Bushrangers, cricketers, a poet and a zoofaries…

Cootamundra, Young, Grenfell, Weddin Mountains, Gooloogong, Forbes, Parkes, Peak Hill, Goobang National Park & Dubbo

We were getting closer to Sydney but also trying to bide time until we received the call our new grandchild was on the way! We both felt our adventure hadn’t really started  and we knew we would continue to feel like this until we left Sydney to make our way to Cape York!

Today was giving all indications that we were in for good driving weather after the previous few mornings of rain… it was clear, and if not exactly warm, dry and comfortable.

Our next destination was Cootamundra and being the birthplace of Sir Donald Bradman we just had to do the Captains of Australia walk through a very pleasant park and surroundings  to view each of the bronze statues of all of the captains of Australia’s Cricket and read the information about each of their cricket careers. We also saw the little cottage where Sir Don Bradman was born.

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As well as a railway town and service centre Cootamundra also lends its name to the famous Cootamundra wattle (Acacia baileyana), which blooms in the area each July and August, and Cootamundra Gold, the locally produced canola oil.

Next on our travels was Young. Young is well known as the cherry capital of Australia… but I think our home state of Tasmania has this honour!

Young was an attractive town in the western foothills of the Great Dividing Range with a fascinating history of goldmining. The Lambing Flat goldfields were ‘rushed’ after a discovery was announced in 1860. Within a year there were an estimated 20,000 miners in town, 2000 of whom were Chinese. A combination of lawlessness and racism boiled over in the Lambing Flat riots in 1861, which gave rise to the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act, the first legislation to herald the infamous White Australia Policy. Today the town is the peaceful centre of a cherry-farming district.

Further along the road we came to Grenfell. Nestled at the foot of the Weddin Mountains, Grenfell is best known as the birthplace of writer Henry Lawson and as you drive into town you can’t miss the fact that he  was born here. They take their famous son very seriously in this part of the world. A large sign on the edge of town proclaims that Grenfell is the ‘Birth place of Henry Lawson’ and along the main street is a Lawson Memorial with a bust of the poet, and several murals depicting Lawson.

To get a feel for Lawson’s origins we headed to  Lawson Park which is located beside Lawson Oval in Lawson Drive, which runs off Henry Lawson Way… as I said they take the poet very seriously!

A white obelisk in the park marks the place where Henry was born but there is no building on the site as he was actually born in a tent. Plaques on the obelisk give quotes from his writings, including the autobiographical poem ‘Said Grenfell to My Spirit’, which has a line that reads, ‘You were born on Grenfell goldfield – and you can’t get over that’.

The wealth during the days of the gold rush is evident in the lavish original buildings on main Street of this little town. Originally named Emu Creek, the town was renamed after Gold Commissioner John Granville Grenfell, who was gunned down by bushrangers.

Speaking of bushrangers… about 48 kilometres from Grenfell is Ben Halls Cave and Ben Halls campground.  Ben Hall was another legendary bushranger who did most of his bushranging in New South Wales, where he was known as ‘Brave Ben Hall’ .

This campground is nestled between large eucalyptus trees on the western side of Weddin Mountain National Park in an open woodland setting  with large grassed campsites providing a welcoming atmosphere with Basin Gully as a picturesque backdrop. From the campground a marked track leads up Basin Gully to Ben Hall’s cave, the famous bushranger’s hideout.

If you blink as you drive through the little town of Gooloogong you almost miss it… it is almost not a town at all.

As we drove in all we saw of this beautiful little ‘one horse town’ was a pub on one corner, a log hall on the other, a rural supplies store opposite, and just up the road a handy mart come post office, fuel, hardware and takeaway.… but there was more to this little town than met the eye. Venturing further afield we found Croote Cottage, an historic dwelling built around 1827 by a convict gang, the police station, the country club, a school, churches, the Memorial Garden that gave us an opportunity to see how a small Australian country town was formed and has survived, and little back streets that took us past small dwellings that were obviously the essence that made up this community.

