“And now for something completely different” (Monty Python!)
Renmark, South Australia
The question now was do we head even further inland or return to the coast? For once we were sensible. We had been wary of going inland during the height of the Oz summer, as temperatures had been rising inland to 45 degrees in some parts but, having checked, and discovered the highest we could expect would be about 35 degrees, we decided to take it on. I have been following several Facebook groups on the best things to see and do, where to camp etc and several fellow travellers had mentioned The Great Silo Art Trail in inland Victoria.
So we set off north from the Grampians towards the lovely town of Mildura, through Yarriambiackshire (try saying that when you've had a few!). On the way to the silos we detoured to see the pink salt lake at Dimboola. This was a big plus for us as the well-known Pink Lakes in the Murray-Sunset National Park were inaccessible to Winnie and we had resigned ourselves to not seeing them. However, one of the staff in a Tourist Information centre, told us about this lake which isn't even on the map, and we did actually doubt its existence at one point! However, wow, wow and more wow! We stopped in a layby and walked out onto this amazing pink salt lake. Some people say the pink is due to bacteria, others say an algae, but either way it makes for an impressive sight. The colour changes with the amount of sun and the temperature so, even while we sat there having lunch, the colour changed.
Then we tracked back to the Silo Trail. Here there are a number of very small towns that were once lively places living off the proceeds of some gold exploration. However, now times have changed and, with populations of less than 200 people per town, something needed to be done. The area is a huge grain producing area and, in the middle of kilometres and kilometres of brown fields, large grain silos stand out alongside a single railway track. The local Yarriambiackshire (I love that word!) council decided to commission a series of paintings on a few of the silos to encourage more visitors to the area.
The silos have been painted by a number of famous street artists who have tried to capture the spirit of the hard working rural communities through a wonderful series of large (and I mean LARGE) scale murals which have been hand painted onto the sides of the old grain silos. These public murals have become a fascinating feature of what, at best, is described as a rather boring landscape.
The murals link six small Victorian towns stretching over 200 kilometres, over many very, very straight roads! The last mural was only completed in October 2017, so there is not a huge amount of information on this trail in Tourist Information centres (which we regularly visit!) but the internet has some details on them if you want to check them out further! However, we wanted to share our experiences with you as these certainly have a wow factor that we were not expecting.
We drove in a northerly direction from the Grampians and our first stop was Rupanyup. Here two stumpy, silver silos had a figure painted on each one. They featured players from the Rupanyup Panthers Football team and the local Netball Club. These were the only metal silos on the trail. The intensity, and passion, on the players' faces really comes through. There was a noticeboard with some information about the silos and the town. There was also a Visitor's Book that we signed. It was really interesting to flick back and see how many people had visited - on average about six a day. Each silo had a Visitor's Book as it turned out so we signed each one!
From Rupanyup we travelled on to Sheep Hills (great names!) and this was two huge 'double Geelong' grain silos side by side (impressed?!). The four indigenous faces looking over Sheep Hills are incredibly striking, everyone had commented on the eyes in the Visitor's Book. The starry background also has significance to the local indigenous community. For those of you struggling with the word 'indigenous', it is now how the Aboriginals are referred to!
Next up was Brim, and this was a tribute to the farmers in the area, and their way of life. The detail on the three men and one lady really captures their spirit. Most of the artists actually lived in their communities for several months before choosing their subject matter for the silos and the whole community became involved while they were being painted. How the artists coped with intense heat, swirling dust storms, rain and the mere fact that some of these silos are over 100ft high simply adds to the enormity of the project.
However, it was at Rosebery that we had our most amazing experience. As you will probably have picked up from the pictures we were able to take pretty clear photos as there weren't many people around. However, two carloads of families pulled up behind us at Rosebery and fell out of their cars chattering and laughing. At first we were slightly annoyed as the children rushed up to the silos and 'spoilt' our perfect pictures. However, as we stood staring at the two awesome figures on the silos, with their sheep and horses, we soon started talking to one of the families only to find out that the 90 foot image of the man and the horse was one of the ladies' father! The mural had only been finished in October and the daughter told us that she couldn't look at the mural without shedding a tear or two. It was quite an emotional moment. Her father is alive and kicking but this certainly beats a family portrait on the mantelpiece!
