Monday, 18 February 2019

February 18 - on the road to Lightning Ridge

What a day!  Good start with savoury pancakes de tour in Bourke and ending with delicious freezing cold Sav Blanc in Lightning Ridge - opal desert country. Wasn’t on this ‘agenda’ (that I knew of) but I love the place so why not! Perhaps we’ll do a little opal noodling tomorrow - in the broiling sun. I’ll tell you about the Australian Opal Centre tomorrow or ....

Spotted a really unusual tree as we headed north east - the Warrior Bush (Apophyllum anomalum). This seems to be a bit of a relic plant. It’s host for the Caper White butterfly which, according to the pundits, probably moved into northern Australia with their food plants during the Oligocene. Yeah me too ..... but that’s approx 20-35 million years ago. The really interesting thing is that it is related to the Wild Orange (Capparus mitchelli) which in this area is regarded as an indicator of opal-bearing ground. I will be on its trail tomorrow - Michael take note! 

Ain’t travel an education - see a tree and a viola a lesson in geology - or something like that. As Miriam Baker (Out an About) says “Enjoy the journey and the destination whether it’s your first or fifth time. The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

This poor wee church is in Goodooga. Not indicative of the place but it just appealed to me - poor thing. Goodooga is a village NE of Brewarrina on the scenic route to Lightening Ridge.

The Warrior tree. Dotted about the landscape as we travelled further NE. Stands out against the surrounding vegetation. A few bits of trivia, leaves are present on young growth and the animals love browsing on the branches so most are bare up to cattle head height. 

These wily Roos were enjoying the sprinkler and chomping up the grass. Clever beasts - until the owner cane and shooed them off. 

Pancakes de tour - left over vege and anything else! plus onion and butter of course (plus Mum’s age old drop scone recipe).  Works for us!

February 14 - the end of a memorable day!

This is a little out of sequence - the halfway point on our adventure on the Darling River Run. 

Camped out on the ‘flood’ plains of the Darling River. Doesn’t get much better than this. Silence but for the whispering of wind across the plains and the quiet mumbling of birds. Loving life  in our own little utopia!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Valentines Day plus one - wine, wind and wonder

And so to one of the aims of this trip - to drive the Darling River Run! After years waiting for the roads to be open when we’re there, we did it - at least from Brewarrina to Wentworth over 800Km. Hooray!!

The Darling River system is huge. From Walgett to Wentworth it measures about 950 km; the third longest river in Australia. Its source, a matter for some debate, is a collection of rivers and creeks which fan out like unravelling rope snaking east and also north into Queensland.  However .... from somewhere maybe around Walgett (Aboriginal meaning ‘meeting of two waters’) where there is confluence of main tributaries, the ‘river’ flows on to Wentworth where it joins the Murray.  It’s the lifeblood of the NSW outback - if they get the water! A destroying combination of low rainfall and cotton - diabolical!

I’ve talked about the busy river trade, ports and bridges along the extent of the river in other posts so let me tell you about the last leg of our little adventure along the Darling between Bourke and Wilcannia and back again - a round trip of close to 700Km. 

It was awe inspiring in its vastness - the diversity and ruggedness, the colours and textures of the land were fascinating to see and to experience. Endless stretches of flatness, beautiful trees, bare earth, scrubby dry salt bush and grasses, brilliant patches of green where recent rain has stirred dormant plants to raise their hopeful heads. Chunks of the region have been designated National or Conservation Parks and hopefully that might give the land some time to recover - if the stock is kept off it. The dryness is sad and the struggle to survive that the graziers are facing is heartbreaking. We passed one farmer and his family dragging dead cows into a pile to be buried having been poisoned by hay that had been brought in the help feed his stock. He lost 80 odd head and more were at risk. Tragic!

The quietness was a balm - in spite of the heat and wind, the dust and rough roads (we saw only one or two vehicles). Being out there in that stillness away from it all, you come back to what’s important, you come back to yourself. It’s wonderful! 

The journey was a tad taxing physically as the road was chopped up in some places, corrugated and/or deep in sand and dust in others. We saw lots of evidence of past flooding with wide swathes washed away to form undulating and in places deep gullies. The van? Not too bad all things considered. Bloody good rig and driver combo!! Two intensive days - we celebrated with champers in Louth on our return trip. 

The pub at Louth. We stayed in the caravan ’park’ beside the pub on the way back to Bourke.

One of the four lift span bridges built in the 1880-90s along the Darling-Barwon to accommodate the paddle steamers pulling barges loaded with wool and supplies to pass up and down the river.

Along its course, the river varies from scattered water holes (sadly like now) to a width of 80Km when in flood. This is at Louth. Interestingly it seems that salinity is not a new phenomenon (along it is increasing). Explorer Charles Sturt named the Darling ‘Salt River’.

This is rather splendid almost like a parkland - without the grass.

The Tilpa pub. Not a lot going on here!

The pub is corrugated Iron inside and out and almost every inch of wall and ceiling is written on.

Saw many huge spreading trees along the road. I reckon these are coolibahs. Just loved them.

Sign of rain not too long ago. The surface of the cracked mud was lifting up in curls like wood shavings.

I believe this is a copperbur. You can see it has forced its way up through the now drying mud.

All of a sudden we started to see patches of vivid green. Stopped to look of course - saltbush which is a fodder alternative when all else is gone. Recent rain you think?!

