Back Roads to Albury

Today, we are on our way to Canberra, the nation’s capital, on our first trip outside Victoria since May last year. With borders now opened, we are excited to get away and see some different scenery.

We preferred to drive on some of the more interesting back roads rather than go straight up the highway to Albury where we are overnighting before driving the rest of the way to Canberra tomorrow. We had plenty of time to potter along and enjoy the scenery.

Our first stop was at Mansfield – a charming town with wide streets and historic buildings. It’s situated in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and it has become quite a resort town. It’s a popular winter base for skiers headed to Mount Buller and Mount Stirling. As in a previous trip, we headed to a quaint cafe around the corner from the Main Street called ‘The Mansfield Coffee Palace’ and enjoyed a shared pizza and a beer for lunch.

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At the centre of the town, on the roundabout is a marble monument erected in 1880 as a tribute to three police officers, Constables Lonigan, Kennedy and Scanlon, who were killed by Ned Kelly at Stringybark Creek. The handsome monument is inscribed: “In Memorium – Michael Kennedy, Born in Westmeath, Ireland. Aged 36 years. Thomas Lonigan, Born at Sligo, Ireland. Aged 34 years. Michael Scanlan, Born Kerry, Ireland. Aged 35 years. This monument is erected by subscription from the inhabitants of Victoria and New South Wales; A.D. 1880.”

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Some people revere Ned Kelly and his gang as being a group of larrikins – a symbol of what it means to be “Australian”. Their mythology praises Ned for being a philosophical Robin Hood’ who spent much of his life as a ferocious defender of the oppressed. In reality, he was a criminal – a thief and a murderer.

We drove through the Wombat Ranges towards the little village of Whitfield. I remember a hiking trip there with my son, David. We finished early and went to the pub for lunch expecting a standard pub meal of burger and chips. Instead it was a gastronomic delight with duck and venison sausages and foie gras. Vey unexpected.

Along one of the very few straight stretches of road, we found the little town of Tommie. It has a pub, a general store and a small collection of houses along with a couple of old churches. In the 1880s farm selections were taken up in the Tolmie district, then known as Wombat Ranges. A school was opened in 1880, followed by a Presbyterian church in 1889, the year when the name was changed to Tolmie. Farmers grew potatoes and oats as well as raising livestock. Despite several petitions, a railway never eventuated, but a rabbit problem was substantially overcome in the 1950s. Tolmie was still remote, and reticulated electricity was not connected until 1970.

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The area of the old town is just off e road near the sports ground. I found something completely new to me – a wood chopping arena. It looks to be rarely used now. The seats are covered in moss and the area looks very tired.

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Wood Chopping is a sport that dates back hundreds of years. Contemporary woodchopping originated in Ulverstone, Tasmania in the 1870’s. It was a result between a bet of two axemen on who could first fall a tree. In competitions, the participants attempt to cut or saw a log or other types of wood.

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Along our drive today, we came across two different echidnas that were ambling across the road. These animals are sometimes known as spiny anteaters. They are quill-covered monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and belong to the same family as the Platypus. They live on a diet of ants and termites. Different from common belief, they are not related to the true anteaters of the Americas.

This one stayed still for long enough for me to capture it with my camera. Every time that I moved, it would tuck its head down so that it formed a protective spine covered ball. Whenever I stayed still, or moved away, it would stick its head out and move forward a few more steps.

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As we drove along the King River Valley from Whitfield to Wangaratta, I was sure that I could see the remnants of a railway line alongside the road. Every now and then there were signs a low embankment and the place names of many of the locations that we passed were marked with signs that had a distinctive railway appearance. In the little town of Moyhu, we found an answer. These were the remains of a narrow gauge railway that once travelled along the valley.

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Unlike other narrow gauge railway lines in Victoria that travelled through heavily forested areas, this one was built through mostly flat, open, agricultural country along the King River. The line was opened in 1899, and closed in October 1953. The line relied mostly on local agricultural traffic, and opened with a daily mixed passenger and freight train. By the 1930s it had been reduced to a weekly goods service, and it stayed at this level of service until the railway closed.

Late in the afternoon, we stopped for a few minutes at the little town of Chiltern,  Just off the main highway, this town is one of those Victorian goldrush towns that seems to have remained largely unchanged since its glory days in the 1850s. Originally called Black Dog Creek (reputedly because a black dingo was shot in the area in the 1830s) it was declared a town in 1851, surveyed in 1853, and named Chiltern after England’s Chiltern Hills.

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One of the main historic attractions in the town is Dow’s Pharmacy, founded in 1868. When the owner retired, she simply walked out of the shop leaving everything behind. The shop is just as it was with its original stock of potions and medicines dating back to the 1950s and earlier. It is now owned by the National Trust and maintained as a fine example of mid 20th Century health care.

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I couldn’t help but think as we turned off the highway to go into Albury (just over the river into New South Wales) that only a few months ago there was a checkpoint here that prevented those ‘disgusting infected northerners’ from entering Victoria and spreading Corona virus. Right now the Omicron version of the virus is spreading like wildfire all over Australia making this type of border control seem very archaic and ridiculous. All it did was keep us locked down for over 283 days.

I hope that the superb sunset that we had to finish the day is some sort of omen for the future.

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One thought on “Back Roads to Albury”

  1. Another excellent naarative thank you. Loved “Dows Pharmacy.chemist and druggist, from 1868

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