6 to 7 September 2019
Boundary Falls to Emmaville via Glenn Innes, 113km
A look at the map of our new, post flu route to get back to the Outback identified a small town literally with my name on it, Emmaville. Technically it was 40km off our route but that was a short enough detour to ensure that we had to visit.
But first we had a stop at a very strange tourist attraction in the town of Glenn Innes. The Australian Standing Stones might look as ancient as Stonehenge but they were actually put up in the 1990s to pay tribute to the Celtic heritage of the European settlers and has become a gathering place for those of Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, even Breton and Galician origin. The cafe is built in the style of a stone crofter’s cottage and, whilst on our way to Emmaville, we found the Scott Clan commemorated at the Celtic Family Wall!
Outside Glenn Innes the landscape became drier and drier. Parched fields full of big rocks didn’t seem to promise much of a harvest and the sat nav told us that we should be driving passed a lake that simply wasn’t there. From a lookout we got our first glimpse of Emmaville and it was definitely not a bustling metropolis.
Previously known as Vegetable Creek, Emmaville was renamed in 1882 after the wife of the State Governor. Today the town has a population of 519 and all the civic amenities of any Australian town – the school, the servo, the memorial hall, the post office
the court house, the war memorial and at least two churches.
The graveyard is the last resting place of its European settlers who came in search of tin and arsenic in Emmaville’s mines. We were surprised to find Chinese names amongst the graves and discovered that by the early 1990s, the town’s population of 7000 included 2000 Chinese people who formed a large proportion of the mining community. It was incredible to think how word of the mining boom in New South Wales had spread to China and how those intrepid miners had travelled so far and into the unknown in the hope of making their fortune.
Steve and Debbie back at Woody Point had warned us that Emmaville was a quiet place and that if we wanted to camp we would need to find Donna at the newsagents. Having found the caravan park completely deserted we went in search of her. On her way to retirement age, as if running the newsagents/cafe/convenience store wasn’t enough, when the local council decided to close the caravan park Donna decided to take the management of that on too. Tourism being a major contributor to the local economy she felt it was too important to lose.
Over a couple of beers and a chat to the owners of the Tattershall’s Hotel we realised that there is only one topic of conversation in Emmaville – water. The town has no mains water and after 3 years of no real rain (and they reckon still 2 more to come) the drought is a major source of anxiety for local farmers and residents alike. When a local electrician joined us at the bar the water situation was the first thing he talked about until he casually asked whether we’d heard about the body found yesterday in the creek. The horrible irony of a drowning in the drought was not lost on us.
There was no escaping the evidence that Emmaville was bone dry and the drought a very real danger. On our own at the caravan site we felt guilty using the showers and flushing the toilets.
Emmaville has kept itself on the tourist trail thanks to its mining museum.
Not unlike the museum at Millmerran, it houses an extraordinary collection of objects from the early settlers to the present day
but also photographs from its social history,
it’s contribution to armed conflict around the world
and the sporting achievements of its famous daughter, Debbie Wells. Known as the Emmaville Express, she represented Australia in three Olympic Games in the 100m sprint and relay. She didn’t win any Olympic medals but she did end up as head sports coach at Toowoomba Grammar School.
Oh yes, and the mining museum also houses a very large, and very pretty, collection of rocks.
Despite its size, Emmaville taught us a great deal not just about the history of the area but also the very tough lives of those who still live there.