Australian Adventure (Thursday, June 27, 2013)

40 Days Down Under (Day 14)

Thursday, June 27, 2013
So I've officially started sleeping in my warm cap. I hope it'll help. It did last night, but it may just have been a more temperate evening. Tonight I may add some gloves into the mix...or maybe even an extra pair of socks.

After waking up, we headed out to the Yellow Car Door Tour. We passed equipment used in various methods of opal extraction like windlasses, automatic hoists, long throw hoists, and pivoting work hoists. We also passed lots of mullock heaps on both sides of the road. The local tourist attractions tell you that you can fossick for free in some of them.

We easily arrived at the Chamber of the Black Hand for our 9am tour. Donning hardhats, we traversed the steep staircase into the cavern below.

The first portion of the tour is to the sandstone carving layer about 40 feet underground. Artist (and former military man) Ron Canlin has spent years upon years carving out beautiful art pieces in hand dugout subterranean tunnels. It really has to be seen to be believed.

From the Chamber of the Black Hand website:
"Ron Canlin started the Chambers of the Black Hand in 1996 and it took 6 months to dig to the opal level of 60 feet for the purpose of showing visitors the opal mine. Over the past 18 years, he hasn't stopped.

At this point the carvings were not even thought of but after the first year of unofficial business showing a few people the mine I decided to dig a Little extra room at the 35 foot level to give visitors a demonstration of opal cutting.

As the sandstone was excavated for the new room I decided to carve a welcome on the wall and the Chambers of the Black Hand was born. One carving led to another and then when one room was completed the next room was excavated to allow for more carvings."

Chambers of the Black Hand Website

Kris, Skitler, and I enjoyed the Chamber. If you look closely, you can see Skitler...and, in another photo, you can see Waldo. They have several depictions of Waldo hidden throughout the place.

The second part of the tour is a trip down to the 100-year-old mine that resides 60 feet underground. You learn a bit about the mining industry in Lightning Ridge and the now scarcity of opal.

After the Chambers tour, we continued on the car door tour passing further open cut mines.

Pretty soon, we found ourselves at the old church specifically built for the arthouse film "Goddess of 1967".

Kris tried his hand at fossicking with a stick. He found some dirt.

After bestowing the gift of rocks to me, we left for our long drive to the town of Nyngan and our overnight stay at the Nyngan Riverside Caravan Park.

Along the way, the GPS took us on a sealed dirt road detour. This would have been fine if not for the fact that it was on a floodway, and the area we were traversing was strangely getting rain. It was a bit spooky to know that if you were to get stuck in the mud, it was likely nobody would hear you scream.

Back on the main road somewhere, there was an odd sculpture.

The only highlight of the detour was that three wild kangaroos decided to race our car as we were driving along. They beat us, of course.

The drive allowed me to finish book number five of the trip...The Mysterious Benedict Society: Prisoner's Dilemma.

Australian Adventure (June 25 - 26, 2013)

40 Days Down Under (Day 12 & 13)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Some days were meant for driving...such was today. We did take time to do a little grocery shopping in Gympie and fuel up twice.

Otherwise, it was just a drive from Rainbow Beach to the Gwydir Carapark & Thermal Pools in Moree. This drive reminded Kris of Texas.

I don't recommend this caravan park. It has some yucky bathrooms. I'd avoid this place despite the nice looking thermal pools. Kris's quote was, "I feel like I need a shower after that shower." It's bad when that is what Kris has to say.

I did read book four of the trip. I liked The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Coldest. Morning. Yet.
I'm so blasted cold right now. Why didn't I insist that we buy a heater?

For breakfast I had a 100% Australian granola bar.

Today started with a multi-hour drive from Moree to Lightning Ridge. Fairly flat drive with lots of wildlife.

Ate a strange candy bar on the drive. It had poprocks and jelly beans inside.

As soon as you enter the town of Lightning Ridge, you are greeted by Stanley the Emu (created by artist John Murray).

We went to the visitor's information desk to get a map of the car door tours before heading to check into the Opal Caravan Park for the night. Man is this an especially nice caravan park. Free wifi, fire pit, kitchen with pizza oven, microwave, and other amenities, and a fabulous bathroom. The shower stall had a glass door, there were three hooks for hanging items, two shelves per stall, tons of toilets, and even a hair dryer!

We started with the Red Car Door tour. It's a good place to start as it places you on Sim's Hill Opal field where the site of the first 1906 settlement, Wallangulla or Old Town, was formed after the first opal rush started in Lightning Ridge back in 1905.

Our first stop was Amigo's Castle. This is a private home single-handedly built of ironstone. The owner, an Italian, was inspired by Roman ruins in northern Italy and used it to help create this castle and mine complete with trap doors, dungeons, and tunnels. We got to see the castle, but the mine is only available to a certain tour group.

Next up we got a peek at the Astronomers' Monument. This concrete building was made by a Russian man who met with an untimely demise while working on the monument. It has a temple of inscriptions in memory of famous astronomers.

