Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
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24 July 2012 - Mildura to Broken Hill
Another sunny day with some cloud and a cool to cold breeze. Departure from Mildura was delayed by Pathfinder electrical difficulty which ended with a replacement battery being installed by the RACV. We did not leave Mildura until 11:30, fairly late for us to be leaving a place but we knew the drive to Broken Hill would take a little more than three hours so expected to arrive at a reasonable hour.

We followed the Calder Highway out of Mildura as it went around the built-up part of Mildura to the west passing through many vineyards; at least one vineyard contained vines that were very new while others were decades old. The Calder Highway completely avoids the shopping and business district in Mildura passing through Merbein enroute to a bridge across the Murray River into New South Wales. This was an older and narrow bridge, so narrow that traffic was controlled by traffic lights ensuring it is a one-way-at-a-time bridge.

In New South Wales, the road (no longer the Calder Highway) joined the Silver City Highway which runs via Broken Hill into north-west New South Wales. At Wentworth, a few kilometres on, we crossed the Darling River (looking very full) and stopped for lunch. Wentworth is the northern edge of the populated agricultural area, centred on Mildura, where grapes and citrus fruit are widely grown. Agriculture does not extend north of Wentworth.

From Wentworth the Silver City Highway runs 240 kilometres to Broken Hill. The road is of reasonable quality; two lanes of bitumen wide enough for an oncoming B-double to pass our caravan without difficulty and with a surface suitable for 85 to 90 kph. The road is mostly in long straight stretches; sometimes as flat as the surrounding plains, at other times rising and descending on gentle slopes also reflecting the surrounding land.

Traffic was very light. The largest category of vehicle on the road was caravans, we counted 13 vans going in the opposite direction as well as one motor home, three mineral road trains going to or from a mine, three or four conventional heavy transports, a couple of stock transports and twenty or thirty sedans. We were overtaken by a dozen or so sedans in the 240 kilometres. Traffic was so light, and the road had been built with such long, straight and flat sections, that overtaking us was safe and easy on most occasions. We did encounter the occasional driver who wouldn't wait for a straight section of road and overtook on a bend.

We also encountered the opposite; a sedan driver who repeatedly hesitated to overtake. After catching up with us (not hard at our cruising speed of 85 to 90 kph) he kept moving out to get a good view of the road ahead past the caravan and to look for any oncoming traffic. Despite the road being clear, level, flat and easy to see for more than a kilometre he then moved back in behind us. Watching this process in our mirrors and wondering what he was up to and would do next became distracting and I was pleased when he finally overtook and moved ahead of us.

In the 240 kilometres between Wentworth and Broken Hill there is one refuelling point, this is at Coonbah, sometimes described as Coonbah Roadhouse. This is a single, small, general store on the Silver City Highway close to the Coonbah pastoral property. In paddocks across the highway from the roadhouse we saw a shearing shed and a large building not easy to see clearly among trees. Otherwise we saw no buildings between Wentworth and Broken Hill. Maps show a number of pastoral properties in this area and we occasionally passed a gate in the fence along the Highway with a track leading into the scrub but we didn't see buildings, barns, sheds, tractors, or other sign of human habitation. Nor was there any advertising along the Highway until we were 24 kilometres from Broken Hill. For a while an electrical high-tension power cable on pylons was visible in the distance.

We had crossed the Darling River at Wentworth but the Silver City Highway did not cross, or even come close to, the Darling River again. But we did pass near the Great Anabranch of the Darling River which leaves the Darling River south of Menindee then meanders, via numerous lakes, to enter the Murray River downstream of the Darling River proper. Popilta Lake, one of the lakes fed by the Great Anabranch, lies close to the Highway and there is an interesting-looking rest area nearby on the lake shore. (An anabranch is a section of river that diverges from the main channel and eventually rejoins that channel. The term is widely applied in Australian rivers which flow over very flat terrain.)

The natural vegetation along the Silver City Highway frequently, but gradually, changes. Some areas were covered in ground-cover saltbush and bluebush with an upper canopy of mallee eucalyptus; other parts had thin shrub ground-cover under groves of casuarina (she-oak), cypress and some rosewood; one section was grassland with scattered eucalyptus (not mallee). A few sections had a medium-level canopy of acacias or similar rounded plants one or two metres high. There appeared to be an increase in grass ground-cover as we moved north.

Although we saw no buildings showing human activity we did see many sheep grazing along the road. For the first ten or twenty kilometres from Wentworth we passed cleared and ploughed paddocks, some reaching to the horizon, looking as if they carried a germinating crop. Then it was sheep country with flocks of sheep usually in view from the road. Much of the Silver City Highway between Wentworth and Broken Hill is fenced but sheep were more often than not grazing outside the fence. The only roadkill we saw in 240 kilometres was one sheep (usually remote grazing land is unfenced with the associated risk of stock on the road being hit by vehicles).

For the latter half of the drive we passed numerous feral goats grazing in the ground-cover, sometimes initially near the road but they disappeared into the undergrowth as we approached. There does not appear to be the interest in catching feral goats we saw in Queensland where goats are slaughtered in accordance with Islamic religious requirements and exported to Indonesia as a valuable export product. Feral goats are not often seen in numbers in that part of Australia because they are valuable as export meat.

We also passed an increasing number of emus in groups of five or more. Fortunately these unpredictable birds were well back from the road.

Entering Broken Hill we made our way to the selected caravan park on the edge of town, booked in for a week, and set up on a site. Weather had remained good for travelling all day. This had been an interesting day driving 299.9 kilometres from Mildura to Broken Hill on a reasonably good Silver City Highway through a variety of vegetation types. The Highway continues north from Broken Hill to Tibooburra but we had other destinations in mind after Broken Hill.

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