Friday and Saturday 25/26th May 2012
Those who have been following the Murray River blog posts from the start will know that I am trying to reconstruct this trip from map and photographs. So I could see from the photographs that we stayed at least two nights in Swan Hill – possibly three – and yet had no recollection of where we stayed. So. I trawled through old credit card statements. I trust you will agree that is serious dedication to journalistic accuracy.
How can I have forgotten that we stayed at the Murray Downs Resort? Also known as a golf and country club. So I managed to place the man right on a golf course with no sticks or spare time to play. There you go girls, when they get under your skin, don’t get mad – get even
This resort would have been in the upper reaches of our budget, except that we were in the off-season, so we got a good deal. I notice some reviews complain about the noise, but I remember now, the noisiest thing we encountered was the fairy wrens. Each morning before dawn, they took up position on our car roof and let forth a volley of excitable chatter and scolding. They may be tiny birds, but they sure pack a punch in the decibel scale, and rarely stop for breath.
In the mid – late 19th century, Swan Hill was a major inland river trading port and, like Echuca, still has remnants of a paddle steamer industry. As well as taking a river cruise on the PS Pyap, visitors can experience the ‘old’ life at the outdoor museum called Pioneer Settlement – original and replica heritage buildings from the 1850s – 1880s, and re-enactments of all the activities that would have gone along with that lifestyle.
Nearby, there is one of the best regional art galleries that the casual visitor is likely to stumble across. We spent a good long time in here. (AA – here is the link: http://swanhillart.com/about-2/) On the day we visited, they were featuring works from a competition they fund.
The “gimme” for the art gallery, is that the winner donates their piece to the gallery. So for a modest outlay (eg $5000) the gallery builds it collection. There was a piece by a former winner, Tony Woolrich, that particularly caught our attention. Called “Title” it depicts issues of native title and land ownership by featuring motifs of the Crown (ie Colonial Government) and a Platypus engaged in a no-win game of noughts and crosses. You can read more about it here:
The Swan Hill region has several walking trails to explore, and one of them is within the town itself, a meander through the tranquil parklands alongside the Murray River.
Further afield, you can visit the Nyah State Forest and Vinifera River Reserve. As well as the river red gum, this is also black box forest. Camping, fishing, birdwatching, are some of the activities. You will see in one of these photos that parts of the road had been flooded out.
This area has a unique piece of history. In the early 1900s, (Joe) Isaburo Takasuka and his family arrived from Japan and by 1905 began experimenting with growing rice here. They produced a commercial crop in 1914. This is significant, because not only did it contribute to establishing the Australian rice industry, but Takasuka-san had to get an exemption from the White Australia Policy to do so. My interest was more than passing, as I consider my career highlight to be the years that I was employed by Ricegrowers’ Co-Operative (t/a Sunrice). Near the spot of the above photographs, there is a placard outlining the history, and it mentions that when the first export of Australian rice was sent to Japan (mid 90s), Takasuka-san’s grandchildren were flown over with it.
Swan Hill is not the centre of the Australian rice industry – that has moved to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation area further north-east in NSW, but the agriculture in this area contributes significantly to the food bowl of Victoria. So we followed advice to have an afternoon tea at Sonre Farm at Woorinen, some many kilometres outside of town. It took us some time of going up and down dirt roads lined by productive farms with a decidedly Mediterranean look to how they were tended, before we found the right place. Citrus, olives and prickly pear were in abundance. Finally we drove into the right yard, and it looked like I was coming home to visits some relatives in Italy. Very down to earth and obviously a working farm. They sell home-grown, home-made nuts, olives, oils and jams and they are delicious. Sadly, the welcome and afternoon tea (if they are in the mood to serve it), is not indicative of the usual Australian country warmth. However, if you are looking for a homespun country experience, and have a spare afternoon, then I could suggest – what the heck! – try this.
The distance from Corryong, which we considered to be the source of the Murray River for this adventure, and Swan Hill is a mere 520 kilometres (320 miles). That is just a drop of its entire length of 2,508 kilometres (1,558 mi). We could continue along, heading west, to Mildura and Renmark and cross the border into South Australia. Or we could continue with our original thought, to turn north at Mildura and start to follow the Darling River to Menindee and Broken Hill. We have only been on the road for around ten days.
However, thought that the further we head across the country, the further we have to travel back home, is weighing on our minds. I am due to start a new job in a week. Of course, we always knew that, but we had expected to clip along a bit faster. It is testament to the river’s fertility and importance that there are so many towns and settlements along the way, to stop in and explore.
So we abandon those plans for another day, and decide to head east and home.
Next Destination: Wagga Wagga – the town so nice, they named it twice.