Dry as …

The drive from home in Victoria’s Goldfields to Byron Bay and back took us through the most seriously drought affected regions of south-east Australia. Ironically, whilst on our journey the first rains in a very long time reached much of the affected area. There is something inauthentic about photographing parched country under black rain clouds. On the return journey the sun came out for a while.

The dry July has exacerbated rainfall deficiencies already being seen over much of the southeast of the mainland … deficiencies have increased in severity and spread through most of New South Wales and northern Victoria (apart from the far southeast corner near the border), southern Queensland, the eastern half of South Australia in the Agricultural and east Pastoral regions and in the southwest coast of Western Australia.          Bureau of Meteorology.

Not a lot of feed for the cattle but they are nonetheless in good shape. Testament to the hard work put in by the farmers. Same goes for the sheep …

We saw plenty of trucks loaded with hay rolling in and some loaded with stock rolling out.

Both those shots are from northern NSW. Further south we got talking to a sheep/wheat farmer. This time last year there were heads on the wheat. This year the wheat is barely a third of the height. He’d also planted a paddock with oats as a fodder crop. It has no chance of reaching a height at which he could cut it. He’s turned the sheep on it to reduce the work load of hand feeding. Fortunately he doesn’t have to cart water because he has a bore on his property. He was cheerful. He’d done quite well last year and the occasional drought is a fact of life.

He’d had a heart attack and triple bypass last year. He was cheerful about that as well. The air ambulance ride to Sydney was his first time on a plane.

They’re as tough as nails out here.

The Geographic Centre …

Of New South Wales, that is.

We left Weethalle bright and early with Collarenebri our destination. The road less travelled would take us through Tottenham the geographic centre of the state. Yes, you could balance NSW on a pin placed beneath a point just 33km north-west of town.

We didn’t make the 33km detour to that particular landmark because we got a flat not far from Tullibigeal. It took a little while to change the wheel and more time was wasted in Condobolin trying to get the tyre repaired, a wasted effort.

So onward ever onward. The countryside was very dry but the sky overhead black with cloud. A lot of the paddocks had been prepared for sewing and then left waiting for a rain that hadn’t come. Livestock were in good condition. Farmers out here know that there will be a drought in every decade and have already made the decision to destock or hand feed. It’s tough but so are they.

The native wildlife is not being hand fed. Kangaroos are attracted to the green pick along the roadsides where the camber delivers just a bit more water to the vegetation. Whilst they’re not dying of starvation a lot have fallen victim to the passing traffic.

At Warren we ran into the rain. The heavens opened.

At Coonamble we chanced upon this …

Coonamble, NSW

a water tower rather than a silo which a bit of research reveals was painted by John Murray of Lightening Ridge and Sooty Walsh a local aboriginal artist.

We arrived at Collarenebri after dark.

First foreign silo …

The general trend of this little jaunt is north-east to hit Australia’s coast at the most easterly point of the mainland. Joining a few dots along the way adds to the interest. The first dot was Goorambat the second is Weethalle in NSW.

This little town came into existence in the early 1920’s. Wheat started rolling out on the railway in 1923. Having nothing better to argue about the lovely Gayle and I speculated on the origin and pronunciation of the name as we drove. Clearly it’s from a Germanic/Nordic language meaning White Hall and pronounced with a hard T and the final E Weet-haller. Gayle begged to differ (actually insisted rather than begged). Take the V out of weevil and put in the TH from that and you have Weethell. Australians do some amazing things to words.

On our arrival we accosted a local who put us straight. It’s from an Aboriginal word for drink and it’s pronounced Wee-Tharlie. She ran off a list of mis-pronunciations that visitors had tried. Anyway it boasts a painted silo …

Weethalle, NSW.

It’s the work of Melbourne-based artist Heesco Khosnaran who, it is said, used 200 litres of Haymes paint and 300 spray paint cans in the process.

We spent the night camping at the showgrounds. It’s $10 a night, instructions on how to make that small contribution are posted outside the toilet block. There is plenty of room and the toilets were nice and clean.

The annual Weethalle show was on the week before. Sadly, with the whole of New South Wales declared drought affected, it was rained out.

From Here to Victoria …

Here being Merimbula, NSW.

As an aside, when we Victorians see NSW on a number plate we wonder if it stands for No Sense Whatever. In outback New South Wales they are fully aware that it stands for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong which is where the government expenditure goes.

The route takes us through Bega where the cheese in our lunch comes from, then Wyndham and the Robbie Burns Hotel, founded 1848 (by Robbie himself, I believe, and that’s his ute parked outside) …

On to Adaminaby and then over the hill. Given that the ski season is rapidly approaching my forward planning involved the lowest route available. As we ate our cheese sandwiches however, the navigatrix declared that a shorter route existed.

photo GHD

It was an instance when the shortest route proved to be simultaneously the road less traveled, the scenic route and the one that took the longest time. It did give us the opportunity to let the dog have her first encounter with snow. She was unimpressed … but I was. The Great Dividing Range at its greatest.

Victoria at last, we found our way to our intended campsite in the Mitta Mitta Regional Park … the Embery lookout perched high above the bright lights of Corryong.

And the first thing we did was light a nice campfire.

Merimbula …

Jewel of the Sapphire Coast, or so merimbulatourism.com would have you believe. It certainly is pretty, lots of beach, a lake. It’s surrounded by national parks. It has an aquarium. It has grown apace in recent years.

I was on the rocks at the end of Short Point as the sun prepared to rise out of the sea.

Then a long walk by the lake and around the town …

Little Wattlebird
Red Wattlebird

The red flowers of this tree which I believe is Erythrina fusca, were extremely attractive to the local nectar eaters.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Cabbages …

The subdued early light shows off the plumage of this heron to perfection.

White-faced Heron

Today we wake in the Lake Tyers Forest Park. Tonight we will be in Merimbula. The population density in the intervening country could easily be the lowest in coastal south east Australia. We will be passing some of my favorite places, the Croajingalong and Ben Boyd National Parks. These are denied to us today because we have the dog.

One spot than we can visit is the Cabbage Tree Flora Reserve. Baron Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Muller is credited with discovering this isolated pocket of palms in 1854. It is said to be the only patch in Victoria and it is the most southerly occurrence of any Australian native palm.

Livistona australis

They grow quite tall, 20+ metres, along the creek surrounded by the wet forest .

As well as being scenically splendid this place is usually a birding hot spot. Not this day, the only creatures flying around were the mosquitoes.

The next port of call was Eden, watch out for the snakes, the first place of note in New South Wales. There is an old joke about spending a week in Adelaide one Sunday, you can do it in a Saturday afternoon in Eden. It does, though, have a very fine harbour.

We arrived in Merimbula just in time to catch the sunset.

Merimbula, NSW