Wednesday 21 October 2009

Magpies, the annual spring menace - a solution to stop swooping!

Man I hate getting swooped by magpies. That rush of air and snap as it cracks your helmet is seriously scary. I've almost stacked on my bike a number of times by trying to outrun the magpie at top speed, turn a corner, and wave my hand above my head at the same time. I've got the cable ties all over my helmet (yes, car drivers, that's what they are for!) but they still swoop. At best they just swoop a bit higher up, away from your head.

Thank god for the CSIRO, who have tried a whole lot of approaches and found one that works!! Basically it turns out (at least in this video) magpies won't swoop if you aren't wearing a helmet. Unfortunately not wearing a bike helmet is illegal, so what you need to do is get a wig big enough to fit over your helmet :)

Not sure this is 100% effective, because people get swooped on foot, and they aren't wearing helmets. I guess you could always do cable ties and a wig.

Can't wait for the end of magpie season...

Update: Apparently it is the shininess of the helmet the magpies go for. I ripped the shiny stuff off my helmet and didn't get swooped, but I think the season is probably over for the year since there were others with shiny helmets on the path and they didn't get swooped. Till next year!

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Menindee Lakes - Kinchega National Park

From Mutawintji we ducked back into Broken Hill for some supplies and then headed out to Menindee lakes, arriving before the dreaded sunset roo-suicide time.

Menindee lakes is one of the most depressing national parks in Australia. It has gone from being a bustling water recreation area attracting large numbers of people for fishing, boating, water skiing etc. to a dry scrubby wasteland ('Lake' Menindee pictured above). The caravan park owners are going out of business, all that is missing is tumbleweeds. It reminded me of Lake Natimuk in Victoria, for those who know it.

The three large lakes are all dry - according to the woman in the Broken Hill visitors centre they have been dry for about 14 years. The only water left is in Copi Hollow 'lake', really more of a pond, and in the Darling river.

We drove into Kinchega national park and camped on the banks of the Darling, which was actually really nice. The river is milky due to silt, but is still quite pretty, and bordered by gigantic old gum trees. There were a few campers dotted along the river, and we passed some people fishing.

It was a nice place to spend the night, and the next day we made the dash all the way back to Adelaide and home.

Mutawintji National Park

We spent a night camping in the dust at Mutawintji National Park, about 2 hours NE of Broken hill down a fairly rough dirt road.
It was an interesting park, we ticked all the walks, and barely saw another soul on them:
  • Byngnano Range Walk (7.5 km, 4 hours) loop. This was a great walk through dry creek beds into the gorges, with some great views out over the rocky cliffs. Saw a fair bit of aboriginal art (paint and carvings), which the guys from the Burke and Wills expedition kindly painted over in 1860-61 (blue triangle in the picture).
  • Off-track in the wilderness area off the end of old coach road drive. I managed to convince Em she wanted to walk off-track :) We (I) headed straight for the most interesting rock face I could find and walked/scrambled to the top. Found a few bits of aboriginal art (hand prints) under the ledges. I think you could easily spend a couple of days in this area exploring and looking for art. Water is pretty much non-existent.
  • Mutawintji Gorge Walk (6 km, 3 hours). Beautiful gorge and waterhole at the end. Tons of wildlife. We were the first walkers of the day, so we scared a few wallabies out of the waterhole and about 30 wild goats. Goats are a massive problem in the park - they have contracts out for commercial hunters who sell the meat. They herded and sold 2,300 goats out of the park just in July 2009!!
  • Western Ridge Walk (6 km, 2 hours). Some nice views, but not that interesting. I'd give this one a miss.

The area designated as the Mutawintji historic site can only be entered with a guide. The aboriginal land council used to do tours, but now the only option is the commercial tour companies. Unfortunately we didn't realise this until we were out there, and without mobile coverage or a working payphone there was no way to get on a tour. We talked to a guy who had been and he said the aboriginal art on the tour was quite good, but the best gorge scenery is on the public walks.

