(June 3, 2019 – written by Dave)
When we agreed to drive across Australia, from an “iconic sites” standpoint we mentally broke the trip into two broad buckets: 1) the Nullarbor; 2) everything else. We weren’t intentionally disrespecting the rest of Australia. It’s just that we didn’t really know what was out there and the Nullarbor had such mythical status. Crossing the Nullarbor was amazing but if anything, the rest of the trip turned out to be even more interesting.
Australia is full of famous things and we can now say that we’ve seen a good number of them first hand. If travel has taught us anything however, we know that we’ve only scratched the surface. The more you see, the more you realise that there is probably much more that you missed. Here’s a quick summary of things that caught our eye on this leg of our journey.
Australia town statues of big things
Somewhere along the way, small towns in Australia started building statues of big things that represent their particular region or town. Most big things began as tourist attractions and are found along major roads between regular destinations. Big Things have become something of a cult phenomenon, and are sometimes used as an excuse for a road trip, where Big Things are visited, ticked off a list and snagged in a selfie. Many of the Big Things are considered works of folk art and have been heritage-listed. We’d seen some of the Big Things on previous trips but we’ve never built a trip around visiting them.
On this trip we saw the big Galah, the big Merino and the big Farmer. The later is more of a statue – professionally built and the first two are more the classic “a couple of locals threw up some concrete and paint”. On previous trips we’ve seen the big Lobster, the big Pineapple and the big Mango. But we aren’t planning on making it a project to visit every big thing – there’s too many K’s in that road trip.
We started this trip in the Margaret River wine district and had previously visited other Australian regions, the Barossa and Hunter Valleys. We had no idea how much more was out there. Driving across the country we passed through many “new to us” wine regions, including Albany, Denmark, Frankland, Mount Barker, Porongurup, Clare Valley, Murray Darling, Riverina and Canberra.
There are a lot of grapes in growing in Australia. In fact, other than when we were driving across the Nullarbor, it felt like we were driving through vines the entire trip. Honestly, I’m not sure how we all that much wine. Though at least one region – the Riverina – is billed as making Yellow Tail. For the non-Aussies out there, Yellow Tail is a bit like Fosters Beer. It’s made in Australia but more or less fully exported.
We didn’t stop at every cellar door but managed to get the van pulled over in the Clare and Barossa Valleys. In the Clare Valley we stopped at a couple “local” doors and tried wines that we are unlikely to see in Sydney, much less Oregon. In the Barossa, we stopped at Seppeltsfield – a vinter with a more international following, who planted his first wines 1851 and has a cellar of port from each vintage starting in 1858 – who knew Australia has such old grapes.
The Silo Trail
We talked above about the big statues that some towns build to get tourists to stop. Well not every town has a big statue budget. Those lacking statue money still appear to have paint budgets. Combine a paint budget with a pre-existing grain silo, some pretty impressive painting skills and you can get even the most “head’s down” drivers to stop. There is actually a Silo Art trail that takes you through some of the small outback towns in Western Australia. One would be hard pressed to put many of the “big anything” statues in the high art category. Some of the silos on the other hand, well, see for yourself, they were quite impressive.
The mighty Murray River is the longest river in Australia and until roads were built, it was the primary method of getting from the lower south coast, up into the Snowy Mountains. We’ve ridden along the Murray before but further upstream. Downriver where we crossed at Mildura, the river is massive.
And the Murray really does water a good chunk of farm land. On the news in Australia, you often hear about fights between the ecologist and farmers – over how best to use the Murray’s waters. We drove along the Murray for a good two days and I can report that there are heaps of farms out there. I have no idea what percentage of Australia’s food is grown using Murray waters but it’s probably safe to say that shutting down these farms would severely dent food supplies in Australia. Water management is a complex issue.
Back in 2002 we rode our bikes from Burke in the middle of New South Wales, all the way down to Melbourne. The ride was formally called Bourke to Bourke because we finished at Bourke Street in Melbourne. The trip passed through some of the small towns that Nancy and I drove through on this trip.
Back in 2002 we were in a group of 40ish people. As such, we injected good bit of revenue into the small towns that we passed through. In many cases we ate lunch and dinner at the only restaurant in town. And in many cases, the restaurant was Chinese. We re-named the trip “Tour of the outback Chinese” and really did tire of eating Chinese.
They say that you can never go back but on passing through the small town of Hay we did just that. We had dinner supplies in the camper van but set it aside as the Chinese restaurant was offering free shuttle rides from our park out their restaurant at the local bowls club. I’m happy to report that the food has not changed in 17 years. We’re not sure that the same family was running the joint but for sure the food was the exact syrupy, hot/sour, Chinese delight that we enjoyed all those years ago. Some things never change.
Any conversation about “Iconic Australia” has to eventually include Donald Bradman. For those who have not heard of “the Don”, he was an Australian cricketer, widely acknowledged as the greatest batsman of all time. He played in the 1930s and 40s and finished his career with a test batting average of 99.94. For the non-cricket types out there, 99.94 is otherworldly, so high that second place all-time is just shy of 62 and really, anything higher than 50 is considered outstanding.
We spent our last day crossing Australia in Bowral, the town were the Don grew up. Bowral is the home of the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame. Nancy is not what you’d call a cricket fan but somehow I twisted her arm into visiting the museum. We were both glad that we made the stop.
The life and times of Donald Bradman are woven into the fabric of Australia. He played cricket in the war period and worked later in administration of what is now known as Cricket Australia. He was born in 1908 and died in 2001 – Australia only became a nation in 1901. The museum takes you on a journey of Australia growing up, through the eyes of sport – it’s much more than just old bats and baggy green caps. While few of us would want to turn the clocks back on social advances that occurred during the Don’s life, I for one would be quite happy if at least in sport, we could all play with the gentleman’s spirit which they did in the old days.
Where to now…
We’ve really enjoyed getting to know Australia a little better over the last couple months. Not working and slowing down has given us new appreciation. As we end our trip however, it has turned cold and wintery. One condition of getting Nancy to do the America’s bicycle trip was that she get a summer in Oregon. So that’s where we are heading next. We’ll leave winter here next week, heading for Oregon and hopefully a strong blueberry season. The u-pick berry season is just getting started – berry adventures await…