A Road Trip Through Outback New South Wales in Search of Australia
Where: Mudgee, Dubbo, Cobar, Bourke, Wilcannia, Broken Hill, Menindee, Mungo. New South Wales, Australia.
When: July 2020
What: Mungo Man, Menindee Lakes, The Walls of China, Munghorn Gap, Outback Astronomy, Aaron's Passage, Dusty red landscape, Outback life, iconic Priscilla Queen of the Desert scenes.
How: Road trip, Regional Express (REX) prop plane.
Wildlife spotting: Kangaroo, Wombat, Kookaburra, Echidna.
Mishaps or illnesses: TBC
"If you know Bourke, you know Australia."
Henry Lawson, Australian Poet
The lion's share of New South Wales' development and infrastructure clings stubbornly to the eastern coastline meaning that there's a whole 'other Australia' waiting to be explored. Indeed, it must be explored. This is an ancient part of Australia known enigmatically as 'The Outback'. Its wide brown vistas punctuated by scorched trees, dusty red deserts, feral camels a-roaming, tin roofed shacks and empty roads stretching out into the horizon as far as the eye can see, are now the stuff of legend - and the part I consider to be true heart of Australia. Travelling through The Outback is an opportunity to experience Australia at its most ancient - a chance to taste and savour an Australia that might have existed before European settlement: that is, Australia BC. Australia Before Cook.
Hitting the open road is a quintessentially Aussie thing to do, Australia being, as it is, a land characterised by vast distances and incredible landscapes. Jumping in a car and heading somewhere - anywhere - is the archetypal and truest of adventures; heading into the unknown with the tantalising prospect of pulling over whenever the mood takes you. This unrestrained freedom is one I seldom associate with air travel. Indeed, in my eyes flying will always come second place to a road trip because a road trip positively demands that you interact with the landscape you're journeying through. Fly over the top of it and you'll deny yourself the smells, the sounds, the sights and the physical sensations of travelling through rather than over. It's travel cliche but, as far as a road trip through the Aussie Outback is concerned, the journey really is the destination.
Still reminiscing about my time in the Northern Territory where I experienced this 'other Australia', and with the global pandemic closing not only international borders but also those between Australian states, now felt like an opportune moment to explore part of my own back yard far inland and far away from the banality of the State capital Sydney, whose iconic Opera House increasingly feels un-Australian to me (the fact that it only dates from the 1970s and was designed by a Dutchman - who then fled out of frustration - compounds my growing ambivalence toward it). Shackled to the State capital for employment reasons, I'm always in search of an opportunity to experience a more authentic Australia, one removed from the corporate architecture of the city. And so, my journey through The Outback is simultaneously a journey to find the true heart and soul of Australia. I believe both can be found in the weather-worn faces of Outback folks, in the blood red dust whipped up by yet another volley of wind skipping over the open plains, in the earthily organic paintings of Indigenous Australians, in its boomerangs and didgeridoos and in its unique and enigmatic creatures which roam wild and untamed by man.
travel tips, links & resources
- Safety: On road trips through the Outback, you must go prepared for the eventuality of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Renting a satellite phone is advisable as mobile phone coverage cannot be taken for granted. Troubling news stories of families being found dead days after a car breakdown are not uncommon. The Outback is beautiful - but unforgiving if you get into trouble.
- Country Towns: A road trip through any part of Australia is a chance to experience 'real Australia' outside of the generic state capitals. Little country towns offer the chance for an awesome coffee and tasty slice of banana bread. Pull over and support local Australia.
- Sleeps: Book your accommodation well in advance if you can. Australia is a land of trailer parks and camp sites and so if you're seeking something more luxurious do your planning early - especially if you're travelling in peak tourist season.
- Savour the Ride: Try not to pack too much into your itinerary - much of your enjoyment will come from having the freedom to pull over and enjoy something you weren't expecting to see. It's a cliche but it's important to remember that the journey is also the destination!
- Suncare: This is obvious but often forgotten in the excitement of travel: if you're out in the sun ensure you follow the Australia maxim of 'Slip, Slop, Slap'. Slip on a long-sleeve top or trousers, Slop on sun lotion and Slap on a hat. High UVA and UVB rays mean being out and about is exceptionally dangerous in Australia. I have expanded my hat collection considerably since emigrating here.
- Critters: As with all walks in rural areas, be aware that you'll likely share your adventure with some poisonous creatures. Look where you tread.
- Big Things: Road tripping is a quintessentially Australian pastime. Aside from flying, it is really the only practicable way of travelling around this giant scorched land. Incorporating a road trip element not only affords you a more grass roots experience, but you also have a chance of spotting the curiously large objects along roadsides, literally named 'Big Things'. Expect to see anything from giant bananas, to guitars, rocking horses and a crocodile wearing boxing gloves. It's a glimpse into the irreverent humour of the Aussies and part of the culture which has developed around hitting the open road.
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