|Subject: The Beginning and End of the World (long)|
Between the mining towns of Broken Hill and Coober Pedy we managed to fit in a detour to the mountains of the Flinders Ranges. It was a very short visit of 2 nights and 1 day.
A pattern is developing when we visit National Parks. Tony asks at theinformation center what walks are possible in the area and in turn is asked what length and level of difficulty. He always wants the most difficult while I lean to something more moderate. Assuring the staff of the center that "she (me) is a game old bird and will manage" we set off. When he told me years ago that we would go up in the world together Ididn't realize he meant literally.
He excelled himself at Wilpena Pound and took me up Mt. Ohlson Bagge in 35-degree heat and under an unrelenting sun. Our water carrying system works well. We take several small bottles of frozen water each, which slowly melt ensuring that we have icy cold water for the duration and a nicy cold spot in the small of my back from carrying them in my backpack which is very welcome, Tony carries the camera, we find we rarely take both cameras, it's too hot and we can share. The views going up were spectacular and I must say I managed very well. I am feeling much fitter under Tony's regime. Probably fitter than at any time in my life and how sad is that? When we got to the top we were alone with the lizards looking down into Wilpena Pound a vast natural amphitheatre formed 450 million years ago.
We spent the afternoon in the car following a scenic route as both sets of legs were turned to Jell-O by the steep descent. Here we saw our first flocks(?)of emus grazing and gazing and lots of the big red roos along with the Euros and Greys.
We were too late the night before to reach the National Park campsite so we stayed at a private site in Hawker about an hour away. Although we like to camp in the parks the private caravan campgrounds are sometimes a better option for us. On our last night we can use their stoves, pots, pans, plates and cutlery leaving us free to pack ours up and make a quick getaway in the morning. We have become very adept at setting up and striking camp. Unfortunately it rained very heavily in the night and although we were snug and dry in our inner tent we had to pack away the outer tent wet. When we arrived in Coober Pedy after a long but scenic drive with several photo op's, we checked into the first underground motel we saw and dried our outer tent and tarps in the late afternoon sun.
With only one full day in town we had to get a move on. First on my wish list was to visit some opal showrooms, ever hoping to see a piece of boulder matrix to compare with the one we saw in Melbourne. We struck lucky with our third visit. There we found and purchased a small but lovely piece of the boulder matrix I coveted and a stunning chunk of boulder opal in an intricately designed silver setting featuring a kangaroo. The workmanship is superb and that one single piece has so much of Australia in it. To start with it is a chunk of Australian earth many millions of years old. It is the lovely rich brown colour we have come to associate with much of what we have seen around us and running through it is the electric green of the outback bush at sunrise and sunset and the intense blue of the sky. The beautiful silver roo is a bonus. Me - power shopping, can you believe it? Tony certainly couldn't as he cheerfully gave his Visa card a workout. He probably figures he won't have to gointo another showroom or gallery for the rest of the trip.
In the afternoon we signed up for a tour. In four and a half hours with Graham, we saw and learned more than we could in a week on our own. He is a registered opal miner who along with his brother-in-law has a smallclaim in town. All the operations are small, it takes two or three men to work a mine and there are no big companies on the Coober Pedy opal fields. He said of the 500 miners currently working, less than a dozen are under 50. It is not a father to son occupation. The life is hard and most miners have been bankrupt at least once, the sons make a beeline for 'civilization' as soon as they are old enough. Graham and his wife live underground so he had lots to tell us on that score too. Very few new houses are built, as there are so many for sale or abandoned ones ready to be taken over. The same goes for the mines. Miners will get discouraged or think they have mined them out and move on, someone else will register that claim and try his luck.
The cemetery was interesting with alcohol featuring prominently on many of the graves. One man prepared his own headstone ahead of time, an aluminum beer cask with brass lettering inviting all and sundry to have a drink on him. Other graves were decorated with bottles of beer and alcohol, in the way we might take flowers to a deceased loved one. It said much about the hardship of their lives in this surreal and barren landscape where rainfall averages 5 inches a year. If Flinders Ranges and Uluru are the beginnings of our world, Coober Pedy looks as if it might be the prototype for the end.
We went to the usual places, an underground church lovingly carved out by parishioners in their free time, a mine, a museum an underground house and bunkhouses capable of housing 280 visitors in 3 units. They are mostly used now for visiting children on school trips. They sleep in small cubicles in the rock with six bunks to each and a curtain separating them from the next group of hopefully sleeping schoolmates. I can't imagine spending a night down there, our underground motel is lovely (for the non claustrophobic) but I couldn't have closed my eyes in one of those bunkhouses.
Heading out of town we visited the opal fields, a positive lunar landscape of open unfenced and often abandoned mine shafts and pyramids of none opal bearing earth as far as the eye could see. Tony marveled that we were allowed on the land, certainly in North America the miners would not be allowed to walk away leaving open shafts where the unwary tourist could end up 30 to 40 ft. further downunder than they ever intended. Many photos later we were at the Breakaways, what Graham called the best part of the tour. Yet more stunning vistas and I didn't even have to climb, just get out of our sturdy tour bus and gawp. This is the home of kangaroos who live in caves in the rocks and can survive for weeks without water, just as well really if they wants to survive in Coober Pedy.
Our penultimate visit was to the 'dog proof fence'. The longest fence in the world stretching 5000 + km across 3 Australian states where men are men and sheep are a little less nervous. It separates cattle country from sheep country hopefully keeping the dogs, foxes and dingoes away from vulnerable sheep. They also bury poisoned bait to keep down the population, it will kill dogs, dingoes and foxes but other indigenous wildlife is immune to the 'poison' used. Our really great tour ended at the Desert Sands hotel (operators of the tour) for a complimentary pre-dinner drink. What a wonderful day.
Regards Sue Waterloo ON (currently in the Red Center of Auatralia)