Coonamble is a small town in Western NSW, not far from Bourke, about 553km from Sydney. It took us about 7 hours to get there and 10 to return, due to public holiday traffic problems in the Blue Mountains.
The idea came from my friend Yvette, who thought it would be a good idea to go away for the weekend co-inciding with the annual Coonamble Rodeo & Campdraft (CR&C) which
sees hundreds of competitors saddling up for some of the best bucking bull and big bronc action around. As a predominantly wheat and cattle town where the locals still tie their horses up to the rails outside the Commercial Hotel, Coonamble throws out the welcome mat in a big way. When the last cowboy picks himself up and dusts himself off each day, every pub in town overflows with live entertainment provided by some of Australia’s top country music artists. The Sunday night Cabaret kicks off at 7.30pm at the RSL Club and will provide a great night of entertainment.
Okay, so they were bullshitting a bit, but Coonamble is not some yuppie location a short drive from Sydney. Coonamble is really on the edge of the outback. And I’d been really looking forward to the trip for several weeks. You can take the boy out of the country….
The drive there was hard, solid driving, taking us through towns such as Mudgee, Gulargambone and Gulgong, a town is famous because it used to feature on the ten dollar note. As many country towns look a bit “the same”,it was great to visit a really distinctive place. Along the way we also made quite a few “pit stops” including one where a couple of people by while having a wee on the roadside, prompting the use of the word “tumbleweed” to describe the action.
Shopping in Coonamble turned out to be extraordinarily good. As the weather was unexpectedly incelement, we had a great need for umbrellas and rain jackets, which we obtained from “Bag A Bargain”. I’d also forgotten socks and jocks so we also paid a visit to the two local opportunity shop, wher I picked up a great pair of jeans for $2, and one of the others also picked up some great boots.
The rodeo itself was great fun. We paid a brief visit to the Junior Rode on the Saturday (almost completely washed out) and then spent most of Sunday afternoon at the rodeo proper where highlights including steer wrestling and bareback riding.
We kept ourselves pretty well entertained with a karaoke night at SOTS – where we dominated the microphone – and for a band at the RSL. It’s worth noting that at the RSL they were extraordinarily serious about the issue of identification, demanding from one woman in her early 30s proof that she was over 18. Although flattering, it was also pretty stupid and, when raised with someone in a more official position at the club, the security person was put back in his place and we entered without too much grief.
Aside from that moment, and another occasion where a couple of local girls poked fun of one of us – who was admittedly inappropriately dressed for the rodeo – we all thought the town was incredibly friendly. We, of course, stuck out like dogs balls. The eclectic mix of English backpackers, yuppies and a couple of gay boys thrown in were clearly not locals. But we weren’t resented, as sometimes happens to outsiders in a small town, but genuinely welcomed.
That friendliness also seemed to be reflected in the community spirit we saw evident in fundraising for the Conn Family, a local family in which the parents and one child had died in a house fire a week earlier.
Coonamble is a long long way from Sydney. It’s on that broad flat black soil country – with occasional touches of red soil – that only comes from really getting away from the coast. But it was well worth the drive.