London: First City of the Empire

London: capital of the United Kingdom and once the heart of the greatest empire the world has seen. I think English literary figure Dr Samuel Johnson said it best when he declared that, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” These are a few thoughts from my time living in (East) London, whilst completing my medical elective at The Royal London Hospital (Dec 2009 – Jan 2010). As usual, photo highlights are available on my Flickr photostream.

Old, new, borrowed, blue

I took quite a few photos whilst in London. Inspired by one of the memes from the final episode of Doctor Who this year (The Big Bang), I present here a small selection (with more available on my Flickr “Britannia” set).

Something old – Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge, London

Something new – City Hall, SE1

City Hall, London

Something borrowed – King’s Library, The British Museum, WC1

King's Library, The British Museum

Something blue – police box, Earl’s Court SW5

Police box, Earl's Court

Getting around London

One of the first things to get to grips with when you spend a decent amount of time in London is the arcane British postcode system. Whilst the postcodes may look like bizarre jumbles of letters and numbers (e.g. my address E1 2DR), they’re actually derived systematically – the first half of the postcode (“outward code”) is composed of a letter sequence for the locality and a district number, e.g. OX1 for central Oxford and L4 for Anfield, Liverpool; and is helpfully marked on street signs. Central London is divided into EC (East Central) and WC (West Central), and the rest of Greater London is divided into the eight compass directions relative to the city centre. The “inward code” localises to a specific street/block/building.

Great Ormond St sign

The actual process of getting around London is quite an efficient (albeit sometimes painfully slow) process, thanks to city’s comprehensive public transport network (Transport for London). Perhaps the most essential item for the intrepid traveller is an Oyster Card, a stored-value smartcard that can be used on all Transport for London services and most National Rail services within Greater London.

Oyster Card

London’s red double-decker buses are one of the city’s icons. Travelling by bus is a great way of absorbing the cityscape. It can also sometimes be a rather frustrating experience, thanks to the notorious traffic congestion in the city centre – it once took me almost an hour to travel 9 km from Whitechapel to Euston aboard the 205. Some routes are operated using “bendy buses” (articulated buses) where, unlike Sydney, passengers are allowed to board through any door – one of my cousins jokingly refers to them as “free buses” since many passengers don’t validate their Oyster Cards when entering through the rear doors.

Routemaster bus, Charing Cross

Routemaster bus, Charing Cross WC2

The other iconic mode of public transport is the London Underground, referred to as “the tube” by locals. The tube was the world’s first metro system and it shows… you very quickly become familiar with the multitude of stairs and tortuous tunnels within the stations. Also, many stations have narrow platforms that aren’t able to accommodate crowds – I did NOT appreciate being caught in stampede on an overcrowded platform at Bond Street Station (initially away from a fight that had broken out between two chavs, then subsequently onto the train once it arrived). Living in Whitechapel, I was often forced to contend with the Hammersmith & City Line, perhaps the worst line in the network for service frequency and reliability – so much so that one of the other medical students at my hospital preferred to commute from Euston on the painfully slow 205 bus (see above). Another other major issue with the tube is that there seems to be no mobile phone reception in underground stations and lines. Nevertheless, the network generally works quite well with mostly frequent and reliable services. I found the deep-level underground lines rather amusing because of the diminutive size of the rolling stock made necessary by the small tunnel diameter (e.g. 1996 Stock in the photo below). It can get quite claustrophobic inside the tiny deep-level tube trains!

Bond Street tube station

Jubilee Line 1996 Stock train approaching Bond Street tube station

Engineering work on the tube network means that train drivers sometimes have to override the digital voice announcement system and make passenger announcements themselves. One time, as I was travelling on a District Line train, the driver decided to employ British dry wit to entertaining effect (much to the confusion of several tourists aboard). A selection of quotes:

“Due to planned engineering work, there is no DLR service from Tower Gateway today. There is a special replacement magical mystery bus service operating.”

