The Big Sky

Late at night, there aren’t too many sounds you can hear from the balcony of the apartment where I’m staying in Bourke. There’s the occasional car or truck going past. There’s the occasional sound of some birds or crickets. Consistently, there’s the sound of dogs barking.

The other night on the roadside outside Bourke there was only the sound of the car engine running. And when that was turned off there was the sound of “nothing”. I’d forgotten how quiet it can be out here. 

We were standing on the roadside trying to capture some photographs of the moon. They all turned out to be shit. Though I’ve shared a photograph here, nothing could quite capture the brilliance of the bright orange moon on the flat horizon. 

It was the perfect end to a wonderful day, catching up with my friend Ian. Ian was born and bred in Bourke, and his love for the town is evident. He was my boss at the radio station, 2WEB, where I got my first full-time job in radio. We’ve remained in touch throughout the years, and he was a wonderful companion and guide as we travelled around the area.

He also had a couple of people from Sydney staying with him, and they also came on the sight-seeing tour.

We visited a number of places throughout the day. We started off at the radio station. Though there were some changes in the equipment, many things remained the same. The furniture, for example, was the same furniture I sat on thirty years ago. There were a couple of new chairs, but otherwise the same chairs and tables that I used to sit on and at were still there. “They’re education department standard issue tables”, Ian laughed.

“You remember the carts we had on the wall?”, I said to Ian. Like the 8-track cartridges of the 1970s, carts were commonplace in radio stations (for commercials and songs) before everything was digitised. 

Also on the wall were some of the awards 2WEB had won when I was at the radio station. My colleague, Barbara and I were employed at the radio station to run a promotional campaign about drug and alcohol awareness, and we won an award for that. I also made a short documentary about the impact on the community of Aboriginal deaths in custody, and we won an award for that too. It was terrific to see the awards still hanging proudly on the wall.

After that trip down memory lane, we visited the cemetery. One of the mainstays of 2WEB over the years was a woman called May Watkins. For many years, she ran the record library at the radio station. In the days after records, she worked mostly on reception. She died earlier this year, after nearly forty years as a volunteer at the radio station. We paid a visit to her grave. 

We also paid a visit to the grave of the eye surgeon, Fred Hollows who visited Bourke on many occasions, and who I remember interviewing here once. “It’s probably a bit more flash than Fred would have liked”, we concluded.
There’s actually a small mosque in the Bourke Cemetery, relocated a number of years ago from a property out of town.

And then we headed out of town, taking in some of the landscape, including locations around Darling River Farm, which Ian used to own, and still lives on.

Darling River Farm, Bourke

We also took a ride on The Jandra, a riverboat replica. The cruise (lasting about an hour) was wonderful. In particular, it was great to travel along the river, to look at the trees, to follow the bends of the river, and to watch people swimming at North Bourke.

Darling River, Bourke
Swimming at North Bourke
PV Jandra at Bourke
James O’Brien and Ian Cole
Captain of The Jandra

Later, we had a meal at Ian’s place. And then we drove back into town, and tried to capture the awesomeness of the night’s sky. 

Not a great image, but hopefully you get the idea of how awesome the big orange moon was just above the horizon.

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