OVERFLOWING WITH HOPE - THE EDGE OF OUTBACK NSWby Bushducks
10am and the only sign of life in the dusty, forgotten little town was outside the pub, where a couple of blokes sat nursing their stubbies of VB. The general store with the petrol bowsers outside was closed. Maybe it just wasn't worth opening up. A few dilapidated timber houses surrounded the two storey brick post office that didn't operate any more. A handwritten sign directed people to the pub for their stamps. It all came back to the pub.
So entering in the rear door, we hunted around for the publican to sell us a stamp. Or a beer. A few minutes ticked by and still no sign, so we headed out to the front verandah to chat to the beer drinkers.
"Customers!" said one, wiping the froth off his upper lip. "Well I suppose I'd better serve youse."
He unfurled himself from his chair, shambled inside and poured three beers.
Welcome to Nymagee. Not far from Cobar on the edge of outback NSW. Nestled within an amphitheatre of large sandstone and shale hills Once a thriving copper town, the mine closed in 1917 and the population has declined gradually over the years from something over 2,000 to a mere 150. Home of Banjo's Clancy, gone a-droving "down the Cooper" where the Western drovers go, The Overflow station is situated 32km to the south east of the town.
Home too, of Keith,
overflowing with good humour. Born in the western suburbs of Sydney, ex publican from Gosford,
Cessnock and Queensland. Lately, landlord, property developer, explorer, hunter, tourist guide
and abysmal Irish joke teller of the Metropolitan Hotel. He explained his slightly seedy
appearance by recounting his exploits of the previous night. Seems he'd taken a party out on a
pig shooting expedition. The resultant pig hung in the cellar.
We left Keith with his VB and his friend who had come in with rolls of town plans under his arm. Apparently the blocks Keith thought he had bought in town didn't quite match up with the ones on the plan. He wasn't too worried. Wasn't like there was any shortage of available blocks and as long as he got something it didn't really matter what.
Take the Mt Hope road south stopping just out of town for a wander around the Nymagee Cemetery. Well worth a ramble, this has a diverse range of headstone materials. As well as the more normal, slate and granite there are headstones (headwoods?) made of the native cypress pine, carved into ornate borders the memorial inscriptions long gone. Surrounded by cast iron railings, there are fancy iron headstones, rusted over some dating back to the earliest days on the town in 1879. Also the odd galvanised iron plaque, again the inscriptions long illegible. The remaining inscriptions talk of small children lost through illness, sometimes brothers and sisters dying only months apart. Young men through accidents and women in childbirth. The more recent fancy granite tombs reflect the aging population of the area.
The good, graded dirt road passes through mainly pastoral land on it's way to join the main drag south from Cobar. Locals talked optimistically of the drop of rain they had on Good Friday, but the region is still drought affected. Watch out for kangaroos that seem to want to make a close friend of Rovers front bar. The drought is affecting kangaroos all over the south east and they are literally blind. Sad and sorry creatures, they hop blindly into branches, fence posts and fall over logs. Unable to find water, avoid cars or find food they are dying in their hundreds. Unfortunately, the law has still to catch up with the drought and they are still a protected species in NSW - no legal way of putting them out of their misery.
Watch out too for the hundreds of feral goats, roaming around. These seem unaffected by drought and blindness and are having a whale of a time! Local farmers are trapping them for the export meat markets and making a few dollars.
The road from Cobar joins at the bare crossroads that used to be the thriving settlement of Gilgunnia situated at the foot of the Gilgunnia Range. A mini gold rush here attracted people, alas, only the mullock heaps remain. A vivid imagination will help. Easter 1995 saw a monument erected to celebrate Gilgunnia's centenary and a wayside stop constructed under the shade of a huge gum tree. With it, pegs were put in the bare ground signifying the positions of the streets, the Tattersall's Hotel and the tennis courts. She must have been a busy place once. It would probably be possible to camp behind the old town dam, under the shade of a few gums, but we can't vouch for how private or peaceful it could be in times to come.
Swing South and head 50km to the south for the bustling metropolis of Mt Hope. The road runs straight through the bull dust holes, crossing dry creeks and the Sydney gas pipeline to skirt the edge of a range of hills. Hold on over those corrugations, once you see the rises of Mt Dromedary, Double Peak and Mt Wilson you're nearing Mt Hope. This road south from Cobar is part of the newly designated Kidman Way, running from Jerilderie in the south up to Bourke where it joins the Matilda Highway and on up to Darwin. Because of its new official status, the road is slowly being sealed. This will inevitably result in more travellers through this magic region. I hope Mt Hope can cope!
The outpost on the edge of the outback, Mt Hope boasts a store, petrol, a pub and a gold mine. The Royal Hotel, on the crest of the hill is the new Royal. The old one burnt down some years ago, leaving only its huge, concrete bar which extends down below the ground to form the cellar walls. Not wanting to waste anything, the pub was rebuilt around the bar. Now painted peeling green, it dominates the room, presided over by the landlords John and Louise Smart. Originally city people, they now wouldn't live anywhere else. Their little daughter starts School of the Air next year and they occupy themselves building a new house down the back of the pub. Unless they lease the hotel out first (any offers anyone?) you can see them for a bed for the night at $15 per head or a meal.
The back of Mt Hope is just as good as the front. Dogs on chains, pigs in pens, cars in rust and buildings in dust. If you have had your fill of Mrs Macs and Rover his fill of petrol then it is time to move on. Reverse Rover back up to the racecourse and head west along the dirt road signposted to Wagga Tank and Ivanhoe. Hope you can see through the dust driving into that setting sun. The road passes through Coan Downs station. Leave your gun at home, judging by the signs around shooters are definitely not wanted or welcome!
Crossing a grid, the vegetation increases in density as you enter Yathong Nature Reserve. Tracks lead off but resist temptation and keep Rover's paws on the road ahead. Nature Reserve's in NSW have no public access, written permission essential. So keep straight ahead until you come to a crossroads. A track straight ahead leads into the heart of the reserve, occupying the old station properties of Yathong and Irymple. Swing left along the escarpment face of the Merrimerriwa Range. After about 10 kays, the road enters the Yathong State Forest. Turn right, at the major cross roads and squeeze through the gap in the range. Dry and dusty, the sheep and wildlife may well be grouped around that dam on the east side of the road. Take the little track that leads past the dam into the sparse forest. Wander alongside dry creek, through the cypress pines, many of them dead, straight stalks sticking up into the sky. The track meanders on crossing washed out creeks, past many places that will accommodate one Rover or a herd of them.
Our decision on where to camp was made when Rover staked a tyre on a dry branch. But what a place to fix a tyre, beside the dusty red creek bed, the rugged range rearing up alongside. So settle down in the stillness, the only sound the gentle hiss of the steaming Eco-billy and the equally subtle hiss of deflating Dunlops. Clancy's country ....
Why didn't we turn up at the last meeting?
The answer came directed in a writing unexpected
© Bushducks 1995
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