We are taking this week off to visit half a dozen tiny entrepreneurial towns in the Wimmera and Mallee Regions of Western Victoria that have decorated their old grain silos with murals to form a giant outdoor art gallery. We will combine our visit into a circular tour that includes the Grampians the Murray River areas of Mildura, Swan Hill and Echuca.
This morning, we left home early enough to catch the tail-end of Melbourne’s peak traffic. We slowly travelled out of town and west towards the city of Ballarat This city (the third largest in Victoria) had its heyday in the gold rush days of the 1850’s. As a result, it has many grand buildings that were built on its wealth from gold.
At the moment it is a colourful city. Ballarat is famous for its roses that are planted in gardens along its main acess roads, These are in full bloom, just now, and very bright. This year seems to be a good year for roses. Sadly, it is currently displaying colour for a much darker reason. Thousands off coloured ribbons are tied to the fences of most of the Roman Catholic churches in the city in memory of children who were sexually abused by catholic priests. During the gold rush, many Irish folk came here to the gold fields and as a result, Ballarat has been a Catholic hot spot. Some of the priests from local churches and the seminary were amongst the worst of the pedophiles in the Catholic church in Australia. Their impact on their victims is remembered by the coloured ribbons.
From Ballarat, we headed west towards the little town of Dunkeld at the southern end of the Grampian Ranges. Along the way, we passed through a number of towns that were also established in the gold rush days. Old tailings dumps, showing the location of previous mines, are scattered through the fields and some are almost in the back yard of local farm houses. Like many rural towns a majority of these towns are in decline. There are more shops and buildings that are closed than there are open. I guess that with modern cars, it is just as easy to shop in the larger towns than in these small settlements as it was in the past. General stores in these little towns were converted into other creative enterprises but these also have mostly not survived.
We had a foretaste of the silos we will see over the next few days when we were in the little town of Westmere. Like every locality in the area, Westmere had a tall silo by the railway siding for storing grain, but grain handling technology has undergone extensive change. A lot of it is now transported by road, rather than rail, and it’s much more efficient to store grain in a flat concrete based bin and cover it with Kevlar.
As we travelled further west this morning, we were crossing the Western District of Victoria which is important for growing wheat and raising sheep. This area is the home of the ‘Victorian Squatocracy’ It was originally occupied by early settlers who ‘squatted’ on the land, claiming vast tracts of farmland for their own use. Many of these properties are still owned by descendants of the same families. Their homesteads are well established.
We stopped at Dunkeld for lunch and enjoyed a superb meal at the Royal Mail Hotel. This restored and reconditioned pub is the centre of life in the town of 400, or so, people. It has superb gastronomic food and visitors come for miles to dine there. We ordered some squid and beetroot salad dishes to share and on a nice sunny day of 30 C, we enjoyed a glass of delightful Rose. We finished lunch by 2.00 pm and that gave ua the rest of the afternoon to explore some of the Grampians.
There mountains are so named because, to the early settlers, they appeared to be similar to the Grampians Mountains in Scotland. There was an attempt, some years ago, to rename them to the name of Gariwerd, which is the traditional name used by the local aborigines. Unlike Uluru, the aboriginal name here has not stuck and it is really only used by public servants and the politically correct left. Most people continue to call them the Grampians.
We had time to stop at the Silverband Falls, just out of the Grampians town of Halls Gap. They have a little more water flowing over them than the last time on which I visited them The 800 metre walk from the car park to the falls was quite long enough on a day where the temperature had now reached 33C. I remember seeing black and white photos of these falls in my parents photo album. When they were married just after WW2, this area was a popular holiday and honeymoon location. They stayed in a guest house for their honeymoon at Halls Gap and joined in on many of the daily tours to local attractions that were run by the guest house at which they stayed. They were too embarrassed to tell anyone that they were on their honeymoon.
The final part of today’s trip was to check out the view from Boroka Lookout, back across the valley towards the town of Halls Gap and Bellfield Lake which provides water to the surrounding area.
From there, it was a short 20 km drive to another old gold mining town, Stawell, where we will spend the night. We will have a look around the town tomorrow morning before driving out to see some of the silos. It was here that Jill lived as a young girl when her father was posted to Stawell as the local bank manager. She went to Kindergarten and started primary school while living here (many years ago).