We had a crazy but wonderful idea to celebrate the life of my sister Susie who passed away a year ago: ride 1300 kilometers into the Australian outback, drink a bottle of champagne (or as she liked to call it “bubbles”) to remember her and ride back.
So on a grey March morning, fortified with strong coffee from our local café we fired up our heavily loaded bikes and headed off from our Sydney home pointing West. Me on my Yamaha MT07 and Richard on his faithful BMW Moose. The streets were largely empty as it was an Good Friday and sensible Sydneysiders were still in bed. We made great time on the empty roads and were soon winding our way west through the Blue Mountains ready for breakfast in Katoomba.
The temperature dropped and drizzling rain slicked the road as we ploughed west towards Bathurst where we planned to head off the main highway at Orange. Richard wanted to ride the back way to Cobar which meant dirt roads. That was fine by me as I had gained confidence after cutting my teeth on the Birdsville Road during the Big Loop and other riding adventures.
We stopped in Parkes, home of the famous annual Elvis Festival, and chatted to a local at the petrol station who was fuelling his BMW 650 in Condobalin. From there it was north towards Melrose Station and onto about 90km of red dirt roads. We love seeing the countryside change from green to brown and then red, telling us the remote outback beckons.
Dirt roads inevitably mean animals and as dusk approached the kangaroos, emus and goats started appearing in force which always makes me nervous. We started looking for a campsite about an hour south east of Cobar, just south of a little town called Nymagee.
Whilst looking at a small dirt track leading off to a ‘tank’ or man-made cattle water hole, Phil the owner of the property pulled up in his battered Land Cruiser (with obligatory dogs in the back and rifle on the dash) for a chat. We talked about his life on the land, sons and grandkids, prices of shearing sheep and host of other fascinating insights into life on the land. He was a delightful man and typified the hospitality of people who spend their life in the bush.
Phil owns around 50,000 hectares of land and has 20,000 merino sheep on the property. It’s “crutching and topping” time right now which apparently stops the sheep from getting fly-blown. The guys who do the “dirty work” get paid 87c per sheep but with 12,000 sheep to crutch over 10 days, Phil’s 5 employees would earn pretty good money. Phil told us about one of his guys, nicknamed “the freak” who during sheep sheering season could sheer around 180 sheep a day (the average is around 120). A tough way to earn a living, even at $2.83 per sheep!
We also learned that feral goats are worth big money to the property owners out west if they can keep them on their property until the musterers get there. The musterers will pay just over $35 for each goat they round up – the most recent muster earned Phil close to $50,000.
We pitched our tent by the tank and in no time dinner was on, wine was being poured and we were watching the moon rise and stars appear. Inquisitive kangaroos hopped around the campsite and the occasional bull-ant needed to be swatted off the table. Apart from the murmur of wind, not a sound could be heard – a far cry from waking in the middle of a huge city and drinking our morning coffee at the local deli.