We left Dubbo at some horrible hour, 4.30Am I think. I’d forgotten there was time before dawn. We headed off into the darkness, Dad at the wheel and me snoozing. I remember passing through Narromine and Nevertire, and I woke as we entered Trangie in the grey light before sunrise just in time to see the main street the size of a 6 lane highway.
Beyond Trangie we started to see kangaroos, sometimes in pairs but mostly as small mounds of fur in the middle of the road or, as the size of the trucks increased, as red triangles on the road surrounded by red lumps, nameless bits, shreds of fur and crows. It was not the sort of thing you’d like to show an overseas visitor.
“Look! There’s a kangaroo!”
“There! And there… and there… and some there…”
We were in Road Train territory, where the trucks consisted of a semi trailer + trailer + trailer. Give way to the trucks, even when you’re in the right.
20km from Nyngan is a sign that says “Welcome to The Outback.” Ah! So that’s where it is. We turned Left at Nyngan onto the Barrier Highway. From this moment on we were in country I’d never seen before. Pity it is so boring. The trees are low and scrubby, and covered with dull olive-green leaves. The ground is a series of low rolling hills, one after another, so you are sort of kept interested as you drive. You can’t see more than 5km ahead and you wonder what is over the next rise. Suddenly there is a big pile of slag heaps, and you’re in Cobar.
The heaps come from the mine that for many years produced copper, then zinc and lead, and then nothing. The town survives as a center for the surrounding cotton and wheat farms, but it is shrinking like all rural towns in this area. We filled the car (1/2 a tank) and headed West. The idea of filling the car here was to avoid stopping in Wilcannia. That is Not A Nice Place.
Breakfast was ham sandwiches at Emmdale Roadhouse, suppliers of essentials such as bread, milk, tea, coffee, sugar, Toohey’s New and Victoria Bitter. It is also the headquarters of the Emmdale Surf Club. (Really! Not making that up.)
We passed through Wilcannia as fast as legally possible. The first major intersection had boarded up buildings on three corners, and a burned out shop on the 4th. The rest of the main street was a mix of burned hulks, boarded shops, and steel mesh security screens. Should you have to stop here the chances are the local will take a dislike to your car or the colour of your skin, and throw something at you. Sadly, I’m not making that up either.
The day became hotter, the country flatter, and the trees faded to be replaced by a thick grey scrub. Occasionally an underground water source supported small stands of scrubby trees with glossy, olive-green leaves, quite a pleasant contrast to the surrounding scrub.
The mirage turned the horizon upwards, giving me the impression that we were drive along the bottom of a huge bowl about 2 km across. Bizarre things shimmered in the air and descended to the road before resolving into cars, trucks, cattle, or a goanna. In the distance some hills floated in the air, and by the time they touched the ground we were near Broken Hill. Fruit fly inspectors stopped us to ask if we were carrying any fruit into the fly-free zone (“Yes, but only in our stomachs.”) before allowing us to continue on to The Hill.
Early surveys showed an ore body in the hill that was considered crap. It had practically no silver, and only consisted of pure zinc ore and lead ore. It was rubbish. Then galvanized iron became the building product of choice, and the demand for zinc skyrocketed. The mines broke the hill. The streets of Broken Hill are all named after minerals. Chloride St, Sulfide St and Kaolin St all spring to mind. The east side of the town is dominated by the massive mullock heaps left after a century of mining the zinc and lead ore bodies.
The city is in NSW, but is hundreds of kilometres closer to Adelaide than Sydney so the city operates as though it is part of South Australia, even running on Central Australian Time (GMT+9.30), and playing that bloody stupid game called AFL. Until the 1970s a trip to Broken Hill was a major undertaking that lasted 3 days. Today it took me 8 hours.
West of Broken Hill is a ragged range of bare hills. They are the sort of hills that would make the keenest of explorers think “Next time I have an idea like this I’ll get drunk until I forget it.” There was not much more than brown rocks and thin grass. Occasionally an underground watercourse let small stands of thick scrub with shiny grey leaves break the monotony. And then we were in South Australia.
The border here is almost unmarked, except for a small signs that say “Are you sure you want to leave New South Wales?” and “You’re Welcome To South Australia.”