“This train will attempt to stop all stations, taking the scenic route to Richmond.”

“Trains do not stop at Cannon Street on Sunday, due to a complete lack of interest. The next station will be Mansion House.”

Life in Whitechapel

Whitechapel in London’s East End has an interesting history. It is associated with such diverse people as Jack the Ripper and Joseph Merrick (the “Elephant Man”). The Salvation Army was founded there. The bells for Big Ben, the Liberty Bell, and closer to home the University of Sydney Carillon were forged at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. In recent decades the area has become known for its large Muslim population (predominately Bengali), with East London Mosque being one of the largest in Britain. It is an area of historical and continuing socioeconomic disadvantage, and it’s not without reason that Whitechapel Road is the cheapest property on the Monopoly board (see my previous Monopoly photos).

Whitechapel Rd, Whitechapel

Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel E1

I lived in Whitechapel for over a month and, despite my reservations, gradually became accustomed to the character of the area: traversing through the slum-like Whitechapel Road Street Market to buy my groceries at Sainsbury’s supermarket, the halal adaptation of English breakfast served in the local cafés (turkey bacon, beef/chicken sausages, &c.), the ubiquitous fried chicken stores, the old Bengali man who ran the newspaper stand at Whitechapel tube station from whom I bought my copy of The Guardian every day, the sight of the Gherkin looming to the west, etc.

Catching up with friends/family

During my time in the UK, a few of my medical friends were also completing their electives elsewhere in London and/or dropping by. I variously managed to catch-up with Athina (St George’s Hospital), Martina (Eastman Dental Hospital), Owen (Israel) and Aileen (Germany). It was hilarious sharing our experiences with adapting to the freezing weather conditions (one unnamed friend slipped-over multiple times on the ice outside her hospital), inquisition by the UK Border Agency, jet lag, terrible coffee, language barriers (even in the UK) and just being on the opposite side of the planet in general.

Jamie's Italian

I also caught-up with my English cousins on a few occasions. On the final occasion we had dinner at the London branch of Jamie’s Italian (as in Jamie Oliver) in Canary Wharf E14. The restaurant doesn’t take bookings, but it was well worth the hour-long wait. I still find the British concept of eating spaghetti with knife and fork quite amusing – as with coffee, the Brits clearly don’t have the Italian influence that we have in Australia – but then Jamie’s spaghetti bolognese was actually the best I’ve ever had!

Coffee – rewarding disloyalty

The general standard of coffee served in the UK is rather poor. I should’ve known it was a sign of things to come when my first cup of coffee on English soil was burnt to the point of being undrinkable. The second warning sign was when I discovered that the Brits consider the “flat white”, an ordinary Australian variant of café latte, to be a novel and highly regarded espresso drink. The first part of my salvation came when I discovered a café named “Flat White” (17 Berwick St, Soho W1) . As the name suggests, it’s actually run by an Antipodean partnership – who would’ve thought that we in the “colonies” would be the ones to rescue the Brits from coffee hell.

Coffee disloyalty card

The second part of my salvation came when I discovered the Prufrock Disloyalty Card, the brainchild of Gwilym Davies (World Barista Champion 2009). Gwilym’s idea was to promote the emerging East London coffee scene with the offer of a free coffee from him for visiting each of the places listed. Most of the places were a bit out of the way for me, however the places I managed to get to (The Espresso Room, Nude Espresso and the Whitecross Coffee Cart) were excellent.

Whitecross Coffee Cart

Whitecross Coffee Cart – Pitch 42, Whitecross St, Barbican EC1

The sun never sets…

While the British Empire may be no more, there are certain benefits from once being the centre of the greatest empire the world has seen. One of these is the vast collections of antiquities from across the world that are housed in Britain’s museums. Furthermore, in a rather enlightened public policy decision, entry to all national museums in Britain is free! I managed to spend several full days just at the stalwart British Museum. I also particularly enjoyed exploring the V&A Museum (art & design), the Wellcome Trust collections (history of medicine) at the Wellcome Collection and Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre.

