The Road to Lightning Ridge

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Now the longest drive my wife and I have done while towing the Jayco Penguin campertrailer was about 3 hours, and with the plan to do the big trip to Uluru in September, I picked  a place that was a full days drive away, to test my ability to remain conscious at the wheel. After much consideration I chose a place I haven’t been to for 26 years. Lightning Ridge. Now I’ll post soon about the town itself, but this is all about the journey. This trip is not a speed race, this is a relay, except I’m the only runner (driver), my wife preferring the job of feeding me chips and chocolate, and keeping me caffeinated.  So fasten your seat belts as we go on a road trip to the edge of the outback.

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Now as any good traveller knows, driving is a soporific experience, and the recommended stretch of white line hypnosis is 2 hours. The wife, being the organised wonder she is, packed the obligatory thermos, tea bags milk etc, that help keep the caffeine levels nicely balanced. The night before we left, my wife packed snacks,(junk food for me, fruit salad for her.) while I packed the van.  The plan was to leave at dawn and have our first stop at Warwick , a sleepy little town on the  Southern Downs of Qld.

Come dawn, we were breakfasted, dressed and out of our home, leaving behind a freezer full of food for our two boys, (old enough to take care of themselves, kind of,) and the iced teas  I forgot to pack at the last minute,  The trip to Warwick is well known to us now by now, and you basically hop on the Cunningham highway and try not to fall asleep.  A cheap coffee from Maccas helped flush the blood from my caffeine stream and Dumb Things playing on the Bluetooth, we drove south. A couple of hours of roadworks and fog, and we were in Warwick, sitting in the park with a hot cup of earl grey whilst fending of the Bin Chickens who were showing far too much interest in our morning tea.

After the obligatory half hour break, we were back in the car, and back on the road, heading west for Goondiwindi. From here things started to get interesting, as much as they can at a hundred kilometres an hour. Each town that we pass through has an informative translation for the places name. This and the occasional wildlife sighting helped pass the time, if not add to this driver’s distractions. The closer we got to Goondiwindi the more the landscape changed. This is cotton growing country and the area surrounding Goondiwindi is a flat and desolate wasteland, the scrub gone and replaced by large fields of cotton stubble, the harvest having just been completed. The road in and out of town is wrapped in cotton wool as the massive trucks litter the highway with escaped cotton balls. It’d be quite beautiful if it weren’t for the whole soaked in chemicals and thirsty crop the plant is.

In Goondiwindi we bought some replacement iced tea for the ones I’d left at home and another cheap pair of sunglasses, which I’ll add to the growing list of things I’ll remember next time we go away. After a cup of  tea, some lunch, (which the ubiquitous Bin Chickens pestered us for, ) and the mandatory break, we left Goondiwindi and headed over the border into NSW, back onto the fluffy cotton highway,  and continuing westward towards our next stop.

I was doing alright, driver fatigue not raising it’s ugly head so far, so I decided to push the driver fatigue envelope a little, aiming for a stint behind the wheel that went as far as I felt I could before the warning signs began to kick my arse.  IMG_0765.JPG

By mid afternoon, the caffeine had worn off, fatigue was setting in, and the scenic views had become a string of endless empty fields, which had the same effect as Valium. The lack of scenery made the Goondiwindi/Collarenebri stretch slow going, so I cranked up the Abacab on the playlist and pushed the X-Trail to 110 K ,  The sooner I could get to the next caffeine hit the better.

I needed something entertaining  to prevent me from putting us both and the Jayco  on a Stop, Revive, Survive billboard. The.wife rejected my favourite childhood travel game, “Identify the road kill”, so we settled on a “spot the emu” competition (she won 6 to 1) before a quick round of “cow or speed bump?” helped get enough adrenaline flowing to keep me going to our next stop.

Finally, we reached Collarenebri, and my brain decided it had had enough of the mesmerising Gwydir highway. After driving over the bridge into town, I pulled the car and van in at the first, (and only) park we came to, on the dusty banks of the Barwon River. The rivers and creeks out here vary in colour between chocolate brown and lactose intolerant caramel. It’s sad to see the state of them at the moment, as Algae makes swimming inadvisable.

We fuelled up at the only servo, the cost of petrol telling us we were now a long way from home. There’s not a lot to Collarenebri. This is the kind of town time and governments have forgotten about, the sad streets lined with closed shops, only the pub and the servo still managing to eke out a living. This is a place on the road to becoming a ghost town,

After the recharge that only some food, a cuppa and a dose of environmentally induced depression can provide, we headed onto the last and shortest leg of our journey. west the north to Lightning Ridge.

This is the land of the National Emblem, where emus and Kangaroos line the Highway, their corpses littering the road for a hundred Kilometres or more. Occasional flocks of the flightless comedians running away with their strange dancing gate, their heads held high as they scurry out of sight. The Kangaroos stay mostly hidden, waiting for nightfall when their suicidal attraction to headlights is on display. Our aim was to reach the home of black opal before whatever it is that drives the roos to destruction really kicked in. Finally, as the sun was heading for the horizon we arrived at our destination, and not a moment to soon.

It had been twenty six years since I last visited the Ridge, and I seem to remember a lot more dirt and a lot less grey asphalt road making up the Castlereagh highway. The surroundings began to turn Red as the Iron rich soils of the outback begin. This is the edge of the great mass of red that is the majority of Australia’s middle.

As we pulled in to the Lorne Station Caravan Park, the excitement chased away the fatigue and up ahead I heard the beckoning call of a nice cold beer I’d been chilling as reward for completing the long haul.

Next post will be about the couple of day we spent in the Ridge discovering why the locals call it, “The Largest Unfenced Lunatic Assylum in the World.”

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Author: cmkneipp

Part time author and full time lunatic Author of Parallel and The Immortal Darkness. currently looking for a publisher for my new novel Harmony.

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