Following our quiet night on the opal fields & having been successful at not falling down any of the thousands of open & vertical mine shafts (none more than a few feet apart) but unsuccessful in our ’noodling’ efforts to find some opal we took the opportunity to get $1 hot shower at the gravel carpark which is White Cliff’s caravan park before leaving town, en route to Wanaaring, about 200 dusty & corrugated kms to our north. The route would take us through the Paroo Darling National Park, & the Nocoleche Nature Reserve. My hopes to find a spot to camp & fish on the Paroo River (the last Australian river in the Murray Darling catchment which has not been ‘pumped’, & thus retains it’s natural flow (& aquatic diversity) were destroyed by the ’news’ from the lady at the White Cliffs general store, when she told us that there is no camping allowed in either the Paroo Darling NP nor the Nocoleche Nature reserve, & besides which “the Paroo is dry at the moment”. Bugger! What I had failed to understand was that the Paroo is a river which regularly floods following rains further north in Queensland, creating extensive flood plains, but which also regularly dries up. It s the pattern of things & ecosystems have adapted to this over millennia with many plants & species that survive for long periods of dry, but which also reproduce & flourish in the relatively short periods of inundation.
10 minutes drive off the road took us to Peery Lake, an overflow lake for the Paroo. Publications from the White Cliffs visitor centre promising colourful vegetation even if the lake was dry were not forthcoming. The dry lake was largely bare, but with enough vegetation to support a mob of roos, which I struggled to get close enough to photograph given the problems with my zoom lens. The lake itself is enormous, stretching further than we could see. Somewhere there are mound springs which proved a permanent sure of water for wildlife but we didn’t see the mound springs, (they remain an item on my bucket list).
Reaching Wanaaring we camped on the banks of the Paroo, opposite the pub, in this tiny town (population around 30 including those in surrounding stations), a town only reached by dirt with the the nearest towns being White Cliffs 200kms south, Hungerford about 110kms north, Tibooburra 235kms to the west & Bourke almost 200kms to the east, all small towns with Bourke being the largest. No mobile phone signal in Wanaaring, something quite unusual for a town these days, adds to it’s sense of isolation, but it seems that this is just how they like it in this neck of the woods. Apart from the pub there is a general store which sells everything from canned goods to 4wd tyres, a one man police station, a one man ambulance (Toyota troop carrier) station & a fire station.
We reckoned a feed at the pub would be the go. After the usual initial outback brusqueness/testing we all fell into the warmth of outback hospitality. MrsTea ordered schnitzel & I ordered rump steak. Well! Have never seen such a large steak ……in my life! I kid you not, I had half a cow on my plate – it would have been 15” long, 8” wide & at least 1” thick, & hidden underneath it was half a veggie garden plus chips. We could have shared it between us & still been unable to eat it all! As it was we both ate all we could & donated the not insubstantial leftovers to the landlady’s two overweight terriers. Seems unlikely that much gets spent on dog food!
Talk beyween ourselves & the few locals at the bar was entertaining & we enjoyed a couple of hours there. I was interested to learn that the primary, & in many cases, only source of income for many station owners is the sale of feral goats. Once in a while they round up a truckload of these self sufficient animals, using dogs to drive them into temporarily erected enclosures with high fences at the goat’s favoured drinking spots on the waterholes. Around 150 animals can be fitted onto a 5 tonne truck & the exercise brings in $100 per head sold live, & then taken to abbatoirs & the meat exported worldwide. Surprisingly (to me) the USA being one of the larger importers. Apart from a few busy days per year mustering the goats, the only other management is ensuring there are a few billys released into the bush each year. Quite an enviable lifestyle for anyone who enjoys life in the bush. This certainly explains the number of goats we have been seeing. We know that in places goats can have a terribly detrimental effect on the bush, but properly managed (ie. keeping numbers down to sustainable levels) it seems like a reasonable enterprise from what we have seen.
During the course of the banter I acknowledged my mistaken hopes at camping & fishing on the Paroo. “Ah’ say’s Gary, “ya gotta know what us locals know”. “Tell me more kind sir” says I (or words to that effect). Upshot was we were invited to camp on his station, at a waterhole where we should be able to catch a feed. His directions took us back almost to the northern border of the Nocoleche Nature Reserve, around 15 or 20kms from town, through a gate, & along a track which opened up to the sides of said waterhole. Now, we were expecting what one might basically call a pond, a small section of drying up river. See for yourselves (below) what we found. The waterhole runs for kilometres as best we can tell, & is a fantastic spot. As I write this we are on our second day here. There is heaps of shade, but easy to camp on, level ground with plenty of sun for our solar panels. We have just eaten some gorgeous battered fish ’nuggets’ made with a Yellowbelly I caught. To be honest I wasn’t sure what sort of fish it was, but some locals turned up to fish this evening & showed me the yellowbelly they had caught. They are all white here, unlike the darker Yellowbelly I caught in the Thompson (near Jundah) a few years ago. We have spent hours sitting in the shade watching Kites soaring & fishing, Pelicans gliding & fishing, spoonbills, herons, egrets & cormorants fishing & listening to a variety of unfamiliar birdsong. (Our favourite mystery birds so far are the ‘telephone bird’ which sounds just like a modern phone, & the ’splash bird’ which for some time had me looking for the tell tale ripples from a fish jumping until I realised it was a bird. Thankfully we seem to have left the ‘Alarm clock bird’ back at home. We have seen many emus on the way here, but hearing the unmistakable sound of one from our bed this morning was special. We’re thinking we will stay here for at least a couple more days, but of course by the time you read this we will have moved on. With luck Hungerford will have phone reception to allow me to post this.
Addition: Now on our 4th day at this waterhole. Yesterday we watched 4 emus, Dad & 3 adolescents come to the water to drink. Dad was a pretty casual sort of fella, it was obvious the yongsters had to keep an eye on him rather than the other way around. He & two youngsters finished & left whilst the third youngster was still drinking. It was hilarious to watch this youngster suddenly realise he ad been left. A moment of obvious panic ensued with it running hither & thither, clearly with no idea which way to go. Whether he got a call or spied his family in the bush we couldn’t tell, but reckoned he must’ve been pretty relieved to rejoin them.
A couple of blokes, mate’s of station owner Gary, had heard a weather forecast for rain for today. Uncertain how much, but advised us that if the forecast was correct we wouldn’t be driving out of here until things dried out. Decided to chance it.
The sound of rain woke me at 5am, not really heavy, but persistant & continued for 3 hours. Emerging from our bed on wheels, we expected to see that the previously bone dry flood plain around us us had turned to slop, but no, other than looking darker it was no different…………. until we tried walking on it! The top couple of inches was super sticky clay. What had been almost dust the day before would now keep a potter happy! The following photo of MrsTea’s thongs shows the build up after no more than 10 steps!
In the few spots where water had run off our awnings it looked much the same, but treading on it we sunk immediately to our ankles.
By midday it was all ‘back to normal’ with no evidence of the rain, other than the clods scraped from our shoes & bare feet. Blotting paper country!
We are planning to move on tomorrow morning ………. weather permitting!
Posted from Eulo …. Hungerford also had no mobile reception.