March 17, 2011 by jessperriam
If there’s one thing that’s better than going on a road trip, it’s being paid to go on a road trip.
I just had the realisation that this story I’m about to tell you happened three years ago and yet it still feels fresh and fun in my head.
This goes back to the days where I was a baby online producer (read: paid tourist) having a moment of actual paid tourism.
You see, the area I covered was huge. How can I get this point across for the international audience? It was huuuuuuuuuuuuuge! Fun (unverified) fact: The United Kingdom can fit into New South Wales three times over and my patch probably accounted for around about a third of the land area of the state. Now you believe me.
Understandably, you couldn’t go and do a story on one side of the patch and expect to be back home in time to go to bed and rock up at work the next day. So my colleague Justin and I took a working week to go and talk to the locals and collect stories for the website and the radio programs.
We planned the trip, set up some interviews and hit the road. The first stop was Dubbo so I could get Justin from his office (the region had two offices) and then we hit the road properly, first stop: Nyngan. We heard stories of the tough life of sheep shearers, the old days and a massive flood that struck the town in the early 1990s.
We sat by the side of the road contemplating whether we should approach some long-haul truck drivers for an interview about life on the road. But I couldn’t help noticing the generous lashings on sunflowers growing like weeds on the road side. It was as if someone had flung handfuls of seed out of the car window as they blinked and missed the town centre.
Later that evening Justin persuaded me to go to the bowlo – or the local bowls club. It had a been a fairly hot day and it was a Monday so there weren’t many people at the club. Just a handful of barflies we could convince to give us a lend of their bowls.
I was using a set of the hottest of hot pink bowls you’ll ever use and Justin was lecturing me on grass and weight, as if those two words would have any impact on my efforts. Needless to say, he won. Convincingly.
That night was the first of many schnitzels and planning for the next day of driving and interviews.
The road from Nyngan to Bourke was where the first of the red dirt came into play. As the map will show you, it’s just one long, straight road with loads of scrub and massive properties on either side. It was the perfect time to talk about learning French and other things.
Bourke is a town I’d heard more about in euphemisms than in anecdotes. But the anecdotes you do hear are those common to any other town in remote New South Wales: too many social problems, not enough education and healthcare and desperate attempts to get tourists to swing past and pump some money into the local economy. Those who live there love it, despite the sheer distance to… well, anywhere.
I interviewed a captain of a steamboat which makes occasional trips down the Darling River, depending on whether the region is in drought. We were lucky because when we were there, there had been recent heavy rainfall further upstream which had turned that part of Bourke into an oasis.
Justin went to the Back o’ Bourke centre, a new museum which hadn’t quite opened yet. It was going to explain the history of the area in what would be quite an interesting and modern way.
Later, we were faced with a lull, we had thrown our stuff into our respective motels rooms (I baulked at the idea of lamb’s fry on the motel breakfast menu), so it was off to the cemetery. Cemeteries aren’t normally very intriguing, but this one had the grave of the late humanitarian Fred Hollows. Not just that but it tells the stories of some of the lesser known people who made their mark on the region. There were graves of centenarian Afghan cameleers from the turn of last century – the locals thought they exaggerated about their ages. But I reckon if it’s on your tombstone, you hold the last word.
However cemeteries only hold your attention for so long and we thought the idea of a golf course in the middle of nowhere was an odd idea. So we headed out to the golf club where there was nary a person in sight. So we did what anyone would do and took photos next to the flag on the 18th hole.
Later that evening we tried our hand at outback cuisine – otherwise known as the Chinese restaurant at the local bowlo. We ordered honey chicken and somehow ended up with… chicken donuts? I like to think someone was ahead of the molecular gastronomy game in little old Bourke. But methinks there was just a lot of batter in use in that kitchen.
It does sound like there was a lot of play and not much work. But dinner was always early and work was always late. We had a laptop with a USB internet connection that was fairly slow along with cut down versions of every bit of software we used back in the office. We could work and post on the same day, but it was slow going, especially when we were so far away from capital city telecommunication speeds.
We also had to prepare for another day of long driving to Walgett, but not before popping into Brewarrina.
To be continued next week…
It’s Thursday, right? This makes it a Travel Tale… welcome back!