Originally we had no intentions of visiting Gooloolgong, in fact we had never heard of it but the lure of a gold coin donation campground and its amenities soon took us off the beaten track and we were so glad we ventured in. We stayed the night in the ‘Maisie Thompson Campground’, which we found on CampMate.  This little campground was situated right beside the very informative Memorial Gardens, a children’s playground and a very clean amenities block and was right opposite the towns old log hall. It was a great place to set up camp, right in the middle of a very friendly community with toilets, hot showers, water and a small camp kitchen with a wood fire.

Many villages in the area have lost their post office, pub and petrol stations, general store and clubs but by visiting this beautiful village we left feeling, although in only a small way,  we had contributed to helping sustain crucial services for the people who have worked so hard to make their little town a beautiful and unique place to visit.

If you are travelling through this part of NSW, Gooloogong, on the banks of the Lachlan River, is definitely a great place to pull in to.

Next day we headed for Forbes. Forbes is an old city on the Newell Highway also on the banks of the Lachlan River.

As we drove  into this town we were presented with a beautiful park that was circled with National Trust listed, majestic old buildings. These include the courthouse and police station, two fine old churches, a magnificent town hall and a lovely old pub, all facing the park which was also home to the War Memorial and Cenotaph and a stroll through the streets revealed many more treasures.

One of Forbes’ claims to fame is that it was the home of Ben Hall and the associated Gardiner Gang. Just out of town at Billabong Creek is the place where Hall was tracked down and shot by a police party in 1865.

Hall was then buried in the Forbes cemetery two days prior to his 28th birthday and close by to the grave of Ben Hall is the grave of Kate Foster, sister of bushrangers Ned and Dan Kelly.

It was a short drive a little way out of town to the cemetery and the most interesting part of the trip  to Hall’s grave was the ruggedness of the landscape, mostly cattle and sheep farming with some grain farming as well. It had clearly been a very dry season for quite a while in Central NSW and this land certainly reflected its harshness.

Forbes is the traditional home of the Wiradjuri people and whites began settling in 1817 after it was discovered by the famous explorer John Oxley.

The town didn’t really begin to boom until gold was discovered in 1861 when it was officially named Forbes after Sir Francis Forbes the first Chief Justice of NSW.

A few kilometres north of the city on the Newell Highway we passed  a rich marsh known as Gum Swamp, which is the location of a popular bird hide. It is said that up to 60 – 70 species may be viewed here at any one time.images-1

Parkes was next on our map. Parkes is well-known as the home of Elvis and  for the famous Parkes Observatory with its enormous telescope, ‘The Dish’!

Who doesn’t know of the legendary Elvis Presley?  Each year in Parkes for the last 26 years the Parkes community has celebrated Elvis Presley’s birthday with the annual Parkes Elvis Festival when this small Australian country town  comes alive with Elvis Presley impersonators (and some Priscilla impersonators too).
The festival creates a really cool atmosphere where people around in the 60s and 70s go back in time to the days of their youth… just  for a few days!IMG_1508

The Parkes Observatory with its enormous telescope, ‘The Dish’ played a crucial role relaying images of the first man landing on the moon in 1969. During the Apollo 11 mission to the moon ‘The Dish’ was used to receive weak radio signals then relayed the landing to eager viewers across the world. It is hard to believe these signals came from this humble dish in the middle of a sheep paddock, just 20  kilometres north of the township of Parkes, the same paddock where the great Australian comedy movie ‘The Dish’ was set.

This movie went a long way to putting Parkes and ‘The Dish’ on the map. It explored the 1960s culture, specifically the cultural differences between Americans and Australians, whilst casting a comical eye over the people of this rural town.

The Visitors Discovery Centre was a great place to visit and learn how ‘The Dish’ works and what it does and best of all it was free so next time you’re cruising the Newell Highway,  stop in and take a look, it is well worth the visit!

Heading to Dubbo our next stop was Peak Hill.

Mining for gold started here in 1889 and was mined by underground methods until it closed in 1917.

It re-opened 1996 but this time as an open cut mine, using blasting to break up the rock and creating a huge pit. We walked partway around the biggest, Proprietary Pit, where the main gold-bearing ore body had been. They mined it for five years and produced a pit about 400 metres long and 80 metres deep.

A trail takes you past one or all of the five pits, depending on how long you like your walks and there are still a few historic mine workings and remnants of equipment from the early mining days.

