Menindee? Where’s that? I hear you ask.
Head West out of Sydney. West over the Blue Mountains. West through Dubbo and past Cobar until you nearly drive into Wilcannia. So far you are a mere 960km from the Sydney Opera House.
Turn left on a dusty, bumpy dirt road and head south-west from Wilcannia and after about 160 dry, sandy kilometres, with any luck you will hit the tar again and be enjoying the bright lights of the thriving metropolis of Menindee. Population 551 (on a good day).
Your next question, “Why on Earth would you want to visit Menindee?”
Menindee may not be an automatic inclusion on every tourist’s itinerary. It is a long way from anywhere, pretty much on the road to nowhere and located in the middle of nowhere. What it lacks in size and stature though, it makes up for with historical clout.
Our visit to Menindee wasn’t just for the early Australian history. We were there for some serious tripping down memory lane. The Husband’s first teaching posting was in Menindee over 37 years ago. A very green and innocent Sydney lad was transported 1 081km to Outback NSW and dropped into a thriving, dynamic little community who pounced on him, as small communities are known to do with any new blood. His memories of his time in Menindee are happy, colourful and peppered with stories of professional and personal escapades that were absolutely hilarious at the time, but could be considered incredibly politically incorrect if perpetrated today. A good example of what you can get away with in a far more forgiving era and when a town is completely off a bureaucrat’s radar.
But back to our modern day journey…
Just before arriving in the town of Wilcannia a small sign pointed left to Menindee and the road turned from smooth, wide tar to rutted dirt. For safety, our speed dropped from 110kph to 70kph (if we are lucky) and this dramatic decrease in speed meant that the countryside came clearly into focus.
This land is flat, flat, flat and the only thing breaking the view was a fence line running dead straight before disappearing into the horizon. This route to Menindee – the Eastern Road – cuts through a series of private stations and it is important to take care and be respectful of any livestock, farm infrastructure and refrain from littering.
An old man goanna shot across the road in front of us and up the nearest tree. He was the only traffic on the entire trip.
As we got closer to Menindee, so did signs of the Darling River. Menindee was the first town gazetted on the Darling River and became an important resting place for early explorers such as Major Mitchell (1835), Captain Charles Sturt (1844) and the infamous, and the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition (1860). The abundance of water and, in a good season, lush pastures meant that pack horses and camels could be revived before pushing further North and West.
The abundance of water also meant that over the years, Menindee developed into a major food production area, especially as a fruit bowl with extensive grape plantings and orange orchards. Sadly, today the Darling River is a shrivelled wreck and a highly controversial plaything that governments, greenies, irrigators and residents all fight over. The devastating fish kills of Summer 2018/19 really put the plight of the river on the front page and yet still nothing serious has been done to get the water flowing again.
I have to say that Menindee was not what I was expecting. I was expecting something grander, reflecting its colonial history and important role in Australia’s early economy.
Menindee would have been a thriving paddle steamer port, transporting the millions of bales of wool from the surrounding stations. Any evidence of those bustling times are long gone.
Instead Menindee is a small, sad-looking town littered with flimsy pre-fab houses and dry, crunchy lawns. Although everything was neat and tidy, the jacaranda trees hung dusty and limp in the heat, a lonely crow cawed sadly and bored children scuffed their feet up the street.
Menindee’s heyday is well and truly past, and the locals don’t mind one bit. They love Menindee and welcome friends and strangers alike. The Husband found a few old mates in the lone service station and they laughed about the old days as the football stories get wilder and grander.
As I waited for him, I squinted my eyes and tried to picture the bustling streets, intentionally made wide to allow a bullock team to turn around in one go. I listened for the crack of the stock whip and the creak of leather harness as the bullock teams ambled past towards the river to meet a waiting paddle steamer. In my imagination, empty drays are re-loaded, stacked high with large calico sacks of flour and bolts of fabric to return to the remote stations and hopefully last them another six months. Yes, I was getting carried away, but it seemed to be an appropriate way to pass the time.
I probably haven’t painted a very attractive picture of Menindee and I apologise for that. It may not be everyone’s idea of a tourist destination, but it can’t be beaten for atmosphere, endless quiet and history! I hear that the fishing is pretty good too when the season is kind.
Get out and get on the road to nowhere.
What have you found on the road to nowhere?
What: Accommodation options are fairly limited and fairly basic, with plenty of camping spots, rooms at both of the pubs, or The Burke and Wills Motel. The motel is pretty simple to say the least, but clean enough at $120pn. 54 Yartla St, Menindee, (08) 9126 6760
Where: Menindee is located approximately 115km south-east of Broken Hill and 1 080km west of Sydney.
When: Menindee is best visited in Winter or the cooler seasons of Autumn and Spring.
Why: To enjoy the sweeping Outback scenery, the fascinating history or simply a cold beer at a pub filled to the brim with characters and tall stories.
How: You will need a car to get to Menindee as there is no public transport other than a weekly train service.
Who: Menindee welcomes everyone and the more the merrier. Don’t take a trip to Menindee lightly. When traveling in these remote parts of Australia, make sure you always carry plenty of drinking water and more than you think you need, and be prepared to have no mobile phone service.
Related Posts: Looking for a little bit of Outback art balance your history? Why not pop into one of the 27 art galleries in and around Broken Hill? Check out a couple of them here.
Related Blogs: What else is there to see and do in the region? Head out to Kinchega National Park for some scenic bushwalking as well as an opportunity to tour the Kinchega Woolshed, a historic woolshed that, over the years, has seen six million sheep through its pens.
Read About It: For a fabulous read about Burke and Wills and their ill-fated journey, grab yourself a copy of The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd. Murgatroyd had the happy knack of bringing history to life in an interesting and entertaining way. This is not a dry, historical read as Murgatroyd writes with flair and humour. Tragically, she passed away just before her book was released to the public. Available from Book Depository.
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