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Drought Relief Road Tour- Thoughts and Blogs

Drought Relief Road Tour
A road tour organised for congregation members to support small country towns by just spending money. The tour left on the 30th December and returned on the 8th January. Some did the whole trip while others are joined the tour for just a couple of days.
here are some of the thoughts and comments

Day 1 Monday 30th December

Undaunted by heat, bushfires or Brian’s accident requiring 4 stitches in a gash above his right eye, we set off only 21/2 hours later than planned.

Our first stop was for a late lunch, and despite the heat, a famous Denman pie, but the shop was closed over the Christmas period, so we had to be satisfied with provisions purchased from the local IGA.

Fortunately the gift shop, Precious Pieces, and the Newsagency were open and so the “big purchasing” was able to begin. I was thanked sincerely for helping the town.

The silo art at Merriwa took our attention as did the paddock like fairways and greens of the local golf club.

We detoured in Scone, a lovely looking town, to find the Anglican School, the Headmistress of which is a friend of Carolyn’s. We purchased petrol and an ice block (which collapsed in Brian’s lap) at Murrurundi and at the top of the valley stopped to take a photo of this pretty village nestled in the valley.

The Upper Hunter is very dry, with brown fields the norm. I wonder how the horse breeders are getting on as I haven't seen any grass on which the horses can feed.

The first motel we tried in Quirindi was booked out by firies, but there was plenty of room at Henry’s and I was pleased to be able to support the non-profit organisation that runs it, as all profits are used for aged care in Qurindi.

We dined, with the other intrepid traveller, Bill and Jill and Herb and Jessie, at Graze, Willow Tree, which probably would be the best dinner of the trip. Certainly the restaurant was very pleasant, the company convivial as we all got to know each other and our beef was OK.

Jill shared a fantastic photo of a "tyred" Christmas tree we saw on the way to the restaurant. It seemed such a symbol of hope in this drought-striken environment.

Judy Gill
Story of Day 1 from Herb
Have just arrived at our motel in Quirindi. Luckily we booked. We are the only city slickers here. All 18 rooms are occupied by firies who are all out fighting fires in the vicinity.
Our trip across the mountain on the Oxley Hwy
had its little dramas. There is huge devastation , steel guard rails buckled. Thousands of trees had to be cut from steep slopes to stop them from falling. Lots of repair work to be done yet. At one section we had to queue up for 30 minutes in a one way section where we had to go in a convoy led by a safety vehicle for about 14 km. The smoke was quite bad.
Arrived in Walcha with a big appetite.
These country folk sure know how to make one heck of a milkshake-quality and quantity unsurpassed.
Nice to put our feet up out if the 40degree temps.

Day 2

On an early morning walk along the Main Street of Quirindi (where square concrete slabs, depicting old cattle brands, had been inserted in the pavement), we met the owner of Pearl Blossoms, which held two lines of business for her, that of florist and café, in an attempt to weather the drought. She was just opening for “cooked breakfast”, (which Herb and Jessie enjoyed at our suggestion) and appears to be one of the luckier business owners as many shops were empty, and others about to close their doors succumbing to the effects of drought and other issues facing all country towns.

Opting for the “long way” to our next overnight destination, our first stop was the First Fleet Memorial Garden, where every person who sailed is listed. We wanted find two of Brian’s forebears, who came out on the same ship, the Charlotte, and to find out why on earth the garden is located in Wallabadah, 350 km from Sydney. We found out, so ask us when you next see us if you are interested.

Disappointingly the Op shops in Tamworth, where I thought I’d do well in finding pudding basins, were all shut. Even more distressing though were the fields we passed en route to town, bare as bare, not one blade of grass and no animals in sight

At Barraba we made a purchase from another dual operator, this time ladies’ wear and hairdressing, called Frocks ‘n Locks and bought lunch provisions from the IGA. We found a park with a shaded table and bench but with the temperature rising only sat long enough to hurriedly eat and comment on how still and quiet it was – no human noise, no cars, planes, wind blowers, howling children, splashing swimming pools, just no sound at all.

Despite the drought, horse shows must go on and it was good to see the annual camp draft and rodeo taking place in Upper Horton as we came down the hill and into the township.

The drive from there to Narrabri, over and around wooded hills, was pretty, but it would have been prettier if it hadn’t been so dry and “grey” looking. The road to Sawn Rocks, a rock formation we had planned to visit, was closed due to a fire. (We subsequently learnt that the ban had been lifted the day before but the local authority hadn’t yet responded.)

