Saturday, July 9, 2011

Silver City Sojourn - Day 5 - Anzac Service and Lake Eyre Scenic Flight

Day 5 Monday 25th April – Anzac Day
Up at 5 am and bustling around preparing to leave for the Dawn Service.  The motel has prepared details of the day’s program of remembrances for guests, which we appreciate very much.  I went down Sulphide st to drop mum as close as possible to the memorial for the service and find a beaut parking spot  very close.  Luckily mum had her disabled parking sticker on the car. The kerb is quite high and Mum couldn’t manage it on her own, but a nice lady gave her a hand. As we wait for the service to begin the memorials look splendid all lit up in the dark.  The WW1 Memorial is very impressive with a digger posed in the midst of throwing a grenade. It is a wonderful statue and must have cost a lot of money. Definitely one of the most impressive Anzac memorials I have seen. 

Coincidentally when we get home I discover in my reading that this memorial in Broken Hill was by sculpted by Charles Web Gilbert who also did the original memorial for Mont St Quentin in France and the diorama for Mont St Quentin in the national war memorial. There is a very prominent and large memorial to the Vietnam Vets too, and a smaller very modest one to WWII, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam tucked away like a bit of an afterthought.
As the service gets underway, serving army soldiers move into position at the four corners of the memorial and the diggers who have assembled for rum rashions at the legion club earlier in the morning march into a prominent position. From the age of most it looks like there’s no shortage of Vietnam vets in Broken Hill. The MC for the service starts off with a few words and invites the local minister to speak.  The minister says that war brings out the best and worst in people, but that today he’d like to focus on the best.  He goes on to read a moving letter from a father to his son about how men don’t embrace and men don’t cry but if he were here now they would embrace and that sometimes men just cry.  Throughout the service the vets stand at attention and at ease at appropriate points.  The band plays a hymn and the minister leads a prayer.  Reveille is sounded and a piper plays.   The biggest difference to our local service was that they didn’t get the crowd to face East or turn to face the west.  The crowd participated in the lest we forget,  beating the MC to it, and then saying it again after him.  The service finished with the national anthem which was played by the band but the crowd was not invited to sing along and didn’t do so off their own bat.
We mosey around take a few photos.  There is a round garden planted with Peace roses which we thought a nice touch, and we wander down to check out a wooden boat shaped sculpture at the far end of the park.  It is a project by students of the local TAFE in some sort of aboriginal artwork course.  With that we are done and we resolve to try to make it back later to get a photo of the war memorial in full light.
Back to the motel to finalise preparations for our flight out to Lake Eyre and the Flinders Ranges.  We have some brekky and I do a little journaling while mum does this and that. Then it’s time for departure and we head out to the airport. 
It takes the full half hour to do all the meet and greet, flight briefing and so forth and then we clamber into a small Cessna.  A flock of galahs is feeding on the grass near the runway. Smooth takeoff and first we pass over Broken Hill and get a look at one of the open cuts right in the centre of town.  From the ground or even up at the memorial on the Line of Lode you would have no idea these huge open cut mines were there.  As we fly over the edge of the Barrier Ranges there is a light mist lying like a gossamer veil over the ridges. It will soon burn off.  It’s pretty while it lasts.

We leave the ranges and head out over the mundi mundi plain.  The country is green as far as the eye can see.  Mad Max3 is set for filming at Silverton and at the Broken Hill Movie Studios which have been established by the local council in the large buildings that were once housing for the broken hill power generations plants.  These became obsolete when Broken Hill was connected to the grid. At any rate the movie studio has been leased to the movie for a couple of years, but the location scenes at Silverton are a problem because it’s all too green. What they are looking for is the typical red soil desert look that Silverton is known for.

Throughout the day the landscape is scarred by the lines of watercourses.  It is counter-intuitive because normally you would expect that a watercourse or soak would be the green part and the surrounding area dry and red.  At the moment the water courses are the only red or puddles where water has dried up.
The transition to the Strzleckie Desert is marked by the appearance of ripples in the earth. All is still green, The dune tops are crusted with small shrubs which appear from a height like little trees but which Tim (our pilot) tells us are only about 1 metre tall. We descend to about 500 feet so that we can see that the ridges are sand underneath the green.  In the dips between the dunes the earth is carpeted with matting ground cover plants. When we have had a good chance to see the desert we rise again to our cruising height of 2500 feet. 

At this higher altitude the trip is smoother as we are up out of the effect of turbulent air rising off the dunes.
Scattered across the desert are ephemeral lakes.  They vary in colour according to how the light is hitting them.  Across to our left we admire some that are shining sapphire blue.   We pass Lake Blanche and can see Lake Frome and the Flinders Ranges off in the distance.  In places streaks and patterns in rich emerald green entrance the eye.  

