The week that felt like a month

Sunset at Green Lake

Last week, my husband and I took some time out from home life for a little road trip. Our favourite kind of holiday is one where we are out exploring some of what Australia (or the world) has to offer. We like to go places we have not been to before. Usually, we travel slowly. This is our preference as it gives us time to absorb the place, see how people live, and discover the feel of the place. Last week, we did not go slow. Instead, we traversed three states, travelled through flooded lands and through deserts. It was truly wonderful to not only spend eight days with him but to also see places we had not seen before. The upside of the floods is the abundant plant, bug and bird life we saw. The mosquitoes and flies were too much, but the birds and dragonflies were spectacular.

We left home with only one idea of where we were going: Cameron’s Corner Store. Cameron Corner is the corner of New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. I had worked out that we could get there in three days, stopping at Sea Lake (Victoria) and Broken Hill (NSW) on the way.

At Sea Lake, we stayed at the Royal Hotel Sea Lake, a place we have stayed before and one I highly recommend. I met a few seasonal workers who were helping with the harvest and pouring concrete for new silos. We heard from them how the recent hailstorm had ruined so many fields of crops. There was lots of evidence of the rains and floods besides the road leading to Sea Lake and from there to Broken Hill. When we passed through Ouyen, we stopped for a coffee and heard locals talking about how the rains had also ruined many of the roads.

Broken Hill was quiet and hot when we rolled into town in the late afternoon. We decided that as we had a long day ahead, we would stay in accommodation rather than pack up the tent in the morning. I opted for an out-of-town option as I’m never excited about a motel in a town. We stayed at the Broken Hill Outback Resort, which sounds fancier than it was; however, it did give Matt an opportunity to top up the transmission oil in the Land Cruiser while I did some work on the laptop before chatting with some other travellers about their trip. After dinner we enjoyed a drink at the resort’s bar: a Broken Hill Red Gum and Quandong gin and tonic for me, which made me wonder if there is a town that is not making its own gin now. Amazingly, as I was buying it the distiller came to the bar and had a chat with me about the gin.

The roads so far had been pretty easy. Bitumen all the way with some potholes, but nothing remarkable. We expected that the road, the Silver City Highway, from Broken Hill to Tibooburra would be dirt but this was also bitumen. There were, however, not many other cars on this road. The only stop on the way to Tibooburra was at Packsaddle, a roadhouse that reminded us of the ones on the Nullabor. We were one of the few passersby at the shop that day and we took the opportunity to get a coffee and take a break while admiring the decor. Packsaddle Roadhouse is a place locals can see the Royal Flying Doctor when they visit.

At Tiboorburra, about 335 km north of Broken Hill, we stopped for lunch in Pioneer Park after having a chat with Mavis Lorraine Jackson, the owner of the Tiboorburra Roadhouse owner and third-generation Tiboorburrian. While we didn’t stay there, we did meet a family who had stayed at the Granites Motel and enjoyed the experience.

From there we turned into the Sturt National Park. The Sturt National Park has some interesting work within it to protect the native wildlife as part of the Wild Deserts Program. The program has created one of the largest, feral-animal-free areas in Australia within Sturt National Park, eradicating every last rabbit, cat and fox from two 2000-hectare feral-proof fenced exclosures. There are gates that we passed through that let off a loud alarm to help protect the animals from ferals. While there are camping grounds in the park, we decided to continue on the Cameron’s Corner Store, a decision that in hindsight wasn’t the better choice for us.

When we reached the South Australian border, we found the dingo fence that runs east to southwest along the eastern third of Australia and along the western and northern boundary of Sturt National Park. It was originally built in the 1880s to keep dingoes away from sheep flocks and the southern part of the country. It is 5,614km making it the world’s longest fence.

