The road to Gundagai 🎶🎶 🎶🎶 🎶

Albury-Wodonga, Culcairn, Henty, The Rock, Wagga Wagga, Gundagi, Nangus, Eurongilly & Junee

Following the road from Yackandandah we travelled through an area once scattered with pastoral settlements before gold was discovered and gold fever hit.The surrounding towns and sites we had just visited were certainly intriguing remnants of those days. There was so much gold history surrounding us that we couldn’t help but be drawn to the thought of the people who originally settled here in this gold and bushranger country and of their love for precious nuggets, rolling hills and their sense of adventure.

Marking the border between Victoria and New South Wales, as well as the divider between the twin towns of Wodonga in Victoria and Albury in New South Wales, the Mighty Murray River is the best-known and most picturesque state border in Australia and it was also a great place along the Hume Highway to take a break.

The Murray River flows more than 2500 kilometres from the Snowy Mountains to the Southern Ocean in South Australia and as Aussie history and geography lessons continued to come alive the Mighty Murray River certainly made an impact on us. We grew up watching movies about the Murray, learning about it in history lessons, listening to stories from people on Macca’s ‘Australia all Over’ and hearing about the effects of the drought and we were again seeing it for ourselves.

With rain, cold weather and snow forecast for days to come on our planned route east through the Apline Country of Mount Kosciuszko, Thredbo and Jindabyne to Canberra we changed our plans and instead we opted to head north and hopefully into a warmer climate.

Our plan now was to head  through Wagga Wagga to Gundgai then on to Junee for the night.  From there we planned on making our way to Young, Glenfell, Gooloogong, Forbes, Parkes, Peak Hill then Dubbo then back down to Wellington, Orange, Bathurst and Lithgow at the base of the Blue Mountains… and as it turned out, although not a lot warmer, it was better then trying to plough our way through snow covered alps!

The Hume Highway isn’t the most exciting stretch of road in Australia. It’s a smooth drive that takes you from Melbourne to Sydney alongside stretches of golden countryside, bypassing all of the major towns along its route… but there are plenty of things to see near the Hume Highway – you just have to know where to look.. and we couldn’t miss the Ettamogah Pub.

Most Australian’s would remember the Ettamogah Pub as the cartoon pub featured in the old Australia Post magazine by cartoonist Ken Maynard. images-1The first ‘Ettamogah Pub’ was built 10 kilometres north of Albury and since then others have been built in Sydney, the Sunshine Coast in QLD and in Cunderdin Western Australia.

It really is quite a quirky building where you can buy a beer or a meal and camp behind the pub for free…. but it was a bit early in the day for us to set up camp so we continued on.

Branching off from the Hume Highway we followed the Olympic Highway bypassing Culcairn, Henty and The Rock to Wagga Wagga.

The countryside was fairly hilly in the east, and flattened slowly the further west we travelled. Wagga Wagga, known to the locals as Wagga, has about 40,000 people and is the largest inland town in NSW. It is on the Murrumbidgee River and is almost exactly half way between Sydney and Melbourne.

Our next stop for a cuppa was Gundagai and I couldn’t pass the opportunity to hum a few bars and send a text to our kids,  just to let them know we were ok and where we were heading…  ‘along the road to Gundgai’

The roads to the town of Gundagai  have been immortalised in bush poetry and song. There’s the song, ‘Along the road to Gundagai’ by Jack O’Hagan…

There’s a track winding back
To an old-fashioned shack
Along the road to Gundagai
Where the blue gums are growing
And the Murrumbidgee’s flowing
Beneath that sunny sky…

and there’s also the poem, ‘The road to Gundagai’ by Banjo Patterson, that begins like this:

The mountain road goes up and down
From Gundagai to Tumut town
And, branching off, there runs a track
Across the foothills grim and black,
Across the plains and ranges grey
To Sydney City far away…” 

Most of those make-shift tracks that the original bushmen travelled as they took up land near Gundagai between 1830 and 1850 are now bitumen and the main road between Sydney and Melbourne, the Hume Highway, which we travelled along, passed right through Gundagai.

