Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
31 May 2012 - Naracoorte to Penola and rtn (not towing)
Today we drove from Naracoorte to Penola and return while leaving the caravan at Naracoorte. The weather was excellent with a blue sky, no cloud and bright sunshine. The Riddoch Highway (the A66) between Naracoorte and Penola was a good road with little traffic and it was a pleasure to accelerate to Pathfinder engine speed of 2,000 rpm (just over 90 kph) and cruise along a good road in good weather.

On the way to Penola we passed through the Coonawarra wine area. The road was lined with vineyards and entrances to cellar door establishments. Vineyards were filled with hundreds of metres of trellises covered by vines; most were at or near the last stages of dropping their leaves and after leaf drop in viticulture the vines are pruned. We speculated on how long it would take to prune all these vines and whether it was done by hand or machinery. I later discovered that machinery is sometimes used to remove longer stems but most pruning is done manually often using itinerant workers such as back-packers.

In Penola we stopped at the information centre and local museum. The museum had good coverage of the part played by migrants from Scotland in settling and developing the Limestone Coast. This Scottish influence explains why there is a Penola and District Pipe Band.

Next we went to the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre commemorating Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop who, as Mary Mackillop, worked in Penola as governess and teacher before founding the Sisters of Saint Joseph to educate poor children. An Interpretive Centre beside the present day St Josephs Church has a series of presentations telling Mary's story and that of Father Julian Tenison Woods who was parish priest in Penola and became co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph. Beside the Interpretive Centre stands the purpose built school building first used in 1867 to educate local children. The nuns lived in the school house.
classroom Restored classroom in the MacKillop Schoolhouse at Penola.

Penola shopping street Penola shopping street; these are mainly tourist oriented businesses relying on the nearby Coonawarra wine region. The main street is the Riddoch Highway to Mount Gambier named after John Riddoch who established the wine industry at Coonawarra.

After wandering around the Interpretive Centre and the restored Schoolhouse we drove to a nearby bakery for lunchtime pies and coffee then had a look around the town.

The Penola shopping street (along the highway through the middle of town) is unusual in that nearly every business is oriented towards tourists and visitors. A range of banks and three estate agents are along the main street but there are enough restaurants, cafes, bakeries and coffee shops to serve a far larger population than Penola's 1317 people (2006 census). There is a surfeit of gift shops, galleries and cellar doors as well as more narrowly specialised businesses such as the lolly and chocolate shop. I asked one business operator whether the MacKillop Centre generated much business and was told very definitely that it did not; Penola regarded itself as part of the Coonawarra wine complex and relied on wine visitors for business. The additional comment was made that buses carrying 'pilgrims' went directly to the MacKillop Interpretive Centre then drove away from Penola after their visit.

The Penola region was first settled by Europeans in the 1840s and benefitted in the 1850s by being on the route between Adelaide and the Victorian Goldfields. The name is derived from the private town of Panoola established in 1850 on a freehold pastoral lease. John Riddock purchased a pastoral property (Yallum) in 1861 and ran 50,000 head of sheep there; Riddock emigrated from Scotland in 1851 and had been a successful wine merchant and shopkeeper on the goldfields. He planted the first grape vines and, in 1890 established the Penola Fruit Growing Colony which was renamed Coonawarra in 1897. Riddoch is credited with founding the flourishing quality wine region of Coonawarra; he was a dominating figure in the region and the highway from Mount Gambier through the region is named after him.

Penola is certainly part of the Coonawarra wine tourism industry but it is also a support centre for surrounding agriculture with supermarkets, hardware and motor vehicle maintenance businesses but these are situated away from the main shopping area which is tourist oriented.

Driving back towards Naracoorte, with the weather still excellent, we paused at a roadside stop where pine trees have been carved in a memorial to Father Tenison Wood who often used to rest under a red gum nearby when that parcel of land was on a property owned by friends. The red gum is now two or three metres from the bitumen and not a really restful spot when a B-double passes.

wooden statues One of several carved pine trees commemorating Father Tenison Woods time as parish priest of Penola and as co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph.