It’s not every day you get to take a step back in time and see for yourself how life was managed back in the day but, with a trip into Kinchega National Park (NP), that’s exactly what you’ll do. It’s a haven of historical sites, pristine riverside camping and wildlife making it a must-see destination for anyone exploring outback New South Wales. Sitting right between the Darling River and Menindee Lakes, it’s an absolute Mecca for bird watchers and fishos alike. Plus, some of the most famous explorers of all time have passed through Menindee, including my personal favourites, Burke and Wills, back in 1860. So ,if you’re a bit of a history buff, and love 4WD touring stripped down to its rawest form, then this trip is one you just can’t afford to miss.
Now, before we get in the thick of it, I’m going to come right out and say it; the only reason I visited this spot was because of a flick of a coin. That’s right. It was heads we go north to Silverton for the night (more precisely, the Silverton Hotel), or tails we head south into Kinchega NP. To be totally honest, with the thought of icy cold beer on my mind, I nearly went and flipped the coin again when tails came up. But rules are rules, so Kinchega NP it was.
I honestly didn’t think there could be all that much to explore in this park. I mean, it’s in the middle of nowhere and, let’s face it, who’s ever heard of Kinchega NP? But, as soon as I turned off the blacktop, I just knew that we were in for a true outback experience. Within minutes from the main track, my jaw dead-set hit the floor when two absolutely massive wedge-tail eagles perched on either side of the road took off at the same time!
THE OLD WOOLSHED
The first attraction that really caught my eye on the map was the Kinchega Woolshed and, believe it or not, this old woolshed completely and utterly blew me away. I mean, here’s a woolshed that was built way back in 1875. That’s a whopping 140 years ago and, not only is this place still standing, it’s not all that far off being fully functional again! Okay, so maybe it still needs a bit of work, but thanks to National Parks which has renovated parts of the old shed, it’s definitely one of the best examples I’ve seen in Australia.
In truth, I’d never really spared a thought for what life would have been like on these old stations way back then, but this old woolshed really does knock you back a few paces. There’s actually a signposted walk through the shed that takes you through the whole process of how the sheep were handled and how the workers got things done.
Now, I could write an entire article on the shed alone but, unfortunately, I don’t have enough pages here. So here are a few fun facts for you to mull over for a while. The one thing that still blows me away is that this old shed was built using materials pretty much exclusively sourced and/or handcrafted from the station. River red gum was cut and carted up by bullock teams, using carts that were also built from red river gum. Even the shed’s nails and bolts were made onsite by a full-time blacksmith, and the carts wheels were cut down tree trunks – guess they never got a flat, eh?
In 97 years of operation, three million sheep were sheared and the shed employed just about every type of sheep shearing technology as it evolved from the old blades to mechanical shears driven by steam engines, diesel engines and, eventually, electricity.
LIFE AT THE HOMESTEAD
Geez, you’d think after a few hours in the woolshed we’d have had our fix of history lessons, eh? But I was hooked, so when I spotted the sign pointing to the old homestead ruins, I just couldn’t help myself. At first glance, you couldn’t even make out that this was a homestead at all; it’s just a pile of old rubble and ruins. But look closer and you can see things like bricks made by hand, along with large structural bolts forged onsite. The old gardens were home to an array of edible fruit and vegetables, with stories of a 100-year-old grape vine believed to be the first one ever cultivated west of the Blue Mountains.
You can’t help but wonder what life would have been like when this station was fully operational. The station had to be completely self-sufficient, and there’s walks that guide you through the routines of workers and display fascinating heritage from both Aborigines and Europeans during the 1870s, along with some of the events that took place. There’s even an old graveyard that’s home to the victims of an ill-fated paddle steamer whose boiler blew up, killing all but one on board.
After walking more trails than a Burke and Wills expedition, it was time to find a nice campsite to put the feet up and relax. The park is very well signposted, and it wasn’t long before we’d hit the Lake Drive, which is home to 34 campsites that line the banks of the majestic Darling River. Each campsite is individually numbered, but before you go thinking that it’s like a caravan park, trust me when I say it’s not. Each campsite is nice and secluded giving you plenty of space and that important feeling that you’re the only one there.
We checked out plenty, but one right on the bend of the river was the clear winner for me. With some massive gum trees provided ample shade, a cool breeze gently promoting the perfect temperature and one of the most relaxing sunsets I’ve ever experienced in my life, I remember thinking to myself, “This is it, this is why I own a 4WD, this is what exploring Australia is all about”.
Well, one thing’s for sure – I definitely got more than I bargained for with this one! Who would have thought that some of the most relaxed camping I’ve ever done, along with some of the most interesting historical sites I’ve ever visited would have come from one toss of the coin? In fact, it was so damn good that I’m already planning my return trip back there for next year, only this time I’ll have the canoe strapped on Troopy and a bit more of an open mind, I think.
It’s time to start planning your trip, too!
Check out the full feature in issue #95 December 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.