SAY G’DAY TO GUNNEDAH

There’s more to this unique region than being the koala capital of the world

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARIE HOBSON

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Although I have travelled many kilometres by caravan in this Great South Land and even ventured overseas, there’s nothing I like better than coming home to Gunnedah – Koala Capital of the World. After celebrating its sesquicentenary in 2006, the town has continued to grow into a vibrant destination with an awesome community spirit.

Gunnedah, nestled under the Porcupine Ridges on the Namoi River, is a place often overlooked by travellers, and many pass through the town without a second glance. Resolve now that you will not be one of them: you will find hidden treasures beyond the highway!

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My first suggestion would be to drive along the Lions Town Tour, a self-guided, 45-minute tour of points of interest, or walk the signposted Bindea Trail, starting in ANZAC Park. The walking trails behind the hills and over the top are very popular with both visitors and locals and I have often spotted kangaroos on my early morning walk.

If you have a bike with you, take a ride along one of the well utilised cycling paths – koalas can often be seen in trees around town, especially on the golf course and along the river. If you don’t spot one, wander out to Waterways Wildlife Park, 5kms west along the Oxley Highway, where Nancy and Colin Small have established a refuge for sick and injured animals. There, you can see a koala up close, as well as other native animals and birdlife.

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To gain an overview of the incredible beauty of Gunnedah, drive up Apex Road to Porcupine Lookout and take in the breathtaking panorama of the plains stretching across to Dorothea Mackellar’s “ragged mountain ranges”. You can tow a caravan up to lookout, as there is a large turning circle at the top. This is one of my favourite places to watch the sun rise on a crisp winter’s morning, as the fog lifts over the valley. Don’t forget your camera!

Pensioner’s Hill, just off the Oxley Highway near the Rural Museum, is another great lookout with a turning circle to park your RV. There is a short walk to the lookout but on the way you will see a number of hand-carved heritage sculptures. My favourite is the Cumbo Gunerah (Red Kangaroo), a sculpture of a legendary Aboriginal warrior immortalised by Ion Idriess in his novelette The Red Chief. Erected by Rotary West, the sculptures reflect Gunnedah’s pioneering history and are part of a regeneration of the hill. The club has also installed a barbecue, toilets, picnic tables and a rotunda. When you see the view across the valley you will understand why it is so popular with RVers – and with local wedding planners!

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When I was a child, ANZAC Hill adjacent to the railway overpass, was a rock quarry. Now it is a living memorial to those who served in WW2, with the Remembrance Grove and 8th Division Memorial Avenue embracing the war memorial pool.

This is a delightful area, with plenty of parking for big rigs, a picnic area with barbecues at Lions Park opposite and the Dorothea Mackellar Memorial statue and Poet’s Walk to enjoy. This is where you’ll find the iconic Water Tower Museum, housed inside a converted water reservoir that took volunteers a decade to renovate. The town’s historical collection is housed on different floors and the roof level boasts a beautiful view over town, especially in November when the jacarandas, silky oaks and flame trees are in bloom.

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As you drive around Gunnedah, you will find Dorothea Mackellar’s poetry echoing in your mind. It’s easy to see how many of her poems were inspired by her surroundings on the family’s property Kurrumbede, on the Namoi River. The town has a stunning Jean Isherwood watercolour collection based on her most famous poem My Country.

The river is also a great place to enjoy a paddle in a kayak or to throw a line in the water, with safe swimming at the riverine area near Cohen’s Bridge. The area is sealed and picnic tables are dotted under river gums, with a walking path meandering beside the river.

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The Rural Museum attracts many visitors to its incredible collection of vintage machinery and RSL memorabilia – there is a private collection of farm machinery and cars as well as part of the old homestead and fittings belonging to the Grosser family. The Men’s Shed is housed here and the working foundry and timber workshop will be of great interest to Shed members from other towns.

