The wet, cold and windy weather continued. I’d dug out my woolly socks and polar fleece jacket, and was mostly confined to the van. The country needed the rain, of course, and lots more of it. I just wished it didn’t have to fall on us.
I did manage a short walk along the river bank. The gum trees were very aromatic after the rain.
The paddle steamers were such an integral part of being here. They churned past. regularly, and we heard their high pitched, distinctive, whistles, a lot. There seemed to be three or four taking tourist trips, with a couple offering meals afloat, as well. Right now, they did not have all that much river to float on. Had to be bad for business, as well as making navigation trickier.
To enliven the otherwise dreary day, we drove to the Beechworth Bakery to get lunch. Despite the name, we did not have to go that far. This well known brand started, as the name suggested, in Beechworth, and gained a bit of a cult following, so had expanded to other places, like Echuca. I had the Beechworth Bakery Cookbook at home, and had made some of the recipes within, so really wanted to take this chance to sample their wares. We indulged in savoury pastry things – pie and pastie for John, spinach and fetta concoction for me, and shared a vanilla slice. The bottomless coffee was excellent. They were doing a really good trade, justified, because the food was really good.
Drove up past the Murray River Sawmill, previous source of red gum for John. We were pleased to see that it was still there and functioning although, being Sunday, was closed. This was probably fortunate, otherwise there could well have been another shipment of timber making its way to our place. I collect cookbooks, John collects timber – by the cubic metre.
Did a small shop at Safeway. John insisted we used the self-help checkout, which I was dubious about, having previously experienced hassles in these with the types of fresh produce I was buying. Some 30 minutes later, and after 5 calls on attendants for help, he finally got us clear with our purchases, and barely on speaking terms with each other. I had intended to use our $20 bowls prize voucher here, but decided things were already too complicated. We used it when Truck was fuelled up, instead.
I cooked meat patties for tea, using the electric frypan outside, under the awning roof. It was very cold out there, but at least I avoided condensing up the van interior.
When I went outside, first thing in the morning, found that rain through the night had pooled heavily on the awning roof. We had overlooked the need to have the corner poles at different heights, so rain would run off. I got rather wet draining the large pool of water off – most of it onto my feet and legs.
I sat outside, under said roof, with my morning coffee. Watched the neighbouring Phoenix van owner hitch up. His weight distribution bars seemed to bend greatly once their chains were hooked up and lifted. It was such a heavy van. The bars looked the same as ours, but ours stay straight. I wasn’t sure how much bending was acceptable though.
After coffee I walked up to the shops to get the weekend papers and post grandson’s card. Most shops were closed, either for the whole day, or until 1pm. Groups of people were obviously heading for the Anzac Service at the town Memorial, which I passed on my walk back.
There were not all that many tourists around, though. The caravan park had been nowhere near full last night, despite what was intimated to us when we booked in, in order to get us to commit to the whole four days at once. I thought the rain and dismal forecast may have caused cancellations.
John had surfaced when I got back. Read the papers for a while, then it was time to head off to bowls. When we got there, found the start time had been put back half an hour, due to the Anzac occasion, so waited around, trying to be social.
There was not a large turn out – again, probably due to the weather. We played in rain showers and gusty wind. We were drawn in different teams. John’s team won the prize of $20 of vouchers, redeemable at local shops. A useful prize. We finished in profit for the day – the princely amount of $5, given entry fees of $5 each and $5 spent on the obligatory post-game beers for our opponents. High finance!
A woman I encountered in one game really annoyed me. Originally from England, she was complaining that their investments had lost so much that they could not afford to go overseas for their usual annual four month trip to the UK. She would not countenance that travel within Australia might be a good alternative – it was “too boring”, the “villages are all the same”, though she thought Perth passed muster – barely. She wouldn’t consider going outback, although her husband would really love to drive up through the Centre, because there were snakes and spiders there. What a blinkered outlook. It took a lot of self discipline on my part not to start talking about spiders and snakes around Moama.
Just after we got back to the van, heavy rain set in, accompanied by thunder, lightning and big wind gusts. Most unpleasant.
I cooked tea of cheese omelets and green vegies. The poptop side flaps were zipped up against the rain, so there was lots of condensation from my cooking on the vinyl and metal frame. I don’t like having to cook enclosed in the van, for just this reason, but sometimes there is no other option.
To annoy me further, the omelets stuck to the pan, so turned into scrambled cheese.
There was a different van next to us, tonight. It did not seem to have a maker’s label, but the label read something like “our van by XXXX and YYYY.” It looked to be about 18 foot long, but only had a single axle and seemed too long for it, at the back. It had no weight distribution type gear either. They had a domestic reverse cycle air conditioner built into the rear of the van; the noise from this kept going on and off all through the night. I felt this was really inconsiderate. It was not quite as noisy as the roof mounted ones, but must have been very intrusive for the family in the camper trailer on the other side.
In the wee small hours, I pondered the question: are fellow travellers becoming less considerate, or am I becoming less tolerant, as I age?
Some rain set in through last night and today was cooler and cloudy, with some rain spells.
We spent a quiet day: some emailing, John gaming on his laptop, me studying share prices and trends on mine, and then reading the daily paper.
Between rain sessions, we managed a walk to the shopping centre, keeping a wary eye on an ominously huge cloud build up to the north.
I bought a newspaper, and a postcard for grandson – predictably, of a paddle steamer. Hardly a novelty for him, who has visited Echuca himself a few times, but there wasn’t much else on offer.
The caravan park partly filled up as the afternoon wore on. Our new neighbours were from Qld. They were not happy about the weather.
Being Friday, indulged in the weekly fish and chip treat. We found a promising looking, award winning establishment, and ordered our usual meal of fish, chips, potato cakes and a dim sim for John. It cost $31. Ouch! That was definitely NOT usual! It was very nice; the barra really was barra and not the Nile Perch that is often substituted, but the serving of chips was miniscule. If that was gourmet fish and chips, I’ll take the plebian variety, thanks.
Echuca was a costly place to stay. I was not sure I would like to live here, subjected to a tourism-determined local economy.
On TV at night, watched St Kilda demolish Port Adelaide: the season had begun well for “my” Saints.
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?
Today was a very pleasant one. We had an easy drive along the Murray valley and were at Echuca by lunch time. Getting so much distance covered on that first day has enabled us to do wind-down stages at this end.
We stopped at Kerang to refuel – $1.05cpl.
The old Riverside Caravan Park has changed, being taken more upmarket, but it is really nice now. There is a lovely big pool. Our site cost $20.
We walked up to the old wharf tourist precinct and then further on to the redgum sawmill, to look at timber.
Late in the afternoon, I went for a swim in the pool. I couldn’t persuade John into the water – he stayed back at the van and read. I really enjoyed my swim.
Tea was roast potatoes that I cooked in foil, in the electric frypan outside. With that, John had some tinned fish, I had strasburg.
The evening sky was a vivid mid-blue colour – beautiful.