A Broken Hill, Low Scrub & Bush, The Hunter Valley
October 30, 2019
13-10-2019: For the start of this holiday, I arrived at the railway station in the town we live in a bit before the time the XPT train to Sydney was due to arrive at 12:21pm. I waited. And waited. And I waited some more. By 2pm the train still hadn’t arrived but the signal had turned green, meaning there was a train coming. About half an hour later it finally arrived – 2 hours late. That didn’t bode well, I thought! By the time we got to Cootamundra the train was about 1.5 hours late, and thankfully the bus I needed to get from there to Orange was a guaranteed connection so I didn’t miss it. But we were still about an hour or so late arriving in Orange, at bit after 7pm. At last, Orange, where I could rest up and wait for the train to Broken Hill the next day.
14-10-2019: As I was awake fairly early and had until 10:59 for the Broken Hill train to arrive, I went for a 8km walk near the railway line in Orange to hopefully see the Indian Pacific train pass through, but it didn’t eventuate. I did hear a train coming about the time I thought the Indian Pacific train might be coming through, and I waited patiently at the Orange East Fork station (a very short platform with a shelter on it) for it to appear. But it wasn’t the Indian Pacific, and it didn’t come past the East Fork station but went around through towards Dubbo and I only managed to see the locos briefly.
The train to Broken Hill departed Orange about 10 minutes late. By the time it was at Ivanhoe it was pretty much on time, and by the time it arrived at Broken Hill it was about 10 minutes early! Experienced the full range of timeliness on that trip!
The farmland scenery west of Parkes progressively got worse, with more and more un-successful crops evident the further west we got. But the sections of native vegetation seemed to be thriving. I guess that makes sense – they are used to living in a ‘sunburnt country’ of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ as the song goes.
15-10-2019: Today I started the day with a walk to the top of the Line of Lode to see the Miners Memorial. The Line of Lode looms over the township of Broken Hill, and was and is the scene of mining operations. There is a lot of the town’s history connected with it. The railway station and yard is immediately at the bottom of the Line of Lode, and the town beyond that. The view from the top was pretty awesome, being able to see way beyond the confines of the town and well into the distance. On the way back to my accommodation I explored the first NSW Railways station, which is recognisable as a station, but has clearly seen better days. While I was there I heard the horn of a train in the distance, and then the sound of locomotive engines as the train got closer. It was coming from the east, and the NSW Trainlink Xplorer was sitting at the current passenger station waiting for it’s time to depart, which would have to be after the train I heard from the east arrived as it would be occupying the same track as the Xplorer needed to use. Eventually the train arrived, with 3 3000hp 50 year old deisel-electric locomotives hauling it and a seemingly endless number of covered hoppers, and it slowly made it’s way into the yard.
After breakfast, I decided to walk out to the Broken Hill Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) museum. I read a book a few years ago about John Flynn, the founder of the RFDS, but the museum was a real eye-opener to the problems facing settlers in the Australian Outback, and the need for a medical and communication service like the RFDS. Today it’s somewhat hard to imagine the Outback without the RFDS, and the museum was a testament to the essential work which the RDFS has done since it started for those that live in the Outback.
After walking back from the RFDS museum to where I was staying I tried to find out when the Indian pacific train would be coming through Broken Hill by searching the internet for a timetable. Upon finding a timetable, I realised why I didn’t see the Indian Pacific on Monday while at Orange – it wasn’t due to go through Orange on Monday but would be going through Broken Hill on Tuesday afternoon. So I walked over to the railway station and asked the Great Southern Rail attendant and he informed me that it would be arriving at 5:15pm, which was about 30 minutes after I saked him. That was pretty good timing! I scouted around to find a good place to sit and wait fir it to come into town and waited… Eventually I heard the sound of deisel engines coming from the west, and at the appointed time too. And then it appeared – 2 locomotives hauling a very long passenger train very slowly into the station. By the time it had stopped it overlapped the station on both ends of the platform by a considerable length. So now I can finally say I have seen the Indian Pacific ‘in the flesh’.
By the time I got back to my accommodation from that walk I had walked more than 20km for the day, and had developed blisters on both feet, although they weren’t hurting much.
