The beauty of the inland road trip in Australia

My wife and I do at least one biggish road trip (2-3 weeks) each year, mostly inland, and mostly including a track somewhere. Since Bev comes from South Australia, these trips usually include a visit to Adelaide, and as readers will know, we managed to time our trip this year to incorporate the worst weather in southern Australia for a long time. Driving in some of it was no joke, and some drivers simply pulled off the road to wait for the strong winds and rain to subside. But as always, there were pleasures in abundance, and here were some of ours.

Spring: We choose the cooler months for these trips, and that usually means roadside wildflowers. In Victoria and South Australia the first to be seen were what are called (in South Australia) ‘soursobs’ (Oxalis cernua) — small yellow flowers in enormous profusion, in road cuttings especially. They contrast well with the usual green of the countryside, even in the arid areas, because the rain and the cooler weather brighten all the herbage which, this year, was especially green. There was lots of yellow about — billions of daisies and a lot of dry-country wattle, with thin, needle-like leaves. Between Broken Hill and Wentworth we passed through long purple avenues of Echium plantagineum, better known as Paterson’s Curse (NSW) or Salvation Jane (SA). It’s normally a smallish plant, but we saw some along the roadside that were 600mm and higher. They were only on the roadside, the seeds presumably dropped by passing loads of hay or wheat. A year ago we saw hundreds of square kilometres of wildflowers, yellow, white and mauve, on the flood plain of the Darling River south of Bourke. This year roadside water was just about everywhere, and the Murray-Darling river system was running a banker. The Murray was close to the road in Victoria in several places; the Loddon was overflowing; and the Torrumbarry Lock near Echuca had its gates right up — the Murray was flowing fast underneath them. There was lot of water over the roads in the Riverina, and one road was closed for that reason. We avoided the Victorian flooding.

Trees: In the arid areas a line of trees marks a creek bed, and many had water in them. What continues to puzzle me is the distribution. South of Broken Hill we passed through eucalyptus forest, and then casuarina forest, but rarely the two together. Occasionally some native pine (callitris), which seemed to like the casuarinas more than the eucalypts. I’m sure that the relative distribution will be related to sub-surface water and soil type. Indeed, the three hundred kilometres that separate the two towns provide a great variety of arid environments,

Birds: In the arid areas, and even in lush Victoria, alongside the Murray, kites are a common sight in the sky. They seem to be the square-tailed kite (Lophoictinia isura). North of Broken Hill last year we saw dozens of wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax), feeding from the road kill. They have the slowest take-off of any bird, and often fly down the road in front of your car, which means that they can become road-kill themselves. The wind and rain kept many birds under cover, but we saw some honey-eaters so intent on their feed that they paid little attention to us, when we were only a couple of metres away.

Animals:  Once you are in the arid areas, you need to keep a sharp lookout for emus, which are plentiful, and happy to self-destruct at the front of your car, as one did to us a few years ago in northern South Australia (at some cost to us as well). The other frequent sightings are feral pigs, which range in colour from black to white, and all possible combinations of black, white and brown. On this trip we also saw an echidna, several kangaroos, and a fox. We’ve seen dingoes, too, even inside the dog fence, on other occasions.

Size and scale: The enormous horizons in the outback are a great delight, and there were several of them available south of Broken Hill. A small rise in the road can give you, for a moment, a vast expanse of scenery, the pale blues and greens of the saltbush and related plants, with red or white sand in between, and lines of eucalypts showing you the creek beds. You can’t photograph this sight helpfully — it’s just too big. Depending on the height of the rise you are gazing at something like sixty km of land in one movement of your head. You can’t do that anywhere else.

History: Having grown up in a country town (and become a historian) I love to see the tide-marks of human occupation. Most country towns have a few beautiful old buildings. Here is a former bank building in Camperdown (Victoria), one of several surviving and well maintained structures from the glory years of this small town.


Productive land: In the arid areas rural productivity starts with sheep. There is so much pick at the moment that we could see flocks of sheep in areas where the carrying capacity is one sheep per square kilometre. In South Australia a few farmers had taken a chance on Spring rain, and had sown early. Someone else had done so about twenty km north of Wentworth, too, a great expanse of green wheat, maybe three km by two, in land that seemed just too sandy to support cereal crops — though you could say much the same about much of the Western Australian wheat belt, I guess, and the wheat belt of western South Australia, too.

Once you are in better rainfall country you see beef cattle, and we saw great numbers, everywhere. I guess there’s more money in beef than in wool and meat. And given the route we chose we seemed to pass thousands of vineyards, some of them new and flush with early spring growth, and a few mournfully old and black — left to die before being pulled out. The vines had not been pruned at all.


Why? Australia has 64 wine regions and about 2,500 wineries. The numbers of farmers growing wine grapes are even larger. But the emphasis now is not on casks and the volume end, as it was a generation or so ago, but on quality. The knowledgeable are going for high quality, and if that means ending contracts with grape-growers whose product is not up to the mark, or pulling out vines and replanting with new clones or new varietals, then so be it. Prices are high, but no one is making a lot of money, according to someone I talked to at a vineyard in Victoria. Invest invest, invest …

Food and accommodation: We like staying in B&Bs that have been made from historic houses, and there are a lot of these. Most are delicious, and they are quite often in the heart of the country town or village, for good reason. Here is ‘Colhurst’, in which we stayed at Mt Gambier, built in 1878, before the great wool boom of the 1880s, and as elegant a house as you could wish for. It was well preserved inside, too.


