What started as a cold morning turned into a warm sunny day. We left early from Horsham that morning, just as the sun was breaking through and our journey today was in vast contrast, weather-wise, to yesterday… we had clear blue skies and small wispy clouds.
The Wimmera country we were travelling through was flat and made up of millions of hectares of wheat farms as far as the eye could see. Only the beautiful Grampians mountain range interrupt this terrain… but we had left the Grampians behind as we headed north towards the NSW border. Famous for the 1997 movie the ‘Road to Nhill‘, the town of that name was our next destination!
Nhill is a small country town situated within a rich wheat growing and sheep grazing district, as well as being surrounded by a number of state and national parks. The Little Desert National is just a short drive south of town while the vast waters of Lake Hindmarsh are around 40 kilometres northeast near the town of Jeparit. It’s name is thought to be derived from the Aboriginal word ‘nyell’, meaning ‘white mist on water’.
Nhill is the halfway point between Melbourne and Adelaide on the Western Highway and claims to have the largest single-bin silo in the Southern Hemisphere. This large grain silo can be found near the railway line and is part of the historic Noske Flour Mills.
It’s main street was wide with a couple of pubs a few stores, coffee shops and a bakery. There were a number of historic buildings in the street including the post office built in 1888 and several large hotels, buildings that are remnants of a bygone farming past and although some a little tired it was still quite an attractive town.
Lawn and flowerbeds divided the main street where a memorial to the faithful ‘Clydesdale Horse‘ which worked so hard to cultivate the Wimmera stood. This memorial is affectionately known as the talking horse and was obviously a favourite with visitors… and I couldn’t resist the temptation to press the button to listen to it’s story.
Further on through the town we pulled in for a short break at Jaypex Park where we took a lovely stroll along the ‘Swamp Boardwalk’, an extensive elevated walkway, which wound its way through the swampland to Lake Nhill. Jaypex Park is also home of the John Shaw Neilson Memorial Cottage, which was transported to its present site from Penola in South Australia where the lyric poet was born in 1872.
40 kilometres to the north east we came to Jeparit. Located by the Wimmera River in an area of wheat, wool, barley and oat production, this little towns claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Sir Robert Menzies, Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister from 1939-1941 and 1949-1966.
Prior to white settlement the area was occupied by the Gromiluk, a branch of the Wotjobaluk tribe and the first European in the immediate vicinity was explorer Edward Eyre who camped at nearby Lake Hindmarsh in 1838 while searching for an overland route from Melbourne to Adelaide.
Continuing on we came to Warracknabeal. Warracknabeal or ‘Warrack’ as the locals call it, is quite large and is a major service town at the centre of this wheat-growing district and obviously takes pride in its appearance as even the roundabouts received special treatment here!
The town’s Aboriginal name means ‘the place of the big red gums shading the watercourse’, a name that is both beautifully descriptive and accurate, especially for the part of town around Yarriambiack Creek.
The further we travelled north the more abundant silos became and we started to wonder about and discuss these large structures that stood like giants in the surrounding fields. They are in almost every country town, many largely abandoned… that was until Silo art came to the rescue and now the landscape of a number of Victorian rural towns has been transformed through art after receiving a much appreciated tourism boost through the amazing ‘The Silo Art Trail’ project. This trail links 6 small country towns in the Yarriambiack Shire. Known as the largest outdoor gallery in Australia, these exquisite murals tower across Brim, Lascelles, Patchewollock, Rosebery, Rupanyup and Sheep Hills. ‘The Silo Art Trail’ covers 200 kilometres and was funded by the federal, state and local governments via the Drought Communities program.
Our next port of call was the little town of Brim and we couldn’t pass through this tiny township without stopping to marvel at their stunning mural that had gained so much media attention. In 2015 Brisbane artist Guido van Helten painted the 30 metre high portraits of four farmers on their unused silos. He used a super cherrypicker and for three weeks created the incredible murals by using spray paint and acrylic house paint. He worked up to 10 hours a day in strong winds and temperatures which reached 40 degrees. They were certainly spectacular!
Further along the Henty Highway we came to the sleepy town of Buelah where we stopped for a tea break and a look around. Many of the shops in the main street of this little town were closed and boarded up. It was like time had stood still in this little town with the buildings the only reminder of a bygone era.
