I do love to play show and tell about the place I call home. I quote one of my favourite Australian poets, Andrew Baron “Banjo” Paterson, from his poem Over the Range. It is about a place only 20 kilometres from where I live, Moonbi.
Little bush maiden, wondering-eyed,
Playing alone in the creek-bed dry,
In the small green flat on every side
Walled in by the Moonbi ranges high;
Tell me the tale of your lonely life
‘Mid the great grey forests that know no change.
“I never have left my home,” she said,
“I have never been over the Moonbi Range.
“Over the Range” by Banjo Paterson.
On the Monday of the recent long weekend, my boys took me for a drive up the ranges that Banjo wrote. Two of my three sons are on their driving learners permit and we have to clock up some road time so while planning a good trip that both of them would be able to sit behind the wheel for a while I was surprised they couldn’t remember stopping off at the lookout on the top of the hill. Unlike Banjo’s little bush maiden they have crossed the ranges with me many times however we have never stopped to take in the view from the top of the first hill. With this in mind, the trip was planned and we set off on a road trip along a small but steep section of the New England Highway.
The ranges history is interesting as they posed a problem to cross in the early days of this regions settlement. It’s a spur of the Great Diving Range that separates coastal NSW from the inland areas. My mum and dad always called them the Blue Ranges because of the colour they appear as they roll off and form the horizon to the north and east of my hometown. The Moonbi Range rise quickly from 500 metres to about 1,300 metres and this steepness provided a lot of challenges for travelling from inland to the coast. As a child, I remember the road trips for summer holidays on the beach including many stops to refill the water in the radiator and the car struggling to reach a speed that would match a brisk walk. That forty short years ago, I was only little, and now I really feel sorry for my parents who had to spend so much more time travelling with four daughters asking the number one annoying question of travelling families – are we there yet?
But Banjo was referring to the days were bullock teams were the B-double trucks of the time and travellers had to be really serious about wanting to go places. Edward Gostwyck Cory was the first to cross in 1832 and the route he took is pretty much the same as the New England Highway still takes today. Because of the steep ruggedness of the ranges, the township of Moonbi was used as a stopover. Those who were heading to the coast would have to hitch up extra teams, not single but teams, of bullocks to make the pull up the rough, granite boulder studded terrain. Those who had just finished the ascent had to unhitch the multitude of logs, and sometimes full felled trees, they had used to weight their load back so it didn’t overtake the massive beasts dragging the load. Some say a few of the smaller granite boulders that can still be seen today camped in the middle of nowhere were also used as bullock train anchors. I for one find this story easy to believe. The cellar of one of the many Inns that provided lodgings in Moonbi has recently been restored after being lost in a small paddock beside the road in the township. Constructed with granite bricks it has with stood the passing of time under dirt and crops and was only rediscovered when it land was purchased and surveyed for redevelopment. The redevelopment plans were changed so this last reminder of days gone by could be saved.
The trip today is so much easier, even with a learner driver behind the wheel. It has two lanes both ways on the steep bits however the view is obscured where the roadway weaves around the hill side and is cut into the granite.
You have to take a sharp left turn off the highway onto a one-lane tar road that weaves it way to the lookout. My father used to pull up on this side road and set all his girls off in search of blackberries when they were in season. The highway was then a narrow snake with two lanes divided by a double white line but on the downhill side was a small creek that provided an afternoon full of entertainment for the whole family. I have fond memories of purple fingers, cuts and scrapes from thorns, frogs hiding in cool running water and close encounters with snakes. I also remember dad filling up bottles of water and topping up the radiator of the car before filling them again with “real” water for storage in the car for the next long trip.
The creek has now been obscured by roadside barriers and it now runs under the road that is the only turn around point on the first Moonbi hill. I feel old saying I remember it the way it was. In my defence, its upgraded to what it is today only started in 1975.
The single lane road that leads to the lookout appears unchanged however, hill one side and a steep slope to cattle paddocks on the other. When you emerge at the top the sheer size of the granite boulder, topped with a wire fence that is the lookout dropped the mouths open of two of my three sons. The other one was focused on parking the car.
The area is actually called the Moonbi Lookout park, it’s now the stop over for travellers who manage to make the turn off as well as the odd graffiti artist.
By 1865 the road between Tamworth, over the ranges at Moonbi and on to the next township of Bendemeer was cleared and fence. It didn’t take us that long as our road trip continued the say day, but that is for next weekend.
From here I’ll let the photos tell the story.