After a time we cross the vermin proof fence which was originally built to stop the rabbits spreading. It was unsuccessful at that and so then was said to stop the dingos entering the pastoral land. At this point the dog fence follows the border between NSW and SA. 
We continue tracking north west to the punt across the cooper creek. The Cooper is usually a dry river bed that you drive across. Today it is a wide flowing river and we can clearly see the punt that carries the cars over the water and some cars on the banks nearby.  We are passing the very tail corner of a large expanse of Ramsar wetlands.  Beyond the punt the Cooper spreads out into a wide lake- like area before snaking off on the remaining journey to Lake Eyre which is still off in the distance.  Looking down from a great height we see a few flocks of birds.  Tiny specks that you would almost miss. We are crossing the wetlands which are the main area where the birds are found. 

Numerous small bodies of water lie here and there among the desert dunes.  Some dry salt lakes begin to appear as we near Lake Eyre North.  We are cutting corners across its meanderings but we are basically following the route of the Cooper Creek into Lake Eyre.  It seems to sort of peter out in places before reappearing a little way along.  There is an area of shallow small ponds interspersed with vegetation and this we are informed is where most birds are found.
Now we come to Lake Eyre itself.  Shimmering salt in white, wet salt areas show a dull brown and the water shines and shimmers in the sun showing beautiful pale blue, or pink, or brownish purple in various areas as we pass.  

We are remaining high at about 2500 feet as SSSF believes this gives us the best view and we can see where we are and the overall lake. 

Tim says watch out for other planes, as some come through without telling anyone else they are there, and it’s pretty busy out here.  The radio is reporting traffic as various aircraft announce to others where they are.  Apparently there has been at least one plane that has come through underneath us without announcing their presence.  I suspect that perhaps this is another reason why SSSF stay high – to keep out of the way!

It takes a while to cross Lake Eyre North which is 70% full.  It is a shallow lake and the wind shifts the water around changing the view day by day.  Spectacular swirls and shapes appear as we cross over the western lake edge and head for William Creek where we will lunch.  In this portion of the trip the earth is looking a little more like desert.  Red earth is showing through the vegetation.  Eventually William Creek and its airstrip appear. 

There is no shortage of radio traffic and planes arriving and departing from this remote outpost.  There are 8 planes on the ground as we approach and another three arriving.  We’re pretty much bang on time at 11:30ish.  It’s a walk of a few hundred metres to the William Creek Hotel.  There is a flock of little corellas over on the ground nearby.  The flies are quite enthusiastic and everyone has a backload of passengers as we head for cover.  The flies buzz around faces but are not too bad. A bit of practice at the traditional aussie wave, or better still the keep the mouth shut and blow jets of air up to discourage them when necessary. 

We don’t dilly dally and head on into the hotel and take a seat.  We peruse the menu.  Mum seeks out a power point to get on her nebulizer, then we order our lunch and sit down to chat with our companions.  They are civil but not friendly and don’t have much to say.   I ordered a grazing plate which is described as having marinated vegetables, dips, salad, and Turkish toasts with labna.  Mum goes for a steak sandwhich with the lot which I predict will be enormous but she is not deterred.  Also on the menu are toasted sandwiches, baguettes and kangaroo and emu pies.  One of our fellow travelers is tucking into a pie and it’s fairly small. As we wait for our meals we have a look around the walls.  It is traditional to leave a calling card of your visit on the walls, but we don’t participate in this tradition.  Seems like cheating arriving by plane really. The room where we are sitting is constructed from railway sleepers.  William creek is located in the midst of what is claimed to be the largest pastoral property on earth.
Our food arrives and it appears they must be out of labna which is very disappointing. I probably wouldn’t have got this except for the labna. Oh well. I enjoyed the meal in any case.  Mum’s steak sandwich arrives and it is, as was always going to be the case, enormous.  She manfully gets stuck into the task, prioritizing the steak and egg and skipping the Turkish bread in which it sits.  Looks like a room service tea for me again tonight as mum won’t want too much.
Tim and another SSSF pilot Drew join us and Tim is more a chatty sort of person (thankfully) and we have a nice chat as we have our meals.
Time comes when we must be getting on our way. But first we pause for a tripod shot at outside the pub. Love this flash new tripod, it is so so small and light and so easy - worth every penny.  A few more snaps of the area around William Creek and some of the local signage.  Mum requests another photo with the road sign and then we’re on our way to reboard the plane for the remainder of our trip. 

