WORDS Malcolm Street
Malcolm Street takes an outback journey from Broken Hill to Sydney in a Britz motorhome.
There are a surprising number of routes along the major highways between Broken Hill and Sydney.
Broadly speaking, there’s the northern route which travels through Wilcannia, Cobar, Nyngan and Dubbo; or there’s a southern route through Mildura and either the southern riverina or some mid-western towns such as West Wyalong and Cowra.
Yet another option goes through Wilcannia and then gets to the mid-west via the Cobar Highway.
In Broken Hill there is something for everyone, even if you’re just passing through.
With a strong mining/industrial heritage, there’s plenty to captivate anyone with an interest in geology, mining, industrial history and railway development. For a snapshot of the region, I reckon the place to head is the Sulphide Street Railway and Historical Museum. It features not only railway memorabilia but also a mineral collection and hospital museum. You could follow that up by travelling up the mullock heap that dissects Broken Hill and take in the city vista and the Line of Lode Miner’s Memorial. Along the way, stop in at architectural gems such as the Palace Hotel and the miners’ cottages with corrugated iron walls.
No visit to Broken Hill is complete without refreshment at Bells Milk Bar. If you haven’t been there before and you like the nostalgia of the George Lucas film American Graffiti, then take a trip back to the 1950s where the milkshakes come in aluminium containers and the ‘spiders’ are to die for. After that, it’s time for a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service visitor centre and the School of the Air.
Of course, Broken Hill isn’t all mining these days and there are a number of art galleries in town, as well as the Living Desert Reserve with its sandstone sculptures. Within the reserve is a sanctuary that gives a good insight into the flora, fauna and Aboriginal culture of the area.
If you plan to stay a few days or more in Broken Hill, there are a number of choices for accommodation, but I headed for the Broken Hill Tourist Park, as I needed to be close to town. I was glad I’d pre-booked, as the caravan park was quite full with ‘silver gypsies’ from Victoria and South Australia, bent on heading north for the winter. Although I was travelling in a motorhome, I scored a drive-through site and found the caravan park to be very pleasant and well-kitted out.
Not far out of Broken Hill is Silverton. Made somewhat famous by the Mad Max films, it’s an iconic place and worthy of a visit even if just to cruise around and imagine what life was like in earlier times. There are plenty of interpretive signs around the place and, at the risk of sounding slightly morbid, a visit to the cemetery can be very revealing. Although it’s a quiet place, the Silverton Hotel is worth a stop, as are various galleries.
Not far out of Silverton is the Mundi Mundi Lookout which gives an unrivalled view of the surrounding plains and horizon. It can be visited at any time but a good sunset would be hard to beat.
Travelling east along the Barrier Highway will bring you to the historic outback town of Wilcannia.
In addition to the two great coffee shops (yep, I tried them both), the old lift bridge across the river and the fine heritage sandstone buildings give clues to times gone by when the town was a destination for paddle steamers. When you look at the Darling River now, it is hard to believe.
About 3km east of Wilcannia is the surprise haven of Warrawong on the Darling which opened just over two years ago, offering weary travellers a refreshing oasis. It’s a large caravan park on the Darling River, which offers powered and unpowered sites as well as self-contained accommodation. When I arrived late one afternoon, there were plenty of travellers already in residence. Getting there before 4pm is recommended because happy hour starts shortly after that. Held around the campfire (BYO chair) and not far from the camp kitchen, it’s a popular event, with some staying on well into the evening.
A prime site here is one that backs on to the river but one of the star attractions is the very impressive amenities block. Hand soap and hand towels were minor features but I was most impressed with the large shower cubicles, complete with individual wash basins. Being a fairly large site, Warrawong offers plenty of peaceful walks, as well as birdwatching and photography. It’s a very pleasant caravan park.
About an hour’s drive north of Wilcannia is the opal mining town of White Cliffs. Unusual in many respects, not the least of which is the fact that many locals live underground to avoid the extreme weather, it also looks like the surface of the moon. The moon-like landscape is really thousands of hillocks that are the result of earth that has been dug out in the search for opals. An easy way to experience life underground is to visit the Underground Motel, where you can stay overnight, grab a meal or just visit the history and cultural centre.
Many visitors head to White Cliffs to try their hand at opal mining. To learn about finding opals, I visited the Red Earth Cafe. Owner Graeme Dowton not only has the cafe but also his own opal mine at which he runs tours. Situated in the 1890s Historic Diggings, the Red Earth Opal Mine is tall enough to walk through. Graeme supplies all visitors with a hard hat and demonstrates the mining equipment he uses, both above and below the surface. Along the way, he gives an excellent history of the White Cliffs area, and there are a number of exhibits on display, some which demonstrate how tough life was for the old miners.
