Direct Driving Distance Approximately 225klm or 150 miles / Our Route Approximately 310klm or 195 miles
Tuesday 10th March 2020
After a slow start to the day and a leisurely breakfast, we checked out of our home of the last three nights and headed on the road again.
An hour down the road, we stopped at Ararat so that we could visit the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre. This museum documents the story of Chinese gold-seekers, mostly from Canton – now Guangzhou – who came to Australia in the hope of working off their debt to the Chinese sponsor who had put up their fare, making their fortune, and returning with riches to their family.
The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step
By the 1850s, antagonism against Chinese gold miners was rife. In response, the Victorian government established a levy on shipowners – Ten Pounds for every Chinese person landed in that colony. This was about the same amount as the passage. To avoid paying, the shipowners disembarked their passengers in Robe, South Australia – the closest port to Victoria – and told them the goldfields were only a short walk away.
Almost five hundred kilometres (310 mi) and three weeks later, the first group of trek survivors camped in a valley where they stumbled across alluvial gold. As a result, effectively, Ararat is the only city in Australia founded by the Chinese. This museum relives their trek and explains the challenges of their life in this strange (and somewhat unwelcoming) land. There are also exhibits of Chinese cultural items – the photographs of foot binding are confronting! Visitors can also climb to the roof for expansive views of the Ararat surrounds, and to see the roof tiled in traditional style. We spent about two hours, and could have lingered longer.
Another half hour drive, and we pulled up in the small regional town of Stawell. This is the home of of a three-day festival of elite athletic racing, activities and family entertainment held over the Easter long weekend. The main event is the Stawell Gift, Australia’s oldest and richest footrace, run on grass over 120m (395 feet) up a slight gradient. We called in to the venue, Central Park, where groundsmen and gardeners were busy getting the turf and gardens to their best for Easter.
After leaving Stawell, we decided to take a detour and head north, to follow the Silo Art Trail. This is an outdoor art gallery, a celebration of rural communities – six small Victorian towns spanning 200klm (125mi) are linked by paintings on disused silos. On the above map, it is the road leading towards Minyip (and beyond).
The first was at Rupanyup (which is east of Murtoa on the map). This features local sporting team members, Ebony Baker (netball) and Jordan Weidermann (Australian Rules Football). The artist, Julia Volchkova was born in Siberia. The mural was unveiled in 2017.
The next town up the road, Minyip, was the filming location for exterior scenes in the television series The Flying Doctors, representing the fictional outback town of Coopers Crossing. The hotel, the garage and the Flying Doctor base are still recognisable.
Like many small towns, Minyip has one roundabout in the centre of town, and this one is decorated with a rural scene. Minyip is in the Wimmera region, a rich grain-growing region, so the wheat sheaf is a no-brainer. My best guess is the other sculpture is a germinated wheat seed.
To my delight, the mobile library was in town!
I had a lovely chat with the librarian / driver, who allowed me to photograph the inside as well as the truck. People were coming and going in a continuous stream, yet sadly, like so many library services the world over, this one will cease at the end of June due to funding cuts. I am sure the community will feel its absence. It’s not as if the bricks and mortar library is just down the road.
There are six silos on this art route, and it was late afternoon by now, so we decided to see one more at Sheep Hills (twenty minutes north of Minyip) before finding a bed for the night. Just before we reached the silo, we were stopped by a mob of sheep being herded across the road – but we didn’t see any hills 🙂 The land is flat and wide and the silos visible from a long distance away.
This stunning mural, a celebration of the richness of the area’s Indigenous culture, depicts Wergaia Elder, Uncle Ron Marks, and Wotjobaluk Elder, Aunty Regina Hood, alongside two young children, Savannah Marks and Curtly McDonald.
The night sky represents elements of local dreaming and the overall image signifies the important exchange of wisdom, knowledge and customs from Elders to the next generation.
The artist, Adnate, seeks “to shine a spotlight on the area’s young Indigenous people and highlight the strong ancestral connection that they share with their Elders.” I recommend this video for more information.
It was very late afternoon by now, and there were still four more murals to see, so we headed a bit further north intending to stop overnight at Warracknabeal and continue on north in the morning, then loop around to rejoin the main highway. Warracknabeal is a sizeable town of around 3,000, so imagine our surprise to find all the accommodation was booked out. We hadn’t factored in how many workers were on the move in this wheat-belt heartland. Luckily, one of the motel owners phoned through to Dimboola and found us a bed there.
It meant we had to abandon our plans for the entire Art Silo Trail, but we did fit in one more, as it was just fifteen minutes further north at Brim.
This mural by Guido van Helten was the first in Victoria and depicts “an anonymous multi-generational quartet of female and male farmers”. The detail on all of the artworks is amazing, as you can appreciate in these couple of close-ups. I also love he has used the colour of the area.
After backtracking to Warracknabeal, (north-west of Minyip on the map), and cutting across to Dimboola without rejoining the main highway, our long day finished with dinner at the Victoria Hotel. It is a typical 2-storied corner pub of the early 1900s, but inside had a myriad of cosy rooms and eclectic collections dating back to its origins in the late 1800s. We could have gone in to the formal dining room . . .
. . . but chose to eat in the casual bistro area. On a nearby sideboard, there was a bowl containing chocks for levelling “wonky tables”. I was amused by its sign.
We were probably feeling a bit wonky ourselves by the time we hit the sack.
Tomorrow, the journey continues west towards Adelaide.