Saturday, November 29, 2008

Monday 6 October - Cowra and Carcoar to home

For some reason I got it into my head that we came back again through Young, which was part of one option I was considering but not the option I finally chose..still, the scenery was nice, but naturally it cost us about an hour of unecessary travelling. Our first stop is Cowra, where we find there is not a lot open on this holiday Monday, so despite a couple of turns down the main drag we spot nothing particularly tempting so we make the turn towards the Japanese Gardens and POW camp site etc which are all in the same area. The cherry trees along the street aren't making much of a show and there's not a lot of colour visible inside the gardens from the road. The site of the Japanese gardens looked really quite hilly. The offspring have made it known that they'd prefer to get home in the early afternoon if possible as they (and I come to that) need to back up for work tomorrow. Although it is clear that mum would like to go in and check out the gardens, I decide that we'd best not. While mum would no doubt drag herself around, it will take her much time and wheezing and stopping and lord knows, going shopping is bad enough, if we set foot in the gardens it will be hours before we can get out of there.

We take a spin looking at the wonderful views from the top of the hill here and head for the POW camp site. It too has beautiful views across the rolling hills. The buildings and fences are long gone, but there is what appears to be an ornamental guard tower and some interpretive boards looking out over some remaining foundations. The interpretive boards are in both English and Japanese.


There are also several memorials, the most elaborate of which is one raised by the Italians and on which the writing is in Italian.



The younger ones of us decide to take a swift walk, or in the case of Son, run, down the hill to the other section. Mum makes herself at home chatting to other visitors. While Son careers down the hill, I pick my way along the sheep track, avoiding the softest bits and the sheep poo. Clearly they graze the site to keep the vegetation down.


There are boards here and there explaining where abouts in the camp you would be standing and trying to show what you would have been looking at. We find the site more moving and more interesting that we expected and I'm glad we made the effort.

Next stop is the War Cemetary. Well we really just do a drive past. We had some difficulty along the way missing a turn for which the sign is obstructed by trees. We aren't the only ones either, but after a little while driving along a most pleasant road through lush fields, we twig we can't be heading the right way and I figure that the cherry tree avenue must be a clue. Sure enough when the avenue of cherry trees stops you need to turn, the avenue continues around the corner to the war cemetary. The general gist of the cemetary can pretty much be seen from the road. Anyway we move along as time is short.

Along the way back towards Sydney we take a strange little detour towards a waterfall, but we eventually find the road is blocked by standing water and are obliged to turn around. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of the place as I was slack when I got home and didn't write up the day's travels. It was a pretty reserve anyhow, so next time we're passing through that way we might try again when we spot the sign.

Next serious stop is Carcoar. A turn on the spur of the moment. We're in need of a comfort stop and some lunch. We admire a wisteria trained around the verandah as we park. It's smothered in bloom and looks fabulous.



We visit the amenities and play on the swings for a while. Nice swings that are kind to grown up bottoms.. you're never too old for a swing, and even grandma has a go laughing and saying it's years since she's been on a swing...

... Not everything is open today, but the RSL museum is and there is a very very friendly lady manning the doorway and she encourages us to come in. We climb the stairs, or in mum's case she is transported using the chair lift thingy which is a bit of a laugh. The museum is really great. They have reached a level of quality in their collection that they seem to attract donations of more really good stuff. Always my favourites are the trench art and other items made by the diggers, or souvenired. There's plenty on local veterans too, and a good collection of uniforms, books and things. Definitely worth a look if you find it open when you're in town.
Our guide also shows us the mural in the hall, which is very impressive and we hear the low down on what's open in town today, some local history and our guide's family history, even about the time a car went straight through the front of one of the houses down the road. We get the drum on the Australia Day celebrations too. I'd love to go to that, but I don't think it's likely this coming year for us.
We eventually take our leave. Just down the road a bit we pause at the local war memorial.


From there we head around the corner to the nice little cafe our guide recommended. The owners are progressively doing up this historic building to let rooms for accommodation as well. The ambience is very nice but the food is kind of ordinary. Still, it is perfectly edible and we enjoy our lunch. We are very very impressed with Carcoar, but it's very hilly and doesn't lend itself to exploration by mum while we're short on time.
The rain is still coming down on and off. We are lucky while we are eating on the verandah, but by the time we are leaving it's coming down again. We loved Carcoar. It's a beautiful atmospheric little place, well deserving of its heritage listing. It would certainly make a great place for a quiet relaxing and romantic weekend away.

We vote to take the Bells Line of Road home.. well basically because we came the other way on the way out and of course we just like the BLOR. We stop to buy some waratahs which are great value and oh so beautiful. We nurse them home and mine - which were only $20 - are displayed in my Pilliga pottery urn, here for a brief while in our hovel which is no longer. It's a georgeous urn don't you think? $500 worth. IMHO worth every penny and I am absolutely thrilled that it looks so lovely with the waratahs in it. It should look great in the new house. We watched this pot have the design drawn on it when we visited pilliga pottery this time last year, then after a few months for drying and glazing etc we took delivery of it. Daughter and I vow that we should make a trip up to get some waratahs an annual tradition. They do of course have smaller waratahs for sale also, but aren't these big ones beautiful!


Best laid plans, we get home in the early evening. Tired, but we've had a lovely holiday, with lots of quality family time, and it only cost us about $200 each would you believe!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sunday 5 October - Boroowa - Running of the Sheep

Daylight savings started overnight. It was a rough night. A car left at midnight noisily. Then at about 1am some people started yelling and carrying on. Then at 2:30 the car returned. BAD night’s sleep. I arose fairly early – about 6am or so and showered and dressed and went for a walk around the block which was cool and pleasant. Snapped some photos. Nice to be out and about early and able to admire the streetscape without lots of people or cars, though you wouldn't exactly call Grenfell crowded in any case.












I walk up the main street and pay a visit to the war memorial. It is quite extensive with the eternal flame, a separate pillar memorial and also a white marble memorial to those who served in the Boer war.




















