Griffith is a little piece of Italy in the heart of the Riverina. It still has the extraordinary statistic that 60% of the city’s population have Italian ancestors and it still celebrates Italian culture with extensive vineyards in the region, providores in the town selling local produce, and excellent cafes and restaurants where the pasta and coffee can be favourably compared to the best that Melbourne (and Italy) can offer.
This Italian culture can be seen in many ways. Almost every restaurant in town has Italian food. There are few middle aged or old men and women who are over five feet tall and the cemetery is a cluster of ornate black marble graves.
Griffith grew out of the construction of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) in the early years of the twentieth century. The irrigation channels, and the regular supply of water through the hot summer months, have made the area surrounding the town a major producer of rice, citrus fruits (valencia oranges are the largest crop), stone fruits, vegetables, wheat, cotton, sheep, wool, eggs and canola. You can see a greeen ring around the city from the lookout on the escarpment at Scenic Hill.
It seems that all of the gherkins used by McDonald’s are also grown in this district. We sent to ‘Maccas’ for breakfast today as the one at our hotel finishes at 8.30 am. That’s a bit early for us but we didn’t eat a gherkin in our egg and bacon McMuffins.
Inevitably Griffith has had strong associations with marijuana growing and the activities of the ‘Griffith mafioso’ reached such a level in the 1970s that local anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay was mysteriously “disappeared”, presumed murdered. I make no suggestion of any association, but we visited the Calibrese Family Winery for lunch with a nice shared plate of Antipasto and a glass of wine each.
Griffith was designed by the American architect and town planner, Walter Burley Griffin, and its central feature is the broad, attractive main street with a wide median strip and a impressive park. The main street is over one kilometre long and the traffic is slowed as cars enter and leave the central parking spaces in the centre of the road.
At the top of the main street are two circular roads. You can see the similarity of this design with Canberra as you look at this circular design of the town on a map.
Along a lane beside ther main strip is a laneway with many murals on buildings. It’s a shame that they are in this location as they compete with rubbish bins and the clutter behind buildings.
For some reason, there is a Fairey Firefly aircraft on a pole near the visitors centre. These British aircraft were made just after WW2 and flew from aircraft carriers like HMAS Melbourne. I have no idea what the connection with this type of plane and Griffith might be. Another plane made by the same maufacturer was the Fairey Gannet.
There is an interesting war memorial in the same building as the library. It has an extensive display of war memorabilia associated with the involvement of local citizens right back to the Boer War.
In the centre of the road is a statue commemorating the soldier settlement scheme that opened this region to farming after WW1. It depicts a soldier handing over his rifle in exchange for a plough. Unfortunately, the plots of land allocated to farmers were too small for them to succeed and they were eventually increased in size and reallocated. This meant that one third of soldiers lost their hard work and their land as it was reallocated. The depression of the 1930s also forced many others to walk off the land.
A Dethridge Wheel, a device which measures the volume of water which a given farm draws from the MIA canal. It is a memorial to all those who ultimately created the MIA scheme and has made Griffith the thriving agricultural area that it is today.