Elsewhere we stayed in whatever looked attractive and central. There were excellent restaurants in every town, and Tripadvisor helps you find them. You can get a decent coffee practically everywhere, even in the only stop (and service station) between Broken Hill and Wentworth. The grey nomads, like us, have had a beneficial effect on the quality of food and service in the bush, and you’ll hear proprietors say so. Cars, caravans and motor caravans were on all the roads we travelled on.

We could not get to our scheduled farmstay on the Darling — because the road was closed, and the proprietor was worried that we would come to grief if we tried. Another time. This was an exciting trip because of the weather, but all our memories are good, and the beauty of Australia got to us again and again. English friends, who have spent months here just seeing the (whole) country said that the longer they stayed, the more attractive and interesting the country became. We agree. It is such a privilege to live in this most unusual and beautiful country. The wide brown land for me…

Join the discussion 103 Comments

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    When I was young, the novelty of living in a foreign country could not outweigh the longing for the colours of home.
    For the fortunate few born here, there was, once, meaning in being Australian. Now, it simply means you have a blue passport.

    • Byron Hulbert says:

      I’m curious to learn if you are the same Bryan Roberts who attended Armidale Central School when i was there ,way back
      in the 50’s.Mr Price was the headmaster at the time.
      Don Aitken was a pupil at Armidale High where i attended several years later also.

  • JMO says:

    What a road trip Don. I have never been to Mt Gambier but it is on my to do list.

    I wish some of the inner city residents would take a trip out in the country sometimes to see and appreciate this unique continent.

    On my last drive out of town a week ago, I saw the Brindabellas behind Canberra covered n snow and from Cooma the Snowy Mountains were dazzling white in the distance across the lush green plain. Lake Jindabyne was full.

    I still recall the prediction in 1989 that within 20 years there will be no snow on the Snowies, Lake Jindabyne will be empty and Jindabyne will bea ghost town – it is now booming. And whatever happened to Tim Flannery’s “drought is our new climate” (for SE Australia).

    The Hanrahans and climate doomsters predictions continue to be shown what they are -based on junk science.

  • Alan Gould says:

    On my one visit to Broken Hill, I recall a most spectacular interior at – I think – The Trades Hall. Exquisite tiling.

  • margaret says:

    To travel on the road with the verve of Toad and a background knowledge of Australia’s history which as Mark Twain said, ‘does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies’. South Australia is beautiful and so empty! Except for politicians, who seem to sprout and thrive there

    • Don Aitkin says:

      We saw in Robe the commemorative obelisk that refers to the £10 poll tax and the long trek to the diggings. At Cape Jaffa, a little north of Robe, there is a marina whose holiday occupants come from Horsham and Hamilton in Victoria. Hadn’t thought of that kind of migration until we came there.

  • PeterE says:

    Sounds like a very pleasant trip.

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      Yes, interesting and disinterested.What I felt about the French countryside a few weeks ago. Nothing like the emotional attachment to the Blue Mountains, or the Pilbara. Strange that an novelist cannot feel or express a love of, or sense of attachment to land.

      • margaret says:

        Patricia Wrightson did. She has been maligned for cultural appropriation, however her writing evokes attachment to ‘the land’ because she absorbed the feeling of belonging to it not owning it. I loved Shadows of Time for that reason as I did Coonardoo, The Timeless Land, The Fatal Impact and James Aldridge’s St Helen series, Shirley Walker’s The Ghost at the Wedding, and Nancy Phelan’s A Kingdom by the Sea which is about growing up in Sydney, and one I’m about to read by her is Home is the Sailor and The Best of Intentions – (set in the Blue Mountains Bryan).

      • Alan Gould says:

        I’d plead that many if not most novelists express a love of country, Australian novelists being no exception, but maybe the manner of its expression differs from the way a poet, painter, musician or architect might do the job.
        I think it has to do with the way a novelist needs to integrate action and story with setting. So the very quiteness but persistence with which, say, Queensland’s landscapes live in the novels of Jessica Anderson, Australia’s north West lives in those of Randolph Stow, a variety of landscapes in Parick White (the Monaro in Happy Valley, the most recent of his I’ve read, but also explorer country in Voss, Sydney gothic suburbia in several, north Qld coast in A Fringe Of leaves, the Bowen Basin in Miller’s ‘Return To The Stone Country.
        One theme is the heartbreak dividedness of Australian landscape affinity between an old ‘lived in’ world and the new Oz that presents itself just beyond the bounds of the describable, and here one thinks of Richardson’s ‘Mahoney’ or Boyd’s various heroes and heroines.
        And there is huge affection for Sydney in Christina Stead, Ruth Park.

        • margaret says:

          Yes, Jessica Anderson’s Brisbane in Tirra Lirra by the River and Ruth Park’s Surry Hills, Christina Stead’s harbour foreshores, I agree Alan.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        Bryan, if you mean me, say so, and I’ll provide a link to show you that I do indeed have such an attachment.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Sounds like you had a wonderful trip, Don. There is no better place for a genuine Aussie to visit than the real Aus.

    I used to be a drover [pre road trains and beef roads] in this neck of the woods and sometimes, trying to get to the railhead at Hergott Springs [Marree] we would have to swim the mob from sandhill to sandhill and across the channels. Kidman’s Durrie station at the junction of Farrar’s Ck and the Diamantina was on a rock island 50 klm from shore in the middle of a flood. But when the water dropped the wildflowers were spectacular. They would also fatten cattle almost overnight. WA’s Sterling Ra is another mind blower.

