Day 2 of our Victorian Road Trip: Wangaratta To Bendigo

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Source: http://www.mapsofworld.com/australia/states/victoria/

About a half hour from Wangaratta, down Detour Road, there is a small town called ElDorado. A friend had tipped us off to visit here, on account of their strange tourist attraction – the final resting place of an alluvial mining dredge.

Now, I am used to see photos of hopeful miners squatting on the side of a river, patiently swilling mud and slush in a tin pan held in both hands, squinting for the sight of a glitter of gold. This is the first time, however, that I have ever seen a huge machine designed to trawl the river bed. This floating metal monster, a “Ship of Gold” dragged its buckets from 1936 until 1954, inching along the creek for mile after mile, scooping for gold and tin, until it was abandoned and left to rust in a pond at the end of the waterway. Inside, its massive machinery and electrical panels are still on show. It was eerie being there early in the day, just Bill and I (and the flies) in this lonely spot. A sign board said the dredge was so noisy it could be heard for miles around, but on our visit, the air was still and silent. I had a vision of the workers simply downing tools and walking away. It would make a great location for an apocalyptic movie.

We drove on to the township, expecting to spend a while walking the main street, but that turned out to be optimistic, as did any expectation of a late breakfast at the lone cafe – unless you count my sausage roll and Bill’s piece of Madeira cake. All the same, the proprietor was constantly busy with a steady stream of customers. The population of 200 or 300 must also be kept busy keeping their local park in pristine condition. Again we saw Acanthus Mollis (Oyster Plant) in full glory. It must really love this climate!

We took a meandering route back to the main highway, along dirt roads winding between farming properties. We had a brochure which pointed out various places where land regeneration has been undertaken since the late 90s. When those early settlers arrived to colonise and farm this country, they made it their life’s quest to denude the bush to open up paddocks for ploughing and sowing, no doubt dreaming of the rich loamy soil of “home”. In addition, in this area, the timber requirements of gold mining, including the dredge, meant that trees were in great demand and huge tracts cleared. Very slowly, modern property owners are being won over to the idea of replanting trees and allowing the native grasses to grow again. So we drove past great slabs of open country, then suddenly, a thick stand of various native trees and also pines for forestation.

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Towards the end of this drive we came to a small country cemetery. At first I thought that every settler in this area was Irish, judging by the surnames, but as I walked on and found the English names, I realised I had crossed a small area of open land. Ah yes! Even in such a small community, with neighbour dependent on neighbour, the distinction between Catholic and Anglican must be upheld – especially in death 🙂

The gravestones are testament to the existential struggle of those early pastoralists. Many, many graves are of young children. (double-click on the photo on the right to read the inscription). On the other hand, if you were hardy enough to survive, plenty of those born in the 1830s and 1840s reached a great age. None of the headstones recorded their birthplace, but it is not likely to have been Australia. Oh! To have such a unique name as Farnel Mardling in the family tree. Not much chance of a researcher confusing him with any other! And in case anyone is curious, I found his obituary in the online newspaper archives – you can read it here.

It was very hot by now, nearly a hundred on the old scale, and time to be getting on to our next destination, so we took refuge in the air conditioned car and headed on to Shepparton. (by-passing Benalla Lord Beari). Several followers of “a certain age” would have been brought up on tinned fruit from brands such as SPC and Ardmona, and this is their home town, although apparently tinned fruit is no longer in vogue. All the same, there were acres and acres of well pruned fruit trees wherever we looked. The actual town was very quiet, not sure why, unless it was the heat, so we confined ourselves to a quick visit to SAM (Shepparton Art Gallery). Regular readers know I like my art to look recognisable, and you can’t get much more realistic than this amazing sculpture of Woman and Child (2010 Sam JINKS).

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I was also taken with this depiction of The Four Horsemen of the 21st Century Apocalypse (2009 Penny BYRNE), made with “found” objects.

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After a total drive time of 4.5 hours and 300klm (186 mi) we reached our destination, Bendigo, in the late afternoon. By that time, the day was clouding over and strong winds were blowing. That is something with Victoria – if you don’t like the weather – you don’t have to wait long for it to change. After settling into our self-contained accommodation (we’ll be here three nights), we decided on a drive around town to orient ourselves. There was no chance of an evening walk – it was bucketing down rain by then! On the upside, that did wash a little of the country dust off Red Dwarf.

We settled on take-away and a quiet night – we will need plenty of energy to explore Bendigo over the next couple of days. This major regional town was built on the gold rush and there is much to learn!

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