12 to 15 September 2019
Trilby Station to Menindee via Wilcannia, 347km
Full of respect for Australia’s outback farmers, from Trilby Station we continued on the dust roads along the northern banks of the Darling River.
The colour of the road surface changed depending on whether we were driving through the flood plain or not. Sandy in the flood plain, red when upland. In these super dry conditions it was so hard to imagine the land ever flooding.
We stopped for diesel and a coffee at Tilpa Hotel. The diesel was the most expensive we had bought to date but then this was a very remote spot and a free instant coffee was thrown in which we drank in the garden overlooking the river. The Darling seemed to have even less water in it here – just a couple of inches of muddy puddle. Tilpa might be not much more than the hotel but lots of people pass through, signing their names all over the walls and ceiling.
At Tilpa we crossed the river and followed the southern bank passing through more vast sheep stations. We finally caught a glimpse of some sheep. These were being mustered by motorbike.
We stopped for lunch in Wilcannia. On a previous road trip Stefan had camped here on the banks of the river and the local police had parked next to him to watch guard all night. The town felt like a ghost town. Beautiful sandstone buildings stood silent, all except the court house were firmly closed up. Like Bourke, Wilcannia had previously been one of the biggest inland ports along the Darling River but is now one of the most socially deprived towns in New South Wales with a majority Aborigine community and all the disenfranchisement that colonisation has brought. It really felt like a town with no opportunity to thrive and survive.
We decided against staying the night.
After so long surrounded by talk of drought and away from water we had heard about somewhere that frankly sounded mythical, the Menindee Lakes at the end of the Darling River. Indeed it was too good to be true. The lakes are currently mostly dry. However at Copi Hollow Caravan Park we found the only stretch of water remaining and were able to camp right beside it. It was a beautiful place to be after all the dry and dust. The tent went up on grass for the first time in a long time and we quickly made friends with our neighbours, Ronda and Graham from Victoria.
Close to Menindee is the Kinchega National Park. We took a drive into the park and soon encountered two of its residents – the funny looking shingle back lizard with its stumpy tail and lethargic gait and the echidna, a pointy nosed, larger, spinier cousin of the hedgehog . Both scurried out of the path of the car but slowly enough for me to get out and catch them on camera.
The park is a semi arid environment but as well as dry scrub there were flashes of green and purple. These two photos were taken from the same spot. On one side of the road lay the sun bleached skeleton of a kangaroo amongst bare shrubs. On the other was a positively lush display of beautiful Salvation Jane. It was quite a contrast.
The national park used to be a sheep station and we drove to its hub, the Kinchega Woolshed. Inside the shed we could see all the equipment that over 97 years was used to shear about 6 million sheep. The steam operated shearing machines looked ready and waiting for the next sheep to come in.
By complete accident we found ourselves at Copi Hollow on a Friday night which means Pizza Night. In the outdoor camp kitchen the owners, Amanda and Drew, fire up the pizza oven and it seems the whole campsite come out to enjoy pizza and a chat around the campfire. We chose our toppings and joined everyone for the evening, nattering away about all our respective travels with us taking away a whole host of tips about places to see and stay.
Despite our three nights beside the water there was no escaping that even this lake was at risk. We were able to drive right into one of the lakes and someone told us that the water remaining was only going to last until January. There was, however, some vocal resistance to moving to water being piped in for fear of its impact on the local community.
It might be the last of their worries but we were also left wondering where the Broken Hill Speedboat Club, based at Copi Hollow, was going to be able to meet in future?