Grenfell has three very nice old hotels (ie pubs) ......the Railway Hotel,




.....and the Albion Hotel.







One of the windows is decorated in Manly colours I snap a photo to show hubby when we get back - footy grand final tonight and Manly's in it. That's where hubby is. No chance of him coming away with Manly in the grand final!!


Not much other than the newsagent open. We took our time about readying ourselves for the day and decided to have brekkie en route. IGA closed of course so no milk. We headed down to Young through more lovely countryside and make a stop at the JD Jam Factory. Daughter indulged in Devonshire tea which was quite nice but used fake aerated cream…she also tried the banana smoothie and enjoyed that.. I went for the cherry pie. It didn’t look real great so I really should have known better, but I did expect them to warm it up at least. But no, it arrived cold and clammy and just not nice. I also ordered the cherry smoothie, which was nice, but Daughter thought it was too sweet. Son ordered a hot dog with chips and a vanilla thick shake which he enjoyed a lot.. Mum had a toasted chicken and avocado sandwich that looked very good and she said was absolutely delicious. On her own insistence she won the ordering competition. We bought a few souvenirs and jam and stuff. Nothing was cheap. On the whole I thought the place was a bit of a tourist trap really and so far the jam hasn't been that great.
Straight through from Young to Boorowa in quite a line of traffic which cramped my sightseeing style as I drove. The scenery looked nice though. Boorowa was crowded with people. A huge turnout for the Irish Woolfest this weekend with detours and special parking arrangements in place. Luckily we happen upon a small paddock close to the main street where disabled parking has been set up. We park under an elm in full flower, display our permit and wander into the main street area past a huge jumping castle. The barriers have been set up ready for the running of the sheep at midday. We arrived at about 11:15 am. We browse the stalls. I buy sample some jars of local bottled poached prunes (delicious!) and a pack of prunes – 500 grams but very dry so quite good value and they include a recipe for poaching; also a jar of D’agen plum conserve. $8 a jar for two or more jars of poached prunes, 8 for the prunes and 5.50 for the conserve.
There are pipe and other bands entertaining the crowds. The pipe bands regularly playing waltzing matilda, they also played On the Road to Gundagai which is one of my favourites. I used to sing it to my elder daughter as a lullaby LOL!! A singer fellow sang Click Go the Shears. It was all very Aussie and Irish traditional. Later in the proceedings the irish folk music and dancing came on. At midday they announce that they are almost ready for the running of the sheep.
The police come through in the parade first and we wait as the sheep proceed down the street. They are stud merinos from Merryvale stud (which we later pass on the way back to Grenfell). Nice looking sheep that’s for sure. They are being herded by several gorgeous kelpies and from our vantage point at the end pens we see the sheep heading straight for us with them occasionally jumping over eachother. Seriously cool! We watch as they select the sheep to decide the winner of the sweep then load the sheep back on the truck to go home. Daughter’s heart is a flutter at the manly farmers and their quad bikes and work vehicles.


video



Meanwhile the rest of the parade starts off. This included a procession of vintage tractors, finishing with a big old (temperamental) steam one. Very COOL! They also had a big semi-trailer with a rough corrugated iron roofed shearing stand with the electric hand sets accompanied by a guy shearing with the old fashioned blades. Very COOL. And SO many people. A really festive atmosphere. We head in to the art show and are very taken with quite a few of the works on display. Charcoal sketches of gum tree bark and also a nice landscape which I end up buying. It’s all great. $2 entry for a worthy local cause. I’m in need of a new apron so we pick up a Boorowa one. $20. Daughter and I are quite interested in some wool and woollen products in stalls nearby. We both end up paying an arm and a leg for some home spun Alpaca yarn for scarf knitting. The packs have photos of the actual beast who’s fleece it is on them. No dyes the batch number is the name of the animal. We each happen to choose wool from a couple of alpacas who are guard animals for a flock of sheep.

The facilities are humming and in need of a rest stop the long queues at the public toilet block make me grateful to the Kenny’s of the world as I utilise the portable facilities nearby. Man, have portable toilets come a long way!

We replenish cash supplies and continue browsing up the street. There’s a cool wooden products stall which has some tempting stuff. Best to wait until the house is finished. Returning on the far side of the street we get a $10 wood fired pizza to share for lunch. Daughter grabs a sausage sandwich. We all get drinks.

Finally having had a full and enjoyable day in Boroowa it’s off home to Grenfell with a stop in Young to buy fuel. It’s cheaper in Young than other towns around the traps – this week anyway. We stopped at a hopeless little gallery at Mirr? Between Boorowa and Young and we take a spin down the main street of Young. Reminded us of Narrabri. Rather big, but they haven’t ruined the architecture of the street along the way over the years.

The scenery as you drive from Boorowa to Young is really beautiful. Especially at the moment with the pastures and crops looking pretty after all the rain. Not much in the way of blossom in Young anywhere we could see, which was a bit disappointing, but then they don't really make a big deal of it on their tourist website so we can't really complain. Cherry Festival would be the time to go I should think.

Before lobbing up to our Motel we take a spin out to Holy Camp picnic ground at Weddin Mtns National Park just to check it out. Ben Hall picnic area is a lot nicer we thought. On the way back out we spot about 5 crimson chats by the road. Then it’s home for a rest before dinner at the local chinese restaurant which is full of people and really cheap. Good food too especially for the price.

Saturday 4th October - Grenfell and Weddin Mountains NP

It rained heavily overnight and is still raining when we wake in the morning. The sky is clear at dawn but there are clearly showers passing and heading in from the west and south west. We take our time packing up. I do my exercises. By the time we are not far off being ready to go the rain comes down in torrents. We can’t decide what to do. Our plan for today was to wander the Weddin Bird Trails around Grenfell, ending at the Grenfell Motel overnight and tomorrow night. We decide to make our way towards Grenfell and decide what to do when we get there depending on the weather. The drive down from Forbes is pretty and particularly at the start there are masses of flowering trees everywhere. We are a bit puzzled that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of honeyeater activity. It’s pretty pointless trying to birdwatch in the rain and it’s still coming down, so it’s a pretty businesslike drive through the beautiful scenery.