    I was also assistant rainmaker for the local tribe at Innamincka and had to write to all the surrounding rainmakers so that all the effort was concentrated. We always took the credit for the good seasons. In those days there were still many myalls about out in the centre awa Afghan hawkers with camels. I still have the aboriginal recipe for rainmaking which I have offered to the BoM but they don’t seem too interested.

    As you can see the results are worth the effort. But it’s hard work to conjure up a good flood. Gorging on Yellowbelly is one of the fringe benefits.

  • JohnM says:

    I hope you visited the Umberumberka Reservoir near Broken Hill. (The road was featured in the second or maybe third of the Mad Max series and so there’s a bit of a museum at Silverton, about half way between the reservoir and Broken Hill.) The road crests the top of a hill and suddenly the horizon out west in front of you is flat from virtually from north to south. There’s a wonderful feeling of how insignificant a person really is.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Don, I think the Aust Bustard has a slower take-off than the Wedgie [nit-pickers are never ending aren’t they?] as they are more than twice as heavy with smaller wings:

    I was able to run down a Bustard on my horse during take off but never a Wedgie [just as well. It was bad enough catching a Bustard] but my favourite bird of the bush is probably the mysterious White Throated Needle Tail Swift that flies to the Taiga in Outer Mongolia and Siberia to breed and comes back in October for our warm weather and insects. It was once thought that they never perched. They can sometimes be seen in the bush in flocks of over a thousand, flying at great speed, usually in the higher country.

    Hail to the Swift that rides the lift
    To hawk the mountain tops.
    Nobody knows just where it goes
    Or even where it stops.

  • tripitaka says:

    “The grey nomads, like us, have had a beneficial effect on the quality of food and service in the bush, and you’ll hear proprietors say so. ”

    Indeed Don Aitkin, we bush dwelling poverty stricken people really do appreciate the input from you inner city ‘leets coming to our towns and forcing us to change our way of life so you can have a decent coffee.

    But don’t call yourself a grey nomad you are a dilettante hanging yourself with tickets you don’t deserve.

    • margaret says:

      Much as I enjoy a road trip I would save the term grey nomad for the Winnebago set and their less affluent fellow travelers who spend more than 3 weeks at a time on the road. The economy definitely keeps ticking over with the input of well-off travelers though.

      • tripitaka says:

        Margaret, From my own observation as a denizen of a country town that hosts grey nomads by offering free camping, affluence or the lack of, is not the defining feature of a grey nomad. It is a dedication to honestly experiencing the diversity that Australia has to offer.

        I’m not sure what economy you could possibly mean. The input of a few smarmy self-satisfied ignorant travellers who buy a coffee and a sandwich while gawking and marvelling at how the poor country cousins live is hardly going to get us out of the lowest SES category or relieve the desperate poverty and lack of services that afflict so many people in the bush.

        Have you noticed the suicide rates and the increased health problems that are a feature of country life for many people?
        At any given time, rates of suicide tend to increase with increasing rurality.

        • margaret says:

          Yes I have noticed the health problems that are a feature of country life tripitaka. But having lived in both city and country as a child and adult I feel as if I’ve been fortunate to experience the diversity of Australia but perhaps unfortunate not to be able to feel I belong somewhere. It’s as though I could live in most places but will continue to have a sense of yearning for those others I have lived in.
          Actually I’d like to see suicides reported instead of hidden away and then given out as statistics.
          Tourism surely helps a town’s economy? But in the case of say a cruise ship, which I have not experienced – the impact of a couple of thousand tourists descending on a small town for half a day seems to me horrific. I guess it depends how ‘sophisticated’ and ‘tourist-ready’ the people are. I hate crowds.

          • tripitaka says:

            The influx of ‘tourists’ we have on weekends in our town is not in the thousands Margaret, hundreds on a good day.

            Most of us out here hate crowds and Monday morning is a relief to have our main street back. One of my neighbours tells the story of how he actually took a photo of himself aiming a rifle down the main street at midday and he sent it to his former colleagues in “George Street”. I don’t really understand the significance but he thought he was hilarious.

            Some days I do voluntary work in one of the ‘tourist traps’ we have set up to catch and release the generous travelling types like Don and his wife, and I do have conversations with the Spangled Drongo type of person. Some of them are very surprised, nonplussed even, to find a bleeding heart leftie in a place they thought would be populated with Pauline Hanson voters.

          • spangled drongo says:

            Interesting glimpse of Trip’s business ethos in luring those “smarmy self-satisfied ignorant travellers” into “one of the ‘tourist traps’ we have set up to catch and release the generous travelling types like Don and his wife”.

            We all know that you have to do the best you can in business but it is nor smart to talk about your customers like that.

            If she was less of a dilettante and paid more attention to Pauline, who knows? she might just extract herself from her self-inflicted poverty.

          • margaret says:

            Tripitaka Nhill has an interesting alternative to ‘milking’ the grey nomads.

    • spangled drongo says:

      So, you think there are a qualified group of professional grey nomads, hey Trip?

      Why are you any less of a dilettante bushie just because you are poverty stricken?

      Don somehow seems to have a slightly better idea of country charm than you.

      And you need to find where the udder is before you can milk the cow.

      • tripitaka says:

        Spangy I don’t care to converse with you. Your way of being in the world reminds me of the Donald Trumpeter. All you want is to win…something, anything to fill the void in your self-esteem.

