The view from the tent at Nindigully is peaceful. The sun warms the red dirt, grey nomads go about their morning coffee and breakfast rituals, the river flows slowly and birds twitter in the trees. I lay in the warmth of the tent to knock out some work while listening to all that is going on. By the time we get up to cook breakfast and pack, most of the caravans have left the camp en route to the next night’s location. Some will travel far while others will just race a few hundred kilometers down the road to reach their next free camp early enough to get the best spot. It’s a daily ritual in rural and remote Australia where caravans towed by 4WDs probably outnumber all other vehicles.
Leaving the Nindigully Pub we drive towards St George through canola country. It’s a gorgeous, yellow and cheerful crop to see growing on the roadside. Paul says a lot of it is grown as fodder for cattle. He knows a lot about the bush, having lived almost a decade in a country town. We stop to take photos and stretch our legs. There’s no rush. Our next camp is only 220km away and we have all day to get there. With speed limits of 100kph – 110kph (65mph) we can cover the distance in two hours if we have to.
But we don’t have to rush so soon we are parked on the roadside again. This time it’s cotton that has caught our attention. We think we are driving past the 240,000 acre (96,000 hectare) Cubby Station cotton farm. All the cotton has been harvested for the season and the farm landscape is a mixture of cut off clumps of plant and barren soil where the plants have been dug up. Huge dams that with tall embankments are visible within the farm boundaries. Small escaped cotton plants dot the roadside verge and we decide to see what the raw material feels like. It’s all part of the wild fun of Outback travel this stopping to experience what goes on outside the car windows. And probably the best thing I’ve taken away from slowing down to cycle tour. Once upon a time I would have been too focused on my destination to stop for a small cotton plant but not today.
It’s nearly midday by the time we stop in St George. Of all the towns we’ve been through so far, this one is the grungiest. We park by the Balonne River where there are three large pubs on a 150m stretch of road. Standing between the pubs are a couple of banks and two welfare services.
There is a river walk leading to the weir that allows water to be collected for the local agrictultural irrigation scheme.
And new exercise equipment in the park.
But mostly this town feels a bit unloved, as the destruction of this flood marker shows. Mind you, check out how high the flood waters can get here. Pretty impressive.
Mind you, the small pilot’s memorial is a lovely tribute to two of the town’s great WWII aviators. Warrant Officer Leonard Victor Waters was one of the first Aboriginal fighter pilots and also one of the only Aboriginal people to hold land in his own right during the 1940s. During that time, Aboriginal people were not citizens of Australia and were governed under the Flora and Fauna Act. They were forbidden from holding real or personal property, so to be granted a plot of land means that he must have been a superb man to overcome that level of institutional racism. The second plaque commemorates Squadron Leader John Francis Jackson who was so heroic that he is the only Australian ever to have an international airport in a foreign country named after him. Jackson Airport is in Port Moresby, PNG.
We leave St George behind and set off on the Moonie Highway towards camp. Sharing the driving means we both get a chance to relax and take in the scenery. Fortunately, Paul also has music on his iPhone so we have a soundtrack to our adventure, rather than having to listen to ABC Radio (I’m not a fan of talk back and news radio stations).
We stop on the way to collect firewood and take in the serenity. It’s so quiet out here. I just love the space it gives me to think about life, love and all that stuff. And to have a laugh with Paul.
We reach Westmar around 2pm and set up camp before heading to the pub/roadhouse/general store for lunch. Other than a primary school, this is the only building in this dot on the map. There aren’t even any houses here. Just the two buildings. On the outside the pub/roadhouse/general store looks derelict and tired. But inside it’s huge and a real treat. You can see that there is a strong sense of community here despite the vast distances between properties and houses.
We order burgers and fries for lunch and sit in the roadhouse dining area. A word of advice for anyone traveling Australia: pay the extra dollar and get yourself a steak burger rather than a hamburger. Hamburger patties are hit and miss but steak is always fresh. The burgers are tasty and made with fresh bread and salad while the chips are deliciously crunchy. I rate it as a good quality roadhouse feed.
While eating we ponder the contents of the general store shelves. There’s enough here to get you out of trouble but for a proper shop you will need to drive the 120km to St George or the 180km to Dalby. That said, it’s not hideously overpriced as these stores sometimes can be and the guy serving is friendly.
Here’s a view of Westmar to show how small it is. On the left is the pub and the right are caravans parked in the free camping site.
We spend the afternoon and evening enjoying the campfire. Road trains rumble past, the voices of caravaners waft over to us on the breeze, the fire is warm and the milky way shines brightly overhead. I realise that I have missed the simplicity of traveling the bush while overseas and think it’s probably a good thing that I have to be home for university next year so that Paul and I can take more of these short simple Aussie road trips together.