OLD DELIGHTS: The historic Coach and Horses Inn at Clarkefield, Vic.
OLD DELIGHTS: The historic Coach and Horses Inn at Clarkefield, Vic. Erle Levey

TRAVEL: Discover the road less travelled to Deni

I STARTED off in Queensland and ended up at Deniliquin in the Riverina region of New South Wales.

What began as a drive down roads from my past turned into a journey into the future. Instead of taking the Calder Hwy from Melbourne Airport, I headed towards Sunbury on a road less travelled, along the C325 to places such as Clarkefield, Lancefield and on to Heathcote.

Time was on my side. I didn't have to be at Deni until nightfall. And here it was 1pm eastern daylight saving time.

The very fact of turning on to a B or C road meant I had started a road trip rather than simply driving somewhere.

It was a matter of slowing down and enjoying the trip rather than rushing to my destination.

"Denilquin, where's there?'' everyone asked me when I told them where I was going.

"I don't know,'' was my immediate reply.

"I think I have been there once ... but it was too long ago to remember.''

We used to visit an uncle, auntie and two cousins who had a grape growing block at Nyah, on the Murray River, and I'm sure we would have done the round trip at some stage - Swan Hill,

A little research on Deniliquin revealed there was a lot of grain and grazing and a certain liking for setting world records. Not only does the town (the local's shortened version of Deniliquin) host the biggest ute muster it has seen the most blue singlets being worn in the same place at the same time.Apparently they also love their fishing there, which was the reason for the invitation to find out more about the place The annual fishing classic, now in its 20th year raised that raises funds for the community - more than $230,000 for the community last year.

Sunbury is famous for quite a few things but most notably as the Home of the Ashes, where the tradition of Test Cricket between Australia and England had its incarnation.

Rupertswood was the site, one of the largest houses constructed in Victoria on a huge country estate founded by Sir William Clarke.

The Ashes urn was humorously presented to English cricket captain Ivo Bligh to mark his team's victory in an 1882-83 Test match series.

This was in response to Australia having defeated England on August 29, 1882, in a cricket match played at Kennington Oval, London.

Rupertswood was sold in 1925 to Hugh Victor McKay, a wealthy industrialist and inventor of the Sunshine Harvester. The building is now used as administration offices for Salesian College.

Heading north, I followed the signpost to Clarkefield.

The Coach and Horses Inn is a heritage bluestone beauty that dates back to 1857 and has the honour of being regarded as Australia's Most Haunted Hotel.

The relaxed country lifestyle has started to consume me. Any sense of urgency has slipped away.

Lancefield, was first settled by European squatters in 1837 but in recent years, many wineries have been established. The town has a connection to the Kelly Gang; for it was here that Constable Fitzpatrick, the instigator of the Kelly Outbreak in 1878 was finally found out by the Victorian police.

But back to Deni. My connection with the town started at the Lancefield's bakery. Pie or pastie, pie or pastie?

I went for the pastie ... and what a find. Filled with vegies and mince. Nice and high, not too much pastry.

So it needed a vanilla slice to go with it. Another good choice - the custard of a good colour, not too soft and not too firm or rubbery. White vanilla icing.

We got to talking and it turns out they do one with a Coca-Cola icing.

I needed to have a take-away coffee to get the swipe card over $10. Not bad value.

When I mentioned that I was headed for Deniliquin, the woman said, "Oh, there's someone I know from Deni.''

OK, so I know Malcolm Fraser was born there and Adam "Gillie" Gilchrist. So did Leo Barry, the Sydney Aussie Rules player who took the match-saving mark in the closing minutes to deliver the Swans their first premiership in 72 years.

So is Deni one of those towns where everyone wants to have come from? Is it like Nambour with Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and surgeon Dr Kellee Slater, who wrote How To Do A Liver Transplant.

At Toobarac I joined the Northern Hwy and headed to Heathcote that, like Bendigo, is undergoing a renaissance after its gold mining beginning. Today it's wine and tourism. Neat as a pin and RV friendly. There's caravan parks,motels and BnBs in town or on farms. The football and cricket oval is right in the heart of the main street, near the information centre.

That's where I meet with Bob, one of the centre's volunteers, and talk about RV camping.

 

Welcome to Deniliquin.
Welcome to Deniliquin. Erle Levey

He grabs a street map and his wife grabs a hi-lite pen.

"Which way are you parked,'' he asks.

"Well you go back to here,'' he points on the map. "Chauncey St. And go out here.''

That's when his wife draws in a different turn-off.

You cross over McIvor Creek, past the showgrounds and about 5km you turn to the left into Plantation Rd.

It's a sandy, well dusty, not really gravel road from when you enter the Heathcote Graytown National Park. About another 3km then turn left into Plantation Track and after another 2km you come across the Dargile picnic area.

It a very pretty place among the trees and has tables and seats, walking tracks and a long-drop toilet - you need to take your own water. It's very pretty place among the trees.just the sound of birds.

Bob told me about the various campervans and RV set-ups on the road today. How self-contained they are.

I was also told by a local that RVs can be parked anywhere and there are plenty of places for camping overnight along the road. I am travelling on.

Joining the Midland Highway at Elmore, there are plenty of picnic areas beside the Campaspie River.

Just north of Rochester, with its giant Devondale dairy processing plant there is beautiful pull-over point but no facilities.

By late afternoon I am in the old river port town of Echuca.. I must have still been in primary school the last time I was in this place that represents not only a bygone era with horse and carriage rides but also showcases all the conveniences of the modern era.

The old port precinct was one of the first to draw on the town's history to ensure a viable economy. It celebrates the paddlesteamer days back in 1865 to 1910 that was a boom time for Echuca.

From the earliest days of Echuca's history, growth and development of the area has been intimately linked with the Murray River system. It's close proximity to Melbourne led to it becoming the largest inland port in Australia, particularly for timber, wheat and wool.

The old port has been restored and the century-old buildings are open for inspection and business once again.

 

BREAKING RECORDS: The Deni Ute Muster is an annual festival which brings utes and their owners together on mass. It's the largest event of its kind in the world.
BREAKING RECORDS: The Deni Ute Muster is an annual festival which brings utes and their owners together on mass. It's the largest event of its kind in the world. Erle Levey

Once you cross the Murray into New South Wales the roads get straighter and the countryside flatter.

This too, is grazing and grain country, the start of the Long Paddock tourist route.

The Cobb Hwy is a celebration of the drovers that brought stock down from Outback Australia.

It crosses five rivers - the Darling, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, Edward and Murray.

Like the heritage of the stock route, there are places where you can pull off the road and rest.

In Moama you will find The Barges by Geoff Hocking, the first of 11 large-scale sculptures that tell the stories, tales and history of the region. They can be found along the 600-plus kilometres of the Long Paddock.

At Mathoura, there is a giant metallic fish at the entry to town marking that you are in murray cod territory.

Then there is a rest area right in town and two more Long Paddock sculptures - The Drover and Horse by Corey Thomas and The Timber Cutters by Geoff Hocking.

This is a land of beautiful sunrises and sunsets and surprises.

And a place where you can find time to appreciate them.

"I X Kixx,'' the radio announcer says, and plays some country music.

"I know someone from Deni," the welcome sign reads as I pull into Deniliquin.

"We break records ... visit utemuster.com.au," the next one reads.

And that night in the Exchange Hotel we re-live some of the great sporting moments, including the Leo Barry mark that gave the Swans the premiership cup.


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