        There would be no point in exchanging any more words with you. No point for me anyway. I suspect you are bored and needing some excitement in your ordinary life but I am not the solution to your problems. 🙂

  • spangled drongo says:

    Don, I lived in the “thriving” township of Betoota [near the Qld/SA border] for a couple of years where the old buildings [mostly in ruins] were of stone and were built in the late nineteenth century. All that exists today is the airstrip where the flying doctor used to land and the racetrack which is still used occasionally.

    It used to be a thriving centre for the wool industry and the ruins of the wool scours are still nearby. The problem was the dingoes that had never lived in the centre of the country until the white man arrived suddenly turned up and killed all the sheep. It was mostly unfenced country and too big to fence with expensive dingo-proof netting so it all went down-hill. Beef replaced wool but the detailed infrastructure disappeared.

    A lovely woman who had lived out there all her life has moved nearby us and brought a few of her horses in which I help her exercise occasionally. Brings back fond memories.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      SD, I’ve been to Betoota, briefly, on a Birdsville Track- Quilpie-BH trip. Lovely area, but sad.

      • spangled drongo says:

        Yes, Don, sad is the word. BTW I erred about the dates of those stone buildings in Betoota. They were mid 19th C as one was a customs house collecting duty on cross border stock travel.

        It was one of the many 3G bush towns [girls, goats and glass bottles] though not too many girls in my time.

        A family I worked for there just had a reunion last year at the ruins of Haddon Downs homestead which was originally surveyed to be on the Qld side of the border at Haddon Corner and they invited me along.

        Many years after the initial survey there was a recheck of States borders and it was found that this property was then in SA which meant they lost a few million acres and all their improvements.

        Parameterising initial surveys of local settlements out to the extreme state borders must have been hard to reconcile with the old technology considering just how rapidly it all happened with early settlement.

      • margaret says:

        I disagree that it’s sad to see a town that has sprung up in an unsuitable place for commercial reasons at a given point in history become a ghost town 150 years later. How can it be a ‘lovely area’ if it’s in a desert? Lovely maybe from a landscape view but never meant to live in.

        • spangled drongo says:

          Marg, your city slicker slip is showing.

          There are many towns and cities around the world that are successfully established in deserts. Even in Australia.

          When the life blood of any town runs out regardless of why or where it is, it becomes a ghost town.

          But those who love it don’t always leave:


          • margaret says:

            Omg – I wouldn’t have responded if your ghost town hadn’t been Wittenoon –
            “The candy store paupers lie to the share holders
            They’re crossing their fingers they pay the truth makers
            The balance sheet is breaking up the sky
            So I’m caught at the junction still waiting for medicine
            The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine
            Hope the crumbs in my pocket can keep me for another night
            And if the blue sky mining company won’t come to my rescue
            If the sugar refining company won’t save me
            Who’s gonna save me?
            But if I work all day…
            And some have sailed from a distant shore
            And the company takes what the company wants
            And nothing’s as precious, as a hole in the ground
            Who’s gonna save me?
            I pray that sense and reason brings us in
            Who’s gonna save me?
            We’ve got nothing to fear
            In the end the rain comes down
            Washes clean, the streets of a blue sky town”


          • margaret says:

            “She and her three daughters moved to the Pilbara for the weather, they came from Dandenong in Victoria.”
            Go home to Dandenong!!

          • spangled drongo says:

            Margie, the asbestos argument is way beyond you and not what we are discussing. Stick to the argument of desert towns being appropriate [or not, as you claim].

            There are desert towns that have both survived and failed just as there are coastal, mountain, riverfront etc towns that have both survived and failed for many reasons.

            I’m waiting for some logic as to why towns shouldn’t be built in the desert as Betoota was.

          • margaret says:

            “The logic as to why towns shouldn’t be built in the desert as Betoota was ” – seems like you and Don know because it’s “very sad” now.

          • spangled drongo says:

            So you don’t think it’s sad when you see all the effort and love that goes into not just the lovely stone buildings but the whole culture and prosperity of the town simply decay from lack of business activity?

            And you can’t see that, often, this is just a focal point of a much wider problem?

            And you still haven’t told us why towns shouldn’t be built in the desert.

      • margaret says:

        7.30 featured the Betoota Advocate tonight as Australia’s The Onion. Pretty lame.

  • Anne Carter says:

    Loved your leisurely account of your travels Don. Alas Australia is so large and despite having lived here since 1981there is still so much to explore and experience.

  • spangled drongo says:

    I once tried to buy a town in Northern NSW called Alice. It was situated on the beautiful flowing upper Clarence River, all subdivided, but not a building anywhere.

    I suspect it was set up as a gold mining town and most of the gold petered out. I have still found gold nearby, though. The govt has since resumed all the old subdivision and turned it into parkland or equivalent but it was a beautiful place for a country town.

    • margaret says:

      A town like Alice.

      • spangled drongo says:

        Yes, Marg, probably nicer to live in than Betoota but it always amazed me that before the age of grey nomads how 90 year old bushmen would wend their way back to the Betoota pub via mail truck for often hundreds of miles over terrible roads to spend a week sleeping on the verandah in their swags and just reminiscing.

        The far bush towns get in your blood more than any.

  • spangled drongo says:

    The way business is transacted in far western towns is completely different to more “civilised” centres.

    If a contractor gets a job to sink a tank, a well, build a set of yards, a line of fencing or any decent contract, he takes that contract and puts it in the hands of the publican who then confirms it with the station manager or whoever let out the contract and then the contractor is allowed credit at the bar for half the value of the job.

    He promptly drinks this half and then the publican reminds him of his commitment, turns off the tap and tells him to go out and get on with the job.

    When he does this he is then allowed to drink the rest of the tank, well, yards or whatever.