Daughter is mesmerised by a single mature tree standing at the top of a rise in a nearby paddock. We stop and she takes many many photographs....




By the time we reach the intersection of the Mid western highway it’s still raining and the mountains to the south are shrouded in cloud. We decide to head towards west Wyalong and maybe even to Lake Cargellico or Hay. Still sure that there must be something to see in the flowering trees we pull over by a couple of huge gums near Ooma creek that are absolutely smothered in bloom. Blow me down if there aren’t a flock of superb parrots feeding in them and the smaller flowering trees just inside the nearby paddock. It’s still pretty wet, spitting rain, and the tall seeding grasses are dripping of course. Eventually, somewhat wet legged, we give up and turn our attention to the west once again.
A few kilometres down the track we come to a rest area and an enticing blacktop road heading off to the right. On the spur of the moment I turn in to see what we can see in the flowering trees round about. As we pull over it’s clear there’s a lot of birds about at this spot – birdsong is abundant, so we park and grab our binoculars and see what we can see. The birding is great here - too enthralling to think of photos apparently and I have none.
At first we examine a patch of native pine that is mixed with some flowering gums. We find red-capped robins, white winged trillers, brown-headed honeyeater, superb fairy wrens, immature golden whistler with its rich rufous on the back of the wing, striated pardalote and yellow rumped thornbills, with their glorious twittering call – these are just the highlights you understand. There are always the ubiquitous white winged choughs and apostlebirds and other common stuff. I wander along further down the road and we find more superb parrots. A young male sits happy as larry at the end of a high dead branch. There’s quite a flock of superb parrots hanging about. We turn and find a cockatiel perched high on another dead branch.
There’s quite few parrots flying back and forth and I think I see blue bonnets fly over to a distant dead tree then as I walk towards the spot they fly back past me to where I’ve come from. I continue on to sus out just what might still be up there as this was the tree where the flock of superb parrots took off to earlier. When I arrive the tree is empty, but almost immediately four parrots come flying over and land in the tree. At least two are blue bonnets. A pair of eastern rosellas soon joins them, but the two blue bonnets stick together and separate from the rosellas. Pretty special. I’ve walked quite a distance up the road so turn and head back towards mum and the car.
We decide to drive up on the off chance that mum might get to creep up and see the blue bonnets, but as we creep along a car speeds past us and disturbs the parrots. Well, we get to see them fly over anyway, and having watched them flying back and forth I’m confirmed in my suspicions that I’d seen several blue bonnets flying past over the last couple of days. Their belly is quite prominent - motly with red as they fly across.
By now the rain seems to be clearing. The cloud is quite high and it’s getting pretty warm. We are therefore encouraged to return to our original plan and head for Grenfell to get supplies for a bbq lunch.
First up we head out to Henry Lawson’s birthplace. The memorial has a plaque on each side with extracts from Lawson's poetry, particularly one that talks about being from Grenfell. We play the tourist snapping photos and then head into town. We're regretting not having a volume of Lawson's poety with us and daughter recalls what a wonderful experience it was staying with friends at Lake Eucumbene and being taken four wheel driving and camping through the snowy mountains and reading The Man from Snowy River by the campfire. The Man From Snowy River is Banjo Patterson of course not Henry Lawson. I think my favourite Henry Lawson poem is Faces in the Street. http://www.abpa.org.au/Bush_Poetry/Traditional_Poetry/faces_in_the_street.html

Grenfell is a nice little town. Quite atmospheric and the neighbourhoods are very pleasant. A magnificent Edwardian/Victorian type double storey house is for sale on a corner. My dream house! We turn into the main street.
We find a park immediately outside the butcher which is convenient. We wander in thinking to buy some sausages for a sizzle. It’s a real old school butcher, with a cold room that has a big sturdy wooden door and another room out the back and the smell which takes me back in an instant to my grandfather's butcher shop (which was on the Pacific Hwy in Artarmon in Sydney).
In the shopfront behind the counter is a huge butchers block and rows of rails with butchers hooks on them. Not much of anything in the refrigerated counter. Just a board up the back of the room listing what they’ve got and cost per kilo. You just have to take it on faith. We enquire after the availability of the sausages. Out of stock unfortunately. Hmm.. A fair deal of procrastination later I order four pieces of scotch fillet. The butcher looks well chuffed. We add four plain rissoles to the order and the butcher heads to the cool room. He returns with a slab of meat from which he proceeds to cut four large pieces. It appears quite different to the scotch fillet we pay 40 odd bucks a kilo for in Sydney. This is quite a different shape and quite heavily marbled. I’m a bit dubious, but I know marbling is good news in meat – so I guess we’ll see. As we go the butcher wishes us a great weekend in a very genuine way – not like the automaton style that is typical in the city where turnovers and customer numbers are high.

We stowe the meat in the esky and make our way to the local bakeries to sus out the sausage rolls. We’re feeling pretty slack having neglected to sample too many at the towns we have passed through. We hunted around in Forbes this morning but could only find a Vietnamese hot bread shop. Vietnamese bread shops don’t generally do good sausage rolls in my experience, so that’s written off from the start. Daughter ducked in to the bread shop while I ducked across the road to Woollies for some crackers to have with our cheese. She bought a “damper” and 6 bread rolls. The “damper” has a beautiful crust that looks like French bread- clearly they have no idea what damper really is. It looks and smells fantastic though and it’s been waiting in the car for lunch. We were lucky to get what we did. Apparently the “damper” was only available because they accidentally made one too many for an order.
...I will never stop missing the bakery in Manly that back in the days when it was illegal to make yeast bread on a Sunday, took to making damper instead. Boy oh boy, I almost wish they'd bring that law back. The damper that bakery sold was SOOOOO good. Every sunday morning a really long queue would snake out the door and down the street and you had to get in early or it would be all sold out... ah, damper, I wish I was better at making it......but I digress..
Grenfell seems to have two bakeries and neither has sausage rolls, just a couple of pies. We’re more or less pleased with that situation we really don’t need more food to be honest.
We head out towards Ben Hall’s Cave in Weddin Mountains National Park. It’s 23 odd kilometres and the scenery is typically lovely as it has been all weekend.









