Recently, as part of a school professional development day, we staff were ferried around nearby parts of the Ridge to look at scar trees and old homesteads and sites of cultural significance for Yuwaalaraay people. I enjoyed the whole day, but the place I immediately felt the need to return to was Angledool. This Queen’s Birthday Monday was the perfect opportunity.
It’s not far from the Ridge, less than an hour up the Castlereagh Highway, but I elected to do a loop and head there via the back road. I set off down past the bore baths just after lunch. The sun was warm through the windscreen. Just as I was about to leave the bitumen a livestock truck headed towards me, churning up dust and gravel. As it passed me I kind of knew I’d been marked and, sure enough, on Tuesday a kid at school says, “Headed out to Colly on the weekend, sir?” I managed a small moment of satisfaction when I shook my head. “Not me, mate.” Pause. “I was off to Angledool.”
The bore baths road (which actually has a proper name: Shermans Way) hits a T junction: turn right for Collarenebri; turn left for Angledool. Then it’s across the first of many cattlegrids, and the first of many signs to watch out for cows and sheeps.
Outback roads are irresistibly photographable: all that sky and horizon and the sense of a track heading to who knows where.
The patch of country immediately north-east of the Ridge, through which this road cuts, is vast and flat and open. Some of the black soil was ploughed for crops but mostly it was livestock country; nibbled short by sheep or grazed by beef cattle.
The kill rate was moderate, less than the Colly road. I guess fewer cars pass this way, given that it’s just as easy to get to Angledool via the blacktop.
This little piggy wasn’t so lucky. Its carcass was shit-stained by the crows and magpies that had paused to strut across its back before making lazy pecks at its eyes and tongue.
I’m not Patricia Cornwell and I’ve never been to the Body Farm but the wallaby next to the pig looked to have been taken out at almost exactly the time. Must have been one heck of a bump for whoever was driving.
Apart from the great outback highway-and-horizon shot, the must-snap is the bullet-riddled road sign. I’ve seen a few over the years but this was a particularly good example, more like a piece of Belgian lace realised in metal. More holes than sign.
The vegetation thickened as I neared the Narran River. The trees became taller and packed in more closely. The river itself is a murky affair at this time of year, with barely any movement.
I wandered into the damp cool beneath the Yaranbah Bridge. The concrete stanchions were decorated by martens’ nests, many of which had fallen away from years and years of being built upon and built upon until gravity took its course.
I looked back as I crossed the bridge and was glad I did, as I got to see this beautiful still life. The dingo carcass was strapped with fencing wire to the sign post. It was hard and desiccated and yet to start falling apart.
But then it was on to Angledool proper. The building that had caught my eye on that cultural awareness day was the School of the Arts. This utterly gorgeous building dates back to Angledool’s heyday, when it’s population peaked at several thousand people.
I was taking this photo when I felt a car slow down behind me. Yup, been spotted again.
This time it was M, who works at the school and drives down each day from Angledool. She told me about this magnificent building. It’s built of rammed earth (I think, it may have been mud bricks but I’m pretty certain it was rammed earth). The cracks, M tells me, are due to the digging of bigibila, the echidnas that roam the area.
It’s empty at the moment but I understand that there are plans to reinvigorate the place. Maybe it could become a School of the Arts again: someone is at least trying!
The iron work was wonderful: a huge, cavernous roof that arced above the hall. What things had happened here? Celebrations, birthdays, weddings, love blossoming, fights happening, all the usual rum affairs of human beings jammed into a tiny patch of dirt in the middle of a vast, empty, open space.
I was intrigued by small details. What were these wall spaces used for? Was there a kitchen next to the hall, and these were the serving hatches?
After the hall I mooched a wee way down the road to All Saints Church. You can just make it out in the picture, down the way a bit.
All Saints is, by outback church standards, pretty big and is a reminder of just how much of a deal Angledool must once have been. M told me that at one point it was almost sold and was about to be relocated, but its heritage status halted the process. Now it sits and, like the hall, enters that wabi sabi state of gentle and graceful decay.
A pane of glass was missing from one of the north-facing windows so I poked my head, and my camera, through. The altar is still in place, but no pews. I guess they’ve been on-sold to garden centres.
I bird shit-stained piano sits in the opposite corner. What hymns have been bashed out on that over the years? I wondered about the journey that piano had taken to get here: on the back of a truck or a dray, after months on a ship from who knows where.
The interior of the church is in remarkably good condition and is utterly breathtaking. I’m guessing that the timber is termite-proof cypress pine. The mansard ceiling is like the one in the nurse’s quarters in the Ridge, the building that the Historical Society now calls home. It’s a style that must have been all the go back in the day.
I headed back down the bitumen to the Ridge. It was quicker, for sure, but it felt like an impoverished journey, a just getting-there commute with none of the wonders of the back road. The vegetation was thicker – dense stands of pine and gum – and the vehicles in both directions more frequent. But if I go to Angledool again it’ll be by the back road, through the big sky country of vast horizons and bullet-riddled road signs and slaughtered dingos.