Day 3 of our Broken Hill adventure – after lunch
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Menindee was established on the Darling River in the mid-1800s. Back then, there were two ways to transport goods and people: bullock trains or paddle-steamer, with the latter method being subject to river levels.
The outback is full of yarns. Many are really very tragic, and yet, with the passing of years, they take on an air of incredulity. So is the story of the P.S. Providence (paddle-steamer Providence – I did not make up that name!).
P.S. Providence was stuck on the Darling River for twelve months due to low water levels. When the day came to set off the crew had first slaked their thirst in Menindee.
Then they stoked up fire and set off downriver. Problem is, they did not slake the thirst of the boiler first, and it exploded, landing on this bank, where it has subsequently lain since 9th November 1872.
The Chinese cook was rescued from the tree into which he had been blown, but did not survive. The Captain, Engineer and Fireman were killed outright. The only survivor was a miner, on his way to visit family in Adelaide.
As you can see from the photo above, the Darling River is currently very low. But it can flood, and those levels can reach incredible heights, as the flood markers on this nearby tree demonstrate (photos below). I cannot say whether it is co-incidence, or a warning sign, but the flood height is lower through the decades. The years marked are 1976, 1983/84 and 2011. To provide perspective, the lowest marker, 2011, is about the height of an average woman. At nearby Wilcannia, the 1976 flood of the Darling River was recorded at around 12 metres high (approximately 40 feet).
Those early pastoralists had to be a tough lot to deal with the constant cycle of drought and flood, and our next destination, the Kinchega National Park, was once part of the Kinchega-Kars pastoral lease held by the Hughes family since 1870. At its grandest, the property extended from Menindee to Broken Hill and covered an area of over 800,000 acres. At its height, the station had around 140,000 Merino (wool) sheep.
Visitors can view the buildings of the old Kinchega Station (farm), which was built in 1875 of corrugated iron and river red gum. You can even book a stay in the shearers’ quarters if you are in the mood for basic accommodation. Today’s visit is a rare opportunity for us women to enter a woolshed. Wayne tells us that, “In days past, when a woman entered a shearing shed, the blokes would call out, Ducks on the pond.” It was a cryptic warning to the other shearers that they should clean up their act and watch their language. In the heat and the dust and the sweat, you can imagine that the last thing they wanted to worry about was women’s sensibilities, and some sheds banned women altogether.
Kinchega Station operated for just under a hundred years, and six million sheep were sheared in that time, with techniques improving all the time. The day of our visit was blisteringly hot, and as I wandered through, lagging behind the others, the only sign of life was a herd of kangaroos that I flushed out as they sheltered under the old timber floorboards.
Unlike the shearers, we had the luxury of returning to our air-conditioned bus, en-route to our air-conditioned motel room. It’s about an hour and three-quarters drive from the woolshed, plus for us a delay while we waited at a level crossing for a freight train to go through. it went on, and on, and on, and on . . .
I got tired of snapping photos, so eventually resorted to a video. You can hear me at the end, “ninety and two engines“, and Bill’s laconic reply, “yeah, she was a long ‘un.”
By then, the only “long ‘un” we wanted was a nice cold drink!