We depart William Creek at about 1:30. As we fly away we follow the course of a road below and I count 11 vehicles heading back from the direction of the lake, kicking miniature dust clouds behind them.  It is like Pitt St out here.  Half the world seems to be making the trek to see the spectacle of this lake in a big wet season.  Old timers say the lake hasn’t had so much water in 40 years.. not since 1974.  This is a once in a life time opportunity and clearly many people aren’t wasting it.

It’s not long until we are crossing over Lake Eyre South. Again staying at about 2500 feet.  The first bay is Bells Bay which shows a sort of murky green browny colour.   

Close by we come to Jackboot bay which is a purple pink hue, the shape of the boot needs a little imagination for me but is described as a sort of reverse Italy. Finally we cross Madison Gulf which is a pretty pale blue and pink. With the edges of snowy white and the pale powder blue sky and surrounding desert the whole scene is very beautiful, but as it turns out hard to capture in the photos, although the accentuation of the pinks by the camera is a lovely effect. 

From Madison Gulf we swing south east to Marree.  It is surprising how varied the patterns on the desert below are. Even with the green around after the flooding and rain it is extraordinary to think that people run cattle out in these arid lands.  Scars of roads and pipelines are plain to see.  We pass over Marree, which is bigger than I expected.  Apparently people come up to Marree which is accessible by mostly sealed roads but some sections of dirt, and take their Lake Eyre scenic flights from there.  Marree is not too accessible from Sydney in a short trip, hence our decision to do it from Broken Hill. As we move on from Lake Eyre South white expanses of salt and a mosaic of olive greens and browns provide yet another texture to the landscape.

At Marree we again make an adjustment to our course and head for Arkaroola and the flinders ranges which appear as scrunching of the earth.  The ranges present a change of scene to the desert area. We mostly stay very high and it is interesting to see, but would not be a substitute for a heli flight that stayed at a lower altitude. As we approach the ranges the skeleton of the ranges breaks the ridges like the spine of some great reptile.

The crumpling of the ranges intensifies before falling away to the plains in the east.

 The ranges behind us we are on our way to what turns out to be a particular highlight of the trip.  Lake Frome.  A sparkling expanse of white salt crystals gives why to a confection of pastel pinks violet and blue swirled around crescent islands crusted with dark plants. It is spectacular. 

The greatest salt lake spectacle of the day saved for last. The pictures don't do it justice. 

Finally we cross a deep channel of gorgeous purple. Lake Frome is the jewel in the crown.

As we head on back towards broken hill we pass a mosaic of smaller dry salt lakes and back across the strzleckie desert.
We are heading first for Silverton where we fly over the long straight loop ended road that was constructed for the filming of Mad Max way back in the early 80s.  With the rain, parts of the road are washed out at the moment. 

We note the Umberumberka Resevoir which is at 100 per cent capacity at the moment over there in the north.  Then Silverton itself, which is bigger than I expected too, but the grid of streets largely empty where houses that once were have been demolished. 

The country all around is very green.  No outback moonscape to be seen anywhere.   Moving right along we’re looking for the Scuptures and find them sitting crested on a ridge with their car park nearby.  They are on Mum’s side of the plane so it’s quite hard for me to get a good shot, but I do my best.  There is a walk you can do from the ridge down to the wildlife reserve (or vice versa) so if you're exploring both and can handle the walk you don't have to move your car. 

In a flash we are passing over a number of open cuts in the line of lode as we approach the airport.  On mum’s side of the plane mostly, but I manage just one shot.  The position for me is all wrong for getting the miners memorial and the restaurant. I wildly snap one photograph, but I think it is showing as a strange jumble of mullock and instead I take a nice shot of the houses in South Broken Hill.

We are back on the ground at about 4:30 having watched another plane land as we circled on approach.  We clamber out of the plane and are presented with a folder containing some information and a couple of key rings.  Amongst it is the most important thing, a plot of our route today.  Excellent.   As we turn to head inside we spot a small bird of prey with tear drop face.  Not black enough for a peregrine we assume a hobby, but don’t get much time to look before it takes off again on the hunt and the sun sinks to the horizon.
We’re both pretty warn out, mum in particular is stiff from sitting in the plane on the way back.  We are both heartily relieved to have the head sets off our head as they do get a bit heavy  and uncomfortable on the ears after a while.  No rush to try to fit more in today, we decide to have a nice early night and head back to the motel.  I obtain some internet time and we share another chicken parmy for tea. Man the parmy’s here are good!!
We watch the anzac day news and service from Lone Pine on ABC1, then switch the tele off and have an  early night. Finishing our day as it started with remembrance for those we have lost.  Lest we forget.

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