As we stop along the way for grey crowned babblers, red rumped parrots, fairy martins, some sort of singing bird of the fields (identifying these is causing us a good deal of angst), grey teal and Australasian grebes… it takes us a while! We follow the signs and turn into Bimbi State forest, a native Cyprus pine plantation which we understand now forms part of the national park.
Along the way we stop for some sort of bearded dragon that is sitting on the road. He’s quite a lairy yellow colour with a black tail and parts of his body are brown too.














We get out of the car and walk over with the camera. It just sits there! At first it just sits very still. Then when we don’t go away it changes it’s colour getting darker and darker. It puffs out it’s stomach and puffs out it’s beard trying to convince us that it’s a big nasty dangerous lizard and it might be best if we just bugger off.



We don’t off course and he is obliged to extend his efforts. We’re not real pleased to see him so comfy sitting on the road. We move away to see what he does. He eases up on the “I’m a BIG lizard” routine. He doesn’t move. Clearly these lizards are taught by their mum and dad that the worst thing you can do is to look scared or run. I touch his tail to encourage him to move off. Nothing. I keep trying and finally he decides this is getting a bit more intimate than he’s prepared to suffer and he runs at speed into the brush running on his hind legs.
We have a bit of a look at the bronzewing we saw fly off down the road a bit. Then we climb back in and drive through to the picnic area.
There’s a few people camping, but plenty of good picnic sites with campfire available. It’s getting quite late for lunch and who knows how long the rain will hold off, so we get right into building the fire. We‘ve brought all we need. Kindling, wood and blocksplitter. Son and I tend the fire while Daughter slices the bread. We enjoy the little slices with butter as we cook the steak – very delicious. Well above average, but I am not surprised. You could tell by the look of the crust that it was going to be very good.
The fire is going great guns and we think we’re about done on the steak when the fire just looses it’s oomph. Aaaggh! We chuck a bit more wood on and before long we have the steak between a couple of slices of bread, splooped on a bit of tomato sauce and we are each tucking in to the most delicious steak any of us can remember having in a very very long time.. in the case of the kids, possibly best they’ve ever had. It is just superb. Absolutely superb and even if we do say so ourselves, it is cooked to perfection. And only $23 odd a kilo!! This is the life! We wonder what the poor people are doing today!
The rissoles cook slowly as we eat our steak sambos. We’re pretty full, don’t really need more to eat. The steaks were pretty big. I’m almost relieved when the rissoles end up in the fire. Too salty and why bother when we are satiated by superb steak?
We relax for a bit enjoying the serenity and watching the bush tele. Each campsite is well separated. The sky is starting to look a bit threatening, so we pack up, and as the fire dies down we make sure it is properly out and for mum’s benefit move the car closer to the start of the walk to Ben Hall’s Cave. She will mosey around, but isn't capable of a swift walk up to the cave. The guys at the campsite nearby are very friendly and looking for participants for a night of fireworks later. No go for us. We’re heading off… and I’m pretty confident what they’re planning is actually illegal anyway. We head in along the path through some gorgeous seeding grasses. I stop to snap a photo.







As we move into the bush the wildflowers get denser and denser. Brachyscombe, and a stack of others some of which I’m sure you can also get in the nursery.





As we climb up the hill the rocks become more prominent and it is absolutely beautiful. These photos don't begin to do the scene justice, but even so it is very pretty.. It’s like going for a walk through someone’s rock garden.
The flowers and grasses intermingled in a most aesthetically pleasing arrangement. I’m blown away. Yellow paper daisies are here and there among the purples and blues. It is an absolute delight. The path is steep and we set a reasonable pace. Mum is moseying about down on the flatter area, this is way too difficult for the mobility impaired. Finally we come to the cave- which is quite small and fenced off from entry due to the risk of rock falls. There is an interpretive board, and best of all beautiful views across the plains. Wonderful.









The return path comes down from the lookout in a loop so you don’t have to back track at all. As Daughter and I come through we disturb a large dark macropod with a lighter stripe on it’s face. It’s not overly fussed. It moves further off, but then stops to continue feeding giving us an opportunity to take its portrait.





There are several other longer trails from this picnic and camping area, and another one to a couple of lookouts on the other side of the national park. You would never guess to look at the mountains from a distance, or even from the parking area that the bushland of the Weddin Mountains is so pretty. It is definitely worth a visit in spring. The flowers are all looking particularly happy with the rain over the last little while.
Our picnic concluded and the rain starting to close in, we head on back to our Motel in Grenfell. On the way out of the park we disturb a couple of eastern grey kangaroos and they bound away slowly. When we reach it, the motel is modest, which I guess is to be expected for 2 1/2 star. Not very expensive, but not cheap for what you get. It is quite a come down from the Forbes Lake Motel, that is for sure! However we’ve stayed in much much worse than this. It’s clean if a bit tired and it doesn’t smell too bad. Mum’s happy as the old beds are pretty soft how she likes them.
The youngsters decide to head off into the main street for a walk. They play on the monkey bars and stuff in the local park and generally have a bit of fun. Mum gets me to take her out to one of the bird trail sites that’s pretty close to town.
Company Dam is looking pretty desolate in some ways as the dam is quite empty and so all that area that is usually under water is just bare. There is some lovely forest around about though, with cypress pine. Lots of friar birds. I think probably the best find was a pair of very mature rufous whistlers. The male in his beautiful white throated plumage the female strongly rufous with striated plumage on the neck and breast. The male doesn’t colour like that for years and the female also takes many years to colour up to that intensity. I wander along the tracks in a circle then drive down to collect mum from where she’s got to near the dam and we head back. Again there are same species of lizard on the roads. In this spot they must love the accumulated warmth in the sealed road. We park and walk over to them. The dragon closest too us is just SO not fussed by our presence. No puffing up from this guy, he just looks at us and figures we’ll just go away eventually.
I walk down the road to the second lizard and he dashes off into the leaf litter and sits very very still quickly changing colour to the exact shade of old leaves.

