Saturday, July 9, 2011

Silver City Sojourn - Day 2 - West Wyalong to Cobar

Day 2 – Friday 22nd April – Good Friday.
Mum and I are both awake at 5:30 with Buckley’s of either of us going back to sleep, so we decide to just get up and get away. We can bird watch if we come across a suitable spot on the way, or we can just get to Cobar nice and early and hope there’s some things in Cobar that are open today. That will give us a head start tomorrow as well.  
I add some detail to the blog while mum hops on the nebulizer then we pack up and head off.
We made an early getaway hitting the road by about 7:15.  We stop and fill the car before heading off towards Lake Cargelligo. The road heading north is pretty and lined with native vegetation.  

We are bird watching in a modest way as we go along. There are masses of birds on the road that fly up out of our way as we pass. An early highlight is a small flock of cockatiels.  Masses of crested pigeons and apostle birds. White winged choughs, and the occasional blue bonnet parrots.  We make slow progress with the frequent stopping. The road has a reasonable amount of traffic. 

Seeing an enticing dirt road branching off, we decide to wander down it for a bit in the hope that we can mosey about undisturbed.  However we find that most of the birds are out on the sealed road and at 3 kms we turn back and continue on our way.  We assume that the birds are attracted to the main road to eat grain dropped by the grain trucks after the harvest.  All through our driving over the last day or so there have been many paddocks bare where the harvest has been taken off.
We’ve not gone far before we are pulling up to capture a lovely view with a strong bank of cloud that is moving in from the west. 

We pass through Euabalong which I think is a lovely atmospheric town with plenty of original buildings from pioneer times. The ambience is very quaint and peaceful and there are large puddles of water lying in the road.  There must have been some significant falls of rain sometime not too long ago.

We continue on enjoying the scenery and the good cover of native vegetation. A highlight when we spot two galahs at a nesting hollow. We chuck a uey to come back for a better look and at the same spot I see some grey crowned babblers in a nearby shrub.  The vista across the grassland is lovely and the road ahead is traffic free and enticing. 

It is several hours before we arrive at Lake Cargelligo.  We pass by the sign pointing to Cobar but there is no point coming all this way and not seeing the lake itself so we wander down the main street and stop at Liberty Park to have a spot of breakfast, cheese and corn relish sangas, having only had a mandarin as a snack before we left West Wyalong.  We enjoy watching some masked woodswallows flitting about the electricity wires and trees in the park.  There is a motel opposite Liberty park and it is being serviced with the windows open. Even from across the park I can smell the room freshener scent that they must use. Overpowering. Remind me not to stay at that Motel.  We mosey about in the park for a while as I photograph the lake and  the war memorial, then we’re on the road once again.

Not too far along from Lake Cargelligo we  come to a sign telling us to slow down to 40 kph. We turn a corner and come to a bridge across a small and pretty watercourse labelled Booberoi Creek.  Beyond the bridge the road is dirt. We pull over to enjoy the scene and are overtaken by a ford falcon who is soon out of sight.  The road looks good and fairly dry although there have been indications along the way this morning that some rain has fallen.  We enjoy the road as it passes through a nature reserve. The shrubs and trees and grasses are all looking  very happy with new growth.  It is clear that it has been a good year for rain.  The road becomes wet in places, although we are able to navigate it pretty well. I look back carefully and am relieved to see that our own passing does not appear to be chewing up the road. 
I am keeping carefully to the firm places and the tracks of the car ahead.  In some sections the road becomes quite slippery and I’m hoping that the road doesn’t stay dirt for the 238 kms or so to Cobar.  It turns out that there is only about 30kms of dirt road before we are turning onto the black top and to Mount Hope.
We think we see Mount Hope – just one old building and lets move on. A bit of an anticlimax.  The road however is lovely as always.  

