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PAINTERS, PETERBOROUGH AND THE POUND

Come on a journey with Fred as he shows you a delightful outback touring route from historical Broken Hill to epic Flinders Ranges sunsets

WORDS BY FRED WRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN HABERFIELD AND DAVID WOLTSCHENKO

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Here is a trip to two significant outback destinations: one, a proud city which saved the nation’s economy and two, a region that changed geological history! Both are iconic gateways to the outback; however it’s the people and places along the way that put the icing on the cake.

Australia’s outback resembles a wide brown land but on this journey it’s definitely not featureless as the scenery constantly changes. From outback plains and red soil to mountain ranges that become your companions, the changing colours and moods from morning to evening simply take your breath away. This kind of transition is a fitting preparation for what awaits you in the Flinders Ranges and at Wilpena Pound itself.

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Such is the magnetic appeal of this part of Australia that some of our best painters have been drawn to the outback to try to capture its unique colours and sheer beauty. To say there’s nothing quite like it is an understatement. But take note that many who have ventured this way have fallen in love with its history, appeal and romance and never left.

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

We began our trip in a rather unusual manner, by dropping into Lucindale near Naracoorte, SA for the Australian Caravan Club’s Chairman’s Muster. Here, RVers from across the country had gathered to celebrate. For a full report on this stunning event, flick to the Club Event section on page 143.

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Soon it was time to point the Jeep and Crusader on the long drive through Mildura to Broken Hill, NS W. Most travellers are aware, but if you’re new to these parts, take some advice: avoid travelling at night. Kangaroos, goats, and just about everything else that moves is on the road. With a caravan behind you’ll never be able to stop in time. If you’re unwise enough to try to swerve there could be dire consequences. Remember, too, that there may be animals about during the day.

It’s paramount with distances in remote areas to ensure your vehicle and van are in good condition and that means more than oil change and quick glance at fluid levels. Wheel bearings on your van always need to be checked and the money you spend prior to departure is nothing compared to the cost of towing, finding a mechanic, having parts transported and sitting by the side of the road in a remote area with no cell phone reception hoping help will soon arrive. I can guarantee that your navigator will not be impressed!

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Broken Hill or ‘the Hill’ as some lovingly call it, is said to have saved Australia’s economy with immense wealth from its silver, lead and zinc reserves.

It also saw the birth of Broken Hill Proprietary, known to all of us as BH P. Australians owe a debt of gratitude to Charles Rasp, a German-born, qualified edible oil technologist who deserted the army during the Franco-Prussian War and became a boundary rider near present-day Broken Hill. Armed with a prospector’s guide he sent mineral samples to South Australia, thinking they were tin. When studied, they proved to be silver. Soon after a syndicate was formed and, as they say, the rest is history. Curiously the Line of Lode underground museum, which celebrates Broken Hill’s rich silver mining history, resembles an upside down boomerang.

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We were fortunate to interview the Broken Hill Council General Manager, Therese Manns. She is passionate about ‘The Hill’ and gave us some great tips to follow up.

It was then off to ‘the place beyond the 39 dips’ in the road, otherwise known as Silverton. In its heyday, it was a mining town at the end of a railway line but as the silver disappeared and the trains stopped its population dropped dramatically. Today you’ll find buildings of a bygone era transformed into a café, gaol museum and hotel.

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Driving into Silverton you’ll quickly spot the hotel. The current owners have been here for more than five and half years and you’ll find an improved, enlarged kitchen spacious undercover area and new accommodation. They’ve done a superb job and you’ll want to spend time just reading the quirky sayings hanging from the ceiling. It’s one of those places you tend to fall in love with even before Peter tries out his rattlesnake trick on you. Please tell him if you have a heart condition as his trick is quite surprising, in a harmless sort of way of course!

Sitting at the bar was Texas. He’d been an extra on the Mad Max movie shot here and was returning some 30 years later to relive great memories. He recalls being killed off in one scene only to reappear several scenes later.

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A trip to the Mad Maxx II Museum was a real eye opener with hundreds of photos to peruse, actual uniforms and cars used in chase scenes with a young Mel Gibson aka the Road Warrior. One Aussie film critic argued that the movie was a disgrace and would bomb at the box office. It went on to gross 100 million and spawned two further movies with another coming soon! Adrian, who owns the museum, first saw Mad Max movies when he was about 10 years old in the UK and was besotted. He even built a car similar to Mel’s, corresponded with cast members and in return receives rare photos and uniforms.