He’s off the road so we head on back to the first guy who clearly has no plan of going anywhere. I decide maybe it might be a better idea if he was a little more wary of people, so I pick him up. At first he’s not sure what he should do and he just stays still. Then he decides enough is enough and he want’s to go. I put him down and he takes off for a nearby paddock. He’s had a bit of a fright, but hopefully he’ll be quicker to move off next time. As we pull out in the car the other lizard down the road walks purposefully out on to the road and starts bobbing his head. We drive slowly past him, he just sits there. Well, I guess the locals must be pretty careful drivers and must like the lizards – we haven’t seen much in the way of lizard road kill. Only one in all our travels so far.


Friday 3 October - Forbes, The Dish, Bogan Gate and Condobolin


No flies on us thismorning! Mum and I arrive at Gum Swamp by 5:45 am. The light is very bad for birdwatching, but it is always lovely to see the dawn and the calls of the waterfowl in the background are not hard to take. I park by the bird hide and take a walk up towards the Newell Highway stopping along the way to see what I can given the light impediment. Pink eared ducks aplenty. A pair is slowly shepherding half a dozen ducklings around. So cute! A range of other ducks are also there which I take a guess at and later confirm as hard heads, grey teal, pacific black ducks. Australasian grebes. Then bonanza! A hoary headed grebe. My first which is in twitching terms known as “a lifer”! Our noisy friends from yesterday are here in plentiful numbers. I still can’t be sure what they are. I’ll check the calls when we get home. Maybe singing bushlarks or maybe rufous songlarks.
Back at the bird hide I watch a clamorous reed warbler eating a dragonfly. Or trying to anyway. It pecks at it. Drops it, picks it up again in a cycle that proceeds for some minutes. The interesting birdlife is staying away from the hide today. The mud foundations of a welcome swallows nest are visible on the wall. This nest was in good order and was full of baby swallows the first time we discovered Gum Swamp – let me tell you baby welcome swallows snuggled up together are incredibly cute. Such pretty faces. There was also a white plumed honeyeaters nest just outside the hide at that time.
We take our time and gradually make our way around the reserve, along the way we see several troupes of grey crowned babblers, blue faced honeyeaters, white winged choughs – I’ll have to catch up on mum’s list later on. Eastern Rosellas, Galahs. The sky is full of birds circling, maybe woodswallows. After several hours we climb back in the car and start to move off. “Hang on!!” Sings out mother. “Back up! What are they?” We back up and sure enough, mum has spotted something special over on some dead branches about 50 – 100 metres across the reserve. We get a good bead on them. Solid green with yellowy/orange looking beaks. Mum says she sees one with a yellow head, but the ones I’m looking at are just green. Slightly darker in appearance on the backs, vibrant green tummies unadulterated with other colour splashes. Like birds everywhere they are quick to realise we’re looking at them and four birds fly off quickly in the direction of the bird hide. We pull out the guide books and hunt around for something similar. Superb Parrots!!! AWESOME!! What a day! Grey crowned babblers are always special. Did I mention there were also both species of spoonbill in breeding plumage.. the earlier hoary headed grebes and now superb parrots. Love Gum Swamp – the local STP. A fantastic place for a bit of a morning walk and birdwatch.
A mobile call from Daughter at about 8:30 and home for a brekkie of almond and honey bran flakes with rhubarb spiced with just a touch of cardamom. We decide to head into town to visit the Bushrangers Hall of Fame at the Albion Hotel. A quick stop at supa IGA to buy some shampoo – Einstein here accidentally packed just a bottle of conditioner. Meanwhile while mum gets herself organised at the car.
We head into the bar of the Albion and purchase our tickets $5 for adults $4 for a concession and we are ushered in to the entrance way before the heavy door is locked behind us. Apparently there is a second set of stairs that will take us back up into the hotel at the end. The Bushrangers hall of fame is set up in the cellars of the hotel which provides a dank and grimy sort of ambience. The displays are a bit old and some framed information sheets are a bit beyond their best. There is a range of questionable information on large display panels..questionable in terms of historical accuracy that is. The highlights for me were a transcription of a letter from the police officer that shot Ben Hall to his father who was surveyor general. A cat of nine-tails, ball and chain, leg irons, neck and leg irons and such like which were mounted on the walls round about. Another cabinet had a chinese opium pipe from the 1860s, there were guns from the period and earlier, including a navy colt and ammunition for it. Ben Hall carried a navy colt. These things were all very interesting, and I'm pleased to see the kids and mum also seem to be finding it very interesting.
Some of the cellar rooms were set up for different alleged purposes. One as an opium den, and another with just a table and chair where they allege that the Ben Hall gang met to plan their robbery of the gold escort (Really?). Both of these were fairly underwhelming, everything covered in dust. Another display described Sir Frederick Pottinger as a dedicated and diligent officer – which is at somewhat at odds with Nick Bleszynksi’s book – though now I think of it they didn’t say he was competent or that he objectively collected and assessed the facts and dealt fairly with people, or understood the local culture or natural environment - LOL all of which seem to be his greatest faults judging by Mr Blezynski’s version of the events. I suppose we can let him have dedicated and diligent. I guess first and foremost The bushrangers Hall of Fame brought home that when it comes to history the “facts” can be hard to be sure of. Everyone involved has their own truth and history is generally written by the victor.
I think that the museum would be even more interesting if they told some of the amusing trivia, like that the Australian saying “blind Freddy could see that!” apparently originated from Mr Frederick Pottinger after the Ben Hall gang set up a rough straw effigy in a premise they had long since left and Pottinger broke in and pumped it full of lead for quite some time. This after the gang had been leading him a merry dance for quite a while. The mistake led to Pottinger being nicknamed “blind Freddy”.



