Things are fine on Route 39
Take a tour along the Newell Highway to find out what’s in store for you
On the western plains behind the Great Divide, the Newell Highway runs from Goondiwindi in Queensland down to Shepparton in Victoria – a touch over 1000km. Highway 39 is a major outback freight link. Largely flat and relatively straight, it is the road-train’s preferred route, linking in part, Melbourne and Rockhampton.
Route 39 bridges eight major inland rivers and is subject to periodic flooding north of Moree, at Dubbo, and south of Narrandera. With recent upgrades the route skirts what were the flood-bound towns of Goondiwindi and Moree. Currently, central NSW is in serious drought and the broad, flat plains of the Pilliga are testament to this. The tributaries are dry, the rivers that run are low and murky, so the towns along the way are depending more on the Great Artesian Basin to stay alive. You can visit many quaint outback towns and discover the wonderful things that Route 39 has to offer.
First stop is Goondiwindi, the head of the Murray-Darling catchment. Born of need, where three major station properties meet, it was originally a place where bullock drivers, the colonial-era road-trains, would gather to rest their teams to prepare for the customs and duties assault that held them to account. The state border here is the Macintyre River and duties were collected at the river crossing from 1871 until Federation in 1901.
The Old Customs House is still there, where the punt once plied the river crossing and where the old Border Bridge now sits. The Customs House Museum is well worth a visit for the small cost to step you back in time into colonial Australia.
Also important to the bullocky of yesteryear, and even to today’s traveller, is the local watering hole, or pub. Never a fan of the fast food world of drive-thru, visiting local establishments for a good feed of pub grub and a cool tipple is one of our favourite things to do. A chance to cruise through the town, top-up supplies, stretch the legs and sit down to a solid Aussie lunch is right up there.
The Victoria Hotel in the centre of town, locally known as the ‘Vic’, is a fine example. We simply couldn’t pass by her graceful architecture without further investigation.
Opened originally in 1880 as a colonial single-storey establishment, she over time grew to offer the wide verandahs, stately tower and broad stretch of bar that she flirts with today. For the modest cost you can meet up with the local larrikin, Gordon, on the Beer & Bullsh*t tour. He will not only show you around the lovely old ladies’ nooks and crannies but will also regale you with tales of her history and a first-hand account of Australia’s most-loved race horse, Gunsynd. The B&b* Tour includes a great feed and a toast of wine or beer or whatever takes your fancy, along with some great entertainment.
The Vic offers accommodation but you can also stay over at the local caravan parks and order up the courtesy bus as carriage to and fro. It’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours and enjoy a hearty meal with one of the town’s much-loved locals on the pub tour.
THE GREAT ARTESIAN BASIN
A vast ocean of ancient artesian water sits beneath your footfall, west of the Great Divide. Stretching from the tip of the Cape in Far North Queensland down to Dubbo in NSW, it broods beneath four of our states bringing life to much of the outback.
Where once there were innumerable ground springs and bores gushing freely, they are now mostly capped to preserve the precious water, or to regulate their commercial use. However, some still flow and are commonly found in remote and quiet isolation. It is around Moree, on the Newell, that this invaluable resource can be found within reach of the main route.
The local Kamilaroi tribal people used these precious natural springs for tens of thousands of years. To sustain larger populations, bores were first drilled into the basin near Bourke in 1878 ensuring a constant supply of precious water for fast developing communities and they remain a valuable agricultural supply in the rich soils of north-west NSW. However, the rewards in ‘soaking old bones’ was well known to the elder people of the region and it was soon re-discovered as communities grew, and these bores continue to be celebrated today.
The most famous of the great artesian basin bores is the one that was sunk at Moree. First drilled in 1895, the original bore head can be found gurgling at the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, where you can enjoy the naturally-heated waters. In the 1930s they further developed the bore head and an Olympic pool was added to hold the hot artesian water. Down through time it has been found that more and more people were visiting to ‘take the waters’, and appreciate the warm natural pools for their wonderful healing and therapeutic qualities. Today it is a favourite destination for the traveller and is a great place to spend a week soaking off the winter chill.
Other natural bores can be found at Pilliga, and at the Boomi and Mungindi Pools. It is here that camping is also available for the self-contained traveller and these sites too enjoy an annual migration of nomads who revel in the warm and ancient waters.
Moree is emerging as a principle destination along the Newell Highway, with its notable Art Deco buildings as well as those coming just to enjoy the artesian waters. At Moree there is a network, and variety of accommodation to meet everyone’s needs. Gwydir Caravan Park and Thermal Pools provides easy on-site access to the delightful hot artesian pools and is a much-loved annual destination for many.