Our first day took us 250 kms west from Sydney through the Blue Mountains and onto our first stop, Bathurst. That night we found somewhere nice for dinner and then wandered around the town looking for somewhere to go for a drink when we passed a hotel where we could hear the band playing so we ventured in. There was a fantastic rock band playing, a great mix of music from classic rock and blues to new stuff like Kelly Osbourne's version of Papa Don't Preach which had just been released here. The locals were very friendly and dragged us up to dance. Some of them were also very drunk and sat down at our table and spouted on a few times. The later it got the drunker they got and there were little arguments starting to break out so rather than face the closing time fight we made a hasty exit as the band finished they final chords.
Bathurst is the site of the Mount Panorama racing track which was first used for motor cycle racing in 1911 and now holds the V8 Supercar race as well as motor cycle racing. The track is also a public road so Richard drove a lap of the track but being a public road the speed limit is 60k/h so we couldn't quite imagine what it was like to race around there until we reached a steep hill where on the bends even Richard was doing under the speed limit.
Between Bathurst and Dubbo is the Parkes Radio Telescope, a fully steerable big-dish radio telescope which is currently the third
largest and second oldest in the world. It has carried out a lot of research and monitoring since the 1960's including discovering
over half of the known pulsars as well as making lots of discoveries about the structure of the Milky Way and quasars. It has also been involved with
some famous projects: relaying television pictures from the first two moonwalks; collecting data from NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter
it's most famous hour, being involved in helping to bring Apollo 13 back to Earth.
We spent a couple of nights in Dubbo but found that we had done most of the attractions at other times in our travels. The only one
we felt we should see was Dubbo Gaol and it was really interesting. Used as a gaol between 1871 and 1966, it is now a great museum with
animatronic prisoners and jailors telling their chilling stories. Eight people were hanged at the Gaol for murder and all their stories
are there, most of them seemed to have been convicted without any eye witnesses to the murders. Good old justice system. This plaque next to the gallows lists
the names of those that were hanged. Those were the days, mind you I was
tempted to leave Richard in one of the cells without a fair trial, back where he belongs?
He just looked so at home.
A long drive to Broken Hill through barren countryside but the drive was made more interesting by the amount of wildlife we saw along the way including our first sighting of wild emus by the side of the road. On the road we had to keep an eye out for wild goats, cattle and lizards.
Far from anywhere, Broken Hill was a prosperous mining town and silver, lead and zinc are still being mined there on a much smaller scale than in it's heyday in the 1920's. We didn't go to a mine there as we were planning to visit a gold mine further on on our journey. We got caught in a dust storm one evening in Broken Hill which whipped up out of nowhere and was so violent that it swept a chair off the balcony of a pub straight into the middle of the road and it was painful to open our eyes at all. We picked the chair up and dived into the pub staying there for a counter meal dinner until the dust storm had died down.
Nowadays Broken Hill is perhaps as famous for it's art galleries. It has attracted many artists who live there and we went along to see
the outdoor sculpture symposium which contains the results from a 1999 project involving 12 sculptors from various countries who lived up on a
hill a few kilometres away from Broken Hill overlooking the town until they had finished their sculptures which are now displayed in this remote
area to striking effect.
Just out of Broken Hill is Silverton. Not quite a ghost town but after the mining stopped here most of it's 3000 inhabitants left. All that was left was the Silverton Hotel, the museum and various empty buildings but now some of the local artists have moved their galleries out to Silverton so it is a bit busier. The Silverton Hotel is a great little hotel which has been used as the pub in a number of films including Mad Max (note the Mad Max car out the front of the hotel which we think belongs to the landlord), A Town Like Alice, Razorback and the recent Aussie film, Dirty Deeds.