We were surprised that there was so much vegetation bordering the road.  Very little traffic and the driving is easy we have an enjoyable run to Cobar.  The sky is now replete with clouds, which for some reason always seem so much more substantial viewed out in the country.  Maybe due to the clear air.  They give a tangible sense of the void between earth and sky.
Along the way I couldn’t resist pulling over to photograph a cluster of corrugated iron buildings which we later learn were fairly typical of living conditions in the far west in the early part of the twentieth century.
As we approach Cobar a sign appears directing us to the Peak Gold Mine and Golden Walk. I have read about this when doing my research so dutifully make the turn and follow the directions into the visitor parking area.  Right at the car park is the head structure of one of the very old mine shafts.  The path follows some old mine ruins, past the old stamper battery and up to a lookout where the current mine is operating.  There is a large metal head structure with cage travelling up and down and a long conveyor belt carrying material high to drop onto a huge cone of black.  The signs at the lookout are very faded, so who knows what they once said about the current mining operations.

Right next to the lookout is the remains of a puddling machine powered by horses, the information board illustrating what it once would have looked like and how it worked.  There is a father and his son hanging about spending plenty of time at the old relics.  I felt for the boy.  The father has a tripod and a camera with a huge lens.  Looks like the boys probably spends a good deal of boring time waiting for his dad to get the shot he wants, but he's being very patient.  They have been here since before we arrived and aren’t showing signs of being finished any time soon.   We head off into Cobar, stopping to photograph the huge Cobar sign near the entry to the centre of town.
Just around the corner is the Cobar Heritage Centre. Another of the places I have planned to see, so we park and head in. $9 entry for adults $7 for seniors. We’ve been looking around the shop while the lady behind the desk helps another couple who are on their way out to white cliffs. I prick up my ears at at their accent and wonder if they have come to the outback from overseas, but a glance down the page at the post codes recorded in the book suggests that they are residents of Sydney like myself. The post codes show that they have had a steady stream of Sydneysiders coming through. I have picked up some leaflets on local identities to read later 50 cents each.
Mum’s not feeling up to it, so I give her the car keys and she retires to the car to do a crossword.  I head through to explore the exhibits. 
Firstly I wander through the ground floor exhibits.  The first room I enter has a range of things relating to grocery stores. Old bottles and bits and bobs and discussion about retailing and how it has evolved in Cobar over the years. Moving on I admire a display about the traditional and continued passion for reusing and recycling and making things yourself that is a characteristic of the local community.  Some original tools and pieces have been donated but quite a few have been made by local people to demonstrate the arts for visitors, following the approach of copying things that were in catalogues.  The displays include tools made from fencing wire and kerosene tins.  Next stop is a bush kitchen with original photograph and a mock up of the kitchen pictured, complete with pastry well under way.  Some old kids toys.  Battered old tricycle and peddle car underneath a poster with reminiscences by older residents of their childhood in the early part of the twentieth century which is particularly fascinating. Along corridors there are photographs of historic figures and panels with information. The selection of what is shown is excellent.  Cobar really does have a fine and unique heritage to tell the visitor about. 

Outside they have an excellent collection of horse drawn farm and earth working machinery. Most seem to be in pretty good nick and have signs about what they are and how they worked.  A local has donated an original charcoal cooler, again in pretty good nick. There’s a rustic wool sorting table and some mine drilling equipment. One of the larger articles is a Sunshine harvester.  The first I can recall having seen, thought I have heard them mentioned occasionally throughout my life.  I found it very interesting to see one of those.  Closer to the indoor exhibits is a portable (steam) engine. I enter the shed and find a really old fire truck with a long history of use for various functions around the district.  Alongside this are a range of buggies, spring carts, a dray and a modern sulky build in about 1980 by a well regarded local man who has salvaged bits from around the place to assemble his modern equipage. On the wall is a memorial sign telling of the builders’ life and offering condolences to his family with the assurance that Cobar is grieving the man’s loss with them.  If memory serves he died in about 1998. An outback character.

