I was going to say ‘close your eyes and come with me on a journey down the Newell’, but then I realised that if you have your eyes closed, you wouldn’t be able to read. So keep your eyes open, like I did, driving 2600km’s of tough road through some of the most beautiful country in southern Queensland and through New South Wales.
At 2.30am, the world has a certain peace. A stillness. It’s fresh, and it’s freezing, and it’s full of opportunities. It’s an adventure, waiting to be explored. It’s paragraphs, awaiting to be written. It’s pitch black, save for the streetlights amplified on droplets of water teeming down the window of the packed-full Camry.
Once you’ve cleared Ipswich, you’re there. You’re on the open road, and the Lockyer, the mighty fruit-bowl of the South East awaits. You’ve driven down this patch of road heaps of times, through miles of green farmland, dotted by the occaisional fruit market, Rusty’s petrol station and Gatton UQ, where your dog goes to uni. At night though, this stretch is a different creature. There’s no fluro vests of the backpacker fruitpickers, no flashing amber of streetworks, no sign of the floods that swept through a couple of years ago. It’s just dark, and deliciously still.
The Range though, now that. What can I say? It’s treachery during the day. It’s suicide by 3am. Picture it, behind the wheel, twisting around a mountain like spaghetti on a fork, except with the added pleasure of fog so thick you’re forced to crawl along, seeing a staggering three meters in front of you. It’s thick. Oppressively thick, and you wonder if you’ll ever reach the top of this horrible, horrible range.
Once you’ve hit Toowoomba and it’s quaint tree-lined streets, you hang a left onto the Gore Highway, and then for the most of us, it’s uncharted territory. The flat plain of the Lockyer and the steep incline of the Range has given way to more undulating terrain. Rain hits the front windshield with ferocious anger. It’s still pitch black, there’s no sun to light your way, so it’s you and your highbeams vs. the road. The Gore bypasses towns big enough to rate a mention on a map, and fails to slow down for ones that are a mere punctuation on a long winding paragraph. It’s dark. Very dark. The road continues in the same way for another three and a half hours.
The clock approaches seven and the border town of Goondiwindi creeps up, like the morning sun yawning over the eastern horizon, showing in hazy yellow detail the view we’d missed since leaving Toowoomba. Highway lined with scrub, kangaroo caucuses and farmland as far as the eye can see. Like any family road trip, we pull into the Maccas carpark. The rain, thankfully, has let up and we’re greeted by the Australian flag dangling listlessly on a pole at the end of the carpark, as if it too was waiting for its morning coffee.Inside, a cop on a special orders his breakfast before escorting an impossibly large mining truck down the highway. A polite travelling family listens, too politely perhaps, to the local ‘Australia Rise Up’ candidate, who bangs on passionately about reclaiming this country. In the carpark, her dog barks out the window of a beaten up hiace van, stickers patching up rust spots and dings from years of abuse.
We leave Goondi, hitting the Newell, the backbone of western New South Wales, where five hundred kilometers separate us from Dubbo. If google is anything to believe in, we’ll be driving through six hours of sunblessed farmland and picturesque country towns. Naturally, the rain came out in force as soon as we hit 110, just before we get stuck behind the impossibly large mining truck, some 30 clicks outside of Boggabilla. Perched precariously on the back of a large semi-trailer, it would have easily filled up both sides of a metro freeway. Sadly for us, we had a one-lane country highway with no chance of overtaking for at least 50 clicks. After hovering around 110 for the last few hours, 80 was tediously slow. Tediously, tediously slow.
The rear escort eventually waved us through, indicating the chances of being crushed overtaking the mining truck had slightly diminished, so I planted my foot to the floor and the Camry really, really showed her limitations. The tacho red lined, but was not matched with an equal increase in speed, but she eventually squeezed past the truck and its two escorts. Once again, we hit the rainy Newell as it was meant to be hit – at 110.
Hardly a soul was seen either way as we powered to Dubbo. Moree and Narrabri were but an inconvenience, but we learned after the fact we should not have waited until Coonabarabran for a pit stop. The occasional silo or promise of ‘last petrol’ broke up our trip until then, apart from that, nondescript miles of rainy highway greeted us each step of the way.
Gilgandra was the next town we ignored, and I would like to say the rain eased and the countryside was beautiful.
Finally, Dubbo greeted us. For the uninitiated, its got more than Moree, Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Gilgandra. More old buildings. More pubs. More youth unemployment. More rain. Oh, less teeth. Apart from that, more of the other things.Jokes aside, it was nice to be in Dubbo. They’ve managed to preserve a lot of the old buildings – as you can imagine, it’s the usual suspects. Banks, government buildings, churches and suchlike. It’s quaint, and given better weather, I’d expect it would give an avid photographer many minutes of joy walking around snapping the interesting facades.
Our accommodation was as described. Did I mention it was still bucketing down rain? The receptionist at the motel apologised that they were running behind on cleaning, as one of their cleaners had slipped down the wet tiles. “Seemed like she was in a bit of pain” the receptionist commented, as if the cleaners health was a mild annoyance rather than an OH&S insurance claim waiting to happen.
A meander around Dubbo was in order, before we settled in for the evening, sleeping with anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.