As we drove through the Riverina district of NSW we could feel the dust and grit in the air. Everything was so dry. Cows and sheep were in paddocks that were bleached white with not a green sprout to be seen. As farmers ploughed their fields a plume of red dust rose up high in the air behind them. The whole area is in desperate need of rain. The air is so dry that the inside of our noses dried out and cracked making our nasal passages quite sore!
While touring the Riverina we stopped in the country town of Leeton as our good friends Kim and Ken from Queensland were there helping Ken's mum. Ken took us on a tour of his childhood haunts around the town, from infant and primary school's to his secondary school, the footy fields and his favourite place for a swim on a bend along the Murrumbidgee River. It was great seeing them both and we are looking forward to enjoying a few drinks on their balcony when we reach Queensland in a few months!
Leeton and the surrounding area are big rice producers. The company 'Sun Rice' is based in the town and is the world's fifth largest rice exporter. Once the rains have come the paddocks are made ready for rice production by flooding the ground using irrigation channels that criss cross the land, all fed from the Murrumbidgee River. The area is also known for its citrus orchards and walnut plantations.
Along with our friend Ken, the former captain of the Australian National Cricket Team, Mark Taylor, was also born in Leeton.
Canowindra (pronounced CA-NOUN-DRA, an aboriginal word meaning Home) was our next stop, famous for its 'Age of Fishes' museum along with its thousands of fish fossils. Approximately 350 million years ago, long before dinosaurs walked the earth, mighty rivers flowed through this part of Australia. These rivers teemed with bizarre looking fish, some with lungs, some covered in hard scaly armour and others with huge bony jaws. In 1955 road workers, while digging in the town of Canowindra, uncovered a large rock slab covered with over 3,000 fish fossil impressions, many species that had never been seen before. That became the beginning of one of only two fish fossil museums in the world.
Paul thought he needed a few days just to relax so we found a lovely spot on the edge of Lake Forbes in the town of Forbes. The amount of bird life here is amazing, from Darters and Egrets, Australian King Parrots and green Grass Parrots and our favourite the Pied Cormorant that looks like a miniature Nessie as it swims across the lake with its body low in the water and its long neck angled to keep a lookout for a tasty fish. We have also seen turtles bobbing their heads above the water.
During the 1900's bush rangers roamed this area and one of the most famous was Ben Hall (1837-1865). He carried out many daring raids, many just to taunt the police. He held up whole villages and mail coaches and regularly stole prized racing horses. A number of folk songs tell of his life and exploits. He was betrayed by a member of his gang and shot dead by police on 5th May 1865, 30 bullets were found in his body and he fired not one shot. He is buried in Forbes cemetery.
Paul had a couple of hours out alone (!) visiting Temora Aviation Museum. The museum has two working spitfires amongst its collection. A very knowledgeable aircraft engineer took him on a tour of the facility and Paul came back with his brain buzzing with facts about all the vintage planes in the collection, all of which can still be flown.
Now it was my turn and I just had to visit the CSIRO Radio Telescope at Parkes, NSW, now known as 'The Dish' due to the movie of the same name. Sheep graze the land surrounding the 64 metre diameter dish as it works day and night observing radio waves emitting from objects in space. Though it is not part of the NASA programme, the telescope has been used to receive signals from NASA spacecraft. It tracked signals from Mariner II and Mariner IV in the 1960's and was prime receiving station for the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. During the 1970's the telescope received signals from Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 17 and was also called on during the ''successful failure'' of the Apollo 13 mission.
We have taken yet another detour and are now heading back to Sydney to have some work done on the van. Once that is complete we will be back on the road, heading north, following the sun.
Liz and Paul x