One of the things that I have done many a time is drive to Melbourne. Despite the fact that I don’t own a car, and have no desire to go an purchase a car, there is still something magical about getting behind the wheel and going for a long drive through the country. In fact for quite a while I would always take thr long slow route to Melbourne as opposed to making my way to the airport and jumping on a plane (I didn’t start regularly flying until much later in life, despite the fact that the cost of driving to Melbourne, and flying, tend to be comparable – though when I think about it, ignoring the initial capital outlays, and maintenance costs, driving is probably just a little cheaper).
What I do like about such a journey is that you tend to have much more control over where you go and what you do. The problem with catching the bus, or the train, is that you tend to be limited in what you can do and where you can stop. In fact you only ever get off the bus twice, and that is simply to grab some food at the local roadhouse, while you don’t even get to leave the train (and since the train, at this stage, only runs twice a week, and doesn’t stop at all the towns, you are even more limited in what you can do and where you can go). Before I go any further here is the route that we generally take (which is basically the direct route):
Anyway, our trips always begin at around 5:00 am in the morning, usually so that we can avoid the peak hour traffic. Actually, we generally get up at 5:00 am, we usually don’t get out of the door and on our way until about 6:30 (if we are lucky). However, being Adelaide, the trek out of the city isn’t usually full of all that many problems, and by about 7:30 we have hit the South=eastern Freeway and we are on our way.
Back when I was a kid the freeway only went part of the way, which mean that the first leg involved us meandering around the hills, and passing through a number of the outlying towns. However, after one too many trucks smashed themselves up on the road into Adelaide the government decided to get their act into gear and extended the freeway all the way down to Portrush Road (which I must admit, while it has had a noticeable effects, truck drivers still seem to smash themselves up along the route). These days though the Freeway takes you from the outskirts of Adelaide right over the Murray River, and then it is a dual carriage way all the way through to Talem Bend.
This is always, without fail, our first stop, namely to grab some breakfast at the Coolabah Cafe. Mind you, it isn’t all that great, it is basically just one of those roadside diners that provides you with a decent feed but nothing all that fancy. A part of me feels that it does remind me of one of those American diners that you see in the movies, though in reality those American diners always come across as dark, greasy, and full of smoke (but maybe that is just in the movies – I’m sure the Americans have to keep their restaurants clean as well). However we do enjoy a little pitstop here before continuing on.
You can probably find out everything you need to know about Talem Bend from the Wikipedia article, however it basically began as a railway town where the Adelaide line branched off in five directions, and was a major disembarkation point for passengers, that is until pretty much all of the passenger lines were shut down. The word Talem apparently means ‘bend’ in the local aboriginal dialect so the town is actually Bend Bend – go figure.
On this trip though I wanted to go and check out some of the old railway stations, namely to see if they were still around – sure enough many of them were. The one in Talem Bend has been converted into a small railway museum, however when I say railway museum I simply mean a couple of rooms cluttered with some train related memorabilia. Sure, it is located next to some rail yards, however it doesn’t have any actual trains for you to crawl through (which a lot of other, proper, railway museums have). However the curator does know his trains, and he certainly knows when they are heading past, and fortunately for me one was due very soon – it was a goods train, and I managed to get a video of it.
I did see a few trains as we made our way to Melbourne, however this was the only one that I managed to get a video of (namely because all the others caught me by surprise).
Coonalpyn is one of the silo towns that you see scattered along the Dukes Highway between Talem Bend and the Victorian Border. Actually most of the towns between Talem Bend and Horsham (included) happen to be what I call silo towns, namely because you can see the huge silos rising above the flat plains. Actually, other than the wheat silos, a general store, a service station, and a pub, there actually isn’t all that much in Coonalpyn, and it seems that it is growing ever smaller by the year. Okay, Coonalpyn hasn’t ever been what you would call a thriving metropolis, but it seems to be suffering the same fate that many of the country towns have been facing, and that is a slow and relentless decay, Mind you, this isn’t surprising, especially how many of the services that you in the past form the core part of the town are now being subsumed by the digital age.
I did find the railway station, but that was little more than a platform with a sign, which was it a state of decay, namely because trains no longer stop here.
There is probably a little more to Tintinara than there is to Coonalpyn, but not much. Okay, their old railway station is actually a brick building, but it doesn’t mean that the train ever stops there – it doesn’t. Instead it now doubles as some tea rooms and a small gallery (which I didn’t go inside, I just wandered around the outside taking a few photographs). Like a lot of the other towns (for want of a better word because I don’t think the population of these places supports the definition of a town, and village just sounds a little to medieval) Tintinara basically has some wheat silos (all owned by Viterra – which is basically the result of further corporate sell offs of public owned infrastructure, namely because governments aren’t supposed to own anything, they simply exist to collect money from us and give it to the undeserving, such as the billionaire class).
