More than the Murray!

2 February 2011

In the Wentworth you can find colonial heritage, learn what life was like for the settlers of the Murray

The list of Australia’s iconic natural wonders includes Uluru, the Kimberley, Kakadu and the Tasmanian wilderness. But there’s one of Mother Nature’s beauties that has impacted more Australians than any other, and arguably had the greatest influence on our history, and that’s the mighty Murray River.

 

Along its vast journey it passes countless farms and towns that rely upon it for their survival, many of which have done so for well in excess of a hundred years. And one place where you can get a feel for the life of those that live on its banks is in the picturesque New South Wales town of Wentworth.

 

This living piece of Australian history was named after the New South Wales explorer and politician William Charles Wentworth and was settled in the middle of the 1800s. Wentworth is the region’s oldest settlement as is located right at the junction of Australia’s two largest rivers, the Murray and the Darling.

 

With a population of about 8000 people, it’s a major centre with all the comforts and facilities of a large town. But while there might be lots to see and do in the area, Wentworth is still really peaceful. It’s easy to find a quiet place, in the shade of a sprawling gumtree, to relax with a cuppa on the banks of the river.

 

First stop on a visit to Wentworth is always going to be the river, and the best place to take it all in is at the Murray/Darling junction, on the NSW side of the river. Here you’ll find beautiful parks with barbecues and lots of shady trees. There’s ample parking for your RV and no shortage of spots to have a picnic.

 

But the best thing here is the viewing tower. It’s a short walk up the spiralling stairs to a platform that affords magnificent views over the confl uence of these two mighty waterways. It’s interesting to see the difference in their colour, with the Darling having a distinct brown hue and the Murray a deep-green colouration.

 

There’s another spot worth a visit, called Junction Island, which is the piece of land smack bang in the middle of the two waterways. There’s a small walkway and bridge that leads you through the bush, allowing you the unique experience of standing right at the meeting point of Australia’s two greatest rivers. Next on your tour of Wentworth is a visit to the old gaol. This Colonial style, single storey, brick building was built between 1879 and 1881, and it has the honour of being the first of the Australian-designed gaols, with the Hay and Dubbo gaols following its completion.

 

The bricks were made of local clay and the bluestone trim transported from Malmsbury in Victoria. The gaol replaced the area’s overcrowded lockups and it was in use until 1927. Once the crooks were moved elsewhere, the building was then used as extra school rooms for local kids, before being closed in 1963.

 

Inside the gaol there are all sorts of interesting displays and artefacts that show you what life was like for the inmates, most of which were thrown in there for minor crimes ranging from public drunkenness and fighting, to theft. There are also lots of informative exhibits that delve into the area’s history and tell stories from Australia’s pioneering years.

 

From the gaol, it’s just a matter of strolling across the road to the next tourist site, the Pioneer World Museum. This is one for the history buffs out there! The Rotary Club has collected over 3000 artefacts and relics covering every aspect of Wentworth’s history. It’s also home to one of Australia’s biggest collections of photographs of riverboats and heritage buildings. The displays are like a walk through time, starting with indigenous artefacts and a mega-fauna exhibit based upon discoveries of fossil remains in the Wentworth region.

 

The pioneer and folk collection leads you into the history of the river trade, where you’ll be enthralled by the stories of local pioneers that battled the elements to settle in the area. It’s a great way to learn about a bygone era and gives you an appreciation for those that overcame the harsh surrounds and built the town of Wentworth.

 

Now that you know a little about the town’s history, it’s time to look further into the past, to a period before European settlement. The first stop on this journey through time is the Perry Sandhills – about 10 minutes drive from the post office. Formed by thousands of years of wind erosion, this unique land formation spans some 400 acres of continuously shifting sand dunes.

 

There’s a car park just big enough for a couple of vans, but this site is best visited with the van unhitched and left at the park.

 

The dunes are so striking that they have featured in various movies, TV commercials and film clips, but their real fame lies in the history they continue to reveal. Skeleton remains of giant mega-fauna have been found here, and there is evidence of Aboriginal tribes using the area to camp and hunt.

 

As the dunes continue to drift they are constantly unearthing more remnants from tens-of-thousands of years ago. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to find the next lot of dinosaur bones.

 

Though the best thing about the Perry Sandhills is that you can bring the family here for a picnic and a bit of adventure, and it’s absolutely free!

