Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Note to self

The station attendant was startled by the flash!
Carry cash!  At home we rely heavily on EFTPOS, so make a conscious effort to remember to have  "real money" with us when traveling into more regional areas.

We had collected Erin from the zoo around 4:00pm.  As fuel wasn't an issue then, we didn't stop again at Dubbo but continued on - conscious that Nick would have to work later that night.  By the time we reached Merriwa (pop. approx 1,000) at 8:00pm, Elmer was desperately in need of a drink!

The town was in darkness and we at first thought this small petrol station was closed too, which was somewhat concerning!  A fellow came out though and fortunately advised he couldn't take EFTPOS before he started filling our tanks.  (As we were only 230ish km from home, we weren't expecting a cash-only service).  We were directed to another servo up the road but it was shut.  Luckily we found an ATM, withdrew some cash and returned to fill the main tank.

We finally arrived home at around 10:00pm (after stopping for Hungry Jack's near Cessnock).  Nick managed a far too brief one-hour nap before heading up to Newcastle for a midnight start.   

Barrel of dreams

It is fairly typical that we photographed the welcome sign - on the way home!  These agitators, more usually seen attached to cement trucks, were a common sight at Lightning Ridge - though generally not as well painted!
We only stayed a few minutes because we were keen to get moving. It was a long road home - even longer than the trip up as this time we were making a 60 kilometre detour to collect Erin from Western Plains Zoo (at Dubbo) en route.

Heading home

Given neither of us was feeling 100% (nor had we slept well), the pack-up was achieved fairly smoothly.

Vaughan assisted to deflate the airbeds, then wandered off - at least he didn't hamper our efforts!

You can see Simon and Rachael's fantastic trailer in shot - with their up-ladder, cubby house bed.  They traveled with kayaks - and a coffee machine!

We were quite impressed by Simon's handiwork.

Sunrise ...

Our tent is made from a polyester material and therefore the morning light filters inside with very little blocking.

We were up early every morning but even beat the "alarm clock bird" on our last day!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Lorne lunatics?!

Our camp is behind the buildings you can just see.
Nick and Vaughan went exploring while I had an afternoon nap (trying to sleep off a lurgi).  They returned to camp, keen to show me what they had found - the missing Lunatic Hill overburden!

The two of them had ridden across the paddocks on bikes, which was an impressive undertaking.  I wasn't up to bike-riding though, so we all returned in Elmer to marvel at the man-made "mountain" and sit for a while overlooking Lorne Station.  Vaughan embellished his earlier mutant lizard rock drawings, before we all headed down again.

Missed a bit(e)!

A very blonde (and cranky) shingleback!
These guys look slow (and often are) but when cranky, they move a lot faster - just ask Nick! 

Vaughan has been instructed not to catch shinglebacks  by the tail as they can swing round and bite.  He caught this one first, muttering to himself about not touching the tail.  The lizard was quite agitated though and understandably Vaughan put it back down fairly quickly.  Nick then had a turn at capturing but didn't follow his own advice, so  was bitten - hard!  He said it felt like his fingers had been slammed in a vice.  And yes, there was blood!

I missed getting a photo (or footage) of the actual bite - sadly!

More water!

Simon and Rachael had told us about more flood waters just outside of town, so we went for a look when taking Elmer for a test drive.

We turned down Onyx Street and soon found all the water.

Bush Mechanics!

The bush mechanics ...
Nick had jacked Elmer up and checked underneath a number of times throughout our stay.

When the noise worsened so dramatically though, identifying the source was much easier - a very worn universal joint.

Unfortunately, there was no mechanic available to fit the part.  One was off sick and the other quite stressed/cranky by the backlog of work.  We were able to purchase the necessary universal joint (from a mining supply shop as the mechanic was out of stock) and then Nick worked to replace it back at camp, using what tools he had.  A neighbouring camper, Simon, very generously offered much-appreciated assistance and additional oomph!

(The new part went in relatively easily, it was getting the old one out that took most of the time/effort). 

Dubbo bus

Sadly, I didn't get a pic of the cranky bus driver!
Erin's TAFE class had an overnight excursion to Western Plains Zoo and she had arranged to meet them in Dubbo, which meant catching the bus from Lightning Ridge at 9am.

It had been our plan to break camp that morning and start heading home soon after farewelling Erin at the bus stop - but unfortunately not all plans pan out as they should!  Elmer's "appointment on the hoist" earlier in the week had done little to alleviate his clunking/whining noises and indeed they had worsened most alarmingly over the weekend.

