2013 Something different for us - On the Blacktop through countryside & towns to Renmark

Saturday, Nov 02, 2013 at 08:56

Navigator 1 (NSW)

A Three Week tour of Country Towns out to Renmark & Back
June 23rd – July 14th

Our intention was to leave on July 25th but with heavy rain and gale force winds predicted along the east coast, we left Sydney on Sunday 23rd. Skies were overcast and with intermittent showers, we progressed through Mittagong, Goulbourn, Yass, Cootamundra and 17km on to our campsite at Bethungra Dam.

Our new phone app, ‘Wicki Camps,’ led us straight to the spot. The dam level was down quite a bit but the grounds were beautifully maintained and visitors were provided with three picnic shelters and a clean drop toilet. The campsite was free and we shared it with only one other camper. Showers kept us inside but we could still enjoy the views. The site had mobile and TV reception.

After a long chat with our fellow campers we headed further south to the Chocolate and Licorice factory in Junee. What an unexpected find this was! An enterprising gentleman had converted a disused flour mill into a going concern. We were able to sample the chocolates before making our selection – Chocolate Coated Ginger, Chocolate Coated licorice and Chocolate Coated Inka Berries. (We will have to do a little research on these ‘tart’ little berries) We relaxed by the open fire with our Devonshire tea.

The drizzling rain continued so we left the rest of Junee for another visit and continued on to Narrandra and made camp in the park opposite the impressive remains of the Lincoln’s Oakbank Brewery. The 5 story, ninety feet high tower is a distinctive and prominent Narrandera landmark that stands beside the Murrumbidgee River, just off the Newell Highway.The brewery was the most modern in NSW between the 1890’s and the mid 1920’s. During 1921 the brewery had a capacity of 20,000 gallons of stout, bottled and draught beer and could produce 10,000 bottles of beer and 15,000 bottles of cordial daily. The National Trust has listed the building as one of significance.

After a leisurely breakfast we continued our exploration of the town. Right next to the information centre we looked in on the DH 82 Tiger Moth bi plane housed in its own in a brick building. John Driscol had been instrumental in the restoration of the plane and the photos, memorabilia and model planes on display made it a fitting tribute to the young Australians who trained at the Narrandera during WW11.
In the Memorial Gardens off Victoria Avenue and East Street, alongside the beautiful Council Chambers, was the Hankinson fountain. It was created by Royal Doulton and imported by a benevolent mayor as a tribute to the young lives lost in WW1. There are only two fountains of this kind known to be in existence, the other can be found in Pakistan. Several blocks away we located the Big Fig Tree which is reported to be at least 150 years old.
In the forecourt of St Mel’s Catholic Church was the John Obrien Frieze Monument a tribute to Father Patrick Hartigan, a priest and writer of Australian Bush Poetry. “We’ll all be rooned,”said Hanrahan, “before the year is out”, is a well known line from his poem, Said Hanrahan. I loved teaching this poem back in my Primary teaching days.

Our final explorations of the town took us out to visited the wreck of the PS Wagga Wagga, a former Murrumbidgee steamer which spent 40 years servicing the waterways between Mildura and Wagga Wagga carting wool, timber and provisions. In 1918 it sprang a leak and sank. Little is left to see today but we could make out the smoke stack lying horizontal on the water.
Next was the Sturt Memorial marking the spot Charles Sturt passed through with his party on 12 December 1829 on his epic journey along the Murrumbidgee River. At this site too was the Arial Trunk Route Memorial – this trunk line formed a part of a telecommunications route linking towns throughout Eastern Australia.

It was then out to Town Beach where we were able to get up close to the now disused historic Narrandera Rail Bridge. It was taken out of service in the 1980’s when rail services ceased but the two span, Lattice Girder type bridge and the extensive wooden trelaces that carried the line over the low lying ground on either side of the river still stand today as a monument to our past history. The Narrandera Rail Bridge is recorded in heritage listings as having, “significant merit in engineering heritage”.
With such a full day at an end we spent the night on the shores of the Murrumbidgee at Town Beach. Another day we may return and visit the Narrandera Cemetery, play the Big Guitar in the Information Centre, visited the Narrandera Fisheries Centre and spend some time in the Narrandera Wetlands.

For now, it was time to move on through Jerilderie and onto Deniliquin where we settled in at Willoughby’s Beach on the shores of the Edward River. The campground was on two levels and well maintained but, like most campsites along the rivers, there were no toilets. The weather was delightful!

Early in the morning we drove into town and had breakfast in a park before heading off to Barham where the pies in the bakery proved irresistible. It was then over the border into Victoria, through Karang and north to the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum.

After the Japanese attack on Broome on March 3rd 1942 Lake Boga was chosen as the site for the No 1 RAAF Flying Boat Repair Depot. It was marked ‘TOP SECRET’! In all 416 aircraft were serviced with work ranging from operational damage to complete overhauls. Aircrafts serviced included the Catalinas, Dorniers, Martin Mariners, Walrus, Kingfishers and Sunderlands. Lake Boga saw its 1st flying boat in July 1942.