Natural History Museum

Central Hall, Natural History Museum

V&A Museum

Paul & Jill Ruddock Gallery (room 50a), V&A Museum

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone, British Museum

Caerdydd

My first “international” trip within Europe was to Cardiff (Caerdydd), capital city of Wales (Cymru). Although part of the United Kingdom, Wales retains a distinctive cultural identity (see Ali G’s take on Wales)… and it’s only a 2 hours away from London by train! And so it was that I found myself aboard a First Great Western InterCity 125 diesel train making the journey between London Paddington and Cardiff Central (Caerdydd Canolog) via the Great Western Main Line. It was a pleasant journey, though I was a little disappointed at not getting to see the Severn Estuary due to the Severn railway crossing being a seven-kilometre tunnel underneath the river. Photo highlights from Cardiff available on my Flickr photostream.

Welsh / Cymraeg

Prior to this trip I’d never really encountered the Welsh culture/language (a little ironic given that I live in a place named “New South Wales”) besides the curious adoption of “eisteddfod” into the Australian vernacular. The Welsh and English languages are remarkably different considering the geographical proximity (although the reasons for the Celtic vs Germanic/Romance origins are fairly self-evident from British history). For example, this typical specimen of Welsh: Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu. (translation)

Cardiff Central / Caerdydd Canolog

Cardiff Bay / Bae Caerdydd

Cardiff Bay is perhaps the best example of the city’s urban renewal since the 1990s. Recent developments around the picturesque bay area include: the Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru), the National Assembly of Wales Senedd, Roald Dahl Plass, Mermaid Quay precinct, &c.

Roald Dahl Plass, Water Tower and Wales Millennium Centre
Roald Dahl Plass, The Water Tower, and Wales Millennium Centre; Cardiff Bay

Then, of course, there’s the Doctor Who Up-Close Exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff Bay. The current series of Doctor Who (2005– ) is filmed and produced in Cardiff and so it’s only fitting that there’s a permanent Doctor Who exhibition located there.

Doctor Who Up-Close Exhibition, Cardiff

Welsh food

Although the humble leek is a national symbol of Wales, there’s a whole lot more to Welsh cuisine (plus I don’t really like leeks). Two traditional Welsh dishes I tried for the first time whilst I was there were Welsh cakes and Welsh rarebit…

Welsh cakes (picau ar y maen)

Welsh cakes are kind of like a cross between scones and pikelets, usually containing sultanas. The best ones that I tried were freshly made at Fabulous Welshcakes (Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay). I also bought a pack from one of the stalls at the Riverside Market for the train ride back to London, which were also rather good and left me with a craving for Welsh cakes when I got back to to the capital. Back in London, however, it proved surprisingly difficult to find Welsh food – I eventually managed to find some hidden away in the baked goods section at Waitrose, an upmarket supermarket chain.

Welsh cakes from Fabulous Welshcakes, Cardiff Bay

Welsh rarebit

Welsh rarebit is essentially glorified cheese on toast… usually with beer (ale) mixed into the cheese! The rather odd name, a corruption of the original “Welsh rabbit”, for a dish that doesn’t actually contain rabbit apparently originates from the days when rabbit was the poor man’s meat in Britain – the Welsh were reputedly so poor that they couldn’t even afford rabbit and had to make-do with cheese. I tried a rather posh variant of Welsh rarebit at Mimosa Kitchen & Bar (Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay), which incorporated mushroom and pancetta into the cheese with a very tasty result!

Welsh rarebit, Mimosa Kitchen & Bar, Cardiff Bay

I didn’t get the chance to try any cawl unfortunately, although given how much I enjoyed scouse in Liverpool it’ll be high on my to-do list next time I visit the UK.

Panto-time!