The pit now has a black lake in the bottom, which is groundwater that has leached the iron out of the surrounding rock. The sides of the pit are wonderfully colourful with reds, yellows and browns caused by the weathering of the iron into iron oxides and it was quite spectacular with the sun shining on the face.

Looking for somewhere to camp the night, Goobang National Park was just a few kilometres north and a beautiful place to pitch our rooftop tent, with clean toilets and gas BBQ’s and spectacular scenery. Greenbah campground was very well laid out with lots of sites and it was a free camp for the night. We arrived just as the sun was setting and realised there were only a couple of other campers so we chose a site complete with a campfire pit and after hunting down some dry firewood we soon had a roaring campfire, our dinner cooking away in the camp oven and the billy boiling.

We had explored Dubbo on a previous trip  visiting  the old Gaol and the Western Plains Zoo run by Taronga Zoo in Sydney. The zoo is a ‘must see’ and you really need a couple of days to look around as it is a large zoo that keeps the animals in fairly large enclosures. A one-day admission gets you in free for a second day so the first day we walked and the second we rode around on our  bikes.  Some people hired bikes and golf-buggies were another option for those that didn’t fancy a long walk.

Our first  stop was the giraffes, they were amazing to see and we were lucky enough for one to walk right up to us.  We then headed over to the hippo talk where we learned a number of interesting facts – did you know hippopotamus means river horse?

Not knowing what a bongo was… and no, it isn’t me, we went searching to find out that a bongo is a species of antelope – it was great to discover new animals. From there, we could hear the monkeys and following the distinct noise, we searched them out to see them swinging from ropes between two islands, much to the amusement of the gathered onlookers.

Knowing exactly where we wanted to go on the second day was a huge help in ensuring we would see everything!  Our 2 day pass was ideal to take in everything, as the first day is spent figuring out where to go and what to see and by the second we knew where we were headed – first stop the meerkats, next was the elephant then we moved on to the marsupial’s compound and our last stop where we saw animals we were very familiar with like kangaroos, koalas and emus.

…and have you ever dreamed about waking up on an African Safari? Well it’s possible right here in Australia and thanks to our children we were privileged to spend a night at the amazing ‘Roar and Snore’ at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, a luxury zoo stay package that you simply have to see to believe!

“Wow!  Look at the length of her tongue,”  I enthused as I offered a carrot to the giraffe who curled her tongue around it before drawing it into her mouth

We were at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, on a ‘Roar and Snore’ adventure.  We’d spent the night in tents and were now on an early morning behind-the-scenes tour of the giraffe enclosure.

Our  adventure began at 6.30 pm the previous night  and ran until 9.00 am after which we were free to spend the rest of the day exploring the zoo.

On arrival at the zoo after closing hours we embarked on a twilight walk ‘on the wild side’ through  the zoo to our campsite where we were greeted with luxury safari tents with wooden floors  and comfy double beds… glamping to the extreme, and an amazing view across Sydney harbour to the city that was absolutely gorgeous, especially when the sun goes down and the lights of the city came up… when gorgeous becomes magic.

On arrival we were treated to canapes and welcome drinks as well as a chance to meet some native creatures then later everyone came together for a buffet dinner  and a few games before heading out on a night safari.  Minus the daytime crowds, meant uninterrupted views of the animals while listening to fascinating facts and we all loved watching the lions alternately wrestle and play in the moonlight just inside the glass. Later that evening after tea, coffee and dessert  we retired to our boudoir before an early start.

To top it all off, we were woken the next morning to a lion’s roar as our alarm clock… a roar  that ruptured the morning air, momentarily startling us. A powerful sound leaving no doubt the nearby lions were awake… followed closely by an elephant’s trumpeting call.

Following a light continental breakfast we left on an amazing behind the scenes tour visiting and feeding many animals before the park opened to the public again.

Being able to get up close and personal with so many creatures was definitely the highlight regardless of whether the animals were soft and cuddly, tall and dribbly or cold and scaly, this behind-the-scenes perspective made our ‘Roar and Snore’ tour a fantastic experience, it was a fun way to learn more about the animal world.

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