Road to Deni

 

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Back roads lead to new adventures

What an unusual day. I started off in Queensland and ended up here, at Deniliquin in the Riverina region of New South Wales.

What began as a drive down roads from my past became a journey into the future. And to be surprised by how many threads of life are interwoven.

Instead of taking the Calder Highway from Melbourne Airport like most would do I headed towards Sunbury on a road less travelled. One I hadn’t been along in half a lifetime.

Along the C325 to places such as Clarkefield, Lancefield and on to Heathcote.

Time was on my side. I didn’t have to be at Deni until nightfall. And here it was 1pm eastern daylight saving time.

The very fact of turning on to a B or C road meant I had started a road trip rather than simply driving somewhere.

It was a matter of slowing down and enjoying the trip rather than rushing to my destination.

Deni, as they call it.

“What’s there?’’ everyone asked me when I told them that’s where I was going.

“I don’t know,’’ was my immediate reply.

“I think I have been there once … but it was too long ago to remember.’’

We used to visit an uncle, auntie and two cousins who had a grape growing block at Nyah, on the Murray River, and I’m sure we would have done the round trip at some stage – Swan Hill, Balranald, Deniliquin, Echuca.

So I did a bit of research. A lot of grain and grazing … and they like setting world records there.

Not only does Deni host the biggest ute muster it has seen the most blue singlets being worn in the same place at the same time.

Apparently they also love their fishing there, which was the reason for the invitation to find out more about the place. The annual fishing classic, now in its 20th year that raises funds for the community – more than $230,000 last year.

Sunbury is famous for quite a few things but most notably as the Home of the Ashes, where the tradition of Test Cricket between Australia and England had its incarnation.

Rupertswood was the site, one of the largest houses constructed in Victoria on a huge country estate founded by Sir William Clarke.

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The Ashes urn was humorously presented to English cricket captain Ivo Bligh to mark his team’s victory in an 1882-83 Test match series.

This was in response to Australia having defeated England on August 29, 1882, in a cricket match played at Kennington Oval, London.

Rupertswood was sold in 1925 to Hugh Victor McKay, a wealthy industrialist and inventor of the Sunshine Harvester. The building is now used as administration offices for Salesian College.

Heading north, the signpost to Clarkefield and historic pub was too much of a temptation.

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The Coach and Horses Inn is a heritage bluestone beauty that dates back to 1857 and has the honour of being regarded Australia’s Most Haunted Hotel, thanks mainly to being part of the Cobb and Co stop off to the Bendigo goldfields.

The rolling countryside and old stone buildings are a constant source of interest. Dry grass and grain stubble contrast against the blue sky.

The relaxed country lifestyle has started to consume me. Any sense of urgency has slipped away.

Lancefield. I remember being here. The three-storey building on the corner … it must have originally been a grand hotel but is now home to an antique centre.

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The area was first settled by European squatters in 1837 but in recent years, many wineries have been established here.

The town has a connection to the Kelly Gang; for it was here that Constable Fitzpatrick, the instigator of the Kelly Outbreak in 1878, was finally found out by the Victorian police.

But back to Deni. My own connection with the town was starting at the Lancefield’s bakery. Pie or pastie, pie or pastie?

I went for the pastie … and what a find. Filled with vegies and mince. Nice and high, not too much pastry.

So of course it needed a vanilla slice to go with it. Another good choice – the custard of a good colour, not too soft and not too firm or rubbery. White vanilla icing.

We got to talking and it turns out they do one with a Coca-Cola icing. Interesting. 

I needed to have a take-away coffee on top of that to get the swipe card over $10. Not bad value.

When I mentioned that I was headed for Deniliquin, the woman said, “Oh, there’s someone I know from Deni.”

OK, so I know Malcolm Fraser was born there and Adam “Gillie” Gilchrist. So did Leo Barry, the Sydney Aussie Rules player who took the match-saving mark in the closing minutes to deliver the Swans their first premiership in 72 years.

