Saturday, July 9, 2011

Silver City Sojourn - Day 3 - Cobar - Wilcannia - Broken Hill

Saturday 23rd April 2011
As noted above we’re awake disgustingly early. After we read the brochures we got from the heritage centre Mum seems to get a little bit of doze as I journal. 7:20 am. Time we got a shuffle on.  I close the laptop and get on with it.  We have decided we’ll breakfast at the dining room on site today.
Breakfast is the standard arrangement with a choice of continental or buffet. Mum went for scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms and toast with marmalade, I had a mix of just right with nutrigrain and some very nice cinnamon toast.  On checking out they charged us only for the buffet.  If it weren't for Mum's health issues I'd happily stay here again. That aroma is the culprit. It's not typical for Mum to wake in the night and need her nebuliser.
It was about 9:45 when we left Cobar.  We have hardly left town when we come to a large fruit fly exclusion zone sign with the usual threats if we proceed carrying fruit with us. We pull over into a handy little area by the side of the highway and consume our one remaining mandarin and our single lonely tomato. As we munch Mum spots a little bird then loses sight of it.  For some reason I needed to get out of the car and I spot the rustling in a nearby shrub. It is a wren. I get my binoculars and the bird conveniently comes out to where we can see it. Tail and wings are blue. A different blue to a splendid fairy wren, this is more a turquoise greeny blue.  I think it looks like its probably a splendid wren in eclipse plumage.  We consult the book. Good deducing 99. That's exactly what it is. Excellent!
Back on the highway we have a couple of hours or so until we reach Wilcannia. We have been talking to the lady at the motel about Wilcannia and she says that they often get people through saying they’ve been told not to even stop for petrol in Wilcannia.  She agrees that the town has had a huge turn around in recent times and it is no better or worse than any other town.  We are looking forward to exploring there.  A stop by the hospital is recommended.

The roadside is consistently lined with happy looking vegetation. Trees and conifers and shrubs. It would not look out of place in an alpine region.  The terrain through which we are travelling is undulating hills and occasionally we stop to capture the scenery or have a short break. After a bad night last night we are both very tired.  Inconvenient for mum but potentially deadly for me.  Very few birds along the road today. Only one emu.  Quite a contrast to all the emus we saw in spring up between Walgett and Bourke and the surrounding district. We did see two wedge tailed eagles about 85 kms out from Wilcannia. They were flying unlike the myriads of ravens who were lunching at the various roadkill victims.
Another interesting feature was a trio of dead bushes.  The first was decorated with caps.  The second was littered with bottles and the third with shoes.  Quite a sight in the middle of nowhere. I decided not to stop and photograph. 
We've not been rushing and we reach Wilcannia in just under 2 hrs.  First on the agenda is to follow the signs to the hospital. It is indeed a nice building and it has an interpretive sign in the park across the road. Among the information provided is that the hospital is constructed of locally quarried white sandstone and was designed by Edmund Blackett who also designed St Andrews Cathedral and the University of Sydney.  

The park across from the hospital is named Reconciliation Park and it has a mix of European and Aboriginal elements.  A number of panels have been set up where indigenous art works can be attached.  Several have some finished works attached and they are very very nice, but there is still many panel sites yet to be completed.

Lots of crested pigeons are around and near the hospital there was a whole tree full.  We also observe few galahs and pee wees.  We take a toilet stop at the public toilets there and were greeted by a green tree frog.  We were warned about green tree frogs in the toilets at the heritage centre in Cobar, but it still comes as a surprise.  I still can’t get my head around how wide their distribution is. Somewhere like Cobar or Wilcannia are the last places I would have expected to find a frog I associate so strongly with the tropics.

As we head back towards the main drag mum points out a tree full of red tailed black cockatoos, which is always  a special sight.  We photographed the council rooms and drove down past the park and the post office for a bit of an explore.  We seek out the local museum but find it isn't open. 

There are many lovely heritage buildings and this town could really be something special.  It appears that moves are already afoot, with things like the Reconciliation Park and a big interpretive panel by the river, and you could spend some time stretching your legs doing a historical walk reading the interpretive signs for each of the historic buildings, but there is still a way to go before Wilcannia lives up to its tourism potential. Lots of buildings look derelict and almost everything is closed today and we are quite disappointed not to be finding more to hold us here for a while.