It blew my mind that in only three days of travelling, we were somewhere so remote and so far from home in so many ways. The station that sits on Cameron Corner, Omicron Station (yes, it is really called that), manages the Cameron’s Corner Store that is a box-ticking place for many Australian travellers. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was more basic than that. When we arrived we were the only people there and the station owner’s daughter Kate had a good chat with us about the station and how good the rain has been for the cattle. It was late in the season for travellers as it was getting too hot and they were doing a clean up of the store. A couple of other travellers arrived later along with more seasonal workers. It was great to get there and the photos at sunset are a great reminder of the beauty of the open skies.

Our original plan had been that we would stay there for three nights and then come back the way we came. But as we began our trip, I took up my role as Chief Navigator with my Hema map spread open on my lap and looked at how close we were to other places I wanted to see. I was glad we had made that decision that night as I couldn’t imagine spending another night there. It was windy and hot and exposed. (There is also no coverage there, for anyone curious about this. Coverage is generally restricted to towns when you get far enough away from the main city centres.)

We made the decision that night to go on further to Innamincka via the dirt roads through QLD and return home via Arkaoola. An unexpected surprise on the next day’s travel was finding the Burke and Wills’s Dig Tree. The day’s driving was long and through land where we did not see a single car or truck for hundreds of kilometres. We finally reached the turnoff to ‘Adventure Way’ where we saw the only other traveller that day, a German who was filming himself. He said the road to the Dig Tree was too rough, so he was not going there. There is nothing more interesting to Matt than the idea of a road that is too rough, and we were so close to it, I wanted to see the site.

We ate lunch battling the flies while seeing the place that they died. Given that they had also travelled from Melbourne, it seemed extraordinary that they made it this far on foot, and then onto the Gulf of Carpentaria and back only to die here. The only survivor from the forward party survived because the local Aboriginal people took care of him.

Innamincka was a true blessing. It was super hot when we got there (around 40 degrees) and the people who run the Trading Post were also in the end-of-season clean up mode. They said we could came down at the Town Common, which is on Cooper Creek and that we might see some turtles there.

The Cooper Creek Turtle is endemic to the area. They were super curious animals due to tourists normally feeding them, which we didn’t do. That didn’t stop us staring at them for hours hoping they would climb out to see us. All in all, we counted 12 curious turtles. We also saw pelicans, corellas, and many other birds. I hadn’t known that pelicans spent time in places so far from the ocean.

The next day, we began our drive southward. The Sturt Highway was empty other than road trains. It was here we had our only issue with the car when the corregations rattled a hose from the fuel pump. An easy fix. Matt indulged me by stopping whenever I saw a flower I was curious about.

The drive to Arkaroola was long, but with the heat, we were happier to be in the car than sitting around outside. Arkaroola also had the end-of-season feel with shelves emptied out and dried up creek beds. We had a lovely quiet campspot in the creek bed that night and were visited by emus in the morning. We decided that this was a place worth coming back to in the cooler season.

Our drive on the last two days took us back into the flooded areas of South Australia and Victoria. We camped overnight at the Red Banks Conservation Park just out of Burra and had to fight the flies to get to our dinner while vowing that we would come back to see more of it, then on our last night camped by Green Lakes Recreation Reserve where we were graced with a million dragonflies, families of ducks, flies and mosquitoes after having a yarn with Ken who caretakes the place for half the year.

While we were only travelling for eight days, it felt like so much longer. It’s been good to have the time to explore our beautiful country again and we are already looking at where we will go next. It was great to spend time together without the normal distratctions, a detox if you like from our connected lives. It was also good to see how it is for the farmers, how the weather has affected them. A good chance to spend some money in towns that are hanging on by a thread. A great chance to chat with people, to gather stories. Time to go to sleep with the sunset, wake with the sunrise. Time to breathe with nature.

So many times we referred back to the year we travelled Australia with our kids, a year not unlike this one where rain fell in enormous amounts at the wrong times of year. A year where we disconnected from the busyness of home-city lifeand reconnected with each other.

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