So is Deni one of those towns where everyone wants to have come from? Is it like Nambour with Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and surgeon Dr Kellee Slater, who wrote How To Do A Liver Transplant.

At Toobarac I join the Northern Highway and head to Heathcote which, like Bendigo, is undergoing a renaissance after its early days built on gold mining.

Today it’s wine and tourism. A crafty little town too. Neat as a pin … and RV friendly.

There’s caravan parks and motels, BnBs in town and on farms. The football and cricket oval is right in the heart of the main street, near the information centre.

That’s where I get to talk with Bob, one of the centre’s volunteers, about RV camping.

He grabs a street map and his wife grabs a hi-lite pen.

“Which way are you parked?” he asks.

“You go back to here,” he points on the map. “Chauncey St. And go out here.”

That’s when his wife draws in a different turn-off.

“You cross over McIvor Creek, past the showgrounds and about 5km you turn to the left into Plantation Rd.”

It’s a sandy – well dusty, not really gravel – road from when you enter the Heathcote Graytown National Park. About another 3km then turn left into Plantation Track and after another 2km you come across the Dargile picnic area.

As Bob explained, it’s got tables and seats, walking tracks and a long-drop toilet. You need to take your own water.

But it’s among the trees, pretty and quiet … just the sound of birds.

Bob told me about the various campervans and RV set-ups on the road today. How self-contained they are.

They can be parked anywhere and there are plenty of places for camping overnight along the road I am travelling on.

Joining the Midland Highway at Elmore, there are plenty of picnic areas beside the Campaspe River. Just north of Rochester, with its giant Devondale dairy processing plant, there is a beautiful pull-over point for drivers but no facilities.

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By late afternoon I am in the old river port town of Echuca, on the Victoria-New South Wales border. I must have been in primary school the last time I was in this place, one that represents not only a bygone era with horse and carriage rides in the port precinct but also showcases all the conveniences of the modern era.

The old port precinct was one of the first to draw on the town’s history to ensure a viable economy. It celebrates the paddlesteamer days back in 1865 to 1910 that was a boom time for Echuca.

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It represents not only a bygone era with horse and carriage rides but also showcases all the conveniences of the modern era.

The old port precinct was one of the first to draw on the town’s history to ensure a viable economy. It celebrates the paddlesteamer days back in 1865 to 1910 that was a boom time for Echuca.

From the earliest days of Echuca’s history, growth and development of the area has been intimately linked with the Murray River system. Its close proximity to Melbourne led to it becoming the largest inland port in Australia, particularly for timber, wheat and wool.

The old port has been restored and the century-old buildings are open for inspection and business once again.

Once you cross the Murray into New South Wales the roads get straighter and the countryside flatter.

Its grazing and grain country, the start of the Long Paddock tourist route.

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The Cobb Highway is a celebration of the drovers that brought stock down from Outback Australia.

It crosses five rivers – the Darling, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, Edward and Murray.

Like the heritage of the stock route, there are places where you can pull off the road and rest.

In Moama you will find The Barges by Geoff Hocking, the first of 11 large-scale sculptures that tell the stories, tales and history of the region. They can be found along the 600-plus kilometres of the Long Paddock.

At Mathoura, there is a giant metallic fish at the entry to town marking that you are in Murray Cod territory.

Then there is a rest area right in town and two more Long Paddock sculptures – The Drover and Horse by Corey Thomas and The Timber Cutters by Geoff Hocking.

It is a land of beautiful sunrises and sunsets. And a place where you can find time to appreciate them.

“I X Kixx,’’ the radio announcer says, and plays some country music.

“I know someone from Deni,” the welcome sign reads as I pull into Deniliquin.

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“We break records … visit utemuster.com.au,’’ the next one reads.

And that night in the Exchange Hotel we re-live some of the great sporting moments, including the Leo Barry mark that gave the Swans the premiership cup. It sounds like there is a lot to look forward to in Deni. Tomorrow I will find out if there is more to it than utes. and blue singlets

 

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