Loaded up with things too precious to leave to the removal, I drove out of Newcastle. My bones called for the ocean but I did not look back. Instead, I focused on the drive ahead which would take me along the Golden and Mitchell Highways’ toward the outback.
The days’ heat had already begun to take hold and by dusk it had fatigued with a weariness you feel almost down to your marrow. We had our eyes on the west but still stopped at small rural townships along the way. In these places, some of which seemed to carry the immense weight of sadness and neglect to them, I was challenged to consider why the residents have stayed. Towns that seemed years ago to have been a world of hard work and prosperity now have very little to show for it.
After just over 3 hours of driving, we pulled up outside the White Rose café in Dunedoo. This is one of those rare old milk bars. The kind that used to be around in all country towns during the 50’s and 60’s. Stepping through the doors of the café you are met with an assortment of tables and sturdy hardwood chairs, a curved metal counter, polished glass and milkshakes made the old way by plunging a long handled dipper into a vat of ice cold milk.
The food was okay but not great and the wait can be long but perhaps the cafes’ charm is that it succeeds on nostalgia, kitsch and as an air conditioned comfort stop for a hodgepodge of travellers.
Fueled by a steak sandwich and a GI Blues milkshake, it was back on the road where I occasionally stopped to stretch my legs or take a photo. I was also not adverse to stopping roadside, eroding tiny parts of the landscape as the stock pile of water and ginger beer I had on board quickly diminished.
The sun continued to beat down, dry grass crunched under my feet and the land was parched. It was a hot and tiring drive along the baking sheets of tar with little relief except for the ginger beer. That was until we pulled up in Nyngan…….
Now it seems we like things BIG in Australia. The Big Pineapple, The Big Banana, The Big Prawn, I think you get the big idea.
Nothing like a big, sunshiny yellow banana to make you feel good
And where better to erect a Big Bogan other than right on the edge of the outback in Nyngan New South Wales.
Should you ever find yourself skulking along Bogan Way, or around the banks of the Bogan River or just mossying along Bogan Street which, by the way, are all smack bang in the Bogan Shire, you will happen upon this iconic structure.
Dwarfing all around, this impressively tall thong wearing stubbie holding statue – who looks uncannily like Hulk Hogan – is about as Australian as it gets from his Southern Cross tattoo and huge-ass esky right up to his mullet.
I seemed to get my second wind in Nyngan. Perhaps it was the break from the weariness of the road or perhaps it was just because I had a soft spot for this fun but often scorned and ridiculed effigy.
Late afternoon, and after clocking up just over 9 hours on the road, we headed to the copper town of Cobar for the night. The 130k run from Nyngan to Cobar was slow going as unpredictable herds of feral goats (more than I have ever seen in any one location), a random old sheep or two and the occasional kangaroo grazed or moved about right by the road side.
Cobar eventually came in the relief of a cold shower, cold beer and a Chinese meal at the local bowls club where it seemed half of the population of the town had gathered for happy hour.
Later that evening and back in the motel room although bone tired, I could not sleep. I felt so very far away and the ghosts of the life I had lived in Newcastle from the beautiful ocean waves, my favorite coffee haunts, the lanes and street art, the sea caves and everything and everyone else in between bled through.
The air conditioning unit above the bedhead hummed and I eventually fell asleep knowing that morning would bring with it the blank slate of another day. I had wide open spaces, the languid pace of the road, blood red soil and forgotten townships to slow me right down and the thought of it all filled me with a freedom and longing only this kind of travel can bring…….xx