Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday 3 October - Forbes, The Dish, Bogan Gate and Condobolin

No flies on us thismorning! Mum and I arrive at Gum Swamp by 5:45 am. The light is very bad for birdwatching, but it is always lovely to see the dawn and the calls of the waterfowl in the background are not hard to take. I park by the bird hide and take a walk up towards the Newell Highway stopping along the way to see what I can given the light impediment. Pink eared ducks aplenty. A pair is slowly shepherding half a dozen ducklings around. So cute! A range of other ducks are also there which I take a guess at and later confirm as hard heads, grey teal, pacific black ducks. Australasian grebes. Then bonanza! A hoary headed grebe. My first which is in twitching terms known as “a lifer”! Our noisy friends from yesterday are here in plentiful numbers. I still can’t be sure what they are. I’ll check the calls when we get home. Maybe singing bushlarks or maybe rufous songlarks.
Back at the bird hide I watch a clamorous reed warbler eating a dragonfly. Or trying to anyway. It pecks at it. Drops it, picks it up again in a cycle that proceeds for some minutes. The interesting birdlife is staying away from the hide today. The mud foundations of a welcome swallows nest are visible on the wall. This nest was in good order and was full of baby swallows the first time we discovered Gum Swamp – let me tell you baby welcome swallows snuggled up together are incredibly cute. Such pretty faces. There was also a white plumed honeyeaters nest just outside the hide at that time.
We take our time and gradually make our way around the reserve, along the way we see several troupes of grey crowned babblers, blue faced honeyeaters, white winged choughs – I’ll have to catch up on mum’s list later on. Eastern Rosellas, Galahs. The sky is full of birds circling, maybe woodswallows. After several hours we climb back in the car and start to move off. “Hang on!!” Sings out mother. “Back up! What are they?” We back up and sure enough, mum has spotted something special over on some dead branches about 50 – 100 metres across the reserve. We get a good bead on them. Solid green with yellowy/orange looking beaks. Mum says she sees one with a yellow head, but the ones I’m looking at are just green. Slightly darker in appearance on the backs, vibrant green tummies unadulterated with other colour splashes. Like birds everywhere they are quick to realise we’re looking at them and four birds fly off quickly in the direction of the bird hide. We pull out the guide books and hunt around for something similar. Superb Parrots!!! AWESOME!! What a day! Grey crowned babblers are always special. Did I mention there were also both species of spoonbill in breeding plumage.. the earlier hoary headed grebes and now superb parrots. Love Gum Swamp – the local STP. A fantastic place for a bit of a morning walk and birdwatch.
A mobile call from Daughter at about 8:30 and home for a brekkie of almond and honey bran flakes with rhubarb spiced with just a touch of cardamom. We decide to head into town to visit the Bushrangers Hall of Fame at the Albion Hotel. A quick stop at supa IGA to buy some shampoo – Einstein here accidentally packed just a bottle of conditioner. Meanwhile while mum gets herself organised at the car.
We head into the bar of the Albion and purchase our tickets $5 for adults $4 for a concession and we are ushered in to the entrance way before the heavy door is locked behind us. Apparently there is a second set of stairs that will take us back up into the hotel at the end. The Bushrangers hall of fame is set up in the cellars of the hotel which provides a dank and grimy sort of ambience. The displays are a bit old and some framed information sheets are a bit beyond their best. There is a range of questionable information on large display panels..questionable in terms of historical accuracy that is. The highlights for me were a transcription of a letter from the police officer that shot Ben Hall to his father who was surveyor general. A cat of nine-tails, ball and chain, leg irons, neck and leg irons and such like which were mounted on the walls round about. Another cabinet had a chinese opium pipe from the 1860s, there were guns from the period and earlier, including a navy colt and ammunition for it. Ben Hall carried a navy colt. These things were all very interesting, and I'm pleased to see the kids and mum also seem to be finding it very interesting.
Some of the cellar rooms were set up for different alleged purposes. One as an opium den, and another with just a table and chair where they allege that the Ben Hall gang met to plan their robbery of the gold escort (Really?). Both of these were fairly underwhelming, everything covered in dust. Another display described Sir Frederick Pottinger as a dedicated and diligent officer – which is at somewhat at odds with Nick Bleszynksi’s book – though now I think of it they didn’t say he was competent or that he objectively collected and assessed the facts and dealt fairly with people, or understood the local culture or natural environment - LOL all of which seem to be his greatest faults judging by Mr Blezynski’s version of the events. I suppose we can let him have dedicated and diligent. I guess first and foremost The bushrangers Hall of Fame brought home that when it comes to history the “facts” can be hard to be sure of. Everyone involved has their own truth and history is generally written by the victor.
I think that the museum would be even more interesting if they told some of the amusing trivia, like that the Australian saying “blind Freddy could see that!” apparently originated from Mr Frederick Pottinger after the Ben Hall gang set up a rough straw effigy in a premise they had long since left and Pottinger broke in and pumped it full of lead for quite some time. This after the gang had been leading him a merry dance for quite a while. The mistake led to Pottinger being nicknamed “blind Freddy”.

