Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 20th 2021
Science, Cotton, History and Great Eats
We were on the road from Lightning Ridge to Narrabri and passed sparsely vegetated bush, red dirt, roaming sheep and a number of emu flocks. But finally, we left the outback behind and before long we were travelling through greener fields bound for cotton country. But it was not the cotton we had come to see; this was a science trip and we were bound for the CSIRO Telescope Array. Everything else was a bonus. Come along yourself, you'll see what I mean, but I've picked out my four favourite reasons to turn up at Narrabri.
Close up of one of the ATCA antennae at the CSIRO facility in Narrabri - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
As we approached Wee Waa, west of Narrabri, the road was lined with cotton balls. For a while, we travelled behind a road train carrying the giant round cotton bales, transported on their side like water tanks. The bales were only wrapped around their diameter and cotton fluttered from the open sides like a light shower of snow. We passed the Wee Waa cotton gin and row upon row of the yellow-clad bales were lined up, not stacked. Wee Waa claims to be Australia's cotton capital.
A cotton harvester at the Narrabri Visitor Centre - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
As usual, the first stop in Narrabri was the Visitor Information Centre where there is a cotton harvester, a sizable machine that visitors can access by a set of stairs. We each took a turn and took photos. My husband commented on the capital investment of having such a machine idle and we learnt it had caught fire and beyond repair, had been donated for tourism. The Narrabri Visitor Information Centre is at 103 Tibbereena St, Narrabri. They can be contacted on (02) 6799 6760 or click here to visit their website.
CSIRO Compact Telescope Array
Just over 20kms out of Narrabri is what has brought us to Narrabri, the CSIRO's Australian Telescope Compact Array. This is an array of six radio telescope antennas operated by the CSIRO's Astronomy and Space Science Division. Five of them run on two railway lines, which are at right angles to each other and the sixth is some kms away.
Three of the CSIRO's array of six radio telescope antennas - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
At the visitor centre, we read information boards about the facility and its astronomy studies. A small telescope could be cranked with a handle and as it moves we could clearly hear the signals it picks up, like radio static.
We tried out the Whispering Dishes. My husband stood facing one concave dish while I walked to the other, perhaps 50 metres away and facing the first. We spoke quietly into them and clearly heard each other.
One of the displays inside the CSIRO facility - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Inside there are models of various telescopes and information boards on this facility and others operated by the CSIRO, one of which is, of course, the famous Parkes Observatory which starred in the movie, The Dish. We watched some short videos about the array. One of the videos is set to the tune of the William Tell Overture (The Lone Ranger theme tune) and we saw a sped-up version of the array being moved and reconfigured. In real life, they travel at 4km per hour. In another video set to music and also at speed, the array appears to be dancing.
Domed towers housing optical telescopes at the CSIRO facility - Photo by Gayle Beveridge
From the visitor centre verandah, 'the viewing platform,' we were able to see the five antennas that run along the rails. In the distance, there are the domed towers housing optical telescopes and by the buildings another antennae, although the dish of this one is not solid like those in the array.
The facility is set in bushland and there are a number of kangaroos lounging around. It can be found at 1828 Yarrie Lake Rd, Narrabri from which you go up a dirt road. They can be contacted on (02) 6790 4000 of click here to visit their website where there are detailed directions to get to the facility.
The Outback Shack at the RSL
As we often do while travelling, we lunched at the RSL in their restaurant, Outback Shack. It is skillfully decorated as an outback town. They have a simulated thunderstorm and water runs off a corrugated iron roof into a gutter below. It's like being under a verandah watching the rain.
The Outback Shack at the Narrabri RSL - photo from the Narrabri RSL Facebook Page
Lights are dimmed and areas of the displays are highlighted with blue, red or green lighting. A painting of the Narrabri main street of a century ago adorns a feature wall. Another wall is set up like an old kitchen. Coolgardie safes hang from the ceiling. The trunk or a eucalypt tree sits between tables, a Sulphur-crested cockatoo perched upon it. At the counter, a kelpie sits on a barrel. The setting was awesome. The food was pretty good too.
The Narrabri RSL is at 7, Maitland Street, Narrabri. They can be contacted on (02) 6792 1844, or click here to visit their website.
We filled in a lazy afternoon wandering around the centre of town looking at the historic buildings. The town of Narrabri was proclaimed in 1860. A glance down the Maitland Street is indicative of the history that has been preserved here. The Westpac Bank building and the Commonwealth Bank building next door were erected in 1918 after the original building and indeed, most buildings in the block were destroyed by fire in 1917.
The Westpac and Commonwealth Bank buildings constructed in 1918 - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Gallipoli House which was built in 1881 started life as the Namoi Steam Flour Mill. The Namoi Lodge, built in 1892, sports a façade with three impressive leadlight windows bearing the Masonic symbols. The Namoi Hotel was built in 1914 for the Lloyd Family whose name is forever built into the façade. Faulkner's Cordial Factory was built in 1891. Now a dry cleaner, its façade is a little tired these days. The former Club House Hotel is a commanding corner structure erected in 1898.
Historic buildings in Narrabri - Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge
Getting There, Accommodation and Visitor Information
Narrabri is in the beautiful Namoi Valley in north-west New South Wales. Come from Sydney or come from Brisbane, it's just the same. Narrabri is 560 kms north-west of Sydney on the Kamilaroi Highway and 560 kms south-west of Brisbane on the Newell Highway. It's a little bit closer to some other key centres; Coffs Harbour at 450 kms, Dubbo at 264 kms, Port Macquarie at 428 kms, Newcastle at 402 kms, and Byron Bay at 465 kms. Click here to find the available air, rail and road services.
The Collins Park Grandstand - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge