A Weddin in the Hillsby Bushducks
Nearly outback NSW - a long way to go for a wedding. What's that, Rover? What do you mean you don't know anyone called Ben Hall? Bit slow to catch on, these Rovers at times. Take those white streamers off the CB aerial, we said WEDDIN - that autogas conversion must have addled your brains.
We dragged reluctant Rover out of Melbourne early in the morning. 22c/litre autogas at Coburg meant a cheap run to a lunch spot on the Murray at Albury, watching the Paddlesteamer Cumberoona billow and hoot on its steam as the local Murray ducks paddled speedily out of its path. We were gone too, north on the Olympic Way, Route 41, which closely follows the Melbourne to Sydney VFT railine. Who's rushing? A cool refreshment at the solid old Gerogery Hotel allows you to look at the only other building at this rail crossing - the stationmaster's old two storey house. Beware of the crossing, as this is one of the few spots where the VFT really does get bloody fast. Too many curves on the rest. Stop sniggering, Rover, we know that has never stopped you.
Heading north, you can't but notice one common feature at all the little settlements. Interesting old Stationmaster's houses and hotels. All the ingredients for a once not so fast railine last century we guess. Who's rushing? Culcairn Hotel reflects busier days gone by. Taking up a whole block on its own, its facade offers character while cobwebs gather on the northern wing.
Wagga-mate looms on these hot plains. Silos, the university, 42 degrees, a top up of gas at 35.9c/litre and we head for the smaller struggling towns to the north. Old Junee, Junee Reefs, Temora, on the Griffith railine with its life-size striking monument to the "Temora Tornado" a trotter of some renown.
If the sun is starting to droop and Rover to pant at the radiator, an early camp could be in order. Who's rushing? You're in farmland now but one pleasant camp stands out. Just off the road from Temora to Quandialla before Morangerell, swing over the small bridge and turn sharp west up Traegers Road. The road runs alongside a patch of woodland rising up gently above the plain. Immediately off this road, are three small campsites, a couple with a picnic table and fireplaces. On the edge of the trees are more open spaces overlooking the farmland on one hand and a jumbled cluster of large granite boulders on the other. A walking track leads the short distance to the rocks. The only noise you might cop is the baaing of sheep in the paddock nearby who thought our Rover was the meals-on-wheels drought-breaker van. So here you can prepare yourself a lamb chop supper and think about that upcoming Weddin.
Sunrise through the boulders will have you up early. Not far to the Weddin now. North to Morangarell, no houses remain here just the Wagga Wagga Pastures Protection Board, Footrot Group Area sign. "No walking stock are allowed past this point" Start running Rover. Crossing the creek and amble up the dirt to Quandialla. A sleepy little Mallee-like town on the Forbes railine. Silos, dogs in the street and faded shops closed for the duration. Their aged produce signs flapping in the breeze. All that is missing is the rolling salt bushes. You won't be getting breakfast at the magic old verandahed Bland Hotel. (P.S. The old bowser reads "Petrol - Strictly Cash"!!)
East now towards Bimbi till you spot a special brown sign - Weddins 19km, up Nowlands dirt road. Take a firm hold on your partner as you pass through the open cypress pine plains of Bimbi State Forest. For straight ahead is what you've come for - The Weddin mountain range with its forested slopes rising from the hot surrounding dry summer plains.
This is Ben Hall country, the genial bushranger, who on one famous occasion bailed up most of the people of nearby Canowindra, shepherded them into one of the local halls and partied with them for the next couple of days laying on all food, drink and dancing ducks. The townspeople so liked Ben Hall that no-one dobbed him in. The Weddin Mountains were his stronghold, where he brewed his poteen and he hid his gold not all of which has been found ......!!
At the south western foot of the Weddins is Seaton's Camping Area, just by a long clearing. NPWS have provided fireplaces, a couple of picnic tables in the shade of the native cypress and pit toilets. There is even a rainwater tank, but go easy on that liquid gold, there is even less of it here than Ben Hall's spoils. The walking track to Ben Hall's cave leads out of the camping area, 1.5km 30 minutes return and easy grade this is worth a stretch of the muscles. The cave is Ben's lookout from where he kept his eye out for his pursuers. The walking track finishes as a steepish scramble up to the shallow cave. Scramble past the well partitioned cave up and over the top for a greater view. With little changed around here it is easy to envisage his thoughts. The trail leads on into a network of walking tracks over the mountains. Day and overnight walks if you are suitably prepared.
Leave Smeaton's camping area. Head east crossing Basin Gully. Slowly now, you don't want to miss anything. Ah, just there on the north side of the track, nearly missed it. Leave Rover by the gate and walk through an avenue of striking Currajong trees to some buildings you can see. This is Seaton's Farm, a preservation site. An information board tells you a little of what life was like for Jim Seaton, an itinerant worker and his wife, Bertha. Their depression era farm survives as a tribute to the hard yakka put in on next to nothing. Their two room mud lined homestead was built out of flattened kerosene tins and odd pieces of corrugated iron. Economising, Jim hammered flat the corrugated iron for maximum area coverage. He knew that every property worth its salt was approached via a grand avenue of shady trees. With this in mind, he painstakingly replanted currajongs taken from the bush to shade his driveway. Heavy pruning marks demonstrate their fodder quality in dry times.
Jim and Bertha lived here for 35 years after a two week courtship that started with a chance meeting in Mudgee where Bertha was working as a waitress. They never had a week apart, living a simple life, feeding the chooks, fencing, rabbiting, stretching every scrap to its fullest extent. As you leave their little property continuing east, along the track, look out for Jim's kangaroo fencing. Still intact, Jim made over three miles of this fencing in an effort to keep the 'roos out of his sparse 150 acres. Using second hand wire, he painstakingly wove a large square mesh and attached it above the rabbit fencing holding the whole thing up with Cypress saplings from the forest.
Continue on over Black Jim Gully, where Ben Hall and his cronies made their illicit hooch. The track winds on for 1.7 kays before rejoining Nowlands Road through a gate. Continue on back to the Quanialla Road. Dry, dry, dry and flat, flat, flat around here in the plains below the Weddins.
Left turn into Grimms Lane, a graded dirt road and continue through the gate into the Weddin State Forest. Easy going sandy tracks spin off in all directions, with the most used following around the boundary. The forest is open woodland, mainly cypress pine, stringybark and ironbark. The areas of heathland are colourful with wildflowers in spring and early summer and the birdlife is prolific. Pleasant bush camping areas abound in the clearings where a quiet Rover and his friends could pass a slow relaxing evening. Oh, and a few 'roos too. Just a few.
Unfortunately, tracks that head up and over the range have recently become Management Vehicles Only. Sorry Rover, have a quiet amble through the forest instead. Who's rushing? Ramble on through the Weddin Forest by following your nose or your roobar until you emerge at Grenfell. Ah, a lovely town. Full of history, impressive bank buildings, hotels and interesting characters that love a chat. Bertha moved into Grenfell in the 1980's after Jim died and she's still there. Smiling in the Ladies Auxiliary Craft shop, Gwen, who has lived in Grenfell since she was a girl can fill you in on all you want to know on the area. And the Three Fruits Marmalade - mmm .... delicious!
Five hotels between 2,000 people means that no-one in Grenfell goes thirsty. The large Railway Hotel, star of many a film was our choice for a cool escape from the summer heat. Accommodation here will set you back a huge $12 per person, $15 if you want breakfast. That overhead large veranda was a perfect place to contemplate the efforts of Jim and Bertha. And hope, just hope that Ben would come and bail up the whole town for a whole weekend of Weddins, parties ......Anything!
© Bushducks 1994
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