It is only a little over twelve hours ago that we checked out of the motel in Coonabarabran, and yet sometimes when you are on the road it is hard to remember if things you did were today or yesterday. On the one hand you think you have done nothing much today and on the other hand you are exhausted.
We had a make do breakfast in our motel room by crushing Weetbix into our coffee cups, no lingering around to have a cooked meal delivered to our room in the old-fashioned way. We congratulated ourselves that after loading the car and settling the bill we were on the road by 9am. We were pleased with that – even though we had heard our neighbours leave already two hours before, and ours was the last car left in the motel car park. It’s not a race, and maybe those people had jobs to get off to.
We drove out along the road that passed the Warrumbungle Observatory and the Siding Springs Observatory, and suddenly remembered – almost too late – that the day before we had noticed the creative letter boxes of the properties along the side of that road. So we backtracked a little, and drove slowly along the highway, taking the photos you see here in this post. I couldn’t bear to decide which ones to leave out. All manner of iron shaped into designs of men on penny farthing bicycles and sesame street ostriches and cows and other curiosities, and all the while we were heading further into the main forests of the Warrumbungle Range.
This territory is so much different to the Pilliga State Forest where we had been the day before, even though it is around the same distance west of Coonabarabran that the Pilliga is north. We turned off towards the Whitegum Lookout, and after parking the car, walked down a well-marked path to the lookout.
Along the way we stopped and listened quietly – the birds are very active today because finally the winds have died down and the weather is almost pleasant, cold – not invading with iciness as on the other days. We could see tiny finches flitting from one tree to another, and we could hear the whir of their wings beating ferociously in their busy quest. We heard the raucous call of a cockatoo. For a moment I was excited that it was the rare black cockatoo, until we heard it tearing a tree to shreds and finally tracked it to its upper reaches. Then we could see that it was a common sulphur-crested white cockatoo. At least it was interesting to watch one in the wild instead of in a suburban Sydney backyard trying to turn a timber fence into sawdust.
The white gums became more prevalent and thicker as we approached the lookout, although on the whole the bush of this area represented English woodland, full of fallen undergrowth and trees growing tall. The view across the gorge to the various mountains beyond was quite spectacular. We had it almost to ourselves, passing only one man and child on the way in, and an English couple on the way out.
We continued on to the Warrumbungle National Park Visitor Centre, where we bumped into the English couple again, and after spending a good time looking around the centre’s interpretive display, we were advised to go on to the Canyon Picnic area and take the Wambelong Nature Trail. We had this track to ourselves, and set off from the picnic ground towards the Wambelong Creek.
Almost immediately, the track led to stepping stones that crossed the creek, and then we were in a small gorge with tall river gums on either side of the permanently watered creek. It was an easy walk, with the feeling of being lost in nature, the sounds of birds all around, the gum trees standing tall or fallen and twisted into the waterway, creepers growing over them, and the steep rocky sides of the Warrumbungles lifting skywards. All the information we had read about the Warrumbungles told us that this is an area of former volcanic activity, and that the rocky spires and hilltop domes that are visible all around are remnants of a large shield volcano that was active over thirteen million years ago. It is possible to picture how the occasional spike such as that called ‘The Breadknife’, was once the side of a volcano that has weathered away over millions of years.
As we walked along the tranquil track we flushed a kangaroo from the brush ahead. We had seen some lolling around in the picnic grounds, but I hadn’t expected that we would come upon one around the creek. We realised that there were in fact two, one on either side of the creek, and we were able to get to within a few metres of the one on our side. I snapped off a number of photographs, and also of those back at the picnic ground when we finished our walk. Not that they are so unusual, but hey! – Why not. It is not as if we pay for film these days.
We had been noticing for some days that in these country regions, when the sky is not overcast, it is a brilliant cloudless blue, and it did not disappoint on this walk. Although I am not fond of Australian bush, being as how I think it looks half-dead most of the time, I have to admit it does have its own special colours – chrome blue sky, red ochre soil, grey granite rock, and gum trees of shades of grey-green leaves with red tips at this time of the year, and trunks that range from peeling brown bark, autumn red, stony grey, or white – that is if the tree is alive. There is always plenty of dead wood standing or in the process of falling, and always plenty of blackened trunks where bushfire has passed through and the tree has sprouted new leaf growth. I hope my photographs of this walk will have done it justice; it was hard to shelter the lens from flashes of brilliant sunlight cutting through the filtered light of the gorge.
Back in the car, we continued our drive through the Warrumbungles, with me shooting photographs through the windscreen, until we reached a turn-off to the Oxley Highway, via Tooraweenah, and continued on for another fifty kilometres or so to Gilgandra.
Gilgandra is a small country town on the Castlereagh River, with a population of around 2800. It is a tidy, pleasant town. The cafe at which we stopped for a quick lunch was bustling with ‘larger than life’ country characters.
Gilgandra has a special place in Australian WW1 history. Following the disaster of Gallipolli and heavy casualties in France, enlistment was dwindling. A local butcher and his brother commenced a recruitment march, with the aim of walking the 440klms/320 miles to Sydney. The march was known as the Cooee March, after the distinct call of “cooee” they shouted at each town along their journey to attract recruits. Twenty-six men left Gilgandra on 10 October 1915. They reached Sydney on 12 November, by which time the numbers had swelled to 263 recruits. We spent a good long time at the exhibition commemorating this achievement. Can you imagine marching all that way on unsealed dusty roads, camping out, and obtaining and cooking food for the growing mob? And at the end of that, you win a (probably) one-way ticket to the western front. I have no figures on survival rates, although a re-enactment facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CooeeMarch2015), does profile one soldier who returned to NSW.
Coming back to the present – – – – there was a fabulous school children’s art exhibition at this hall. Aboriginal students were well represented, and this artwork echoes the story of what is now referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’, (children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, removed from their families through government policies)
We pushed on for Wellington, about 120 klms or 70 miles further south. On the way, we passed through the major regional centre of Dubbo, where we had stopped for a couple of nights the previous year. (https://garrulousgwendoline.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/exploring-nsw-dubbo/)
This was my first visit to Wellington, a place where my cousin had been a novice high school teacher back in the sixties. In those days, the government might assist you by paying for your education. In return, for two years, you went where they sent you. The system applied to all professions, even doctors. If they would re-instate such a scheme, shortages in country areas might be overcome. But what would I know? No doubt there is a logical reason it was scrapped.
Of course, I yapped about the connection to anyone who would listen at the tourist information office, and wouldn’t you know? One of the assistants remembered him clearly. Apparently, he had his share of teenage schoolgirls mooning over him. Apparently, he was the youngest male teacher they had seen in quite a while, which is saying something, given that he had to be in his late twenties already.
And so the day ended, another motel room, dinner at a club, and ten dollars through the pokies. There is only so much exploring a girl can do, before all she wants to do is slob around …………
Tomorrow: We take a look at Wellington, then on to – Stuart Town – Orange and Millthorpe