The twin cities of Albury and Wodonga sit on both sides of the Murray River – the largest inland waterway in Australia. They are modern cities that form a large rural centre with all the advantages of both a country town and a modern city.
Most of this area of southern New South Wales is prime grazing country for both sheep and cattle. Nearer Canberra, we came across some wine growing areas.
Our drive today was quite easy with most of the way being along a four lane highway. The cruise control on my car adapted to the speed of the traffic around us and the lane guidance controls steered the car with in the lane. In the old days, the road went through every town along the way but the new and m ore modern highway bypasses all of them. As we prefer to take the back roads whenever possible, we spent a god bit of the day taking various exits off the highway into local towns to get a feeling for their style and history.
The first one along the way was to the town of Holbrook. It was one of the last towns to be bypassed by the Hume Highway. The roar of trucks deprived the town centre of any appeal although it had a number of significant historic buildings and there were quality cafes and a wonderful bakery that served light meals and good coffee.
Today, Holbrook is a stopover and rest destination with well developed parklands and picnic areas. Over time, Holbrook has changed its name at least five times. When the explorers Hume and Hovell passed through the area in 1825 they named it Friday Mount and Camden Forest. By 1836 it was known as Therry’s or Billabong after the Rev John Therry. By 1838 it was known as Ten Mile Creek and by 1858 it had changed again and was known as Germanton. A map produced in 1860 named it Kings after the local pub, King’s Public House, but in 1876 it was officially gazetted as Germanton. During World War One, the town name was deemed unpatriotic so in 1915 the town was renamed Holbrook in honour of Lt. Norman Douglas Holbrook, a decorated wartime submarine captain and recipient of the Victoria Cross.
In the middle of the Main Street is the Woolpack Inn Museum that is located located in the Criterion Hotel which was built in 1895 . The upper storey was added in the 1900s. This is a classic Australian Outback hotel with a wide veranda.
The HMAS Otway, a 90-metre submarine is the main attraction in town. It seems incongruous that there is a submarine in a town so far from the sea. The fin was gifted to the town by the Royal Navy. The vessel’s outer skin was later acquired to reinforce the town’s submarine theme and was financed mostly by public donation.
Almost exactly half way between Melbourne and Sydney is the tiny town of Tarcutta. Because of its location it had been a stopover and driver change point for truckies (truckers in the USA) driving freight vehicles between the two cities. The town was by-passed in 2011 which has meant that the town is now very quiet and most of the accommodation places and cafes no longer exist.
The town takes its name from a property which was established in the area in 1839 by Geoge MacLeay. The property was named Tarcuttah. The likely origin of the name is a Wiradjuri Aboriginal word meaning either “grass seed” or “damper made from grass seeds”.
In 1994, when Tarcutta was still a vital stopping point for truck drivers on the Hume Highway, A monument to the memory of truck drivers who have been accidentally killed while performing their duties in the transport industry was established. It is well worth visiting as, a bit like a war memorial, it records far too many deaths and far too many young drivers killed on the roads.
Famous for its story about the dog on the tucker box is Gundagai – a nice, historic medium-sized country town son the Murrumbidgee River and its floodplains. Somehow it is the location of some Australian that has been immortalised in song and poetry. These include ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai’ and, most famously the sentimental song ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’ which, in 1922, became an international success and the signature tune for the popular radio show ‘Dad and Dave’. When I used to go bushwalking with my son, David, we always signed the visitors and intention books in high country huts as ‘Dad and Dave’)
Today, Gundagai attracts visitors with its historic buildings, bridges and railway station. Many of these like the 1929 Gundagai Theatre – have been tastefully painted in heritage colours. Unfortunately, the iconic Niagara Café, a classic country town Greek café, looks to be closed. We found another cafe at the bottom of the street and sat at an outside table with a toasted sandwich for lunch.
The historic, but now unused, railway bridge across the river and flood plain still exists but the wonky old road bridge that ran parallel was demolished in November last year. It was quite dangerous and on the last time that we saw it, there were more ups and downs that the Big Dipper at Luna Park.
One of our treasured wedding presents is a lovely carriage clock that was given to us by one of Jill’s family friends who owned the jewellery shop in Gundagai.
Further upstream on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River is the village of Jugiong. Before the highway bypassed this town, it was known as one of the great speed traps on the Hume Highway. The temptation was overwhelming. Drivers from the south would come over the hill and there before them was a long, straight stretch of road just asking to be driven at great speed. Police, eager to enrich the state’s coffers with speeding fines, would wait behind the handsome row of poplars which edged the road. It was a classic speed trap.
Today the town comprises little more than a church, a pub and a service station. The one building that dominates the tiny town is the Sir George Tavern (sometimes called the Sir George Inn or the Sir George Hotel). It was built in 1845 by Irish stonemasons. It has sandstone walls that are 50 cm thick and with a real olde world charm. The Tavern always draws a large crowd at lunch times. Cars are parked on all sides of the crossroads outside the building. The Long Track Pantry, a superb and improbable cafe next door, serves excellent food, outstanding coffee and offers a range of homemade jams, chutneys and sauces.
We reached Canberra late in the Afternoon after stopping for a break and to refuel in the little village of Murrumbateman. It’s a little cooler here than it is back in Melbourne, 670 kilometres to the south and we look forward to having some comfortable weather in which to visit the places that we plan to see.