Next on the map was Hopetoun, an interesting town in the Mallee surrounded by rolling sand hills and grassy plains and situated on Yarriambiac Creek, near Lake Corrong. ‘Yarriambiac’ is said to mean ‘creek tribes’ while ‘corrong’ is a bark canoe. Both words presumably derive from the language of the Yarrikaluk people who inhabited the area prior to European settlement.
Hopetoun is the gateway to the Mallee Parks and its proximity to Wyperfeld, Hattah-Kulkyne and Murray Sunset National Parks makes it an ideal place from which to explore the best of what these parks have to offer.
With these small towns in the Wimmera and Mallee struggling to survive the towns folk have gone to great lengths to welcome tourists in this little town and one avenue of survival for them was to attract visitors, lots of visitors… and that was certainly happening at Lake Lascelles where for a donation in an honesty box there was a great camping spot that will definitely go on our list of ‘great campsites’ for next trip.
These 30 metre tall silos stood proud within the rural countryside, depicting the faces of long term Lascelles couple, Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, whose families have lived and farmed in the Lascelles area for an astounding four generations.
Ouyen, further along the road is situated on the crossroads of the Calder Highway (Melbourne-Mildura) and the Mallee Highway (Sydney-Adelaide) was developed around a railway station which was established in 1906 after the Melbourne to Mildura line was built.
It is home to the ‘Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph’ since 1998 where bakers from around the country come together to find out who bakes the ultimate vanilla slice; the big Mallee Root symbolizing the time when the roots of Eucalyptus Dumosa were a mainstay of the economy of soldier settlers of the area being collected for sale as firewood and it was also the location of the 2003 Ouyen Raindance where 500 women danced naked at a secret location in an attempt to raise the spirits of the town suffering from a prolonged drought.
It is thought to have been occupied by the Wergaia Aborigines and some believe the name derives from the Wergaia term ‘wuya-wuya’, the name of a pink-eared duck, presumably once common in the area, others suggest it means ‘ghost waterhole’.
The day was still young as we continued on so any thought of stopping at a free camp north of Ouyen were soon dashed. Our plan was to make our way to the NSW border so next on our agenda was the banks of the mighty Murray River that flows past the town of Red Cliffs and it’s famous ‘Red Cliffs’.
Red Cliffs, just outside Mildura, is a quaint but historically interesting town that was established in 1918 and became the largest soldier settlement in Australia when parcels of uninhabited dense mallee scrub land were granted to seven hundred returned soldiers from World War I by the government, just as the first Australian Diggers were being repatriated. The soldiers settled in the town and began work establishing vineyards which would become the town’s chief industry… and thanks to Big Lizzie, Red Cliffs came alive!
Looking at this harsh mallee scrub, which was typical of this area it was quite puzzling just how they cleared, or even started making the land productive at all and it made us wonder what hopes and ambitions filled the hearts and minds of these returned diggers, who fresh from war, had now won an allocation of about fifteen or sixteen acres of pine, belah or mallee covered earth.
Their land needed to be cleared… and this was where ‘Big Lizzie’ came to the rescue, a forty-five ton tractor and two wagons… and oh what a life Lizzie had!
A man by the name of Frank Bottrill commenced construction of ‘Big Lizzie’ in early 1915 to replace the camel trains, which carried wool and other heavy loads in the sandy terrain and after several prototypes Frank carried out assembly of this huge prime mover and two trailers over a period of twelve months.
She came to the town in 1920 to commence the arduous and extremely slow task of clearing the area and by December of that year approximately five thousand acres had been cleared and subdivided into two hundred and ninety-five blocks out of a total of seven hundred blocks. Eventually all blocks had been cleared around 1923-24.
She remained in the Red Cliffs area from 1920-1924 then after five years of work Big Lizzie and her two trailers began the slow retreat to Glendinning Station near Balmoral in Victoria. In 1938 her Blackstone engine was sold to a company in Pyramid Hill who used it to run stone crushing equipment until 1942. It was broken up and sold as scrap in 1945.
Some 40 years later the location of this rusty old heap of machinery was discovered and with the Red Cliffs Golden Jubilee approaching in 1971 it was through great determination that Lizzie was returned to the township.
The ‘Big Lizzie Association’ oversaw the restoration of this ‘rusty old hulk’ and today Big Lizzie takes pride of place in Barclay Square in the middle of town… and the Bicentennial gift from the Shire of Mildura in 1988 was the immense shelter, which now protects Lizzie and her trailer from the elements. Her second trailer has also been located and awaits restoration!