He brought his family to Silverton and declared he had found his home. Adrian is more than happy to discuss his passion and the film’s origins. You’ve never heard the true story until you’ve spoken to him.

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But there are more reasons to spend a day here, such as the quaint Silverton café with its memorabilia, dolls and variety of meals. Nearby is an information centre with a room at the back set up to represent the early days. There are many artists and craftsmen with superb items for sale.

Back at Broken Hill we were over the moon to interview Jack Absalom, ultimate bushman turned painter and author of many outback books as well as cookbooks. His free gallery has perhaps the best collection of opal in Australia, but his huge paintings on the walls will keep you enthralled for hours. I particularly loved the painting of the white bull, which reminded me of Harry Redford, the cattle duffer who stole the bull on his way to creating a new stock route from Longreach to South Australia.

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After an enthralling chat to our mate Jack, it was then west to Peterborough in SA with the Jeep Cherokee eager for adventure and the Crusader van in hot pursuit. Peterborough, or Petersburg as it was originally known, is a somewhat surprising town not only for its engaging attractions such as Steamtown but also because of the positive attitude of the locals. Before you board the railway carriage, which is its information centre, you get to meet and greet the monument to ‘Bob the Railway Dog’ out front. There are so many small gems here that you’ll soon realise Peterborough is more than just a fuel stop. Other attractions to see are Motorcycle Museum and the café house in the original picture theatre.

Another sunrise, another great Aussie character to have a yarn with. Meeting Colin Campbell, who made the steel trains you’ll see as you enter and leave town, was a humbling experience. He greeted us on a Sunday at his home resplendent in a three-piece suit – surprising given his blacksmith background.

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Colin survived in the Blitz in London and became an apprentice working on the first steam train in the world, before coming to Peterborough. He has an undeniable talent – in fact, he’s a genius when it comes to working with steel. Colin’s a true gentleman and a pleasure to meet and I doubt we will ever see his like again. Both he and Jack Absalom are at the top of my list of most impressive and influential people I have ever met.

Quorn beckoned and I make no apologies for loving this quirky place. Apart from the famous Pichi Richi Railway there’s plenty to see and do in and around town. I’ve developed an addiction to quandong pies (quandong is a native peach) and go out of my way to get a fix whenever I’m within a few hundred kays.

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The beautiful town of Quorn has remarkable eco-friendly caravan parks, cafes, a supermarket, beaut pubs, and great historical value. The place welcomed over 100,000 troops travelling north by rail to Darwin and Papua New Guinea during WWII . Locals then dug deep to give our boys some good old outback hospitality during their stopover.

As you leave this southern gateway to the Flinders Ranges heading north you’ll turn east at Hawker for Wilpena Pound. Don’t forget Rawnsley Park Station on the way as this is a well-run park for travellers and a working sheep station. You’ll find both powered and unpowered sites, a large restaurant, walking tracks, 4WD adventure tours and you can even plan flights. To be honest, there’s nothing quite like an eagle-eye-view of the 500 million year old pound. Wilpena Pound rewrote geological history and as some writers say – ‘it’s like nature’s bones laid bare’. At Wilpena Pound there’s a visitors centre, cell phone reception, powered and unpowered sites, ablution blocks and rubbish removal. Campers we met commented on the way this National Park created camping sites without destroying the environment.

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A laid-back, pleasant chat with a local ranger reinforced the outstanding work they do in caring for the park. It’s reassuring to know that these professionals are working so that places like these will be here for generations to come.

Jack Absalom summed up the outback with his no-nonsense approach to safe travel. Respect and responsibility are required by all of us as this country can quickly bring undone the unprepared and the unwary.

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Broken Hill and the Flinders Ranges really are two of the Aussie outback’s biggest highlights, and it’s good to know how easy it is to see both on the one short adventure. As the sun hit the prehistoric Flinders mountain ranges, bringing a burst of colour to the sky, the Jeep engine burst into life and started pulling the Crusader towards our next exciting destination. I had to ask myself, does it get any better than this? I don’t think so!

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