VICTORIA’S MAGICAL LOOP

Join Fred and his Crusader Convoy as they experience the best of the Grampians without breaking the bank!

WORDS BY FRED WRIGHT, PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN HABERFIELD

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A RESTLESS NIGHT

It wasn’t only the sudden, savage cramp in the calf of my left leg one night that kept me awake, because I had tossed and turned, unable to sleep for some time. It was the thought that kept returning: “I’ve got to find somewhere new to visit in Victoria!”

I jumped out of bed quickly and walked around to relieve the cramp then turned on the interior lights of the Crusader and rummaged around until I found a map of Victoria. Still half asleep, I suddenly recalled a chance recent meeting with fellow Crusader caravanners Garry and Gaye in the Fleurieu Peninsula, SA.

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They told us of their willingness to show us around their hometown of Horsham, VIC, and to suggest trips based on their local knowledge of the region.

Gary had lived just northeast of Horsham for 65 years so knew the Yarriambiack Shire like the back of his hand and, as we discovered, knew just about everyone there. They were keen to come with us and because country folk are always ready to help out, we discovered that others with Crusader vans would also be able to come along. I must confess that I had no idea how popular Crusader vans were in the region!

Since that part of the trip was now set in stone, I phoned Chris, the tourism manager from Horsham. He readily mapped out interesting places to see and engaging people to meet.

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ARRIVAL IN HORSHAM

Things were now shaping up nicely and that did wonders for sleep patterns. Arriving in Horsham we pulled the van into Horsham Caravan Park on the banks of the Wimmera River. First base was just a short drive to meet Gary and Gaye, and we discovered that they had already planned places to go. We spent a happy and productive time over a cuppa or two comparing notes.

Early the next morning it was out with the camera to film the three of us having a welcome drink and bikkies beside the Crusader. The first part of the plan was ready to launch, and as the van was safely set up at base, I jumped in the Isuzu MU-X and adjusted the air-con, as the temperature had already climbed in into the thirties. We pointed our vehicles north toward Warracknabeal about 60km away.

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Soon we were driving through endless vistas of shimmery golden wheat fields, watching farmers work flat out bringing in the harvest. I had found out that more than 500 thousand tonnes of wheat comes from the Wimmera and watching the bulging grain silos and a constant stream of huge semi-trailer heading their way, I could well believe it.

MURTOA

We passed through Dooen and soon stopped at Murtoa with its population of 783. The Aboriginals called this town “the home of the lizard,” which is why you will see colourfully tiled lizards in the main street. Settled by squatters in the 1840s, the Murtoa of today possesses the wide streets and building facades that speak of a time when the population was much larger.

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Take time to explore and admire Murtoa Memorial Gates erected in 1921 to remember WWI soldiers from the district. These magnificent memorial gates lead you to Marma Lake Reserve and a delightful, tranquil lake. You may want to stroll along a wooden bridge to get better photos of the abundant bird life. Your options are to stay at a caravan park or a free camp, with both fronting the lake.

If you have time, ring up and drop into the Dunmunkle Sumpoiler’s Historic Engines Museum with Ruston- Hornsby engines up to 20 tonnes and heavier. Prior to WW1, these powered the refrigeration works.

What you really shouldn’t miss is the circular walled 1886 Water Tower Museum. There are four floors of historic items here, and I’d be surprised if you’d ever before seen anything like James Hill’s taxidermy collection of over 500 birds. Adjacent to the tower is Concordia Cottage part of the original Lutheran Concordia College established in the 1890s. The early German influence is unmistakable but make sure you ring in advance if you want to look through it. Looking at this imposing structure with its huge steel water tank atop you can easily envisage days when steam trains would fill up here. The tank, made prior to the days of welding, is held together by huge steel rivets and is still as sound as ever.

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RUPANYUP AND MINYIP

Continuing to head due east, we arrived at Rupanyup, located on the Lake Taylor Outlet Channel. You’ll admire its wide landscaped streets and useful services such as a pharmacy and bank, as well as a supermarket if you need to stock up.

I recommend that you call into the Woods’ Farming and Heritage Museum. DVD 216 will show, perhaps better than any words could, that this is a tribute to two brothers, both bachelors, with a rare passion for collecting, collating and presentation. This truly is a place where the past is the present, and we could have stayed here for hours. We would have loved to do just that, and we recommend that you take your time – don’t take the ‘bull at a gate’ approach that we did; we had a busy day of travel ahead, and a DVD to complete in less than five days!

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Now it was off to Minyip with Gary and Gaye. Viewers of the Crawford TV series “The Flying Doctors” might be more accustomed to thinking of Minyip as “Coopers Crossing.” Although production ceased in 1989, you can still enjoy a meal at the local café that was part of the show, as was the hotel across the road. Minyip Wetlands and Caravan Park is small but there are powered sites, toilets and showers and a covered BBQ area. There’s even a walking track with outdoor fitness equipment, which surprised us!