Anyway, other than the railway station (come café and gallery) you also have the other ubiquitous components of a town, namely a service station, a pub, and a grocery store, though I have noticed that the grocery stores out here consist of the small, independent, grocers as opposed to a member of the duopoly (or one of their overseas rivals). Anyway, after a brief wander around the roadside stop, we jumped back into the car and headed towards Keith.
Years ago, back in highschool, I had a friend named Keith. Okay, I’m sure we have all had a friend named Keith at one time or another (and some of us probably still have, though I must admit that no matter how hard I try I simply cannot say that I know anybody named Keith these days). Okay, maybe you are wandering why it is that I have mentioned the fact that I know a guy named Keith, and I have thrown a section entitled Keith into the middle of a post about a road trip to Melbourne – well it turns out that my friend, named Keith, apparently came from a town, named Keith.
Well, Keith is probably more deserving to be called a town than some of the other places along this stretch of highway, namely because it consists of more than just a few buildings scattered along the highway (with a couple of cross roads for good measure). In fact Keith is actually a reasonable sized town, to the point that it has a couple of service stations, and I also suspect a couple of pubs.
Keith is one of those places that we seem to make a regular pitstop, usually at a cafe on the way up, and a roadhouse on the way back (though the reason I have stopped at the roadhouse on the way back was because I needed to put petrol in the car – a tank of petrol would be able to get me to this point, when travelling from Melbourne, before it became a really good idea to put some more into the car – running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere isn’t a pleasant experience – I know, it’s happened to me). While the roadhouse isn’t anything fantastic, the café itself isn’t bad. In fact it has a couple of rooms, one of them set up like an old 1950s roadside diner (and the other room is more of a lounge). Mind you, it took me a few tries before the waitress understood that I wanted an English Breakfast Tea as opposed to some normal tea, despite not having to pay for the normal tea. Mind you, when I do come here I usually buy takeaway and then go for a wander around outside.
I did go for a trek over to the railway line, but it seems as if the railway station was demolished long ago. However, there was a pedestrian tunnel heading under the railway line, but that is because the trains have a habit of flying through here at 110 kph (as one did while my back was turned, which was really annoying because it didn’t get to take a video of it).
There is one thing that one should probably check out while in Keith though, and that is the Landrover on the Pole, the purpose of which I am still trying to work out.
Since I was pretty tried, after we had left Keith I fell asleep, and when I woke up we were in Victoria – dooh. I had wanted to stop off in Bordertown and seen the historical house that had been converted into a Centrelink Office (Bob Hawke’s birthplace – ahh the irony), and I also wanted to upload a book review on the border. However when I awoke we were well and truly in Victoria and I kicked myself for not telling my Dad what I actually wanted to do. Mind you, if I had woken up at Bordertown, and the border, I probably would have slept through the next couple of towns. I did end up uploading a book review while I was sitting in the car, and what was even better was that my Dad had jury rigged a device (he is an Electronics Engineer) so I could hook my laptop up to the cigarette lighter.
Actually, it makes me wonder if the cigarette lighter in cars these days have since stopped being cigarette lighters and started to become power sockets. Back in the days when they were cigarette lighters all of these devices were developed so that you could plug stuff into them, and from what I can see, these days the cars don’t actually come with the lighters in them anymore, but the socket still remains. These old lighters used to have a thin piece of metal in them and you would push them in and it would light up. The idea was that you didn’t have to fumble with a lighter when you wanted to light a cigarette. These days I suspect you have to actually purchase the lighter accessory as an additional, but the socket still remains.
Just over the bridge that heads into Kaniva from the Adelaide direction (and that bridge seemed to have been there for centuries, but then again as I was growing up they were progressively removing all the level crossings on the Western Highway and replacing them with bridges – now they are turning it into a dual carriageway) is a small fenced off area where there are some animals. They must have copied this from Bordertown, however the Bordertown one is better because they have some albino kangaroos in the enclosure (or at least they had some the last time I passed through there, which I have to admit was a number of years ago).