And still there’s more and a great story befitting Barclay Square.
The gardens of Barclay Square were named after Nathaniel Barclay, soldier and politician. He was wounded in the shoulder and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for carrying important messages through heavy fire. In 1920 he moved to the Mallee to work in a contract gang clearing the land in the Soldier Settlement Scheme. He was an active member of various groups and died in 1962. The park was named after him in 1964.
A cenotaph with two honour walls listing the names of the men and women from Red Cliffs district who enlisted in the armed forces and a pine tree grown from the original seeds of the Lone Pine at Gallipoli can also be found in this lovely park.
There is also the Gernman Howitzer Canon, the last surviving of only eight built-in the world. Originally situated at the Melbourne War Memorial it was rebuilt in 1921, given to Red Cliffs and unveiled on Anzac Day 1928. It was allocated to Australia from a pool of surrendered German guns after the Armistice in 1918.
After our visit to Red Cliffs it was then a short drive to Mildura… only 16 kilometres.
Located on the world’s seventh largest river and one of the world’s longest navigable rivers, the Murray River, Mildura is often referred to as where the Mediterranean meets the outback.
Mildura was a place we were re-visiting after our previous trip there in 2009.
It is a picturesque town that offers a Riviera lifestyle with lots of cafes and eateries that were not really our scene but it was good to be able to stand on the banks of the Murray once again and watch the big paddle steamers moving along the river.
Mildura is one of Victoria’s major rural cities and with the Murray River flowing by the town, the sun, the mild weather throughout the year and the development and expansion of irrigation the city has become a premier fruit-growing region. Known as the centre of ‘Victoria’s Food Bowl’ also, it is a major producer of citrus fruits, especially oranges, and wine. Many wineries source grapes from Mildura as it is well-known for its grape production supplying eighty percent of Victoria’s grapes.
While the land along the river and irrigation channels is fertile, much of the land around Mildura is dry, saline and semi-arid. A major drought in Victoria from 1877 to 1884 prompted Alfred Deakin, then chairman of a Royal Commission on water supply to visit the irrigation area in California. There he met George and William Chaffey. George came to Australia in 1886 and selected a derelict sheep station, Mildura, as the site for the first irrigation settlement.
Next on the track was Mungo National Park which was definitely on our list to do and our visit was one of those rare overwhelming moments that you just can’t explain. It was deeply moving as the wind raced across the ancient salt lake plain carrying the whispers of thousands of years of the tribal generations past… and I am still deeply fascinated by Mungo and its secrets! It is a surprisingly beautiful and a very special place to see!
These dry lakes were located 90 kilometres north-east of Mildura along a very rough corrugated dirt road and then another seventy kilometre dirt track around two dried lake beds.
The region is a vast riverine plain made up of the flood-plains and deltas of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers. During millions of years, repeated periods of erosion and sedimentation have formed and re-formed rivers and streams. About 400,000 years ago, Willandra Creek, then a northern channel of the Lachlan River, was cut off by wind-blown sand moving from the south-west and Willandra Lakes were formed. Lake Mungo was one of these lakes filled by rainfall and river inflow. Climate change during this period, often associated with ice ages, bought long periods of cold, dry and windy weather leading to Lake Mungo drying up for many years before rain returned. After the lake dried up, winds swept storms of sand up from the lake floor, dumping it on the shoreline and creating the famous Mungo lunette. This is the site of the spectacular Great Walls of China and as the sands shift, ancient and extremely well-preserved campfires, cooking hearths and burials as well as the remains of long extinct animals have been uncovered. In more recent times the rain and wind have progressively eroded the soil and every day new artefacts emerge…. animal remains, Aboriginal artefacts and some of the oldest human remains ever discovered. It is the resting place of the famous Mungo Lady and Mungo Man and a place rich in Aboriginal history. Mungo Lady was found in 1968 and Mungo Man was discovered in 1974 and both remains have been dated as approximately 42,000 years old.
We had travelled a fair distance today but we decided to push on and hopefully make camp somewhere on the Silver City Highway so after crossing the bridge that divides Victoria from NSW and after a short break at Wentworth we headed for Curlwaa Caravan Park located at the Silver City and Calder Highway intersection. Situated on the NSW side of the Murray this beautiful park sits in an picturesque 20-acre property and was an ideal camp for the night at just $15.