In this series of posts, I draw on diary records to recount some of the road trips we have taken in recent years.
We had a pleasant overnight stay (without any dog or cat) but didn’t look around Forbes much on this occasion, thinking we will be back again in the future. Instead I was anxious to get on to a small country town called Bogan Gate. I knew that another uncle of mine, who died back in 1963, had connections with that area. I had been helping his son with some family history, and was hopeful of finding more information here. Bogan Gate is a small village, with a deserted railway shed, a huge grain silo, and a war memorial in the middle of the street.
I recognised all the family names from having looked at the archival records from WW1. Every town and suburb in Australia has a war memorial. In 1914 so many young men (and some women) answered the call to defend the “mother country” (England) and left the land and the factories to go off on their big adventure. Many had never been outside of their home town, and it was all supposed to be over in a matter of months. A huge percentage of them never came home, or came home incapacitated or damaged, and memorials honouring them sprang up all over Australia. The Australian National Archives office has digitised the records of every person who served with the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). They are a valuable research tool for family historians and make very interesting reading.
As for the grain silos, these are also dotted all around the western country landscape, huge cylinders capable of holding tonnages of wheat and grain, always located beside the railway so that it can be siphoned into rail wagons and transported to seaports for export. Mining has taken over agriculture as Australia’s largest export earner, but agriculture is still very important to the economy.
We lingered in Bogan Gate township for a while, taking a few photos to show the family back in Sydney, and then we were off in search of the local cemetery. After a couple of attempts we found it down a dirt road at the back of the rail line, and pushed our way through dried nettles and other weeds, going up and down rows looking for the family name Magill. They were all in a cluster down in one corner – now it is a matter of piecing it together to understand how my uncle came to live in the town in the first place, and who were these people to him? That’s a project for another day.
A big thrill on this side-track was to come across an echidna bumbling across the road. I had never seen one outside a zoo before. It is a small spiky animal something like a hedgehog, with a long snout for digging into ant holes and sucking them up. The Echidna is unique to Australia and is featured on one of our coins. Readers may recall it as one of the symbols of the Sydney Olympics.
If we had kept on heading west out of Bogan Gate we would have been getting into some far west areas of NSW – where the rail lines run but highways don’t – and towns are around 200klm apart. Instead we double-backed forty or so kilometres to Parkes, where we spent a couple of hours talking to the local funeral home and local historian about Magills and Bogan Gate. Turns out it is a famous name in the area, several Magills have businesses in Parkes and the local mayor is a Magill – so I guess I need to go back there with my cousin one day when we have our facts straight.
The main thing that a tourist knows about Parkes is that it is home to the “Dish”. This is the radio telescope that has been used many times for tracking space journeys when the astronauts get into southern skies, for example the Apollo missions to the moon. This is the setting for the Australian film comedy innovatively called – “The Dish” – what else?
Bill and I prepared our lunch picnic in the grounds here, and were immediately overcome with flies and birds. It was like something from a Hitchcock movie. The flies are one thing, you expect them in an Australian summer, and this was a hot, dry day out in the brown, dry open ground – but the birds! Huge black crows (like a raven), cheeky magpies, some parrots, and some other ground dwelling brown bird I had never seen before, like an overgrown quail. All of them moved right on into us, practically ready to take the food from our mouths.
Their invasion left more of an impression on me than the actual tourist centre at the telescope, which was under renovation, so that we could only watch a couple of short movies about outer space and what the telescope looks like inside. Then we stood in the grounds outside and stared at the dish shining white against a clear blue sky, and were eventually rewarded by a metallic screeching sound as it started to move, and we saw the whole contraption move slowly around and be positioned more vertically. It makes you wonder what is out there – what were they looking at?
We could have stopped at more gold mining historic sites as we drove along the Newell Highway, but our focus was turning to our destination – Dubbo – and looking up a long lost friend, a lady I had last seen about thirty-five years ago. All was well! We had a pleasant afternoon tea and a catch up, and a surprise telephone call from her daughter in Texas USA, who had been a best friend in primary school; and then we went off in search of a reasonably priced and quietly located motel for a couple of nights.
I am not much fond of Australian country motels, but they do serve a purpose, and this one had some nice surprises. First of all, they had a Thai restaurant in the grounds, and Bill and I had the nicest Thai meal we can remember eating. Secondly, the receptionist gave me internet access for free and I caught up with my emails. As for Bill, he was impressed that they provided each room a bucket of water and a squeegee – this is essential for the Aussie motorist, as butterflies, moths, crickets, locusts and all manner of little flying insects commit suicide on the car windscreen as you fly down the road at 100klm, until it is almost impossible to see the road clearly. Best of all for me, the receptionist did our washing while we were sightseeing the next day, hung it out on the line in the fresh sunshine (something we can’t do in an apartment) and then didn’t charge me anything – zilch, nada. That is country hospitality for you.
Tomorrow: We explore Dubbo