Ron and Viv go on an epic pub crawl through the NSW Cor­ner Coun­try.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS BY RON AND VIV MOON

WE HAD stopped un­der the shade of what seemed to be the only tree around. The coun­try stretched away to the hori­zon all around us, but the nor­mal land­scape of rolling dry salt­bush was bro­ken by a stretch of wa­ter... and it wasn’t a mirage.

The Cob­ham Lakes strad­dle the road north of Pack­sad­dle along the Sil­ver City High­way and, from what we have been told, the east­ern­most one is salt and the one off the west side of the road is fresh. An his­toric grave of a woman who died there back in 1886 can be found on the north side of the lake, but we couldn’t find a sin­gle sign of the first ho­tel – by all ac­counts opened in 1882 – built in the Cor­ner Coun­try.

Ear­lier that morn­ing we had left Bro­ken Hill, the gate­way to the Cor­ner Coun­try of NSW and the foun­da­tion stone of the western part of the state. The town once sat on the big­gest and rich­est sil­ver/lead/ zinc de­posit in the world; when it was first dis­cov­ered in the 1870s, it made the fin­ders very rich men. It be­came the ab­so­lute bedrock of what is now the gar­gan­tuan BHP Bil­li­ton and, while there are far fewer min­ers work­ing un­der­ground th­ese days and BHP has moved on to big­ger things, the town has be­come a fo­cus for tourism and out­back art.

We headed north up the Sil­ver City High­way that to­day is more bi­tu­men than gravel, al­though there are still some lengthy sec­tions of un­paved road. We passed the ru­ins of old ho­tels at Stephens Creek and Yanco Glen, be­fore com­ing to the site of the old town­ship of Eu­ri­owie. Back in the 1880s, tin was found in the nearby Bar­rier Ranges, and at its peak the town had a pop­u­la­tion of 700.

To­day, lit­tle re­mains of the town, but the old ceme­tery can be found on the north­east­ern side of Eu­ri­owie Creek, and with per­mis­sion from the lo­cal land owner there are some hid­den ru­ins to dis­cover in the nearby hills. Also scat­tered around this area and in the gorges are some im­pres­sive Abo­rig­i­nal rock en­grav­ing sites.

We stopped in at the Pack­sad­dle Road­house, but it was too early for a cold beer so we con­tented our­selves with a softy and pushed on. It was then that we stopped un­der the shade of the lone tree at Cob­ham Lakes, which would make a pleas­ant overnight stop, be­fore the high­way called again.

The next stop north was Milparinka, which has seen the doors of the his­toric Al­bert Ho­tel opened again. So we de­cided to call it quits for the day and set up camp just a stone’s throw from the no­table and pleas­ant drink­ing hole. In fact, while wash­ing down the dust from our trav­els, the menu looked so good we de­cided any cook­ing was go­ing out the win­dow and we were hav­ing a meal there as well. Who could ar­gue with that?

The lo­cal his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety has done a lot of work at Milparinka, which back in the 1880s was the cen­tre of the sur­round­ing gold­fields. They have re­fur­bished the last two grand, old stone build­ings, set up in­for­ma­tion signs and dis­plays, as well as es­tab­lished a fine lit­tle mu­seum, which is worth a wan­der through. Sadly, the Al­bert Gold­fields aren’t ac­ces­si­ble, as they are be­ing worked and have been closed off for pub­lic safety – that’s the ex­cuse any­way.

Just 16km north-west of Milparinka is De­pot Glen, where Charles Sturt and his men were trapped for more than six months in the drought of 1844. James Poole, Sturt’s 2IC, died here and his grave can still be seen, while Mt Poole

is a few kilo­me­tres away across the gib­ber­strewn plain. Here on top of its lowly, rocky crest, Sturt had his men (my great­great grand­fa­ther among them) build a rock cairn as a me­mo­rial to Poole, but, more prag­mat­i­cally, it was used as a bea­con to help him nav­i­gate in this near­fea­ture­less coun­try.

Back on the main road it’s just a short hop to Ti­booburra, which is the big­gest town on this loop through the Cor­ner Coun­try. It’s easy to see why this place was orig­i­nally known dur­ing the gol­drush era as ‘The Gran­ites’, as the lit­tle ham­let is sur­rounded by piles of rounded, weath­ersmoothed rocks.

With two pubs and a cou­ple of ser­vos and gen­eral stores, it’s an oa­sis in a dry land. Check out the model of what Sturt’s 1844 ex­pe­di­tion looked like in the lo­cal na­tional parks of­fice, and don’t for­get to ad­mire the paint­ings on the walls of the Fam­ily Ho­tel, some of which were done by ac­claimed artist, the late Clifton Pugh. The story goes he got stuck in the pub be­cause of rain clos­ing the roads, and when he got bored he started paint­ing the walls. Mind you, the por­traits don’t have much clothing on, and it turns out they were the pub­li­can’s daugh­ters!

Ti­booburra is es­sen­tially sur­rounded by the Sturt Na­tional Park, and just out­side town is Golden Gully, where you’ll find a heap of trans­planted min­ing equip­ment from when gold was be­ing dug and when wa­ter was scarcer than the much soughtafter min­eral.