My final exploration in the outdoor section is Car 3 from the Far West Childrens Health Scheme.  This is a real gem of an exhibit. I read with interest about the Far West scheme and Stanley and Lucy Drummond and head into the carriage which is housed in it’s own large open shed to protect it from the elements.  This is awesome and I wish daughter2 was here to see it with me.  Mum also would love it. It is a shame she is not feeling better.
Finished exploring everywhere downstairs and outside I ask the attendant whether there is more upstairs. “Oh yes.  Heaps of stuff upstairs including mining and aboriginal displays”.
I head up the impressive stair case and emerge into a maze of rooms that tell about mining history and techniques. Not too little not too much I find the level of detail is all that I would want and so maintains my interest.  
As I come to the end of the mining section I arrive at the aboriginal section. Paydirt you might say!  At the entrance there are first of all some panels that show whose story is being told and where their country is situated.  There is the large group of Ngiyampaa people and the particular stories inside are a subgroup whose traditional land is shown in relation to others and to present day localities.  The panels explain the history over the last hundred or so years.  In the earliest days there was minimal disruption from the Europeans and the mining or huge pastoral runs, with a sympathetic manager on one of the relevant stations, allowing continued access to country allowing preservation of culture and ceremony.  This man (and Irishman whose name now escapes me) ended up marrying an aboriginal woman and having a family with her continuing to act as an advocate for aboriginal people.  Then the displays tell of the bite of more intrusive and destructive government policies forcing the aboriginal community into missions a long way from country.  Policies of cultural annihilation - a dreadfully misguided and tragic period that resulted in the loss of many aboriginal people and some knowledge.  Following the worst days the community was again relocated closer to their homelands and the panels describe the trade offs that the aboriginal people made in establishing what is still a current indigenous community. 
There is some information about indigenous management of water resources, and there is a grinding stone with information about traditional diets.  There is a sign saying – please touch this, so I have a go at the grinding stone.  Across on another wall there are art works depicting things of cultural significance. They are explained and it is pointed out that these key cultural ceremonies are still conducted today.  In a glass case below some beautiful pieces by a local indigenous artist are displayed, but it is pointed out that traditionally everyone in the community expressed themselves and their stories in art as they did not have written language.  This broad artistic practice in the community is reflected in the continuing ability of people to express themselves through art.   I read with interest the stories of various community members living and some who have passed away.  All very interesting.
There is a life sized board of the last member of the community to live in the traditional way. He is photographed carrying his tools and next to him is a display about  a white collector of aboriginal artifacts who is believed to have collected things from this traditional man.  Pieces believed to have actually belonged to him are on display – on loan from the Museum of Australia in Canberra who now has possession and cares for this important collection. 
 As I turn I come to a display with some recreation of the important artwork from the Mt Grenfell Historic Site, which was handed back to the traditional owners only in the last decade and is now managed jointly by traditional owners and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.   So much information is packed into this small room.  Next  I read about a nasty character.  A short ugly red haired creature who is pretty much the enemy and has some fairly scary powers to confuse and confound.  Various local people explain in their own words on the boards who this devil is, and I read that he is still sighted by aboriginal people today – a case in point as a couple of men tell the story of how he visited their camp when they were out working.  The final exhibit in the room is a large panel with photographs of various indigenous plants and some text about what they were used for.  I smile as at the end of the panel in large bold print is a warning not to go off experimenting with bush tucker on the basis of the information provided.  Apparently NPWS and local people are still researching and working on pulling together a book about it.  If the information here is anything to go by it will be an interesting book.  This room has been fantastic.  Well done Cobar! Well done indeed.  What a contrast to the Back of Bourke Centre!! Perhaps the leaders of Bourke should pop down here to Cobar and have a look, to see how one can go about presenting an honest and inclusive display of community history.
I’ve been ages in here and I’m feeling guilty about leaving mum hanging out on her own so I go to take my leave but find there’s still half the upstairs I haven’t yet explored.  There s a room all about wool, with a big wool press and some excellent looking displays and whole other rooms that  I now can’t recall what was in them.  Gosh. This place is really great and good value for money too.  Cobar is clearly a very proud and strong community.  I’m really impressed. As I head back out I cannot see a visitors book so I wait while the lady behind the very busy counter finishes on the phone and I tell how much I have enjoyed the centre and particularly the Aboriginal room upstairs.  How wonderful and refreshing to find a centre where they tell the modern story of their indigenous community. Outstanding.  She seems pretty chuffed and assures me she will pass my compliments on.
I figure as mum is a bit worn out best to go and check in to the motel, but first we fill the car with juice at the local servo.  We are staying at Cobar Central Motor Inn. A newly built 4 star establishment. I park in the disabled car space and wander in.  A few cancellations and they now have a room with Queen and single beds, so they have moved us to that which is good.  Some milk 125ml. Thanks. I get chatting with the friendly lady behind the desk, saying I’ve just been enjoying the heritage centre and it is really really great and that I particularly enjoyed the aboriginal room.  Without my prompting she says that they have had other people through too who said that it there is nothing of that sort at the multi-million dollar Back o Bourke Centre, yet Cobar didn't receive the funding like the Back O Bourke centre got.   It is clear from our conversation today that Cobar is a very proud and strong community. Later I read through the contents of the local tourist guide and find a lot of the material presented is about community.  I’m really liking Cobar. What a great town.