Lost count of the number of grids we encountered. There were hundreds.

What an expanse! May not be able to see here but the horizon was punctuated with countless columns of dust rising high in the air.

Sign of rain not too long ago. The surface of the cracked mud was lifting up in curls like wood shavings.

A bee hive in a hollow.  Not sure ifvthey are native bees or not but it’s good to see insects in this arid land. 

Saturday, 16 February 2019

February 13 - following the Baiame Dreaming track

The Gundabooka National Park, which lies ~50Km south of Bourke, has geological as well as aboriginal significance. Mt Gunderbooka in the southern part of the park is an outcrop of Devonian sandstone over 300 million years old and sits near the edge of the Great Artesian Basin. 

The park is home to some beautiful flora and fauna some of which are endangered, but that’s a whole other story - we were there for the art!

The Gunderbooka range which rises 350m from the surrounding plains, has great cultural and spiritual significance for the Ngemba (stone country) people and the Baakandji (river) people. It provided a range of water and food sources and also was used for large ceremonial gatherings with tribes coming from as far away as the region we now know as Broken Hill. 

There are lots of walks and things to see and do in the park but we were there for the rock art - just a few Km walk over the rocks, across a now dry creek bed and then a short climb and there it is protected from the elements under a rocky shelf.  It was a marvellous experience! Enjoy the pix. 

This is the flat bit!

We were here many years ago but the path wasn’t clearly marked so we turned back. Now there are marked sticks and rocks close enough so you don’t get lost. And then there are beautiful rock slab paths - how luxurious!

The trees and rocks were rather splendid and the colours .... endless.

Even a patch of vivid almost unnatural-acid green provided by lichen along the way.

But dry! Sadly the creek doesn’t look like it’s seen water for a long time - but that worked in our favour because we were able to cross the creek to get to the rock ledge.

Majestic trees suffering a bit of stress.

This tiny scrap has it home and hosed protecting itself from water loss and from animals hungry mouths. Clever little chenopod!

This represents the Brewarrina fish traps.

February 12 - Byrock and Stone country people

We encountered other sacred places for the Ngemba people at Byrock and Gundabooka. This is dry, stone country and it might look rather desolate, but look closer and there’s some fascinating stories tracing back millennia .... you just need to scratch the surface a bit!

Byrock is home to some important natural rock holes carved out of a large granite outcrop. It was an important source of water for the area particularly at times when the Mulga and Yanda creeks weren’t running.  The Ngemba mythology is quite entrancing - see my Blog post October 2017 for more - and search for Byrock. You won’t be surprised to learn that what interested me we’re the plants and the diet of these stone country people. We think the country looks empty and inhospitable, but they had fruit such as quandongs, wild bananas, mistletoe, currant bush, wild plums, ‘Mulga apples’ (sweet edible galls produced by a small wasp larva) and bush oranges. They ate wild spinach, yams and reeds, and seeds from native grasses, kurrajong, wilga and mulga trees. And there was a good source of meat - kangaroo and wallabies, pigeons and bush turkey, snakes and tree goanna, and crayfish. Rich rich!

Then we set off for the Gundabooka National Park, part of the lands of the Ngemba people.

This is Byrock Rock pools. It was a shocker of a day - searing heat and winds but you know us ..... Mad dogs and .... 

if you look closely you will see that this  branch bears the flowers, buds and unripe fruit.  The flowers were eaten and the leaves boiled in water to treat skin problems and the boiled water was also used to treat stomach ulcers. Nothing wasted!

This little beauty is Eremophila longifolia (yep long leaf!) also known as Emu bush (along with lots of other Eremophila) because the emus love the seeds/fruit. Zoom in and see the crafty trap waiting to tap pollen on any insect that alights on its landing pad. See the tiny hairs on the ‘petals’

Ripe juicy(?) Eremophila fruit.

Kurrajong seeds were ground and baked.

February 10-13 Bourke - the back of and beyond!

We camped at Bourke for a spell to travel back in time to ancient lands and customs - I love this area .... too! Stretching for around half a kilometre along the bed of the Barwon River 90 odd Km E from Bourke, are the Brewarrina Fish Traps. An elaborate network of rock channels and pools, these fish traps were built by ancient tribes to capture and store fish as they swam upstream to spawn. Estimated by archeologists to be over 40,000 years old, these clever rock configurations are believed to be one of the oldest man-made structures on Earth. Not only were they essential as a food collection point, they provided a gathering place for many tribes and nations for trade, cultural exchange and ceremony. According to our generous guide, a Ngemba man, the Fish Traps have become a symbol of unity among the eight regional aboriginal tribes. 

Flat stretches of the river bank were once the site of corroborees and ochre for ceremonial decoration came from the river bank downstream a wee way. This mixed with crushed mica for glitter must have looked rather spectacular!

If you get to Brewarrina, the Aboriginal Cultural museum is worth a visit.  More on the Ngemba people next .....

An historic lift span bridge, one of 4 built in the 1880-90s on the Barwon-Darling - here, Nth Bourke, Wilcannia and Wentworth.

This is the Barwon River which together with the Culgoa River is the head of the Darling. Reason it’s got water is a weir not far downstream 

This pic of the fish traps was taken in the 1890s. In the foreground are a couple of guys picking up fish from one of the collecting pools!

Sadly there was no water around the fish traps when we were there.

Ochre banks

A sad river at the moment. Who said cotton???!!