We didn't expect to walk straight into a film set but after we'd ordered our cokes
the bar filled up with a camera crew and then we recognised the presenter of The Great Outdoors travel programme, Ernie Dingo, and he
proceeded to do an interview with the landlady and we were allowed to look on. I was looking at some of the photos from movies that have been
filmed there which adorn the walls and the cameraman asked me to keep looking at them so he could film it and it might be used. The new
series of The Great Outdoors starts next year so we'll have to keep a look out to see if I have made it to screen! (Since writing this
we've seen the episode on TV and I was left on the cutting room floor) The woman director
took the famous Silverton test which involved her getting her drink all down her front. Just up the road we looked out over the
Mundi Mundi Plains which is said to be the end of the world because the barren view stretches out seemingly forever. It was used in a scene
in Mad Max with Mel Gibson.
It's amazing how many familiar place names we've passed driving around Australia. There are places named after towns in England
(Tamworth, Newcastle), Wales (Cardiff, Swansea) and Scotland (Perth). Most of the state captials seem to be named after Brits. Darwin after
Charles Darwin (although he never visited it), Melbourne after the nineteenth century British Prime Miniter Lord Melbourne, Brisbane after
Lord Brisbane who was the governor of the colony at one time, Sydney after Lord Sydney, Adelaide after Queen Adelaide,
don't know about Hobart or Canberra but Perth seems to be the only one
that was an existing place in the UK. So here we were in Peterborough which is where
my Mum and Granny live in the UK. We were just passing through but were tempted by the claims of Magnetic Hill where
cars roll uphill when left in neutral. It only just worked on our somewhat overloaded car.
A local farmer in the 1930's discovered it when he got a pucture in his first motor car, when
he put a stone under the front tyre to stop the car rolling down hill it rolled uphill instead.
We've seen a lot of monoliths in Australia and some of them seem to look a bit like Ayers Rock from a distance. It makes you wonder what is so special about the big red rock in the centre of the country called Uluru that brings literally hundreds of thousands of people thousands of kilometres to stand and gawp at it every year. It's not even the biggest monolith (single piece of rock) in Australia, Mount Augustus in Western Australia is the biggest and is also older than Uluru. Of course, Uluru is important for cultural, spiritual reasons and because of it's striking red colour. This one is just a fake we saw on the way to the real one.
We spent a night in Woomera (a motel that was formally an army barracks) because it was too far to make it to Coober Pedy in one day. It's an infamous place stuck out in the middle
of nowhere where Australia locks up some of the illegal immigrants and is the site of frequent riots and troubles. A lot of the
area is prohibited, not because of the detention centres but because it has been the site of atomic bomb tests in the past and is now
a nuclear waste dump. It used to be the site of lots of military engineering on rockets but it's difficult to work out what is still
being done there.
Coober Pedy looks more like another planet than Earth. The cast of Star Wars wouldn't look out of place in this harsh environment. It gets so hot here that a lot of the residents have built their houses underground. These must be stubborn people because they live in the middle of the desert with hardly any water, seasonal dust storms and considerable summer temperatures. Apparently Coober Pedy is Aboriginal for 'white fellow's hole in the ground' - not sure if that's true or not. So why do people live here? Opals are the main reason, the area is rich and that has attracted lots of miners over the years. Not surprisingly Coober Pedy has also featured in a number of films including Ben Elton's mini series Stark - remember that?
You have to be slightly eccentric to live here but Crocodile Harry is very eccentric. He is so eccentric that he and his house have become a tourist attraction, mentioned in Lonely Planet and featuring on coach tours, reputedly a Latvian baron who emigrated to Australia and hunted crocs for 13 years, then began mining in Coober Pedy. He still lives in his dug out home and for $2 each he let us wander around taking in the graffiti and art on every surface, walls and ceiling. Some Harry has done himself but visitors can still add to his works if they can find space, but you need to ask first. Many people seem to donate t-shirts, baseball caps, bras, knickers etc but we walked out fully clothed.
Just near Coober Pedy we drove a 70km loop on dirt roads through this arid but striking environment. We saw the Dog Fence that keeps dingoes away from their sheep and the so-called Moon Plain along with some striking rock formations.
When we left Coober Pedy it was time to go even further into the interior of Australia heading for the red centre and for Uluru and Alice Springs.