The Australians have an irritating habit of shortening words and replacing the last syllable or two with an ‘o’. Think Arvo (afternoon); saw after seven hot hours in the car that maybe the real name of the town was Dubbington or Dubbermouth. But no, Dubbo is apparently not only the full and unabridged name of this outback town, it also is descriptive, being a corruption of the Aborignal word for ‘red earth’, of which there is plenty in this hot & dusty location for our first family mini-break.
Enough of the preamble. It was Boxing Day, and all that stared ahead for the next week was sunshine and beach. Or maybe a day in the car heading to a dusty town in north-western New South Wales. So of course we chose the latter. A few phone calls found us a family-sized apartment at the Cattlemans Country Motor Inn and after packing as light as a family of six can, we set off at 5.30am on Thursday 27th December. Google said the four-hundred kilometres would take 5 hours 19 minutes, which sounded optimistic given the fastest road en route was 100km/h and our route wound through the Blue Mountains.
Driving four hundred kilometres in the UK gets you from London to Liverpool. And then on to Manchester. By contrast, Four hundred kilometres gets you to the top-left corner of NSW – in Australian terms that’s about as deep as a hair follicle. It’s just not possible to grasp the vastness of this country until you’ve driven several hours and gone, well, nowhere, at least as far as the satnav is concerned.
Our main reason for choosing Dubbo was the Zoo. Taronga Western Plains Zoo to be precise, the much larger sister zoo to our local Taronga Zoo here in Mosman. We’re Family Members at Taronga, so entry was free – always a bonus. Taronga Zoo is more a safari park – it’s spread over 200+ hectares and the animals live in spacious surroundings – no caged tigers here. The Zoo itself served the usual fare, with a focus on larger prarie/savanah-type beasts – so lots of Zebra, Giraffe, Wild horses, Gazelle-types (once you’ve seen one Gazelle…). Plus a fair smattering of local fauna (wallabaloos, koalas, echidna, wombats).
Cue Alison’s all-time favourite jokes – what do you do with a Wombat? Play Wom. What else do you need ot plan Wombat? A Womble.
Now that you have finished stitching your split sides, the thing I shall most remember about Taronga Western Plains Zoo wasn’t the animals (though they were great). The Zoo hired bikes of all sizes for those keen to stay out of their cars around the 6km road that winds past all the enclosures. Zach had never previously cycled more than a few faltering metres. “He’s four and a half” we thought. “More than ready to cycle”. When Matt, Ben and Katie learned to ride they had the full attentions of nervous parents runnning along with hands poised inches away in case of wobbles. Not Zach. He got a very Austrailian “He’ll be right” as we launched him and got on our own bikes to try and follow before he got too far away. And save a few falls and banged boy-bits (the saddle was hard), off he went, pedalling into the distance, happy as a hippo in a waterhole. I wish, wish, wish I had taken fewer photos of Meerkats and Elephants and at least one of Zach on his first ever cycle ride. But I didn’t, so will have to settle for the images imprinted on my mind of his huge, huge ‘Look at me, I did it’ smile.
Once we’d visited the Zoo for two days straight, we seached for other Dubbo attractions. Judging by the number of motels/hotels/guesthouses (we counted at least 20), we thought thay Dubbo must be a swirling hub of tourist heaven. Sadly, not so. The other ‘major’ attraction in Dubbo is Dubbo Old Gaol. There’s a strong clue in the title to what this is, so I won’t go into details. I remember distinctly the first (and only) time I visited Madame Tussauds in London. The queue snaked back past Baker Street station, then you paid an extortionate entry fee, walked through three rooms with a few waxworks and then are back out in the street thinking ‘is that it’. At first glannce, Dubbo Old Gaol promised the same, only without the queue. We turned up at 11am, just in time for a guided tour. The tour lasted fourteen minutes, including a complete circuit of the gaol and several of anecdotes of zany prisoner escape attempts and escapades).
I’m being harsh. Following the guided tour, we did the self-guided tour and got a taste of the harsh conditions, and harsher justice in this 19th century prison that still housed inmates until the 1960s. In all we spent a very pleasant hour wandering around, in and out of the cells, workhouse and dunnies . The kids loved the stocks and the gallows (of course) and tales of prisioner executions (doubly of-course). And in our normal way, we found some time to do some learning. Matt at least now has stongly-formed views against the death penalty “just in case they gt it wrong”. Ben understands that I would leave him in the stocks if he uses that word again.
Our other first in Dubbo was to make good use of the very famous municipal Aussie BBQ. We found a very lovely park, with a great kids water-play area (see background in photo) where we spent two afternoons. On the second visit, our last afternoon in Dubbo, we bought and brought some steaks and burgers and fired up the BBQ, washed down with a couple of could ones. Lovely.
The next morning – New Years Eve, and after a last dip, it was back home. As they always seem, the homeward trip seemed so much longer than the journey out, with only a brief lunch-stop in surprisingly pretty Bathurst (home of the famous Bathurst motor race) to break the seven hour journey. We had our very lovely New Years Eve pool party to look forward to, and the famous Sydney fireworks – and the thought of these kept our spirits high, but that’s a tale for another post. For some, though, it was all just too much.