Heading to the Outback
I grew up listening to the works of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson. Stories telling of the life and hardships of settlers in outback New South Wales. Stories of swagmen and billabongs. A land that literally rode on the sheep’s back at the height of the wool industry.
Grandad told tales of tar boys in the shearing sheds, running to dab hot tar on a cut made by the razor sharp shears. Of shearing and cut- out parties that inspired the 1891 ballad “Click go the Shears”.
I heard of the mateship and unity that existed in these small communities, particularly in times of trial and tribulation. There were also the stories of his father, a local baker who ran a pool-room on the side. Nothing like a bit of diversity.
My grandfather also sketched and attempted to teach me some basic drawing skills. Teaching me perspective, roads and fences would converge into a distant horizon. Homesteads were also sketched on a distant horizon, with golden pastures in the foreground. I could never understand why he didn’t draw them closer to the road.
These stories were the real tales of the daily life of the remote township of Condobolin in central west New South Wales, where he spent his early life.
I was born and bred in Sydney, so this was the only experience of outback Australia I had. Until 2012, when Ian and I loaded up the Cocker Spaniels and the camper trailer, heading west for six weeks of dog shows and a chance to explore the outback of these childhood stories.
Gulgong and Lawson
We spent a few days exploring the town of Gulgong, historically the home of Henry Lawson. The town retains its historic facade, including the “curio shop” which famously appeared on our paper $1 note.
From here we had the opportunity to explore the wineries and museums in the surrounding area.
We also came across the boyhood home of Henry Lawson, now a roadside rest area.
Leaving Parkes, the sky seemed bigger, expanding over the endless plains. It seemed as if the world had suddenly grown so much larger.
The roads in my grandfather’s sketches came to life, as the red soil plains converged into the distance. Even the mirages rising in the heat on the distant roadway brought to life the wavy lines in the pictures that Granddad had drawn. All his stories and drawings suddenly came vividly to life the further west we drove.
Yes, the homestead buildings were clustered in the distance, often a kilometre or more from the gateway. As we found, they were built along the Lachlan River to ensure a continual water supply.
Abandoned farmhouses lay dormant in dry, dusty paddocks.
Originally a drover’s stopover, Condobolin was the service town for the massive sheep stations of the surrounding district.
Although only an hour’s drive from Forbes, Parkes, Lake Cargelligo or Nymagee, back in my grandfather’s time Condobolin was truly isolated. The railway didn’t reach Condobolin until 1898, so a trip to the neighbouring town could take several days.
Built along the Lachlan River, today the town remains a service centre to the surrounding farming community.
Here we joined hundreds of fellow dog lovers converging on the local caravan park for two weeks of showing and doggie fun.
Gum Bend Lake provides a popular spot for swimming, fishing and boating.
We spent several hours browsing through the Railway museum and local history museum while exploring the district.
Ian also endured a browse through the cemetery so I could pay my respects to some relatives. The rows of graves in the red clay soil told the sad story of the local residents, many short lives in a sometimes inhospitable environment.
The “Utes in the Paddock” display out at Ootha was certainly worth a 20 minute drive, to see a number of Aussie icons depicted using the ultimate Aussie icon – the Holden Ute.
Here we found Dame Edna Everage sitting on an outback “dunny”, Ned Kelly in kangaroo form and Clancy of the Overflow among the installations.
Ian was only just obliging when I suggested taking 20 kilometre drives to no-where in each direction, in search of the sheep station “13 miles from Condobolin” where Grandad had grown up. “You’re not going to find a sign saying “the Hunt family lived here”, he would sigh. However, I did come very close.
Reaching the old town of Micabil, we found the remaining few houses along the river, and a stone monument to the township which had stood in that place until wiped out by bushfire earlier last century.
I found an amazing connection to a place I had only known through childhood stories. I could almost hear the shearers calling out “tar boy!” and the whistle of the drover as he moved the sheep from remote grazing plains.
Sitting near our campsite by the Lachlan River each evening, the dogs and I played along the river bank while Ian fished trying to catch the elusive “Condo Cod”. I couldn’t help wondering if Grandad had fished in this same spot down the Lachlan years ago.