We were off to South Australia to the Flinders Ranges and Kangaroo Island.
The Saturday before we left was a mad dash of organisng bags, making sure we’d packed supplies and clothing, and taking the cat to the cat motel.
We weren’t camping, nor were we going direct to a cottage so we only took a few basics with us, crackers, longlife cheese, ryebread etc, as we planned to buy supplies on the way.
Sunday, we were up bright and early before dawn, loading the car as the sun rose and off by seven through the early morning mist – stunningly beautiful as the sun broke through the mist over the vinyards round Murrmbateman.
We had a third companion – Samantha, our newly acquired GPS for the car. We had programmed it for Mildura – our destination that night but had failed to tell it we intended to go via Wagga.
Samantha had decided we should go via Harden and Junee to join the Mildura road in Narrendra.
So off we went, with Samantha peiordically shrieking instructions to get us turn right off the freeway and get us back on track. At one point she sulked and asked if we were abandoning the journey.
We ignored her.
As planned we got to Wagga just after ten. Last time we stopped off in Wagga it was for a late lunch on a Saturday afternoon and Wagga was closed.
Sunday morning was no different. After circling the city centre a couple of times we spotted a group of people at an outside table. We guessed that it must be the smokers sin bin for a cafe, and we were right – we’d found a rather nice, happening (well not because it was Sunday) cafe that did a decent coffee and cake. You could tell from the ambience that it had ambitions to be the iPadista hang out of Wagga. On Sunday the Cache cafe was simple pleasant and relaxed with smooth jazz on the sound system and people enjoying a morning coffee and meeting to talk.
Then off. Samantha was in a better mood with us as we were last heading in a sensible direction and helpfully directed us out of the city centre down streets of nice looking Federation and Art Deco style villas and out into the countryside.
From then it was straight run to Hay. Last time we’d headed west the road ran through the town, but now it had been bypassed. We’d made up sandwiches for lunch, knowing it could be difficult to fine somewhere open on a winter Sunday in country NSW and had a slightly chilly picnic in a park.
Agriculture had more or less disappeared, being replaced with deserty scrub somewhere between Hay and Wagga, but as we got close to the Murray cotton farms appeared with big yellow plastic bales of cotton littereing the landscape and glinting in the sun. Then more empty featureless scrub. Last time we’d passed this way we’d spotted a pair of emus running through the scrub. This time we had to be content with an emu’s bottom poking up as it foraged for seeds.
And then, as we got close to Mildura vinyards began to appear – orange red yellow in the by now low winter sun and citrus orchards, with the first crops still on the trees.
One sign advertising ‘fresh Mandys’ caused us some private amusement.
And then on into Mildura, checking into our motel just as the sun was setting.
Dinner at the Mildura brewery pub was excellent and convivial and then back to watch the Eurovision final on SBS – our excuse being that after 950km, a beer and a couple of glasses of wine we weren’t really into exercising our intellects.
The next day it was up early for breakfast at Hudak’s bakery. Still good but not as inspired as the last time we stayed in Mildura – I’d been holding out for a cauliflower pie with melted cheese, but no such luck.
Then off to South Australia over more scrubby desert, stopping to be checked for illegal fruit at the birder by the vegetable police and then on down to Wakerie on the Murray for a rather chilly riverfront picnic. Then off across the chain ferry across the river to Morgan.
In the nineteenth century Morgan was the second busiest river port in Sout Australia and a railway terminus where wool and grain from the outback was transshipped to barges to go down the river to Adelaide.
Now it is a dry forlorn sort of a place without a decent cafe for a cup of coffee.
Then inland away from the Murray over increasingly dry country to Burra.
Burra is an interesting place. Founded in the mid nineteenth century it was populated by miners from Cornwall working in the copper mines. The place has an old nineteenth century look, little touched by modern development with buildings that look as if they could have come from a mining town in Cornwall like St Just or Redruth, and rows of small miners cottages, and a very Cornish engine house and mine chimeny.
Burra is also famous as the place where John McDoull Stewart, the first man to cross Australia from south to north to south arrived back to European settlement. Stewart accopmlished this when surveying the overland route of the telegraph cable to connect Australia to Singapore, India and thence London, arrived back to having set out from Adelaide to Port Keats, now Darwin.
The thing that has always fascinated me about the story is that Stewart arrived, went to the telegraph office, sent a message to the government in Adelaide that he had been successful, went to the Burra hotel, had a good dinner and then caught the evening train back the next day.