    I don’t think anyone ever checks the books to see if they balanced but the station manager pays the money direct to the publican. There is always a certain amount of food supplied with the grog. But not much.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    A comment on ‘sad’. When I see Betoota or Kanyaka (near Hawker, SA) and other failed settlements like them, my sadness is the sight of what happened to the optimism, energy and sheer hard work that caused the buildings and infrastructure that underpinned the early settlements. Some of them failed because of weather, some because they were in the wrong place, some because too few people came, and so on. But when you see what is left, you can sense in the stones, the wire and the galvanised iron the effort and the aspiration of the past. Others may well see that in what we leave behind, not in the manner of Ozymandias, king of kings, but just the pasing of generations. I’m not a poet — that’s for Alan Gould — but I feel the need for a poem.

    There is a comparable feeling when I discover that a house that I lived in has been destroyed and replaced by something else. Something of me has been destroyed as well. Something is now missing.

    • margaret says:

      It’s nostalgia and disappointment that nothing stays the same.

    • spangled drongo says:

      The sheer vitality, hope and creativity that underpinned all the work to create those small towns and societies that withered and went.

      Where did it go? It is too painful to contemplate.

      The reason they built in stone and pise [ant bed] was because building materials were non existent. Even timber. No big trees except coolibahs and they were even harder to use than stone. Before iron they used spinifex thatch.

      And calico ceilings to catch the bugs that lived in the thatch.

      Sometimes verandah walls were also spinifex thatch that wicked water from troughs extended from bore drains to create a Coolgardie Safe effect that was better than air conditioning.

      One woman I knew who ran a big station bought the local “town” and pulled the roof off the pub because her ringers were spending too much time there whereupon it just washed away with the next storm.

      I visited it years later and all that remained were the gidgee door frames.

      I feel the need for a poem, too.

      • margaret says:

        Here is your poem and there are many more by the Nobel Prize winner.
        Come mothers and fathers
        Throughout the land
        And don’t criticize
        What you can’t understand
        Your sons and your daughters
        Are beyond your command
        Your old road is rapidly aging
        Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
        Cause the times they are a-changing
        The line it is drawn
        The curse it is cast
        The slowest now
        Will later be fast
        As the present now
        Will later be past
        The order is rapidly fading
        And the first one now will later be last
        Cause the times they are a-changing

        • margaret says:

          … This place ain’t doing me any good
          I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
          Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
          Gonna take dancing lessons do the jitterbug rag
          Ain’t no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
          Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove
          Lotta water under the bridge, lotta other stuff too
          Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through
          People are crazy and times are strange
          I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
          I used to care, but things have changed
          I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road
          If the bible is right, the world will explode
          I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
          Some things are too hot to touch
          The human mind can only stand so much
          You can’t win with a losing hand …

          • margaret says:

            I couldn’t be happier. I knew it would happen eventually, glad not posthumously. I have a personal favourite – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

          • margaret says:

            Over to you now Alan to come up with something to soothe the breast of Spangles and Don.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            While I enjoyed Bob Dylan when he suddenly appeared on the musical stage, neither of these ballads works for me in the setting I described.

          • margaret says:

            Wonder Boys theme song. Michael Douglas as an English professor who hasn’t published for years. Enjoyable film.

          • spangled drongo says:

            Marg, you lefty loon, d’you think we don’t know there is no respect for the fantastic efforts of the past without you having to prove over and over how stupid and unaware the young are. That is, until it suddenly dawns upon the smarter ones.

            I used to think Dylan and the rest of the revolutionary youth had the answers when I was that age too.

            “if you’re not a revolutionary at 20 you got no soul. If you still are at 40 you got no brains”.

            But even at 20 I was aware that my elders had brains, courage and foresight.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    This is really for Bryan Roberts, but applies here too. It was in an early essay on this website:

    ‘In early 1966, after having been overseas for the best part of two years, we drove from Sydney to Canberra, stopping for lunch in the Penrose state forest. I walked into the trees and stood on a large granite rock. Everything was still, birds called, the smell of the Australian bush filled my nose, I registered the clear Australian light filtering through the leaves. I was home. This was my place, my country. It was an immensely powerful moment in my life. You are at home here, the bush said to me. There is nothing to fear, here.’

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      Good. You understand there exist Australians who are not Aborigines.

      • margaret says:

        Oh for Pete’s sake of course there are.
        What I don’t get in this nostalgic reverie for inland Australia and the follies of enterprises that are always subject to forces greater than man’s desire to do great things is why are places like the Birdsville Track and Betoota held aloft as quintessential Australia? They have a population of zero to 50 and are often quaint reminders of people who are prepared to fail nobly rather than succeed with help.

        • Don Aitkin says:


          You have, if I may say so after having read a few hundred of your comments, a tendency to hyperbole. Neither SD nor I, nor Bryan Roberts, have held aloft Betoota and Birdsville as ‘quintessential Australia’. Betoota has a population of 0 and Birdsville of around 100, but both are worth visiting, thinking about, exploring around and asking questions of, so to speak.

          Why inland? Because so many people wax on about the coast, the beaches and the cities (the most liveable…). I thought it might be worth saying something about the inland.

          • margaret says:

            Thanks for the writing style advice – i’s a wee bit tired – big day starting with walk in little desert. I’s got it all off my chest now – sad?! You’re sad, Spangles is sad, this astonishing country has a harsh and brutal history and the stories it holds have a sadness that is about families, not brave courageous males who strode through and conquered but at least equally the brave courageous women who had married them. So there’s hyperbolic comment number 377. (Oh thanks to Spangles for some of it because I copy some of his purple prose). Good night Irene.

