New South Wales Now Complete!
Until Easter 2009 I thought a confluence was where two rivers met, for instance where the Darling meets the Murray at Wentworth. It was our neighbour, member Bryce Stoddart, who told us what a real confluence was. When we told Bryce we were camping near Lightning Ridge he told us of his success in visiting 29° south 147° east in June 2004 somewhere north of Lightning Ridge. Sometime after that Easter trip I visited the confluence website to discover that our family had camped on the banks of the Darling River about 80 km from the last incomplete confluence in New South Wales.
It was obvious - we had to complete it. The challenge was on and Easter 2010 was the time. At first I had trouble generating enthusiasm amongst the family but in time it came. Leading up to Easter 2010, some friends planned to take on the challenge with us, but for various reasons had to pull out. We were on our own.
I had read the report of David Thompson and family who got within 1.5 km in March 2002. The report wasn't encouraging due to the attitude of the station owners and that perhaps was the reason eight years had elapsed with no success. I am a map hoarder from way back and studied every map in my possession. One map showed a track in from the south through a dot on the map called Kinalung which would take us within 1 km of the confluence. The advantage of this track was that it went nowhere near any stations and perhaps we could get to the confluence without needing to seek permission from any station owners. Most maps didn't show this track and perhaps this was also a reason no one else had succeeded.
The plan was now etched. We were going to camp near Quondong along the banks of Stephens Creek about 19 km south of the confluence on Easter Saturday, get up early Easter Sunday (after the Easter Bilby had delivered its gifts to the kids) and make a dash along the track to the confluence. The best of plans should always have a contingency plan which my wife always reminds me of when it becomes obvious there is no plan B.
The scheduled camp on Stephens Creek was uninviting. It was overgrown with weeds from recent rains and there was a poor supply of firewood. We decided to travel north up to Kinalung and find a better campsite. On the road in there were no inviting campsites and then we came to another dilemma. The track came to an end instead of proceeding north as shown on the map. In its path was the Indian Pacific Railway and the Menindee to Broken Hill aboveground pipeline with no way over. This could prove a major barrier in the morning. There was a track along each side of the railway so we headed east in hope of finding a way over both railway and pipeline. Another 3.2 km down the track and we were in luck. There was a rail crossing and the pipeline went underground allowing grazier access to their property through an unlocked gate.
It also made a great campsite albeit alongside the railway. There was an unlimited supply of firewood from large piles of worn out and broken sleepers bulldozed into convenient piles. My only concern was being so close to the railway with the thought of trains going through the night and frightening the children. As it turned out I should have been the only one to worry. The kids slept through it and my wife heard it coming but I was woken out of a deep sleep thinking the camper trailer was being bombed by a squadron of FA 18 Phantom jets. I swear it took two hours for my heart rate to return to normal.
At about 5 am another train came past in the opposite direction and as luck would have it the train stopped about 2 km down the track. With the benefit of hindsight our children figured out the Easter Bilby must've been on board and had got off to leave Easter eggs scattered about our camp.
The day had now come and it was now time to track down the confluence in earnest. We retraced our footsteps to where the track ended in Kinalung but on the north side of the railway and pipeline. At Kinalung there is an unmanned booster pumping station on the pipeline and a map showed a track heading north east from the pumping station. There were quite a few tracks but nothing obvious in the direction we wanted. Due to the recent rains there was a surprising amount of grass. In places it was over the bonnet of our 200 series LandCruiser. We headed through the long grass towards a gate in a fence hoping we might pick up a trail. Surprisingly we found some motorcycle tracks which with difficulty we followed and amazingly it followed exactly the path of the track on our GPS map. It took some following: in some places it was very clear there was a track present but often it disappeared altogether. The only other suggestion of a track was the greener appearance of grass. In the bush, after years of wear and tear, tracks become lower than the surrounding countryside so when it rains they can turn into mini rivers with the catchment of water causing the grass to grow more luxuriously.
