240v generator for the computer and commenced this report.

Roaring log fire and wide open spaces!
By now we were becoming like an old horse that can ‘smell’ home and wanted to be there, so we stopped for a quick look around Bourke with its old wharf on the Darling River and some lovely old well kept homes, then pressed on through more Mulga country, seeing hundreds of wild goats grazing the sweet grass in the table-drains all along the next 97km stretch. 
Post Office - Bourke
Next stop was the traditional aboriginal town of Brewarrina, pop 2000, renowned for its aboriginal fish traps, said to be 40,000 years old and thought to be the oldest man-made structure on earth. This elaborate network of rock weirs and pools, built to catch fish as they swam upstream, stretches for around 500 metres along the Darling riverbed at the back of town, and continues to lure fish today.

We continued along the Kamilaroi highway passing through productive black soil western plains grazing country and much dry, fallow cultivation for the 132km run to Walgett, home to the largest temporary wheat storage (30000 + tonnes) in the Southern Hemisphere. Walgett has a significant aboriginal community, and an 8.5km levee bank which completely surrounds the town. We camped the night there in the Rotary caravan park.
Highway scenery
Friday 5 Sept (day153) we departed Walgett and took the Gwydir Highway 75km (surely Australia’s roughest bitumen road) thru Collarenebri, a sad looking, small run-down whistle-stop of a place and continued a further 140km to Moree; the farther east we travelled the better the country became.
Droving cattle near Moree
We thought Moree was the prettiest, tidiest, best presented country town we passed through in our ‘round Australia’ trip. Situated on the black soil Moree Plains it is the centre of an expansive agricultural area extending northwards to the Qld border, and is also Artesian Water country.
We saw many different country Mail Boxes
Following a good look around we headed up the rough Newell Hwy to cross the Queensland border at Goondiwindi, another well kept attractive town. By now we were within easy distance of Brisbane, so changed our plan for one last ‘country overnight’ stop, and after passing thru dark rainy skies at Warwick which further influenced our decision, we arrived back home at Cannon Hill that evening, ever grateful for a fabulous 5 month around Australia touring experience loaded with many happy memories.

153 days; from 6 April - 5 September 2014                 
Distance traveled 18,424km
3,900 litres Petrol cost $6,694.35:  
Price range; $1.39 - $2.50 /litre
Avg: 21.17 litres per 100km.         
74 paid nights ($2030) and 79 free camping nights

Farewell until our next adventure
Bruce and Audrey
9 Sept 2014