From here we decide to head to the cemetery where we have no trouble whatever in locating Ben Hall’s grave. There is also a plaque close by commemorating a number of other people of the time, like warrigal walsh, billy dargin and others who were players in the Ben Hall saga, but whose graves are unmarked. Next we decide that we will have a look at Kate Kelly’s grave.









The historical society also notes the grave of Captain Cook’s great grand niece – but why that should be worth noting is beyond me!!
We continue on the Bogan Gate road and follow the directions through kilometres of fields to Ben Hall’s Place.

It's quite a distance and we begin to wonder if we've missed a turn or something, but no, finally we spot a billboard in the distance. Beyond the bill board the historical society has erected a small plaque at a clump of remnant trees where Ben Hall is believed to have been shot. The billboard seems to be much more partisan on the side of Hall than was the Hall of Fame. It brings to mind Nick Bleszynski's comments that local opinion is still very divided on Ben Hall. I am glad we came through the road from Eugowra, and I imagine that the bush there must have been akin to the cover at this place when Ben Hall camped out here in hiding. A lot of imagination is required! Well, the site is still pretty isolated at any rate. We unlatch the gate and wander in. We all take a few minutes imagining the events of that day. My mind flitting on images of poor Ben Hall - who never killed anyone - being pumped full of lead. Clearly I am among those sympathetic to the bush ranger in this case.
We hear what sounds like yellow rumped thornbills twittering in the trees but it’s quite warm and very windy and the birds are staying hunkered down in the tree so we don’t actually spot them to confirm. I give it a try though, and when I return to the car the kids are entertaining themselves dancing on the road. A bit of swing that Son learnt through work. .. yeah.. there's no end to the cool activities the world's best employer offers for staff....well to the engineers anyway..
Not really understanding where we are well enough to continue exploring from here, we head back to Forbes where we freshen up and Son grabs some shorts – it’s too hot for the black jeans he was wearing. Then it’s off to Parkes to have a look at the Dish. We stop in Parkes to get some money in the main street. They were playing country music on the public loudspeakers. Kenny Rogers. It felt very very weird. Very American. I was really uncomfortable and felt like an alien in the environment. In the city they play classical music to deter gangs of teenagers in places. I guess in Parkes the target offenders are roaming city slickers. LOL We didn’t like Parkes much at a glance. It seemed just a featureless, fairly characterless large town and we were keen to move on. Though I should say my brother-in-law lived in Parkes for work for quite a time and says it's a lovely town with really nice people, so I'm sure it would grow on you if you were spending some time here.
When we get out of Parkes heading north the country side is really really lovely. Rolling hills with higher hills very scenic in the distance. Fields of bright yellow canola, rich green wheat making a beautiful contrast to occasional grazing pastures. Finally we reach the turn off to the dish and drive between a couple of fields sown broadacre. One side bright canola, the other the deep green of the wheat. I nearly have a fit when as we pass I see a crimson chat fly up. Son is driving and is frantically instructed to turn around. Fortunately the birds are right opposite a parking bay which seems to be intended for viewing the dish. There are at least 4 crimson chats flitting about and returning to sit on the wires of the fence, giving us ample opportunity to observe them. Finally they clear off. After a few minutes a pair of diamond firetails takes their place briefly before flying off. I later discover daughter has amused herself by videoing the episode! Crazy birdwatching oldies! .. and there’s the dish of course, so I can’t take all the credit! Though she only took video of the dish from the viewing bay. It is no hardship soaking up the scenery here.















We head in to the Dish information centre which has a large parking area with lovely planting that has been done by NSW Forestry. There are blue faced honeyeaters flying about and some other birds also, but we’re hot and fairly over the out of car sight seeing so we don’t go in, just get some photos of the dish.



















We had intended to go up to Peak Hill to have a look at the open cut experience, but when I tell them that there is an entrance fee, everyone discovers they didn’t want to do it THAT much! We decide instead to head to Trundle and then Condobolin and then back to Forbes. We decide it makes sense to fill up before we head off. The lady at the checkout says that the hot wind was forecast to blow up some rain, so fingers crossed!
It’s a fairly straightforward drive to Bogan Gate. Bogan Gate like Parkes has a very nice and very new Welcome to sign. We stop to take a photo.


The sign is right near a short avenue of beautiful red flowering gums full of blossom (unfortunately you can't see the blossoms in the wind blown trees in the photo). There are some birds about but we don’t have the time or patience to hunt them down in the heat and wind and they are apparently intent on avoiding us doing so, so we give it up.
We briefly pay our respects to the local war memorial, and I think this one is a particularly nice one. Located as is usual in the middle of the cross section of two of the main roads in town.


Next stop the Breaker Morant plaque around the corner. They say the plaque is "in recognition" of the Breaker. I think it should be in memorium for him. Sometimes the politics of history is tricky to navigate and the Breaker was a controversial figure, having been shot by the British Army for shooting prisoners during the Boer War. There was and is a widespread view in Australia that the Breaker was a scapegoat. A dispensible colonial that could easily be sacrificed to take the heat off Kitchener for orders that were given in a savage no holds barred approach to stamping out opposing guerilla fighters. Indeed the Boer war is very interesting and very similar to the War in Iraq in many respects. Another war entered into for spurious reasons, another war where victory was declared prematurely; another war where the not actually vanquished continued on via an insurgency and guerilla tactics. I recently saw an interview with the guy who did the studies on the psychological effects of being a prisoner and prison guard and he commented, that the fellow who committed the worst of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib should certainly take responsibility, but that Rumsfeld and his cronies should be in prison alongside him. I have to say I agree, and it was the same for Breaker Morant.
The fate of the Breaker was a significant early step to a shift in the thinking of Australians and in our approach to participation in multi-national forces. Our military has not forgotten the lessons of history. The Breaker was not the only incident where Australians serving as part of the British forces were executed by the British in the Boer War. In another case after several Australians were executed (unfairly in the view of Australians back home) Australians were outraged and memorials were erected in their home country to those who were executed - much to the puzzlement if not anger of the British of course. Major culture clash. We learned though. In the Great War Australia made sure that the British did not have the power to execute our soldiers and of course the British lobbied hard to be allowed to shoot our soldiers there too - but our Government held firm. No way! I guess we should note also that the Breaker was a very well regarded horse breaker and poet in Australia at the time..his work was published alongside our other great bush poets in the Bulletin. You can read his poetry including the final poem he wrote before his execution on http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/moranth/poetrybulletin.html#contents
The Breaker is also famous for shouting at the firing squad before his execution "shoot straight you bastards".