We eventually came to a boundary gate of Topar Station with the sign not exactly encouraging us to enter about 3.4 km from the confluence. Being so close to our destination and no one within 20 km to ask permission we proceeded onward. Shortly after the excitement began. In fact it was exactly 18 minutes later. We were exactly on the 32° south line and all we had to do was go 1 km west. So we did a 90° turn and headed west cross-country. The grass was mostly long, interspersed with saltbush. It was quite a contrast to the grassless plain photographed by David Thompson in 2002. We came across a slight depression, not quite a creek bed. I got out and walked it to make sure it wasn't too steep but regrettably I didn't walk it carefully enough. Looks are deceptive. It was thick red wet clay and in very quick time and we were down to the axles. So how to extract ourselves from this bog only 1 km from destination 32° south, 142° east.
We have all the gear. High lift Jack, Bull Bag, long handled shovel, two small shovels, high-quality compressor, folding plastic tracks and fortunately my strong and fit young wife. It was hot and surprisingly humid. The flies are as bad as they can get and the stickiness and glueyness of the clay unbelievable. I had never used the bull bag and this was just the location to learn in the middle of a bog in the hot sun. The adapter wouldn't fit over the 200 series exhaust pipe so we had to use the compressor. Halfway through pumping the compressor packs up. The one thing I did leave home was the jacking plate to go under the high lift Jack. This was a big mistake. So this really only left one option -- lots of digging. Hence the sense in bringing along my wife! I ran out of energy really quickly but Wendy, persevering, struggled on. The encouraging whinges of Emily and Jack struggling in the trying conditions saying repeatedly "when are we going to get out of here" really helped matters. Four hours later we were free.
Now the next debate began. Wendy says we have to turn around and go back to camp now. I say surely you can't be serious; we are so close, with less than a kilometre to go we just have to find a way around. After a short discussion I prevailed and after taking a big loop to avoiding the greenest of grass we found our way to the confluence.
Wendy is the official confluence photographer and goes about her business taking the north, east, south and west shots and then the panorama. This is followed by the GPS photo. At first I thought we wouldn't get a photo of it exactly on the spot but after a bit of moving it about she got the shot. This was followed by some family photos standing at the confluence. Our mission was now complete. Our first visited confluence a success and now the confluence territory of New South Wales was complete.
It is quite difficult to write something inspiring about the landscape when the confluence is in the middle of a flat treeless plane. The elevation at our campsite near Kinalung was 142 m, and the confluence 130 m and at the bog was 128 m. Any difference in elevation was imperceptible to the naked eye. You could however pick up that there must have been low-lying regions from the greener grass although the ground underfoot was still very dry except in the small bog. There was a line of trees 1.5 km to the east following Yancowinna Creek, the creek which stopped David Thompson reaching the confluence in 2002. There was a windmill and a dam 1.6 km north-east of the confluence which was quite full and it was the seepage from the dam that kept the marginally lower land a lush green.
All around the confluence the grasses were green and tall interspersed with saltbush. At the confluence itself the grass was in much poorer condition and sparse compared to the lush country we had to drive through to get there. This was probably more like what the country would look like in a normal year. The tall grass we had to drive through looked as though it would be good enough to cut for hay and we subsequently learned from a station owner nearby that one enterprising grazier was in fact intending to do just that to make his fortune.
The soil around the confluence is red sandy country and the lower land red clay. Besides the native grasses with which I am not familiar, the dominant vegetation is bluebush and saltbush. The trees lining the creeks were a mixture of red gums and some acacia. The large expanse of flat land surrounding the confluence was not suffering from the curse of woody bush afflicting a lot of the country west of the Darling River.
It is so flat that when you look at the panorama photograph taken at the confluence you can discern the curvature of the earth, or is that just the effect of the lens of the camera.
What came as a big surprise was that Wendy's iPhone had full signal and was able to MMS and send real-time video to our friends directly from the confluence. It was now time to head back to camp and recuperate from the stress of our success.
We left camp at 8:53 AM that morning and got bogged at 9:48 AM. We were freed from the bog at 1:54 PM and made it back to camp at 3:05 PM. So what started out with the intention of being a quick trip 8 km to the confluence had turned into quite an adventure.
After breaking camp on Easter Monday we headed into Menindee to view the lakes, now full, celebrating with lunch and beer at the pub where Burke & Wills stayed en route to their epic disaster. Before heading home we spent 3 days recuperating on the banks of the Darling just north of the confluence of the Paroo and Darling Rivers. It was a great experience and well worth the trip.