WARRACKNABEAL AND OLD DADSWELL TOWN

I could sense that Gary was looking forward to visiting Warracknabeal to the north: his hometown. Before reaching the town itself, stop off at the Wheatlands Warracknabeal Agricultural Machinery Museum – now that’s a real mouthful to say quickly! It’s a place you simply can’t miss. Inside, it is divided into huge covered hexagons with tractors, harvesting equipment, transport and engine sections. Now here’s a tip: in town there’s an amazing shop, part of the museum, where your co-pilot will spend hours checking out low-priced items that cover just about everything that you might want to buy – with plenty of items suitable for RVs.

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Meanwhile you can be exploring a wonderland of working tractors such as the Ford Ferguson, Lanz Bulldog and Allis-Chalmer. On reflection, I couldn’t get over the ingenuity of farmers who cut a T-model ford engine in half and, using just one cylinder, powered their farming equipment.

I had heard of someone called ‘Mad’ Max and decided to pay him a visit at his property in Old Dadswell Town. Eccentric he may be, politically incorrect for sure, but never mad. His active brain has thought up the most amazing things such as a watchdog with lots of watches tied on a chain in the dog’s kennel.

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Prepare yourself to be challenged and enjoy his garage, hot rod, Packard car and beautifully restored caravan. Max and his wife Jenny make a great team as she has a great eye for decorating and he for building. You’ll stand and stare with disbelief at a truck with its home on top and a caboose toilet behind and at the themed cabin accommodation (such as a post office, general store and one with half a station wagon poking out the side as a third bedroom). This place is quite unbelievable. Make sure you visit his town hall, a wonderland of quirky things that will have you still laughing hours later. Don’t miss this one!

A short distance down the highway you’ll come to the giant koala – some 14 metres tall – marking the spot of an old Cobb and Co Station. Here you can stop and look around, have a coffee and relax.

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Toscana Olives at Laharum was on our list so we parked close to the shop and went in. Here we found award-winning olive oils from the oldest olive groves in Australia at the foot of the Grampians. We tried both olive oil and various table olives, which were simply scrumptious – perfect for happy hour!

If you are into quilting then stop at Rosemont Quilts on McTavish Road, Laharum – you can purchase quality fabrics and everything you’ll need to make those amazing creations! I can never understand how women can design such works of art and I know of RVers who travel Australia based on finding quality shops. This one is a beauty!

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A happy hour of camaraderie, farfetched stories and plenty of nibblies and drinks flowed into a communal meal as the sun slowly set in the west. We even found someone cooking yabbies and the thought of a surf and turf meal became that much more appealing! Now this has got to be the way to experience the outdoor life. I’m sure the only reason we went to bed was that we had an early breakfast ahead and a convoy planned to the Grampians.

THE ADVENTURE’S FINAL STRETCH

We stopped at Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park in the Grampians because it had green grass everywhere, shady trees, and plenty of space to park our five vans. The park owners brought down some firewood and a large fire bin on legs. Our happy hour took off with a bang (not literally!) and it was terrific to see everyone enjoying themselves with the Grampians as a beautiful backdrop. There were kangaroos, emus and plenty of cockatoos as our companions.

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It was sad to say our farewells to the supportive and generous caravanners who helped to make this DVD so special. They couldn’t have done any more or been a better group of RVers to travel with. Gary and Gaye helped with the closer to the DVD, which was only fair as they had put considerable time an effort into helping from the time we sat down with them in their Horsham home.

The key turned, the diesel engine came to life and we were off to explore Reed Lookout with its 300-degree panoramic views and Mackenzie Falls, which were stunning. We stopped off at Lake Wartook before heading back after an enjoyable day.

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A pleasant surprise at Nhill was the Aircraft Heritage Centre, with its centrepiece of a classic 1943 Avro Anson plane. Housed in an enormous new complex at the old WWII RAAF base 3km north of Nhill, the museum proved to be a treasure trove of information. Volunteers here do amazing things to restore these planes. One such plane is Australia’s first WWII bomber, which is currently being restored. Every part is stripped and painstakingly repaired to its original specifications.

About 16km out of Nhill we came upon the Little Desert Nature Lodge. There are places for caravans and motorhomes to stay at either powered or unpowered sites. One of the main attractions is the mallee fowl and its mound where eggs are laid and kept at a constant temperature of 34 degrees. The adult bird pushes its beak into the nest to check the temperature and by adding and removing leaves accordingly, it ensures the hatching process can begin.

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This trip, as with all our trips, should be planned so that enough time is allowed for you to enjoy the region at your own pace. Take your time and savour what was, for us, one of the most memorable Victorian adventures we’ve ever had!

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