Struth, they're lousy!

Vaughan feeding the breakfast crowd!
When I was a kid at Yowah, these birds were known as Happy Jacks, rather than their more common colloquial name of Lousy Jacks.

Of course given their constant foraging, they could also be called Hungry Jacks!

We refer to them more formally as Apostle Birds - and enjoy listening to their chatter (which you can hear via sound file at the above link). This family group usually numbered 11 but there were a few occasions when only eight or nine showed up and we did wonder what the missing guys/gals were up to! (Two of the group each had a foot issue and we discussed that also).

Although we have several bird books, I found some new information when writing this post:-

"The family group usually consists of a dominant male and female together with the progeny from recent nestings. It takes three to four years for birds to become adult. The only obvious indicator of adulthood is the eye colour - when adult the eyes are greyish with a pearly coloured outer ring. Young ones have brown eyes."

so will be studying eyes (as well as feet!) next time we are out in Happy Jack country!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Now, that's a torch!

Podargus strigoides
We were visited by this fellow as we sat around the fire.  Nick got out the spotlight, so we could see our visitor more clearly - and we heard our neighbours exclaim:  "Now, that's a torch!"

There is Tawny Frogmouth information here where you can also download a sound file of it's call.

Earlier in the year we had a Tawny Frogmouth WIRES guest staying with us.  Unfortunately in the Sydney/Central Coast areas, the birds get a parasite in their brains/spinal cord and their central nervous system becomes compromised.

Room with a view?!

I had a bit of a giggle each time we passed this camp with its painted "window" (including curtains)!

Generally the camps were more rustic/make-do housing - we even saw a few that had rocks weighing down the roofing iron!  However, there were many that were quite civilised and obviously well looked after.

Some are listed for sale (under the Western Lands Lease system), ranging in price upwards from $15,000 - depending on their size and level of sophistication!

Lookout, lunatic!

Views of Lunatic Hill Open Cut
There are various fees and charges associated with any claim but miners pay a far more substantial bond (and higher total fees) before commencing an open cut.

Effectively the bond is to ensure the great, gaping holes in the earth are refilled at the conclusion of the mining effort.  I am not sure of the exact process but in simple terms the bond is returned when the overburden has been restored to its original location.

So what happened at Lunatic Hill?  As you can see, one of the signs advises that the open cut has been  "... preserved as a unique part of Australia's opal mining heritage."  Interesting.

When we had chatted with Brian (who lives on the other side of the open cut) earlier in the week he told a different story.  Seemingly, the Lunatic Hill miners had an informal agreement with a local property owner to store the overburden on his land.  He had died by the time they wanted to re-fill the open cut and the new owner refused permission for the overburden to be removed from his land - so the open cut remained, er, open!

Big sucker!

The "blowers" were all sizes.  This was a larger version.
We deviated from the red car door track a little and came across this machinery in operation.

Claystone rubble from the mine is brought to the surface via a series of pipes and a super-powerful vacuum "blower" (mounted on the blue heavy-duty trailer).  We sat in the car and waited (waited, waited) for the hopper to spill a load into the truck.  It is a sign of how long we waited that the shot is cropped across the truck's wheels, rather than being more properly framed.

The airport is quite close to this point and later in the day we met other miners who speculated that the operator of the blue "blower" was actually mining beneath the airstrip!

Red car door tour

We headed out early for some geocaching (yes, there are caches at "the Ridge) and another round of car door touring. When we had first done the red route (the day after arrival), we were too busy checking out the scenery to take pics so made a better effort this time to record some "footage"!

The morning after ...

... the night before!  The night-time insects were so many during the latter part of our stay - they sounded like soft rain falling against the gazebo roofs! 

In the morning, we were greeted by their desiccated bodies, layered on the lantern cover.



It really was amazing that someone had taken the time to lay out so many rocks in this huge walking track maze - and equally amazing that we had missed seeing it on our first visit! Nick, Vaughan and I all traipsed the whole circuit properly to the centre, which took a lot longer than I expected!

Vaughan walked most of the way out again (though Nick and I "cheated" through the exit stage).

In hindsight, I probably should have tried for a shot while standing on Elmer to give a better view of the layout.

Watch your children!


