Monday, 1 July 2013

Travelling North again!

We left a cold, wintry Victoria a few days ago to caravan north through central Victoria, NSW and Queensland - parts of Australia which we haven't seen before and the Kidman Way is the route we'll travel.

First day from home saw us finally pull up for the night at Tocumwal in NSW just over the Victorian border and already we have noticed the huge road trains thundering along the highways. The weather is still cool, but by the second day when we finally reach the beginning of the Kidman Way, the sky has cleared and the sun is shining. All bodes well! We make a left turn onto the Sturt Highway driving along until we arrive at Hay where we stay for two days. Hay was made famous/infamous in Banjo Paterson's poem 'Hay, Hell and Booligal' in which nearby Booligal is compared unfavourably with Hay. Booligal in the 1890s was unlucky enough to experience heat, sand, dust, flies, rabbits, mosquitos, snakes and drought and Paterson humorously suggests Hay - or even Hell - would be preferable.

The town of Hay is surrounded by very flat terrain and is a massive sheep farming area. Sheep numbers were culled during the drought years to only a fraction of their previous numbers and only now are beginning to increase. There is a very big and very well presented museum - Shear Outback - which we visited in the afternoon. Much information about the early sheep industry and its people. A large custom built shearing shed (moved from the Murray Downs) is the setting for a top shearer, Billy, to give a talk about the industry and to demonstrate how to shear a sheep. Later his sheep-dog, Beau, demonstrates his skill at rounding up a flock of sheep. Lunch at the museum's café went down very well.

Also at Hay during war years (chosen because of its remote outback location) was an Interment Camp used to accommodate many thousands of internees - Italians, Japanese and also 2500 Jewish boys (the famous Dunera Boys). A display is housed in two old railway carriages at the restored Hay Railway Station. Artefacts and stories both sad and heart-warming are featured of a time still well remembered by local people.

On leaving Hay we travelled back to the Kidman Way to again travel north. We encountered several herds of cattle making use of the grass verges along the roads (the long paddock) - a reminder that some parts of the country are still desperately short of cattle feed because of drought conditions.

After about 400 kilometres we arrived at Cobar, another outback town well known for mining - mainly copper, but also gold, zinc and lead. The town thrived after the discovery of copper in the late 1800s, and although there is still a working mine at the moment, the population is nowhere near what it was in boom times. The Cobar Heritage Centre in the town tells of the early mining discoveries by two Danish men (with very un-Danish names of Campbell and Hartman!) who found green coloured rocks which were readily identified as copper by the Cornish-born wife of a settler. The history of the area both aboriginal and European is well told in various displays. One I particularly liked was the railway carriage converted by the Far West Children's Health Scheme to provide child welfare for outback families in various far-flung areas from 1931 and only finishing in 1975. This travelling service was welcomed and greatly loved giving parents peace of mind as well as valuable advice about childhood health issues. Previously the nearest help would have been days away from their home.

Tomorrow - we're continuing north to Bourke.


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