Monday, October 7th, 2019 – Temora NSW to Mildura, VIC
Distance travelled 612 km
For some reason, I woke up at about three in the morning. I am normally a good sleeper, but we had experienced a time-change of some sort every day for some days. I guess my brain was a little bit confused. Lucie stirred too, so I went for a walk so as not to disturb her.
In the motel car park and the surrounding streets were dozens of “veteran” cars, mainly pickups. Some were restored, some were customised and some were what are referred to as “Rat Rods”. Each was immaculate in its own way. We had passed a number whist en-route the day before and I supposed there must be a rally nearby.
As it slowly began to get light, I was able to see the buildings. It was like a moment captured from the past in a photograph. Most were wooden and largely utilitarian, of course, which has a certain timelessness, but some were clearly quite old. The brick built coin-laundry, a short distance up the road from the motel, was straight out of the 1930s. The veteran cars parked nearby only served to magnify that impression.
Because we were both awake, we actually set off soon after dawn. We had been given, by the lady on the reception, a fairly substantial tourist booklet detailing the delights of the surrounding area. There is actually a fairly famous aircraft museum and the usual collection of State Parks. This was on very high quality, almost card-like paper. Lucie has an ingenious streak and she quickly realised that, rolled up and placed underneath our rear bag, this would prevent the occasional rubbing of it against the top of the number plate. It worked beautifully and, although we did need to enhance it with something similar, in Perth, the concept remained the same throughout the rest of our trip.
It was a beautiful sunny morning. A lot of towns in New South Wales are named after battles in the Crimean War. It is hard to imagine men travelling from such an out of the way and quiet location into the shot and shell of that terrible conflict, but plainly a lot did. We soon came to the outskirts of the town of Sebastopol where, guided by our Map application, we turned onto real country roads that did not even warrant a number. Roads around there seem to be mainly called after the place they are heading to (or coming from, of course, so be careful !)
Although bright and clear, the day was a lot cooler than the one before, only around 15 degrees. According to Lucie and her weather applications, it would warm up and by the end of the week, 32 degrees was in the forecast. The main thing, with such huge, unpopulated distances in front of us, was that it did not rain. The forecast was, at least, fairly reassuring on that point.
We had not had breakfast and, at the first stop in Coolamon, that did not change because everything was still closed. We pressed on. The route wound through farmland and a lot of national parks. Sometimes the landscape was nice, sometimes it was a bit monotonous. I found out that Lucie’s planning had somehow avoided the town of Wagga Wagga, which I had wanted to see because it has always made me laugh. Although it was quite close by Australian standards, it was really too far away to make the detour. At least Lucie let me stop and photograph a road sign with its name on. As a substitute, our rustic perambulations did take us through the tiny township of Grong Grong and I was able to afford myself a quiet chuckle.
Finally, in Narrandera, we found a nice Hall’s Coffee Cottage and helped ourselves to a lot of calories. We also said goodbye to civilization, because, almost like a line drawn across the road, this is where what is called the “outback” began.
The settlement of Australia started at the coast and progressively moved inland, so everything behind the house was “out back“. When combined into one word, a special, Australian, designation was created for the sparsely populated areas that make up most of the continent. That said, the outback we were now in was just a taster for what was to come. Even there, at what is probably the first level, the distances between the towns were likely to be “just” a little over 100 kilometres. Note that, when I use the term “towns“, some of these would scarcely qualify as a village back home and that the average population for such a place is unlikely to exceed 150 inhabitants.
One thing good old Henry Cole had stressed over and over, was the comparatively high danger of something running or wandering out from the side of the road. The vast distances mean that fields in most places, particularly in the outback, simply are not fenced. In Europe, one might, very occasionally encounter a deer, but they are fairly rare. Although you probably would not want to hit any of it, most of the other European wildlife would probably get batted into the weeds or squished into the tarmac. Not so in Australia. Sheep and domesticated cattle were often grazing unattended, right beside the road and there was the constant possibility one might suddenly decide to cross. A lot of hares and rabbits were in evidence both beside and on the road but the biggest “real” danger was the constant chance that a Kangaroo might choose to cross in front of us. In the east, these are usually the smaller, Grey variety but even some of those can be pretty big. A collision with one, or even a glancing blow, would not be a good thing at all.
I rode on the crown of the road in a continuous state of anticipation that became tiring after a while. Even on long, open stretches, vigilance is required because the speed of a Kangaroo is really quite startling. Sure enough, at one point where there was some vegetation and sideways visibility was very limited, a big, grey kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and was, luckily, gone again before I could even think about braking. It disappeared so quickly that Lucie, who was eyeing the map on her iPhone, never even saw it. I had slowed and another, smaller Kangaroo was discernible in the nearby brush. We also saw a lot of dead kangaroos in various stages of decay on, or next to, the road. I counted at least fifteen. The carrion had attracted a number of raptors that were circling high overhead. They were too high to identify and seemed disinclined to come down for lunch while we were anywhere in sight. During our periodic stops to stretch we were amazed by the numbers of parrots in the trees. Vivid bright green ones were abundant as were white ones and noisy grey and pink ones. As we had no book and, in the outback, no internet, we could not identify them and some might have been parakeets. The undulating flocks of budgerigars were fairly unmistakable though, as were the groups of emu, occasionally visible on the skyline.
There was hardly any other traffic, it was easy to go the whole distance between our regular stops without seeing anything else at all. At one of our stretching (and cigarette) halts, however, a pickup truck became visible in the distance. When it eventually got to where we were halted, things being visible long before they are anywhere near you is how it is in Australia, it came to a halt. The driver politely enquired as to whether we were OK or if we needed assistance. When replied as to the former, he tipped his hat to Lucie, wished us a polite “Good luck” and resumed his stately progress. You cannot help but admire the civic-mindedness of rural Australians.
On and on we rode. The distances were quite mind blowing at first and most of the A20, which we were then on, traversed a whole lot of nothing. This made our coffee and stretch stops a welcome break from the monotony. It was not really bush, just huge, endless farms and there was nothing really to see.
Eventually, we came to Mildura and our stop for the night, the Ka-Rama Motor inn.
The gulf between Sydney and the outback is huge. Mildura, where we then were is a relatively large town and still, by Australian standards, quite close to civilization. But, so completely different is the “world” there, that it might as well be on another planet. To call it a sleepy hole is, perversely, to praise it. One feature did persist, the total lack of rubbish anywhere and everything looked a little dusty but otherwise in good repair.
We enjoyed a nice evening meal at the amusingly named Hog’s Breath café, which was directly opposite the motel, before returning to our room to do some serious planning for the approaching trip to Uluru.
A slight problem with Australia is the lack of places to stay on the lonelier stretches of road, which is basically almost all of them. As we studied the maps, it soon became obvious that our progress was more likely to be dictated by the availability of somewhere to sleep than by our physical endurance. Hardly any of the roadhouses can be booked on the internet so, to guarantee a bed for the night it was necessary to ring up and book. How retro ! We did formulate a Plan A, but as some places we called did not answer the telephone, Plans B, C and even D were worked out to cover all options.
We had already booked our stay in Quorn for the following night so, as Lucie worked out that route, I went to sleep. It had been a very tiring day.