Anyway, despite animals being cool, we only spent a few minutes here, but it was long enough for a train to suddenly roar past, and for the second time that day I was going to miss the opportunity of being able to film it. Mind you, proper train spotters (or railfans) have scanning devices to tell them when the trains are coming, as well as having access to information on the government website. They used to have this information freely available, but it seems that in the six months since I first discovered it they have changed the format and you have to apply for the information.
Anyway, since the train no longer stops of Kaniva, I didn’t get a chance to check out the railway station when I was passing through on the overland. However since we were travelling by car this time I decided that we would go and check it out. Not surprisingly it is still there, but then again it is a brick building, and in many cases they tend not to tear down the station, but rather sell it on to somebody else, either for a private residence, or to the community to use it as some sort of gallery (or community centre). Mind you, you probably wouldn’t want to live in an old railway station that happens to be on a main line, or even a line where freight trains regularly traverse (like the one between Adelaide and Melbourne).
Anyway, I had seen the railway station, but I have to admit that I don’t know what it has been turned into since it was on the other side of the railway tracks, and even though a train had already flown through here, I didn’t want to take the chance of getting hit by another one (since they do travel pretty fast). So, we headed back to town, and we got out and had another bit of a walk. One of the things that I love about these towns are all the old buildings that you find around the place. Okay, with the decline of rural Australia a lot of these are becoming abandoned, however they still have quite a lot of character about them – especially he old town hall. Mind you, they still have a law firm that that is only a branch office which is run from Nhill.
Before I leave Kaniva and head on to the next town, I should mention that there was this really cool looking pub at the entrance. Basically it was in one of those huge grand old buildings, and in fact it is probably the biggest building in the town. I suspect that has a lot to do with the British becoming well at truly secular by the time Kaniva was established, and the pub built. Still, we are talking about the country, and people who live in the country tend to be very conservative, which means a lot of them still go to church (though one thing I have discovered is that when their kids go into the city to go to university they inevitably toss away their faith).
I remember when I was driving to Melbourne a number of years ago, when I was relocating there, I decided to stop off at the pub because I had always been fascinated with it, and the last time that I came through here it was closed. Mind you, when I am in pubs I generally sit in the corner and read (or write blog posts, and I am doing at this present time, though I am writing this in a suburban pub, where people on laptops are generally not a common sight), so I was quite surprised when I walked into this one. Actually, the pub was technically closed, but the bartender was more than happy to sell me a beer (a sign of a good businessman). Anyway, it was then that I discovered that country pubs are nothing like city pubs – the bartender talks to you, so you can’t sit there and read a book. Okay, it does depend on the town, but on that journey every pub I walked into the bartender would end up chatting to me, and it was the bartender at the pub in Burrembeet that was the most memorable because he spent the entire time telling me how much he hated Melbourne, and how he never wanted to go overseas because it is full of foreigners (these days he is probably travelling around Australia in his campervan visiting all the pubs that aren’t in cities).
Well, the Western Highway (it changes from the Dukes Highway to the Western Highway at the Victorian Border) bypasses Dimboola, so I didn’t get a chance to go and check out the train. Okay, I probably could have, but the bypass had been there for years so I only wanted to visit the towns that I had visited on my previous journies, and the next one happened to be Nhill. Mind you, I have already said a bit about Nhill on my post on the train journey, however this time was different because I got the opportunity to get out of the car and have a look around.
The first thing I encounter when I hit Nhill is a caravan park and a playground (actually, the first thing that I discover is a microwave repeater station, but that doesn’t actually count because it’s not in Nhill, it just tells me that Nhill is not far away and when I reach Nhill it is beer o’clock – okay I did have a beer in Nhill, but it was my first beer of the day, so I could still legally drive, however that option went out the window when I hit Beaufort). So, since I always like wandering around the playground when I hit Nhill (especially since we would always do it when I was a kid) I ended up doing it again. Actually, I went straight through the playground to the boardwalk over the swamp. The problem was that it was the middle of summer, which meant that the swamp was non-existent. So, what I ended up doing was walking along board walks that crossed over dry and parched ground that was full of trees. However, when I got to the otherside I did find a lake full of water – I guess the lake is much more important than the swamp.
Anyway, after I had gone on an adventure through the rather dry swamp it was time to go and visit one of the pubs. The only problem was that all of the pubs, except one (there are three pubs in Nhill) were closed for the Christmas/New Years break. This wouldn’t have been a huge issue, except of the fact that the pub that was open got a rather bad review on Yelp. Still, this is the country so I doubt anybody uses Yelp out here (unless, of course, you are like me and are passing through). Anyway, I rather sheeplishly ordered my beer and went and read my book.