After lunch we returned to the Green Car Door tour/Nettleton's First Shaft for another look around. As instructed, I watched my children test the echo in one of the (barricaded) mine shafts!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tailgate tucker

We found some shade for a late lunch ...
We drove to where the January flood waters had cut the usual Lightning Ridge road.  There was so much water!  It was amazing!

In June, the NSW state government granted additional funding to improve the alternate Lightning Ridge route, so that the school bus in particular had reliable access.  We spoke to one of the Grawin parents who said the (Lightning Ridge) school had made special allowances for the local children, as their classroom performance and home work were affected by the additional travel.

If you find yourself at Sheepyard Inn, we can highly recommend Una's chilli relish!  We bought some (prickly pear) cactus jam too but didn't try that till home again - and were sorry we hadn't bought an extra jar of chilli relish instead!


We were told the overburden dumps were "large" but even so, the reality surpassed our expectations.  Huge or massive may well have been better descriptions!

Some people do well noodling/fossicking through the rubble but we weren't so lucky.  We didn't stay long though (and Erin stayed in the car with Keegan) as it was hot and the white-rock glare was quite strong, even mid-afternoon.  Perhaps on another occasion we will be better prepared to find our fortune!

An interesting mob!

Sheepyard, Glengarry and Grawin are a group of opal fields about 75km west of Lightning Ridge.  The January floodwaters from Queensland had cut the usual road though, so we took a 60km detour - and were glad we did. 

We stopped in at Sheepyard and while we didn't "get drenched" (as per one of the roadside invitations!) we did enjoy cold drinks while perusing the noticeboard and chatting with a few locals.  Vaughan showed off some of his rocks, which earned him a pocketful of opals from two of the miners! 

Free camping is available across the track from the pub and we investigated that with a view to a return visit for more thorough exploration of the area.  See here for an interesting article on Sheepyard.

It's rude ...

... to stick your tongue out! 

I wasn't in the right spot to take the best shot of this guy/gal but could understand the sentiment.

He/she was another victim of Hudson Pear.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Shear talent?!

After rescuing the frog we all wandered over to Lorne's former shearing shed, now Art Gallery.

We picked a good time to visit.  The artist later collected various work to show at a nearby fair the next day!

Barking up the wrong tree?!

Not surprisingly, the barking tree intrigued us.  Erin and I had speculated for several days as to the source of the barking.  We each had attempted to sneak up and identify the culprit, without success.  The very dry vegetation crackled underfoot and whenever we got too close to the tree, the barking stopped. 

If you play the short video, you can hear the noise (about 5 seconds after the start) - just once.  (You can also hear some of the bird-song we listened to while at camp).  In reality, the barking was fairly evenly spaced and reasonably constant.  By the fourth day of our stay, it definitely seemed that the noise was louder and occurred more often.

The barking seemed far more urgent that evening and I tried another sneak on the tree.  I could see many ants running down a small hollow branch and as I watched a green head emerged.  Before I had fully identified the creature, it looked over and then made a huge leap to me! 

The fat, green frog was distressed by the ants, so I carried him/her over to Erin for a quick "bath" and subsequent relocation to the nearby jade bush.  (Many frogs had been located to a huge jade bush during our Christmas/New Year stay at Yowah in Louie's shack).

Harold's teeth!

The Australian Opal Centre has plans to build "an amazing national museum in an energy-efficient, 100 metre long, two storey underground building ..."

Land has been acquired and funding approval sought from the Australian government.

Currently, only a very small selection of the Museum's collection is on display. Even so, there was plenty to look at. As much as I enjoyed looking at the various fossilised/opalised bones, shells and plant seeds/fragments - it was Harold's opal dentures that really caught my eye!

Elmer's appointment

Elmer had been making some odd clunking and whining noises, so had an "appointment on the hoist" after lunch.

Although the mechanic topped up the diff oil, the noise was unaffected - sadly.

Picnic in the park

There was a park adjacent the Visitor Information Centre and we picnicked there after doing some missions in "town".

Each of the tables had a drill as the support, which was quite nifty!

Cooper's Cottage

The cottage has been left standing in the main street.
"Coopers Cottage is an authentic abode of the early miner, built in 1916 ..."

Well, authentic but for the television screening promotional footage for Chambers of the Black Hand!

The construction of the cottage was not unlike the that of the shack I had lived in at various times as a child at Yowah.  I showed Vaughan the fuel stove in the kitchen area.  I attempted to explain how the stove worked but typically he was far more interested in catching a gecko that had been hiding behind one of the oven doors!