The scenery in the poems still describes the landscape as it is today although there are a few less trees. Our trip along the road to Gundagai was hilly in places with a landscape of dry grass and more dry grass and an isolated tree here and there, until finally we turned off the highway and made a short descent into the little town.

Gundagai is a beautiful, sleepy little town… a classic Australian country town located on the Murrumbidgee River and a perfect spot to stop for a break and explore the town. Gundagai it seems – means ‘the quite one’.

When I think of  Gundagai, I straight away think of ‘The Dog on the Tuckerbox’ and we just had to detour from our planned route to Junee to see this town and see the famous memorial based on the old legend of Bill the Bullocky, who in 1850 was driving his bullock team when his wagon became stuck in mud.images-2 After an unsuccessful attempt to free the wagon, he went to have his lunch where he found his dog sitting on the tuckerbox.

A poem ‘Bullocky Bill’ by unknown author ‘Bowyang Yorke’, portrays the partnership of the bullockies who opened up the land to settlers and the dogs who accompanied them and guarded their possessions.

This is the poem that is displayed at the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ memorial:

As I was coming down Conroy’s Gap,

I heard a maiden cry;

‘There goes Bill the Bullocky,

He’s bound for Gundagai.

A better poor old beggar

Never earnt an honest crust,

A better poor old beggar

Never drug a whip through dust.’

His team got bogged at the nine mile creek,

Bill lashed and swore and cried;

‘If Nobby don’t get me out of this,

I’ll tattoo his bloody hide.’

But Nobby strained and broke the yoke,

And poked out the leader’s eye;

Then the dog sat on the Tucker Box

Nine miles from Gundagai.

Leaving Gundagai we headed west to Junee.  This little town had been recommended to us by a older couple who were staying in the park at Yackandanda and lived in Junee.

Passing Nangus,  a small country village on the Junee to Gundagai road we continued on. Nangus is on the north side of the Murrumbidgee River, located approximately 24 kilometres west of Gundagai in the Riverina area.

Nineteen kilometres further on we passed through the small township of Eurongilly then it was onwards another 21 kilometres to Junee.

Junee is a quaint rural town with few historic buildings and located within the rolling hills of the Riverina and again near the iconic Murrumbidgee River.  It is the home of NSW and Australian rugby league player Laurie Daley and rugby league broadcaster Ray Warren and is also the home of the best licorice and chocolate factory that in a former life was a flour mill. Junee’s chocolate and licorice factory was a compulsory stop. The pure licorice tastes somewhat like cinnamon with the main ingredient molasses. We enjoyed the full Willy Wonka experience gaining insights into the production of organic licorice and chocolate coating whilst indulging in samples and what could be more fun than vertical liquorish bowling.  We left with bags of goodies for our family in Sydney… although we were very tempted to open the bags and eat them ourselves!

From 1851 onwards people rushed to make their fortunes on a series of goldfields surrounding Junee, hence it became an outpost in NSW goldmining.  It is also a railway town with a  huge railway roundhouse and museum and the railway station that dominates the centre of town.

Junee is famous for the ‘ghosts of the haunted Monte Cristo Homestead’ too. Apparently these ghosts have scared many a traveller and  it is said the ghosts of Mrs Crawley the wife of Mr Crawley who built the homestead,  a young stable boy who was killed when his mattress was set alight and a mentally unstable handicapped boy who was chained to the back of the cottage for 30 years frequent the homestead, as do,  from time to time, servants that once walked the halls.

Junee is a Wiradjuri Aboriginal word meaning “speak to me” and was originally spelt Jewnee which was the name of a pastoral run established in the district in the 1840s.

After a walk around the town checking out the sites we decided to set up camp. It was still raining when we arrived at Junee Tourist Park and it rained most of the night, although the weather was considerate and stopped raining briefly while we set up our rooftop tent.

This was a lovely little park and very well kept with large grassy spots to park right next to a little pond which added to the ambiance, had a great camp kitchen to again shelter from the weather… and we were close to the chocolate and licorice factory too, yum.

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