Travelling Australia - Journal 2011
25 August 2011 - Beckom to Kilmore
We experienced a very cold night without the benefit of an electric heater and confirmed that we do not carry enough blankets to keep us warm in cold weather; the temperature in the van dropped to 6° at 7 a.m. and we were not comfortable. But the morning was bright and sunny and soon warmed things up and we were away from the Beckom Rest Area onto the Newell Highway heading for Narrandera. We accelerated slowly; the Pathfinder doesn't pull very well before it has warmed up and acceleration is flat between 70 and 75 kph even when the engine is warm. With 11°C outside temperature it took a while to reach cruising speed of 85 to 90 kph. This was sheep and grain country with canolla and wheat widespread and large flocks of sheep grazing in paddocks. Traffic was light at this early hour; the road was flat and reasonably good but some sections could have been better.

We stopped in Narrandera for fuel; there are three service stations in the town and the first one we pulled into had run out of diesel and was awaiting the delivery tanker. The second place we tried had the fuel we needed but finding a service station out of fuel was a bit of a surprise. After fuelling we parked the van near the Information Centre and went to a coffee shop we knew from previous visits to Narrandera. We had covered more than half the distance from Charleville to Melbourne in the previous two days and could afford to spend some time today in more relaxed activity.

Narrandera is very much a grain oriented town with a grain storage complex on the northern edge of the town. It is also the site of a main regulating reservoir for the irrigated area around Griffiths; the Main Irrigation Channel supplying that scheme runs past the town but that connection with irrigation is downplayed.

After leaving Narrandera heading for Jerilderie the Newell Highway initially passes through a slightly hilly area with cypress trees very common but then, fairly quickly, there is a significant change. The land flattens out to be dead flat to the horizon and trees end leaving a grassy landscape. The Newell runs in long straight stretches with a good surface making driving pleasant.

Many birds were seen, Apostle Birds were present in their usual groups feeding on the side of the road, White Winged Coughs were also feeding along the road in some numbers as were Galahs. One flock of Galahs was hidden in long grass beside the road until they all took wing just before we passed them and we were enclosed in a cloud of grey and bright pink as they tried to get away; when this happened again a few minutes later I found that slowing down by as little as 10 to 15 kph gave the birds a much better chance of getting away. Galahs can fly fast (we have paced a flock of galahs at 90 kph) but they need a bit of time to get up to speed; reducing our speed a little seems to give them that opportunity.

As we approached Jerilderie we were passed by a road train carrying raw cotton; there was a little bit of cotton scrap on the roadside but so little that cotton is not carried along here in quantity. We wondered where cotton was grown in the Murrumbidgee Valley and where it would be processed. We found that there has been a core of cotton growers in the Murrumbidgee for years but recently (according to 'The Land' rural newspaper) there has beeen renewed interest in growing cotton in the Murrimbidgee because of lower rice prices and the availability of more irrigation water. The area under cotton had increased from 1,500 hectares in the previous four years to 16,000 hectares this year; harvesting this crop had been delayed by four weeks and had not begun until the end of May 2011. The nearest gin is at Hillston (where cotton is regularly grown) but there was some doubt if that gin could handle the extra crop; the next closest gins are at Trangie and Warren. Building a cotton gin at Darlington Point to handle Murrumbidgee cotton is being investigated.

Cotton has been grown more widely in the Murrumbidgee in the past and there was a gin at Darlington Point before growers turned to other crops. Several reasons are given for the resurgence of cotton. One is the availability of new varieties suited to the short growing season in the Murrumbidgee. Availability of transgenic varieties which do not need heavy applications of spray is also important, although there are still pests to be controlled. There also appears to be trend towards hotter and drier season and the price of cotton is higher than other crops

There is another significant change in the Newell at Jerilderie as the road enters the Murray Valley and approaches Tocumwal on the Murray River. The road here is not as good and the surrounding paddocks are no longer wide open grass to the horizon. Irrigation activity is common with spray rigs set to deliver water to canolla paddocks the most obvious; irrigation channels are also common. The township of Finley on the highway has blossom trees on flower on the left side of the highway, while a different species on the other side of the road has yet to come into blossom.

Passing through Tocumwal was straightforward then we were crossing the overflowing Murray River. The Murray had filled its banks to overflowing; wetlands beside the river were well and truly under water.

Near the Murray River main channel is a series of narrow bridges over minor branches of the Murray; this was not a good place to meet a wide load but we did. The problem of the wide load was exacerbated by the escort vehicle which did not have much idea of the best way to ensure the wide load reached its destination intact.
Travelling Australia - 25 Aug 2011, Bourke/Nyngan to Beckom - page 2
The usual procedure with wide loads is for the escort vehicle in front to broadcast on UHF channel 40 that a wide load is coming with information on how wide it is and where it is. That allows everybody up to about 12 kilometres away to hear the load coming and to know how much of the road it will take up so drivers can plan to get out of the way. The escort vehicle uses another frequency to keep the wide load driver informed of traffic coming towards him. This works well; it allows trucks, caravans and cars to pull over in good time so the wide load has the easiest possible time.

But for this wide load an entirely different, confusing, procedure was used. The escort vehicle didn't broadcast its location but restricted itself to saying to oncoming trucks there was a wide load coming; other road users were ignored. No location was given and the crucial information about direction of travel was kept secret so other road users couldn't plan to clear the road for the wide load. Then the escort vehicle used channel 40 to tell the wide load driver what vehicles were coming towards him; so we had all this conversation on the radio but still no idea of where the wide load was or which way it was going. To add to the confusion the wide load driver was not satisfied with the escort vehicle's conduct and began broadcasting his width, location and direction of travel as well as talking directly to other vehicles. Fortunately there was a slight widening of the road with a small verge between a couple of the narrow bridges and I was able to pull off the road far enough for the wide-load to pass.

With this wide-load shambles behind us we continued into Victoria but soon stopped at Koonoomoo for lunch of strawberry pancakes at the Big Strawberry on the Newell Highway. This is a regular stopping place when travelling this road.

South of the Big Strawberry the Newell Highway merged with the Murray Valley Highway for a while and traffic increased appreciably. A northerly wind had also been steadily increasing for the past hour or so and I was looking forward to a nice tail wind once the Newell Highway turned south, leaving the Murray Valley Highway and heading towards Shepparton and, further on, the junction with the Hume Freeway near Seymour.

North of Shepparton was mainly irrigated land, including one green paddock holding dairy cows. There wasn't a dominant crop obvious from the road, and there was only one herd ofdairy cattle seen. Driving past one irrigation channel as it passed under the road we saw a man happily sitting on a stool beside his 4WD with a fishing line into the channel full of water.

We refuelled in Shepparton before continuing on the Newell Highway which leaves Shepparton as a freeway with divided carriageways and two lanes in each direction which easily handled the traffic. Once clear of Shepparton the road passes through a cattle region with herds grazing on the green grass; many paddocks carry rolls of hay ready to be collected and stored. The freeway was not continuous; sections are still under construction but the long section of freeway allowed traffic to move easily.

Near Shepparton the Newell Highway joined the Hume Freeway which was the long-established dual carriageway between Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga. We turned off the Hume Freeway at the Kilmore exit and made our way to that town for the night. We had passed through this region a few years ago and found it attractive; we wanted to check out Kilmore as a possible place to spend a few nights on a future occasion. We checked in at the Kilmore Caravan Park for one night expecting a fairly easy day tomorrow going around Melbourne on the ring road then out to Frankston.
Travelling Australia - 25 Aug 2011, Bourke/Nyngan to Beckom - page 3
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