Looking for something to do in the evening, I went to see Robin Hood: The Pantomime Adventure starring John Barrowman (of Doctor Who and Torchwood fame) at New Theatre. Pantomimes are a type of musical-comedy theatrical production and a Christmas/New Year tradition in Britain. It was another interesting new experience as I’d never been to a panto before. Some of the highlights included: the way audience participation was integrated into the performance, the innuendo (particularly around Barrowman’s orientation), numerous Welsh/British in-jokes and the Doctor Who references. It turned out to be a very entertaining night!

Robin Hood pantomime, New Theatre, Cardiff
Programme cover from Robin Hood, New Theatre, Cardiff

Merseyside

I ended up visiting Liverpool (Merseyside county) twice during my time in the United Kingdom. I decided well before I arrived in the UK that I would make a trip to Liverpool at some stage. My friend Martina described it as a “pilgrimage” (due to my football allegiance), but after the first few days of hospital accommodation austerity in crowded and polluted Whitechapel, the idea of escaping to Merseyside for a few days before starting my elective sounded rather agreeable. The second trip was the result of serendipity (see below). I came away loving the great culture of the city… even the Scouse dialect! Photo highlights available on my Flickr photostream.

Travelling Virgin

Despite the relative expense, compared to discount coach services, I decided to catch a fast train service to Liverpool on both occasions (the price of an Off-Peak Return ticket using my 16–25 Railcard was quite reasonable anyway). Virgin Trains, the franchisee for the West Coast Main Line on Britain’s privatised National Rail system, runs an hourly direct service from London Euston station to Liverpool Lime Street station (via Stafford and Runcorn). Virgin operates a modern fleet of Pendolino electric tilt trains on the route at speeds of up to 200 km/h for a typical travel time of 2 hours 8 minutes to cover the approximately 330 kilometres. This was the fastest land vehicle I’d ever travelled on and I was very impressed – there’s something very satisfying about whizzing through the beautiful English countryside at 200 km/h in relaxed comfort. Strangely though, Virgin Cola wasn’t available onboard (despite it being the only cola drink available on Virgin Atlantic services to/from Sydney).

Virgin Trains Pendolino at Liverpool Lime Street station
Virgin Trains Pendolino “Virgin Warrior” at Liverpool Lime Street station

Capital of culture

Liverpool is a city full of culture, from the listed historical buildings dating from the city’s heyday during the peak of the British Empire to the ever-present reminders of its four most famous musicians (e.g. Liverpool John Lennon Airport) to its two famous football teams (Liverpool FC and Everton FC) &c. – it was no surprise to discover that the city was named 2008 European Capital of Culture.

The Three Graces, Liverpool
“The Three Graces” – Royal Liver, Cunard, and Port of Liverpool buildings

Of course, the heart of Liverpool is its people and the Scousers (as they’re popularly known in Britain) I encountered were a great bunch. I even came to grips with the distinctive Scouse dialect (it’s not just an accent), however there were a number of occasions when I needed to (somewhat embarrassingly) ask people to repeat themselves. This apparently worked both ways – some of the locals had some trouble with my adopted Received Pronunciation accent. My favourite quote on this matter came from the owner of Kavanagh’s II coffee shop after I mentioned that I was Australian, “You don’t sound like an Aussie… Your accent sounds more ‘proper English’ than us!”.

Another Place

Another Place is a public art installation by British sculptor Antony Gormley. The work consists of 100 life-size cast iron figures (modelled after Gormley himself) facing out to sea, spread across 3 kilometres of coastline. After first being displayed in Germany, Norway and Belgium; its final permanent location is Crosby Beach, near Liverpool (actually in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, which is adjacent to the City of Liverpool). Although not in central Liverpool, it’s quite easy to reach Another Place – simply a matter of taking a Merseyrail train to Blundellsands & Crosby station and walking 500 metres along Blundellsands Road West to Crosby Beach. It’s a very interesting work – whilst each figure individually has quite limited artistic value, seeing dozens of them staring silently out to sea is a strangely mesmerising experience. Gormley’s official line is that the work represents “a response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration, sadness at leaving but the hope of a new future in another place”.

