Saturday, 17 March 2018

Willandra National Park

Our Travellers group enjoyed nine days of immersion in the history of wool, from paddock to port. Reminders of Australia's bush poets and balladeers also added to a really enjoyable trip.

We started at Echuca where the paddle boats immediately draw your attention to the early days of transporting goods, especially wool. The shallow draught paddle boats with side paddles covered a large area following the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers. The museum gives an excellent overview and a visit to the port supports the stories of days past. No trip to Echuca is complete without a ride on a paddle boat.

From Echuca we travelled up the Cobb Highway, also known as The Long Paddock, to Hay. Along the way we stopped at the commemorative statue of the Peppin Merino.The Peppin is the purest form of the merino sheep and is highly respected in the merino breed.

Hay is the home of Shear Outback and the Shearers Hall of Fame. There is much to see in Hay and several hours could be spent at Shear Outback. All aspects of the life of the wool grower and the shearers are covered, including the shearers' cooks, male and female. 

The Murray Downs wool-shed has been painstakingly taken down, transported to the complex and re-built to create an excellent example of life in the shearing shed.

We experienced a fine demonstration of shearing with a full explanation on clothing and equipment needed by the hardy men who shear the sheep. 

The Shearers Hall of Fame recognises many of the greats of the shearing shed. Jackie Howe, of blue singlet fame, is the best known, but some amazing records were held by others in this extremely tough livelihood

A further one hundred and ninety kilometres north east from Hay is Willandra National Park. It is part of the original 436,000 acres merino stud property called Big Willandra Station. In 1972 when the 99 year lease ran out the government took back 19,000 hectares which included the homestead, shearing shed and other farm buildings. This was situated on the Willandra Creek and the area became a national park. 

Today we can experience the wonders of what life must have been like for those families who lived that isolated life at Big Willandra from the late 1860s. For a little of the experience it is possible to stay in the men's quarters and enjoy outside facilities, flies and heat and the clearest night skies possible. This was an amazing experience and I fully recommend it.

Willandra is part of the arid grasslands and is incredibly flat but there is lots to look at. As well as the grand homestead, there are various out buildings including the shearing complex and the ram shed where the prize rams lived luxuriously under a thatched roof. 
There are two interesting self guided walks that take you past former outstations, bridges and weirs and remnants of the past life of the property.

A self guided drive along the Merton Track gives ample opportunity to see red, eastern grey and western grey kangaroos and emus. The vegetation is sparce, occasional saltbush, with a few black box trees, but this allows you to study the varying soil types, look for aboriginal artifacts and animals tracks.

This was our third attempt to visit Willandra National Park and the soil is the key reason! It only takes 5 - 10 mms of rain to make the roads impassible so getting in and getting out is of prime importance.

Back to the bush ballads and poets.... the following references came to mind as we drove along the Hay Plains to Willandra and round about. Flash Jack from Gundagai shore at Big Willandra, the swagman sat under a coolibah tree, Banjo Paterson expressed his opinions on Hay, Hell and Booligal, Clancy had been shearing down the Lachlan and click go the shears boys, click, click, click! 

1 comment:

  1. Great overview of a good trip - sad we only went as far as Echuca