Griffith, Darlington Point, West Wyalong, Dubbo and Tamworth (Part 1)
Greetings Comrades, our last week has been a hectic one trying to make the Queensland Border during this global pandemic. Our spirits have been high through the tough times and being out of touch from society in the NSW outback has helped with our piece of minds. If I had any wise words of wisdom during this current time, it would be that everyone (baring those who are ill or lack immunity) should go country, find a free camp spot, keep your distances and enjoy the sunsets, bird life and mother nature’s serenity, nothing good can happen being locked in a box watching free to air Australian journalism, to me that sounds like prison.
I am currently writing this blog update in Tamworth NSW in a very abandoned caravan park. We have just had some bad luck with the car, spirits have been low the past few days, but we can see the light glimmering over the northern Tamworth ranges. But we will get back to Tamworth and start at the beginning…. Griffith!
Where to start with Griffith… Well we didn’t like it much. I could almost finish the Griffith post and leave it at that……….. The end!
We arrived in Griffith late in the afternoon, we were finally excited to see a bit of civilisation after our remote drive through New South Wales wheat and corn belt. We noticed the changes in the landscape, the soil turning from pink to a dark red, the birds of prey that circled above changed from giant Eagles to graceful Falcons and the bland paddocks of wheat changed to uniformed old grape vines. I was excited entering the township of Griffith, I’d imagined it to be a bit like Mildura, an oasis in the middle of nowhere, I guess in actual fact it was an oasis in the middle of nowhere, I just felt it lacked character and class.
We must have driven through commission area to begin with, old weathered homes, overgrown gardens, kids playing on the roofs of the neighbours’ cars and junkies hanging around their stock rear wheeled commodores wearing oversized tracksuit tops on a hot Griffith afternoon. Yas and I looked at each other in the car thinking what have we got ourselves into.
Before I get into the story a little more, I should explain that Yasmin and I were planning to try and find some harvest work in Griffith for a couple of weeks prior to venturing on to our next location. You may as well of guessed that it didn’t happen…
We found a caravan park on the other side of the railway tracks behind the industrial area of Griffith. We decided to only book two nights as we didn’t know what to expect when we were going to go job hunting the next day. The park owners were lovely and it had good hot water pressure so I will give Griffith a tick in the box for that. It was also the first time we got to encounter what the average backpacker life entailed of an evening, sleeping in tents, cooking communally, rolling darts and idling the car every hour to charge their appliances.
You learn things every day. This was our first lesson. Never apply for jobs on a weekend…. Lesson number two, don’t apply for jobs through job agencies, they will not get back to you.
The next day we woke with hope, we did some much needed clothes washing and ventured out with the pups to find some work. We thought we would start with the local information centre and hopefully get pointed in the right direction for some work. The day started off greatly…. Not. Griffith isn’t the best when it comes to dog friendly towns. They do have a dog park, all five by five meters of one if you could call it that. The biggest thing it lacked however was foot paths, and the dogs did not enjoy a single minute walking through the jungled nature strips that contained every prickle in the weed encyclopedia.
Our 25 minute walk into town turned into an hour walk, stopping every 30 seconds to pull out the next bindi. There were even occasions where we had to carry our dogs through knee high weeds, looking very super touristy for the locals. We finally arrived into the heart of Griffith where we found the information centre under an old Airforce fighter plane. The lady behind the counter wasn’t of much help, she gave us a couple of job agencies numbers and websites to send our resumes. Being a weekend, we couldn’t walk into to the job agencies and talk face to face, so we grabbed a coffee down the main street and quickly sent of our resumes and a cover note.
It sounds like I am an old man ranting in this post, I only have one last one before we head to Darlington Point, this falls back to the main street of Griffith. Who designs a major town street facing east to west with no tree cover, sunlight in your eyes in the morning and vice versa of an evening… oh the same guy who designed Canberra. Well done!
Sunday was a chore day for us, we went to the supermarket for supplies and Bunnings a few times for caravan purposes. Sunday must have been a day off for the backpackers, when we left the caravan park a group of four men were drinking VB tins and when we got back late they were still drinking VB tins. I went to put the rubbish out that night and you should have seen the bins, probably 5 cases worth of VB tins… fair effort lads.
Monday was pack up day. We decided to head to a free camping spot 30km south in a town called Darlington point that fell onto the Murrumbidgee river. We thought we would wait a few more days to see if we would get a bite with our job applications. We woke up early and drove the dogs up to Hermits cave which lies on a scenic hill overlooking Griffith. This is where Griffith becomes positive. The early morning dawn view was incredible. Looking over the town’s street lights as the sun started breaking through the dark sky. The sky turned to a blood orange, and the hills turned black creating a silhouette. It was beautiful to describe it simply. We ended up walking till the sun was high, we saw some impressive bird life and even encountered my first Major Mitchell sighting in the wild, it was an exciting time!!