We return to pull over at the riverside park enjoying the sound of laughing kookaburras. Mum watches a black kite. As mum gets on the nebulizer again I wander over to have a look at the river and snap a couple of photos Just adjacent to this is a sort of low beach area with large, beautiful trees.  A couple of children with their puppies are down mucking about by the river. Looks like they are yabbying.  A man on the far bank iseems similarly occupied. 
 The water is a whitish brown and is moving pretty fast, but the banks are pretty high and steep for most of the area I could see.  There is a picnic table in an enclosure by the riverbank but it has a lot of litter lying around it. 

Back by the car I read an interesting interpretive board about Lake Woytchugga and I spend the obligatory few minutes paying my respects at the war memorial nearby. Just a few steps away there is a set of swings and a slippery dip. Overall the park is neat and tidy.

 We head in to the BP servo and fill up, admiring the numerous kelpies hanging around.  We follow the brown signs for the Heritage trail obliged to drive it as Mum's not up to the walk.  Most buildings in the town are venerable. School,  police station and courthouse all still in use and looking well cared for of course, others that appear to have been shops.  The school has a fringe of wonderful gum trees with shiny sparkling leaves and bark. 

 The Old Post Office appears empty and in need of some TLC. Perhaps a great opportunity for something tourism related in future? The buildings are beautiful, but there is clearly some wear and tear that is in need of attention. 

 As we turn a corner along the way around we exchange smiles and waves with a group of young Aboriginal kids who are sitting on a fence outside one of the homes.  We double back to another small park by the river where there seems to be a few people nosing around. There are some other signs nearby the bridge but they have vandalized. Probably not to the extent that you cannot read them at all, but to be honest I’m over it and developing a bad attitude.  There is an impressive painted fish in the park, and some people are wandering in around the nearby building. Perhaps that’s the information centre, but if it is, it is not obviously signposted  as such. What sign there is has a large graffiti penis on it.  We decide to just move on. We’re both pretty tired and I’m keen to just get to Broken Hill.  We have felt perfectly safe and comfortable in Wilcannia, it clearly has masses of potential. Historically Wilcannia was a really significant town and as a matter of heritage it would be nice to see an injection of money to restoring or at least doing what is necessary to repair and preserve the remaining buildings.   It is gratifying to see that while some things have graffiti on them, none of the historic buildings have been defaced.   
I know that Tristate tours feature a visit to Wilcannia in their itineraries and I wonder what it is they do and say about the place, well other than the obvious historical references of course.  I suspect that this might be the sort of place where some local knowledge would make a big difference, but their tours are rather expensive and I've decided I'm just not curious enough to pay 2x the hefty per person rate for their tour.   The motel in Wilcannia is handily situated close in to the main highway. It looks neat and tidy. 

As we move on to Broken Hill we are west of the Darling and the vegetation reflects this . The Darling marks a sort of boundary of sorts to the deep outback and the desert.  The clouds are looking bigger and more closely spaced.  Again there are some rolling hills and the vegetation is looking beautiful with fresh new growth.  Some water is lying here and there in ephemeral lakes. It is a pleasant drive with regularly spaced rest stops at least one of which had a nice play area for children. I am struck as we travel with the nice facilitites along the roadside for families making the long trek out to the silver city.  People travelling with kids can plan their trip checking out the facilities at the various stops on the rtalive website.

Very few birds or anminals around other than road kill of which there is no shortage.  I spotted an echidna just moving into the roadside grass and we have been warned to watch out for goats, which proves to be good advice.  At one spot there was a decent flock of swamp chooks running about.
As  we near Broken Hill we cross a very very flat expanse of grassland. I wonder if this is part of the Hay plain, does it stretch this far?  I love these extremely flat areas, and they are best with clouds around too.  Then all of a sudden we come to a large ephemeral lake with local shrubbery partially submerged.  There are water birds in large numbers but the light is bad and apart from guessing that some are small grebes we can’t tell what they are.

Finally we get to the Welcome to Broken Hill sign and layby where a number of vehicles have pulled over. It’s a pretty uninspiring sign and I don’t bother recording it.  We head into town admiring the many street trees beautiful arid country species and it gives the place a lovely ambience.

