Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 4 - The Ridge Black Opal Tour and Black Queen & more

Monday 20 September 20, 2010

This morning I spend a bit of time trying to catch up on journalling, fairly unsuccessfully. Then we need to talk to Margaret, our hostess here at the Bluey Motel. We need advice as to activities and routes that should be ok to explore after the rain of yesterday and overnight. I take an executive decision to book us onto a Black Opal Tour which Margaret’s manner suggests is a better option than driving yourself.

We are delayed in Margaret’s little shop by a discussion of Ion Idriess and the various titles. For those not familiar, Ion Idriess is a great Australian author who belongs in my articles listing 10 Greats from each Australian State. Unfortunately he is yet another of NSW’s eminent sons, and I got past my 10 with others who could not be denied. Idriess had a very interesting life in interesting times, he writes beautifully, telling true stories about this great land in earlier times. Most places you travel in Australia you will be able to find an Idriess title about that area. Most hard cover editions are collectible to say the least. Margaret ‘s little shop is another source of collectable Idriess editions and I choose two, irresistible ones . I have to get Lightning Ridge obviously, though I understand it overlaps contents of The Silver City which I already have. I also cannot resist another he co-authored called Secret Service about the Australian Navy between the world wars. I resist Australia Must Fight, which is either $550 or $450 depending on which copy you buy.

Time is a tickin’ away and we finally drag ourselves away from the Idriess shelf and head off. We need to get some supplies. Just around the corner from the Bluey is a Khan's Super IGA supermarket. We mosey on in to find that it is really excellent. They have a good fruit and veges section and a deli section that is well above average. Good range of specialty cheeses as well and some really good breads.

We pick up a caraway rye Vienna (yum) and a soft and delicious looking fruit loaf. Daughter grabs some fresh ricotta and of course we need some more bananas. Over in the yoghurt section we are surprised to find that they stock king island yoghurt, 400g tubs for $4.38. You pay $4.99 or thereabouts for 300g in Woolworths usually. Looks like it’s yoghurt for brekkie tomorrow! Mum grabs some sliced ham. Some jarlsberg cheese and a range of crackers including the delightfully versatile Sao biscuit and we’re done.

We stowe our bounty and head of up along the highway to explore some bird/flora/geology sites armed with several brochures picked up from the Bluey for 50 cents each. You can also download these brochures from the website if you’re organized. I’m not and anyway the professionally printed ones are glossy and nicer to use. With any luck they’re making a little profit on them too, and getting a direct return on the effort that has gone into developing them..

We decide to tick off the lake at site 7. This is usually a fossil lake but the Naran lake has overflowed and this lake has filled this year. We struggle at first but finally we make contact with the large sheet of standing water. I’m sure this place we’ve pulled over is not the spot we were supposed to be finding, however the only roads off to the left we’ve seen are badly wet and chewed up looking and we’re not game to risk getting bogged there or further along the track so we stick to surfaces we’re confident in. We wander across the highway and across between the trees. It’s a beautiful scene with Royal spoonbills feeding skimming their black spoon shaped bills back and forth in the soup, extracting all manner of aquatic life for their sustenance.> Further down more spoonbills are either feeding or roosting up in the trees. A couple anonymous ducks fly up nervous at our intrusion. Near our feet a bright red emu bush is flowering. Ruby saltbush is springing up all around among the other vegetation, as yet no sign of the bright red little jewel berries that give the plant its name.

Having seen what we can at this spot, we head back to another site closer to town. This is at the old dam and we expect to find white winged wrens and variegated wrens in the thick vegetation near the drain from the road. As the guide instructs we pull up under the weeping myall. I change into my hiking books and head off on foot the 30 metres odd that is required to get in among the wrens. At first it is all very quiet then after we’ve been there a time the wrens get a bit more used to us and start to show themselves. I see a coloured up male variegated, and another variegated wren not in male plumage and with the rich russet eye makeup. A little later some small soft brown wrens are flitting and it’s clear these must be white winged wrens simply by a process of elimination. No eye makeup.

Sheep are grazing in the paddock on the far side of the lake. They don’t seem even slightly fussed by our presence. They are clean and happy looking. Mum and I note that these seem to be “augashorn” sheep. This is a running joke in between mum and I. Some years ago we went to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney. We both like looking at the animals and watching the judging of things and on that occasion we went along to the sheep judging. During the announcements they kept referring to "augashorn" sheep. Talking to an official after it was all over mum pipes up and asks “by the way what is an augashorn sheep?” he looked a bit dumbfounded and replied “its august shorn, means they were shorn in August.” We’ve been laughing about augashorn sheep ever since.

The budda trees everywhere around the district are flowering heavily.

It is so peaceful here at the old dam.. except for the periodic rumble of the traffic along the Castlereagh Highway. Tomorrow we really must get out early and get away off from the road. Maybe to the parrot ponds.

From the old dam we head futher towards Walgett to find site 2 which is an enclosure of regenerating quandong. Originally, Margaret told me, they just fenced a quandong tree. They were puzzled why no quandongs were springing up anywhere near it. Then they decided to try an experiment. They put a rabbit proof fence around a much larger area. I think it might have been 50 x 50 m (same as a mining plot) and waited and watched. Young quandong sprang up all over the place. My god I hate rabbits. What they have done to this country is a tragedy. Anyway, we are all interested to see a quandong. There are trees and things that we all hear about all our lives but have never seen, we’re ticking some of them off on this trip.

