Travelling Australia - Journal 2014
8 February 2014

Oxleys Crossing to Peak Hill
In the morning sun the burnt area of bush around us looked as desolate as ever but we were visited by some birds flying from nearby unburnt area. A solitary magpie hopefully prowled the burnt ground looking for grubs, four sulphur-crested cockatoos made their usual racket far overhead and a forest kingfisher briefly passed through. Otherwise the burnt bush was deserted and silent.

The temperature at dusk had been about 36°C so we were a bit concerned at overnight heat but the air temperature dropped quickly after sunset and the night was comfortable; traffic noise on the Oxley Highway passing the rest area was not a problem. A temperature of about 12°C outside at 7 in the morning promised a cooler day than yesterday but that was not to be and the temperature quickly rose through the low 20s at around 9 o'clock.

By then we had left the rest area heading along the Oxley Highway to Coonabarabran. The road continued to be reasonably good in long straight (but not flat) stretches going up and down hills without any civil engineering works. Oxleys Crossing elevation was 375 metres and the ground was gently climbing towards the west, probably into the foothills of the Warrambungle Ranges; elevation of Coonabarabran was 501 metres. It turned out that the bushfire around our rest area was the only bushfire along the highway between Gunnedah and Coonabarabran.

We stopped in Coonabarabran for some shopping. After staying here for several nights in the past we had the advantage of knowing the layout of the shopping centre.

We left Coonabarabran on the combined Newell and Oxley Highway bound for Gilgandra. The road is mostly fairly good since this is the main transport route between Melbourne and Brisbane (and also for traffic from Adelaide coming via Dubbo). There was a steady, but not too heavy, stream of heavy transports going the other way (northbound) but much lighter southbound traffic. Stock transports were still in evidence, most were empty returning to Queensland after taking stock to southern destinations; there was also a number of northbound trucks carrying bales of hay. The road is mostly hilly, with several overtaking lane sections, running through a mixture of grazing (sheep and cattle) and timbered land.

On a conveniently wide stretch of road we met a very wide load convoy containing two large mining buckets completely filling both lanes. There were five or six escort vehicles and three or four police cars buzzing frantically around the load but nobody bothered to use UHF channel 40 to warn road users this load was coming. We met that load where we could see it across a broad valley and there was suitable flat grass beside the road for us to pull completely off the bitumen and verges to stop and let the loads go by. But the escorts, supposed to warn oncoming road users of the wide load, were so close to the wide load and their lack of radio warning so complete that we, or a heavy transport, could have met the wide load with no notice or opportunity to get out of the way.

Eventually we did hear a faint warning call from one of the escorts saying the load was 7 metres wide; that completely fills both lanes of bitumen leaving no space at all on the road for oncoming traffic which has no choice other than to get off the road. A radio call that such a wide load was coming would have been a warning to pull off into a rest area until it was past.

To have such a wide load being escorted by such an inept escort party was disappointing. Over the past few years we have noticed an increase in the number of wide loads on roads, presumably because of increased mining projects. The number of escorts has increased accordingly but escort' competence has often declined to the point that escorts are not much help to the smooth passage of wide loads along public roads.

In Gilgandra the Oxley and Newell Highways went separate ways; the Oxley west to Warren and the Newell south to Dubbo. We continued south passed through Dubbo following the signed route which is a sort of bypass which doesn't avoid built-up areas but does avoid the main shopping areas. Leaving Dubbo the Newell Highway passed through more of the mixed grazing, woodland land use common further north with slightly wider uses including a large grove of olive trees, at least one spray irrigation rig on a green paddock and a herd of goats.

We had decided to stop in Peak Hill about 70 kilometres south of Dubbo for at least a couple of nights and made our way to one of the caravan parks there. By mid-afternoon the air temperature was in the high thirties and we were glad to set the caravan air-conditioner going once we had set up in the park. Weather all day had been bright and sunny with little wind.

After setting up we went for a drive around Peak Hill, this is one of the many places we have frequently passed through over the years but have not stopped at long enough to see what is there; on this visit we would have a look around.

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