Anyway, Farewell Breaker. We snap some photos and off we go heading up a pretty quiet, narrow but sealed road towards Trundle. I guess you could say we trundled off to Trundle LOL
Trundle has an extremely wide main street, so we take a couple of photos of that, note the very long wooden verandah and then we head on, taking the turn at the sign to Condobolin.
The drive down from Trundle to Condo is beautiful. It is made even better by the threatening thunderstorm which is building to the south and west. We stop to have some cheese, tomato and crackers, at a nicely vegetated spot. As we sit we see the storm developing and finally see that it is raining in the distance to the south and west. Marvellous!! I photograph some bark on an ancient roadside tree. It’s pretty spectacular, so I hope the photo does the real thing justice.


Lunch completed we head off with Son reading to us from Noam Chomsky's Imperial Ambitions as we travel. Interesting book.










The Landscape is made even more beautiful by the rain that decends like a gauzy veil across the fields and distant mountains. We find a nice viewpoint to snap some photos.















After a while the rain starts bucketing down. We can see the rain sheeting across the road and it gets so heavy it gets to the point where we can hardly see in front of us and we are slowed right down. The volume of water on the roadsides (and potential for getting bogged) doesn’t encourage one to pull over so we press on at a slow speed thoroughly enjoying and marvelling at the downpour.

video
Finally we arrive in Condobolin which from this entrance seems a bit underwhelming, but we find the main road and find it’s a nice honest little town and we like it. Daughter is driving and she explores a little. We head up one street with a “woman” tree which we photograph. Delicacy prevents my publishing it here for fear it may offend some viewers. Then I get some shots of some great bark on a few of the other street trees, tippy toeing over the carpet of tiny gum nuts on the earth around the trees which is soft from the rain. I particularly enjoy the distinctive smell of the inland in the wet and the water trickling in the gutters.


We take our time making our way to the exit to the Lachlan Valley Way. We cross the Lachlan (Named for Governor Lachlan Macquarie) and I am moved to stop and hop out in light drizzle and go and take some snaps of the river.




There's also a lovely riverside memorial park with play equipment and picnic facilities and what look to be electric bbqs. I stop to pay my respects at the Condobolin memorial Honour Roll before heading back to the car.










It’s getting pretty late when we finally set off in light rain along the Lachlan Valley Way back to Forbes.
The scenery is similar to that around Coonamble, though with more recent water around than when we were in Coonamble this time last year. At least that is how we perceive it. The Lachlan Valley Way runs more or less along the river and every now and then we take a short detour to check out the river, which narrows as we head upstream and eastward. It looks so placid, you wouldn’t guess that the whole district can flood. Anyway we photograph some more awesome bark along the way, though it proves difficult to capture well.




Back in beautiful Forbes we decide to eat at “Spice” which has tables on the wide balcony of one of the historic buildings. A challenge for mum up a large flight of stairs, but she manages OK. The food is fairly simple traditional fare, the ambience was great and the service friendly. We have an enjoyable meal and head on home for journal writing and bed.
Dinner was a shared entres of fried camembert with plum sauce and banana wrapped in bacon with mango sauce. Mains most of us had surf and turf. With Acton beef scotch fillet from Queensland. Son had scotch fillet with diane sauce. Served with a side of veges including potato bake. Dessert was disappointing though and with the benefit of hindsight we should have skipped it.

Thursday 2 October - A drive to Ben Hall Country.