Friday 9 October 2009

Broken Hill

We had a great time in broken hill. Em's friend Sarah's wedding was heaps of fun, and we met lots of great people, including some 'A graders'. Apparently in the old mining days preference was given to hiring those who were second generation Broken Hill people, or 'A graders', presumably because they were more likely to live, work, and die in the town. The practice has changed, but everyone in Broken Hill can still tell you if they are an A, B, or whatever grade.

At Matt and Sarah's pre-wedding bash we had the pleasure of trying 'cheeseslaw', which is basically coleslaw with a massive bag of shredded cheese dumped in. Apparently it is a broken hill thing...Another broken hill thing is that two-up is legal every day of the year (what the?) at the musicians club where the reception was. Apparently the only other place you can play it legally outside of ANZAC day is at another two-up 'school' in Kalgoorlie.

We checked out the 'Big Picture' - the world's largest acrylic painting by a single artist, which is a landscape scene of the Broken Hill area. It is roughly 12m x 100m, and is housed inside with a viewing platform set in amongst desert sand and saltbush. It was very impressive, and the surrounding gallery is a massive showcase for local artists. The local art scene is huge and of high quality for such a small town, eclipsed only by the local hairdressing scene - there are about 20 for a town of 20,000 people (and 4 traffic lights). Maybe miners like getting their hair done?

The best art we saw was the famous 'Sculpture Symposium', which consists of 12 hand-carved pieces of sandstone sitting on top of a desert hill outside the town. We went at sunset and were very impressed with the mini Easter-island kind of vibe.

We also made a trip out to nearby Silverton, did a tour down the 'daydream' mine, and checked out the Mad Max car out the front of the pub. A massive number of films, TV series, and commercials have been filmed in Broken Hill, Silverton and surrounds. Some standouts are Dirty Deeds, Mission Impossible 2, Mad Max II, Priscilla, and Wake in Fright.

The mine tour was really worth doing - it was dug by Cornish miners in terrible conditions with hand drilling and blasting. The blasting was performed while the miners were still underground (about 150 of them in its prime) but despite this dangerous practice most miners tended to die from inhalation of the silica dust.

We had dinner at the best restaurant in town - Broken Earth, which is perched on top of the slag heap that dominates the whole town. Great food, although it was kind of sad that we closed the restaurant at 9pm, it was nice spot to take your time eating.

Sound good? You can pick up a three bedroom house in broken hill for $100k.

Adelaide to Broken Hill

On our way to broken hill we detoured through the Barossa.

We were on a mission so there wasn't time (or a spare designated driver) to sample any wines, but it was great to see the area that included many household names like Jacobs Creek, Wolf Blass, and Penfolds. We also ran into an FJ holden club that was touring the Barossa. Cool cars!

The Barossa and surrounds is beautiful country with grass and crops all vibrant, healthy green, and bright yellow canola. There were also quite a few fields full of Patterson's Curse, which apparently is called Salvation Jane in SA because it provides feed for cattle when everything else has died in times of drought.
It is amazing how quickly the land changes from super-fertile hurt-your-eyes green to dusty desert inhabited by saltbush, goats, roos, and emus. The desert was that beautiful reddish dirt, with virtually no trees. 110km/h feels like you are barely moving.


To broken hill for a wedding! We started the journey by flying into Adelaide (saving about 7 hours driving) and stayed overnight. We had dinner at Glenelg and also checked out North Adelaide. Both were really nice areas, although it was pretty cold so we didn't linger. I'd been to Adelaide before, and learnt a few things which I re-learnt on this trip:
  • They have stuffed up their beer sizes. A schooner in Adelaide is a pot/middy everywhere else, be prepared to be disappointed.
  • The light/power poles 'Stobie poles' are SA icons. They are concrete sandwiched between steel and were initially designed to save on timber, but serve on as a really ugly legacy. Broken hill also has a few around the town. There have been a number of art projects that have painted Stobie poles and people have also grown gardens around and up them to try and beat back the ugly.