16-10-2019: It rained early on this day, and so I had to decide whether to brave the possibility of being rained on or to do something indoors. I had a waterproof rain coat, and so I decided to brave any rain and set out on a walk early in the day. My first stop was the Silverton Picnic Train Ambush Site, where the only war hostilities occured on Australian soil during world War I occurred. These hostilities were perpetrated by two Afgans who were sympathetic to the Turks and as Australia was fighting against the Turks at Gallipoli and surrounds the 2 Afgans involved apparently decided to do something in support of their ‘brothers’. So with a Turkish flag flying over the ice cream cart that one of them owned they held up a Silverton Tramways picnic train full of ordinary non-military civilians on their way to a picnic.
From the site of that ambush, I walked over to the White Rocks Historical Site, where the 2 Afgans fled on their way back to an Afgan camp. But they never made it to the Afgan camp, as the police and local militia intercepted them. The White Rocks are literally on the edge of town. In one direction the township can be seen, and in the opposite direction there is just what some people would call ‘desert’, but it’s not really a desert as there is lots of vegetation in it. By this time, the blisters on my feet were well and truly being felt and were starting to hurt to the point where I could not walk without pain, so I walked back to my accommodation and gave my feet a rest.
After I gave my feet a rest, I ventured out again. But I knew I had to take it easy on my blistered feet so the walk was to some interesting places nearby. First I went to the Synagogue of the Outback. There was once a significant amount of Jewish people in Broken Hill and so a synagogue was built. Having an interest in Hebrew and Jewish things I wandered around it for quite a while and had some long chats with one of the volunteers who had a number of interactions with Jewish people in the region over the years including celebrating Shabbat, Bar-Mistavahs and Bat-Mitsvahs.
By this time, my ‘walking’ had changed more to ‘waddling’ due to my blistered feet, but I had one more place I specifically wanted to visit (and it was on the way back to my accomodation, anyway) – the Sulphide Street Railway Station and Museum. The first railway in Broken Hill was built and operated by the Silverton Tramway Company between Broken Hill, Silverton, and Cockburn on the South Australian border, with a few intermediate stops scattered along it’s 56 km length. The Silverton tramway was narrow guage (3′ 6″), and connected with the South Australian railway at Cockburn which was the same guage. It seemed to me that this could be one reason why Broken Hill’s local time is the same as for South Australia rather than new South Wales where it is located. Another reason might be that Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, is by far the closest capital city to Broken Hill. And initially the resources mined at Broken Hill went to places in South Australia so it would be an advantage to be using the same time zone.
The museum was a veritable rail fan’s paradise with lots of railroad information and displays including the first air-conditioned deisel railcar train in Australia and possibly the world, which was used on the journey to Broken Hill by the NSW Railways in the 1930’s. It had a maximum speed of 130kph, quite fast for it’s day, and had a dining room car, and a galley to produce meals for passengers.
After visiting the museum, I returned to my accommodation to give my feet as much rest as possible. That marks the end of my walking adventures for this visit to Broken Hill with the timetable of train and bus connections not allowing for walking any real distance which is a good thing as removing the temptation to walk on blistered feet will help them heal.
17-10-2019: This day started early – I was awake by about 2:30am and was waiting at the Broken Hill Town Bus Stop not long after. The 2 day journey back home started when I boarded the bus at Broken Hill, bound for Dubbo via Wilcannia, Cobar and Nyngan. Then it was on to Orange by XPT train, followed by an overnight stop over in Orange.
For the first few hours of the bus trip the most interesting thing to do was sleep, but by about 5:30am the hints of sunrise were visible in the eastern sky which the bus with it’s 5 or so passengers was heading towards. It was in the early morning pre-sunrise orange glow that we reached Wilcannia, a small town on the Darling River. Not long after leaving Wilcannia the energy of the rising sun lit up the sky with brilliant red and orange colors. It was quite a site, especially as we were facing directly towards it.
Not long after sunrise we arrived at Emmdale, the next stop after Wilcannia. Emmdale seemed to consist of only the highway, an airstrip running parralel to the highway, and a roadhouse. I figured there were at most about 5 people permanently living in Emmdale, and when the bus arrived there it would have doubled the population albeit temporarily.
The next stop was Cobar, where we had a 45 minute break from the journey. Cobar had a population of 10,000 at it’s peak. Copper mining was the main reason for the tone initially. And in the 1980s, gold, silver, lead and zinc were discovered in the area. Three important mining areas exist in the Cobar area: the Cobar belt, the Canbelego belt and the Girilambone belt.
