the adventures of star boy and lava girl

Again with the perfect day. Up early for breakfast, Jeremy wearing his starry owl tshirt, then we left the girls with Mum at Currawinya. “Remember your pleases and thank yous! Be respectful of other peoples’ things!” Then Dad drove us to Narrabri. On the way we saw an Eastern grey kangaroo up very close – she hopped away into the bush – and lots and lots of washed-out creek crossings from the recent floods.

Barraba nestles at the crossing of a couple of lovely valleys with gentle rounded hills. We headed north and then west at Cobbadah, and the land gradually got steeper and more rugged and the forest more dense until we were near Mount Kaputar, an extinct volcano and the high point of the Nandewar ranges. We got out of the car and walked down to Sawn Rocks, a 40m cliff face made from a crystallized basalt lava flow. We surprised an exquisite water dragon along the way. On the creek floor below it there were broken-off pieces of the cliff, looking like the ruined columns of some ancient civilization. The only sounds were insects and birds singing.

The volcanic range ends abruptly in an escarpment, and beyond it is an ocean of land that stays flat until Western Australia. It is Mount Kaputar that makes the rain fall on Barraba, so the sky is clear out beyond it on the western plain. So the CSIRO, which is Australia’s awesomely badass league of mad scientists, built its Compact Array out here. Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen six 22m antenna dishes mounted on railway tracks running through the bush.

Actually one of them is fixed and it’s 6km away from the moving ones. That means that the Compact Array can work as a virtual 6km dish on its own, or it can join up with its sister dishes in Parkes and Coonabarrabran to make a properly big antenna, or it can work with dishes all over the world and receivers in space to look at objects that are actually quite far away. You didn’t know, did you, because you suck, that radio interferometry was invented by an Australian and first carried out in Sydney on Australia Day in 1946. We may talk funny and eat yeast extract on our toast but we bow to no one in our astronomical fu. It is a long tradition in our country.

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