REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: When the outback's not so isolated

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Tom Melville, Dion Georgopoulos, and John Hanscombe on a road trip to White Cliffs in far western NSW. Picture: John Hanscombe.

Tom Melville, Dion Georgopoulos, and John Hanscombe on a road trip to White Cliffs in far western NSW. Picture: John Hanscombe.

The roads around White Cliffs in far north-western New South Wales are about as isolated as they come.

The road into town from Wilcannia is good quality bitumen, but the dusty tracks out to places like Tilpa or Tibooburra can be dangerous and impassable after only a quick cloud burst.

The environment along the Darling River relies on floods to fill billabongs and creeks. In a wet year, the river could be 80 kilometres wide.

Cockies reminisce fondly in frontier pubs about floods of years past. But it could make your trip into town go from a quick drive to an hours long odyssey by boat.

And it can last for months. The Ivanhoe-Menindee road has been closed every time I've tried to drive it, and while it's open now it was closed for weeks before then. Straightforward journeys have hundreds of kilometres tacked on or are simply abandoned. It must be terribly isolating.

For this week's episode of Voice of Real Australia I visited White Cliffs and we ended up speaking about that isolation. Gaye Nicholls moved there 15 years ago and took on a 3500km weekly outback postal run in her mid-60s - so knows a bit about being on her own.

But what struck her, and what struck me, is that you're actually not on your own.

Gaye told me about getting bogged up at the Paroo-Darling National Park, getting rescued from the desert. People knew where she had been and where she ought to be. If she didn't arrive on time, she'd be missed. Someone, she said, would always come looking. She became quite emotional telling me about a brush with death and reflecting on the vastness of the landscape, the bottomlessness of people's kindness.

But they weren't tears of gratitude, she said. They were tears of wonderment.

And I know what she means.

This desert of tea trees and iron rich stone is only empty at first glance. Look closer and I think you'll find that this whole place is connected - stitching runs thousands of kilometres across the Aussie outback. Without those seams, I reckon the whole place would fall apart.

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