Almanac Travel: Highway 39 Revisited (with apologies to His Bobness)

 


Sunset in Tamworth (Photo: Anne Bitter)

 

Travel is a challenging undertaking these days with more than one State Premier having a demonstrated reputation for being a tad trigger happy in closing borders at the hint of a sniffle just an artificial demarcation line away. So, when a proverbial window of opportunity opened recently, we drove to Melbourne so that Anne could see her sister for the first time in 13 months – a scenario familiar to many. We decided to retrace our August 2019 route (which you can read about here).

 

With Victorian Border Passes in hand we set out, determined to enjoy the ride, the countryside, the pleasure of the destination and all the bits and pieces that go with it along the way – the sights, the sounds, the aromas, the people. A slow transit across early morning Brisbane wasn’t much fun (worse than Bourke Road at its worst!) but once we got past Ipswich, it was ‘Melbourne, here we come!’ The Fassifern Valley was a picture of crops, Cunningham’s Gap opened out onto the rolling plains and rich soil of the Darling Downs. This is good. Then onto the New England Highway (the A15) at Warwick.

 

Down through Stanthorpe (where they’re still having water trucked in every day to supply local needs) and a side visit to Symphony Hill Winery where we particularly liked the crisp prosecco and the gutsy but elegant cab sauv. Into New England proper and what a contrast to 2019! Then it was bleached, tinder dry, littered with road-kill every couple of hundred metres and, as it turned out, just days away from the devastating bushfires of that Spring. Now it is an expanse of vibrant regrowth, green to the edge of the road, and scarcely a hint of fauna splattered on the roadside. At day’s end we were at Tamworth for the night and another stay with the gracious Meg Quilty at her quality B&B.

 

Back on the road we took the Oxley Highway (the B56) across through Gunnedah to Coonabarabran to join that powerful, north/south artery we know as ‘the Newell’ (the B39). And still the green expanses kept coming – the best I’ve seen this country look in yonks – to the extent of metre-high grass waving in the breeze on the verges of the road and water lying in pools alongside the highway around Gunnedah. The country looks ‘lifted’ from its drought-stricken state in 2019.

 

The Newell is somehow special for me, especially the stretch from Coonabarabran down to West Wyalong – a four-hour sweep of ribbon through vast areas of fields and grazing paddocks interspersed with centres like Gilgandra, Dubbo (bustling), Parkes and Forbes. There’s the added pleasure of my favourite corner about eight kilometres north of Parkes (refer to that 2019 trek in which I think I got the location wrong) – ten seconds of artistic beauty in a sweeping parabola. Even the hamlets of Tomingley and Alectown looked healthier, tidier and brighter than usual. Only a short section around Dubbo was not so green but the sprawling fields were still a thing of a different kind of beauty.

 

Then the rain came after West Wyalong, buckets of it! We got caught behind a B-double and the wall of spray coming off his tyres prevented any thoughts of overtaking. Did you know that, travelling north to south, that there is only one overtaking lane between West Wyalong and Narrandera? Neither did I until two weeks ago. So we cut our speed a bit, hung back and eased our way into our overnight stay in Narrandera.

 

Narrandera is the quintessential Australian rural town – broad streets, a sprinkling of classic colonial buildings (usually banks or public administration centres), the usual mix of agricultural services, the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant, and so on. As mentioned last time, it’s also the home of Juadine Interiors and The Red Door Café. They do excellent coffee and very tasty food. We had breakfast there. Anne stumbled on their half-price sale and helped herself to a few pieces of clothing. Win win.

 

Reaching the Victorian border at Tocumwal we stopped at the checkpoint where a very positive, friendly and efficient policeman checked our border passes and licences before seeing us on our way within 3 minutes. Strathmerton is home to [email protected], a lovely eatery in an old stone villa surrounded by a beautiful garden featuring manicured hedges and carefully tended rose beds. Put it in your memory bank for a stop next time you’re passing.

 

Then the final stretch to Melbourne on a day when the rain got heavier the closer we got, especially around Seymour when it was the equivalent of a tropical downpour for about 30 minutes. Throw in a wrong turn once we got off the Ring Road to be rescued by the ever-reliable GPS and we finally got to sister-in-law Sue’s apartment safe and sound. And all the way it was a continuing pathway of greenery – such a welcome contrast to eighteen months ago.

 

An eight-day stay was interrupted on Day 5 with news of a hotel quarantine worker testing positive to Covid. What to do? Remember those itchy-fingered Premiers? We decided to get out of Dodge and head for the border just in case. Day 6 dawned in Wagga Wagga; the Covid news was steady so we decided to go easy and head for Tamworth and the comforts of Meg’s place before the final leg home. The Tamworth City Bowling Club (opposite Meg’s) had the usual Friday night raffles going with all tickets sold 30 minutes ahead of schedule. We opted for their Chinese cuisine (very tasty indeed) and were afforded members’ prices at the bar on the basis of ‘staying over the road’. A nice touch!

