Down Thunderbolts Way – Moree to Gloucester

Is there a purpose to travelling? I’ve been wondering about this as the unaccustomed, luxurious feeling of going where we want, for as long as we want, slowly filters into my normally highly strung and minutely planned way of being. It felt too haphazard, too selfish, and too lacking in purpose.

But it is becoming apparent to me that the purpose to travelling is to learn more about everything. In just the last week and a half I have learnt more about my family heritage, about space and astronomy, about volcanic rock formations, country music, fossicking and mining, and possibly best of all, about relaxing and looking after ourselves.

We’d left Lightning Ridge and headed to Moree to try out the hot Artesian pools that Mark’s parents used to frequent in years past. Totally different to the Ridge, as it is an aquatic centre for which you pay $9 for a casual visit to get in, or $20 if you want a sauna as well. Not sure how they keep the mineral water sparkling clean, but with those prices you’d think they would have kept up the maintenance on the pools instead of letting tiles fall off in several places. There were plenty of people, but give me the friendly locals at the free Ridge pool any day.

Given we were making good time coming back south, we thought we’d take a detour to the Warrumbungle National Park. On the way we stopped at the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) just outside of Narrabri. There are 6 telescopes in formation, and they frequently adjust position in unison which is pretty cool to watch.

A couple of nights in the Warrumbungles was hampered a bit by swarms of flies and moths. We got the two hanging mosquito nets out and did our best to clip them together to make a tent under the awning, but after a while more flies got in that couldn’t get out, than were outside. The National Parks station had no fly nets left, so we went for a walk after applying Aerogard liberally. These country flies just laughed at that. Regardless, the walk from the campground was magnificent with views of the Warrumbungle rock formations of the Breadknife and Split Rock, as well as emus, kangaroos and lots of different birds.

The Warrumbungle National Park is a Dark Sky park, meaning there is concerted effort to keep light pollution away. With very little moonlight on the nights we were there, the Milky Way was indeed brilliant, however photos in Siding Spring telescope centre, which is close by, showed that light pollution from as far away as Tamworth, and even Sydney, is impacting the dark night sky more and more. The Siding Spring telescopes can join with the ATCA telescopes, as well as Parkes, and even Tidbinbilla in need, to create a super telescope to capture radio waves from the outer universe.

Not being country music fans, we didn’t go to Tamworth for this reason but while we were there you can’t not see some of the country music capital’s sites. The big Golden Guitar is not very conspicuous, and we drove past it twice without noticing it. The Country Music Hall of Fame is a lot smaller than I thought it would be, but the biggies that I know of were there  Slim Dusty, Smoky Dawson, Kasey Chambers, Lee Kernaghan and Troy Cassar-Daley, as well as Tex Morton who I learnt, started recording in 1936 and is considered the pioneer of Australian country music.

I had previously visited Uralla, not far from Armidale, more than 20 years ago when a distant relative had organised a family reunion of the Crapp (yes, that’s 2 Ps) family there, but I didn’t show much interest except that my mum wanted us to go. On this second visit, I realised that the town is small but very picturesque and historic, sitting amongst the New England hills. Thunderbolt the bushranger frequented the area, and is known as the gentleman bushranger, never killing anyone. McCrossin’s Mill museum has a set of large paintings depicting the last day and death of Thunderbolt. The volunteer on the day we went was Tricia McCrossin, whose great great grandfather had built the mill, and who is apparently related to our family by marriage.

The Crapps and McCrossins were pioneers in the Uralla area, and I will at some point figure out where we are connected in the family tree. In the meantime, I found the gravesites of 3 generations (great, great-great, and great-great-great grandparents) of my family, as well as 2 of their homes still standing. It is very satisfying to see these places and understand one part of where I came from.

While in Uralla we stayed at the Wooldridge fossicking area, which was only a short 6km out of town and had a creek with clear, running water. People supposedly do find gold and gemstones, but I imagine this would take some hard work and patience.

We spent a day in Armidale and took a free heritage bus tour which gave Mark a break from driving. We saw the regional art museum, where an exhibition by Hadyn Wilson of small copies of major artworks with an added modern twist was on show, such as an Arthur Streeton Sydney Harbour copy which included 3 jet skiers. We also saw the Booloominbah house given to the University of New England, which had beautiful stained glass in every window.

Our final stop on Thunderbolt’s Way was in Gloucester, where we stayed for a few days in a lovely caravan park by the Gloucester River. We found that the drought is less apparent down here where there is still some water in the creeks and rivers, and some green grass on lawns and playing fields, in contrast to the towns not that far north where there is no water left in the streams and no grass.

With gym workouts long forgotten, we decided we needed to get some exercise and go for a good walk. The Bucketts Scenic Walk was described as steep, and they were right as I think it was equal to about 30 minutes on the stepper machine set to the maximum. It was worth it though, as the view across the Gloucester town ship and valley was wonderful. The walk down was almost as difficult, trying not to stumble and roll. Workout for this week – done!

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