          • spangled drongo says:

            Marg, of all the millions of things to consider when you are in the bush there are things to be sad about and things to be rapturous about.

            Now if you have been paying attention in the little desert you should have come across the Mallee Fowl. I occasionally make a trek there specifically to see it so if you are there don’t waste this great opportunity. It will fill you with rapture and improve your education at the same time:


          • Nga says:

            Don: “… a tendency to hyperbole … ”

            Says the science denialist who invents facts, calls mainstream scientists religious zealots, climate botherers and alarmists, and frequently parrots nonsense from junk websites like WUWT. You and Donald Trump share more than just first names.

          • spangled drongo says:

            Yes, enge luv, some have a tendency to hyperbole while others are quite happy to prevaricate, attack messengers, insult and blither with no reference to evidence or fact.

            When any warming that has occurred since the end of the LIA and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is still only about half of natural climate variability, no true scientist, let alone “experts” like you, should be too sure that it is not due to just that. Climate nat var.

          • margaret says:

            I think the essay about your trip between Canberra and Adelaide was QI. The plants, the graceful old buildings, the crops and grazing animals, for a fellow audience of ‘grey nomads’. It didn’t go too deep. It kept things pleasant. No Massacre Creeks or such like, the bounteous beauty of Major Mitchell’s Australia Felix is around every corner of every desert. Apologies for the hyperbole of the word bounteous.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        But I got into a tad of trouble for daring to say things like that. I think it’s now called ‘cultural appropriation’.

        • margaret says:

          That is BS. Anyone can express a love of their birthplace.

        • tripitaka says:

          Dear Don,
          Who calls your shallow white man sentimentality ‘cultural appropriation”? Tell me their names and blog address and I’ll go speak truth to their power for you.

          But did you visit many pubs in your outback excursions and have any conversations about the blackfellas and climate change with the bar flies? Attitudes are changing toward the abo’s. Only last year a very nice lady actually screamed at me after some provocation I guess – I had been telling her things she didn’t want to hear – that the only good abo was a dead one. Seriously she said she was sorry last week.

          And I guess you wouldn’t have been able to speak to many farmers about climate change being as they work so hard and don’t get to town to experience the new cafe cultucha that you elites are bringing to light up our country cousin lives.

          There is a transcript on the ABC, that bastion of leftie propaganda that you might like to read if you didn’t actually talk to any farmers.

          Listen to potato farmer Mark McDougall, in Tasmania’s far north.

          Mark McDougall: Climate change is here, there is no doubt about it. And we’ve got the two extremes, we’ve got the absolute dry from September right through till January, where we’ve worked our arse off to water the crop, and then all of a sudden just this deluge of rain came.

          Jo Chandler: Scientists tend to be wary of blaming particular weather events on climate change. What they do say is that rising greenhouse gases will ramp up the frequency and ferocity of floods, droughts, wildfires, even cold snaps. Mark McDougall says that future is already here, just ask his bank manager.

          Mark McDougall: Yes, the hip pocket is when it makes you decide whether it’s here or not. And it hurt our hip pockets, so we know.

          Jo Chandler: And what about the attitude of other farmers, what are they saying?

          Mark McDougall: Most farmers would agree that climate change is here for sure. There’s not too many you talk to…actually I did talk to a bloke the other day and he said, ‘Oh I was a bit sceptical, but I’m not anymore,’ so people’s attitude has changed.

          • Don Aitkin says:


            You know much less than you think you know about me, what I’ve done and where I’ve been.

            For you and for Margaret, I put inverted commas around ‘cultural appropriation’ because I came across the term for the first time the other day. It seemed to suggest a form of exclusion, as though, for example, only people who live in rural areas have the right to talk about their problems, or that only Aboriginal people could talk about indigenous issues. I don’t accept that, and I got into trouble with one Aboriginal person (but was supported by several others) in that context. If it becomes a familiar term I will drop the inverted commas. It’s just new to me, hence the decoration..

        • margaret says:

          Ah, inverted commas ‘cultural appropriation’ as in inverted commas ‘climate change’.

          • margaret says:

            I’ve arrived in the Little Desert near Nhill. A drive through the Wimmera to Rainbow at the gateway of the Mallee today – a Federation wheat town – my husband’s mother was born here. The family stayed for some years wheat farming under the closer settlement scheme (this morphed into soldier settlement after the war) but left because of drought. Off they went to Tudor further north then more drought and too little resources so the father who had been to the west as a young man took most of the family to Coolgardie, Menzies and Kalgoorlie – in Menzies the father had a small gold mine that produced a good living with his final strike. They settled in Guildford in Perth but the two world wars exacted a a big toll on the six children and then their children.
            A little snapshot of real Australian history that truly shows ‘Aussie battlers’.

          • margaret says:

            The way I see cultural appropriation is that now aboriginal people have strong advocacy from within. They are able to represent themselves and they don’t want their stories told by non-aboriginals. They’ll tell their stories in their own good time and so we are to respect that. Fair enough.
            Because they have an oral tradition we appropriated their stories and probably mostly in good intent as a kind of bridge and because we admire both their Dreamtime and art. It’s no longer up to us to do this. They will do it.

          • spangled drongo says:

            Here is some real cultural appropriation:


            Not the stuff that has been invented since the introduction of “siddown money”.

            When the aboriginal oral tradition has been non functional in many tribes for many generations, I wonder who is reinventing that oral tradition?