So that was Griffith, there were some positives, if anyone is thinking of going I’d highly recommend not taking your dogs and stay just out of town in places like Yenda and Hanwood, these little towns were really well kept and were close to the big wineries and attractions. My Uncle in West Wyalong did ask me if this was my first time experiencing outback NSW, and he explained it very well.
“Remote Outback NSW towns are rough, Griffith will look good once you experience places like Bourke”
We arrived in Darlington Point around lunch time. We turned right instead of heading into town and ventured into a state park that fell onto the Murrumbidgee river. There was no one in the whole park and we had free choice of any beach (riverbank) to choose from. We ended up staying at Boomerang beach. (They call them beaches because the riverbank was all beautiful clean sand)
Talk about a view, River at our doorstep, surrounded by huge ancient towering gums. In the evenings and mornings, you could time the huge colony of Corella’s flying over the river, the size of the colony was gigantic and when flying over it sounded like the hum of a helicopter.
We had a very relaxing time at the river, Moose never left the water once again waiting for the big carp to splash, Yasmin did her crocheting (something different) and I fished and practiced the fiddle (The corellas sounded nicer squawking in the trees)
Darlington Point was a nice small quiet town consisting of the essentials a Butcher, Post office, small supermarket and Pub. Being St Patricks day we went to the pub and ordered a couple of handles (that’s New South Wales term for a pot) and a sixer of Guinness to take back to camp. I spoke to the lady behind the bar and asked if she knew of any jobs going around. She unfortunately didn’t know of any however was incredibly helpful and wrote down a few Facebook groups in the local area that we could post our job adds onto. We liked the idea of this and to my disgust being an analog guy living in a digital world started posting resumes on all local social media boards to places we were travelling to.
Lesson number three; try and get work at a town before getting there.
I ended up finding a website called www.greynomadsjobs.com it’s designed for retired nomads however it did have many jobs that suited us. There was heaps of work advertised all over Australia, that being either paid or volunteer work for meals and accommodation. I ended up finding a job advertisement in the hinterlands of Queensland picking citrus for 6 to 8 weeks, I applied and the next day we had scored the job! The best thing was that we had accommodation provided for a small price and that our dogs could stay on premises. Our only dilemma was we needed to be up there in 10 days. So we had one more relaxing day at Darlington Point and planned a 10 day trip to get us to our work place in Queensland. Our next destination West Wyalong!
It’s hard not to be poetic about West Wyalong. It’s a small rural mining and farming town in the heart of NSW. Surrounded by wheat farms with the odd grazing sheep in the paddocks West Wyalong just hits you. The big windy street with old two-story buildings and endless pubs. It reminds me of the small towns in England, except that it isn’t green and cold, it sits against the pink soil and the beating sun. The back streets seem endless until they hit the train and vanish into the fields of wheat. Most of the township is old, big quarter of an acre lots, colourful succulents that sit next to the old steel chook wire front fences and the smell of jasmine that lingers through the air captures the essence of this old NSW country town.
The biggest novelty is the towering antennas that are tied to the rusty corrugated tin roofs. If you could see West Wyalong from a hill, you’d almost rename the town to the city of antennas.
Alright enough with the fantasy book descriptions…
I have family on my mother’s side who live in West Wyalong. They have been living there for four years and it was time I paid a visit, plus, the convenience that it fell on our route to our next destination, Dubbo. We stayed two nights, I would have liked to have stayed more but we had a deadline to meet in Queensland for work. My Aunty Rick was the hostess with the mostest, I felt a couple of kilos heavier by the time I left. Uncle Matt was our tour guide on the second day. West Wyalong (being far from everything) made a big day in terms of sightseeing. We went to Weethalle where we witnessed an old silo painting by the Melbourne based street artiest “Heesco”. The town was pretty barren like most country towns, boarded up shops and abandoned homes of what once used to be a viable farming town dependent on the railway silo. We ended up making the day a small pub crawl, a beer in every town we went to. Weethalle had an old pub just across the road from the silo. We learnt that in NSW you no longer ask for a measurement of drink, instead, they always will pour a schooner without question.
Lesson number four, don’t ask for measurement of beer in NSW or you look like a dick!
We then ventured on to a town called Ungarie, I had to guess why we were going to this town and its particular importance to me. It took me a while before I figured it out. If you’re an AFL (Aussie rules football) fan you’d most likely guess, however if you follow Essendon then you’d definitely guess that this was the hometown of the Danhier Brothers. Like the town before us it was once a striving town and not much was left to show of it, however next to the Pub was the Big Sherrin Football, a dedication to the Daniher Brothers. We spent some time being tourists trying to capture those novelty photos before we hit the pub and had a delicious ‘Tooheys Old’ beer.. maybe two…
I forgot to mention before too that on our journey from Darlington Point to West Wyalong we drove through a few towns that had novelty statues. One of them was the big Tennis racquet devoted to the Australian tennis star Evonne Goolagong Cawley in a town called Barrellen. We also witnessed a statue of a Kelpie in a town called Ardlethan, Ardlethan’s claim to fame being the hometown of the Kelpie Dog. We had to get a picture with our crazy Kelpie!
