Day 36 - Walgett to Clandulla (and Bede's farm)

Trip Start Apr 17, 2012
Trip End May 27, 2012

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Where I stayed
Camped on private property owned by a friend.

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I was awoken by a strange sound just before sunrise. It was like a banging sound getting closer to the van, then something banging on the roof. All I could think was that it was a homeless person or a drunk approaching the van hitting a garbage can lid. It scared the crap out of me at first until my reasoning kicked in. That's when I realised that it must have been a crow landing on the picnic shelter near the van and doing the funny jump-walk that they do across the corrugated roof. He then thought he would jump across to the van and have a bit of a look around on our roof. The noise then stopped so I figured he must've flown off. I fell back to sleep for a few more hours.

We woke up at about 8am and ate, packed up and hit the road. We didn't even stop in town for coffee. The first leg was Walgett to Coonamble - 116km. It started off as a pleasant drive, we were a little bit unnerved by the fact that we'd be home by tomorrow but the day was warm and sunny and the road was an easy drive Southwards. About halfway to Coonamble the van started to vibrate and shudder which became quite rough when we slowed down. At this point we had no idea what it might be - was it a tyre, the engine or something else? We pulled off the Castlereagh Highway onto a sideroad about 50km North of Coonamble and had a look around. I couldn't see anything odd underneath the car and the tyres seemed ok. In case it was low oil, I topped it up and we continued for another 20km vibrating.

We were baffled so we decided to get it looked at in Coonamble. The traffic heading in the opposite direction was mainly semis and caravans - the semis carrying whatever big stuff needs to go wherever and the caravans carrying grey nomads and younger adventurers up towards the Queensland border. About 20km from Coonamble there was an almighty bang which sounded like a major vehicle component failing and suddenly I had no control of the van. It pulled violently to the right and my pulling on the steering wheel to correct it was futile. The van travelled across the oncoming lane onto the nature strip on the other side of the road where I jumped on the brakes. I then had Julie asking why I drove on the wrong side of the road and had to explain tio her that I had no control and it felt like the steering had gone.

A quick step outside revealed the problem, another blowout. That dodgy spare! We should've had the new tyre installed back in Adelaide instead of sparing it. Once we knew we were ok, I moved the van back onto the safe side of the road and we began to change the tyre but due to the uneven surface on the shoulder we couldn't get the jack into the correct position. After a few expletives I called the NRMA. When they told us we had a 60-90 minute wait we turned on the gas and made frypan toasty sandwiches for lunch. I had ham, cheese and tomato and Julie had cheese and tomato. We had some ginger beer in the fridge too so we made the most of it and admired the person's farm which we were overlooking during our wait.

The NRMA guy arrived pretty much right on the 60 minute mark and assured us that we would soon be on our way, he told us that the tyre shop was a good one and he knew the people who ran it. His jack was more than adequate and we were extrememly grateful for his assistance - we probably brightened up his day a bit anyway as we were full of jokes. Once the tyre was on, he told us he would meet us at the tyre shop in Coonamble in 15 mins. 20kms later and we were there having our blowout replaced. At this point we got both new tyres put on the rear and the old one became a spare again. Finally we had some decent, strong 8-ply rear tyres - on our way home. If we had've had 8-ply tyres the whole way, we probably wouldn't have had a single blowout. LESSON: when you have 2 tonnes of camper travelling on rough gibber and dirt roads, always have the toughest tyres you can have.

Once we were all sorted out we were back on the highway heading to Gulargambone - another 45kms. Gulargambone took our fancy a bit, it was a small and leafy community by the Castlereagh River, still a tributary of the Darling system (woohoo). We parked the car and explored on foot taking in the pleasant River Walk and admiring the galah sculptures around the place - not to mention the real galahs flying around. In fact, Gulargambone is Wiradjuri for 'Place of Galahs' so we loved it. Like so many country towns we had encountered, Gulargambone has been through some tough times as is evident when you see the odd boarded up old shop, but now you can see that there is a sense of community and pride. The post office has been restored and had some nice bits and bobs to buy, Julie bought a pair of sunglasses which we call her Gulargambones.

After Gulargambone we kept driving South. Gilgandra was another 50kms and we decided to have a coffee break there. Upon arrival it looked like a fairly nice town, but our impression wasn't as good as some of the more outback towns which seem more hospitable. We bought our coffees from a bakery with some staff that didn't seem too happy about life and we then continued onwards. Just before we got out of town we spotted the Aminya Nursery which we stopped at for some food - a pie I think. Then it was another 67kms to Dubbo which we were hoping had a good road to Mudgee as it was getting later and we didn't want to get to our friend - Bede's farm in the dark. We punched Mudgee into the GPS which suggested the Golden Highway. This sounded good enough for us so we altered course Eastwards.

