That’s Our Southern Trip Done

If you believed they put a man on the moon
Man on the moon
If you believe there’s nothing up his sleeve
Then nothing is cool

Peter Buck and Bill Berry – R.E.M.

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon via Apollo 11 on July 20th 1969. The moon has an influence on the earth’s water – ocean tides to be precise. The problem with growing cotton is that it consumes an enormous amount of water. Bear with me here. We came through Goondiwindi on our way back to the Sunshine Coast at about the time the sale of a cotton farm, with some mixed cropping and cattle, of over 6,100 hectares was rumoured to be selling at around $100m. What caught my eye was that it was selling along with over 6,000 megalitres of water licences. I don’t pretend to understand how the water system and irrigation rights work in Australia but I do know it causes a lot of disagreement. Charges from the Murray-Darling Basin in NSW can be upward of $15 a megalitre. And you cannot farm cotton without water as they have found out this year with almost no crops being planted.

We left Rutherglen for NSW and Griffith. This very pleasant looking and well appointed city of 27,000 is sometimes known as the food bowl of Australia and is surrounded by tomatoes, citrus, vineyards and orchards. There are large tomato canning and chicken processing factories here as well meaning employment is high. It is also well known for the production of De Bortoli’s botrytis Noble One dessert wine. Griffith was settled by Italian immigrant families over 50 years ago and also has a seedier side. Shown in the true crime series Underbelly is the cannabis growing operation in the fertile land around Griffith purportedly overseen by Australia’s brand of the Calabrian Mafia. Local politician Donald McKay was murdered in 1977 as he tried to expose the drug dealings in Griffith. He wasn’t the only one. Police corruption played its part and sadly, while Griffith is, on the face of it, a small attractive, friendly city getting on with life there is still the whiff of underworld crime around with the same names popping up as were 40 years ago in McKay’s time.

We had a walk around then headed some 10 kms from town for a night at Lake Wayangan. This is a green and tree lined council camp on the lake which is popular as a short stop with caravanners and campers heading through to Queensland for winter and return. This was the night of the bloodmoon and the sight of the glowing orange moon over the lake was spectacular.

If you are a fan of Sam Neill or just an Australian and NZ film buff you will have seen the movie “The Dish”. So our next stop was Parkes, again a pleasant town of 11,300 people in central west NSW. Nearly 150 years established Parkes was founded on gold discovered in the 1860’s and now thrives on agriculture and mining. Each January Parkes hosts the Elvis Festival which attracts impersonators, fans and the generally curious in the month of “the Kings” birthday. Walking around town it is plainly obvious. Elvis portraits adorn the walls, Graceland Hotel enjoys pride of place in the town centre and Gracelands Avenue runs across the main drag – Clarinda Street.

Not quite as importantly (this is Elvis we are talking about after all) about 10 kms north of Parkes is the radio transmitter that broadcast the moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. The satellite dish is an impressive piece of equipment and played a significant part in the history of moon landings. As the moon was not quite over the horizon when Neil Armstrong started his walk (earlier than expected) the first nine minutes of the landing were broadcast from Canberra but the broadcast of the most part of the walk and liftoff came via the Parkes dish. As with all these things there is always some sort of “Act of God” that occurs. The satellite dish was built to operate in winds up to a maximum 25 mph. As luck would have it as the landing commenced winds of over 100mph came through and the staff (Sam Neill here) made the decision to continue broadcasting at great personal risk. They haven’t seen winds this speed before or after. If you haven’t seen the movie get hold of it. Released in 2000 it is one of those old time nice movies, good fun, well acted and simply enjoyable to watch. Anyway it is a slice of history well worth a visit if you are nearby.

We had a night in a pleasant roadside camp at Terramungamine by the McQuarie River just out of Dubbo. Then Bellata Golf Club for a night and on to Goondiwindi. BGC, a short walk through the fields to Bellata Township provides a free camping area beside the first tee. It is a nine hole dried up old country course that does more business through its bar and dining room than on the course I would think. It was jammed with drinkers and diners on the Thursday evening we were there. In the afternoon and morning we stayed I never saw a golf ball struck. As with all these odd country stops (a few hundred people and several large grain silos) you never know what you will get. The meal was very good pub standard and the bar was lined with signed NRL jerseys (not the Warriors I noticed) and pride of place was a team signed 1999 World Cup winning Wallabies jersey. On enquiry we discovered that a member of the Rabbitohs board was a committee member of the golf club ie don’t judge a club by its cover.

Goondiwindi, just on the Queensland side of the NSW border, has three large pubs in its main street including the magnificent Victoria Hotel. The Aboriginal word Goondiwindi apparantly means duck poo and may be apt in that the town is on the McIntyre River. Built on beef then cotton it lies some 350km south west inland from Brisbane and is now another attractive rural town of near 6,500 people. As with many rural Queensland towns established by squatter farmers it has a chequered history in its dealings with the Aboriginal Tribes which were established in the area. You wouldn’t really know so from walking around town. You would certainly know that the thoroughbred racehorse Gunsynd or the Goondiwindi Grey which in 1972 won the Cox Plate and arrived third in the Melbourne Cup came from there as a large statue of the horse in full flight sits in the middle of town. There is also a Gunsynd museum in the Civic Centre. Strange priorities. Nevertheless we spent three enjoyable days here including a few hours at the Ag and Pastoral Show. We also spent a half hour in the wool display being educated on wool classing wishing Tim was with us.

We had a night in Esk, a three street village a couple of hours from home and an hour off the Bruce Highway. Not much happens in Esk it seems except believe it or not a bit of tourism. A couple of nice pubs in the main street and some bakeries seem to service campers and passers by who flock here to cycle and horse ride the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. The now disused 161kms of rail line wanders through the forests, farmland and pretty towns of the Brisbane Valley.

We are back on the Sunny Coast and enjoying the warmer weather and with a month of relief management work ahead of us. Following a restock of the bank account we are planning a trip north firstly through western Queensland to Karumba in the gulf. A bit of fishing, some biking, a lot of nothing then who knows.

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