Our next town on the agenda was Lake Cargellico, from the name you might have guessed it was on a big lake. Yasmin was very envious of the lake, especially watching all the water ski boats on the crystal glass lake, the water skier inside of her was screaming with jealousy. It was a beautiful lake, it stretched for miles! It’s hard to believe something like this would be out this way in the dry landscape of outback NSW.
Lake Cargellico is probably the first town Yasmin and I have come across where we have encountered a black fella/white fella population. She was a rough town, bars on all the pub windows and worn buildings. The white fellas were the scary ones though. We went to go get a beer at the local ‘Bowlo’ (Bowling club), there must have been a funeral on that day, the whole town was practically there wearing flannel in dedication, and they were beyond drunk. Drunk to the point that it made us uncomfortable. Even made my Uncle uncomfortable and he is almost 7 foot. As Uncle Matt said “you haven’t experienced outback NSW before have you…. She’s rough” Almost made Griffith look good.
So after many kilometres of driving we went through Ungarie again for another few cold froths (our last time for a while because as of now all pubs are closed in the country due to the pandemic) and then to home where we relaxed for the night watching Quentin Tarantino films.
The next day after some tucker we left North bound to Dubbo. Yas found a good review online of a dog friendly caravan Park 50 minutes south of in a town called Peak Hill.
We ventured through a town called Forbes ‘home of the Elvis festival’. Forbes was a beautiful old town, and when we get back from our big trip I would definitely go back to experience the Elvis festival, it looks magical! We then went through Parkes. If you were around when the Moon landing was happening (or if you’re a conspiracist “wasn’t happening”) you would know Parkes to be famous for the Big Dish that helped broadcast the Moon landing all over the world! Yas and I play this game when we are driving, whoever see’s the landmark first wins 1000 imaginary points, Yas saw first obviously!
The Dish was incredible, the information centre was closed due to the virus, however we were very lucky to witness the dish actually moving. Many photos later and an hour’s drive up the road we finally made it to Peak Hill.
We chose Double D caravan park because it had a great reputation with dogs on premises. It had a dog run and separate dining areas that you could take your dog in with you too. We mainly chose to stay here though because it offered a doggy day care centre (free of charge) which meant Yas and I could venture into Dubbo and experience the Open range zoo!
The next day was zoo day! After a big morning walk with the dogs we ventured north to Dubbo. We hadn’t booked tickets yet as we wanted to suss out the zoo because of the virus situation. The zoo was open which was a plus and there were hardly any cars in the parking lot. For all the haters out there, we were in an open-air zoo, plenty of fresh air and followed social distancing suggestions.
It was such a good day! We brought our bikes with us because you can ride around the zoo and we ended up riding 10 kilometres riding from each enclosure to the next. We encountered Giraffes, Hippos, Lions, Elephants and all the in between.
After a big day we took the dogs for a big walk around the little mining town, we walked up the hill and witnessed the old open cut gold mine which was breath taking. After a delicious dinner we ended up watching the Dish on the laptop (probably the number one movie watched on the caravan parks premises) and went to bed to recuperate for our big drive to Tamworth the next day.
Once again after a big walk to tire out the dogs, we drove 5 hours north east to Tamworth. I couldn’t believe how hilly the area was around Dubbo, I’d always imagine it to be flat, however sometimes I had to drop to third gear to get up the hills! We drove past beautiful rock formations and endless windmills until we finally reached the flood plains on the out skirts of Tamworth. The mountain formations around Tamworth were absolutely breath taking, and once again was bamboozled on the idea that Tamworth was not a flat outback country town.
Tamworth has recently been (still is) in a big drought, however it has had some big rain this past month, so we got to witness Tamworth as a green Oasis. It’s a beautiful old town, all the buildings are of Art Deco design and the streets are very well kept. We drove to the Golden guitar to get the tourist photo. You had to take your pictures of the guitar on a certain angle or else you’d get a big KFC chicken sign in the background as this was located right next door.
After our touristy things we set north for Toowoomba QLD. We found a free camp spot just out of a town called Manilla at Split rock damn, on our way out I said to Yas “I’d love to come back here one day and experience ‘country’ Tamworth when everything isn’t closed”, turns out I apparently jinxed ourselves…
Lesson number four; don’t jinx yourself
Lesson number five; never trust google maps
After Manilla we turned right behind the town and took a back road to get to our camp spot for the night, we then went down a dirt road, crossed some cattle grids, went through a framers property with cows all over the road, went through another cattle grid then drove a few kilometres on a very average dirt road. This is when I noticed the temperature gauge, and she was hot!!
