Beyond the black stump

We are off to Cobar and Mount Grenfell today. We head out from Narromine along the Mitchell Highway. The roads are incredibly straight and the countryside is totally flat through Trangie and Nevertire on the way to Nyngan. Part of the way we run close to the railway track but the only trains we see are roadtrains – artic units with two or three trailers. Not surprisingly it is easier for you to avoid them than it is for them to avoid you! Every so often there is a lay-by with the wheelie bins for rubbish looking a tad incongruous, I am so used to seeing them lined up in our street on a Monday morning. We stop for petrol and snacks at Trangie – the next fuel is at Cobar a couple of hundred kilometres away.

Cobar is a mining town and the first thing we see is one of the mines and a mining museum. It is said by the local Aborigines that ‘gubar’, the Aboriginal word for red ochre, was simply corrupted to the Anglicised ‘Cobar’. There is almost a hill leading down into the town and the crossroads at the centre boasts a hotel with the longest veranda in the southern hemisphere.



At Nyngan we see a few storks on the railway bridge which crosses the Bogan River a short distance away from the road. We stop and watch them as well as half a dozen brilliant blue swallows. There is a heron on the river as well as a cormorant which we first see standing on a branch spreading its wings out to dry. We then see it in the river where it keeps disappearing below the surface. When it is on the surface it is still semi-submerged with only its neck and the top of its back above the water, at a glance it could be mistaken for a snake. We also watch a kite giving a flying display – another touch of home. We turn off the Mitchell Highway on to the Barrier Highway heading towards Broken Hill

Time to refuel and move on ‘beyond the black stump’ to Mount Grenfell. I had read about this in my Internet ramblings before our trip and mentioned that I would like to visit it. We head west from Cobar for 40k and then north for 32km up a dirt track passing a couple of properties but otherwise nothing. There is far more vegetation than usual but at one point an emu appears, looks at us and thinks ‘humans! I must run away’. It starts zigzagging up the road in front of us then dashes off into the bush, looks round realises it has lost us and so runs back onto the road. Eventually it heads back into the bush and we continue towards Mount Grenfell which is more of a low hill than a ‘mount’.

We dip down over a dry gully and up into a turnaround where to my amazement there is another car parked – the first one we have seen for 40k. The couple with it are from Victoria and we have a chat. They have come up through Wilcannia where there is a large aboriginal population who apparently have a big drink problem. There are a few signs about Mount Grenfell and there is a 5km round walk that can be done as well as visiting the rock art.

The rock paintings are on the walls of overhanging rock and are protected by wire mesh screens (with a few larger holes to allow photography) and a silicon strip along the edge of the overhand to make rain drip off rather than run down over the paintings. For the aboriginal artist the important thing was the act of making the painting. The finished product was relatively unimportant. There were paintings of emus, of hands and stick figures of people. These could have been anything up to 10,000 years old.


There are three sites with overhangs and rock art. There are a few rocky outcrops and a waterhole – a crevice in the rock which is no more than a couple of feet across and six feet long. It has a few tiny fishes in it. This waterhole is why Mount Grenfell is important for the aboriginals – water for them and for animals and why it has become one of their sacred sites.

As we head back to the car it starts to rain! It’s not supposed to do that out here. I am not worried about getting wet but try to make sure that my cameras don’t suffer. By the time we reach the car it is torrential. We head back to Cobar and on to Narromine. We see one kangaroo beside the road, our only sighting of a live wild roo, although we have seen quite a few bodies beside the road. The round trip was about 660km and the car is covered in the dust of the red centre.


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