Upon our late arrival we looked for “Buy in the Bush” stores but they were either shut or sadly closed for good. 10 minutes before closing we found a menswear shop and purchased 4 nice shirts for Brian, something we could never have managed in Sydney. We had the undivided attention of a helpful assistant who knew what she was talking about. We were so grateful, and so was she when we told her why we were in town

We dined with the other intrepid travellers at The Shack, at the Narrabri RSL where Herb told us some of the things he’d learnt from his Farmstay host. It made Jessie and him happy with their choice of accommodation when told that the farmstay income was keeping the horses on the property in feed. The farmer talked of depression and the rate of suicide amongst farmers. I had read in the local newspaper that Narrabri Rotary was joining with Rotary clubs from Wee Waa and Bogabri to introduce a “Neighbours in Need” programme to help drought affected neighbours look look after each other. Amongst other initiatives they have advertised that if someone gathers 5 drought affected neighbours together, Rotary will provide meat for a BBQ; for 10 families, Rotary will put on the BBQ. Donations are being sort and I’m thinking if I have money left over from the donations I’ve been given for this trip, that would be a good place for it to go.
Judy Gill
Day 3
Wednesday 1st January,

A new decade dawned, but the Public Holiday thwarted the Intrepid Travellers’ plans of spending up big, because all shops (bar one) were shut.
We left the motel in Coonamble at 7.30 am for a 100 km dash to Moree to do a heritage walk of the Art Deco façades of shops, hotels and banks. En route we found a flourishing community garden at the back of the Uniting Church . (It would seem that green fingers abound in Uniting Church congregations.).

Our only purchases for the day were at the newsagency which had fortunately (for the proprietor) opened for a few hours.

Another 100 km back to the motel for a quick shower and breakfast found us vacating the motel before the late departure time of 11am.

We found Wee Waa an attractive town as we had Moree. What a difference trees in the main street make in an otherwise hot and dusty townscape, especially if they are planted down the centre of the road.

We continued on to Pilliga, to the artesian bore baths; the water at 37 degrees was cooler than the ambient temperature. Horses were enjoying the water.

I had thought we might purchase lunch at the Pilliga café, and even though I had assurances over the phone that the café “only shuts on Christmas Day”, its doors were firmly closed. Fortunately, we had all planned for “nowhere to eat” on New Year’s Day and so we ended up having a DIY lunch in the shade of a giant iron bark in Baradine, (50 km on a dirt road from Pilliga).

Kate, at the very interesting NPWS Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre in Baradine, was helpful in advising us how to get to and from the 19 metre forest tower, a 90 km round trip on dirt roads. We scurried up the tower egged on by the fierce heat (41 degrees) and our desire not to look down. The 360 degree view of the forest tree tops was impressive; the forest is comprised of Cyprus pines and iron barks, once extensively logged but now left alone. Fires are a natural part of the ecological process and there was much evidence of fires from previous years.

We hurried to Coonamble, looked at 2 other motels, in order to spread our spending, but ended up staying with the Shaws and Herb and Jessie. It was by now 43 degrees, the air-conditioning was ineffective (and didn’t cool the room sufficiently until after midnight) and we were tired having driven over 530 km.

At least the Coonamble Bowling Club was open and air-conditioned. Everyone felt better after drinks and dinner but at 7.30 pm a hush descended over the packed dining room and Bingo started. We were the only table not participating and continued chatting, but after a number of scowls from nearby tables we felt it better to take our leave, disappointingly sooner than we had planned.
Judy Gill

Day 4
Thursday 2 January 2020

We started the day with a 113 km trip north to Walgett for breakfast at the highly recommended, if not out of the way, Stone’s Throw café and gift shop. Great coffee and amazing stock of gifts that we can’t imagine will be ever be sold. We reduced the stock by one item.

Our next stop was the Home Hardware store, which like the hardware stores of our youth, sold everything. We had a ball finding things we never thought we needed, and came away with items ranging from a universal sink plug, a cake rack and William Morris mugs.

Fifty-five km on a dirt road, over a flat dry flood plain, adjacent to the now virtually non-existent Macquarie Marches (yet another ecological disaster) to Carinda. Our reason for this detour was to visit a “Buy in the Bush” outlet, where I was able to spend up big on some locally produced (like, just round the corner) items.