I pull over to consult my map and we navigate to Bells Milk Bar. It’s about 2 pm local time and I’m ready for some food.  Bells is as time warp as its reputation asserts.  There is even a little martian in a flying saucer hovering over the façade.  Parking is plentiful and we waste no time heading inside.  I order a caramel malted milkshake and a piece of apple pie.  Mum goes for chocolate malted.  Unadventurous, but we want to test the basics.  There are tables for sitting and each is provided with a range of games for patrons to play. My kids would love this place.  Our order sets us back just over $20.  As the waitress comes to our table to deliver the apple pie, we check that they will be putting nutmeg on our shakes as is the local tradition.  They will, but wouldn’t have if we didn’t ask for it.  The milkshakes arrive and they are not terribly frothy as they leave the ice cream In a blob rather than blend it in.  The shake is huge though.  Perusing the menu we find we could (and should) have ordered the small. The larger size is the standard offering.  I enjoy the flavor of my caramel malted. Mum’s not keen on hers though.  I decide that I will return and try the thickshakes.  I notice other people are ordering thickshakes. I wonder if those are more like the sort of milkshake I remember from my childhood – thick and frothy and luscious.

It’s still quite early so our next stop will be Jack Absolom’s gallery.  This looks just like a suburban house from the outside with a lovely garden  Other people are pulling up almost at the same time as we are. We enter into the large gallery space with a veritable carpet of lovely original landscapes adorning the high part of the walls.  These are not for sale but prints of them are.  I am pleased to find the original White Bull the texture and red dust obscuring the herd behind is great. We mosey around taking it all in and admiring the various works.  Jack himself is working. He’s in his 80s but clearly still doing pretty well.  I assume it must be his wife on the till doing the payments.  I am very pleased to meet and be served by Jack I have to say. I make my selection, a large sized print of the white bull,  the leather bound limited edition collection of Jacks’ paintings, each with a little spiel about it where it is and what it means to Jack.  He tells me that when he was ordering this leather bound edition he asked for 50, but they made him 500.  He could have refused to take them, but must have got them pretty cheap, as he tells me that they are selling for less than what we would otherwise have had to pay. The leather binding being a large part of the cost of production.  I make a selection from among the boxed sets of Jacks TV specials.  Mum requests we also get the one about the Pilbara and Jack says she can just have that.  My last selection is Jacks' cookbook, which is full of weird and wonderful recipes and amusing little anecdotes to go along with it.  I have always meant to learn how to cook in my camp oven, but even if I don’t I’ll enjoy reading the book.  We admire the beautiful opal specimens and jewellery on display in the cases in the centre of the room.  Some beautiful solid stones among them.  As we were admiring the art work I heard Jack say to someone Here I’ll get it out for you. You look like a crow peering into a beer bottle looking down like that.

Time to move along to our next priority. Pro Hart’s Gallery, which is well signposted once we get back onto the main road.  It’s an impressive edifice also and doing a roaring trade today.  It costs $4 for adults and $2 seniors to enter.  There is a gift shop area with a range of very tempting souvenirs and several rooms with various prints and original works for sale. Before heading up into the three storey gallery we spend quite a long time watching a video that they have playing about the artist.  It is very informative about Pro’s life and passions, his inspiration and faith.  Pro’s studio is as it was, protected behind glass walls and his gun for launching Christmas baubles filled with paint is also on display. After well over an hour in the gallery I make my selections a print of the Chop Bone which depicts a bone being swarmed over by ants. I love pro’s ants.  A jigsaw of one of his bush community scenes, an apron with ants and a mouse mat with a dead insect.  There is an interesting looking biography of Pro by his son, but it’s $50 or near enough and more than I want to pay.  Time to move on.
We consult our maps again and locate Desert Sand motel and check in. There’s a mysterious smell in the room when we first open the door.  Eventually I find it is concentrated at the cupboard.  I sniff the “wood” yep it’s the wood. Lord knows what it is made of but I think the smell is emitted by the actual furniture rather than any cleaner or air freshener. It seems to subside as we leave the door open, so we decide we shall make do. Hopefully it won’t affect mum’s asthma.  She’s not been good today after the smell in the room last night, and we can’t afford any further deterioriation.
Dinner we opt for Dunes the onside restaurant which seems to be part of the Southern Cross Hotel next door. The atmosphere is nice and the staff seem nice also.  We both ordered chicken. Just mains, but they are huge and nicely cooked, but nothing particularly gourmet to my taste.  I make a mental note to just order an entre if we eat here again.  The steaks are huge 350-400g and no option for a smaller size.  Its 8pm by the time we’re heading back to the room.  We both just prepare for bed  and hit the sack. I do a little blogging but I’m really too tired, so pack it in for the night. 

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