Another Place by Antony Gormley
Another Place by Antony Gormley, Crosby Beach, Merseyside

You’ll never walk alone

The more famous and successful of Liverpool’s football teams is Liverpool Football Club, based at Anfield football stadium. As a Liverpool supporter, a stadium tour was practically a requisite during my time in England. Considering the notorious difficulty of getting tickets to matches at Anfield, I also thought the tour would be my only chance to see the inside of the legendary stadium.

Anfield stadium, Liverpool
Anfield stadium, Liverpool

Little did I know that a few weeks later I would manage to score tickets to an FA Cup 3rd round replay match between Liverpool and Reading (and the reason I returned to Liverpool). The atmosphere at Anfield on match night was amazing. Unfortunately the Reds played rather poorly that night (and both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres sustained injuries) and ultimately lost the match 2–1.

Liverpool v Reading, 13 Jan 2010
Liverpool v Reading, Anfield, 13 January 2010

The Baltic Fleet

I couldn’t leave Liverpool without trying some scouse, the local dish. Indeed scouse is so synonymous with Liverpool that the term came to refer to the people of Liverpool (Scousers) and their dialect (Scouse). Scouse is a meat stew containing lamb/mutton, potatoes, onions, carrots and potatoes; traditionally served with picked red cabbage and bread.

Scouse

I first tried scouse at The Baltic Fleet a pub on Wapping, near Albert Dock. The Baltic Fleet is also a microbrewery, so I tried their eponymous Wapping Bitter ale. Both were excellent. There’s nothing like a good bowl of scouse washed down with ale to lift the spirits on a (literally) freezing night.

The Baltic Fleet
33 Wapping
Liverpool
L1 8DQ
United Kingdom
wappingbeers.co.uk

Coonabarabran: rural medicine

So after the previous few posts on Coonabarabran, you might be wondering whether I actually got around to doing any medicine during my placement there. Indeed I had plenty of medical practice in Coona and it was an amazing experience! (As with previous posts on Coona, the photos below and more can be found on my Flickr photostream).

Placement sites

I was based at Warrumbungle Medical Centre (59 Cassilis St), with husband/wife general practitioners Drs Aniello Iannuzzi and Eve Tsironis as my principal supervisors. Warrumbungle Medical Centre is the main medical practice in Coona (there are two other medical practices in town), with Drs Iannuzzi & Tsironis, two GP registrars and two registered nurses (RNs). My role at the medical centre was mainly clinical observation and assisting with clinical procedures. I also spent some time at the co-located Orana Pathology Service collection centre (a courier does a twice-daily run to Dubbo with the samples). I learnt a lot about general practice and rural medicine from all of the doctors and nurses, to whom I’m very grateful for the experience. Dr Iannuzzi, a recent candidate for AMA national president, and I also engaged in some interesting discussions about life, politics and medicine…

Warrumbungle Medical Centre
Warrumbungle Medical Centre

The doctors at Warrumbungle Medical Centre are also visiting medical officers (VMOs) at the local hospital, as is the norm in many rural settings. Coonabarabran Health Service is a 20-bed district hospital (with a 3-bed emergency department) operated by the Greater Western Area Health Service, with the main referral hospital being Dubbo Base Hospital (c. 1.5 hours away by ambulance). At Coona hospital, I was put on-call in the emergency department (ED) for triage categories 3–5 for three 24-hour periods during my placement – in practice, this meant that I’d be called-in by the ED RN to assess the patient then report my findings and clinical impression/diagnosis to the doctor on-call (who would decide on the course of action from there). I also attended ward rounds with my supervisors, assisted in clinical procedures and with the visiting endoscopy service (see below). Incidentally, I was provided with accommodation at the hospital nurses’ quarters during my placement.

