Moree, with a population of about 8,000, is situated in the north-west of NSW on the Mehi River and at the junction of the Gwydir and Newell Highways. It is famous for its Artesian Spa waters, which were discovered accidentally in 1895 when a bore was sunk in search of irrigation waters. Instead, mineral water heated naturally to 45 degrees spurted upwards flooding the area. For years I had wanted to return to this town, so loved by my father.
This time it will be different. I am an adult. It is 2009. The baths are in the same place, but housed in a brick building instead of the original timber one. The waters are still hot (35 and 40+ degrees) and soothe the tired traveller from the city.
I notice that the Aboriginal citizens seem to be integrated somewhat into the community, and I remember the Freedom Ride in 1965 when Charles Perkins and other students from the University of Sydney, where I was studying at the time, took a bus to Moree and shamed the town for its racism. Aborigines were barred from swimming in the thermal pools. I am glad to see that this blatant discrimination is no longer so evident.
Perkins went for a swim in the mineral pool, inviting Aboriginal children in with him. There’s a photo of them, published in 2015 in the Guardian, showing that first dip in the then segregated pool. Next to it is a more recent photo of some of the boys, now men, alongside Perkin’s daughter, Rachel, in the pool. This shows how one individual—and a few brave followers—can have such a huge effect on changing injustices.
Downtown I am fascinated by the hundreds of long hauliers and road trains passing constantly along the highways and through the middle of the CBD carrying every imaginable product, animal, mineral and vegetable up and down the countryside, as far away as Victoria in the south and Darwin to the north.
There is no shortage of accommodation, and it is less expensive than in the city; I count nineteen motels, many with thermal-type names, a couple of hotels and bed-and-breakfast joints. There are several delightful caravan parks which have their own spring baths for their residents, as do many of the motels in the town.
Just before I leave, I visit the Gwydir Carapark on the outskirts of the town, where “grey nomads” take the waters, their heads bobbing above the surface like seals at play.
On the way back into town, I point out the double rainbow that has appeared over the Fishabout Cafe to a friendly Aboriginal lad. He wants to know where I am from; he seems bored, despite his shiny bike and junk-food-laden pockets. I suggest that he might like to travel one day and he says “Where?”. When I mention Sydney, Paris and several other places, he says “Why?”.
The scene reminds me of the Buddhist idea that phenomena, both good and bad, manifest like rainbows and clouds, and then dissolve back into space: they call it “karma”.