Merry Christmas and Happy New Year; tales of the outback

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year, and warn you that this post has nothing to do with Abbotsford; it just explains the absence of blogging recently. I went to Broken Hill and Mildura from Boxing Day for a few days (and, on the way between the two, to Dareton, where I snapped the pictured marvel). How we thought we could fit in a 5 course dinner at Stefano’s the day after Christmas Day (and two days after my mother’s Christmas Eve dinner) is a mystery. But the food was superb while I could still fit it in.

In Broken Hill, I went to Bell’s Milk Bar, twice, and the second time was able to have an apricot fizz. That involved apricot syrup manufactured on the premises to a secret recipe from the 1950s, vanilla ice cream, soda water, and ice. It was good, in the Hemingway usage of that expression. I convinced the dreadlocked vixen formerly of Ballarat behind the counter to sell us some ice cream to have with the quandong pie we bought at the Silverton Tea Rooms. She said that after two years, she was still regarded by the locals as being “from away”.

Those tea rooms are definitely worth a visit too: the lady owner used to cook for shearers for a quarter of a century, and still serves up the same gear at reasonable prices. So too is the Silverton Hotel, even though the horse which used to wander through the front door for a beer every day passed away a few years ago.

But the highlight of the trip to Silver City was a show at the Art Gallery by Peter McGlinchey, “Tin Can”. His creations made from found objects made for one of the best exhibitions I have seen. I loved them.
Goannas ambled across the Silver City Highway, father emus strutted around with their flock of half-sized children, roos and wallabies were everywhere, some spinifex was spotted, I was reminded of the marvel of paddy melons — the cockroaches of the plant kingdom, which manage to grow amongst truly and insidiously green foliage on the dusty sides of outback roads where everything else is grey or at best olive — and I thought we came across a herd of 20 feral camels, but it turned out they were property of the Silverton camel safari across the road and down a bit.

I looked at the hire car contract we had and noticed to my astonishment that we were not restricted to sealed roads. Rather, we could go on “gravel roads” as well. So we took off down the less well frequented of two roads from Broken Hill more or less following the Darling River, which obligingly had a sign at the start of it which said “gravel road” — I couldn’t believe my luck given the large expanse of what appeared to be red dirt in front of me — and with some further luck, managed to navigate to Bindara Station through scarily unsignposted roads in a long stretch of country where my mobile was unexpectedly useless. I had found out about Bindara at the Broken Hill tourist information office only as a result of getting a map from a crowd which has only been going for a couple of years, Outback Beds. I recommend them. The station was once named Netley Station, a one million acre sheep station in the heydey of the paddle steamers with a staff of 200. Now, the homestead sits on 1,000 hectares of freehold, surrounded by 10,000 hectares of Crown lease, and is run by Bill and Barb Arnold.

On the way, we stopped off briefly at the historic woolshed in Kinchega National Park, a beautiful example of a kind of building I was only familiar with from Tom Roberts paintings such as “The Golden Fleece”, and just a wonderful place to walk through.

Bill and Barb have been at Bindara about 25 years. Not only are they delightful people and outstanding hosts, but they are switched on: they power their generator with bio-diesel Bill makes from spent fish and chips oil collected from Mildura, they dabble in the stock market (as well as supplying beef to the other stock market), pump water pursuant to their riparian rights from the Darling with a solar pump, and have a market garden of organic vegetables which they eat and supply to the most up-market restaurants in Broken Hill. I ate beautiful carrots deracinated not two minutes earlier, and went gaga over some tomatoes I fried up with liberal amounts of butter. Those tomatoes were the best I have eaten, plucked fresh from the vine, better even than the tomatoes I ate mid-year in Italy. Bill told me the secret was a litre of molasses mixed with a watering can full of water poured over the soil before or after planting (prevents the formation of nematodes). He and Barb poured scorn on the ridiculous collection of chemicals on offer in nurseries for the suburban gardener, especial mirth being reserved for a spray for lawns they saw recently. These are people with a good grip on lawn gardening: a perfect patch by the side of the homestead’s beautiful verandah, festooned with edible grape vines, is a marvellous achievement considering the scratchy dusty red and grey country beyond the garden fence.
The Arnold kids were schooled by School of the Air, and when I punctured my hand on a snag on the bottom the Darling River, I got to see inside the huge first aid kit supplied by the Royal Flying Doctor Service: containing hundreds of medications, scalpels, and no doubt, some opiates like morphine.

Bed, breakfast basket, lunch materials fresh from the vegetable garden, and dinner for two cost an astonishingly reasonable $95 a night. The bed was comfortable, everything was clean, and the accommodation was the old boundary rider’s accommodation. Sitting in the flywired verandah and looking out over the banks of the river a few metres away, a plethora of birds — outback parrots, dry country pigeons, bee eaters, apostlebirds, magpies and piwis, water birds including pelicans, swallows, willie wagtails, tree creepers — could be seen at any particular moment through a screen of outrageously beautiful river red gums. Some birdwatchers came to stay and counted over 170 species, but the Arnolds know there are more when the other seasons’ birds are taken into account.

A very reasonably priced family holiday could be had in the two double and two twin rooms with large attached kitchen. We twice dined with them on nosh cooked up by Barb, and for breakfast were treated to Barb’s home made jams, bread, stewed apricots, fresh fruit from the orchard, good tea, the aforementioned tomatoes, and cereals. You should go.

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