Travelling Australia - Journal 2014
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7 February 2014

Glen Innes to Oxleys Crossing
The night was quiet and cool (down to 14°C at 3 o'clock) and we ran the gas heater in the morning, more to confirm that it worked than because of any need for the heat. Leaving the rest area we drove south along the New England Highway, stopping to refuel at a servo north of Glen Innes, then continued south through Glen Innes and on towards Guyra. Before reaching Guyra we drove over Ben Lomond at an elevation of 1410 metres, the highest point along this road.

We turned off the highway at Guyra to go into the shopping centre set back from the highway to check out a wool and knitting shop (the BlackSheep) which had been recommended to us. This turned out to be a very useful business which we expect to use in future, either in person or via the Internet. At Guyra we passed a caravan park proclaiming itself, apparently with some justification, as the highest caravan park in Australia.

From Glen Innes to beyond Armidale and Uralla the land is slightly hilly and mostly cleared for grazing sheep or cattle. There are a few areas of woodland but we couldn't tell whether that was original vegetation or regrowth. The road was reasonable although parts had been patched extensively; traffic was very mixed, sometimes negligible and at other times moderate with four or five other vehicles in sight. Stock transports remained common and we also saw several heavy transports loaded with hay.

We descended from the high ground around Ben Lomond, Glen Innes, Armidale and Guyra down the long downhill runs down Moonbi Hills 2 and 1 taking us from 961 metres elevation down to 534 metres approaching Moonbi township. Much of this road is dual carriageway with several emergency stopping lanes available.

We passed through Tamworth without incident leaving on the Oxley Highway bound initially for Gunnedah where we refuelled before continuing on towards Coonabarabran. The day had been steadily warming and the outside temperature gauge on the Pathfinder had been steadily climbing; it was in the low 30s when we left Gunnedah, still on the Oxley Highway, bound for Oxley Crossing rest area about 30 kilometres from Coonabarabran.

The Oxley Highway after Gunnedah was quite good, probably the best road we drove on today; it is in long straight stretches with a good, wide bitumen surface. Traffic was generally light; although we could hear many business conversations on the UHF radio we saw very few of the vehicles involved until, unusually, we were overtaken by a wide load in a hurry. The load was pipework which was bulky but the speed the truck maintained on hills indicated the load was light. Extensive rebuilding of many kilometres of the Oxley Highway will make it more pleasant to use in future.

The Oxley highway passes through the village of Mullaley on the Liverpool Plains lying in the middle of extensive plains edged by unusually shaped mountains; the plains look flat enough to have been laser levelled for irrigation but there are no signs of irrigation equipment and we suspect the level plains are natural.

Several features of the current dry period (increasingly described as a drought) were clear as we crossed the Liverpool Plains. The grass is dry and stock are not in good condition (we passed a herd being driven along the highway and they were skinny animals); but trees and shrubs do not look distressed and waterholes, creeks and rivers still have water left in them; certainly not full but also not dry as dust as we have seen in earlier droughts when everything look miserable and dessicated.

Arriving at the Oxley Crossing rest area we found, to our disappointment, that a bushfire had been through the area very recently. But we had travelled far enough today and decided to stop there anyway. Once we had stopped and found a place for the caravan where it appeared safe from falling dead branches I began looking around.

Glen Innes to Oxleys Crossing - page 2
The bushfire had completely destroyed the grass and ground cover plants and ash lay on the ground. The distinctive acacia species which used to grow here as a shrub had been burnt away or reduced to a few shrivelled leaves; most gum trees had black trunks. There were no birds or insects (other than ants) to be seen; the bush was silent with a slight smell of burning in the air.

Closer examination showed that trees had responded to the fire with some differences; many gum trees with ironbark type bark had their bark burnt but not deeply, smooth bark gum trees mostly had untouched bark. But in one or two places trees had caught fire properly and the trunks had been reduced to ash. All trees, gum and cypress and regardless of the condition of their trunks, were covered in dead leaves; the leaves were not burned but had died (presumably in the heat) and were now falling to form a mulch layer. Large smooth-bark gum trees twenty or thirty metres high looked unharmed until closer examination showed their covering of leaves was all dead. But the fire had not treated all trees the same; one or two of the smooth-barked gum trees had caught fully alight; their trunks were partly burnt away and leaves were burnt.

Recovery so far was limited to a few clumps of grass putting out greenery and a form of fern had grown to about 20 centimetres high; the numerous green shoots gum trees put out in bushfire recovery were not yet in evidence. There were no green shoots visible on any tree; there were no insects, a few flies and only one or two birds heard or seen.

At dusk one or two birds came into the burnt area from unburnt bush across the road; in the low light they looked like forest kingfishers hoping for some insects or grubs which had escaped the fire.

Van and burnt Pathfinder and caravan in the Oxley Crossing rest are amid the aftermath of a bush fire.

Burnt gum trees These gum trees have had their ironbark type bark burnt. The leaves visible on the trees in the background are all dead.

Glen Innes to Oxleys Crossing - page 3
New growth Recovery has begun with emergence of this fern-like plant in some numbers.

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