There is a vibrant arts community in Gunnedah and the Creative Arts Gallery next to The Civic Theatre boasts a selection of local arts and craft, with many travelling collections – a great place to pick up something special. The Visitor Information Centre is also housed here and the modern air-conditioned theatre is one of our favourite places to see a film or play.

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The Plains of Plenty Co-Operative in Barber Street is open Monday to Saturday and is brimming with craft and local produce – RVers searching for a unique gift, fresh eggs, jam or a tray of homemade biscuits should make it their first port of call.

The Work of Art Community Gallery, housed in a delightful 19th century home, is very popular with locals for morning tea or a light lunch. After browsing the owner’s impressive private collection you might like to purchase an original artwork by regional artists. Regular workshops and exhibitions are also held here, of local arts and craft, with many travelling collections – a great place to pick up something special. The Visitor Information Centre is also housed here and the modern air-conditioned theatre is one of our favourite places to see a film or play.

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The Plains of Plenty Co-Operative in Barber Street is open Monday to Saturday and is brimming with craft and local produce – RVers searching for a unique gift, fresh eggs, jam or a tray of homemade biscuits should make it their first port of call.

The Work of Art Community Gallery, housed in a delightful 19th century home, is very popular with locals for morning tea or a light lunch. After browsing the owner’s impressive private collection you might like to purchase an original artwork by regional artists. Regular workshops and exhibitions are also held here.

Gunnedah has its roots buried in agriculture but its coal reserves are also an important part of the economy and with coal mining often comes tragedy. The magnificent miner’s memorial in Wolseley Park is a sad reminder of lives lost in this harsh industry. On a lighter note, the nearby amenities block, affectionately known as the “Lyrical Loos” reflect the town’s focus on Australian poetry, with patrons treated to a piped poetry recital when they pay a visit.

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The town is sports mad, so bring your bowls, golf clubs or tennis racquet. If the races are on, you will enjoy a day at the beautiful riverside racecourse, which hosts many TAB meetings in true country style, with fashions on the field and entertainment.

Gunnedah is well known for the number of festivals and events each year, including AgQuip, the largest agriculture field day in the Southern Hemisphere. In August, the population explodes with visitors and the showground is opened up for the overflow of caravans and RVs, with everyone enjoying a campfire and great company. During AgQuip make sure you see the annual billy boiling competition at the Railway Hotel! There is something for everyone at the site, including a variety of stalls, while the rodeo, golf championship and art exhibition attract a variety of visitors.

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Annual Porchetta Day in September is one of our favourite events and if we are on the road we make a point of being home for the festival. This celebrates the town’s Italian heritage in a day of fabulous food, wine, music and entertainment at the shady Kennel Club grounds. Right next door is the camping area, which is ideal for visitors.

The National Tomato Festival in January attracts entries from all over the region with a family fun day for the youngsters, entertainment and the popular Sunday Sessions Markets.

Australia Day is a fantastic time to be in Gunnedah, with a whole day of sporting activities, including the famous Cushan’s to Cohen’s raft and craft race and an awards dinner. And if that is not enough, those who feel the need for speed should make sure they visit in March for the Week of Speed when petrol heads can enjoy their fast and furious sport.

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Kamilaroi Aboriginal culture is highlighted with the annual Cumbo Gunerah (Red Kangaroo) run from Breeza to Gunnedah held in Naidoc Week. The Wallaby Trap mentioned in the Red Chief is also being developed and the Red Chief Aboriginal Gallery and Keeping Place in Chandos Street is a community meeting centre. The burial site of Red Kangaroo (the Red Chief) in Abbott Street has been marked with the Cumbo Gunerah Memorial, opened in 1984.

If you are visiting the area in April, make sure you head down to Boggabri for the Drover’s Campfire at the Showground. It’s held on the weekend closest to ANZAC Day, and RVers start arriving a few days before to set up their sites, get their campfires going. People come from all over Australia to enjoy three days of music, entertainment, bus trips to nearby attractions, fantastic camp oven cooking, displays and much more.

As you can see by the line-up of activities and attractions, any time of year is a great time to be in Gunnedah!

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