A little way on we find the turn which is signposted Lorne Road. This road, according to my map will take me back into lightning ridge along the dirt. We’re travelling through some beautiful country with understorey of saltbush. We stop to check out a bird. Only a galah. Daughter spots another bird in a tree by the road. Australian Kestrel. Cool.

We come across a group of young cattle. Their hairstyles seem consistent with their age, or so it seems to us.

A quick bite to eat back at the motel and then we’re climbing on the bus for our Black Opal Tour. Our driver is Chuck and he’s a really friendly and really funny bloke. Our first stop for the day is to visit Alex’s tribute to Copernicus. The building is quirky and interesting. The real attraction is Alex’s story. It is simply extraordinary. We are very glad Margaret encouraged us to do the tour. You just could not get the same experience of this place, or the ridge, driving yourself.

We also have a quick photo pause for Amigo’s Castle which is also accompanied by a story that is pretty amazing. Then its time for “smoko” and we adjourn for afternoon tea at the Black Opal show rooms which are located in an old red rattler train carriage. We hear some stuff about cleaning and polishing opals etc while we have refreshments including Devonshire tea. Then we head inside for a run down on the various sorts of opals, solids, doublets, triplets, honey opal etc. I didn’t realize opal is actually found all over the world, but quality, naturally occurring, black opal is found only one place – Lightning Ridge.

Next up we visit the walk in mine. this one gives mum a bit of a work out as it has quite a few stairs. We hear about the purpose of the wooden struts which appear to be supporting the roof, but actually don't, as well as other interesting mining information, history of the Walk in Mine and so forth. Again we have an opportunity to browse the opal shop on site.
On the tour we also pay a quick stop to hear interesting things about the bore baths. Towards the end of the tour we head up to Lunatic Lookout where Chuck explains the hame of the place and various strata in the open cut and we see the Idriess plaque that Margaret was telling us about, in position.Apparently they are planning on setting up an Idriess walk. I looking forward to doing that some time. There are also a number of interesting information boards about the area.

Finally we head to a heap where we can fossick for a bit and get some lessons in how to spot opal. This last was way more fun than I expected and useful for people too as it’s essentially a lesson in what to look for so you can get your eye in.

I’m starting to get a bit anxious about the time. We are due at the Black Queen by 5pm. We have learnt so much on this tour, it really has been excellent and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the ridge. The ridge is all about people and the interesting stories of the people who live and have lived here. So many characters. ...and did I mention, Chuck is really funny as well and a character in his own right. We are pleased to be able to spend the afternoon with him. We are so glad we tok this tour.

We’re among the last to be dropped off and we rush to get into the car and away, just a quick few words to another guest at the bluey who is keen to see the local birds, but we’re still about 5 mins late. The show has started without us. Bugger. Gale recaps for us though and we catch up OK.

We complete the first act, which is really fascinating, then we move to the next building for Act 2. The story continues here and I’m not going to tell you a thing about the contents of the show. Not a thing. Act three takes place after another change of location. It’s a complete surprise and again fascinating. An amazing privilege. That’s all I’m saying other than I found the show inspiring and empowering. We leave through the gift shop rather than the way we came, which I’m thankful for.. no, not explaining why.. go to Lightning Ridge and see the show! It's much better you come to it without specific expectations.

The gift shop is well endowed with great gift options and it costs me a fortune, but even now in the cold light of day I don’t think I got carried away, its just that Gale has managed to stock the store with cool stuff that I actually wanted before I stepped foot in this place. Getting them here was simply a delightful bonus. Even managed to tick off some presents for my soon to arrive first grandbaby, a large hand puppet greater glider, I mean honestly, you don't see recognisable greater gliders around just anywhere and its a hand puppet to boot..

We chat with Gale and Roger after the other guests have departed. Gale gives us some information and recommendations for things to see later in our trip. Recommending we make sure we see an artist named Jenny Greengtree in Bourke she takes us inside to show us a fabulous mixed media artwork up close that I had been admiring during the show. We adjourn back outside and admire the beautiful leopardwood tree by the door. The builder of these buildings, Joan Andrews, built around the leopardwood trees on site. What a wonderful feature they make with their beautiful spotted and textured trunks.

Having left our email address and promising to send Gale the details for Scott Marr, and natural pigment pyrography we head off. What a great evening we’ve had. What a privilege to share the stories of the Black Queen.

It’s 8pm by now and we head directly the club and grab a spot of dinner. We intersect with the Rural Health Union group of students who have just arrived in town for their local program. Turns out some of their party bailed at the last minute and they have some places paid for but unoccupied on their tour of Chambers of the Black Hand tomorrow. Daughter is a member of the Rural Health Union as part of her John Flynn Scholarship, and had it not been for a prior commitment travelling with her rellies would quite likely have been on this RHU trip, so we figure its not too dodgy to tag along with the group tomorrow.

Dinner completed we’re well and truly ready to hit the sack. We're loving the ridge!

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