Next stop we do a little back tracking and head to the Fort Bourke Lookout over the open cut and which we are informed is a good place for sunset also.  Takes us a while to find the right turn but we finally pull up as a not terribly attractive parking lot and wander up to the lookout which is a short uphill incline. Lots of wire mesh to prevent things falling or being thrown into the pit. There is quite a cold wind up here. It’s been a cool day and I’ve changed from shorts to jeans and a jumper, but I’m still cold so the thongs will have to go as well and I return to the car to put on my runners.  We’ve had our fill of the views of the pit and there’s still a while to sunset so we head over to the Newey. 

The Newey is the new water reservoir. A pretty spot with a couple of islands in the midst of a lake the water for which is pumped hundreds of kms from the Bogan river (?).  We admire the birds, an egret, some sacred ibis, some pied cormorants and pacfici black ducks and then as the sun is sinking we head back to get into position for sunset.  We decide that the side of the road heading to Fork Bourke Lookout, but not up the top, is actually the best spot with the clearest view of the sky.  We admire the sunset and head back to get some dinner.

The Cobar bowling club is across the road so we pop in there. It’s a mix of Chinese, a little Thai and Australian meals. I order a chicken parmy and when mum decides the calamari schnitzel ( a huge slab of calamari cooked schnitzel style) is not appealing she decides to go a parmy as well.  I quickly change to straight chicken schnitzel as that will keep to sandwiches tomorrow if we don’t finish everything.  The meals arrive and they are large as I expected. We share the parmy. We take the plain schnitzel away.  The parmy is delicious of course.  The veges and chips OK but nothing to write home about.
Back to the room and bed.  The room by the way is nicely appointed but we find there is an aroma from what I have long ago concluded is some sort of fresher put into air conditioners.  The motel has made a point of not spraying room deodorizers before our arrival and insist that they do not use room deodorisers.  Luckily the building is new and we think the smell not strong enough to make us have to change, but its a near run thing. If returning with Mum we would have to look for somewhere else. What a shame.
We watch some tele. A show about Scotland which is very interesting to me with the family history research I’ve been doing.  Then we watch some stuff about the Danish Royals.  Off to the land of nod briefly. Mum awakes about 12:30 with asthma and doesn’t want to disturb me so just lies awake until about 3:30 or so when I notice she’s taking her puffer and ask if she’s OK. It’s on with the nebulizer.  Well. Just as well its just the one night here. Neither of us have slept well, so Day 3 could be a bit of a trial.  

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