Earlier this year Ruth Sandow, who manages the Milparinka Heritage and Tourism Association contacted me to see if I was interested in going back to run the Milparinka Visitors Centre or VIC and again look after it for the usual fortnight. I had previously been there doing the volunteer thing a couple of times in the past with the last being 2 years ago.
After discussing with my Xyl Lindy and our friends Jean & Neil who came up and visited us there in 2013 we decided to again go up. This time round, Neil and I would go for the first week by ourselves and the girls would join us in the second week. We decided also to make a trip of it and get out and do some Station Stays, camping on a couple of the stations that offer either remote camping or camping in the shearer’s quarters of which there are plenty to choose from and of course a SOTA activation if it would fit in.
Now Milparinka is a ghost town and for those unaware of its whereabouts, it is situated about 4 hours north of Broken Hill and nowadays some 25 minutes south of Tibooburra up in NSW’s Corner Country. I speak in travel times out here because looking at a map you might be tempted to say well its just short of 300km so its say about 3 hours. That would be true if you could travel at 100kph but at the moment, you can’t. It’s also true that as each year passes more of the Silver City Highway is being covered in bitumen and in 2013 it used to take about 45 minutes to get from Milparinka to Tibooburra whereas now it only takes 25 minutes due there being more tar – anyway I think you get the picture.
But what’s up there I hear you ask …its just a ghost town? I first went there in the early 1990’s and recall being blown away by the fact that there were these few great old stone buildings and a lot of other ruins. I didn’t know why they were there or what their story was. Well since then I do know their history and could bore you with it over about a 20 minute period but I won’t. Suffice to say it is just beautiful country and the people are just great as well. Do yourself a favour sometime and get out there and soak some of this up for yourself and perhaps you might run into me as I am sure I will be back out there again. But I must also admit that if you look at my 2012, 2013 photos and my 2015 photos they are just more of the same – old buildings and sunsets and wonderful rich outback colors.
But I digress – this blog is about my activation of North Barrier – not about my outback travel adventures although the two are entwined.
During the planning for this trip I had noticed that there were just 15 summits only in the Upper Western region of NSW and none had been activated so this was an opportunity to be the first to activate both a summit and the first for the region. Each summit in this area is only worth 1 point so whilst not high in terms of the rest of the state they certainly make up in remoteness and ruggedness. I chose Mt Shannon to attempt first as it was within a day’s drive from Milparinka. It was also a Telstra comms site and I figured it would be easy to get permission to gain access. Having got the phone number of the station as well as the name of owners I made contact with them and explained what SOTA was all about and who I was and why I wanted to go there etc etc. The owner listened patiently while I explained my self and then promptly told me ‘No’ because he had an agreement with Telstra that he wouldn’t let tourists up near the site. Whilst I found that hard to believe I couldn’t argue and thanked him for his time.
Back to the drawing board or in this case, the map. Looking a little further south I came across North Barrier. As the name suggests its on the Barrier ranges, so named by Sturt on his famed 1845 inland sea exploration trip. I had no idea on whose station this one might be on so after some emails with Ruth Sandow, she suggested I contact Nundooka Station and gave me the details. I rang and again explained my purpose and this time received an entirely different response. Much warmer and accommodating except this summit WASN’T on Nundooka Station. But as luck would have it, it was on his nephew’s property at Floods Creek Station and he provided me with their details. Again, I rang and went through my spiel – well the response couldn’t have been nicer and the next thing we were invited for morning tea. I promised to ring again closer to the date when the finer details were firmed up.
After the fortnight at Milparinka we packed up and headed down to Ruth’s station – Pimpara Lakes. This is a station stay well worth the visit particularly if the ephemeral lake is full which fortunately for us it was.
We spent a delightful couple of days just doing very little. Walks, photography, a drive around the 110,000 acre station and sitting by the campfire…but that’s camping isn’t it? From here we headed off to Mt Gipps station which is about 40km north of Broken Hill and if you are looking for just a little starter taste of this country, this is a great place to start. Its just beautiful country. Charles Rasp pegged out the first Broken Hill mining claim here back in the late 1800s although today there isn’t any sign of that. The result though was the town of Broken Hill and the subsequent mining. Its also interesting to note that Sturt wrote in his 1844 journal that the Barrier Range was highly mineralized. Due to our now close proximity we took the opportunity to visit Broken Hill for re-stocking purposes. Whilst on Mt Gipps I rang Floods Creek to update them on my plans. As we were traveling with our dogs they suggested we contact Mt Westwood Station to inquire about camping as they had 1080 dog baits out. This I did and again was met with a warm response. Cal and his wife Sonya suggested we camp on a freshwater lake close by. He told me the directions over the phone and even said there was a gas BBQ there we could use if we provided our own bottle. The whole thing sounded really good and before long we were on the road again heading up to find the lake, make camp and to be ready for a run down through Mt Westwood to Floods Creek and the climb up North Barrier the following day.
Unfortunately, I missed the reference in my phone conversation with Cal that the lake was NOT on Mt Westwood. This was a very important point as it turned out as we spent most of Friday driving up and down the property looking for some sign of this so called lake and in the end camped against a dam wall at the beginning of the station. Camping on or near dams is never a good thing to do as stock can become spooked and stay away from the water so I knew it was only a temporary stop. Also we knew there was a storm brewing and the wind was getting stronger and stronger. Had Cal or Sonya been home that day I am sure they would have put us back on the right track and as it turned out he returned just on sundown and called into our camp and did put us right for the following day.
