The Wandering Tops

The Wandering Tops

17 January, 2015

Northern NSW

After leaving Lightning Ridge we headed to Queensland on the Castlereagh Highway, calling into a deserted town known as Angeldoon with the only sign of life were kangaroos sitting under the old timber church, taking cover from the heat.

Stopped at Hebel in time for morning tea, so headed straight to the General Store (pub was closed at this time) for our coffee.  Hebel was first known as Kelly's Point - Dan Kelly & Steve Hart, members of the infamous Ned Kelly gang, are said to have lived here in  secret. The town name was changed to Hebel in 1880s - some suggest it was named after a German settler Weiner Von Hebel while others suggest it comes from an Aboriginal word meaning "hot place". The General Store has kept much of its original 1890s dancehall character including the undulated timber floor.  We had heard that the home made pies were to die for so just had to try and were not disappointed.  A few locals had gathered at the Store and as soon as the Pub opened they got into their vehicles and drove 20 metres across the road to the Pub!!!  Seemed too good an opportunity to miss so joined them for a nice cold "bevie". The hotel was opened in 1894 as a Cobb & Co changing station and was originally called the Commercial Hotel. The inside of the Pub is decked out in recycled furniture made from reclaimed bush finds.

Hebel Pub prior to opening

Having a nice cold drink and keeping cool on a rather hot day

Hebel General Store - best home made pies EVER!

Travelled onto St George staying in a Caravan Park in order to run the air conditioning and get some relief from the hot, humid weather. From St George we headed east with first stop being Nindigully Pub established in 1864 and is the longest continually licensed pub in Queensland. You can have a meal at the pub, they challenge you to partake in the "roadtrain" burger a whopper 5 kg to 25 kg burger big enough to feed you and 10 mates.  Unfortunately it was closed when we drove up - will have to call back again as would love to look inside the old pub and have a beer and burger ;).

From the Pub we travelled on the Barwon Highway through Bungunya and Toobeah to Goondiwindi where we stayed the night.  From here we were able to travel to Toowoomba and catch up with Todd who was about to start his 2 week work roster.  While staying in the park @ Toowoomba happened to meet up with Harley and Fay whom we had known from Adelaide - so amazing who you meet up with when travelling!  Had to pick up a hydraulic jack from north Brisbane so took the opportunity to do a day drive through Kilcoy, Woodforde and back around Wivenhoe Dam.  Was a pretty drive but was a long day of travelling which included driving through a storm therefore not a good day for photos.

From Toowoomba we headed back into NSW to escape the school holiday period.

A favorite camp site in the Northern Rivers, NSW

After enjoying a wonderful two weeks hiding in the Northern Rivers, we headed up to Burleigh Heads to catch up with Todd and Tenelle.  Had a fantastic catch up - even played Barefoot Bowls @ Burleigh Bowls Club with a group of their friends.  The old grey foxes were winners on the day!!

Sizing up the length & taking the breeze into consideration!!

Winners are grinners!
It would not be a week with Todd if I wasn't encouraged to go out stand up paddle boarding especially after he had just bought a new board and wanted to try it out.  At least this time we went out to the River which was a bit more fitting for my skills unlike last time when he had me out the back of the surf!!

After a great week with Todd and Tenelle we headed south to Brunswick Heads.

12 January, 2015

Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge - "A wonderfully crazy place to visit".  This is the caption on the Brochure and it certainly did not disappoint us.  

At the turn off into Lightning Ridge you see one of many old cement truck barrels - these agitators are used to wash and tumble opal dirt.

We hadn't been to Lightning Ridge previously so were determine to have a look.  Without  knowing what to expect we wondered was it going to be another Coober Pedy? As we drove towards Lightning Ridge the first thing that struck me was the abundance of vegetation as I expected the landscape to be similar to Coober Pedy, very barren.  Once again with the weather hovering in the high 30 + we headed for the Opal Caravan Park (situation opposite the Artesian Baths), with modern clean facilities it was a real treat.

"Stanley" stands at the spot were Lightning Ridge got it's name - sometime around 1870 a shepherd, his dog and around 600 sheep were struck dead by lightning here. From then on this area was unofficially know as Lightning Ridge.
John Murray  the artist and Tim Parson the welder co created the 18 metre high emu from 3 volkswagons, a pair of rusty satellite dishes & a ton of scrap metal

Ma & Pa a couple of local miners!!
Once set up we headed to the Information Centre where an enthusiastic local lady provided a wealth of information. The Lightning Ridge Tourist Association initiated "Car Door Tours" where visitors can follow 4 different coloured car door tours in and around the area (Red, Blue, Green & Yellow). For $1 you get an extensive information sheet to follow individual car door tours.  We found this a great way to see the sights of Lightning Ridge and get an appreciation of the culture and architecture of this "crazy place".

This is the start of the RED door tour

Ridge Castle a private home

The Black Queen is a private home made from recycled materials

Amigo's Castle single-handedly built of ironstone.  Started in 1981 and inspired by Roman ruins in northern Italy, near Amigo's birthplace.

