In the spirit of 'are we there yet?' and to satisfy my pupils who keep asking 'when will Mark get to Brisbane?', the map (right) is to put his current location into context. Brisbane is now on the radar and I'd guess just 3-4 cycling days away - though between 'here' and 'there', there's a few hills to climb to cross the Great Divide.
Mark's first port of call today was Dubbo, which according to Wikipedia, is the crossroads of NSW. The aerial view below shows how it is a focus of routes, being located at the intersection of the Mitchell Highway, the Newell Highway and the Golden Highway. Dubbo is considered the cross-roads of New South Wales. From there you can drive north to Brisbane south to Melbourne, east to Sydney, and west to Adelaide
As noted yesterday, the landscape is clearly in the grip of a drought - except on the golf course and in the zoo! The blue dot on Google Earth opens up to reveal some very photogenic lemurs!
I am not a huge fan of zoos but the Western Plains Zoo website is certainly worth a visit and has a clear statement of their conservation aims. Below, a view of Dubbo.. and a description of its climate which states that "wind patterns are consistent over the whole year. The prevailing winds at Dubbo are from the southeast, south and southwest which account for a combined 64.4% of the wind direction over the whole year." This is clearly producing the tail winds which Mark has been very pleased about! Dubbo has a population of 40,000 but since its primary function is as a rural service centre, the additional population of its agricultural hinterland helps to support a very large range of services in the city.
The city's largest employer is a company which exports lamb . Other local industries reflect the city's status as a regional base in an area whose economic backbone is agricultural. Its second-largest employer is the Dubbo Base Hospital, as the town provides medical services to the surrounding region.
Dubbo is also considered a major shopping centre for the surrounding rural areas in the Central and Far West of New South Wales. It has major department stores, supermarkets and smaller specialty shops which service customers from up to 500 km! away. That's like living in Edinburgh and going to Birmingham to do your shopping!
North of Dubbo the landscape seems unremittingly dry with many examples of pivot irrigation providing the only green respite from the parched land. Average annual rainfall (when an average is received!) is around 600 mm. This is not much less than the south east of England. However, evaporation rates in NSW are much higher than in England and, as a consequence, the 'water budget' is much more precarious
In a good year there will be just enough for cereal cultivation but when a drought hits, the situation can become very serious. You can read here about the current drought status in NSW. One of the consequences of the low rainfall and high evaporation rates is that river flow becomes seasonal and there are many examples of dry river beds as you range over the region through which Mark is currently cycling. Indeed, Mark himself comments on them in the web diary today....."Been passing dried up river beds for days". Here, for example, is the Castlereagh river which is near to the town of Gilgandra and a photo of the same river uploaded to Flickr just a few months ago.There are, in fact, a lot of good images of Gilgandra on Flickr which you can browse here. Amongst them this postcard which particularly caught my eye....
After what seems like hundreds of kilometers of dry plains, there might be some interesting relief in the vicinity of Gilgandra! And indeed, it would appear that Mark camped in the foothills of the area at the end of today. These unusual features are the volcanic Warrumbungles - remnants of a massive shield volcano which occupied the area about 15 million years ago. Most of the volcano has since been eroded away exposing the resistant interior 'dykes' and 'plugs'. As Mark approached the Warrumbungles from the Newell Highway, they would have appeared as below on the western horizon - a bit of 'relief' from the plains (or perhaps not, if you have to cycle up them!).