After an early start in Bondi, a bus ride and one hefty trek through Sydney In the heat I took my seat on the train to Gunnedah. I had planned to get some sleep on the 6 hour ride but found myself transfixed by the stunning countryside rolling by my window.
I arrived in Gunnedah and was greeted by Helen and Barry at the train station. We took a scenic drive through Gunnedah past the river (more on this shortly) and the one set of traffic lights (unbelievable) to Helen and Barry's beautiful home. It was so nice to sit and chat over a home cooked meal about family and times past. It was amazing to finally put a face and voice to the family who had sent birthday and Xmas cards for so many years and who Poppa Joe spoke so fondly of. Aunty Helen has some amazing photos from over the years (including ones of Dad with questionable haircuts/facial hair) and had some fantastic anecdotes of her experiences coming to Australia as a Pom all those years ago. I never really appreciated before how little I knew of the Bull side of my family.
After chatting the night away we all retired to our beds tired. Helen and Barry's hospitality was incredible. In comparison to previous conditions on the trip I was overwhelmed by the 5 star luxury accommodation where I had my own room, double bed and bathroom. We awoke the next day and went to see Gunnedah's brass band. WOW! They were incredible and no doubt deserved the national titles and championships which they boasted. That night Helen and Barry's son Stuart came over to stop. It was good to meet another member of the clan and I really enjoyed Stuarts company and finding out some more about the family over here in Australia. It quite sad to think that it's taken this long to meet them!
I found it refreshing to speak to Barry about his time in the bush. His passion, knowledge and articulate recollections on the subject were of great interest to me and really gave me a thirst to get out in the bush myself. Inevitably the time came to do just that. We set out from the house and into the bush - destination Red Chief's Cave. During a spot of 'scrub bashing' I noticed something long and black sticking up out of the grass a few inches from my foot. It was only as it moved that I realised (and exclaimed in an exuberant fashion) that it was a snake. A red bellied black snake to be precise, about 6ft in length (ok so maybe it was more like 2ft... Or less). So after the excitement of nearly being bitten by a snake and Uncle Barry flogging me with a branch to "get off the Mosquitos" (although I'm sure he was just enjoying hitting the Pom with a stick after watching the cricket) we made it to Red Chief's cave. It offered stunning views over the Liverpool plains. I felt lucky to look down on a scene many locals may not have viewed as the rivers had burst their banks and flooded the plains (many areas in NSW pronounced natural disaster areas).
We arrived back at the house and cracked some Bundaberg Sarsaparilla's to quench the thirst and told a horrified Aunty Helen of our exploits - what an amazing first bush walk. I looked over photos and mementos of some of Barry's favourite bush walks. It was easy to see why Barry loved his hobby so much and gave me a few places to undoubtedly check out whilst in Australia.
Because of the floods our trip out to Keepit Dam was extra special as it was at 98% capacity (obviously quite unusual for the typically dry Australia at this time of year). Pelicans swam by as we ate lunch and parrots swooped overhead.
I seemed to attract the wildlife somewhat. Not only the Mosquitos (who had littered my back, arms and legs with a series of bites during our bushwalk to the extent where I looked like a poster boy for Aeroguard) but tree frogs, spiders and even a lost tortoise we found one afternoon. However my true quest was for koalas and kangaroos. After my failed attempts at the Marsupial Park (see Tamworth blog) I was promised both of these animals at the wildlife park in Gunnedah and wasn't disappointed. There was an abundance of wildlife and I even managed to get up close in the exhibit to the Koalas.
Gunnedah is such a beautiful small country town with a community to match. The people are so friendly and polite. It's difficult to paint the picture for you guys at home. It is a place where respect has not been lost not only for each other but for the things that surround you as well. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Gunnedah and will forever look back on it with great fondness. I will almost certainly return again in the near future. Renewing family ties was an important aspect of my trip to Australia and ha been very special for me. Aunty Helen is one of the warmest, kindest and gentlest people I have ever met. I find her experiences so fascinating and love the insight she gives into the families history. Uncle Barry is such an interesting character, I'm sure he has a lifetime of stories I would love to hear. The hospitality shown to me knew no bounds and I felt very much at home in their company. I cant thank them enough for opening their home to me and providing such a brilliant experience that I will never forget! One blog post is certainly not enough to explain all the fun times I have had in the special place called Gunnedah!