From Dubbo, the Newell Highway, the main route from Melbourne to Brisbane, continues through the wheat plains of the northwest, their relentless flatness relieved by the ancient eroded mountain ranges of the Warrumbungles, near Coonabarabran, and Mount Kaputar, near Narrabri, with the vast Pillaga Scrub between the two towns. Clear skies and the lack of large towns make this an ideal area for stargazing, and large telescopes stare into space at both Coonabarabran and Narrabri. The thinly populated northwest is home to a relatively large number of Aboriginal people, particularly in the town of Moree, the area’s largest. In 1971 Charles Perkins, an Aboriginal activist, led the Freedom Ride, a group of thirty people – mostly university students – who bussed through New South Wales on a mission to root out racism in the state. The biggest victory was in Moree itself when the riders, facing hostile townsfolk, broke the race bar by escorting Aboriginal children into the public swimming pool.
The area with rich black soil that extends from Gunnedah, just west of Tamworth, to Walgett is cotton country. Beyond Walgett, just off the Castlereagh Highway that runs from Dubbo, is Lightning Ridge, a scorching-hot opal-mining town relieved by hot artesian bore baths.