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I had a week off from work, the Toyota was ready, and I wanted to go somewhere I hadn't been before. There were all the resorts and holiday places by the ocean and beaches, but over the summer Christmas/New Year holiday period they would be busy; too busy for me. I prefer the quiet and open spaces. I asked a few friends what they were doing, but they all had their holidays planned, or were working.
I really wanted to go away, so I planned a trip into the Outback. As I had only a week, I didn't have the time for a big trip right up into Central Australia, so I settled on a shorter trip into the closest of the real desert regions of Australia. Also, it was summer, and the heat would be too much. Hardly any one travels in the Outback in summer. It's far too hot and dangerous. Without water or shade, you may only live for a day or two if you were stranded without help.
The Outback is the name given to the large area of central Australia. It is mostly an arid semi- desert region with very low rainfall and very hot in summer. In some places the temperature exceeds 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) on the hottest days. There is very little farming in the outback, but what is there is generally cattle or sheep.
I had packed the Toyota the day before, and left home at 8:00 am. It is strange leaving for a holiday to the outback and having to drive all the way across Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia and capital of the state of Victoria. I had to cross Melbourne because I live in the south eastern suburbs, and the highway I was to travel on for the first day heads out north from Melbourne. I work in the centre of Melbourne, and drove by the building where I work; it's good to be on holiday. :-)
The majority of the day I spent driving along highways towards my first night's destination, a large town in northwestern Victoria called Mildura. It took me about 7 hours to drive the 600 kilometres (373 miles). I passed through many towns. Some with a population of only a few people, and others that had larger populations of over 50,000. In the south where I live, the forests are green and lush. The further north I drove, the drier the grass got and the smaller the trees. The area around Mildura is called the Mallee, which is an Aboriginal word for the short eucalypt trees that dominate the landscape.
Once I got to Mildura, I found a camping ground and put up my small tent. The next day I was to travel into the edge of the outback, and as a precaution I called into the Rangers office. The Rangers office was actually in a small town called Buronga just over the boarder in the state of New South Wales. The ranger said that the roads were in good condition, and there was nothing out of the ordinary to worry about, just be careful.
The weather had been fine when I left Melbourne, and by the time I reached Muldura there was not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was around 30C (86F).
I awoke this morning at sunrise. I usually sleep in easily past then when on holidays, but the sun was shining on my little tent and it was already hot.
This days drive was no where near the distance of the previous days, but it was going to be far more interesting. Gone were the boring drives along the highways; I was now heading into the edge of the Outback. My destination was Mungo National Park, a distance of 120 kilometres (75 miles) away to the northeast. Once I had travelled about 10 kilometres (6 miles) the road turned to dirt. It was quite a good road, but in places there was deep sand on the road as well as corrugations.
Once I got to Mungo National Park I visited the unmanned display centre and found out about the area. The park covers most of an ancient dry lakebed that dried up around 15,000 years ago. It was one of several lakes strung along Willandra Creek. Today, all that is left of the lake is a crescent-shaped sand dune which marks what was once the eastern shore. The vegetation in the park is typical of the planes of western New South Wales, being made up of Belah, bladder saltbush and mallee. Red kangaroos, western grey kangaroos, echidnas, native mice and bats are to be found also in the park, along with lizards like the shingleback, bearded dragon and geckos. Birds that are also present include emus, pink cockatoos and white-fronted chats.
The Mungo National Park preserves a very long history of Aboriginal life in Australia, from 40,000 years ago, to the present. There are still artefacts found in the area, and Aboriginal people used to camp along the shores and fish for golden perch. Archaeologists found a grave of a ceremonial burial and cremation several years ago, which was dated to be around 23,000 years old, the oldest funeral ceremony recorded in the world. Just recently another Aboriginal burial site was found, estimated to be around 30,000 years old.
More recently, in the last 120 years white man (squatters) started to settle in the area. They opened up very large sheep stations and built the local woolshed where they used to shear the sheep. The station was closed in 1971, and was then turned into the National Park as it is now.
After visiting the woolshed, I drove out to the lunette. The drive out wasn't that long, but it was hot. The temperature had been climbing all afternoon, and I guess that it was around 42C (108F) and not a cloud in the sky. I had to drink a lot of water all of the time, as I was losing a lot of water by sweating. Walking out on the lunette was just like I would imagine the deserts of the Sahara to look like. The sand was soft and deep, and the sun very hot. I was the only person out there. The few others that were in the park were staying in the shade.
