Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Our Early Morning Sunrise

Miners Sculpture by Pro Hart

A green parrot at Orroco

Historic gum tree at Orroco

A road train going north

Jeff - Journey to Coober Pedy

5.30 am and the alarm goes. 5.45 am and the sun rises, we were there before it. We had been shamed by our neighbours into getting up to watch the sunrise. He was still in bed. It was the beginning of a very hot day.

Before leaving we fulfilled our last wish and visited the painting exhibition of Pro Hart. He had been a miner until the age of 40, at which time he found he could live on the earnings from his paintings. Prior to his death this year age 77, he had followed what ever art leanings he had. Outside his gallery are numerous metal sculptures and 3 Rolls Royce and a Daimler, one Rolls Royce has been covered in colourful painted scenes. Instead of lowering the price of the Rolls, he will have increased the price and it will probably never be sold.

We spent a lot longer than expected looking at his paintings and other paintings in his collection. The building housed various sized rooms all over the place and was on three levels. Prior to our visit to Broken Hill we had been told we must visit this gallery and we were really pleased we did.

The above experience meant we were leaving Broken Hill about 11.30am on a hot day. The journey back down the road we had travelled three days earlier was down hill through the desert with little to do but wave to the occupants of the approaching vehicles. Some raised the professional finger to me, and i raised my hand in case I got the finger wrong and upset someone. The vegetation regularly changed and we saw a lot of 'salt bush', a few cows and sheep. None of the sheep were as described by our guide at the Daydream Mine. He told of how much the animals liked to eat the salt bush, (which is true), "Hell, some of the sheep up here are like Shetland Ponies". I think this statement must be another Australian tall story, or one of those shaggy sheep stories.

Anyway, it was hot and the small towns were far apart. At one we abandoned the van and fell into a bar with Sylvia stating the immortal words, two cold beers please. After chatting with two locals, (probably thee two locals), we travelled further and came to a town where we could use the internet and post more presents to the UK. Any excuse to spend more time in an air conditioned building. Our journey for the night ended at a small town named Orroroo. The site owner informed it had been 43 degrees here for the last two days; I don't wish to know what heat it had been travelling down through the desert from Broken Hill.

The next day was a true landmark and change in our travel routine. Sylvia followed her hunch and got out the book which tells us about our Van; we got books on everything in it as well as the motor. Yes, she remembered correctly from when we were first told about the van many months ago, it did have air conditioning at the front, and the book told us the procedure for switching it on.

Before leaving the town we visited the historic Gum Tree which is much wider than any other Gum tree we have seen and is believed to be over 500 years old; they normally die about 350 years old. This one looked fine and healthy and should last a lot more years.

During our journey of about 340 miles to Coober Pedy, whilst enjoying the air conditioning I silently thanked Sylvia and wondered why it had taken her so long to think of it. We passed 16 Road Train's, some of which were three vehicle lengths and I was glad we were in a large van. It does not surprise me that some motorists feel intimidated when a Road Train passes, or they are past by a Road Train heading in the same direction. On some occasions our van shuddered. Again the vegetation kept changing for no apparent reason. Despite the hot temperatures of the area, the Road Houses and Hotels have large wood burning stoves for the winter time when it can be zero degrees. A fall in temperature has them reaching for their pullovers, I don't know how they would cope in Scotland.

As you get within 40 miles of Coober Pedy cone shaped mounds begin to appear of various heights and increasing numbers in areas where 'opals' have been discovered. By each cone there is a vertical shaft, and if strains of opals have been found, horizontal shafts lead off and open out into caves of various sizes as the miner followed his leads and instincts. Most of the holes were abandoned as not being worth the effort. Future prospectors may re-work the holes if they hold a permit and stake out their claim. Each hole is crumbling around the surface edge. The holes cannot be filled in because if some future prospector, who was unaware of the first hole's existence, was to dig down beside a filled in hole, the resultant cave in of his new hole would probably bury him.

Later we were to be told by our first guide that there were 42,000 of the holes in Coober Pedy. Our second guide, the Caravan Site Owner, informed there would be over 750,000 holes, (mine shafts), in Coober Pedy. The second estimate is most likely to be right. It is reputed that more people go missing in Coober Pedy than in any other part of Australia, and having visited Coober Pedy, it does not surprise me.

We found our camp site, hot and tired, and connected the outside electric power to the van. The air conditioning in the middle of the living area could now work and we switched it on and it remained on throughout the night. The Australians might be wimps when it comes to feeling cold. I'm recognising I'm a wimp when it comes to these temperatures of over 100 degrees F, especially the ones over 110.

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