We spent a pleasant night despite the wind and a tiny bit of a shower but I was glad to be off in the morning this time without van and trailer. After opening and closing untold gates we eventually arrived mid morning at Floods Creek station and were invited in for coffee while waiting for Luke (owner) to return for smoko – he was out with a crew mustering wild goats on trail bikes and with the assistance of an ultra-light and we monitored their progress on CB as we drove down. Wild goats are every where in outback NSW and South Australia. They are in plague proportions and most stations round them up and when they have enough they are sold to abattoirs down south usually Wangaratta where they sell sometimes better than sheep and given they didn’t cost anything to start with there is only the cost of rounding them up and transport south to worry about. On any trip along the Sturt from Hay onward you see thousands and I am not exaggerating. They are very wily and are not often road kill. When I think of goats I think white but they are in a myriad of greys, browns, blacks,mixtures and only rarely do you see pure white.
After a cuppa Luke offered to lead me up the hill riding his trail bike despite me having a map with a track to the top on it on Ozi Explorer on my car GPS. And boy, am I glad he did. Track? Most of the time there was no track. And despite it only being about 8km from the homestead it still took me about 1 hour and 20 minutes in low range 1st gear in the Troopy. A quick squiz of the map I had looked a little like the veins in your body …lots of blue lines indicating small dry water courses criss crossing the area and each one whilst small was always accompanied by a sharp drop in and just as sharp an exit…and on top of that it was extremely stony with lots of the Gidgee just waiting to attack an unsuspecting tire. Gidgee is a common variety of Acacia nthat is native to the arid and semi arid areas of Australia. It is slow growing, hard as nails but makes really good firewood. Dead Gidgee is deadly on tires. Neil followed me in his Mazda BT until he succumbed to the effects of a bit of Gidgee trashing his tire. He insisted I go on and he would change the tire and return to the station. Luke promised he would return and check on him once he had me at the top. As I was approaching the summit top I managed to work the Wagga boys at the Club rooms on 40 metres along with Wayne VK2PDW operating from his home. Now, as you all know, its an art to speak on the mic whilst driving but add to that whilst trying to keep the 4WD on the so-called track and dodging large rocks and GIdgee, its an even greater challenge but I did manage both. I am not sure that my Xyl Lindy and the two dogs in the back were very impressed by any of this but we did make it up safely.
Now I am not saying I couldn’t have found my way to the top without help – well actually in hindsight, without his help I don’t think I would have but I did assure him I could follow my GPS track back down and with that he headed off leaving me to set up. This was one hill I wasn’t going to walk back down 25m and back up again because I was now conscious of the time and what had to be done in the rest of the day, there were storms all around us plus I was concerned for Neil and his Xyl Jean at the bottom. Without wasting more time I got the gear out and as the only vertical thing on the summit aside from a CB repeater installation and tower was what was left of the old trig point. I lashed my squid-pole to that and quickly got the gear out. Short of a diamond tipped hammer drill there would have been no way of getting a peg into the ground to support the pole. Something I usually do. Oh, and as promised I did run a cursory eye over the CB repeater for Luke but everything looked fine. Interesting that the so called hut only had three sides.
You may recall I wanted to try the Pixie out again on this summit and that was the first bit of gear to get out only to discover I had left the all important power cord on my bench at home. Oh well I thought – lets go with CW anyway on the FT-817 and started to set that up. I also fired off a spot as there is 3G coverage up here but despite Droid Spot saying it had successfully sent there was nothing on Sotawatch. Again due to the time and other pressures I switched to phone and put out a call on 7090 and was quickly rewarded with VK2LAD in Albury. I asked could he spot me and before I finished the contact I noticed Amanda had spotted me – well done and thanks Amanda VK3FQSO. I know there were some other summits out there being activated during the morning but I must have missed them as I only managed contacts with chasers and nothing from other summits. Something unusual for me was the number of VK4’s on 40m. I don’t usually work them from down south. When I reached the 14th contact the rush seemed to have dried up and the likelihood of me getting wet was looming large so it was a quick pack up and back to the Troopy and the descent.
Despite zooming in on my track to the 1000% mark on my car GPS I still lost the track numerous times on the way back. Time and time again we stopped and my Xyl Lindy would get out to look for the track. I think it was more hair raising on the way back.
Usually the descent is done quicker than the ascent – but not in this case. It took as long to get up as it did to get back. But back we did get and safely and with all tires intact.
We dropped into the station to thank them and bid them our farewells and set off back to Mt Westwood station and our vans. I also called in on Cal & Sonya to also say farewell. Then off to find that elusive lake. Once we had left the station and back out on the main road it soon appeared off to our left – just exactly where Cal said it would be. Funny that.
It turned out a lovely afternoon following the squally conditions earlier on and combined with the beautiful location we were soon set up and enjoying the tranquility …or was that ‘ahh the serenity’.
Anyway, this is where we remained for the next 7 days as the rain and storms over the next 24 hours put paid to traveling anywhere. And even when we could travel we didn’t because the rest of the trip as was originally planned was never going to happen and this was such a delightful spot. Other than one other vehicle traveling down the road about mid week we really didn’t see any one else. And that’s camping – just how I like it.
Below are some of the other photos from the top of the summit.