That night I met a group of people at The Mungo Lodge, and celebrated the new year. One of the people there was from Sweden and she had only been in Australia for 2 weeks. It was a shock to her, because she had just come from the cold winter in Sweden to the hot summer in Outback Australia.
Again I awoke with the rising of the sun. It was going to be another hot day. Very hot. My destination was Menindee. A small town on the Darling River that used to be an important paddle steamer port many years ago.
About half way between Mungo and Menindee I pulled over to the side of the road to take a picture, and noticed a strange noise coming from the Toyota when I stopped the engine. I had never heard this sound before, but worked it out; the petrol in my petrol tank was boiling. This was caused by the exhaust pipe being too close to the tank. That afternoon when I got into Menindee I was to find out that the temperature had got to 45C (113F) that day.
While at Menindee I visited another old sheep station called Kinchega and looked at the woolshed there.
When I got to the camping ground I decided that it wound be nice to wash off the sweat and dust (my old Toyota has no air conditioning) with a swim in the lake. Yuk! It was horrible. The water was muddy, the bottom was gooey mud, and the water was very warm. After my short swim, I went to the showers. The water for the showers was pumped from the lake. It too was warn and muddy. At least I didn't smell as bad as I had.
The town of Broken Hill was my destination for this day. An easy drive of only 120 kilometres (75 miles) along a highway. This was a welcome change from the rough dirt and dusty roads I had been travelling the previous days.
Broken Hill is a mining town with a population of 27,000. Silver, lead, copper, zinc and other minerals are mined from several large mines around the area.
I did a short trip out to an old ghost town called Silverton. This town has a lot of history in it, mostly to do with mining, but now the only permanent resident is an old artist who paints funny pictures of miners and emus.
That night in the camping ground I met two men from a town called Dubbo named Trevor and Brian who had also been travelling through the outback. They had many wild and wonderful stories of their trip and past travelling experiences.
Broken Hill was interesting, but I was on the move again. About 120km northeast is a National Park called Mootwingee. Again it was dirt roads to travel on; and again it was hot and dusty.
There are several walks to do in the park, and I chose one that took me up a dry creek bed for several kilometres to an old man made dam. This dam was made around 80 years ago to supply water to the old homestead. On the way back, I stopped off to have a look at some of the Aboriginal rock carving artwork that is found through out the park.
As per normal for this time of year, it was hot; and the national park was almost empty.
That night, the weather looked to be changing; heavy but high cloud cover came over. I thought this would mean that the temperature would drop, but it didn't. The humidity just rose a lot. That night I could hardly sleep, the perspiration just ran down my back and chest.
I only had two days left on my holiday, and home was a long way away. The trip back out to Broken Hill, then straight down the Silver City Highway to Mildura was quick for the 470km, if not a little boring.
From Mildura I travelled south another 100km to Ouyen, then turned off west along the Mallee Highway. I drove 70km to a (very) small town called Linga, then turned off to Pink Lakes National Park.
Pink Lakes is a good name for the park. The salt lakes are actually pink. This is caused by the algae that grows in them having a high carotene content.
What was really amazing was the fact that the lakes were dry. When I first got there I assumed that there was water in them, but it turned out that the smooth dry salt looks just like water from a distance. It's strange walking out on a dry lake that is just salt.
Home was just a little under 600km away via the shortest and fastest route; but I'd been on those roads already in the last week.
So off to Murrayville I went; a small town out near the South Australian border. This was to be my starting point for my crossing of the Big Desert. Big Desert in Victoria isn't that big of a desert by Australian standards, nor is it really much of a desert by anyone's standards. It is more of a dry, sandy area covered in mainly tea-tree and salt bush.
The track across the Big Desert is a narrow sandy one that climbs over several sand dunes. Some of these were a little tricky to get over, as the sand was very dry, soft and deep. At least I was doing the track a lot easier than the Subaru 4x4 wagon I met along the way. These poor people had to clear the ridge down centre of the track on the sand dunes before they could get over them. That's a lot of sand to move with just one shovel in hot weather. I offered to drive along with them, and tow them over the difficult dunes, but they wanted to do it them selves, so I left them to their hard work.
After crossing the desert, I came out onto farmland; it was then only a drive of 30 minutes until I got to the sleepy little town of Rainbow.
From Rainbow, it was just a drive along main roads and highways until I was home.
It may be a strange holiday, but I enjoyed it. Not everyone would like being alone like this for a week, but I got to see parts of Australia I had only read about before. I also got to listen to twenty 90-minute music tapes without any complaints.
Since then, I have been back to many of these places, and have now taken my wife there as well; although not in mid summer.
There is something about the outback that I like; I don't know what it is, but I do like it.
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