Drought has broken, bringing devastation to some areas and joy to others. Now is the time to travel the Dowling Track, through a sprinkling of historic pubs and vibrant communities that are making the most of the change in scenery.

Story By Emma Mulholland

It’s a tough place to live in,” artist Jenny Greentree warns as she sits in the sticky heat of her small studio, gazing at family photos and jars filled with soil and red rocks she’s collected from the plains surrounding her home. When she arrived in Bourke, NSW, some 15 years ago, Jen ditched her watercolours for pastels, a medium that comes close to capturing the red dust and naked gidgee that have, for almost a decade now, taunted graziers and wooed many an outback traveller.
Canvases streaked with sweet, lolly-coloured sunsets hang beside those with brooding storm clouds in such a way that those who haven’t travelled the innards of northern New South Wales might think they belong nowhere but the imagination. But as Jen and other locals will tell you, the ‘beginning of the real outback’ is a place of extremes. Whether you’re talking horizons, heat or distances, nothing in this region happens in moderation, and not least the breaking of drought.
The past two years have brought severe floods and, with rainfall of 685.8 millimetres in 2010, the infamous red plains have turned green. As the decade of dust storms gave way to a carpet of windmill grass and a wildflower display not seen since the early 1970s, the highways filled with four-wheel-drives and caravans. Regular travellers on the Bourke–Hungerford Road will hardly recognise the country for all the fat stock, smiling graziers and swollen rivers teeming with waterbirds.
Now is the time to see outback New South Wales and the Dowling Track will take you through the heart of it. It is named in honour of pastoralist and explorer Vincent James Dowling who, more than 100 years ago, travelled through country known as the ‘Plains of Promise’. Roughly following some of the stations he established in the region, the track goes 567 kilometres from Bourke to Quilpie in south-west Queensland, passing through a string of vibrant little communities that are embracing the change of scenery.

This story excerpt is from Issue #75

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2011