A Bed in the Bush at Boorawa


Being again a singleton for the first time in 50 years, I have been peripatetic in my wanderings, leaning on the goodness of friends for a bunk till my place becomes available in a leafy Canberra suburb. My wayward wanderings have allowed me to stay in a friend's country property in good crop and sheep country. 

I took the road from Canberra in my trusty Toyota, named Wilhelmus because he is orange in colour, and I am Dutch by origin! Well, it is a good enough reason. Cars have personalities, too. And on my way to the farm, I sought an overnight stop in Boorowa, which on its billboard declares "Home of Australia's best Merino sheep."

After getting off the motorways, the Lachlan Way was rather more dappled road. No, not the fracture of light through leaves, but more of the look of the road. Spotted like the face of an acne-faced youth, with various poultice applied...albeit with tar. The potholes filled, and were a few in number, but then a veritable strip, sometimes short, sometimes long, but a surprisingly un-bumpy drive. All a legacy of the vastness of this country and its hundreds of thousands of miles of roads. That comes at a civic cost. 

Lots of trucks coming the other way, many carrying fleece-less sheep, presumably on the way to the abattoirs at Goulburn. The ones on the top deck cast last eyes over the sunburnt country, where they once foraged. Now, the sun on the stubble, the tan it had to have, before it went brown before the winter. In the paddocks, the rolls of hay looked like slices from a Swiss Roll, hundreds of them, many sheathed for longevity.

On the road to Boorowa, Australia
On the road to Boorawa, the wheat crop harvested

Beautiful country, rolling hills, stands of trees beside gravel paths to farmhouses, and then, there was Boorowa. The Boorowa Hotel in the main street, wide enough to swing two score cats, linked tail to tail, and not strike a single thing. I checked in and was met by a barrel-bellied, super-friendly and hearty landlord. I was led to my room, up impressive stairs, by a young knave. It must have been quite a hotel, in its day, when in 1880, it was called the Royal Standard Hotel. Boorowa had been a convenient stop for gold seekers at Lambing Flat, 45kms away, near Young, or to gold discoveries around the Boorowa district.

Boorowa Hotel, with its 19th c verandas
The Boorowa Pub with its large (19th Century) verandas 

The room immediately made me think of Roger Miller's lament, King of the Road, "rooms to let, 50 cents." Yep, folks, it was cheap, dark rooms bordering on dingy, one power point to run a fan and another for "utilities." (Note to self: travel with a double adaptor). I need at least 4 spots for my hearing aids paraphernalia and mobile phone pump up! Stained wash basin. I could imagine "The Duke" throwing his saddle on the bed, his gun-belt hanging from the solitary chair. Let's say...there was a frontier feel about the room. 

The knave lingered for a moment to show me the room "facilities," only a bench for my case, which took a whole millisecond. I was surprised when I commented on the large, "coffee table" feature book with paintings from the Dutch Golden Years, the cover Vermeer's famous painting of the Milkmaid. Conversationally, I said, "Oh, I have seen the original, in Amsterdam." "Really?" He sounded surprised, as though it was merely the dairy scene that appealed. When I asked about parking my car in the street, he was similarly aghast at my concerns. 

"Na mate, this is Boorowa and I have seen lots of drunks, a few fights get out of hand, but I have never seen anyone damage or break into a car." 

Main street, Boorowa, Australia
Looking at the main street

Genuine shock, and with that, he took me to see the self-help "breakfast bar," the communal toilet and showers, all 20 metres away and down a set of stairs. Quite a distance for the old and incontinent, for a post-midnight pee, just a torch to light the way.

I went down to the saloon bar. No honky-tonk, or bar girls, only a television showing the the cricket and paddock of men breasting the bar, drinking beer. Large, leathery, friendly men, bronzed and a smile through wrinkled eyes, men of the land. "G'day, mate." I felt, was, and looked like a stranger, an "old fella." One of the younger farmers helped me as I struggled with mobile phone connectivity. The young are so knowledgeable and dextrous. Within minutes I was back in "my world," news, emails, connection.

I read a very well presented booklet about the town, the history. There are now, in fact, 2600 people living in town. It was originally called Burruwa, the Aboriginal word for "bush turkey." It was settled by Europeans in the 1820's including by Irish "ticket of leave" convicts who were pardoned if they never returned to Mother England. The district retains a close affinity with Ireland. Indeed, the Boorowa hotel wifi network had "strong potato" in its sign on! And when an Catholic nun was asked if she had been to Ireland, she replied "No, but I have been to Boorowa."    

The handsome old court house, Boorowa, Australia
The handsome Old Court House, now the Information office and gift shop

The highlight for Boorowa is the Irish Woolfest in October each year, when the sheep are not the only ones to flock to town. Indeed, their flocking is the occasion when thousands of the woolies run down the main street, accompanied of course by abundant sheepdogs, figuratively, riding on the sheep's back, as the Australian economy did for years. And thousands of wooly clads cheer them on. It is the town equivalent of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, a decidedly safer option, bleating not bellowing, and if you are foolish enough to enter the fray, a bam from a ram could also be an injurious occasion.

The old Court House from the veranda, and a Wool Buying Shed, Boorowa, Australia
The old Court House from the veranda, and a Wool Buying Shed

I went, with a small beer in hand, to the euphemistically named "Dining Room," a large man in shearer singlet and a prune-like partner, and nearby to a priest, writing, and also a steak on his plate (I thought immediately of Father McKenzie of the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby, "writing the words of a sermon that nobody hears"). 

So in the pub, where men are men, I, too, ordered steak. Big mistake! My beast had obviously walked all the way from Darwin (a loooong way away), for it was as tough as the shearers boots.

In the morning before the sun was ready to pummel the day, I awoke reasonably refreshed for my journey to Young. I had my boiled eggs and sat on the verandah accompanied by a cacophony of bird calls, the twitters and shitters, the large sulphur-crested cockatoos which like a flotilla of destroyers, descend upon balconies and rip into the wood. They were on the ground below me, more arriving as I watched one bouncing on the power line like a high wire walker, wing flaps like a pole to preserve balance. Magpies warbled and dazzlingly coloured parrots flashed their impossibly bright colours.

The dawn came softly before the heat and the hurtful azure blue sky. Creakily, I made my way down the stairs. Not a soul stirred. The door was unlocked, as I knew it would be. Country trust. I had the town to myself, but for a passing truck, and walked its main street. Coffee shops not yet open, many shops sadly closed forever, a butchery, a printer's shop, too, a bank that had up and left.

War Memorial to the District Fallen in conflicts far away. Boorowa, Australia
War Memorial to the District Fallen in conflicts far away.

I left after "chucking a u-ee," as we Oz's say, doing a u-turn in the main street. King of the road. My stay was short, but enjoyable, lots of grand civic buildings, now many now purchased privately and maintained as before. I am sure that I heard a kookaburra laughing at me. Why up so early, silly? 

Young - the "Cherry picking capital of the world,"  the somewhat "bigger smoke," called. It had a McDonald's, where over a coffee, I could again touch the world of wifi! 


Winfred Peppinck is the Tales of the Traveling Editor for Wandering Educators, and the author of many books, including his New Children’s Book: The Dogs Who Were Left Behind

All photos courtesy and copyright Winfred Peppinck