Wonderfully magnificently prosaic end to an epic journey.
The telegraph office is the Burra Art Gallery and one of the bits of heritage architecture in Burra. The train however no longer runs.
In memory of Stewart we too had a good roast dinner in the Burra hotel with a decent local wine.
The next day was even colder. Freezing in the morning. When we checked out the motel owner told us that it might snow – apparently they get snow every two to three years.
On off through Peterborough, which used to be a major rail junction where the old rail line to Alice Springs branched off from the line from Port Augusta through to Broken Hill. Peterborough once had 10,000 people working on the railways alone in the days when the outback rail lines brought sheep, wool and grain sown tp Port Augusta for export, not to mention minerals. Now most of these lines are gone and Peterborough has shrunk in on itself although the train through to Broken Hill and thence Sydney and Newcastle still runs.
You might think that Peterborough’s name was inspired by the rail town in the east of England, and perhaps it was in part, but it was originally Petersburg until it was renamed in 1916 in a burst of anti-German xenophobia.
Then up to Hawker through dying towns – Yarcowie, nothing more than a moribund hotel and some decaying farm buildings, or Carrieton – a shop, a memorial hall far too big for the town now and a couple of petrol pumps. All built when agriculture employed many more people than it does now and all now left with civic buildings way beyond their needs.
The old narrow gauge ‘Ghan’ line to Alice once ran through Hawker, but when they built a new standard gauge line in the fifties it took a different route bypassing Hawker. The old narrow gauge line closed in the seventies leaving Hawker to cling on on the back of the outback tourist trade – a shop, a cafe, a petrol station and a cash machine, plus a restaurant in the old train station.
Stopping only to fill up we went on to Rawnsley Park, a former sheep station now converted to tourism on the edge of the Flinders Ranges national park.
The afternoon we got there we did very little other than stop and unwind, glad to be no longer travelling. The next day we were still in chill out mode, but went up to Wilpena Pound, a huge many millions of years old meteorite crater in the desert.
We were still in chill out mode so we had had a late start and restricted ourselves to a fairly gentle walk, via Hills homestead, and abandoned and now preserved farm cottage to Wangara lookout, where you could look out over the crater. On the way as well as kangaroos we saw several pairs of emus and a group of feral goats who seemed to have escaped the rangers attempts to round them up and remove them from the park.
The next day we did something rather more serious, climbing Mount Ohlsen Bagge to get spectacular views over the crater.
We had originally planned to climb St Mary’s peak, but left it too late to manage it comfortably in the daylight available at what was now only three weeks from the shortest day. Ohlsen Bagge was shorter, but considerably harder and steeper with several scrambly sections up to the top at 937m for spectacular views north through the Flinders ranges and out over Wilpena pound.
What was slightly less welcome was the sight of rain clouds sweeping in from the north and sure enough, on the way down it began to spit with rain.
Dinner was at the Woolshed Restaurant at the station and on the way back it was still blowing and spitting with rain. In the middle of the night we were woken by wind and heavy rain falling on the tin roof of the cottage we were staying in.
We woke to scudding clouds and rain. After the previous day’s exertions we were quite stiff so we had a slow start while we waited to see if the weather would clear.
It didn’t. We set off to drive up to Blinman, an old copper mining town, with the idea of a walk and an explore. On the way we stopped off to walk up to Arkoola rock to look at the Aboriginal rock paintings there.
It was only spitting as we walked up through the scrubby bush. The first rock had some pretty decent rock art, there was also a second rock which till had smoke stains from beeing used as a shelter much like Yankee Hat in Namadgi, but here, whatever paintings had been there were long gone and the rock was scratched and graffittied.
On the way back it began to rain, and by the time we were on the road it was pretty heavy and constant.
Still, we pressed on passing several bedraggled squads of emus along the road. Blinman is the highest town in South Australia and was founded at the start of the twentieth century due to the discovery of copper. Like Burra, it ws principally populated by miners who had come originally from Cornwall.
The mine never thrived and eventually went bust in the early part of the twentiteh century leaving Blinman with a number of fairly substantial late Victorian stone buildings, including the Wild Lime cafe which was about to shut up shop early due to the weather and lack of trade, but stayed open to serve us coffee and a cornish pasty – damned good it was too.
We’d planned to walk round Blinman and explore and photograph the town but the rain was now bucketing down, so we decided that games were now off and contented ourselves with a couple of pictures of the main street befor turning tail and heading back to Rawnsley park.