We wake to the mournful cawing of a crow. It feels good to be in the bush again.
Dom has been tending the fire in the night and the embers are hot and glowing. The campfire is welcome in the cool air and we warm ourselves around it. The toasting fork comes out and we enjoy buttered toast for breakfast.
We’ve heard rumour there’s been a heavy fall of rain in the area and some of the roads may be closed. Driving towards Wilcannia I imagine rain on this road. It’s little more than a deep rut cut into the red earth. Water would run through here like a river.
Sweet little kids follow attentive nanny goats into the bush as we pass. A big old roo reclining in the sun lifts his head to watch. The road becomes more rutted As we drive on. There’s a road sign on an unsealed side road to Bourke. Taking a quick detour to check the sign posted nearby, we see it says “Road Closed”. This is not promising.
Our plan today is to tour along the Darling through Tilpa, and on to Bourke along the river route. When we reach Wilcannia, we find there has been 70 mm of rain and the roads have been closed. There’s a heavy fine for using a closed road, $1000 a wheel, we are told. Add to that the risk of getting bogged, and of damaging the road for other users. There’s no option, we have to change our plans and drive to Cobar and take the Barrier Highway to Bourke.
Back on the bitumen. The highway is busy with traffic. Grey nomads in caravans jostle with huge trucks. It’s not what we were hoping to see today. But the highway does not disturb the wildlife. Indigenous kangaroos are outnumbered by the imported goats. We see hundreds of them, all well fed, healthy and leading kids.
A B Double truck drives up the tail of our convoy, urging us to move faster. Caravanners slow ahead of us. We are caught between them. Malcolm engages the truck driver on the radio. Howard in the lead calls out when the road is clear and we overtake the caravans one by one.
At lunch we are accosted by cheeky apostle birds hopping on to the picnic table at the truck stop and swooping on crumbs. The birds are so named because they live in family groups of twelve, like the twelve biblical apostles.
It’s a long tiring journey to Bourke, but finally we arrive. The caravan park, Kidman Camp, is way out at the back of Bourke. It is worth the trip. Showers, kitchen, laundry and a lovely quiet camping spot.
A bus to the local bowling club picks us up for dinner. It’s Chinese food with Tracy and Caitlin. A tower of brightly coloured balloons perches on a half empty table of local girls. They are here to celebrate the 18th birthday of a fragile looking girl with pale skin and long blonde hair. We raise our voices to join the room singing happy birthday, and wish her well.
The bus back to camp takes a circuitous route through the suburbs of Bourke to drop off the locals after a night of pokies at the bowling club. It’s hard to get a feeling for the town we are in, having seen so little of it. I think I will reserve judgement on Bourke until I can spend more time here.