My final task in Nhill was to visit the railway station, however as it turned out the Overland had already passed, so I wasn’t going to be getting any videos of that. Still, I did visit the old railway station (which is still currently in use) and took a few photos of it (since I couldn’t really take any photos from the train).
I’ve already commented on this city on my post about my journey on the Overland, however like Nhil, I didn’t get to step off the train (actually I wasn’t able to get off the train at any of the stops, with the exception of Adelaide, which was the terminus) so as we were heading back once again I decided to have a look around, and the first place I visited was the railway station. Actually, the part of town where the railway station was located seemed to be the seedy part of town, with some guy passed out near one of the bushes, and another guy that simply didn’t look like he wanted people, especially people with cameras, lurking around. I guess that is why they moved the bus stop into the centre of Horsham (though there are probably more logistical reasons for that).
Deciding that hanging around here wasn’t the best thing to do I jumped back into the car and went towards the centre of town. Actually my Dad parked in the carpark of one of the pubs while he went and grabbed a meal at McDonalds, and while I went at had a look at the park that was across the road from the pub, and then went and checked out the pub itself. Mind you I’ve been to this pub a number of times, though not actually inside. In fact the only part of this pub that I had regularly seen was the bottleshop, namely because we would drive through here, grab a beer, and then continue on our journey. This time I went inside, and I have to admit that it looked like any other pub that you would find in the suburbs. Okay, Horsham is its own town, but it has grown to a point where the pub has become quite depersonalised.
After my Dad had finished his meal we then went onto the main street, where, you guessed it, I went into another pub, but this was simply to grab something to eat (I’m not a huge fan of McDonalds). Unfortunately, like most pubs around this area, the kitchen closes around 2:00 pm so I had missed out on a decent sized meal, but at least they had toasties. So, since my Dad may have wanted me to drive a bit more, I ordered a coke, and a toastie, and had some lunch.
Just outside of Horsham is a lake known as Green Lake. When we were younger we would always stop off here to go for a swim, but for quite a while during the drought the lake was empty, with the exception of a bunch of weeds. However that changed when the region was swamped with rains (which is the annoying thing about the weather – it either rains too much, or not enough, it never seems to give us just enough rain, though our supermarket shelves always seem to be full to the brim).
Okay, before Stawell there is the small town called Dadswells Bridge, whose claim to fame is a giant koala, the one that is made out of concrete, though I have to admit that it is more of a giant eyesore than a giant koala (of all the ‘giant’ things that I’ve seen, this one is the most poorly constructed). As for Stawell, I did get to check out the railway station (which doubles as an Art Gallery, though since it doesn’t look as if the Overland will be running anymore, it will simply be an art gallery).
We then went into the town centre for some reason, and I wandered around here for no particular reason (the pub was closed so I couldn’t go inside for a beer) and took in the town centre. Mind you I have been here before, but that was long ago and while we probably went for a walk around the town centre, I can’t remember it all that much. In fact I don’t think I’d been in the town centre since that time, namely because the main road bypasses the town (sort of, it skirts the outskirts). So, after taking a few photos, I decided that I would make it one of those places that I would visit again one weekend.
The Final Trek
After Stawell we had Ararat, but we only stopped there to get some petrol and some food from the local Woolworths. Anyway, since I can get their by train from Melbourne it is a good place to go for a day trip (if I ever get around to doing it). However, before Ararat we have the small town of Great Western, which is a wine growing region. It isn’t as big, or as famous, as the Barossa or the Hunter Valley, but they do have a couple of wineries there. Anyway, I decided to stop off here for a beer, namely because it had a pub, and it was unlikely that I would be able to come back this way again and stop off for a beer. It’s not exactly one of those places to which you can catch a bus, have a drink, and catch another bus an hour later. Mind you, like a lot of the country pubs, the bartender was very friendly, and very chatty. In fact when I entered the pub I noticed that it had the word ‘vitlier’ above the door. Not sure what it meant (or suspecting that it was in reference to wine) I asked the bartender, and he was as baffled as I was. Turns out it is just another name for a publican.
Our final stop was the town of Beaufort, and I really only stopped here for a beer, namely because I had already written a post on this pub but didn’t have any photos. So I went inside (and it was just a standard pub) and went out into the beer garden, which was basically a couple of tables thrown together out the back – not really a place where people can congregate and chat. Mind you, these country folk were a little baffled as to why I brought my beer into the toilet – the reason being that if you leave it out on the table it is unlikely to be there when you get back, or that is generally what happens in the city.