Now the lake is quiet but it is home to the famous Catalina Flying Boat A24-30, housed in a brand new hanger. It was great to walk under its wings and look at the memorabilia and photographic display. Outside, the underground Communications Bunker was also open with its very informative display.

At the lake there was no camping, other than caravan parks, so we continued on to the little town of Nyah which provided a free camping area. Most vehicles camped by the oval but we continued along the river to a nice secluded spot to spend the evening.

Early morning we went back to the oval to cook breakfast and we were greeted by Jeff, the honey man. We talked for two hours and then left after buying some of his apricots and raisins. Today, one week after leaving home, we were to catch up with our friend Sussie in Murrayville. We were able to help out with mulching of her very large block. It was also great to celebrate my birthday with her. We cannot wait till she downsizes from the Kedron caravan to something smaller she can manage by herself and once again, we can meet up ‘on the track’.

136 km north at Renmark, our plan was to catch up with two couples we had also became friends with ‘on the track’. We spent several hours with John & Elaine at the Big 4 C/P and then went out of town 2 km to stay with Graham & Hazel at the Paringa C/P . As you can expect, it was very late before we hit the sack.

In the morning we were all picked up by John & Elaine and went out to the spectacular scenery at Headings Lookout. The outback colours of the cliffs against the mighty Murray River kept us captivated for an hour. Before leaving the area we headed 2.6 km along the river to have a look at the Murtho Forest Landing camping area. It was very pleasant and it may be an option on our next trip through the area.
It was then out to Lock 5, just out of Renmark. You could stand there all day and not see a boat pass through but we were lucky. The grounds were immaculate and we were later to find out that in several days time the grand judging of the locks was to take place – apparently an annual event. On display in the grounds was ‘The Bunyip’, one of the vessels used in the construction of the lock.
It was time for a late lunch and we could think of no better place than the Paringa bakery for pies and coffee. Many of you who have been to Daly Waters Pub would have been entertained by ‘The Chook Man’.Well his house was opposite with a large black stump on display out the front. His houseboat apparently is a sight with all the paraphernalia hanging off it but unfortunately we missed it. Once again a late night with Graham and Hazel.

Our western journey now at an end we headed east, back to the east coast.

Just before Mildura we headed out to the old pumping station, built back in 1927, near Lock 9, on the Murray River. We found a lovely campsite beside the river and watched the many, many pelicans till sunset while sipping a glass or two.
We didn’t leave the area before visiting Lock 9 where the lock keeper was very busy doing the garden prior to the inspection by the Canberra officials. It was the day for the winner of the Annual Lock Competition to be announced. Once again we were in luck, a house boat passed through the lock. Two locks, two operations. Brilliant!

We passed through Mildura (another day) with the intention of staying at Bottle Bend campsite on the north side of the Murray. Unfortunately the camping area was closed so we carried on to Euston where we had heard of a free camp behind the Bowl’s Club. Now this was a great spot, at the boat ramp, for self-contained vehicles. We are not club people but it was so impressive we went in for a drink.

Once again it was a long chat with a local walking his dog before we headed off for Yangar NP, 8km east of Balranald. Yangar has a rich history as a working pastoral, cropping and irrigation property for over 160 years. The NSW DEC purchased Yangar for its natural and cultural heritage values in November 2005.
We visited the century old Yangar Woolshed, on the Murrumbidgee River, built to house 3,000 sheep and provide work for up to 40 shearers. The shed also accommodated wool classing, wool pressing and storage areas. After it was constructed it was often described as the largest and most modern in the district. Now it houses an impressive interpretive display describing historical aspects of Yangar Station. Although the last sheep was shorn in 2005, the aroma of lanoline still lingers very strongly. It would have been a sight to see this shed filled with sheep!

Adjacent was a well maintained picnic area with a modern drop toilet, a large picnic shed housing 2 gas BBQ’s and garbage bins – a nice spot for our lunch. Several hundred metres, along the Murrumbidgee River, was Mamanga Campground which accommodated tents, camper trailers, motorhomes and caravans. Yet another lovely campspot by the river.Toilets and picnic shelter were provided.
About six km further east, still within the park, we turned off to visit the old Homestead on the shores of Yangar Lake. Now what a wonderful location this was for a homestead. Inspections inside are carried out on a regular basis but we were there on the wrong day! We could however peer through the windows and walk on the verandah and imagine ourselves sitting in the cane chairs having Devonshire tea.
At one end of the tennis court, in what was called Cook’s Cottage, was a display of how the people lived, worked and played at the ‘homestead on the lake’.

A little further down the highway, once again still within Yangar NP, we turned off to The Willows Campground. We had lunch and then continued on our way as the grounds were not on the water.

About 56 km west of Hay, our Wiki Camps app picked up a campsite a little north of the highway at Maude. What a great find and right on the Murrumbidgee! We settled in and took a walk over the bridge into the very small town – one little store with minimal stock, a hall, public toilets, a pub with small, well maintained caravan park and a town park with picnic facilities. I think we counted about 8 houses in town. Only several hundred metres upstream of the bridge was the Maude Weir.
Back at the campsite we settled in for the afternoon.

