I was back in Dalmorton again, a ghost town about an hour-and-a-half south-west of Grafton in northern NSW. A few buildings still stand, old wooden shells harbouring ghostly stories of another life. The silence here is palpable – an eerie, misplaced sense that makes it more beautiful in a way.
Like many such towns, Dalmorton flourished during the gold rush fever of the 1850s and ‘60s. When the gold ran dry, people slowly decamped until the town became forlorn and forgotten. Once home to 3000 to 5000 people (by varying reports) and allegedly 13 pubs, Dalmorton today is a window back in time that you’ll likely have to yourself.
Passing abandoned shacks and wild-looking scenery, I rolled into town (this time alone and with fuel) and spotted a bloke out the front of the old butcher’s store with a gold detector. It was Sunday, so today there actually were a couple of people about. “G’day”, I said as I wandered past him into the old store, then around the old police lock up (which I’d missed last time). Since I was aiming to get to Glen Innes by nightfall, I pushed on.
After another six kilometres, I came to the old tunnel I’d previously passed through, which was hand-hewn through 20 metres of solid rock and was a frequent route for horse and carts 100 years past. The next 128 kilometres, all the way to Glen Innes, was virgin country to me and I was excited to be finally traversing Old Glen Innes Road.
Once upon a time, before the Gwydir Highway opened in 1960, this road was the only way to travel from the mountains to the sea. Today, it’s a backwater for both nature and adventurer lovers. At its northern end (where I began), the road has been forged into the cliff face and follows the winding Boyd River like an old mountain road. This is particularly evident around the Dalmorton area and it gives it a nice adventurous touch.
I headed south in my trusty little 1996 Toyota Seca under an overcast summer sky, which intermittently spat drops of rain. Following the savage-looking river, I passed forested hills and emerald glades hidden behind bushland. There were cows, wallabies and horses crowding the road at various points and numerous 4WD trails which wander up mountains, or down towards the river – wild places I wished I had another lifetime to explore.
The road has plenty of atmosphere and I found myself stopping every 500 metres or so. Twisted branches, which looked like poised serpents, lined the side of the road. I passed a few dead wallabies, solar panels, abandoned cars, bikes and houses which could be depots for contraband. It struck me you could do pretty much what you wanted out here.
Looking at houses tucked away in front of forest, mountains and a sea of green grass, I pictured myself living here in years to come – writing books, smoking a pipe and stealing nips of whisky from my well-stocked cabinet after late afternoon rides on Ed, my horse.
Each time I rounded a corner, the scenery would change – one minute from dry bushland to lush meadows, which rolled into forested hills veiled with clouds of light mist. Passing more dilapidated shacks I arrived at the old ‘town’ of Newton Boyd. Here I came across a war memorial which reveals that 30 of the town’s boys marched off to war and only one returned. The place is now all but deserted. Just a bridge, a house and a few pots of honey remain.
The honey was sitting right by the memorial, for sale on an honesty policy. Just deposit your money and take a tub. I was rather disappointed I didn’t have any cash on me (does anyone these days?), as I rather liked the idea of a country pot of honey. It looked good too.
Heading on towards Mann River, the main camping spot on Old Glen Innes Road, I drove past a few signs of interest. One included a pink, fluffy horse nailed to a tree and read “horse poo $5 a bag”. The other was sadder – a memorial carved into a tree where the lives of two young boys were cut short after a motorbike accident.
As the light was fading fast, and kangaroos and wallabies began appearing in increasing numbers, I rolled into Mann River campground to a number of caravans, cars, tents and a few fires.
It was a Sunday evening in the summertime, high time for camping and I thought about stopping the night as I’d packed a tent, but I didn’t have any food.
Besides, I had a mystery to investigate, so I continued onwards, up through the steep forest of the aptly named Big Hill, towards Glen Innes.
Facts & tips
- Old Glen Innes Road (aka Old Grafton Road if you’re coming from Glen Innes) is roughly 170 kilometres long and takes about four hours to traverse. Be warned, as it’s both interesting and beautiful, it took me about six hours.
- The road is mostly unsealed, although you can easily drive the whole way in a two-wheel-drive.
- There’s no fuel on Old Glen Innes Road, so you’ll want to fuel up at either Grafton or Glen Innes, depending on which way you tackle it.
- Mann River campground, which is at the end (or start) of Old Glen Innes Road, near Glen Innes, has both toilet and camping facilities. There’s no fishing allowed here as the eastern freshwater cod has become an endangered species.
- Take $9 to try a pot of Hibbos Honey at Newton Boyd.
- It’s believed the traditional ancestors of this land were the Bundjalung, Gumbaingirri and Ngarrabul Aborigines, who used the area for initiation ceremonies.