15th April 2010
Part One: Reconnaissance: In search of the inland sea
Beyond the Great Dividing Range the Australian rivers flow west and as such the young white nation was convinced there must be a large inland sea occupying the centre of the continent. So the explorers set forth with varying ideals but with the inland sea as the core of their objectives; Gregory, Oxley, Sturt, Mitchell, Eyre, Leichhardt, Stuart, Warburton, Burke & Wills – names from our history which all too often learnt in tragedy of the myth of the inland sea. In lieu of water there was desert.
But had their timing been different, had they chanced upon that one in a hundred year event, then just maybe our history may have changed. For occasionally, when the dreaming spirits that guard this country see fit, there is indeed an inland sea. It starts with the monsoon rains in Northern Australia where it can rain for months. Deserts become inundated and the land cannot absorb all the water that falls. So slowly the water moves into the inland rivers. Rivers that normally are barren become filled and the water moves south and west and spills over banks onto desiccated floodplains. Paroo, Diamantina, Culgoa, Narran, Warrego, Cooper, Darling – the rivers run and create their own mythology.
So it is this year in 2010. The rivers are running, the west is flooding, the desert blooms and the McKeesicks are off to see it for themselves. We initially tried bribing a pilot at the Wallaroo Hotel with grand ideas of flying to Marree in South Australia and then on to Lake Eyre, but this turned out to be pub talk. We then looked towards St George, Moree and Lightning Ridge for charter flights but everyone had gone broke in the drought. So onto the ute we packed the swags, an esky full of liquid currency and some food, a bottle of insect repellent and the phone number for a bloke wanting to agist cattle near Brewarrina in western NSW – and off we went.
After seven hours bouncing in the ute, through Moree and then Walgett and onto the back roads west of Lightning Ridge, off the bitumen, past the “Road Closed” sign, we finally arrived on the Narran River – arrived to a small bridge spanning flooding waters.
The water rushed along and poked and prodded at the banks, searching for an escape to the floodplains beyond. Wildlife abounded. The air was alive with dragon flies and hundreds of bronze wing pigeons lined the road. In a land usually dry this was indeed a sight to behold.
We headed west past the Narran looking for a place to camp but the further we travelled the wetter the country became. To drive off the road would have meant sinking into grey mud. So we continued along until peak hour and then bailed up the first ute we saw – a sheep farmer from one of the stations. He had just been along the road trying unsuccessfully to pump out a waterhole – getting to town was becoming a problem. We employed some liquid currency from the esky and got to talking, bailing up the second ute to come along – a young bloke dead keen on making it to the Brewarrina Pub.
As the sun set the mosquitos came. Oh my. How can I possibly explain the mosquitos? I was dressed in shorts but figured I didn’t care if I had only known these blokes five minutes – I dove into the clothes bag, found some jeans and some longer shirts and did a quick change behind the ute. I got bites all over my bum. Then I got bites all over my back – through two shirts. They were merciless. The young bloke told us to camp in his shearer’s quarters only 200m away and I could have kissed him.
No amount of liquid currency was going to keep any of us on the road with the killer mozzies. The sheep farmer bolted for home, the young bloke bolted for the pub and we bolted to the shearer’s quarters.
The beds in the quarters were rough: I was fine as long as I didn’t want to turn over and Brian reckons he spent all night hanging on as the bed tried to buck him off, but we were away from the mozzies so we weren’t about to complain.
Easter Saturday was long, boggy and wet but magnificent.
After ploughing through numerous grey soil bogs we made it to a strip of bitumen and called in to see friends near the Bokhara River. They were lighting fires around the dog kennels as we arrived hoping that the smoke would keep the mozzies from carting the dogs away. We chatted for an hour and spoke about some agistment at his brother’s place as Brian has a plan forming.
Then it was onto Goodooga, fishtailing and holding our breath as we ploughed through more bogs, and past floodwater escaping from the Bokhara and following channels across the paddocks and claypans. We crossed one channel with the water flowing east and then 100m later crossed the same channel with the water flowing west – the water curls and meanders and follows any depression available.
The bitumen road to Lightning Ridge was littered with warning signs about the water on the road. We figured this was just a little superfluous considering what we had come through in the last few days, but there was traffic here (at least four cars) and so the public needed to be made aware of the dangers.
We had planned on staying the night at the Ridge but with the Easter Carnival in full swing, the town was booked out. We went to the races and I did enquire with the policeman as to how much I should drink and what I needed to do in order to ensure accommodation for the night but he just smiled at me and left it at that. So rather than risk the dreaded mozzies we left the Ridge to the tourists and headed to the hot artesian pools of Moree before the drive home on Sunday.
Back at home I pondered again the early explorers. What if they had seen the inland in flood? How would it have changed things as we know them? But then reality hit. The explorers would not have made it back. They would have been massacred in their beds by the mozzies.