Broken Hill sunset, New South Wales, Australia

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Inland New South Wales

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Inland New South Wales is a very different proposition from the populous coast, and although it’s not a stand-alone holiday destination and it might strike you as boring at times, travelling here gives you a real insight into the Australian way of life. The region stretches inland for around a thousand kilometres, covering a strikingly wide range of landscapes, from the rugged slopes of the Great Dividing Range to the red-earth desert of the Outback, dotted with relatively small agricultural and mining communities. The Great Dividing Range itself runs parallel to the coast, splitting the state in two.

West of the range, towns such as Bathurst and Dubbo date back to the early days of Australian exploration, when the discovery of a passage through the Blue Mountains opened up the rolling plains of the west. Free (non-convict) settlers appropriated vast areas of rich pastureland here and made immense fortunes off the back of sheep farming, establishing the agricultural prosperity that continues to this day. When gold was discovered near Bathurst in 1851, and the first goldrush began, New South Wales’ fortunes were assured. Although penal transportations ceased the following year, the population continued to increase rapidly and the economy boomed as fortune-seekers arrived in droves. At much the same time, Victoria broke off to form a separate colony, followed by Queensland in 1859.

Agriculture also dominates the southern section of the state, where the fertile Riverina occupies the area between the Murrumbidgee, Darling and Murray rivers (the last dividing New South Wales from Victoria). In the north, falling away from the Great Dividing Range, the gentle sheep- and cattle-farming tablelands of the New England Plateau extend from the northern end of the Hunter Valley to the border with Queensland.

Moving west away from the coast the land becomes increasingly desolate and arid as you head into the state’s harsh Outback regions, where the mercury can climb well above the 40 °C mark in summer and even places that look large on the map turn out to be tiny, isolated communities. The small town of Bourke is traditionally regarded as the beginning of the real Outback (“Back O’Bourke” is Australian slang for a remote place in the Outback); other destinations in the area include the eccentric opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge and, in the far west of the state almost at the South Australian border, the surprisingly arty mining settlement of Broken Hill, a gracious city which until the mighty rains of 2010–11 had always been surrounded by the red desert landscape featured in the Mad Max films. Out beyond the Blue Mountains, the Great Western Highway takes you as far as Bathurst; from there the Mid-Western Highway goes on to join the Sturt Highway, which heads, via Mildura on the Victorian border, to Adelaide. Any route west is eventually obliged to cross the Newell Highway, the direct route between Melbourne and Brisbane that cuts straight across the heart of central New South Wales.

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