Astronomers' Monument - curious to say the least! Began in 1983 by 'Polish Alex' - every surface has a message.

A random private dwelling

Bottle house, originally a miners camp 

An old FJ Holden remains in the main street.

Coopers Cottage built 1916 

Lunatic Lookout - this picture says it all!!!!

The Fun Bus, another miners camp

This Church was purposely built for the movie "Goddess of 1967" a weird art house film.

A few slabs of VB went into this house - on the Green tour

Interesting way to build.

There are a large number of mine tours and we selected to do the "Chambers of the Black Hand" tour as this offered not only a tour of an underground Opal Mine but also over 500 sandstone sculptures which has been one man's passion for over 40 years.  The carvings include dinosaurs, Buddha, jungle cats, super heroes and Egyptian chambers. After the tour you have the opportunity to admire and purchase some of the local opal in the underground shop.  Even though the opal was magnificent, Hels could not be coaxed into buying one - thank goodness cause that would have blown the budget for the next 2 years!!!  

This is all you see on top of the mine which has been worked for over 100 years.

84 or 83 stairs lead down into the chambers - you'll need to go and count.

Paul was our guide, he also has his own lease 

Typical supports used in mining operations

Hels favouite - Go the mighty Crows

At this level the walls are lined with carvings.

There are different sections, some painted.

Hels likes to rub Buddha's belly

Even meerkats in the African section

A statue of the invisible man??

The display area with lots of lovely opal which you pass thru on the way out.

Hels is a fan of John Murray's artwork which we have previously seen in Birdsville and Bourke so she was excited to visit his Gallery in Lightning Ridge.  We certainly we not disappointed as there was a fantastic display of his paintings and I am also pleased we do not have wall space in the caravan so Hels had to contain her purchases!!

This was John Murray's original van which he started to tour Australia before he stopped in Lightning Ridge.  He made this structure and has his artwork on the sides.

On our last night in Lightning Ridge we ventured down to the Artesian Baths where the average water temperature is 39 degrees.  The water is reputed to give relief to aching bodies and this old body certainly can do with a lot of relief!!

The Artesian Baths

We certainly enjoyed our visit to Lightning Ridge and will definitely come back again to explore more of the area and enjoy its quirkiness.   

09 January, 2015

The Kidman Way

From Hay we travelled to Goolgowi to travel a section of The Kidmay Way which took us  to Bourke.  The Kidman Way transverses from Jerilderie north to Baringun on the NSW/Qld Border.  Our first stop was Merriwagga home of the Black Stump Hotel where I had anticipated partaking of my first beer for 2015.  On arrival we were disappointed to find that the Pub was not due to open for another couple of hours and the only life present was lone figure drinking strong coffee on the veranda.  After chatting and finding out how the New Year's Eve celebrations went, in a croaky voice which indicated the night's celebrations were pretty good, he offered to show us inside the Pub to see the tallest bar in Australia.  Hels caused a traffic jam in the main street by chatting to the local caravan park owner who was heading to Hillston for a picnic lunch on the man-made lake.  He and his partner just stopped the car in the middle of the road getting out leaving both doors open to have a chat, as you do!

Hels stopping traffic in the sreet for a chat ....... well, they actually stopped to tell us the pub was not open!

Really not much point in putting money in the meter if the pub is not open!

In Merriwagga there is The Black Stump Memorial and tells the gruesome tale that gave Black Stump Country its name.  A bullocky passing through in 1886 left his wife to make camp for the night while he tended to the cattle.  The day was hot, windy and dusty, and while his wife prepared the evening meal, the camp fire raged and she was burnt to death.  When people expressed their sympathy, the bullocky simply said "When I returned, my wife was dead, she looked just like a black stump." And so the Black Stump Legend was born.   The town also has a Ron Clarke sculpture dedicated to the hardships endured by the pioneers when settling the land.

Tallest bar in Australia

I couldn't touch the floor ...... wouldn't like to fall off these chairs

Hillston Lake

Called into Hillston and had lunch at the man-made lake where we watched water skiing.  Apparently the lake is drained after summer for irrigation purposes.  As the temperature was soaring into the 40's our aim was to get to Billabourie Riverside Tourist Park (approx 35kms from Hillston) on the Lachlan River.

Caravan at the entrance to Billabourie

The 10km drive from the Highway on the dirt track took us to the Station which offers the Park.  Billabourie has been owned by the Parr family since 1953 and is a mixed farm with an area of 2600acres.  It grows winter cereal crops which includes wheat, oats, barley and they also breed Hereford cattle. This is a little oasis offering  bush camping on the banks of the River with the option of power, which was greatly appreciated for cooling as the next two days recorded temperatures of 47 & 44 degrees!  The new amenities offer flushing toilets and showers and we will definitely revisit.  Fishing is very popular and a few people have caught good size Murray Cod - I  even decided to get the rod out and even jagged a couple of carp!

