|Travelling Australia - Journal 2008b|
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|16 July 2008 - Mildura to Ouyen|
The sky was blue with not a cloud in sight when we opened the van door this morning to begin packing to leave Mildura.
This had been a comfortable caravan park but surprisingly busy; its location on the corner of the Calder Highway (to
Melbourne) and the Sturt Highway (to Sydney and to Adelaide) may have had something to do with that, there were four
large caravan parks nearby forming a cluster around this highway junction and there were caravans coming and going all day.
We packed up and connected the van without haste and drove out of the park at 9:18 onto the Calder Highway (Route A79) bound for Ouyen 100 kilometres away - not a long day.
The Calder Highway is a good road with a single lane in each direction, traffic was fairly light but there were a few semi-trailers on this main road. There were plenty of long-straight stretches and not much traffic coming the other way so trucks could overtake us safely. The road goes through Red Hill (an irrigation centre south east of Mildura) then passes through a series of very small hamlets which would often not be noticed except for the elaborate place name sign on the side of the road. About 23 kilometres from Mildura we entered cropland with paddocks covered by green young crops.
Vines which were abundant around Mildura and Red Hill had stopped some time before we reached the cropland and we had been passing through native mallee. Although the Mildura region seems to be covered by well tended grapevines or citrus orchards, with grapes far more widespread than citrus, local newspapers report that all is not well with horticulture in the area. Many of the 'blockies' (farmers living on, and growing grapes on, a block of irrigated land) have decided they want to leave the industry because of poor returns. The Federal Government has offered a re-establishment grant of $150,000, but selling their blocks is a pre-requisite for the grant and there are no interested buyers. Not only is there unlikely to be enough water this season for irrigation but returns for dried fruits, when there is water available, are too low.
But now we had left the irrigated area around Mildura and were heading into the Mallee region of Victoria. Much of the native mallee remains, especially in several large national parks and conservation reserves, but there are also large areas cleared and now devoted to cropping. Ouyen, our destination for the day, is a centre for crop handling confirmed by the silos in the railway yard, but also advertises itself as the centre for the mallee parks region and as the place for prime mallee lambs. The caravan park we stopped at is across the road from the sale yards which have well-attended sales every second Wednesday. But we hadn't seen a single sheep between Mildura and Ouyen and wondered where they all were.
After setting up in the caravan park we went for a drive in Ouyen (population 1,500). On a previous visit here we had not left the caravan park and felt that we should have a look at the township this time. But it was extremely quiet, with the shopping area just about deserted at one o'clock in the afternoon, and we returned to the van for the rest of the afternoon. A cool wind had sprung up about lunchtime and the sky clouded over later in the afternoon.