Sunday, 7 July 2013

Back of Bourke

At Bourke, we stayed at Kidmans Camp (recommended by my cousin Barbara) - and a very nice well laid out park it is too. Plenty of grass, trees and generous spaces for caravans not to mention the clean and well-appointed facilities. On our first evening there, Poetry on a Plate was scheduled - byo camp chair, crockery, cutlery and drinks, gather by the campfire and listen to a local musician/poet, Andrew Hull,
entertain with songs, poems and stories about Bourke and surrounds. Halfway through, a generous serve of delicious slow cooked beef casserole, rice and dahl/lentil and vegie dish is piled up on your own plate. This is followed later by a very nice lemon curd tart.

Sitting around the campfire, we got talking - as you do - with a nearby couple exchanging the usual question 'Where are you from?' They were from Kinglake, Victoria (and had the misfortune to have been burnt out in the disastrous fires of 2009). They were interested to learn we were from Hastings as the husband's brother lived there 'in Hendersons Road'. It turns out their relatives are our long-time neighbours from directly opposite our house. Small world indeed.

Bourke, for such a small place, is quite famous and is celebrated in stories and poetry as the archetypal Australian outback town. The poet Henry Lawson lived here for quite a few months and I have enjoyed reading a book of his short stories while here. Some, like "The Loaded Dog" I've read many times and still giggle over; others like the poignant "Brighten's Sister in Law" brought home the dangers of living in such remote areas last century when the lack of medical care for sick children was every parent's fear.

We were told a visit to Bourke Cemetery was a must just to pay respects to Prof Fred Hollows, famous for his eye surgery (not only to indigenous Australians but also to poor people in Third World Countries) who is buried there. This we did and also photographed several soldiers' graves for Peter's ongoing volunteer work for 'The War Graves Photographic Project'. Just wandering in a small section we noticed three police officers' graves from last century and ALL had been shot. Not a good long term career choice for police back then it would seem.

One day we visited the Back O'Bourke Exhibition Centre a world class centre showcasing the history of western New South Wales and Bourke. It focuses on the people and the landscape that have not only contributed to the life of Bourke but also the history of Australia. It would have to be the best local history museum I've seen. At the same place was an open air Outback Show conducted by a well known bush character Luke Thomas who, with his team of working bullocks, Clydesdale horses, camels, sheep dogs and performing trick horses staged an entertaining Outback Show.

The Paddle Vessel Jandra built by a local family in 2000 is a replica of an earlier boat which plied the
Darling River. At North Bourke it cruises the river giving tourists a taste of what it was like in earlier times. Last century quite a few paddle steamers moved not only passengers but local products including wool and crops to markets up and down the river system when roads were either non-existent or in very poor condition. On a beautiful sunny day, it was very pleasant floating down the Darling, watching birdlife and the passing river bank. The Jandra, flying the Murray/Darling River Flag from her bow, reminded us of a trip two years ago on Murray River many hundreds of miles down south.

On our last day in Bourke, we travelled 100ks south-west to Louth, an even smaller outback town which mostly seem to consist of a few houses, a pub, post office and general store. We had a most enjoyable lunch sitting outside in the sunshine talking with a few of the locals. I noticed that if a doctor's visit is needed, you fill in a form at the pub and this way you have an appointment with the Royal Flying Doctor on his next visit. Just by the town is an enormous area fenced off and labelled 'Cemetery'. There is approximately 6 very old headstones and one very tall (7 metre) monument for a much loved wife of a pub owner who died in 1866. Of course many more - about 100 - are buried here without markers and a nice idea is a brass plaque listing their names situated near the gate.

Back in Bourke, we tidied and packed up the caravan ready for the next leg of our journey. Next stop is the black opal settlement of Lightning Ridge.


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