From here we decide to head to the cemetery where we have no trouble whatever in locating Ben Hall’s grave. There is also a plaque close by commemorating a number of other people of the time, like warrigal walsh, billy dargin and others who were players in the Ben Hall saga, but whose graves are unmarked. Next we decide that we will have a look at Kate Kelly’s grave.

The historical society also notes the grave of Captain Cook’s great grand niece – but why that should be worth noting is beyond me!!
We continue on the Bogan Gate road and follow the directions through kilometres of fields to Ben Hall’s Place.

It's quite a distance and we begin to wonder if we've missed a turn or something, but no, finally we spot a billboard in the distance. Beyond the bill board the historical society has erected a small plaque at a clump of remnant trees where Ben Hall is believed to have been shot. The billboard seems to be much more partisan on the side of Hall than was the Hall of Fame. It brings to mind Nick Bleszynski's comments that local opinion is still very divided on Ben Hall. I am glad we came through the road from Eugowra, and I imagine that the bush there must have been akin to the cover at this place when Ben Hall camped out here in hiding. A lot of imagination is required! Well, the site is still pretty isolated at any rate. We unlatch the gate and wander in. We all take a few minutes imagining the events of that day. My mind flitting on images of poor Ben Hall - who never killed anyone - being pumped full of lead. Clearly I am among those sympathetic to the bush ranger in this case.
We hear what sounds like yellow rumped thornbills twittering in the trees but it’s quite warm and very windy and the birds are staying hunkered down in the tree so we don’t actually spot them to confirm. I give it a try though, and when I return to the car the kids are entertaining themselves dancing on the road. A bit of swing that Son learnt through work. .. yeah.. there's no end to the cool activities the world's best employer offers for staff....well to the engineers anyway..
Not really understanding where we are well enough to continue exploring from here, we head back to Forbes where we freshen up and Son grabs some shorts – it’s too hot for the black jeans he was wearing. Then it’s off to Parkes to have a look at the Dish. We stop in Parkes to get some money in the main street. They were playing country music on the public loudspeakers. Kenny Rogers. It felt very very weird. Very American. I was really uncomfortable and felt like an alien in the environment. In the city they play classical music to deter gangs of teenagers in places. I guess in Parkes the target offenders are roaming city slickers. LOL We didn’t like Parkes much at a glance. It seemed just a featureless, fairly characterless large town and we were keen to move on. Though I should say my brother-in-law lived in Parkes for work for quite a time and says it's a lovely town with really nice people, so I'm sure it would grow on you if you were spending some time here.
When we get out of Parkes heading north the country side is really really lovely. Rolling hills with higher hills very scenic in the distance. Fields of bright yellow canola, rich green wheat making a beautiful contrast to occasional grazing pastures. Finally we reach the turn off to the dish and drive between a couple of fields sown broadacre. One side bright canola, the other the deep green of the wheat. I nearly have a fit when as we pass I see a crimson chat fly up. Son is driving and is frantically instructed to turn around. Fortunately the birds are right opposite a parking bay which seems to be intended for viewing the dish. There are at least 4 crimson chats flitting about and returning to sit on the wires of the fence, giving us ample opportunity to observe them. Finally they clear off. After a few minutes a pair of diamond firetails takes their place briefly before flying off. I later discover daughter has amused herself by videoing the episode! Crazy birdwatching oldies! .. and there’s the dish of course, so I can’t take all the credit! Though she only took video of the dish from the viewing bay. It is no hardship soaking up the scenery here.

We head in to the Dish information centre which has a large parking area with lovely planting that has been done by NSW Forestry. There are blue faced honeyeaters flying about and some other birds also, but we’re hot and fairly over the out of car sight seeing so we don’t go in, just get some photos of the dish.

We had intended to go up to Peak Hill to have a look at the open cut experience, but when I tell them that there is an entrance fee, everyone discovers they didn’t want to do it THAT much! We decide instead to head to Trundle and then Condobolin and then back to Forbes. We decide it makes sense to fill up before we head off. The lady at the checkout says that the hot wind was forecast to blow up some rain, so fingers crossed!
It’s a fairly straightforward drive to Bogan Gate. Bogan Gate like Parkes has a very nice and very new Welcome to sign. We stop to take a photo.

The sign is right near a short avenue of beautiful red flowering gums full of blossom (unfortunately you can't see the blossoms in the wind blown trees in the photo). There are some birds about but we don’t have the time or patience to hunt them down in the heat and wind and they are apparently intent on avoiding us doing so, so we give it up.
We briefly pay our respects to the local war memorial, and I think this one is a particularly nice one. Located as is usual in the middle of the cross section of two of the main roads in town.

