Thursday, August 12, 2010

Were there any swag-women?

Horsham is a medium sized town which sports an Aldi and two bike shops (Wimmera Wheels being the better one for touring cyclists). The caravan park here is nice and affordable and is nestled in close to the Wimmera River.
Leaving Horsham after three nights with a camp kitchen and television set all to myself, I headed north-west on the Western Highway which continued to have, for the most part, bicycle-friendly shoulders, which is very good because the road is quite busy. 

After about an hour on the road I was overtaken by a Taiwanese cycling tourist. The shoulder isn't wide enough for two laden travellers, and the road too busy for safe conversation so our meeting was brief. I kept up with him for an hour but then decided stopping for something to eat was a good plan. I caught up with him again in Dimboola where we chatted for a while at the café. He continued on to Nhill, but I stayed at Dimboola to use the library, internet, walk around town and down the Wimmera River. The Taiwanese traveller is going onto Adelaide and then flying up to Cairns to ride down to Sydney, where he started out.
Dimboola is a small town with one hotel - the other is not fit for purpose due to a fire. The caravan park is next to the Wimmera River.

From Dimboola, I headed North-east on the Borung Highway - a very straight stretch of road to Warracknabeal.

Warracknabeal is a nice town that sits on the part of Yarriambiack Creek that actually has water and lots of it. This is because it is dammed water and not much further north the creek bed is dry. The Yarriambiack creek system, and I've heard the Wimmera River is the same, is a gated water system with most gates closed to flow. 

Headwinds plagued me as I followed the Henty Highway north, and beside the now dry parts of Yarriambiack Creek, and willing for a break from my windy nemesis, my first stop was lunch at Brim.
Brim, meaning "well of water" in Indigenous language, is about halfway between Warracknabeal and Beulah. It is a very small town where everything closes for the football game. 'Everything' being the pub and the general store. There is a lakeside caravan park here that charges $5 a night for a powered site. The lake, like most in this part of Victoria, is a weir, part of Yarriambiack
Creek, and is bone dry due to extended drought conditions and the closed gates downstream. So much for well of water.

I made it to Beulah by lunch time, a place that calls itself "North of the netting" that was supposed to keep rabbits south of it and dingos north. Beulah has a free powered caravan park next to the footy field and netball courts, and dried up Yarriambiack Creek. I stayed here on a Saturday night and showed up in the middle of the main game of football where the whole town and competing town were there to cheer on their players. All the shops were closed while the game was on so I had to wait for a feed. Everyone had cleared out by 9pm and due to an
overnight thunderstorm I ended up sleeping in a netball shed. However, I was lazy, slept in, and got busted by some netball mums preparing for a day of games at 8 am. Oops.
Hopetoun was the next dot on the map. Lake Lascelles has managed to get a water allowance and has been full for only six months. You can stay in cabins here, camp with power for $10 a night, or camp without for free. The first night I stayed here I stayed in a converted silo for $20. Due to bad weather for cycling, I stayed here a few more days and nights, free camping.

One day I was cooking some lunch when I could hear a lamb bleeting. A little tiny lamb was knocking on the door on a big white caravan. That's not your mum. It was a windy day and freezing by the lake. After a while the tiny thing went to sleep by the petrol genset the
crazy owner had running 24 hours a day despite a powered site only costing $10. I tried to find the rest of the flock but couldn't. Eventually the van owner flagged down a ute and I can only assume the driver had chops for tea.

Leaving Hopetoun finally, I stupidly managed to pick a day where most of the traffic coming the other way was trucks carrying oversize signs and agricultural machinery of various awkward shaped and sizes - taking up one lane and a half - from the Speed Field Day exhibition. Well, at least they were going the opposite direction.
Lascelles was next. This is just a speck on the map and all that is here is a pub which is also a convenience store. There is a patch of grass with a ammenities block sign posted as a caravan park, so I stayed here overnight to break up the ride to Ouyen.
Seventy kilometres of headwinds and not much water later I made it to Ouyen at 5pm, exhausted and starving. The only thing open besides the pub was a greasy spoon where I bought a fish burger and it was bloody good. I stayed here two nights.
Ouyen caravan park is next to Blackburn Park with netball courts, afl field, playground and also trotting track. There is a sign in this park showing the years of demise and amalgamation of various football clubs in the region, symbolic of the towns themselves dying. What was
about seven clubs gradually merged into the one club, Ouyen United. 

Just before I got to Ouyen there is what I am guessing a saltpan in the area known as Bronzewing. The vegetation abruptly changes from Mallee scrub to low-lying plants you normally see along the coast - pigface and samphire, but also rushes, and just as abruptly ends, merging back to scrub. 

Along the Sunraysia and Calder Highways it is mostly lined on at least one side by somewhat authentic Mallee scrub - caught between the wheat-carrying railway line and these highways it is one of the last remaining habitats for the Mallee fowl, and not surprisingly this species is endangered.

Next I rode on to Hattah and the Hattah-Kilkyne National Park which is six kikometres off the Calder on sealed, albeit narrow road that cuts into the mallee scrub. I was heading for the Hattah 
Lake campsite. 
Mallee scrub is very different from the rural areas and wimmera bush I had previously travelled through. In places it is quite open, with lots of bare soil - sometimes quite red soil - between the spiky Porcipine grass, ground covers, squat acacia and short mallee trees.
The endangered Mallee fowl, when it has the misfortune of being hit by one of the never-ending stream of oblivious motor vehicles - the trucks, vans, small trucks with oversized caravans or small mansions on wheels - the precious birds get decapitated instantly as the only mercy spared for  them. 

I have found the Mallee has a diversity of interesting flora when you travel at human powered speed. I am guessing in a car at 110 km/h it just looks like a blur of dull greens. The rings of porcupine grass - it dies out in the middle as it grows in breadth - creating a circle of green spines. The different levels created by ground covers, then acacia shrubs, then the short mallee eucalypt. And while the wattles aren't in flower, splashes of gems - the mallee orchid clambering over the shrubs and trees and even itself - with its pale yellow delicate flowers - to which the sedentary occupants of the speeding cars are oblivious and I can delight in alone. 

Another seventy-five kilometres of this back to the main road and along the Calder I make it to Mildura, and finally my first glimpse of the Murray River, which I fall in love with immediately. There is something about rivers! I leave the bike and walk a few kilometres along it, amazed at all the edible plants that I can identify growing on its banks. Old man saltbush, pigface, nettle, sow thistle, bullrush, wild brassica, plantain, wood sorrel and mallow just the ones I know about. There are some crazy succulents that might be carpobrotus also - tiny little things, bright green, that  look like land-based corals.

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