 

The final leg home went a bit off-track as we thought that, even though it wasn’t required, we should do the right thing generally and by our neighbours in particular and get Covid tested. As there weren’t a lot of options on a Saturday afternoon in regional Queensland, we ended up at the ‘mostly for truckies’ drive-through facility just out of Toowoomba at Charlton. No vehicles ahead of us, so a quick and efficient administration of the test at 3.15pm. We lobbed home on the Sunshine Coast by 6.30pm before the text messages of a negative result for both of us pinged on the phone at 8.15pm – just 5 hours after the test was taken! Only in Australia!

 

There was also the story of the new car, driving back without number plates, and being pulled over by the police at Warwick, but that’s a story for another day.

 

To paraphrase MOH, ‘you’ve just got to love a road trip!’

 

When and where is the next one?

 

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE

 

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. Done the trip many a time, Ian, over the 23 years living in Brissie. Never quite as leisurely as yours, mind you, quite often only stopping once – overnight in Dubbo, but the memories still linger, even though haven’t driven that route now for 20 years. Been the Coast road a few times.

    Yes, love a road trip! Thanks for the memories!

  2. Like Jan and your good self IJH, I have travelled the Newell many a time – I reckon I must be close to posting the ton.

    Many favourites. I do love the Cross Roads Hotel at Tomingley, and to crash next door at the Lucky Strike Motel.

    Alectown is, of course, home to The Dish.

  3. roger lowrey says

    Ian, you excell yourself. I recall teaching John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath many years ago and it’s a pity your travel notes on the same theme weren’t available for my students’ assistance at the time. Never mind, they seemed to struggle through just the same notwithstanding my teaching imperfections. Hope you are well. RDL

  4. Good stuff Ian. Some topical locations mentioned there.

    Stanthorpe is a place i need to visit, but when??? I’ve spoken in passing to JTH about this previously, re a forebear(s) of mine ending up there. Never understood the big move from being born in Kilmore, to finishing up in Stanthorpe. Most of the family settled northern Victoria, Riverina.

    Speaking of those locations names like Strathmerton, Narrandera, Wagga all family settings.

    The Newell was constructed just prior to WW2. What was the road/run from Victoria to Queensland prior to then. I’m curious why some family ended up in Stanthorpe? Ian do you, or any other Almanackers, know the history of the route prior to the Newell?

    Glen!

  5. Roseville Rocket says
  6. Thanks for the responses! A case of a road much travelled. Mostly trucks and grey nomads these days – the overall traffic volume is much less than 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

    Jan, we used to do the 2-day rush for decades. Even the odd all-nighter! I recall eating a warm, leftover meat pie in Gilgandra at 4.00am on one such sprint – yuk. Just young and stupid, I suppose. Thankfully, retirement offers a more relaxed approach. Over the decades, I think I’ve spent a night at just about every significant town along the way (plus Tomingly, JTH), including Narrabri and Moree which we didn’t take in this time. I’ve been the coast route a few times but prefer the inland trail.

    JTH, the Lucky Strike is badged as ‘Under New Management’ but looks the same, as does the pub next door. I recall the latter served up decent nosh. We watched the evening session of a few ODIs at the Lucky Strike. I wonder if there is still cheap fuel at Gurley? And if that old bloke is still sitting out the front watching the world go by?

    RDL, my name has never previously appeared in the same context with Steinbeck. I loved his novels. ‘East of Eden’ was a favourite. Perhaps we can do a pub duet one day (a la you and KD) with Steinbeck as a focus. Reflecting on a teaching career, wasn’t it amazing how many students were able to overcome whatever our deficiencies were to flourish anyway?

    Glen!, I know nothing of the history of the Newell or what came before it. I have been but a consumer and admirer of its charms for over half a century. The longer the affair has gone on, the greater the appreciation. You seem to have many, far flung relies.

  7. Ta Dr Rocket.

    Yes Ian, the Irish Catholics covered a few miles.

    Glen!

  8. Rosevelle Rocket says

    Thanks for reviving some memories Ian.

    We first travelled the Newell in December 1973 when the family moved from a farm in northern Victoria to Coffs Harbour; stopped overnight in Coonabarabran then veered onto the Oxley highway to Tamworth, onto the New England Hwy to Armidale then out to Ebor, down Dorrigo mountain to the coast.

    We knew we were in Tiger Country when we got to West Wyalong. Cars parked backwards into the kerb, Tooheys beer signs on the pubs, and rugby league goal-posts at the footy grounds.

    I reckon the border starts at Mirrool (not at Toc) where there is a sharp turn to the right (always a mistake).
    Crossed the Newell there recently on a trip from Leeton to Temora.
    The MCG is overgrown but the goal-posts still stand, the pub is open, and its now the Ardelthan-Ariah Park- Mirrool footy club..

  9. Thanks for this Ian.
    I travelled the Newell a couple of times when my boys were young,
    to do the theme parks etc. It is an interesting drive alright.

  10. Thankyou Rocket Nguyen for the podcast link. It will be shared among the family.

    Now I’ll try obtaining part B.

    Glen!

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