Brewarrina & Bourke to Cobar

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An early start yesterday coupled with the timezone change caused us to sleep well and wake a little later than planned. Nevertheless we had eaten breakfast and were on the road soon after 8:00 am with Majella driving again.

The Kamilaroi Highway west toward Bourke was flat and mostly straight with just a few dips, rises and curves. A little way out of Walgett we crossed the Barwon River as it flowed south after joining with the Namoi River. We crossed it again on the outskirts of Brewarrina as it flowed north to round the town in a big bend. 

Most of the way to Brewarrina the road was lined by a scattering of moderately sized trees. We saw little sign of habitation, except at one point just before Brewarrina where there was a cluster of old buildings, a couple of houses, a shearing shed, and shearer’s quarters. Every few kilometres there were letter boxes and roads leading off toward properties. Occasionally we could see cleared areas beyond the trees and less often there were cleared and cultivated areas closer to the road. Where they existed they were large. Most appeared to be golden remnants of harvested wheat but there was one with green cotton growing. We also saw cattle grazing in a few places.

Brewarrina seemed livelier and more interesting than Walgett. There were some open shops, a post office, and a functioning bank. Similar to Walgett, motels and even private residences had high fences with lockable gates and shops had evident security measures. As we entered the town we saw signs for the Aboriginal Cultural Museum and the fish traps. We drove down to the river bend where there was a rest area above the weir and what remains of the fish traps which were partly destroyed in the 1800s to facilitate passage of boats up river to Walgett. The muddy river was flowing over the weir.

We spent some time there reading signs and observing before driving to the nearby museum where we discovered that there was a tour scheduled for 11:00 am about an hour later. After a look around the museum store and purchase of a few items we drove back to the river site where we had coffee from our thermos and watched the corellas in the trees and the other birds perched on rocks in the river while we waited for tour time. About 10:30 am we drove a little around town to look and parked by the information centre to see what we could find there. It was closed so we drove back to wait at the museum.

There were 3 couples on the tour with our host, Brad. He explained the age (40 000+ years) of the stone traps and how they work by directing fish into narrow spaces and providing holding spaces for live fish. The history of the traps since white people included blasting to clear space for boats to navigate and building the weir that disrupted flow. In the course of our tour of the exhibits we also learned about the eight indigenous groups that had lived in the area around the traps, boomerangs and other implements, and some history of the local indigenous people. Forced movement of people to missions away from their own localities had robbed many of language and culture but some of that is being regained and revelations such as those about the traps and other customs described in sources including Dark Emu are contributing to growing pride in culture and history. Our tour finished with a short walk to the river bank where Brad pointed out key features of what remains of the traps.

Having spent more time than we anticipated in Brewarrina we drove on toward Bourke. The countryside continued just as flat for most of the way. Although we had anticipated driving across plains, it was only yesterday when I saw the altitude at Collarenebri was about 150 m that I realised just how slight the grade was from there to sea level at the mouth of the Murray River. We did see one or two hills as we approached Bourke and there was some occasional slight undulation in the road. The trees in this section seemed shorter and sparser than on the drive to Brewarrina. As we approached Bourke we saw the mesa-like Mount Oxley away to the left. At just 150 m above the plain it does not technically qualify as a mountain.

Soon after we entered Bourke at about 1:00 pm we spotted a bakery where we had pies and coffee for lunch. We discovered later that there may have been better places to eat but we were hungry and took the chance.

After lunch we did a short drive through town, which has some fine old buildings, and paused at the old port on the river. We spent some time in the multi-level pier and then drove out to the Back O’ Bourke Information and Exhibition Centre at the northern edge of town. It is an impressive new building and we spent some time wandering in the grounds viewing the dance of the echidnas sculpture and the gardens that included a shrub with flowers placed unusually around a stem and someway short of the end. We spoke with somebody about entry to the exhibition but passed when told that we would really need substantial time for reading. Add that to the list of things for a future trip. It would certainly be possible to spend substantially more time in Bourke.

I drove us south toward Cobar. Initially the country was flat and much like what we had seen earlier. As we drove the vegetation changed several times , varying from sparse to dense and scrubby and from green to grey which was probably white cypress we learned about later in Cobar. Some way out of Bourke we saw a sign to Gundabooka National Park that featured a sign for indigenous art and indicated 3 km. We were prepared to drive 3 km on a reasonably well graded dirt road but drew the line and turned back when we reached the park entrance and read that anything we might want to see was another 20 km or so on.

As we approached Cobar the countryside became drier and hillier. For 20 km or more there were small groups of goats grazing by the roadside. Mostly they were smart enough to move away from the road as we approached but on one occasion a young one followed its mother across the road and caused us to brake.

We arrived in Cobar a little before 4:00 pm and drove directly to the Great Cobar Museum which is housed in what was the administration building of the Great Cobar mine when it operated. We spent about 40 minutes wandering the rooms and looking at the exhibits that told the story of the several mines that had contributed to the growth and prosperity and then the decline of the town. At its peak there were 7000 people and another 3000 in a nearby town but that declined to about 1000 with goats wandering the Main Street before it rebounded to its current population of about 4000.

From the museum we walked across the road and spent some time at the new (2020-21) miners memorial before driving out to the Fort Bourke lookout which offers a view into the pit of the New Cobar mine. It is a large, deep hole with a road winding down to a mine tunnel entrance at the bottom. The lookout platform is fenced and caged to prevent any accidents.

Back in town we checked in at our motel and then headed into town where Majella wanted to do the self guided walking tour for which she had acquired an information sheet at the museum. We walked through town reading the signs at each of nine locations and learned some more history of the town.

By then it was dinner time and we asked at the Great Western Hotel. They were not serving meals but the barman suggested a few options. We chose the Victoria Hotel where we each had pork chops with chips and salad. Then it was back to our motel to rest.