Before I continue with the story this was the current situation that Yasmin and I were in: Queensland were closing their borders Wednesday at Midnight, and it was Tuesday. This was the last thing I wanted to happen!
We popped open the bonnet to find a shredded fan belt. Great! I then went to check my phone… No reception…. THE FLIES!!…… I threw a rock at a tree then calmed down a little. I walked up the hill for a little bit to find some phone reception, I couldn’t gain internet access to find NMRA’s number for road side assistance, so I ended up calling the father in-law to tell him about our situation and to get the number.
I called NMRA, the reception was terrible and it cut out. I called again same thing. I called again, finally gave them my rego details, same thing. This went on for a while! Finally after two hours of calling we had a Tow truck coming our way! The tow truck then got lost and our location wasn’t showing up on the maps. Finally, another hour later, its pitch dark, the mozzies are biting, she finally arrived!
After a while the car was on the back of the truck and the caravan was connected to the tow ball and we were off. We could only go one way on the road (by the way we then learned from our local driver, the road that we were on wouldn’t have taken us to our camp spot regardless!) It was a very long road! A very shit road in fact! The lady drove like a mad man across the corrugated dirt road, slamming her breaks when we went through the 100’s of cattle grids and tight bends. Yasmin was turning white in the back seat! It was midnight when we arrived back to Tamworth, what a big day! I ended up driving the car off the back of the trailer, I’m guessing that’s a big no no in todays health and safety standards, but she didn’t seem like one to care too much about following rules. We had the opportunity to have our caravan towed to a caravan park for the night, but guessing it was only a fan belt we decided just to crash in front of the mechanics so we could leave early in the morning and make the state border closure. We guessed wrong!!!
The road we stayed on that night was super busy. Every time a car went passed our caravan would rock. Trucks were the worst. Let’s just say we didn’t get much sleep that night!
The next morning, dark circles beneath both our eyes, we struggled out of bed to tackle the big day. The mechanic opened at eight, so I walked in and gave them the keys for the car. They went to work straight away which was a relief. Then the bad news started rolling in. The Falcon’s water pump had cracked hence why our fan belt had torn. It will cost us $400 for the part but it could be in done in two hours, I didn’t even blink, we still had time to make the border! An hour later we get another phone call. The water coolant bypass pipe had shit itself, and unfortunately was not mendable. Luckily enough they sourced a good second-hand part but being a big job, it couldn’t be fixed that day. There went our opportunity to make it across the border.
We found out the news at 11 in the morning. We weren’t going to stay another night in front of the mechanics, so I ended up contacting the NMRA and RACV to get our van towed to a Caravan park for the night. Phone call after phone call we didn’t end up getting to a caravan park until 6 o’clock that night! And a thunderstorm had just came over us as we were setting up the caravan for the night we were drenched! We haven’t had much luck at this point and to top it off we had damage to the caravan form the tow truck the night before!! Yasmin’s clothes rack had snapped in her cupboard and water was leaking through the roof as the silicon had cracked because of the jolts also. These things I could fix so I wasn’t too concerned, but the tow truck had hit our modified BBQ that was strapped to our storage box on our draw bar.. That I couldn’t fix… So back to the phone for an insurance claim…. I never want to work in job that requires me to call people every day after this experience! So with dampened spirits and dampened, stinky dogs in the van with us, we ordered in pizza and chilled with “The Office”.
The next morning we received a little hope. We contacted our work contact in Ban Ban Springs, QLD to tell her our disappointing news. She however was optimistic that we would gain access across the QLD border as we were there to work. A bit of research later we found that the government had exemptions for crossing the border, and FIFO workers were granted access if they had written documentation as evidence for work in the state. Finally a win for us!
We spent the next day exploring Tamworth, it was nice to be out of the industrial area of town and close to the main parks. We walked our dogs to a dog friendly park and found a bookstore where I purchased some reading material. We also experienced this wonderful Ice Creamery in Tamworth called “Scream Ice Creamery”. We found out that the owners had the same intentions as us working around Australia, Tamworth however being a stop on their endeavours has turned into a few years. If you ever decide to come to Tamworth try this Ice Creamery out, they put melted Nutella in your waffle cones!!
Our car unfortunately wasn’t ready that day so I went into to reception to book another night at the caravan park.
The owners of the Caravan Park were very upset. They had just found out that all caravan parks across the state were not allowed to take on any new patrons. All their hard work had been washed down the drain. It will be interesting to see if their business survives from this pandemic like a lot of business in Australia, all I know is next year is going to be rough!
Since writing this blog a lot more has gone down hill for us, I will continue on with the story when we have overcome our troubles. Tamworth is a beautiful place, it’s just unfortunate that we haven’t had any good luck.