I also wanted to visit the pub whose only claim to fame, and significant it is, is that David Bowie made the film clip for his song, “Let’s Dance”, in 1983 (you can also watch it on YouTube —David Bowie - Let's Dance (Official Video) -- https://youtu.be/VbD_kBJc_gI ). But why in this remote isolated corner of NSW! The artist and film crew certainly would have been in for a culture shock. The pub runs the “Beats Starvin’ Bistro”; one TripAdvisor reviewer assured readers the food was better than the name suggested. I still wasn’t tempted and stuck with a can of Solo.

The temperature climbed to 43 degrees as we returned to Coonamble. We were pleased we’d decided on a quiet afternoon in our air conditioned motel room and later in the a/c Coonamble Bowling Club, conveniently located across the road. There was only one other family dining in the Club, far different from the previous "bingo" night.

To give you an idea of the ramifications of the heat, the water from our cold tap is hot enough to shower in. The water doesn’t have a nice taste either, as the aquifer reserves are apparently getting low, and we are purchasing bottled water even to make tea.

Judy Gill

Day 5
Friday 3rd January

While Brian while downloading a photo-resizing app I took the opportunity of the 8am opening of Mink and Me gift shop at The Hub to do some shopping – some lovely aboriginal painted tea towels, a box of pub quiz cards, cake testers and a women’s grazier’s magazine. Lucy the owner of Mink and Me, is a young farmer’s wife originally from Dural. She told me the last rain they had had was in 2016, that they were OK because they were mixed farmers and that they had their own feed, but she though those who only farmed crops would be finding the going tough. She said her husband was hanging in there mentally but felt that many would not really last much longer. Fortunately the #buy from the bush campaign had been very good for her business; she had been flat out before Christmas and was now glad of a bit of a quieter time.

There was nothing to buy at Gulargumbone and in fact nothing much there at all. An attempt had been made to add interest to the town through art and a row of shops, which otherwise would have been left to decay, had been painted in bright colours and artists had made historical installations in the windows. Murals painted on the sides of buildings, galahs made from corrugated iron decorated the town and were placed on the sides of roads to the town and a well designed bullock team, made from recycled chicken wire, certainly added a liveliness to the town that other towns of similar disposition lack.

We travelled west to Warren, where we stopped at the kiosk at the Window on the Wetlands Centre to purchase local produce on Jill’s recommendation. I caught up with Lauren with whom I had spoken on the phone. I purchased locally produced honey and asked what all the bees do in a drought. She said the bee keepers can no longer supply the honey because there are no bees. I then said I noticed that some of the gums were beginning to blossom, a lovely creamy colour. She said it was very unusual as they are spring flowering, then another lady joined in and they started talking about all the signs that rain might be coming, in addition the blossoming trees – kookaburras, green leaves sprouting on trees, a flock of pelicans had arriving in town, a frog being heard and finally ants invading the house. Such an uplifting chat, full of hope.

Philippa Graham, who has friends doing it very tough in Nevertire, assured me that there was nothing in town except the pub. However, we never saw it as we passed through on our way to Trangie, where we stopped for a counter lunch at the Hotel Trangie because at 43 degrees it was just too hot to picnic. I was interested to try the food as the publican, Shaun, had posted on social media that it was “ bloody good pub food” and so it was -- the best chicken schnitzel I have ever had. We chatted with Pete, a Stock and Station agent, over lunch. He told us the hay on the road trains we have seen all day travelling west was coming from Victoria or South Australia, that each load would cost around $20,000 and that a bale of hay would keep alive around 10 cows for a week.

We stopped at the Ewe Two gift shop on Dandelo, but I was hard pressed to find anything to buy. I’m almost shopped out but still haven’t found a few of the things I really want to buy. I did buy a Christmas tea towel at a craft shop in Narromine while filling in time waiting for Brian who was visiting the Aviation Museum. The co-op shop was being manned by two oldies and some of the goods must have been made by “ancients” as they were so old fashioned.

Herb has, we think, found Brian’s Crown beer glasses at “Shelley’s Antiques and Collectables” in Gilgandra. We found the shop, full of dirty old used goods and junk masquerading as “antiques”, padlocked shut. Herb, who asked the owner how he ever managed a stock take, was told that it wasn't necessary because the shop was considered a hobby.

Our final dinner at the very busy Gilgandra Services Club was a fitting farewell to a happy week of fun and activity. Photos were taken of us and some our most prized purchases. We left with new friends and a hope of "doing it again".

Judy Gill

Monday, 30 December 2019 - 7:00am to Thursday, 9 January 2020 - 7:00pm