There’s a station on the Darling River that may have slipped under your radar. Shelley Ross uncovers another Australian gem that’ll make going home seem like a bad option.
Just so we’re clear, I don’t usually do camels. Today, it seems, I’ve brought this all upon myself. I’ve loaded up the wheelbarrow with melons from the garden and am on my way to find Willy and Snowy in the next paddock. They would be the resident camels, who will apparently come bounding over to me for a feed if I stand at the right gate and call them.
I’ve already failed barrow driving and bogged the front wheel in the soil of the pea furrow, which I bet I wasn’t supposed to be in, and now the bloody camels are completely ignoring me.
Seriously, how many ways are there to call a camel? In the end, I’m over it. “You know what, boys?” I’m yelling. “As riveting as this is, there’s a very cold G&T waiting back at the campfire with my name all over it so either move those humps and get over here or go hungry.” I turn to go, spinning that barrow wheel homewards. Aah, finally, there’s movement at the station ...
Gem on the Darling
We’re on Bindara Station in western NSW, a thousand-acre property on the western bank of the Darling River. It’s north of Pooncarie, between Mildura and Broken Hill. I’d convinced Rossy he needed a little outback escape over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend so, after calling in for a night at Turlee Station (just south of Mungo and sporting a brand new airstrip), we flew up to Bindara to spend two nights here. Can I just say, ladies and gents, this one is an absolute stand-out.
No matter whether you’ve flown into luxury resorts or ramshackle stations, rough or chic, here you will find the very best of genuine Australian country hospitality. Your hosts, Bill and Barb Arnold, have lived at Bindara for 30 years and their love of the land is totally infectious. They will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive and relish the opportunity to share their lifestyle with you.
All about the people
The homestead and accommodation are set in the shade of big old River Red Gums, a few paces from the river bank and a five minute drive from the airstrip. Bindara has seven double rooms across a couple of cottages, two of which can sleep four people, so it’s great for fly-away groups.
There are wonderful walking trails along the river and out to the historic woolshed, but I bet you won’t find yourself drifting too far away from the main campfire during your stay.
The difference here is that the Arnolds actually take the time to sit down with us over meals and around the fire and seem to genuinely enjoy the company just as much as we do. They do the same with the many road travellers who come to visit and, to be honest, these gestures leave a far more memorable impression on me than five-star finery.
The river itself plays an enormous role in life at Bindara. At the time of our visit the Darling was still in flood, and the station was cut off by road and thus from much of the livelihood they’ve come to rely on from visiting motorists. No wonder they were happy to see us fly in!
To get their groceries and hardware supplies over the past months, Bill and Barb have had to hop into their tinnie to cross the swollen river to reach one of their vehicles parked on the other side, and make their way down to Mildura from there. Given the vision I’m conjuring up of all this getting unloaded from the tinnie back at the homestead, my own weekly shopping complaints seem witheringly trivial.
The river depth was sitting at about 4½ metres when we were there, down from a peak of nine metres a couple of weeks prior. “Despite being so close to the river, all the buildings on the property are actually on fairly high ground so it would have taken an enormous amount of water across a very wide area to get up here,” comments Barb.
“There’s lots of support and friendship out here though. We’re part of a fabulous network called Outback Beds which covers outback NSW and parts of south-western Queensland, just offering travellers an opportunity to slow down, to stay a while and experience our outback hospitality and lifestyle. ‘Stay in the outback with friends’ is our motto. We love it.”
A tinnie on the river
Like most places, you can do as little or as much as you like at Bindara. On our first afternoon, a couple of we girls piled into that muddy old tinnie with Bill to help him check his yabby nets. We were an enormous help, as you can imagine. It was near dusk, so the river was teeming with birdlife, all of which Bill had a name for. He pointed out one species whose wing span grows to two metres, which I quietly thanked God I hadn’t met on late final that morning.
We learnt how the river is constantly carving a new path at every bend and we learnt of the history and health of the Darling, but mostly we just absorbed the peace and beauty of this iconic inland waterway as we putted along from one net to the next.
The massive billy was swinging over the campfire when we got back so the bucket-full of yabbies was thrown in, cooked up, then tossed onto the wire base of an ancient bed to cool off. By the time we’d finished telling a few more lies around the fire, it was sleeves rolled up and into them.
Elbow deep in yabby guts, I was thinking about this particular group. Rossy and I hadn’t actually met these four Victorians we were spending the weekend with until this morning. Jeff had rung and introduced himself a few months previously, wanting to hear more about our African safari I’d written about in AF last year, (which, incidentally, he’s just booked for a group of 12 next year) and we hopped off the phone about an hour later.
During the exchange of loads of favourite flying destinations he’d told me about Bindara. When I decided to fly out and give it a try, I invited Jeff to meet us out there. He thought that a pretty random thing to do, given we were strangers, but agreed to come, and brought his wife and another couple. Bingo – four new friends. I love that flying can do that.
Anyway, back to the yabbies. May I suggest you don’t eat for a week before you arrive? Barb’s wonderfully fresh country cooking and Bill’s theatrical presentations over the campfire will leave you groaning with pleasure after every meal. Barb’s got the perpetual sprint going, between her kitchen up in the original homestead and our tin shed headquarters, mobile phone in the apron pocket, and balancing a meal for eight as she crosses the lawn. Familiar with using whatever works, she’ll drive the massive pots and saucepans across in the wheelbarrow if she runs out of hands.
With a lifetime of living in the outback, the Arnolds are acutely aware of the need to be as self sufficient as possible. A walk around the grounds of their home leaves us in no doubt about their commitment to the ongoing development and expansion of their bio-diverse projects. A thriving fruit and vegetable garden piled with natural mulch, a windlight power generator, solar panels on the water pump and freshly grown (or caught) produce on our plate at each meal are testament to the hard work that has gone into the clever and sustainable use of what nature has on offer out here.
They are also painstakingly restoring the homestead back to its original splendour – a labour of love that’s both exhausting and never-ending.
After two relaxed days spent with very special people, it was time to say goodbye to our delightful hosts. We tell them honestly that we’ll be back. Spirited headwinds for our trip home, serious IMC, and a handful of Inters on the menu at Camden could do nothing to wash the smile off our faces as we tucked away the memories of yet another incredible destination in the outback. Don’t wait for the Darling to dry up again – give them a call.
You’re not going to believe Bill’s toy shed.
Dinner, bed and breakfast $95.00 per head per day.
Ph: 08 8091 7412; 0429 917412
Airstrip: 15/33 900m Natural surface
S 32 44.19 E 142 21.20
Phone Bindara for permission to land & condition of strip.
Nearest fuel: Mildura or Broken Hill
See more photos of Bindara on Shelley’s website: www.flyingtheoutback.com.au/galleries