Camped on the banks of the Lachlan River

Hels found a shady tree on a 47 deg day

I was trying my luck at fishing ....... put the rod down to get a drink and caught a carp which Hels wants to clam as she reeled it in.

Another hunter, he doesn't need a fishing rod.

Some gala's getting a drink on a hot day

After 3 nights we departed Billabourie and headed north to Cobar another 200kms.  Still travelling on The Kidman Way our next stop was Mt Hope - population 10 (which I think was an exaggeration!).  As the Pub (the main attraction) was not opened we had our coffee and continued on.

Mt Hope Pub

Again in Cobar we opted to stay in a Caravan Park to take advantage of the power for air conditioning!  Visited the Cobar Heritage Centre (built in 1912 as the Administration Building for the Great Cobar Copper Mine) where we picked up information about what to see and do around Cobar.  With information in hand we proceeded to drive around the heritage walk (as the day was hot as) taking in the historical architecture which gave an appreciation of the mining town.  Also drove out to Fort Bourke Lookout and Open Cut Gold Mine, visited the old Reservoir where we watched water skiing  (looked like they were skiing on red mud!).  Cobar has a manned weather station and we were able to take a short guided tour of the station and watch a weather balloon being launched which was very different to what we had witnessed many years ago at Giles Weather Station where the balloon was released manually.  In Cobar today, the release is done mechanically.

Water skiing on the old reservoir

The Great Cobar Heritage Centre

Releasing the weather balloon, check carefully on the horizon

St Laurence O'Toole Catholic Church built 1907 and the Sisters of Mercy established the convent on the LHS 

Rick the Miner in the Miners heritage Park

Great Western Hotel took 3 years to complete in 1898 and with a length of 100 meters its acclaimed to be the longest iron-lace verandah in the southern hemisphere

The main street also has the biggest beer can

Certainly not much to see between Cobar and Bourke another 161km to the north.  Arriving in Bourke we drove out to Kidman Camp which is situated in North Bourke and is a real oasis in this hot dry country with tropical palms, lush green lawns and the humidity on the day reminded us a lot of the tropics.  With 2 swimming pools which we frequently visited over the next couple of days, our stay was truly enjoyable.  Bourke has a great Tourist Information & Exhibition Centre where we picked up the Back O'Bourke Mud Map Tours and selected the mud map tours which interested us the most.  These included:
Forte Bourke
  • Fort Bourke Stockade - 15kms out of town,  Major Thomas Mitchell and his 21 men completed the Forte Bourke stockade in 1835 as a place of defense and security against possible aboriginal attack.  This was be the defense for seven men who would remain there while the others explored downstream.
    Lock and Weir
  • Historical Loch and Weir - built in 1897 and is the only one of its kind built on the Darling River
  • Town Wharf (is a replica wharf) - originally there were 3 wharfs at this site built in 1898.  All wharfs had steam cranes to load and unload cargo.
    Crossley Engine - fully restored 1923 vintage Crossley oil fuelled stationary engine, manufactured in Manchester England
  • May's Bend - another 15kms out of town.  We were originally going to stay at this free camp but due to the weather conditions were quite glad we didn't.
  • Historical Buildings of "Old Bourke" - this mud map guided us around town to look at some of the remaining buildings which are part of Bourke's history.
    Western Herald first known as the "The Central Australian" established in 1868  and Bourke's first paper.

    The London Bank built in 1888 and is the last surviving example of Victoriana business, the bank closed in 1890's

    North Bourke Bridge built 1883 across the Darling River
  • Bourke's Historical Cemetery - this was worth a walk through.  The cemetery predates the town and has been the scene for two of Australia's famous funerals. In 1892 Henery Lawson joined in a procession following a coffin of an unknown young stockman.  This even is said to have been captured by Lawson in what became his best story; "The Union Buries It's Dead" a tail from the western frontier.
    Aboriginals have placed large boulders around Fred Hollows grave in the shape of an eye, his grave is a massive rock (polished) forming the pupil. The Hollows Family invite visitors to touch and feel the rock, to climb on it, or sit peacefully and contemplate life.

    Fred Hollows monument 
  • In 1993 Professor Fred Hollows, the eye surgeon known worldwide for his determination to restore the sight of people going needlessly blind, was buried in Bourke.  His motto "that all the world may see" . A team of International Sculptors carved the stone monument.  The motif symbolizes the ongoing work of this inspirational surgeon. The sculpture is a fitting tribute to Fred capturing the many aspects of personality, particularly his love of nature, the outdoors and climbing.
  • We also had a tour of the regions Indigenous Radio Station 2CUZ FM. Our guide was very informative and keen to show us through - unfortunately the local announcer was not available as there was a funeral in town that day.

As it was my birthday while in Bourke we visited the Diggers on Darling restaurant for nice strong coffee in the morning and an evening meal of Wild caught Barra, yum.

It was here we left The Kidman Way and headed east to Lightning Ridge.  The Kidman Way does continue further north another 132 km to Barrigun on the Qld/NSW border but that will have to wait until next time.