Next stop the Breaker Morant plaque around the corner. They say the plaque is "in recognition" of the Breaker. I think it should be in memorium for him. Sometimes the politics of history is tricky to navigate and the Breaker was a controversial figure, having been shot by the British Army for shooting prisoners during the Boer War. There was and is a widespread view in Australia that the Breaker was a scapegoat. A dispensible colonial that could easily be sacrificed to take the heat off Kitchener for orders that were given in a savage no holds barred approach to stamping out opposing guerilla fighters. Indeed the Boer war is very interesting and very similar to the War in Iraq in many respects. Another war entered into for spurious reasons, another war where victory was declared prematurely; another war where the not actually vanquished continued on via an insurgency and guerilla tactics. I recently saw an interview with the guy who did the studies on the psychological effects of being a prisoner and prison guard and he commented, that the fellow who committed the worst of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib should certainly take responsibility, but that Rumsfeld and his cronies should be in prison alongside him. I have to say I agree, and it was the same for Breaker Morant.
The fate of the Breaker was a significant early step to a shift in the thinking of Australians and in our approach to participation in multi-national forces. Our military has not forgotten the lessons of history. The Breaker was not the only incident where Australians serving as part of the British forces were executed by the British in the Boer War. In another case after several Australians were executed (unfairly in the view of Australians back home) Australians were outraged and memorials were erected in their home country to those who were executed - much to the puzzlement if not anger of the British of course. Major culture clash. We learned though. In the Great War Australia made sure that the British did not have the power to execute our soldiers and of course the British lobbied hard to be allowed to shoot our soldiers there too - but our Government held firm. No way! I guess we should note also that the Breaker was a very well regarded horse breaker and poet in Australia at the time..his work was published alongside our other great bush poets in the Bulletin. You can read his poetry including the final poem he wrote before his execution on
The Breaker is also famous for shouting at the firing squad before his execution "shoot straight you bastards".

Anyway, Farewell Breaker. We snap some photos and off we go heading up a pretty quiet, narrow but sealed road towards Trundle. I guess you could say we trundled off to Trundle LOL
Trundle has an extremely wide main street, so we take a couple of photos of that, note the very long wooden verandah and then we head on, taking the turn at the sign to Condobolin.
The drive down from Trundle to Condo is beautiful. It is made even better by the threatening thunderstorm which is building to the south and west. We stop to have some cheese, tomato and crackers, at a nicely vegetated spot. As we sit we see the storm developing and finally see that it is raining in the distance to the south and west. Marvellous!! I photograph some bark on an ancient roadside tree. It’s pretty spectacular, so I hope the photo does the real thing justice.

Lunch completed we head off with Son reading to us from Noam Chomsky's Imperial Ambitions as we travel. Interesting book.

The Landscape is made even more beautiful by the rain that decends like a gauzy veil across the fields and distant mountains. We find a nice viewpoint to snap some photos.

After a while the rain starts bucketing down. We can see the rain sheeting across the road and it gets so heavy it gets to the point where we can hardly see in front of us and we are slowed right down. The volume of water on the roadsides (and potential for getting bogged) doesn’t encourage one to pull over so we press on at a slow speed thoroughly enjoying and marvelling at the downpour.

Finally we arrive in Condobolin which from this entrance seems a bit underwhelming, but we find the main road and find it’s a nice honest little town and we like it. Daughter is driving and she explores a little. We head up one street with a “woman” tree which we photograph. Delicacy prevents my publishing it here for fear it may offend some viewers. Then I get some shots of some great bark on a few of the other street trees, tippy toeing over the carpet of tiny gum nuts on the earth around the trees which is soft from the rain. I particularly enjoy the distinctive smell of the inland in the wet and the water trickling in the gutters.

We take our time making our way to the exit to the Lachlan Valley Way. We cross the Lachlan (Named for Governor Lachlan Macquarie) and I am moved to stop and hop out in light drizzle and go and take some snaps of the river.

There's also a lovely riverside memorial park with play equipment and picnic facilities and what look to be electric bbqs. I stop to pay my respects at the Condobolin memorial Honour Roll before heading back to the car.

It’s getting pretty late when we finally set off in light rain along the Lachlan Valley Way back to Forbes.
The scenery is similar to that around Coonamble, though with more recent water around than when we were in Coonamble this time last year. At least that is how we perceive it. The Lachlan Valley Way runs more or less along the river and every now and then we take a short detour to check out the river, which narrows as we head upstream and eastward. It looks so placid, you wouldn’t guess that the whole district can flood. Anyway we photograph some more awesome bark along the way, though it proves difficult to capture well.

Back in beautiful Forbes we decide to eat at “Spice” which has tables on the wide balcony of one of the historic buildings. A challenge for mum up a large flight of stairs, but she manages OK. The food is fairly simple traditional fare, the ambience was great and the service friendly. We have an enjoyable meal and head on home for journal writing and bed.
Dinner was a shared entres of fried camembert with plum sauce and banana wrapped in bacon with mango sauce. Mains most of us had surf and turf. With Acton beef scotch fillet from Queensland. Son had scotch fillet with diane sauce. Served with a side of veges including potato bake. Dessert was disappointing though and with the benefit of hindsight we should have skipped it.

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