This piece was written in late December 2020. So, it’s a snapshot from that time…
Murwillumbah is exploding all over the place, in size and population, and in interest. I’m not done there yet. But my most recent visit went pear-shaped and it was an unpleasant experience. But I want to share a bit about the region before we get to the gnarly stuff.
Murwillumbah is a hub town on the Tweed River in northern New South Wales. You can camp at the well-maintained Showgrounds and easily explore the region and nearby towns. And a short hop to the east coast. It sits in the shadow of Mount Warning, a central volcano perched on the Great Dividing Range. The area surrounding this spectacular peak is fondly known as the green cauldron and, yes, it’s lush green rainforest. Makes for good touring and lots of stops along the way for fresh fruit and coffee.
On a previous visit I stayed at a B&B near Uki, and walked outside in the morning to be greeted by birdsong and watch the mist lifting from the canopy of rainforest surrounding the property. Uki is a quaint village with a pub and old butter factory. I was looking for an early start on the Mount Warning trail and this was a comfortable place to overnight. You’ll need boots and water for the walk up the hill, and the final push to a summit with spectacular views across the valley is a rope climb through rocks. Something to do when it’s not raining, as it often is in this region. I meandered back down on wobbly legs. This is a day trip in itself — a deeply satisfying excursion.
I revisited a few villages last weekend. It was drizzly when I rolled into Tyalgum and Chillingham to look at historic buildings. I was doing this for geo-purposes but all of these country towns are worth another look. Probably should have avoided the final day of the school term which as you’d expect in 2020, involved excessive precipitation, nowhere to pull over, and nearly-invisible people running across the road. Who had floodwaters and sinkholes for December? The joke is wearing thin 🤷♀️
I could babble on for days about this region and its natural features. Arriving on Thursday morning after being delayed by a day with yet more Warranty repairs (get to that in another post), I set up in Murwillumbah Showgrounds and took off to look around town. A couple of near perfect days followed, and on Saturday I met up with some local geocachers for a cache replacement and coffee. It was interesting to get their take on Murwillumbah and how it has changed over time.
But things took a twist for the worse on Saturday night, or Sunday morning, depending on how I choose to carve it up. On the Friday I was gifted a couple of edible plants in pots by a family heading off to Western Australia. And I quickly re-gifted them to a Queensland friend on Messenger. Alas, those plants in the lovely pots are still in Murwillumbah, squatting on the sodden grass where I left them.
Being 2020, I should not have been surprised when I spilled boiling hot liquid down the front of my torso on Saturday evening. Then stood under cold water for 10 minutes to ease the burns. It’s now Thursday of the following week and I have sought medical treatment and been told the wounds will heal satisfactorily. Eventually.
Yeah, I was tired and as anyone who knows me, knows, do not sleep well at times. This was one of those nights. I cut a sleeping tab in half and chugged it down with water. Then hit the pillow. Around 2.15am a loud whoop-whoop woke me up. I assumed the local police were chasing villains down the highway, and turned my face back into the pillow. Sleep matters to me. As I never seem to get enough of it. Banging and a male voice close to my ear brought me to the surface.
These are the words you never want to hear in the wee hours of the morning. You need to pack up and get to high ground. The water’s coming in. Drizzle had turned to heavy rain that had turned to floodwaters. The State Emergency Service (SES) was trying to get everyone mobilised. Fast!
As lush as the grass was, it’s a poor indicator, as ground made hard by cycles of drought and hard-packed earth cannot absorb so much water in a few short hours. It sits there and pools in low-lying areas like the adjacent road. Then the puddles grow into swimming pools that spread rapidly in all directions. As happened that night in Murwillumbah and all along the Tweed River and surrounding land. The entrance was already cut off. There was only one way out. Up the hill and out the back gate which had been unlocked.
I threw everything into the back of the 4WD, wet or not, including Abbey cat. She was a champion that night.
Only a few days earlier I’d bought a Trailer Cop device and was using it for the first time. Two different keys are required to unlock it from the coupling. Not that it mattered, as in the confusion I forgot it had been installed. Where are the keys? Pitch black. Soaking wet, numb fingers. Funnily, I haven’t used it since. It would be an understatement to say a contraption that cost me $38.00 last week and was supposed to give me peace of mind when travelling, almost cost me everything. It didn’t help that a male camper who’d come over to see if he could help referred to me as bloody women (plural) amidst the chaos and confusion. The SES troops continued to do their job patiently and efficiently, and I was soon hurtling up the hill to god-only-knows-where.
Like everyone else caught in the storm and floodwaters, I parked on the side of a road in town at the top of a hill. And tried to sleep. Then at 7am headed east to the Queensland border. The water was scarily close to the roads along the Tweed River and close to low ground. By the time I arrived at Yatala for a break, I was feeling the full impact of what had happened. Physically, yes, exhausted. Absolutely! But mentally I was bottoming out all over the place. I only talked to a handful of people about this. My son who lives elsewhere in the world, and a couple of friends. Are U OK? No, I am not. Trauma has me in a chokehold.
I found a safe place to stop and attempted to sleep. Then when the rain cleared for a while, tried to clean up the mess.
Don’t let this story put you off visiting the northern rivers region. It’s a place of extraordinary beauty and is rich in natural, Aboriginal and agricultural history. Sure, it floods! But that’s part of the Australian landscape. We need to figure out how to catch that water effectively so it can be repurposed during drought. And parts of Australia are always in drought. This is part of us.
I’d like to talk more about the misogynistic stuff in a later post. Particularly as I’ve had a gutful of it lately. I’ve also met some nice people on the road of various genders. And just a day ago, a camper slash plumber who was determined to fix yet another (of many) Jayco misadventure. And he did so with good cheer, saying, I’m not leaving until this is fixed. Gave him beers to share with his wife.
I need to get out of Queensland. ‘Tho have a few local commitments over the next month or so, and will see those through. And Christmas is here. This week just trying to find some calm and stay out of my head. Peel off a few layers of self doubt about my competence to do this on my own. Let’s explore that later! The thunder is rolling overhead and it’s peaceful here surrounded by granite tors and stately eucalypts. The grass is green. The people are friendly. The rain is steady.
My thoughts scatter to the winds. I do not try to catch them. I set them free.