Some of the best towns in Australia are a long way from the coast and well west of the great dividing range . They are generally on the smallish side but punch well above their weight when it comes to community activities. Dirranbandi for example had five cotton trucks with trailers parked one behind the other and their total length was longer than the town itself. What a great little village it is, by the time I purchased fuel at the servo, a toasted egg and bacon sambo and a cappuccino from two doors up then, crumbed cutlets from the butcher I new most of the locals and what everybody was up too. Three floods have passed through Dirranbandi in the last four months and they have one more on the way. Between the last two the town has managed to stage the annual show and camp-draft and a three day fishing comp , both being very successful events. The flood-out country looks fantastic although some of the red ridges nearby look like they could do with more rain. As you can imagine the cattle are in great shape and full of feed so most of them were camped in the shade by watering points, a very relaxing scene indeed.
Gill Brothers shift their travelling rodeo overnight from the Moree show to Dirran for their evenings entertainment. I snapped a pic of half a dozen young local cowboys stretching up in preparation for their poddy calf rides. Livestock, especially horses play a big part in shows like this. There are riding events, show jumping, led classes, poney club events, barrel and flag racing, rodeo as well as over a thousand runs in the camp-draft.
Boggabri muster[/caption] After the Dirranbandi experience I packed up and moved on down south through Hebel.There are only two comercial buildings here, the pub and the corner store. Hebel is on the Qld NSW border and walking distance from the banks of the Balonne River, a popular quiet shady spot to spend time fishing. I travelled on down through Walgett, Burren Junction, Wee Waa, Narrabri then on to Boggabri for a camp-draft as no other shows were on close by.
Boggabri is a bit of a backwater really as forty K's to the west is Narrabri on the Newell highway and forty K's to the east is Gunnedah on the Oxley highway. New coal mines in the area have played a big part in keeping the town alive and the young people employed , they also contributed most of the $25000 prize money for the draft that weekend.
With the draft over I retraced my steps back towards the Queensland border and turned off to Lightning Ridge for their Easter festival. Generally they have a days racing, a rodeo, goat races and two market days. This year a group of people from the city stopped the goat races and the rodeo being held on the grounds of cruelty to animals. How the minority groups have such a strong voice to achieve these outcomes has got me stuffed. Anyway I was allowed to set up in the main street between the chemist and the church right up against the footpath just like a shop so I opened up for business on the Tuesday and traded each day until the following Monday.
The Ridge is full of interesting characters from all over the world. Lots of european people have made this place home and have taken to life underground particularly well. Many have made their fortunes here so will never leave and big trips away amount to a drive to Dubbo for christmas shopping otherwise all they need is right there in Lightning Ridge. Visually,nothing much has changed here since my first visit in about 1974 except for the fortunes won and lost which would no doubt be many. I asked one miner who came to the Ridge in the eighties how the current opal market was baring up. He said those stones worth over $80000 and under $5000 haven't been effected to much but those in between have lost some of their value on the world market. Wow, fancy finding an opal worth over $80000, how good would that be?
Early in the week I had many visits from locals. Firstly, a retired drover who had endless yarns about his life on the road. Then a shearing contracter dropped by to see what I was up too. This fellow still pulls into gear to shear a few stragglers for his mates when his arthritis isn't too bad. A well known whip maker and saddler spent at least half an hour each day talking about leather and all sorts of things, this fellow was a real character. Quite a few old and retired opal gougers filled me in on some of the darker moments that eventuated from broken down mining partnerships in the Ridge. From what I gathered disputes were settled in all sorts of way privately and didn't involve police, lawyers or solicitors. This would have been one hell of a wild place to live some years ago.
There are others at the Ridge who have made their mark in different ways, John Murray for example, a brilliant artist who captures the mood of the backcountry like no other. His gallery is a popular tourist destination and unfortunately the man himself didn't appear and sales were handled by his staff. I would have liked to have met him as he is no doubt a very interesting character judging by the work he produces. Throughout town opals can be purchased from so many places its hard to imagine they can all survive. The more successful traders have taken the trouble to incorporate opals into a range of ornaments, rings, necklaces and other fine looking pieces that make superb gifts. It's the black opals with fiery splashes of vivid red and yellow colour that command the highest price. Three companies operate toures of the opal fields which include a visit to a walk in mine where one artistic miner having failed to find what he was after has carved statues, birds and animals into the walls underground and charges $30/ head entry fee. Life is driven by the almighty dollar and there are many ways of making your pile, this fellow has been very successful and his pile now is rather high.
The housing in and around the Ridge varies somewhat in quality. I checked out the real-estate listings and noticed property values range from $10000 to $450000. The $10000 property includes a single room shack and a mine, that sounds like real value for money. Quite a large range of properties fall in the forty to fifty thousand dollar bracket and include a home/shed style buildings that look as though were built during a long weekend while the boys drank several slabs of full strength beer. The full history of Lightning Ridge would make for some very interesting reading but I doubt anyone would be game enough to put a truthful version into print, what a pity.
Lightning Ridge is an outback town full of character and characters. It's easy to get there without travelling over hundreds of miles of dirt roads. Book in for next Easter, you'll love it. Until next time. Steve and Sass.