Dreaming of digging!

Whenever we were at camp, Vaughan took every opportunity to dig!  He usually needed a fair bit of persuasion to eat breakfast before he started excavation for the day.  Similarly, it was difficult to convince him not to continue digging by torchlight after the sun went down!

Vaughan's favoured digging area was not beside us but adjacent to some other campers - and for a couple of days he recruited their daughter, Shannon, to assist his efforts. 

One morning, Nick overheard Vaughan telling Shannon that he had been dreaming of digging!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Twenty Questions

A few years back, Erin and Nissa both received a 20Q toy for Christmas.

The hand-held games were great fun and one remains in operation. 

It often comes camping with us, though was forgotten this trip.

(When playing with a team mate against the 20Q gadget, the object choice is whispered to the other player, so the device can't hear)!

Vaughan was keen to play the game "without the orange gadget", so we did - while sitting under the stars around the fire and waiting for our dinner to cook.  (You can play an online version of the game here).

Goddess of 1967

The Yellow Car Door tour notes state the church was purpose-built for "a weird art house film", Goddess of 1967 - which was released in 2001.

I googled to read the storyline and "weird" seems an apt description!

The Fun Bus

Chambers of the Black Hand was a Yellow Car Door stop, so we continued along the track at the end of the tour.   

(The temptation of the underground shop was too much for Vaughan, so he and I headed back to the surface before anyone else).

Brian's "Fun Bus" camp was adjacent the Lunatic Hill open cut.  He had lived at Lightning Ridge for 45 years.  His blue eyes twinkled as he confessed he'd been saving the current claim for his retirement - and decided at age 82 "that he should get on with digging"!

One hundred million dollars had been taken from the nearby open cut but Brian hadn't dug much of value.  We enjoyed chatting though and he laughed hugely when he heard of Vaughan's excavations in the middle of the Lorne Station driveway!

Walk like an Egyptian!

Although we had read the Chambers of the Black Hand brochure and viewed other promotional material, walking through the upper level painting and sculpture galleries was still quite amazing!

There was just so much to see!
Seemingly the modest artist hadn't expected anyone to be interested in viewing his efforts, so we were glad he had been convinced otherwise.  (Some days tour groups get to see new works being created but the artist was taking a well-deserved break on the day we visited).

Happy Hamby Hard-hats!

I kept looking up - and losing my hat!
After a compulsory OH&S briefing on the surface, we donned hard-hats and went approximately 11 metres below.  The temperature cooled from 26 to 16 degrees as we descended.

Payment was taken at the underground shop, where we received a discount due to our Ridgee Didge card.  (We well and truly recouped the $10 outlay during our stay).  At the time of paying, one member of each party signed a register with details of their couple/family in case of accident - and ladies were issued with torches!

There was a call for the group to split into two and we were joined by another family trio (our neighbours at Lorne Station) and an older couple who presumably fit the  "grandparents who like children" description!

Our small party explored the lower, mining level first - and it was interesting to hear how the early miners tied a sheepskin around their neck and waist to form a pouch for carrying rock and debris up to the surface (using footholes in the shaft, rather than a ladder, to climb out)!

Canny construction!

Fortunately there was a rusty star picket for my tripod!
At first I thought this shack (near Nettleton's First Shaft) was under construction but closer inspection revealed it was falling apart. 

The concrete was crumbling away in sections revealing the 70s logos of (mainly) beer and soft drink cans used to strengthen its walls. The cans were the more solid steel variety that preceded the aluminium versions used today.  As an aside, did you know that there is an Australian Beer Can Collectors Association?!

Seemingly the shack was still being lived in as recently as 1996 when a town census was carried out.

The residents later moved on to a new claim, taking the shack's corrugated iron roof with them!

Chambers of the Black Hand

We arrived early for the tour, so enjoyed chatting on the surface with our guide (and one-time owner of the mine).

He wore a heavy gold necklace set with an opal "chip" and told the story of how he had sold the remainder of the opal piece for $50,000!

Nettleton's First Shaft

Admiring Nettleton's handiwork ...
The end destination of the Green Car Door tour was Nettleton's First Shaft Lookout.

Charles Waterhouse Nettleton is credited as being the founder of the black opal industry.  He was in his 40s when he sank his first shaft in 1902, backed by a syndicate of businessmen.  While that first effort didn't produce any opal, a second shaft was sunk the following year and he sold his first parcel of opal at that time.

