Things were finally looking up for me. I was leaving the awful factory and farm jobs behind in Dubbo and travelling 2 hours east to the Mudgee / Gulgong area.
I managed to sell my Ford Fairmont and buy a Mitsubishi Starwagon campervan already set up with a frame and double bed in the back. This vehicle would go on to be the most reliable, economic van I had ever owned and I only paid $500 for it!
I drove it over to Mudgee and checked into a campside ready to get up at 5am for my first shift on the Peabody coal mine site in Wilpinjong (about 45 minutes away) in the morning.
After the first day work colleagues introduced me to Gulgong which was slightly closer to the mine sites in Wilpinjong so I decided to switch campsites and move there instead.
The Ulan road runs through Wilpinjong and is the home of 3 major coal mines. I was working as a contractor for a large construction firm on the Peabody mine site which was the hardest of all three to get too and the one most covered in red tape. Every thing that was done on this mine site had to be signed off by the appropriate body and you had to isolate and lock onto every area of work.
One day after work – we got about 30 minutes away from the mine site and got a call from the agency telling me I had left my lock on at site and we had to travel all the way back so that I could remove it. I am all for health and safety, but this was bureaucracy in a world gone mad.
Gulgong itself was a strange place – on one hand the houses looked like English suburbia, but then the main strip was more like something preserved from a wild west movie film set. I find the further into the hinterland you go in Australia, the more outdated and Americanised the culture and infrastructure.
Gulgong was kind of living off its Australian tourism routes and being one of the first settlements and having its prize boy Henry Law – son on the bank notes they were celebrating the legacy of this guy like he was Batman.
A few nice colonial buildings to take photos of, but with one IGA and a strip full of mining pubs you would not want to take your kids out here for a family jaunt.
It was on the deserted roads between Gulgong and Dubbo where I saw my first snake in Australia. It was brown, thin and probably very dangerous. I was happy as I safely drove past in my van (which may or may not have squashed it) I could not really tell.
25 minutes down the road and you reach Mudgee which is about 10 times bigger tha Gulgong and famed for the large amount of famous vinyards present in the local area. They also have some bullshit law where you can’t bring grapes into the area as it might disturb the grape species and upset the wine snobs.
This aside, I actually quite liked Mudgee – it had all the modern conveniences but was clean and you could tell that the locals respected the area – very little gravity and such. I was a big fan of sitting down by the river in town as it looked like it had been recently renovated and it was beautifully kept with lush green grass benches and walk ways for the whole family to enjoy.
I was able to walk barefoot on lush grass to the edge of a clear stream and dip my toes in the water with the beautiful blue sky above me and the sun shining down. I read my book in peace and it was very relaxing.
I worked at the mine site on and off (red tape meant I could not work a few times) for 2 months. The mine site itself was a brutal, baron place that I could only really compare to Mordor. Black everywhere and that coal soot gets everywhere and in everything. Forget the red dust of Dubbo, the black dust of the mine sites is far worse. 2 months on and my nose is still swollen.
My last day working in the mines was on Monday the 30th of December. I left the mine site and drove straight to Sydney. I was on the verge of a New Year so I needed a new start, a new job and a new challenge. I’ll always remember that drive from Ulan to Sydney. I was meeting friends north shore, the sun was shining and it was a dry clear day to drive through the Blue Mountains. When you get to the highest points of the roads up in the Blue Mountains then you start to comprehend how vast the region actually is. For as far as the eye can see in every direction – vertical mountains and trees. An amazing site that is just a few hours away from the bustle of inner Sydney.