Today, we spent all morning transitioning from the area around north-central Victoria to another area in the north-west of the state where the Silo Art Trail originally began.
Before we left Rochester, we stopped off at a laneway beside the pub where there is a mural honouring the Iddles family. Ron Iddles, one of the brothers in the family, is a renowned police detective who has solved many difficult criminal cases.
Most of the countryside that we drove across was very flat with long straight stretches of road. I guess that one reason for these straight roads is that there aren’t any hills that need to be deviated around but most likely, the early settlers were probably granted parcels of land on a square grid. We stopped for a cuppa on the banks of the Serpentine Creek near the old township of Durham Ox.
The wheat fields across this way stretched as far as the eye could see. Sheep were grazing in the fields of stubble and some of them looked as if they have been quite freshly cut.
Frequently, we could see large stacks of enormous rectangular hay bales. These looked like ancient monuments to a sun god.
We realised that some of the towns that we would get to in the middle of the day were very small and probably wouldn’t have much food available for lunch, so we stopped at the bakery in Wycheproof where the train line runs down the middle of the main street to buy a sandwich. It was obvious that the railway was still active as we saw a grain train loading wheat further up the line at Nullawill. The grain wagons were all painted with graffiti (nicely – not that awful tagging kind) and they looked as colourful as many of the silos that we have seen.
We came across our fist silo for the day at Nullawil – a small country town in the Wimmera – Mallee region of Victoria with a population of under 300 people (on a good day). These silos have only been recently painted to feature Jimmy the kelpie dog as he sits with a close companion – perhaps a man named Darren?
The Kelpie, is an Australian sheep dog successful at mustering and droving with little or no guidance. A working Kelpie can be a cheap and efficient worker that can save farmers and graziers the cost of several hands when mustering livestock. The good working Kelpies are herding dogs that will prevent stock from moving away from the stockman. This natural instinct is crucial when mustering stock in isolated country, where a good dog will silently move ahead of the stockman and block up the stock until the rider appears. Kelpies have natural instincts for managing livestock. They will work sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, poultry, and other domestic livestock.
Our next stop was at the town of Lascelles where the renowned Melbourne Street Artist “Rone” has painted the images of a local couple Geoff and Merrilyn Horman on the silos there. He worked for two weeks to transform the two 1939 GrainCorp silos on the railway track.
The town has a population of only just 48 people, but Rone selected the Hormans above all others. They are, apparently, a humble couple, who have nurtured the town with their vast farming experience and longstanding connection to the area. Their family has lived in the area for four generations. Geoff and Merrilyn were both born in the district and then married later in Lascelles in 1967. Together with their two sons and now their families also, they have continued the family tradition of wheat farming and strong community involvement.
Our most distant stop for the day (and on our entire driving tour) was at Patchewollock. The GrainCorp Silos there were the fourth set of silos to join the Australian Silo Art Trail Collection and the second to be painted in the Wimmera-Mallee region of Victoria. The artist took some time to get to know the people in the area and chose a hard working lanky local by the name of Nick “Noodle” Hulland who exemplified the no-nonsense, hardworking spirit of the region.
Our final destination (and overnight stop) was at Sea Lake. This town in the Mallee district of north-west Victoria, is situated on the southern shores of Lake Tyrrell, a large salt lake. Sea Lake is in the heart of Australia’s wheat belt, and is the main township for a number of wheat farms in the region. At the 2016 census, it had a population of 640 people.
The GrainCorp Silos in the town were painted in October 2019. The artwork depicts a young girl swinging from a mallee eucalyptus tree gazing out over the endless vista that is Lake Tyrrell. A powerful Wedge Tail Eagle saws above the girl and emus run off into the night. For millennia this lake has existed, unchanged and untouched. It is depicted as a place of wonder and story.
We drove out to Lake Tyrell as the last activity of our day to find that it was dry. When full of water, it can turn pink – especially when the water develops algae that interacts with the very high salt content of the water. It is a favourite place for Chinese tourists to visit as there is some connection with the colour pink and Chinese culture.
The lake covers approximately 20,860 hectares, making it Victoria’s largest salt lake. While much of the time the lake is dry, it has a covering of about 5 centimetres of water in winter. It is an ancient feature and probably formed by sand blocking the passage of Tyrrell Creek which feeds the lake. Evaporation results in a layer of salt crusting on the lake bed which is harvested by the Cheetham Salt Company. The lake environment is host to Mallee reptiles, kangaroos, emus and the white-fronted chat, an insectivorous bird. Thousands of seagulls breed on small islands on the lake. The surrounding vegetation is made up of saltbush and samphire, which supports a range of wildlife. To the east, a lunette contains significant Aboriginal relics.
We had dinner tonight at the Royal Hotel in the Main Street. It has good food and is about the only place open for dinner in the town. We didn’t have a reservation and the tables in the dining room have been moved with extra spacing between them to meet the health requirements of the current virus emergency. However, we were able to eat in the courtyard and were quite grateful that the weather here was still warm and balmy.