On Saturday 4 October 2014 cars assembled at the Hall layby for the two day Griffith adventure. Present were organisers, Peter Gwilt and Julie Higgins, Pat and Margaret Walsh, Denis and Yola Murphy, Brooke and Jacqui Thorpe, Kerry and Lynne McPherson, Harry and Connie Yates from Bowral, Dianne Hammond and Violetta Okomoto, Victor and Lynne Nedjarian from the Sydney region and Luciana Baronio and myself. Lindsay and Angela Miller had driven ahead to Griffith on the Friday and met us there. The day was going to be a hot one, but armoured with the best of Teutonic technology we sallied forth with insouciance.
We stopped for coffee at the Captains Walk at Cootamundra and then had lunch in the Narrandera Ex-Services Club. The meals were generous and the service swift, though when six city slickers and two locals hit the bar at once, the bartender, with a look of mild panic, had to call for backup which eventually waddled into place with rural alacrity.
After travelling via Leeton we arrived in Griffith, which I can’t recall having previously visited. We were greeted with a gracious long main street, Bann Avenue. On the right side of the street were the civic buildings and amenities such as the courthouse, library, art gallery and park. The city was laid out by the architect of Canberra Walter Griffin (it is incorrect to refer to him as Walter Burley Griffin) and the result is that roads are wide and straight with broad circles connecting various arterial avenues. The Canberra design influence is quite detectable. On the left of Bann Avenue are shops, including many cafes and restaurants which have Italian influence, due to the large numbers of Italian migrants who have lived in the Murray Irrigation Area since the 1920’s, and developed the citrus fruit and wine industries, which are the backbone of the region.
Some group members visited the local War Museum while others rested after a long trip.
One café with an Italian heritage is Il Corso where we had a splendid dinner on the Saturday night, capped off by a range of gelati, which had us coming back the next two days to cool off with.
We stayed at the Kidman Hotel which was very quiet and comfortable, with good parking for our vehicles. Highly recommended.
If one looked over the Hotel fence one could see an orange grove. Such groves, irrigated by water canals, are dotted all over the city. Many would have been established prior to World War II and seen other buildings surround them in time.
On the Sunday morning some members visited the local Rotary markets, while others had a leisurely breakfast. By about 11.30 we were all entering an award winning garden. We drove through a magnificent gate and drive surrounded by large hedges.
Louis, of Italian extraction from the Veneto Region, showed us the garden which was very pretty and charming. A few of us spent some time communing with his four dogs of mixed extraction and an under siege cat. In the case of the puppies it meant patting their tummies while they wriggled on their backs. I spent a lot of time enjoying the garden, enhancing my impoverished plant recognition skills, fondling silky soft Lambs Ears and wondering how much effort is needed to maintain such a Garden of Eden.
Louis, ever the gracious and chirpy host, then invited us all to pick a bag full of oranges or mandarins to take away as a souvenir. Thank you, Louis.
After midday we headed for a local winery founded by the De Bortoli family in the 1930’s. After passing through the cellar door we were treated to a wine tasting. Being viticulturally challenged, I usually feel out of my depth in this situation. My ignorance is matched only by my limited and uneducated palate which eschewing the dry grape, demands to be coated in sweetness. Surrounded by staff or visitors who swirl the wine in the glass rather ostentatiously and talk about the ‘fruity aromas with a dash of peppermint’ or ‘the hint of chocolate on the nose’ is not my mileau. Luckily such pretensions did not apply at de Bortoli’s and the staff were most helpful in helping me choose a wine to my taste and pocket without the pretence.
After a lunch under a rotunda at the winery, most of us headed back to the motel to rest. Before leaving, your correspondent couldn’t resist a swing or two on a nearby um, swing. This impetuous regression to childhood was regretfully captured by Brooke with his Kodak Brownie, acting in stealthy paparazzo fashion.
On the Monday morning we visited the home and shop of a local jeweller, Ian, who has a passion for old Mercedes. He has a late 1970’s 300 D he drives, two 170 D’s (one including a resident cat) from 1951, and a 1980s W126 380. One of the 170 D’s is in salvageable condition which Ian hopes to restore to driveability, though lacking an engine. The other had its roof cut off and is probably now only suitable as a parts car. These 170 D’s would have been among the earliest Mercedes-Benz to have been imported after World War II. I wish Ian all the best with his 170D revival.
Meanwhile, the women had been lured into the Aladdin’s Cave which is Ian’s jewellery shop. We silly men trooped into Ian’s backyard garages making nervous and puerile jokes about overheated credit cards while viewing what amounted to fascinating rusty and rusticated Antipodean Mercedes-Benz archaeology.
How about 10 women emerging from Ian’s glittering cornucopia, without making one purchase. This was one of the great mysteries of commerce, alongside the mysterious, yet beguiling, spend and save mantra. Surely, a Guinness Book of Records moment.
Later we headed for the Pioneer Park. This is a conglomeration of buildings which have been either relocated or recreated. Places include an old school, hospital, general store (with Letona fruit tins and Cottees Passiona signs) and Italian Museum among others as well as gigantic sheds with many old tractors and harvesters. Most of us did not have time to view it all, but the Italian Museum was illuminating, and an exhibition which informed us about the Murray Irrigation Area and the local wine and fruit growing industries was fascinating.
The Murray Irrigation Area (MIA) Scheme involved building a number of dams, bridges, weirs and many long canals, and was the largest such development in Australia until the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It began about 1913 and weathered World War I and the Depression. Quite a feat indeed.
After enjoying an old fashioned sandwich lunch in an old fashioned hall under the old fashioned, yet soothing gaze of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from the 1950’s we made our departure. Some went to visit a hermits’ cave while others took the road to Temora and Canberra.
This was an enjoyable two day trip to a town many in the party had not seen before. A big thank you goes to Peter and Julie for devising the trip and its flawless execution. If I need professionals to organise a 90 day round the world tour I now know who to ask…