The town of Lascelles was an odd one. These silos had portraits of a husband and wife, whose family had farmed here for four generations, but they were on opposite sides of two separate silos so you couldn't view them both together. Strangely enough these silos had one of the largest viewing areas. For us we found this difficult to get to grips with, as for some reason, the individuality didn't seem to work. However, your opinion maybe different?
Our last visit, to Patchewollock, took us right away from the beaten track. We didn't pass another car at all. Local farmer, 'Noodle' Hulland, was the inspiration for this silo. Apparently he was the only one of the few local farmers who was the right shape (thin enough!) to fit on the tall, thin silos!
Whilst driving through such small towns we decided to occasionally call in at some of the stores and pubs. They certainly weren't busy but the shopkeepers would make you so welcome as if we were the only customers that day. Quite honestly in some towns I am sure we were! We were even thanked for taking the time to go in one shop - we only bought a pint of milk and two ice-creams!!
So what's the big deal about the Silo Trail? The biggest significance has been the increase in tourism and it is still growing. The very small towns, that have populations of around 100-200 people, have seen an increase in turnover in the local shops and pubs, campsites have been busier and there has simply been more foot traffic. The local Council has now proposed a $1.1million Regional development proposal that is a plan to use 10 more silos to commemorate the area's war history. However, it appears form the local press that the silos will not be painted but will be super imposed using computer imagery. The project is scheduled to take around two years to complete, but if it can bring life back to these small communities then it must be a good thing!
We hope that the pictures taken can give you an idea of the scale and artistry on the silos and, what impressed us, was that the silos are not flat but round, yet the imagery portrayed gives you the impression that you are looking at a flat wall (a great use of perspective). We hope this blog will give you an idea of the huge diversity that exists within Australia.
From Patchewallock we headed to one of the main towns of the region, Mildura. I had visions of a hot, dry, dusty inland town but was more than pleasantly surprised. It was HOT, more of that later, but it was green and pretty, with paddlesteamers and houseboats chugging lazily along the river. This is all due to the Murray River and two brother's, the Chaffeys, who came out from Canada in the 1800's, realized the potential of the soil for fruit-growing, and set up an irrigation system in the desert, pumping water from the Murray! What foresight - the area now produces much of the world's table grapes and dried fruits, as well as wine and port!!
If you head downstream to Wentworth you can witness the joining of the Darling and Murray rivers. This was special to me, my maiden name being Darling, and I had always wanted to visit the Darling River since doing a Geography project at school many, many years ago. The Murray-Darling River system is very important for a lot of Australia as its catchment area covers14% of the country apparently!
We actually extended our stay in Mildura to do a wine tour (I know, yet another one!!) but we actually learnt so much about the area, the Chaffey brothers, the irrigation pumps, the history of the paddlesteamers etc, as well as enjoying some nice wines. We also took a trip on one of the paddlesteamers - they are wood-fired, not coal driven, and quite unique. At one time there were hundreds ferrying people and goods up and down the river.
And now for the heat! Well, we coped, just. After 6 days of continual 35 degree plus heat (reaching 38 degrees one day!) we were glad to leave and get some relief. The site had a lovely pool, which certainly helped. We used our cold towels (thanks Nicky!) and drank litres and litres of water, not to mention the cold beers! In our defense, it was unusual for the weather to be so humid - even the locals were complaining that it was hard to deal with. They prefer 45 degrees of dry heat to 35 degrees of humid heat - apparently it is different!! But we realized how quickly we had become acclimatized when, the week after, we came across a tennis court and played quite comfortably in 25 degrees, remarking how nice it was to play in the cool!!
And then for the border crossing into South Australia, we weren't sure what to expect. We knew we couldn't take any fruit or vegetables that weren't cooked, so dinner the night before was a veggie omelette and salad, to use everything up. There was a special lane for caravans and motorhomes and we gingerly drove up and I wound down the window. The biosecurity officer then surprised me by asking to see inside the glove box. I guess people must hide stuff in there?! He then asked to come inside the van and opened our Esky and looked inside the fridge. He also asked where I kept potatoes and onions. We were then told we could carry on and off we went into our 5th state of this great country!