Day 8

This morning I’m off to see Davo, a mate of mine who lives in Byron Bay. Davo and I have a little side project going which, if it comes off, could be a major contributor to the Ozboy Early Retirement Fund.

I first started holidaying at Byron about thirty years ago, when it was a pretty quiet surfing village and hippy hang-out. Unfortunately, it’s now gone up-market and mainstream, and not much good any more for holidaying of the type I prefer. Davo lives in a new suburban development a few kilometres away from the town centre which, while perfectly pleasant, was virgin bushland the last time I was here over twenty years back.

My camera had a flat battery BTW so these photos are from Google. Davo reckons this pub on the beach was sold last year by its owner (Paul Hogan’s business manager, John Cornell) for a reputed $74 million; talk about a license to print money!

Anyhow: for the travellers, Cape Byron lighthouse, at 153°37′E, is the most easterly point on the Australian mainland.

And the surfing’s still not bad, either. For those concerned about the effects of Global Warming on marine ecosystems, I recommend snorkelling off the headland, particularly at dawn or dusk in the cooler months. Be sure to bring some fresh bait to attract the little critters.

Enough of that. I’m setting off now on the long haul south to Melbourne. I’m taking the outback route this time; it’s school holidays and the Pacific and Hume highways are just too crowded. Let’s see how far I can get before sunset today.

From Ballina, the Bruxner Highway winds up into the hills to the hinterland towns of Lismore and Casino, before threading its way through extensive commercial forestry and farming areas. The view as you cross the ridge at Mallanganee and look west is particularly spectacular:

The Great Dividing Range, which you can see in the distance above, is the third-longest mountain range in the world, if not particularly high. I’ll be travelling southwards along its spine later today and tomorrow.

“Highway” is a bit grand a title for this road (and so many other main roads around Australia—at least this one’s sealed); here’s the single-lane bridge over the Clarence River at Tabulam; you can see the bolt heads anchoring the planks to the supporting baulks. Very rickety.

Tenterfield is where the Bruxner Highway meets the New England Highway and I turn south. The town is famous as the site of the Tenterfield Oration delivered in 1889 by Australia’s “Father of Federation”, Henry Parkes, and regarded as igniting the debate that led to the union of the six Australian colonies into a single federated nation. More recently, the town was made famous by this autobiographical song, written by Liza Minelli’s late ex-husband, who grew up here:

Deepwater is the next town south on the highway. The Main Northern railway line which runs through here, was the main rail link between Sydney and Brisbane, between its completion in 1888 and the opening of the coastal route in 1930; it was closed north of Armidale about twenty years ago. The tracks are overgrown, but the stations, once bustling, 24-hour-a-day centres of activity, now a bit sad and forlorn, have generally been preserved.

At the northern end of the Deepwater’s platform you can still see the coaling chute and water tower that serviced the original steam locomotives.

Glen Innes is a lovely, Victorian-era regional centre that celebrates the Celtic heritage of its 19th century founders. The town is dotted with heritage-listed churches, school buildings and private homes.

One of the features of these old country towns is the very wide streets, dating back to the days when town planners had to design them generous enough for a coach-and-four to make a U-turn. Some streets still look perfectly charming with it, and some are—ahem—a mix of the old and the new. Sigh.

Guyra, the next village south, is at the top of the range; at an elevation of 1330 metres (4360 feet) it is one of the coldest towns in mainland Australia, and snows several times a year.

The city of Armidale (pop. 25,000) is the second-largest settlement in the region (I’ll show you the largest tomorrow). It is a university town—the University of New England has its main campus here, and means the city is home to a large population of young, itinerant students.

Interestingly, from a political viewpoint, the Federal electorate of New England is one of the most conservative in the country; as you can see here, only 11% of the 2010 vote was for Labor or the Greens. Yet its local MHR, ex-National Party member Tony Windsor, is one of the conservative independents who sold out to sided with Julia Gillard, giving her the numbers to form government. I understand that he’s been told by many prominent local citizens, don’t even bother running again in 2013.

Uralla is as far as I’m going to go today. The town was made famous in 1870 as the last stand of the “gentleman bushranger” Fred Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt. The whole town is dotted with “Thunderbolt” memorials, like this one:

I did manage to squeeze one last shot out of my own camera in the evening light: the Thunderbolt Inn (formerly the Uralla Hotel), where I stopped for dinner and a well-earned beer. The place is of absolutely no interest to anyone else, but I’m including it for a very personal reason: I am reliably informed (by my dad) that there, in an upstairs guestroom nearly half a century ago, your humble correspondent was conceived (please, no “Thunderbolt Inn” jokes).

And that’s it for today. A pretty good cross-section of this part of the country, if I do say so myself: 491 km (305 miles). Tomorrow’s drive is even longer (much longer), and I need to start as soon as it’s light. So I’m off to bed—see you all tomorrow.

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