  • margaret says:

    For Spangled Drongo – I have respect for my ancestors. For their courage and brains and for whatever foresight they could be privy to in a random world. My great grandfather was a nation builder as I see it. In Bourke as the chief engineer on the Bourke lock and weir on the Darling. Also at Berembed Weir on the Murrumbidgee which formed the beginning of the MIA. More useful for the country than being a publican in a Wake in Fright pub.

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      What your ancestor did is irrelevant to what (if anything) you feel about the country in which you live. This is not nostalgia for a distant past, it is attachment to the present. The Pilbara and the red desert, but also the grubby filth of Sydney surmounted by the coathanger and the opulence of the Opera House. As Don eloquently said, it’s home.

      • spangled drongo says:

        Quite right, Bryan. But it is also being somewhat aware of the human quality and frailty that got us to our present state.

        I do the bush twice a day, data logging wildlife and have been doing it regularly for the last 25 years and putting it on a record and the feral influence is phenomenal but it also has its positives afa the natives are concerned.

        I get the impression that the whole mish mash is often poorly understood by the experts who are responsible for sorting it out and making this wonderful home as good as it can be.

        And the younger general public who walk around with earphones on while looking at virtual reality screens are contributing less than their earlier counterparts.

        • margaret says:

          Bah humbug.

          • spangled drongo says:

            There’s nothing like a specifically detailed reply with logic and intelligence thrown in for good measure, hey Marg?

            Especially when you haven’t got two ideas on the subject worth rubbing together.

    • spangled drongo says:

      Of course you do, Marg. When you force yourself to remember, that is. It’s just that you choose to conveniently dismiss it all in your pursuit of your lefty ideology.

      Your great grandfather sounds like mine. As a surveyor-cum-engineer he was involved in the construction of the first railway line in Qld and ended up in charge of the railways. Of the first 6 kids they had on railway construction sites, no 2 were ever alive at one time and they all died. After building his last railway [to Kuranda behind Cairns] he retired and they had another 6 kids who all survived and became rail and road engineers.

      We should never forget the great contributions and sacrifices of these men and women under unbelievably arduous conditions that nobody comes within coo-ee of experiencing today.

      For you to claim that these pioneers are some sort of toffs that were prepared to “fail nobly” is simply high lighting your silly bigotry. Railways fail, locks, weirs and irrigation systems fail, wool industries fail, things change and life changes with all of that but that doesn’t take anything away from the spirit and enterprise of these wonderful people who did the dirty work that got us established as a country.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        SDS, we wen on hi railway line (form Kuranda to cairns) not a few month ago. It must have been very hard work to cut it out.

    • tripitaka says:

      Margaret have you read Olga Masters, “A Long Time Dying”?. Now that is a brilliant and hilarious insight into lives in the past in small town Australia.

      • margaret says:

        Thank you for the recommendation – I know of her but haven’t read her work, in my bookcase I think I have a title Loving Daughters by her. I know Chris Masters is her son.
        I’ll look for that in the library tripitaka.

    • margaret says:

      Interesting article about closer settlement.

  • margaret says:

    Bryan as I recall in a comment you made not so many essays back you couldn’t wait to get out of the place you say is home. And I’m sorry Don – your words about ‘home’ simply pin down the feelings of one man of many who left these shores to pursue a career elsewhere and returned from an overseas sojourn to realise that this is where here belonged. So? So what.

    • spangled drongo says:

      Yeah, so what, Marg?

      And you lefties claim to have soul?

      Don’t look now but your cynical slip is also sticking out.

      • margaret says:

        Spangles the lowan or mallee fowl is the reason I came to little desert unfortunately they are very shy but at the lodge you can do a tour – however there was not one going on this weekend. I have be thankful till next time that when I taught Lower Division at Tharbogang the daughter of a property owner invited me to her place because they were so chuffed and proud to have a mound in their bush land – so I saw one many years ago. They are incredible creatures.

        • margaret says:

          Tripitaka has given you the gift of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick replete with flute riffs to lighten the excoriating lyrics. Before an attack of hyperbole takes me, I gift you Spangles, for testing my ‘paying attention’ capabilities, a poem:
          At a Lowan’s Nest
          Here, in the rubble and the sand,
          This monument by thee was planned:
          Great was the love
          That in thee hid,
          O, builder of the Pyramid!
          By no delerious king compelled
          But by the mother-heart upheld,
          Little of pain or toil thou recked,
          Brave builder! eager architect!
          This and no other was thy shrine:
          This monument to birth was thine:
          Great was the love within thee hid,
          O, builder of the Pyramid!

          • spangled drongo says:

            Well done, Marg!

            I assume you wrote it as you didn’t give anyone credit.

            I wrote one myself this am for our nesting Tawnies with new hatchlings. Not in the same class, of course.

            The Lapwings pass, mince through the grass,
            The Frogmouth chicks look down
            And teeter on oblivion
            While mother wears a frown.

            There are more verses but I’ll leave it there.

          • margaret says:

            I advise that you don’t give up your day job Spangles. More hyperbole required.

            No ’twas another poem by that fine bush poet John Shaw Nielson.

          • margaret says:

            I really like the comparison with the pyramids of Egypt built by delirious kings.

          • spangled drongo says:

            I always liked Browning’s thrush:

            “That ’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over
            Lest you should think he never could re-capture
            The first fine careless rapture! ”

            So I asked of ours:

            But is the rapture they recapture
            With apparent ease,
            Half as fine and careless as
            Their namesake overseas?

