THURSDAY 23 APRIL BENDIGO TO ECHUCA 95kms
The human alarm clock arrived at 6.30am. By the time he was called in to breakfast, we had discussed such diverse topics as cane toads, long iron ore trains, crocodiles, parrots, sandflies, Easter eggs, monster trucks – and I had a huge postcard “order”.
After the family – otherwise known as the audience – had departed for work and school, we tackled the dreaded hitch up. A breeze – why did I worry myself sleepless last night?
Before we left home on this trip, I had asked John to pack a small piece of MDF board, to put under the jockey wheel so I could more easily move the van sideways when he was trying to back in line with the hitch. Thus far, it seemed to make a great difference. Had only taken me eleven years of hitching hassles to think of that one. How slow am I?
As we headed towards Echuca, I discovered that my recent-edition Road Atlas showed a fruit exclusion zone, north of Elmore. The front line of the losing battle being fought in the southern States against Queensland fruit fly. I could remember when there were actual manned checkpoints at the NSW/Victoria border crossings. These days, the campaign is reliant mostly on people doing the right thing – and we all know how that ends!
We parked in Elmore whilst I gathered and disposed of my fruit and vegies including, sadly, the last of our home grown tomatoes – the ones that really taste like tomatoes.
Once, when exploring on little back roads in northern Victoria, we were pulled over by a mobile fruit inspector; ignorance of being in a fruit exclusion zone was no excuse, and we were lucky to escape a fine. So, we were not prepared to take the risk, this time.
However, we did not sight any of the usual warning signs by the road, between Elmore and Echuca, so I then wondered if I had disposed of my lovely tomatoes for a now obsolete line on a map? If so, I would be mightily cross with Mr Hema.
The Northern Highway was an attractive road to travel, one of those country highways that had lots of eucalypt trees lining the roadsides, with glimpses of mostly flat grazing and cropping country through the trees. For much of the way it paralleled the nearby Campaspe River. This was mostly evident as a thicker line of trees in the distance, but occasionally the river channel came close to the highway. The townships of Elmore and Rochester were both built beside the Campaspe, but we did not stop to explore either of these.
I had phoned before leaving this morning and booked us into the Echuca Caravan Park for four nights. We wanted to wait out the end of the NSW school holidays before venturing into that State, plus the coming Anzac Day, which too many Melbourne people seemed to make into an unofficial long weekend and an excuse to escape to the country.
At $39 a night for an ordinary powered site, I considered we must be paying long weekend rates! The Top Tourist discount reduced that by $3.90 a night, but still….
This park was rather a favourite of ours because it was close to the Old Port historic area, beside the Murray River, and within walking distance of the main street and shops. The facilities were reasonable, although there was no longer any grass. Where there were not cement annexe slabs, rubber matting had been laid instead. Some of the trees were looking very distressed – the toll of the prolonged drought.
Our site backed on to the river levee bank. If the river’s water level had not been so low, we would have had a great view of the passing paddle steamers. As it was, we got to see the passing funnels!
After setting up, awning and all, we drove across the bridge over the Murray, to Moama, the NSW twin town of Echuca. Here there was a large bowls club, one whose size and wealth was established in the days when Victoria did not have poker machines at all, but NSW did. There used to be a thriving bus tour industry based on “trips to the pokies” from all over Victoria. Moama benefitted greatly, being the closest NSW town to Melbourne, as did Echuca accommodation places.
John booked us in to play bowls on Saturday afternoon. He said I “owed” him a game, in return for his school walk yesterday. We had a long standing arrangement, whereby he bushwalks with me, I bowl with him. The definition of bushwalk appeared to have broadened somewhat.
Then it was off to Safeway to stock up on fruit and vegies, to replace the produce I still resented forfeiting. We managed to find a checkout girl who could not distinguish between grapefruit and oranges, zucchini and cucumber. I wondered what she ate at home? I also bought a large cask of water, as the local supply did not taste nice – another effect of the drought.
After offloading our produce and having lunch, we went for a walk along the river towards the old port area that dates from the 1860’s.
Echuca began in the 1850’s at the point where a small punt service crossed the Murray River near its junction with the Campaspe. The port – and town – soon grew to become the largest inland port in the Australian colonies. Shallow draught paddle steamers brought produce, especially wool and wheat from a vast area of the inland, to Echuca and from thence to Melbourne, particularly after the railway reached Echuca in 1864. It was a railway company that built the large timber wharf here, from local timber. A major sawmilling industry based on the abundant local river red gum trees, had developed; some years ago, John bought red gum from the mill here that still exists, from which to make our dining table and chairs. Back in the 1860’s, apart from construction, it was used to build steam driven paddle boats for the river trade.
The twin town of Moama grew on the other end of the river punt crossing. Its growth was initially stimulated by being a major crossing point of the river during the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850’s. The movement of cattle from NSW for meat for the goldfields of Bendigo was particularly important. In fact, an enterprising Moama innkeeper – James Maiden – established a holding paddock for his cattle on the outskirts of the Bendigo goldfields – the present day suburb of Maiden Gully.
Some of the paddle boats built at Echuca have been restored and offer tourists rides on the river, at various present-day river towns. But however authentic it may appear, the well known tourist paddle steamer operating from Echuca, the Emmy Lou, was only built in the 1980’s.
The present port of Echuca area is a fascinating preservation/recreation of what existed in the late 1800’s. Even down to horse drawn vehicles. It is a little compromised by being tourist oriented now, but wandering about there, it is easy to feel what it was like back then. The historian in me really appreciates the place. We had visited here before and it did not seem to have changed much.
John’s hip seemed to have been improved by all the recent activity. He was pleased.
We watched a bus load of tourists queue up to board the Emmy Lou for a dinner “cruise” on the river. It was amusing to watch the jockeying to be at the front of the line.
There were houseboats parked along the river’s edge. It was a measure of how low the river was that they were well below the level of their access stairs, and with prows resting on the mud. John mused about owning one of these. I pointed out that it was traumatic enough worrying about leaks in our caravan, without doing the same about something that is meant to float!
Today’s weather had been lovely: blue skies, warm. However, the forecast was for rain for the next few days. Maybe we should have kept going north, after all?