Nearby is Dead Horse Gully camp­ground, while a cou­ple of tourist drives through the park take you to old Mt Wood Home­stead and Jump-up coun­try, both of which are worth do­ing. How­ever, for our lit­tle party, it was enough to have a quick look around town, get some fuel and head to the Sturt Na­tional Park, some 85km north-west of the town and just south of Fort Grey Home­stead.

Not far from the home­stead is a small camp­ing area close to where Charles Sturt set up an­other camp in July 1845. His party stayed here for four months while Sturt led a small group of men north as far as Cooper Creek and the eastern edge of the Simp­son Desert.

For us, though, Fort Grey was just a short drive to Cameron Cor­ner, the meet­ing point of the bor­ders of NSW, SA and Queens­land. Sur­veyor JB Cameron spent two years from 1880 to 1882 mark­ing the Queens­land/ NSW bor­der, and he placed a post here in Septem­ber 1880 – so I guess it’s fair enough for it to be named af­ter him.

The Wild Dog Fence that fol­lows the

bor­ders came a few years later and is still in use to­day. It at­tempts to keep din­goes on the north and west side of the net­ting, so that farm­ers can run sheep on the south side, but it’s only par­tially suc­cess­ful at that.

For most trav­ellers, Cameron Cor­ner is well-known for its store and ho­tel, which opened in 1989 and has been sup­ply­ing cold beer, a hot meal and ac­com­mo­da­tion and camp­ing since. We stopped for the evening, set up camp and wan­dered over for a coldie or two, but this time around re­sisted a meal in the friendly es­tab­lish­ment.

The next day we headed back to­wards Ti­booburra then took the Gum Vale Gorge road south-west from town, which is the back way to Milparinka. There’s an op­por­tu­nity along the way to check out the old min­ing equip­ment around the War­ratta Mine, be­fore push­ing on and pass­ing Mt Sturt Home­stead and ar­riv­ing back at the small ham­let.

There were a few kan­ga­roos around in the early morn­ing, but as the sun climbed higher they re­treated to the shade. At one spot fur­ther south, the ’roos in their quest for wa­ter had dug out a big de­pres­sion in the sand; two were even scrap­ing away at the soak as we came along. They must have been thirsty, as they didn’t bound away when we neared.

Push­ing south and stay­ing away from the high­way is a pleas­ant run, only spoilt by the sheer num­ber of gates you must pass through. In fact, as you head past Mt Shan­non, Pin­cally, Pim­para Lake, Yelka and The Veldt home­steads, there must be more gates along this back road than any­where else in Aus­tralia.

As we con­tin­ued along the route, we man­aged to get con­fused at a num­ber of track junc­tions that pass by lonely home­steads in­clud­ing Teilta, Mc­dougalls Well, Corona and Wil­langee. Quite a num­ber of th­ese sta­tions and others in the

sur­round­ing area offer ac­com­mo­da­tion and camp­ing, as well as tours and self-drive 4WD tracks to en­joy. There couldn’t be a bet­ter way to get an un­der­stand­ing of the coun­try and the peo­ple who live and work out here than by stay­ing at one or more of th­ese prop­er­ties. And you’ll get to see some great wildlife, es­pe­cially the many birds that call this semidesert re­gion home.

We soon pulled into the well-known Eldee Sta­tion that nes­tles be­side the western flank of the Bar­rier Ranges, where Naomi and Steve Sch­midt made us feel welcome. Here you can en­joy some great 4WD tracks, take a pho­tog­ra­phy course, or en­joy a guided walk. When you come back to the home­stead you can cool off in the pool and spa. It’s a well set up sta­tion stay.

The next morn­ing we headed across the Mundi Mundi Plains and climbed the hill that over­looks them. We soon came to Sil­ver­ton, where among the scat­tered ru­ins of this once vi­brant sil­ver min­ing town you’ll find a few first-class out­back art gal­leries, as well as the Mad Max Mu­seum (be­cause the films of the same name were shot around here). You can also visit the old Sil­ver­ton Gaol and the Day­dream Mine.

How­ever, as we had popped into ev­ery out­back pub we’d passed along the way, we rolled to a halt at the Sil­ver­ton Ho­tel.

With Bro­ken Hill just down the road, our trip around Cor­ner Coun­try was draw­ing to a close. But like so many times be­fore, we’ll be back – I bet you won’t be able to just visit it once, ei­ther.

Ron ad­mir­ing the en­try marker to Milparinka. Climb­ing the hill over­look­ing the Mundi Mundi Plains.

Bro­ken Hill: the gate­way to the Cor­ner Coun­try. Ron’s selfie with a few telling signs. The Sil­ver­ton Ho­tel, in the once-fa­mous min­ing town.

Mak­ing tracks across the red dirt of Sturt NP.

A pink-eared duck makes use of the small dam’s wa­ters.

The bustling main street at Ti­booburra.

The old court­house at Milparinka. Relaxing af­ter a hard slog through the dust.

Rusted me­tal at Eldee Sta­tion. COR­NER COUN­TRY, NEW SOUTH WALES

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