            And of the Pacific Baza and the Pheasant Coucal:

            In fog the frog calls from the bog
            And far away is heard
            The crested hawk, “Eat you!” he’ll squawk,
            And the fabled woop-woop bird.

            And even a little hyperbole:

            The albert gronks, the pobble bonks
            In random orchestration,
            The butterfly that flutter by,
            Clap in appreciation.

            Fortunately, this IS my day job.

          • spangled drongo says:

            “I really like the comparison with the pyramids of Egypt built by delirious kings.”

            Well, Marg, I think you blew it again. The nesting mound of the Mallee Fowl has not much in common with a pyramid. It is supposed to decay quickly and turn to mulch thereby generating heat to incubate the eggs for the birth of chicks whereas pyramids were supposed to be everlasting and house dead people in a tomb.

            I think your hyperbole suffers from hyperbole.

            So I added a verse re our equivalent of the Mallee Fowl:

            The wattled turk is hard at work,
            The hens say see you later,
            We’ll be back when all this tack
            Works like an incubator.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      It was a response to Bryan, who said that a novelist ought to show some emotional attachment about his homeland, not just write something that was interesting but disinterested (not the exact words).

      • Don Aitkin says:

        And I didn’t leave Australia to pursue a career elsewhere. I left to see what the rest of the world was like. I could have pursued a career in both the UK and the USA but felt drawn to return and help shape my country.

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      I do not recall the comment or the context, but feel free to refer me to it. My point in this essay was that, after many years overseas, I acutely missed what I will loosely refer to as ‘home’. Of course, when I encountered the shopping hours, appalling service, and lack of job opportunities, I began to regret my decision.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Yes, Don, the scale of sweeping panoramas is another thing that takes your breath away. Treeless downs country is a case in point where you can sometimes see 200 kilometres from one row of flat top hills to the next.

    But on a cold clear winter morning this distance can often be extended considerably. Looking westward with the rising sun at your back you are looking from warm air into cold air and refraction causes light and sight to bend around the curvature of the earth which allows your vision to be almost doubled at times.

    The far distant horizon can often rise above foreground mountains which normally block that distance from view.

    But in similar atmo temps the calculation for the curvature of the earth is the square root of your height of eye in feet added to the square root of the height of the observed object in feet, multiplied by 1.2 gives you distance in nautical miles.

    Or if you don’t know the height of the object but know the distance, you can calculate the height. It was a good system to use when ocean racing before the days of sat nav.

  • margaret says:

    This is what life in Australia was like for the battling Aussie and here is someone who like his father laboured all his life. There’s a wonderfully restored cottage where he was born – it was brought from Penola to Nhill where his family moved.

    • spangled drongo says:

      Now you’re getting it Marg. My two daily sojourns into the bush take me through thick E. saligna, [Sydney Bluegum] so I get a Jackson Pollock experience twice daily [can’t see the forest for the blue poles] and in this forest is the old ruins of a “cottage” of an early Afghan pioneer who, when he retired from station work, set up this camp beside a soak in the bush. All that’s left now is his old iron bedstead with a Forest Kingfisher in residence getting a living from that same soak.

      When bushmen retired in the old days they often just set up camp at an out-of-the-way permanent waterhole, did whatever work they could handle, like keeping an educated eye on things generally, and collected rations for payment.

      They couldn’t live anywhere else. It was in their blood. If their health deteriorated too much they often topped themselves off with a bit of dingo poison [strychnine].

  • Don Aitkin says:

    I wrote about Kanyaka station some time ago, and you can read it at — This is a story about the inland, its discovery by white settlers, and the efforts, success and disaster they encountered. It is a deeply moving place for me. The Hugh Proby mentioned in the story was a young man, and his mother and sister had a granite slab engraved with his details and shipped from Scotland to South Australia. It took six weeks or so to get it to Kanyaka, and it is still there, just above the site of his drowning. Since the area is arid, it’s hard to imagine a flash flood in Willochra Creek, until you discover flood-borne debris a couple of metres above the creek bed.

    • spangled drongo says:

      Thanks for that, Don. That’s a great summation of those early settlements where huge amounts of human resources were expended too soon because of insufficient understanding of the true situation.

      Record flood levels on Australia’s watercourses are astounding, particularly just prior to white occupation from some early explorer reports of measured debris heights and it is possible that better seasons prevailed in those years.

      In Betoota, btw, all traces of those early stone buildings were removed by the last publican there because he thought the “town” would be better without them.

      • spangled drongo says:

        100 foot flood height on the Brisbane River:

        “Major Edmund Lockyer mentioned the evidence of a large flood while in the area of today’s Mount Crosby pumping station – “marks of drift grass and pieces of wood washed up on the sides of the banks and up into the branches of the trees, marked the flood to rise here of one hundred feet”. Lockyer’s descendant, Nicholas Lockyer, in 1919 made the following remarks: “the official record of the flood level of the river on the 4th February 1893 at the Pumping Station, the site of which is within a mile of Lockyer’s camp, was 94 feet 10.5 inches. His remarks would seem to suggest that between Oxley’s visit in September 1824 and his [Major Edmund Lockyer] own in September 1825, the river had experienced a flood as great as that subsequently experienced in February 1893.” (Ref 2)”

        When I was a kid at school my father took me with him for a few days to measure record flood heights from debris in trees on a road the state was taking over from a private timber firm and I was staggered at this debris height that we had to asses from theodolite angles. Good education.

    • margaret says:

      Being the third son of the earl of Carysfort I expect he was not likely to become an heir to whatever family fortune there may have been – off to the colony for you young man.

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