Coonabarabran Hospital ED sign
Coonabarabran Hospital ED sign

Emergency Department, Coonabarabran Hospital
Emergency Department, Coonabarabran Hospital

Nurses quarters, Coonabarabran Hospital
Nurses’ quarters, Coonabarabran Hospital (N.B. MacBook & monitor are mine)

Medical firsts

It’s almost a truism that rural general practice is where you really get to develop and practise clinical and procedural skills, and indeed this was true for my placement. There were many medical “firsts” for me, including: successful insertion of (many) IV cannulae, venesection using a 16-gauge needle (for a patient with haemochromatosis), venepuncture by needle & syringe (cf. Vacutainer/Vacuette), parenteral (SC/IM/IV) administration of medications, manually pushing IV fluids, local anaesthetic infiltration in a conscious patient, needle thoracotomy and thoracentesis of (>2 litres!) pleural effusions, suturing of a wound (using 6-0 monofilament), surgical debridement (severe tinea + MSSA cellulitis + maggot infestation!), admission of a patient, ophthalmic work-up (incl. slit-lamp exam + fluorescein), assisting in resuscitation and early management of severe trauma (motor vehicle accident), etc.

The flying doctor

When Dr Iannuzzi mentioned that one Dr Peter McInerney was flying into Coona to perform endoscopy at the hospital, I assumed that he must’ve chartered a flight to Coonabarabran Airport (which no longer has regular commercial services). It turned out that Dr McInerney was literally flying in – he piloted the plane himself, flying from his hometown of Scone (c. 175 km away). I learnt quite a bit from Dr McInerney during the day I spent assisting him in the operating theatre, including a quick tutorial on how operate the endoscope. It also turned out that his daughter and I had studied pharmacy together – it really is a small world!

School of Rural Health

One weekend my friend Nilay (on placement in Gilgandra) and I decided to visit Dubbo, which for me involved a drive of just under two hours down A39 Newell Highway. We had some friends based at the School of Rural Health (whom we hadn’t seen since the start of third-year) and also wanted to visit Taronga Western Plains Zoo. After spending several weeks in a small town, the City of Dubbo felt like being back in suburban Sydney – it was a bit of a shock to encounter the first set of traffic lights in weeks. It was great to catch-up with our friends (and interesting to observe the bountiful resources of the School of Rural Health), and the open-layout Taronga Western Plains Zoo was also well worth visiting.

School of Rural Health, The University of Sydney
School of Rural Health, The University of Sydney

Meerkat – Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Meerkat – Taronga Western Plains Zoo

The dinner

One of the traditions for students completing their placement with Drs Iannuzzi & Tsironis is that the students are expected to cook a meal for the doctors and their families at the Iannuzzi residence. I was a little trepidatious about this at first, as I’d never cooked for 13 people before… Fortunately, the other medical students (Kate and Shanela from the University of Notre Dame Australia) and I rose to the challenge, putting in a successful joint effort to cook-up an international buffet. My contributions were miso soup (味噌汁), fried rice (炒飯) and genmaicha (玄米茶) – I had some forewarning from previous students, so brought many of the ingredients (unavailable in Coona) with me from Sydney. Kate and Shanela prepared: green salad, papadums, raita, lamb rogan josh, salmon & teriyaki chicken maki-sushi, Moroccan chicken, kheer, barfi, and mango lassi.

Being mindful of one of the registrar’s preferences, this was also the first time any of us had prepared halal food. I had to email one of my friends in Sydney to clarify which foods were permissible, and we were fortunately able to source some halal chicken meat from Coona Food Suppliers (35 Timor St). Being careful during preparation of the food to avoid any contamination, we were able to make many of our dishes above halal (including both of mine).

Miso soup
Miso soup (味噌汁)

Fried rice
Fried rice (炒飯)

Coonabarabran NSW 2357

This post is a collection of some of my thoughts and experiences living in Coonabarabran during my recent rural placement (and is by no means comprehensive or authoritative). Photos of Coonabarabran and the Warrumbungles are available on my Flickr photostream.

