Thursday, 24 September 2009
Broken Hill - 10th of September
We had planned on staying at the Royal Exchange Hotel (another old pub which has been converted into accommodation) for our entire time in Broken Hill, however it was booked out. Apparently Broken Hill is very popular during the week. Had we wanted weekend accommodation, we would have been fine. Alf and Jane had warned me about travelling sales representatives and the importance of making sure Friday night accommodation was sorted out. It seems Broken Hill was a mid-week town. As a result, we had booked into the Imperial for only one night and were then shifting to the RE. So, again it was another pack up of the car even though we were just shifting a couple of streets over. My initial plan for the day was to climb the pinnacles - a small group of small hills just outside town from which we could get a decent view of the surrounding countryside and so Pete, who had flown in at night, could get a look out the beginnings of the outback. HOWEVER - although the Pinnacles have always been on private land, there had never a problem with people driving out and looking at them. But now, the current owners have to decided to start mining the lease on the property again and have blocked access to the public. There is a new fancy website about the Pinnacles but it was too slow to check out with the mobile broadband and it didn't seem to say much anyhow. So we cursed the new owners (if you're reading this - you guys suck) and made alternative plans. I wanted to be back well before sunset so we get some photos up at the Sculptures Park - a small hill outside of town upon which a number of large sandstone sculptures have been erected - so we need something close, yet interesting. Following the advice of the Lonely Planet and the manager of the Imperial, I decided we should check out the Menindee Lakes - a group of lakes about an hour and a half out of town. Rather than try and get an early check-in at the RE, Yvette thought that this would be a good opportunity to test the repack of the car to allow room for Pete. We needed to rearrange things so that there was a comfortable enough space for another person on the back seat. An hour and half drive each way would be a good test. Giving up the front seat for Pete, Yvette was to be the hopefully-not-to-squishy guinea pig. As soon as we could, we swung by the information centre to pick up a key to allow us to drive up to the sculptures (lazy, yes - but I didn't know how much time we'd have when we got back) and then headed out to Menindee. The landscape changed numerous times on the drive, from sparse scrubby plains to a large line of trees which followed a dry and sandy creek. We stopped suddenly when we spied a flock (a herd?) of emus to allow Pete a better look. He hadn't seen an emu in the wild and hadn't seen one at all since a rather depressed example in the Dublin Zoo. The drive was a lot longer than I expected and it was quite a relief to see signs for the lakes. I pulled into the first lookout I could find and despite the large areas of blue displayed on the TomTom, there was little water to be seen. The only thing to do was to head into the town of Menindee and see what else was around. Being a very tiny town, it was easy to find the information centre and we headed in to find out what there was. I didn't want to waste the long drive. A very friendly if slightly mad man with a large white bushy beard explained to us that because of the lack of rain, there hadn't been water in the lakes for years. Boo hiss Lonely Planet. There was however, a reservoir which constantly had water in it and was worth a look. The TomTom would be happy - it was about 20 km down a dirt track. By this stage it was lunchtime and we selected one of the two local pubs - Maidens Menindee Hotel - for a counter meal. The pub was clean and friendly and there were no death stares from any of the patrons. Pete opted for some pork chops while Yvette had some fish and salad. I chose a hamburger. Around the walls of the pub were paintings of the doomed explorers Burke and Wills who apparently had stopped for a drink in the pub before heading out to meet their untimely fate. I hoped this wasn't an omen. After finishing out lunch in the curiously high-walled beer garden (problems with marauding kangaroos perhaps?) we took a few photos, had a quick look at supposedly historical bakery across the road which looked more like a concrete shed, and got back on the road to find the reservoir and with a little luck, some water. Now, I do not like gravel roads. I had an accident on one years ago where I was driving by myself, something happened and I ended up upside down, hanging in my seatbelt. I am not sure if a tyre blew or I lost control on the loose surface. As such, I still get a little nervous when the tarmac gives way to dirt. Still, I was determined the day wasn't going to be waste and 17 km or so out of town (back the way we had come) we found the turnoff. To start with it wasn't too bad, but then we reached the corrugated part and it was a rough and slow going. Out of the left side of the car we saw one of the 'lakes' which would have been huge had it been filled with water, but was now a large, flat plain dotted with dead trees. I assume the trees had grown during the time the lake was empty and had died when it had filled up again. It was quite eerie and alien and almost like something out of a fantasy novel - the 'dead forest' perhaps. We finally reached the reservoir where a large weir held in the water of one of the few rivers which had flowing water. A collection of pelicans and other water birds waited patiently at the outlet as this shallow water flow was the only way any fish could get downstream. The water was similar to that of the Murray - a greenish opaque. There was a large osprey circling and I wondered how it could possibly see any fish. This appeared to be the only area of water around and so after a few photos, we decided we could head back to Broken Hill and have time to check in to the Royal Exchange before sunset and the sculptures. So, after another rough, slow trip back over the gravel we got back onto the main road. One of the worst and most distressing thing about driving in the country and the outback is the sheer amount of roadkill. On the roads after leaving Loxton we had seen almost every native species represented - from kangaroos to emus and even magpies and one poor koala. Even though I grew up in the country and have done lots of long distance driving on highways, the number we have seen has been horrific and confronting. On the road from Broken Hill to Menindee there was even a dead, exploded sheep. These would be the only big red kangaroos I would see After a brief stop at the dry creek to take some photos of a rusted old car on a junkpile, we trekked back in to town to check in to the Royal Exchange. Yvette had managed to survive the four hours or so of travelling okay in the back which was encouraging. We had enough time to check in, dump our stuff and have a little bit of a rest before we had to get out to the sculpture park for sunset. Why did we have to get their for sunset? I wanted photos of the large blocks of sandstone illuminated with the light of setting sun. With the bags and various bits and pieces unpacked, it was easier for Yvette in the back now and we drove the short distance out to the hill. To my horror we got stuck behind a large tour group bus which vomited forth a noisy herd of gabbling tourists at the car park. My heart sunk even further when I saw the tour bus which was already there. Luckily they must have been the Short Attention Span Tourist Company as the passengers had just enough time to whip around and take some photos before they were herded back onto the bus and driven away. Still, there were a number of people like us waiting for the sun to go down and the one shot in particular where the sculpture with the hole in it frames the setting sun. As the sun got lower, the number of people crowding around the vantage point grew. One of the most difficult things about shooting at the sculptures was trying to get a shot without a tourist or a tourist's shadow in it. I mostly managed to achieve this and the departure of the buses made it a lot easier. The sun went down and I swallowed my pride and took the obligatory shot through the hole of the sculpture. As soon as the sun set, everyone got back in their vehicles and left, us amongst them. After the long drive that day I was more than ready for a beer and we did a mini pub crawl of the few pubs still working looking for somewhere to eat. Pete was hoping for some rough local action and perhaps an insult about his long bushy beard. Unfortunately for him (and luckily for us) the locals seem quite used to tourists and the comment was a shouted "nice beard" from a passing car. I'm not sure if they were being sarcastic or not. The second pub seemed like a real local and had Coopers Green on tap and had the menu been a little more accommodating to Yvette's semi-vegetarianism, we probably would have stayed there. As it was we moved on to a pub just across from the Imperial where we had stayed the night before. This pub had been renovated and lacked atmosphere but had prawns wrapped in bacon on the menu which was the best option Yvette had seen. The crowd was young and had fucking awful taste on the jukebox which I attempted to remedy with some Clash but this only provoked a young pair of girls to program some more awful shit. We took this as a sign and decided to call it a night. Pete would have to try again the next night for some beard abuse.
Posted by Ross at 20:01