Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 4: Bourke to Trilby Station on the Darling River

Saturday, Oct 08, 2011 at 15:03


The Gundabooka NP near Bourke takes in the Gundabooka Range that rises 500 metres above the surrounding plain. The range was an important place for aboriginal people in the area, providing water in an otherwise dry landscape. Water brought game, and a travel network linked waterholes, creeks and the Darling River.European settlement started in the mid 19th century, spreading out from the Darling River, although the range, being away from the river was little used by pastoralists. The park, which comprises 3 previous pastoral stations, was established in 1996 and preserves the history of both pastoralist and aboriginal use.

The park is located in the Cobar Peneplain, and is characterised by hot summers and low variable rainfall. The undulating landscape is interrupted by stony ridges and ranges. The thin soil supports open woodlands of Eucalyptus and White Cyprus, while drier areas are dominated by Mulga (Acacia aneura), with Mallee on rocky ridges and sandplains. Heavy grazing in the past has led to a proliferation of unpalatable woody shrubs such as hopbush, emubush and senna.

A surprisingly rough access road into the park took us through this landscape which was quite attractive in a restrained fashion, although we had hoped to see more wildflowers. We went directly to the Dry Tank campground where a few other campers were already set up. There was plenty of space, with pit toilets - and fires were permitted. After setting up we set out for a short walk along the reasonably well marked track. We were disappointed with the walk though, as at this time of the year there were few plants in flower and the mulga and Cyprus presented a fairly drab appearance under a heavy grey sky. This continually overcast (but mostly dry) weather dulled the light, making photography quite challenging, as well a dampening our spirits.

Back at our camp we had a cheerful fire and BBQ for dinner, and were looking forward to sitting around the fire and stargazing, until a sudden shower intervened and sent us off to bed early.

Next morning we were off early despite being distracted from our packing by a cheeky fox sniffing around Troopy. We headed into Bennett’s Gorge and the access track was in better condition than the main track through the park. At the end of this track we found a pleasant picnic area with a Windyloo, two gas BBQs and picnic tables – plus another table a hundred metres in along the walking track.

Although the weather was again grey, overcast and windy, we set off for another walk, over the fairly flat but rocky track to the observation point on a small hill. From there the view looking west towards the Darling River was across a sea of grey mulga to a flat horizon. Looking east we saw the steep rocky bulk of the Gundabooka Range. It was very quiet except for the constant wind and the occasional bleating of feral goats up in the range – they sounded curiously human.

Since leaving the agricultural areas we had been seeing increasing numbers of feral goats, often in big mobs of 30 or 40 animals. In this good season there is plenty of feed and water for them so there are plenty of kids as well. Rocky inaccessible areas, like the range we were now looking at, provide good cover and added to the difficulty of controlling these feral animals. Surprisingly we did not see any goats as roadkill. Maybe they are too smart and quick to be hit by vehicles, unlike the large numbers of kangaroos that we saw, as well as occasional emus and eagles, assorted reptiles, pigs and cattle.

We continued further along the track that eventually goes to the top of the range, but staying within the bounds imposed by age and health, we were not going to attempt to follow it that far. There was a greener area closer to the base of the range where there were larger trees lining a dry creek, so we spent some time exploring that area. We found some Eremophilas, but there were very few flowers on the bushes.

We left the park via its western boundary and made our way back to the main road on some little used back tracks. The country became more open and there were a lot of emus and goats. After refuelling at Louth we headed for Trilby Station on the Darling River, as we had heard good reports of the camping areas there. On arrival we were astonished to see so many, maybe 20, caravans set up at the main campground. We had the choice of 3 camping areas: there was the main area with showers and toilets, campsites along the river or new areas that had been opened up along the recently full billabong. We chose the billabong where the camps were spaced well apart and there was green grass underfoot.

Our hosts gave us a folder of information about the 320,000 acre property and the lives they live there. The children had grown up living a very different life from city children, learning to ride small motorbikes as young as 3 so they could help with mustering. While sheep are the mainstay of the property, feral goats are also an important part of the Trilby economy. They are mustered and their sale pays for the children to attend boarding school.

We chose a lovely spot to camp and had a lazy afternoon there watching the birds on the water. There were big river red gums along the billabong, coolabahs further back and lush clover underfoot. It was freshly cut and smelled sweet and fresh. We also had a “lawn” of tiny gum tree seedlings, a legacy of the recent floods. Millions of seeds had germinated at the edge of the water, and as the level of the water slowly dropped the seedlings continued to germinate and grow so thickly that they looked like a lawn in places.

After we unhitched the trailer we went back to the main campground for a wonderful shower and did some washing too. It’s amazing how such simple things can be so satisfying when you are camping. Back at our camp we chatted to our camp neighbours, Geoff and Susan, and after dinner went across to their camp and sat around their big campfire for a couple of hours and swapped travel stories. It was quite cold as we walked back to our camp.

We decided to have a second day at Trilby, with the intention of being lazy. However that is not something that either of us is very good at and we ended up having quite a busy day. There was a good mobile phone signal up near the main campground so we were able to log on and deal with emails etc. Then we went exploring around the river and the campsites there. The river is, in the way of western rivers, slow moving and muddy with high steep banks. But the River Red Gums are thick in places and some of the older trees are huge, so the river camps are shady and quite private. On our drive we collected some firewood so we had a good fire to bake a damper and make a pork hotpot, even including some Warragul greens that were growing around our camp.

The day had been sunny and warm and just seeing the sun shining (at last!) cheered us up. However cloud came across late in the afternoon and during the night we heard light rain on the roof. Did this mean another change to our plans?

Only about 5mm of rain fell overnight but it was enough to turn the local black mud sticky and slippery. Just driving back the kilometre or so to the homestead was a bit of an adventure as the tyres became coated with a couple if inches of mud so that we lost traction. Once there we sought local advice from Liz our hostess on the weather and travel options. She told us that the road south from Trilby was not gravelled so would be very slippery and on top of that could be closed if the rain continued. So we decided that the rest of our Darling River run would have to wait for another time.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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