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For you Gilly at http://lucidgypsy.wordpress.com/

I hope you enjoy being our companion as we head home after solstice celebrating.


I’ve been away from home for nearly a month now. It’s time to head south again, on one of those wonderful woggly journeys that use backroads for maximum pleasure and that evolve as we go, sitting at intersections, reading the map and debating the next part of our route.

We leave Stanthorpe, still needing frenzied windscreen wipers. Ultimately our journey passes through Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Inverell, Bingara, Narrabri, Wee Waa, Pilliga, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Gulargambone, Dubbo, Yeoval, Cumnock, Molong, Cudal, Canowindra, Cowra, Boorowa, Yass, Murrumbateman, and Bungendore, before we head down Clyde Mountain to the coast. Other place names include Gum Flat, Staggy Creek, Sandy Creek, Gilgooma Rd, Eumungerie Rd, Cumboogle, Eurimbla Rd, Gumble, Shingle Ridge Creek, Woolpack Creek, Toogong, Moss Hollow Creek, Frisby Lane, Fox’s Elbow Rd. I couldn’t resist this litany of names.

We set off under a low grey sky with all the creeks dashing along. Trees demand my attention: smoothly orange-branched; ribbons of grey and cream; pink marbled and cream bark; paddocks of flowering angophera; wet black trunks; the inverted cones of native cypress; straight lines of park palms, non-native; bottle-trunked kurrajongs; furiously blushing bark; white brancehes emerging from rough bark; and finally the familiar spotted gums of home.

The landscape changes: the granite bluffs of the border country; tree clad hills with sedimentary caps; a misshapen hunchback hill; rocky fangs around Mt Kaputar; cloud shadows lying dense across the folds of hills. The Copeton Dam out of Inverell is far below capacity but we stop for lunch by an unexpected river, and find a long stretch of riverside camping spots, wondering where the vigorous water flow came from.

Copeton dam

By the end of the first day, it’s sweaty hot, the hills have gone, the dirt is red, and the only water is in elongated roadside puddles. At Coonamble the Castlereagh is an expanse of bank to bank sand, and water restrictions are high. Parks no longer have the taps we’ve come to expect to top up our water bottles. We bounce through empty flood ways and watch an echidna disappear beside the road.

Our campsite is a beauty, near the Pilliga hot springs. We arrive in plenty of time to pitch, and relax in our low chairs, looking out over red dirt to the satisfying randomness of trees beyond the fence, as we drink white wine from our metal goblets. Flocks of galahs fly over, the late light catching the pink of their undercarriage. A kestrel plunges for a relaxed kill, and flies off with prey in its beak. A pair of plovers ramble around in the grass. A baby leopard tree with fierce protective thorns is ankle high beside my chair. The sky pales: horizon apricot becomes a lyrical blue. We’re out in the dry west so we don’t put the fly on the tent and the stars fill the dome above us.

We strike camp early and set off just as the sky begins to lighten. Pilliga is a town of corrugated iron buildings.The pink light of early morning stretches across the blond paddocks, and a duck in a puddle is silhouetted against the rising-sun sky. We pass through bursts of cicada shrilling; sulphur crested cockatoos lay claim to the road and have to be nudged off; a flight of choughs lift off, revealing their white underwing circles; small grey doves move out of the way slowly. It’s early and crisp and we haven’t yet got that forward momentum that prevents stopping, so we pull over often to investigate unfamiliar flowerings by the side of the tree-lined road. There are horses and a foal; sunflowers standing tall, faces to the east; emus in a paddock; and signs protesting about coal seam gas.

Gulargambone has made a joke of its name: the town is infested with corrugated iron galahs and its motto is “Flying ahead”. We’re now accompanied by the faint eccentric line of the Warrumbungles in the distance, and we stop for breakfast at the Gilgandra Flora Reserve, an area of 8.5 hectares donated by two farming families in the 1960s. It is now regenerating, under the care of the Gilgandra Native Flora Society. Not much flowering this time, just the odd flower of blue Dampiera and Pink phebalium, but I love the mixture of shapes: eucalypts, grass trees and two species of native cypress.

And then it’s the home stretch: a glitch trying to get out of Dubbo, despite a local map and instructions; a hiccup when we get stuck behind a monster Winnebago and a road train; fear when idiots begin piling up behind, impatient to overtake.

Between Yeoval and Molong we are entertained by bikes. They hang in the branches of roadside trees and they feature in numerous paddock sculptures, crafted from old farm machinery and tanks. Galahs, pigs, horses, emus, giant insects, frogs and frilled lizards cavort on bizarre bikes. One creator twisted the theme and showed a bike perched on the back of an unidentifiable critter. The road was too narrow and windy to stop, but we promised ourselves a walking photo-shoot next time we pass that way. In Canowindra we picnic under regimented palms to prepare ourselves for a return to main roads, mourning the loss of nine hard-boiled freshly laid eggs we left on our daughter’s kitchen bench in the flurry of departure.