Things look all quite normal until you embarked on one of the four car door tours and discover that just one turn off the main street there is no longer bitumen. It is all higgledy piggledy dirt tracks (thank goodness there are car doors to guide us on our way) and piles of dirt everywhere. Add to that ramshackle old shacks and rusty machinery of every kind and you have all I would expect from an opal town.
Ah yes, lots of dirt and dust around here. But just down the road the Bore Baths are perfect to have a soak if you can stand the heat. It is 40-46C of mineralised water straight up from the Great Artesian Basin 1200 meters under the earth. Too hot for my skin, so sadly I had to gave it a miss. After that you can listen to the country music concert back at the camp.
We've reached our destination. The opal town of Lightning Ridge. If other opal towns we have visited are anything to go by this will be an odd place. We are going to spend 4 days here before going back home. Let's go see.
Coonamble and Walgett are two more out-of-the way places that I have wanted to visit or at least pass though. We stopped for a bite to eat at Coonamble. At the end of the street that is a Commercial Hotel which I think along with Railway Hotels would run as a close second in popular hotel names after the Royals. We refuelled at Walgett. By the way we are in truck country, even more so when on the Newell Highway. And are now in much drier landscape, though green at present as their has clearly been recent rain. It is getting an outback feel without being full-on outback.
Gulargumbone is a town with one of those names that just asks to be visited. I thought I got there once but found I was at Girilambone so I was excited to know I was visiting the real deal this time. It is an aboriginal name with something to do with Galahs so at the entrance to the town and all over the place there are metal galah sculptures. The town itself was looking neat but a little old and sad but it was Sunday so hard to tell if the closed shop fronts stay that way during the week.
Gilgranda's other claim to fame is as the "Windmill Town'. Back in the 1960s before they had a town water supply each of the houses had to make do with wells and bores. With the water table averaging 60 feet down they had windmills to pump the water. Apparently there were over 300 windmills dominating the horizon. Today they are gone but the memory is celebrated with a walk beside the river lined with a lot of the old windmills. We enjoyed the walk and saw quite a lot of birds included the lovely green grass parrots that you see out west. Tomorrow we move on.
One of Gilgandra's claims to fame is as the starting point for the Coo-ee March - a world war 1 recruitment march in 1915. The men marched 320 miles from Gilgandra, over the Blue Mountains to Sydney collecting recruits as they went. By the end their ranks swelled from 26 to 263. The Coo-ee March captured the imagination of the people and captures my imagination too as they passed through towns and terrain I am familiar with (but would not want to walk!). They even camped for the night at our home town Lawson in the Blue Mountains and another night at the Royal Hotel in Hartley , which is just before the big climb up the escarpment. There is going to be a 100 years re-enactment starting in October and ending in Sydney on remembrance day in November. I will be keeping an eye out for it.
What is there to not like about a town that has a main street with a Bakery at the top, a Royal Hotel at the bottom and some nice art deco places in between. Yay! a new Royal for my collection , a Wayfaring trip is not quite complete without adding one.
We have found our spot for the night at Gilgandra by the banks of the Castlereagh River. The Newell Highway also passes through this town. When we lived in Canberra 30 years ago we used to drive the Newell up to family in Queensland and wizz through these towns with barely a blink. I remember nothing of them, just rivers and bridges and lots of flat land in between. But these days we do things differently, we are not going from A to B. We are wayfaring. We will stay for a day and two and see what there is to see.
Ugh as if the big rear view window on the Jeep were not enough trouble to dodge when taking photos on the fly, it has now sprouted a baby all in honour of our new caravan -- which is a no baby. So my day's of yelling 'stop here' the instant I want a photo are over but oh the joy of this little apartment on wheels. Here we are at Dunedoo for lunch. I've taken you here before. So let's keep going. The annoying navigator lady who wants to take us to Melbourne all the time has been replaced by a rear view camera so we can see behind our new tall passenger at the back.
It's been cold, even snow about, and the winter wattle is out. It's time we took off and found someplace warmer than here. Shall we turn left and go home or right and roam? Go right, northwards up the Castlereagh, to places old and new. weeeeeee … we're on our way