Like many in White Cliffs, Graeme is keen to encourage visitors to have a go and has no hesitation in sharing his hard-won knowledge. He likes to encourage ‘finds’, even in his own mine, and it’s certainly a case of ‘finders keepers’. One of the challenges of opal mining is to know what to look for and to recognise the sharp ‘click’ of an opal strike.
For those RVers who’d like to spend a few days trying their luck, there’s a caravan park in the middle of town, handy for all the local sights including the nearby solar power station. Given there are no underground camping sites, my tip would be to not visit in high summer.
Another place to say is Goodwood Station, which is about 30 minutes out of town. Station stays are an interesting idea and the popularity of the concept is growing. A number of working farms across the country are opening up their pastoral lands to visitors looking for a change of scenery. It’s an opportunity to learn what farming is all about, as well as getting an insight into the local area. In addition, there can also be opportunities for bushwalking, fishing, birdwatching, bike riding and even a bit of fossicking, if you’re in the right place.
Goodwood Station is run by Zane and Louise, who have set up several levels of accommodation for travellers. There are the shearers’ quarters that include a kitchen, showers, toilet and a wood-fired ‘donkey’ for hot water. In addition, there are dedicated areas for motorhomers and caravanners to camp with access to the aforementioned facilities or just at a basic site.
As you drive into Cobar, the most obvious indicator that you’ve arrived a large sluice-like structure with ‘Cobar’ written in large letters. That, together with Great Cobar Heritage Centre, tells you the town is closely associated with mining. Previously, the Great Cobar Copper Mining Co had one of the world’s largest copper mining and processing operations. Evidence of past mining is seen at the Great Cobar Open Cut Mine. Now filled with water and great for a swim on a hot day, it was originally dug by men using picks and shovels.
A short drive from the town centre is the New Cobar Open Cut Mine where gold is mined. It is very impressive and can be observed from the Fort Bourke Hill Lookout.
Further out of town, south of Cobar along the Kidman way, is the site of the Peak Gold Mine. It was closed in the late 1950s but then re-opened in the 1970s using new mining techniques. A viewing platform at the peak gives a good view of a modern mine.
Cobar can be easily explored on foot by following the Heritage Walk which takes in the major points of interest. For those who want to get up close to old mining machinery, the Miner’s Heritage Park offers a glimpse of old industrial machinery and some very creative photographic opportunities.
Not far from the Heritage Park is the Heritage Centre. Set almost in the centre of town, in the former administrative building of the Great Cobar Copper Mine, the centre offers a glimpse into the history of Cobar. There are both internal and external displays and one of the larger items outside is an old railway carriage from the Far West Children’s Health Scheme. The Royal Far West, a non-government organisation, still provides health services to children in rural and remote New South Wales, and this health centre railway carriage gives a fascinating look back into the early days of the scheme, which was started in 1924.
There is a section in the Heritage Centre devoted to the local Aboriginal tribes, in particular, the Ngiyampaa people. Among all the artwork and cultural items, it’s possible to learn how to play an ironstone xylophone. There are a number of artefacts from times gone by, some from 150 years ago, but I was amused to see a black rotary dial telephone (remember them?) featured as part of the historical display!
If you plan on staying in the area, the Cobar Caravan Park is not far from the centre of town.
Located on the Macquarie River, Dubbo is the junction for the Mitchell, Newell and Golden highways. There are a number of good caravan parks around town, but my choice was the Dubbo City Holiday Park which is handy to the town centre.
Dubbo is a fairly prosperous town with attractions such as the Dundullimal Homestead and Old Dubbo Gaol but, undoubtedly, the plum one is the Western Plains Zoo. Apart from anything else, it is well set-up for RV travellers and the Britz motorhome I had was small enough to travel around the zoo without difficulty. However, for larger rigs and caravans, there is a very large parking area set aside, which also has a dump point. There are various ways of getting around the zoo – drive, walk, bicycle (BYO or hire) and, for those who don’t want to drive but are otherwise incapacitated, electric carts.
Day tickets are usable over two consecutive days. Like many zoos, the emphasis is on information and conservation. I’d recommend the ‘Keeper’s Talks’ and, if you get there early in the day, they follow a logical progression around the zoo, are informative, and often mean you get a close-up of the animals.
Mudgee was really my last stop before heading for Sydney. It has plenty of historical buildings, one of my favourites being the railway station. Wineries abound in the surrounding areas, as do some excellent places for eating. Henry Lawson was a favourite son of this part of the world, so if you are a Lawson fan, you’ll enjoy it around here.
And after all that exploring, it was time to head through Lithgow and along the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains toward home.
David hits the red dirt roads of Inland New South Wales and journeys from Bourke to Broken Hill.Watch episode
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