(The tour notes clarify that it was common practice for early miners to sink a shaft and move to sinking another if they didn't immediately find opal; whereas today's miners tunnel and explore more thoroughly before abandoning a shaft).

I had wondered what happened to Nettleton after 1903 and have poked about a bit since returning home.  Information is scant but seemingly by the 1940s he was growing old and blind, living in a Salvation Army home in Sydney.  He was subsequently buried at  the Rookwood Cemetry in 1946.

Behind the green door

Lightning Ridge has four colour-coded "car door tours", each highlighting different points of interest in and near the town.

The tour notes are available from the Visitor Information Centre for $1.00, making the cost of each tour a 25 cent bargain - very cheap entertainment!

The notes for Green Door 7 state:- "The wild orange tree has an 80-foot root system. The Aboriginals made a paste of the fruit. Some miners also regard them (as well as box trees) as surface indicators of opal."

The Australian Opal Centre has produced several information brochures, including one about the various plant sites of Lightning Ridge. It states there is more than one species of wild orange in the area.

My Cronin's Key Guide to Australian Trees provides a little more detail on the fruit, commenting that it has a pleasant odour when ripe.  Given the one Nick cut open smelled "interesting", we assume it had a way to go before being edible!

Dragon's Beard!

Although the "alarm clock bird" woke us around 5:30am each day, we generally didn't head out till mid-morning. 

On this occasion we weren't far along the Lorne Station driveway, when Erin spotted a bearded dragon grazing beside the road.  We all leapt out, keen for a closer look!  The lizard wasn't greatly enthused to have its breakfast interrupted and had puffed up most impressively.  As we hadn't seen one so inflated previously (nor one eating), I was intent on taking a photographic record - and dropped my hat over him/her quite by accident!

Of course, it is an indication of my enthusiasm generally that I hadn't changed into boots prior to getting out of the car, so was very soon spiked by some loose Hudson Pear (because I was too busy taking photos to watch where I was walking). 

The lizard had been spiked also and though Nick removed the spine from my foot (suffering spiking in the process), unfortunately we couldn't see how to remove the spikes from the lizard without causing further damage.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


We were returning from a wood-cutting mission not far from our camping area (the site of our first Hudson Pear encounter), when Nick spotted this shingleback ambling along the track.

Vaughan was quickly off in pursuit and we all enjoyed a hold soon after.

Our boy was also given the DVD camera to take some "footage" and did very fine filming with commentary!

Hudson hurts!

We (or rather, Nick) first encountered Hudson Pear the day after our arrival, when a dead cactus spike went straight through the sole of his boot - and into his foot.

I was spiked the next day when I was too engrossed in lizard photography to be mindful of my thonged feet placement.  The spikes are barbed, so I needed Nick's assistance to remove them - and at that point (no pun intended) I had far more empathy for Nick's pain!  We were lucky though.  Further research has revealed that the spikes "are encased in a detachable sheath which may remain embedded in a wound even after the body of the spine is removed."

Several of the lizards we collected had been spiked and we did our best to remove the spikes before releasing the lizards.  It was hard work to pull the spines and we were later advised to use a pair of pliers, though didn't encounter any more Hudson Pear after the advice was given - thankfully.

There is detailed information about Hudson Pear here and an article about Lorne Station's owner, Peter Waterford, and his eradication attempts here.

Great artesian waters!

I had planned to soak in the bore baths under the stars on our first night - though the reality of the very early start, long drive and setting up camp saw me dozing by the fire quite early (and in bed soon after)!

We explored the next day and although Vaughan was keen to swim then (there was an older couple soaking in the water), the rest of us felt it was too sunny for hot water swimming - so decided to return for starlight bathing that night. 

Even then the water was much hotter than I had expected, so I spent much of the time sitting on the edge with just my feet wet!  It was lovely looking up to the stars and full-ish moon though (which had been apricot/gold when driving out from Lorne Station).

In the days when Nick used to visit Lightning Ridge with his family, the baths were fed directly from the borehead and there was much green slime in the water!  Although he was less impressed with other aspects of the Ridge's development, the rest of us were quite happy with our slime-free bathing!

There is information about the Lightning Ridge bore baths and the artesian basin generally here. I find it very interesting that the temperature of the water varies so widely at the different bore locations. (Yowah's borehead produces water at 57 degrees, which I think is the hottest we have seen).