From there it was on to Nyngan, Narramine and then Dubbo. By the time the bus reached Dubbo it had travelled over 750km, and Dubbo is still around 400km from Sydney, the capital city of New South Wales. The train and bus journeys I experienced on this holiday really helped me appreciate the large size of New South Wales and Australia – New South Wales is over 801,000 square kms and larger than every US state except Alaska, and larger than every European country except Russia. Only 35 countries are larger than New South Wales, which is only 10% of Australia’s total land area (Australia being 6th largest country in land area) and the 5th largest of Australia’s states and territories, which gives an idea of the distances involved in travelling in Australia.
18-10-2019: This day was taken up with travel between Orange and home. And then it was time for unpacking, washing clothes, and generally relaxing, followed by some preparation for my next adventure in the following week.
21-10-2019: After walking to the railway station approaching midnight, I boarded the overnight Sydney-bound XPT after midnight. As I had travelled on overnight trains before I had a fair idea of what to do and was well prepared. I had my inflatable pillow, and suitable clothing to stay comfortable on the long trip. And I slept ok, considering the seats on the train don’t recline very far back. The train arrived in Sydney Central about an hour late the next day, and then I had some breakfaset and waited for the Armidale / Moree explorer to depart at 9:30am. I have travelled on the Moree / Armidale Xplorer train twice before so there were no real surprises there, and the train arrived at Tamworth pretty much on time. I alighted there, and made my way to the Inverell road coach which would take me to the destination for this week – Warialda in far north NSW.
The further north I got, the worse the crops looked (or didn’t exist at all), the results of a severe drought in eastern Australia, which seems to be because of an El Nino as well as other things. But I did notice that some of the areas immediately around farm houses were very green, some even having sprinklers going, in stark contrast to the crops in the paddocks beyond. So there must be water available somewhere even if it isn’t falling from the sky. Arriving at Warialda, I checked into my accommodation.
22-10-2019: As I had given the blisters on my feet a chance to heal over the last few days I was able to do some walking around Warialda. The name ‘Warialda’ means ‘place of wild honey’. As part of my walks, I visited the Warialda Pioneer Cemetery, did a ‘history walk’ of the township and walked along part of the reserve next to the creek. Warialda is the oldest established government town in the region where it is located. It dates back to 1839, the first white settlers settling along the creek there in 1837. The town once had a mining warden, magistrate, and land commissioner and was the administrative centre for the north west of New South Wales. As a result of it’s importance in those days, it has a lot of historical buildings although not all of them date as far back as the 1830’s/40’s.
At the Pioneer Cemetery I was struck by the young age of those buried there, with a seeming predominance of young married women, young children and young adults. It seemed to me that we sometimes don’t appreciate how hard it must have been to live in remote areas in the 1800’s and even early 1900’s, and how good we really have it today with medical help as close as it is especially in settled areas. It seems the early settlers of places like Warialda really put their lives on the line to live where they did.
I also walked around part of the Koorilgur Nature Reserve, which is just to the south of the town, and has a number of walking tracks with interpretive signage. The name ‘Koorilgur’ means ‘low scrub and bush’, a very descriptive name for the reserve. Apparently this reserve in particular and the area around Warialda is well endowed with different birds and plants. I didn’t see many different birds, but I heard a few and saw various animal tracks suggesting an abundance of something. I also didn’t see many wildflowers, but I think the drought and the time of year I was there might have been why. By this time it was starting to heat up so I retreated to my accommodation and wiled away the hours until late in the afternoon when I ventured out on another walk around the showgrounds and along another section of the creek. This time I saw more birds, mostly pelicans and some ducks. I also saw a turtle.
23-10-2019: This was another day taken up mostly by travel. I caught the road coach at 7:20am at Warialda which connected with the southbound Armidale Xplorer train at Tamworth. At Maitland, in the Hunter valley, I alighted the train and walked the km or so to my accommodation. By this time it was about 2pm. I went to the supermarket and got something for my evening meal, and then spent some time relaxing in my room.
24-10-2019: This day, I went for a bit of a walk along the river at Maitland, and then explored the town a bit, the walked to the railway station and watched the many trains pass through until the Xplorer train to Sydney arrived. Then it was a few hours journey to Sydney, through central coast scenery that has amazed me each time I travelled through there. After having my evening meal at Sydney Central, and a few hours wait the XPT for the last leg of this train holiday arrived and I settle in for as much sleep as I could get sitting in an almost upright position. By early morning the next day I was home!