People/lifestyle

Coona is a small country town with a population of 2,601 (2006 census). The town is classified RRMA 5 (“other rural area”) and ARIA+ 4.51 (“outer regional”) in the two major indices of rurality/remoteness used in Australia. That said, I love the country lifestyle in Coona! After living in Sydney for over 20 years, you really appreciate the friendly down-to-earth people, fresh air, wide open spaces and relaxed pace.

Kangaroo sign
Kangaroo hazard sign on John Renshaw Parkway, Coonabarabran

In my travels around Australia I’ve noticed some regional variations in vocabulary/grammar, which is perhaps unsurprising in a country this size. In Coona, I noticed that most people substituted “in the” with “of the”. For example, a patient might come in stating that his cough “is worse of the morning” or that he takes “one tablet of the morning and one tablet of the night” of a particular medication.

Warrumbungle National Park

The nearby Warrumbungle Mountain Range, located within the heritage-listed Warrumbungle National Park, is perhaps the most important tourism drawcard for Coona these days. The volcanic rock formations and rugged landscape of the Warrumbungles are the result of millions of years of erosion of an ancient shield volcano. The national park is a great place for bushwalking, with a variety of tracks of various grades, and I plan to go back to try one of the more challenging trails next time. The easiest way to see the Warrumbungles, however, is either White Gum Lookout or from the deck outside the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.

White Gum Lookout, Warrumbungle National Park
White Gum Lookout, Warrumbungle National Park

Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungle National Park
Burbie Canyon trail, Warrumbungle National Park

Around town

Coona township was founded in 1860, but the greatest development of the town occurred during the economic booms of the early 20th century, as reflected in the Federation and Art Deco architectural styles that predominate on the high street (John Street).

Memorial Clock Tower and Imperial Hotel, Coonabarabran
Memorial Clock Tower (1926) and Imperial Hotel (1930s)

Coonabarabran Courthouse
Coonabarabran Courthouse (1878)

Commonwealth Bank, Coonabarabran
Commonwealth Bank, Coonabarabran (1935)

There was formerly a railway service operating to Coona on the Gwabegar Line (a branch of the Main Western Line). The Gwabegar Line reached Coonabarabran in 1917 and became an important mode of goods transport. Regular rail services ceased in 1990 and the Gwabegar Line north of Binnaway (including Coona) was closed in 2005.

Gwabegar Line (abandoned), Coonabarabran
Gwabegar Line (abandoned), Coonabarabran

Surprisingly, there are two Chinese restaurants on John Street – Golden Sea Dragon Chinese Restaurant (金海龍酒家) and Golden Fountain Chinese Restaurant (金源酒家). Golden Sea Dragon has a very kitsch interior design, but is apparently more popular with the locals and seems to be a bit cheaper. Neither of them serves particularly authentic Chinese fare, but nor would you expect them to out this way. (And yes, you have to ask for chopsticks at both restaurants).

There are two main pubs (Imperial Hotel and Royal Hotel) in town, with the Imperial generally considered to be the better of the two. Both were described to me as “real” Aussie pubs, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the three of us medical students stuck out like sore thumbs when we walked into the Imperial one night!

Imperial Hotel, Coonabarabran
Public bar – Imperial Hotel, Coonabarabran

Royal Hotel, Coonabarabran
Royal Hotel, Coonabarabran (1912)

There are three cafés on John Street, although only one of them actually calls itself a “café”. My pick of the three was Raquel’s Café (good foccacias), though apparently The Jolly Cauli is also quite good when the owners are around.

Cornucopia motif, The Jolly Cauli
Cornucopia motif – The Jolly Cauli café (ex-Union Bank, c. 1920s)

More photos of Coonabarabran and the Warrumbungles are available on my Flickr photostream.