 

The final stop on this tour of Wentworth and surrounds takes you to what’s arguably the most spectacular and historically significant site in Australia – Mungo National Park. From Wentworth head along Pooncarie Road before turning onto Top Hut Road.

The drive is around 90 minutes, and although the road is slowly being sealed, the majority of it remains dirt. Once you arrive in this ancient and arid landscape, you are immediately confronted by its stark beauty.

 

Mungo National Park is a part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, a chain of lakes that dried up around 14,000 years ago. The number-one attraction is the great crescent-shaped dune called the Walls of China, which stretches along the eastern shore of the lakebed.

 

These dunes of clay and sand are gradually eroding away, leaving behind a fragile landscape of wrinkled outcrops, like the pinnacles of Western Australia.

 

Also in the wake of the moving dune system are the remnants of mega-fauna, marsupials and indigenous habitation from tens of thousands of years ago. It’s these remains that put Mungo into the headlines way back in 1969 when a scientist stumbled across the charred bones of a human. These were later to be known as Mungo Woman, carbon dated as being at least 26,000 years old. Six years later, Mungo Man was found and dated as being 62,000 years of age. These discoveries forced the rewriting of the history books and made people rethink the timelines of human habitation in Australia.

 

If archaeology isn’t your thing, then you will at the least be amazed by the array of wildlife and beauty of the landscape.

 

There are countless kangaroos and emus that wander about the park, feeding amongst the dusty scrub and curiously watching the passing tourists.

 

Most impressively, though, is the sunset. As the day comes to an end, this ancient environment changes through a series of vibrant oranges and reds, creating a calming mood across the rugged landscape and giving the perfect finish to an afternoon in the park.

 

GETTING THERE

 

Wentworth is situated 1075km west of Sydney, 585km north-west of Melbourne and 420km north-east of Adelaide. It is located within New South Wales, right on the border of Victoria. The access roads are all blacktop and in great condition with plenty of services along the way, the city of Mildura is about 30km away.

 

CHEAP TREATS

 

AUSTRALIAN INLAND BOTANIC GARDENS
River Rd, Mourquong, NSW, 10 Minutes
from Mildura
Open 7:30am to 4:30pm weekdays,
10:30am to 4:30pm weekends
(03) 5023 3612
E: [email protected]
www.austinlandbotgardens.org

 

PIONEER WORLD MUSEUM
Beverley St, Wentworth
Open 10am to 4pm daily
(03) 5027 3160

 

WENTWORTH GAOL
Beverley St, Wentworth, NSW
Open 10am to 5pm daily
(03) 5027 3337

 

FREE ACTIVITIES

 

LOCK 10 AND WEIR
Riverside parkland and a working weir
Cadell Rd, Wentworth

 

PERRY SANDHILLS
400 acres of shifting sand dunes
Old Renmark Rd, Wentworth

 

RIVER JUNCTION AND VIEWING TOWER
Elevated views of the Murray and Darling River junction, Cadell Rd, Wentworth

 

PLACES TO STAY

 

WILLOW BEND CARAVAN PARK
Darling St, Wentworth, NSW
(03) 5027 3213
E: [email protected]
www.wentworthcaravanpark.com

 

BURONGA CARAVAN PARK
Sturt Highway, Buronga, NSW
Phone: (03) 5023 3040
E: [email protected]
www.burongacaravanpar.com.au

 

TRENTHAM CLIFFS CARAVAN VILLAGE
Sturt Highway, Trentham Cliffs, NSW
Phone: (03) 5024 8545
E: [email protected]ravanvillage.com.au
www.trenthamcliffscaravanvillage.com.au

 

TOURIST INFORMATION

 

WENTWORTH VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
Darling St, Wentworth
(03) 5027 3624
E: [email protected]

 

TIP:

While you’re staying in Wentworth, make a few friends in the van park and then give the guys at Discover Mildura a call. They’ll pick you all up and then take you on one of their culinary tours of the area.

 

Some tours include a visit to local olive producers at Varapodio Estate, a stop at Trentham Estate winery, and also a visit to where the famous Murray River pink salt comes from. There are various tours available and they don’t cost very much to do, they’re arguably the best value way to get an inside look at the tastes of Mildura and Wentworth.

By David Byrne
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