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Outback New South Wales
Broken Hill The Newell Highway, running from the Victorian border through West Wyalong, Dubbo, and Moree to the Queensland border, serves as a kind of frontier to outback New South Wales. From here west, the country is tougher and drier, and the towns and amenities of city life thin out considerably.
The attractions of the outback are many and varied: the semidesert landscape; the contrasting waterholes and rivers; the tall majestic river red gums; the herds of wallabies and kangaroos; the wedge-tailed eagles overhead; the Aboriginal rock art and culture; and the very struggle for existence of both humans and nature.
The outback of New South Wales is hot and dry in the summer - and warm and dry in the winter. The nights can be cool at any time of the year.
How do I get there?
From Sydney, you can head towards Dubbo or Parkes for your first taste of the outback. Travel over the Blue Mountains and once on the western slopes, you will immediately notice a subtle change in the landscape. The Newell Highway, running through New South Wales from the Queensland border all the way south to the Victorian border marks the eastern extent of the outback.
What are the main towns?
The main towns in the region include: Broken Hill, Bourke, Nyngan and Cobar.
What's there to do in the region?
Taking the route from the east via Dubbo to Broken Hill will take the traveller through Nyngan, about 150 kilometres from Dubbo. Here the landscape is flat grass and pastureland, with wheat and sheep farming the main industries. Nyngan sits beside the Bogan River, which in 1990 flooded so dramatically the town had to be evacuated. Nyngan is the junction of the Mitchell Highway, which continues north to Bourke, and the Barrier Highway, which eventually reaches Broken Hill.
Bourke is recognised as one of the largest wool shipment centres in the world, located as it is in the midst of a vast wool growing district. The town has some historical buildings and a map is available for a self-drive tour. The town was once a paddlesteamer port and although the original wharves have been lost, replica wharves hark back to the glory days when the area's wool was transported by water. At Mount Gundabooka, tours of aboriginal cave art sites are available.
Instead of heading north to Bourke, you can take a turn onto the Barrier Highway which will bring you to Cobar, which probably got its name from gubar, a word used by the Ngiyambaa people for the red ochre they used for body-painting. Cobar is a town built on the dividends of its copper, lead and zinc mines. Places of interest in the town include the Cobar Regional Museum and Great Cobar Outback Heritage Centre.
The Barrier Highway continues west for nearly another 300 kilometres before reaching Wilcannia on the Darling River. By this stage, the wheat and sheep country has given way to scrub land. Although Wilcannia's past was based on its key position as an important inland port, it is now a small service centre for the surrounding grazing industry. The old wharves are still there, now in disrepair, a reminder of Wilcannia's old role.
One hundred kilometres north of Wilcannia is the old opal mining town of White Cliffs. Fossickers can try their luck, although the town's heyday is well over. White Cliffs is remarkable for its underground dwellings and businesses, and visitors may be interested to stay in an underground motel.
From Wilcannia, it is less than 200 kilometres west to Broken Hill, the main city of the NSW outback (and from there only 50 kilometres to the South Australian border). Travellers might prefer to go south, however, via Menindee, where they might consider the nerve and the fate of European explorers. Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt came through here in 1835 and 1844 respectively and survived to lead other expeditions. Burke and Wills were not so fortunate.
In 1860 Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills led a small party from their Menindee hotel base, near the Darling River, onto Coopers Creek. They left behind a slower moving group with supplies. If the talk of the town is to be believed, this group was eventually cajoled into following by the exasperated publican who'd had enough of them. After six weeks the second party had not caught up, and Burke, Wills, John King and Charles Gray rashly set out for the Gulf of Carpentaria. They reached their destination, but at immense cost. Gray died on the return journey after receiving a beating for stealing food, and when the explorers returned to Coopers Creek they discovered the men they had left behind there had evacuated only that day. Setting out exhausted for a cattle station 250 kilometres away Wills died, then Burke. King was helped by Aborigines and eventually rescued.
The rustic hotel at Menindee is indeed an attractive place to stop, not least for the refreshments. From the shelter of the convivial old pub you can look out on the red dirt surrounds, the sparse vegetation, the clear blue skies, and get a whiff of something of the hardship experienced by everyone in the outback area.
Menindee sits amid a series of what were previously seasonal ponds turned into permanent lakes by the damming of the Darling River. Thomas Mitchell named them 'Laidley's Chain of Ponds'. The lakes now provide irrigation water for farms, drinking water for Broken Hill (about 100 kilometres distant), a habitat for waterbirds and other wildlife, and a water sports and recreational area for people in the Menindee district. The two largest lakes, Menindee and Cawndilla, form part of Kinchega National Park and camping facilities are available near Lake Cawndilla.
Broken Hill combines the romance of the desert with the sweat of hard working miners, and latterly the musings of artists. (In 1997-99, Broken Hill was NSW's Second City of the Arts.) Based on silver, lead and zinc mining, the city has four working mines and is where BHP began. Evidence of mining is all over the town, from the active works in the centre to the old mine shafts that dot the surrounding countryside. A trip to the old mining town of Silverton, about 20 kilometres away, is worthwhile for a tour through tunnels of a disused mine. The 'ghost town' of Silverton (now attracting resident artists) is where Mad Max II was filmed.
One of the most interesting national parks in the area is Mutawintji, 130 kilometres north-east of Broken Hill. The area includes rocky outcrops, dry riverbeds, deep gorges, and unexpected waterholes amid the semidesert. Mutawintji National Park is controlled by the traditional Aboriginal owners, who conduct guided tours of the park and its important rock and cave paintings. Minimal camping facilities are available.
For those who want to get into some really remote national parks, Mungo and Willandra National Parks are located south-west and south east of Ivanhoe, in some of the least populated land in New South Wales. The main feature of Mungo National Park is the eroding 'Walls of China' dune of sand and clay. It also has two camping areas and a 60-kilometre driving circuit. Once a sheep station, Willandra visitors can inspect the old homestead, the wildlife and stay in cabin accommodation or camp.

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