By strange fluke, we drove down a country road and nearly drove straight past the Ballimore Hotel. The thing about the Ballimore Hotel is that it is an old pub, over 100 years old, and some time in the past, Julie's grandmother and great aunt owned it (or maybe it was their parents when they were young). Anyway, we guess that it must have been 60-80 years ago making it some time between the 1920s and the 1940s. We parked the car and grabbed our cameras to see if we could check it out. The woman owner who ran the place looked pretty tough but she was nice. We asked her if we could have a poke around because of Julie's family history to which she replied "you are the 3rd lot to say that today" which we thought was odd. It left a big WTF in our heads. She said it was fine for us to go out the back and check it all out. It was a big old single-storey pub with accommodation out the back. Plenty of character and very typical of a country pub, it probably needs some more clientelle though to being more money in as the place is in need of a freshen up. It had just gone on the market according to the owner, she needs to sell it so she can move to QLD for an easier life.

It was beginning to get late with that late-in-the-arvo vibe starting with some after work drinkers pulling up at the pub for a quiet one. After we had taken all our photos we saw a tap in a park which reminded us that our tanks were empty and since we were going to Bede's farm there was no water there so we quickly did that and continued on our way. Soon the GPS ordered us off the Golden Highway and onto some back roads which took us through Goolma and Guntawang towards Gulgong. The roads were mostly backroads and therefore had no overtaking lanes plus some serious hills to climb which slowed us down as we had just filled up with water. We were overtaken by a few scarily fast ags in utes clearly exceeding the speed limit - but it was getting dark so they were probably racing for beer-o-clock. Next thing we knew we were back on the Castlereagh Highway (which we had turned off back in Gilgandra) and we had wondered if we had just gone the long way around. One route is less km but slower road and the other is more km but better roads apparently.

We drove into Mudgee at about 6pm and it was already completely dark. Starving after pushing ourselves pretty hard all day it was our intention to find some really hearty food and have a big dinner once we had set up camp at Bede's farm. The Italian restaurant looked perfect so we went in and ordered. We chatted to the owner for a while as she was an ex Sydneysider (from the Shire) who moved to Mudgee to run the Italian there. Once our takeaway spaghetti orders were ready we continued onwards stopping at the servo for fuel on our way out of town. Now the temperature was really dropping, it was below 10 degrees and we were finding it hard to keep the van cabin warm even with the heater on while driving. It took us an hour to get from Mudgee to Clandulla (near Ilford/Kandos) and onto the 10km dirt road leading into the farm. We were feeling anxious, tired and hungry and just wanted to stop driving already (10 hours nonstop was killing us).

Finally we got to the front gate, it had been 3 or 4 years since our last visit and it was looking quite overgrown. Obviously Bede hadn't been here too many times either (he is currently living in Tassie). As we got further in and the track narrowed due to the scrub growing closer to the road it was hard to see the track. The headlights seemed useless in the pitch black. One of the access trails through one of the paddocks was no longer usable to I had to venture around the long way along an old trailbike track we used to use years ago. Branches were scraping along the side and it didn't look like we were following a track, then suddenly we came to a log across the road and beyond the log was thick bush. Bugger, this track was closed too. I don't know how I did it, but we managed to reverse in the darkness to a pint where I did a 6 point turnaround. We only had to backtrack 10-15m before we found the newer access track which goes to the new location of the farmstead (it was further West previously but Bede and Jake moved the whole building and rebuilt it).
As we scraped through a tightly treed bend we suddenly saw the corrugated iron structures and rainwater tanks in our headlights. This made us scream with excitement because we hadn't been here for years and we were somewhere familiar and homely after the disheartening drive in. We parked the van, popped the roof and proceeded to make ourselves comfortable. We checked up on progress in the house and it looked awesome. After a quick look around, and getting sick of shivering we soon retreated inside the van and fired up the cooker to reheat our pasta and garlic bread. I can't express how happy we were, the day had pretty much stuffed us and it was now about 3 degrees outside so with our warm van, hot and hearty dinner and mobile phone and internet access we were pretty darn impressed with our current situation. After dinner we got a little bit reflective, this was the official last night of our trip. Tomorrow we would be home. Once the van started to get cold again we made our pot of tea and boiled water to wash ourselves - it had been 3 days since our bore-water showers and a week since our last REAL proper shower so it was needed. 

After showers we were too knackered from our day to stay awake and soon went to bed and turn all lights out.

PS: The property we were staying on has a creek running through it - Carwell Creek. This creek flows into the Cudgegong River just upstream from Lake Windamere. After the dam, the river travels NW until it meets the Castlereagh River which continues NW for a couple of hundred kms until it eventually flows into the Darling - we were still on a tributary of the Darling River!!!! Across three states and meandering over 4000kms from the river mouth we were still following this amazing waterway after almost a month.
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