Letters from America
This week’s adventure was a visit on Wednesday 15 February 2017 to a crossing of the Shoalhaven River called Oallen Ford. The crossing is far inland near the old town of Braidwood. Braidwood itself is south east and about 70 minutes from Canberra.
The beauty of the Shoalhaven River is a bit of a secret, especially the deep gorges it carves inland. Instead of coming here the tourists go up to the Blue Mountains for spectacular views of gorges, waterfalls and high rock outcrops. Next time I will post some photos of the Shoalhaven Gorge. Today it’s just the crossing at Oallen Ford.
Here is a picture of the old foundations for the crossing, which was just a causeway over the river you could drive across when the river was shallow enough. You would be driving over the concrete base these foundations supported, through a few inches of water.
Here is the new bridge that replaced the crossing. The bridge was opened relatively recently, I think in the middle of last year.
Can you see the little blip of human under the bridge in the river on the right?
That little blip is the wiry man in the photo below who had been panning for gold underneath the bridge. We had a chat and he kindly fetched from his campervan to show me, the gold he had got in his panning the day before: three grams. He spread the flakes out in a pan for me to see. They were lovely.
We had a bit of a yarn about working outdoors and how much more desirable it was compared to working in front of a screen all day. He said it was hard to get a good return from panning these days because there are so many people doing it now. He had a few places in Victoria though, where he could prospect reliably and he said he would take his van down into the high snow country soon.
You can of course, feel the serenity.
Here are a couple of snaps of me The first one is me getting a bit of sunshine sitting on one of the foundation blocks in the river:
The second one shows me washing my hands in the river, which I don’t remember doing or why I was doing it.
I walked up the river a little way. My gold panning friend had told me there was a lovely freshwater beach to be seen 500 metres or so along. And yes there was a lovely beach. I just regretted I hadn’t bought my swimmers. I would have gone without clothes myself but I didn’t think it would really have been the right thing to do with the handful of gold fossickers dotted around the river front. It would have attracted unnecessary attention.
Here is a picture of the beach outlook:
And a picture (a bit overexposed alas) of the shore across from the beach. You see the line of grey material up on the ridge? Its an impressive load of flood debris deposited high up on the bank.
Which brings me to floods. Here is a photo of the new bridge under water last year. The bridge was designed to tolerate a one in twenty year major flood event. And it seems to be doing OK The bridge is five metres above the old ford so what we can see in this photo is a huge amount of water. The Shoalhaven River was totally impassable on a routine basis and I understand that is why we don’t see much of any significant industrial or agricultural development or connections between inland regional NSW and down to Nowra, then further down to Bateman’s Bay. Historically though the game sheepfarmers in the Braidwood and Goulburn regions did persist in using this road across the Oallen Ford down to the port at Jervis Bay, even in the face of the huge floods. And back in the day, the road was called The Wool Road.
The road was being upgraded on the day we drove down, to widen the shoulders. It was noticeable that the healthy looking blonde road sign workers we see in Sydney (the Scandinavian backpacker sex goddess types) were not manning the signs at the roadworks on the Bungonia Road to Oallen Ford. The sign handlers we saw on the day were weathered blokes with semi sleeve tattoos or equally weathered women in hats and gear.
Probably the best thing about this adventure though was not the lovely river and the interesting infrastructure – old and new, and not the quiet but friendly gold panner either, but a completely unexpected thing.
While I was at the pebbly river beach I could hear a croak croak croaking bird call which sounded very familiar but which I could not pick. So I followed the sound a bit further up along the river and spotted the source high up in a vast gum tree which had some scraggly dead branches coming out near the crown. On one of these branches was a familiar silhouette – the perched Dollarbird, or simply “roller”. The bird put on a short display of the beautiful rolling flight for which it is named, showing the white circle markings on its wing for which it is also named (because the markings are reminiscent of the US silver dollar).
I didn’t get any snaps myself so here are two pictures from Google of the bird in flight:
So that was a very nice experience for me. I did not realise these birds came so far south. I had only known them to go as far as the Central Coast. I had spent some time on the Central Coast intermittently in the past and had become quite fond of seeing these birds when they came in summer. They very often perched on electricity wires along the road. When you zoomed past them in the car you would only catch a brief glimpse.
Although they have this majestic habit of rolling flight they always seemed comic to me too. This is another photo from Google, of the bird in its very distinctive perching posture:
To me he looks a bit like a Sesame Street character with his eyes set way back on the side of his face. Also the bristly aspect around his beak and chin is a bit Sesame Street, specifically Cookie Monster. The really comic thing though is the colour of the beak. The margin round the base of the beak is a bit indeterminate and it looks as though it’s one big squash of peachy colour on the front of the bird’s face. Especially when you see the bird from the car flashing past. It makes me think the bird has just had his face in a jar of apricot jam. Joyful soul.
Beautiful sunshiny day trip adventure. I look forward to more in the near future.