After finishing up the Red Car Door Tour, we headed into town to the John Murray gallery. This guy has a quirky sense of humor. I wish I could afford some of his pieces. I was just able to get a postcard with "Stanley the Big Bird" for my still Stanley, but soon to be Wyatt, friend Britney.

Unfortunately, even in the Outback with ample places to go, people can't bother to follow instructions.

After the art gallery, we completed the Blue Car Door Tour which culminated in the truly fascinating Bevan Black Opal & Cactus Nursery. This amazing textural garden has over 2300 species of cacti. It's the largest collection in the Southern Hemisphere.

We got to chat with John Bevan, owner, about this cactus nursery. He's a friendly mate. He laughed whenever he found out we were from Texas. Couldn't fathom why we'd want to pay to see cactus when we can see it at home. Kris told him that he was feeling homesick for some prickly pear. John told us that prickly pear is illegal in this part of Australia. It's considered a weed/pest.

We were truly fascinated by the various types of cacti. There were so many of varying shades, sizes, and textures. It was something unique to behold.

Plus, it isn't every day that you get to chat with the world's only opal mining cactus farmer.

Kris had some compulsion to touch a bunch of the cacti. So weird.

Our next stop was to the Coopers Cottage, the authentic adobe of Fred Bodel (an early shearer and miner) built in 1916. This structure was made of wood, tin, and stone and is one of Lightning Ridge's oldest surviving buildings.

After touring the cooper cottage, we headed across the street to the Australian Opal Center where we saw some wonderful gemstones, books, models, and opalised fossils.

Lightning Ridge used to be largely underwater, so many of the dinosaur and fossil remains they have found have been opalised. It's very interesting. It was also great to meet the volunteer at the Australian Opal Center on this fine Tuesday. Mrs. Lisa Carroll was delightful to talk to and hails from Grapevine, Texas - although she now calls Lightning Ridge home. It's a love story relocation.

She had a wealth of information for us and was genuinely nice and helpful. I really enjoyed chatting with her and learning a bit about life on the Ridge and how Aussies don't know how to say aluminum. (They say Al - u - min - e - ummm.)

I personally thought one of the oddest things at the Australian Opal Center was an actual old set of false teeth made with opal.

After a little opal window shopping, we headed to Kangaroo Hill to the collection of rocks, minerals, shells, bottles, and antiques belonging to the lovely and crafty Gwen Jenkins and husband.

Gwen is the artist of this card I'm holding. She is quite talented in needlework, knitting, sewing, and dabbles in photography too.

Kristy and Gwen Jenkins

The Jenkins family have created quite a display for some amazing family heirlooms and artifacts. Mrs. Jenkins actually has a very old traveling outfit worn by an old relative when emigrating from England to Australia in the 1800s and a christening gown that was worn by hundreds of babies. (One of her relatives loaned it out to all of the neighbors to allow their children to be christened in it too.)

They have old samples of lace manufactured in England in the 1800s, old diaries and letters, old clothing buttons (some dating to the late 1700s), and just an incredible collection of things.

Gwen herself is fascinating to speak with. This lady knows how to tell a good tale and has all of her wits about her. She had me entranced for a long while. My favorite stories from her had to be about her own life, however.

For a long time, Mrs. Jenkins helped out parks and wildlife by rehabbing injured animals from her home. There just aren't a lot of people who will take time to do that out on the Ridge. She had photos of kangaroos, wallabies, burrowing frogs, koalas, and other animals she'd rehabbed. She wound up having to help an infant wombat once. The mother had been hit by a car, and the baby was still in the pouch. The injured baby had some of her organs outside of her body (hernia style) and never perfectly healed so couldn't be released back into the wild. Gwen was asked to take care of the wombat, which she named Grevillea, for a short while until parks and wildlife could find a permanent placement. A few months turned into longer and they kept extending the time. Gwen finally asked about how long they intended for her to keep the wombat. They finally said, "oh, about 7 or 8 years. However long it lives." Darn wombat lived over 20 years. Gwen had the best photos of her cuddling with Grevillea. Apparently, wombats tear up most things, so you have to wombat proof the house. You also have to take your wombat on vacation with you - nobody will let you board it. Grevillea (and most wombats) will bond with only one person and can be downright rude to others. Grevillea favored Gwen. It looked like she also seemed to get along with Gwen's dogs from the photos. They still have a few critters about the place, but nothing out of the American ordinary.

When Mrs. Jenkins was telling me about the burrowing frog they rescued, she said they can really dig and some have even be found 8 feet underground. I asked her about when Australia transitioned to the metric system. She said it happened sometime in the 60s, but people around the Ridge still speak in feet and gallons.

You have to see the Jenkins collection. Impressive.

Dinner this evening was some microwaveable meals that we found last we were in New Zealand. I wound up loving this butter chicken curry meal but have never been able to find it in the USA.

We wrapped up our evening by walking to the naturally heated town hot artesian baths.

This natural hot tub felt so good on my aching muscles, and it was wondrous to look up and see the twinkling stars in the sky.

Kris captures the stars.