Early next morning we walked back into the town and beyond returning by the old stock route which would have once taken cattle behind the main street to avoid dust.
Back at the campsite was a great time to catch up with writing this blog while Chicka busied himself with bits and pieces. This campsite may just well have been the best so far. We were high on the bank, on a slight bend of the river, with a filtered view through the foliage of the wooden bridge. And, once again, the weather was perfect!

Mid morning, around 11.00 am and it was time to move on to Hay, yet another very interesting town. Our first stop was Dunera Museum housed in two old railway carriages beside the platform at the now disused railway station. Just several hundred metres from the station was the WW11 internment centre and POW camp, the compounds and buildings now long gone. On the first Saturday of September 1940 ,1984 German and Austrian internees from Britain, mostly Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Europe, arrived in four steam trains with 48 carriages after several hours non stop journey from Sydney
Yet another historic building was the Hay Goal Museum. This building over the years, served as the goal, a hospital, a home for girls and is now a museum. The grounds were beautifully kept and outside the walls was a large display of farm machinery, cars, drays and wagons the majority of which were housed in a big shed.

It was lunch time so we took a break, right on the river, at Sandy Point picnic and camping area.
Our next attraction was Bishop’s Lodge an impressive home built for the Anglican Bishop. The home was $5 p/p to visit. Other attractions in the town which we may visit another time were Shear Outback, The Shearers Hall of Fame and the Hay War Memorial High School Museum.
Just out of town Wiki Camps led us to Brandon’s Bend Reserve Camp for self contained vehicles. Once again another excellent site on the banks of the Murrumbidgee with a couple of other campers with whom to share stories.

We awoke to a very cold morning and our site was not catching the morning sun so we just had to head down to ‘our neighbours’ to enjoy our morning cuppa. Then all packed up we continued about 70 km along the highway before turning left and taking the scenic route to Griffith. You see quite a bit of the farming from the main road but nothing like what you see on these dirt roads.

The flat Hay plains looked spectacular! We passed crops of grapes, rice, citrus fruit and vegetables including onions, garlic, broccoli and pumpkins. All of this agriculture made possible by the irrigation channels which draw their water from the mighty Murrumbidgee River. The first homes we passed left us with nothing but the impression that this was a very wealthy town. Soon we were in the main street that went on and on (the longest main street we have ever seen). The layout of the town is a mini Canberra and no wonder, it was designed by Sir Walter Burley Griffin, a Chicago architect. With daylight limited we made a quick call into the Information Centre and then proceeded 23 km north to Cocoparra NP. We will definitely be back another time to spend time in Griffith to see Hermits Cave, Hermits Lookout, the Italian Museum, Catania Fruit Salad Farm and Riverina Grove with its pickled onions tapenades just to mention a few. The numerous Italian delis will still be there when we return.

John Oxley, in 1817, described the area as “abandoned by every living creature”. He was wrong, Cocoparra is visited by thousands of people each year.

Our visit to Cocoparra NP proved so restful we stayed for three nights just enjoying the peace and tranquillity. On the first night we had 4 other campers, on the second, two other campers and on the last we were all alone. Being so close to Griffin the days brought day picnickers to the lovely setting.

The Woolshed Flat camping ground provided gas BBQ’s, tables, toilets and a tank water, open grassed areas (great in winter) as well as more sheltered areas. It was great relaxing outside on such brilliant sunny days.

On our final night we finally took out our Oz Pig, ‘Oink’. You know the one, the rare and shy pot-bellied bushpig. He enjoys cooler climates and has an unusual diet of wood and bark. He made the whole experience of being outside in the bush very cosy.

After spending three nights we left but not without first visiting Steamboat Creek where we should have been able to see remains of a bridge built during the coach days, the Picnic areas - The Pines, Jack’s Creek and Spring Hill. Very well maintained areas for the day visitors. At Jack’s Creek a 90 minute loop walk took us through sheltered gullies and onto exposed ridges. Although peregrine falcon nesting sites can been seen at Falcon Falls we decided to leave this one for another day.

Our last experience was a short drive up to Mt Bingar. The view was obstructed but the communications towers were impressive.

A sensible move would have been the leave the park the way we came in but we decided to head south along the Whitton Stock Route. All would have been fine but for the rain that fell last night making the track very, very wet and slippery. After 5 km we thought better of this venture and turned back.

We continued east and settled into Ariah Park – a little camping area at the local oval. The camp host was most helpful and recommended the local bowling club for an evening meal. The wide main street was lined with Peppercorn Trees, old disused shops and petrol bowsers on the edge of the footpath. It would have been a fine town in its day. The town’s moto is ‘Wowsers, bowsers and Peppercorn Trees’

The next night was spent at Binnalong free camp, once again beside the oval then it was off to Temora to visit the Aviation Museum. This we can highly recommend to any plane enthusiast and also the fantastic flying displays put on every fortnight.

With our trip over we can now reflect on how we thoroughly enjoyed spending time in so many little towns, meeting the people, seeing km upon km of healthy crops and seeing the countryside looking so green.

The outback calls
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