An iconic Australian roadtrip for outback travellers is the famed Corner Country, where the three states of Queensland, NSW and South Australia meet.
The nearest town of Tibooburra, in the far north western corner of NSW, usually serves as the base for trekkers in the region. If you're there with your 4WD, it's worth making the journey to nearby historic Warratta Goldfield.
The Corner Country is an isolated part of the world, on the edge of even more remote country, but it is fairly accessible nowadays if you don’t mind the long stretches of dirt ‘highways’ leading in.
WARRATTA GOLDFIELD HISTORY
The Warratta Goldfield forms a part of the larger Albert Goldfields which were mined over a period of 40 years, from 1880 to 1920.
This was a very remote location then, and the shortage of water created great difficulties for the miners. While there were alluvial deposits in the surrounding region, the Warratta field was dominated by reef deposits in vertical slate outcrops along what becomes a steeper ridge line as you head south.
There were shortages of food and typhoid outbreaks. Severe droughts stopped river steamers from getting up to Wilcannia to deliver supplies, and horse teams had no food for travelling, so Thomas Elder began sending teams of camels from his property at Beltana in South Australia. From then on camels became an integral part of the life of far western NSW, mostly travelling from the railway line at Farina, near Marree.
EXPLORING THE REGION
There is plenty to see along the Warratta drive, which largely follows the line of the Warratta Creek, heading south–south east from Gum Vale Gorge. To reach the jump-off point head south out of Tibooburra to the turn-off to the west towards Cameron Corner.
Head along here for 13km until the signposted turn-off to Gum Vale Station, heading left (south). After 12km you’ll come to the ‘gorge’ – a small cut along the side of a hill carved by Warratta Creek.
Along this track, just where it veers right and begins to climb out of the bed of the creek, there’s a small signpost, which apparently once directed you towards the station. You’ll see an indistinct track heading left, along the bed of the creek, and this is your route.
HISTORIC GOLD MINES
A short way along here the track climbs up out of the creek bed and across Jeffrey’s Flat, where you’ll find your first mines. From here on, for about 15km, you will be driving through country that is a rabbit warren of old mines.
The mine shafts at the start of the track tend to be marked and surrounded by barriers of various kinds, but after a while this obviously became too big a job for the authorities and deep, vertical and dangerous shafts suddenly open before you. Stay on the track and you’ll be fine.
Anywhere along here you can stop for lunch in the shade of the river red gums which line the creek bed, which runs parallel to the track. While there are times when the creek must run vigorously, it appears that most of the time it is dry and is generally quite accessible.
This must once have been the scene of much activity. There are mullock heaps all over the place, and you pass occasional remains of buildings, including the old mill on your left. The whole area is littered with the remnants of its past life, including old bricks, shards of pottery and, especially where there appears to have been an old smithy, rusty remains of fabricated metal artefacts.
ROUNDING OUT THE DRIVE
Eventually the track leads to the old crushing battery, situated next to remains of its old steam engine power plant, a broken down bore and a concrete water tank that is obviously a more recent addition to the life of the area, probably to provide water for cattle. The old building remains here indicate the promise once held for this area, with very substantial works littering the hillside above the creek.
Once you reach the old battery you’ll need to drive back to near the old mill where a track leads across the creek. Follow this up over the adjoining hill and it will lead you back down into the creek bed, which you now follow south.
Unlike creek beds in some parts of the country it’s all sand and quite smooth and pleasant to drive over as it winds around through the river red gums. Their silvery trunks with russet red marks are an attractive ornament. Watch for large flocks of emus. Take your time, enjoy the drive and make sure you run the right tyre pressures.
Eventually you will reach the Warratta Bore, on the right side of the creek, and here you turn left, following a track along a fence line. If you keep on this trail it will lead you out onto the Silver City Highway (if you could call it that) about 15km north of Milparinka and approximately 32km down the creek from Gum Vale Gorge.
You can turn left and head back to Tibooburra, or, as we did, turn right and head south to Milparinka for a few hours around this historic town and a few cold beers in the pub.
MUST DO IN CORNER COUNTRY
As stated, this isn’t a tough trip, it won’t test your skills at anything other than following these basic directions, but it is a very pleasant drive through some historic remains of a once hopeful dream of rich pickings on the edge of the Outback. If you’re in the area make sure it’s on your list of must-do activities; and if you do head offroad, make sure you are offroad ready.