It is Thursday before the October long weekend. We make a late start we’re in no rush and more concerned that the drivers are rested before the long drive. We take The Northern Road to the mountains. The crabapples and cherry trees all smothered in blossom. A brief stop in Leura to change drivers we decide to pull up outside Everglades for the views of the gardens from the road. Purple tulips, in a bed and swathes of bluebells under the trees making a beautiful picture. Moving on we head up through Leura Mall lined with pink cherry trees making a glorious display. The highway also is lined with spring blossoms. Next stop Hartley valley tea rooms and gallery, a favourite with daughter who visits it regularly. We enjoy browsing and they have a range of nice pieces on display.
Back in the car we are heading to Orange. It is wonderful to be on the open road once again. Through Bathurst, the elms are vibrant with their globular green flowers and other spring flowers are also in full burst. Weeping cherries are popular and we admire several in the front yards of a modest federation homes along the main drag. Past Bathurst we take the turn to Millthorpe and admire the beautiful rolling pastures before finally motoring into the wonderfully atmospheric federation streetscapes of the village. We quickly spot the Old Mill Café Restaurant and get a park close by. The gardens around the street are all looking lovely with some beautiful camellias and early iris. The Old Mill Cafe is opposite the lolly shop, which for some reason is closed today and there are no signs posted as to what the normal opening hours are.
The Old Mill café is doing a roaring trade today. Some lovely tables outside are occupied which is not surprising as it is a perfect spring day. We opt for a window seat indoors away from the other diners. As we wait for our orders we observe a dog chase a boy on a bike up the footpath opposite, yapping at the boys heels. Though he pedalled vigorously to get away, glancing down at behind him frequently, the boy didn’t look overly worried. Having escorted this presumptuous interloper a sufficient distance from his territory the dog retires. We can sense the smug satisfaction pouring from him. As he turns we can almost feel him mentally groan as he becomes aware that his none too happy owner is on his trail. She gestures at him and is clearly telling him off, but we are unable to lip read – the dog gives a cursory submissive posture as he happily trots around the back, clearly of the opinion that the woman is just one the unavoidable obstacles that just has to be dealt with in the course of his doggy profession. Afterall, the job is done, and done well.
Our lunch arrives. 3 of 4 have ordered the beer battered fish with beer battered fries. I have opted for the open steak sandwich. The food is fairly moderate in price and is good value, but we all agree not a particularly memorable meal. The service is friendly but slow. The establishment seems quite surprised at how busy they are on this Thursday. The slow service means lunch takes us longer than I had expected or hoped and it is pushing 2 oclock by the time we get away.
Another change of driver and we pack back in the car. Straight through Orange. Such a lovely town and the blossoms here are also in full flight. Elms, weeping cherries, crabapples and flowering plums particularly catching our attention.
Out of Orange we head straight through down Cargo Road. It is a beautifully scenic drive. There has clearly been some rain, but the dams have a long way to go to reach capacity. As we travel along we begin to find fields of golden flowering canola, but the blossom is not as thick as it could be. Paddocks with sheep, and paddocks lying fallow for now. The countryside is just beautiful in this region and we’re all loving the drive.
Next stop Canowindra, we come in via the quieter streets and are somewhat puzzled as to the where we will find the historic buildings of which we have heard. A few turns around the town and we reach the main street. Most premises are occupied with a range of small businesses. However pretty much every premise is overdue for some maintenance. A coat of paint would go a long way to making the town seem a bit less ramshackle. A lot of potential for Canowindra though. It is at present completely unspoilt. We note “the shearing shed hair and beauty”, and another beautician down the street. Butcher, IGA a few others. We pass a bakery and decide to continue our hobby of sampling sausage rolls. We all go in. The pies and sausage rolls look pretty average. The croissants look very good. We end up with a choccy milkshake, choccy croissant and apricot Danish. The milkshake seems to take forever to make, and it seems like the girl serving needs to remake it several times. Very odd. Doesn’t seem to have any malt in it – we had requested double malted. The croissants are every bit as delicious as they looked. First class. Son’s sausage roll smelt as average as it looked, I wasn’t tempted to take a bite. A decision he validated with his review. Disappointing.
We hit the road to Eugowra, the sun tipping down towards the horizon. It is a very pretty drive from Canowindra to Eugowra. Very very pretty. Fields of crops, golden canola, and the rich vibrant green of what we assume to be wheat. Across in the near distance low hills provide a beautiful backdrop. None cleared. Indeed there is still quite a reasonable amount of trees and cover here and the in the country side all the way from Orange – at least visually. It makes a nice contrast to the overcleared land and hills around Gundagai and south to the Victorian border along the Hume Hwy. Along the road we pass a hot spot of birds and daughter (who is driving) is instructed to chuck a U-ey and pull over so we can have a good look. A fair sized flock of fairy martins stopping to drink in a pool of standing water. Rufous songlarks (?) flying and singing enthusiastically all around. We turn back around towards Eugowra and pass down a detour where the road bridge has collapsed to a creek or irrigation channel crossing. Eugowra is a sweet little town, very small but there are a few people around at this end of the day. However it’s late and we don’t stop. Instead we make the turn up the Escort Way. It is very pretty and I find myself wondering how it compares scenically to the Cargo Road, as it is a more direct route down from Orange to Eugowra. After a few kilometres we pull over in the Escort Rock rest stop. There is a plaque describing in brief the events of the robbery of the gold escort about which I have recently read in Nick Bleszynski’s book on Ben Hall. There’s a few birds around. Mum wanders around for a bit of a birdwatching. A very coarse croaking call gets my attention and I spot an apostle bird high in a gum before it flies off. The actual site of the robbery is on adjoining private land but you can go through a closed gate for a look OK and this I decide to do.



Up a fairly modest slope a sign points out the wheel ruts from the original road (though they are not particularly easy to distinguish). I follow the path of the road as it rounds the turn before arriving at escort rock which of course provides a suitable ambush site. I enjoy walking along trying to see the original path and enjoy the solitude imagining the events of the robbery in the golden glow of the late afternoon light. I walk on past the rock into the more wooded area and return to look back towards the rock.

It is very quiet here, not even much birdsong. I look up the hill and wonder how far it is to the site where the horses were held waiting. As I return down the hill a couple arrive and start the walk up to the rock. We exchange a friendly g’day and the wife and I have a bit of a chat, the hubby having gone ahead up the hill.
Back again on the road it’s past 5 oclock and sun is dipping low to the horizon. Shortly after departing Eugowra on the Forbes-Eugowra road the broad countryside evolves into wooded country lining the road with native timber. Finally we come into Forbes and hunt around for a short while before finding our accommodation – the Lake Forbes Motel – which is clean and comfortable. Great value. Definitely at the upper end of 3 ½ star motels. We have a twin room and a family room which could actually accommodate us all, but which involves a fairly substantial set of stairs which are somewhat of a problem for mum. Once you’re up the stairs though it’s a big comfortable room with a double bed and 3 good sized singles. Very comfortable.
Our twin is at ground level and is fresh and clean smelling. A very pleasant room indeed. I dip my toes in the pool which is beautifully refreshing though too cool to really be tempting for a dip. We unload the car and head into Forbes to pick up some supplies and something for the hungry ones to eat. Forbes is a very nice town. Not spoiled by national or international chains too much. Definitely much nicer than Mudgee! LOL Plenty of evocative heritage buildings. Beautiful old street lamps. In particular the building with the bushrangers hall of fame in it is a very beautiful building. Refreshed and stocked up with some king island yoghurt and subway for Son we head on back to the motel. We have a light dinner and chill out talking – and writing this of course. A tiring and enjoyable day. And a really lovely drive through the beautiful central west. Gods own country.