Traversing the Flat Land

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Our recent touring holiday, a journey of about 3 500 km, took us on a round trip to Melbourne and back, stopping at eight different towns and seeing a lot of Australian countryside in the process. From arid marginal land to rolling countryside of glorious green on the coast, we covered a lot of ground, and yet, looking at a map, it was only a small part of the south-eastern corner. We all know and understand that Australia is a huge country, but its immensity really becomes apparent when you start driving around in it.

Our first two days (from Mudgee to Griffith and then Griffith to Mildura), were fascinating in their own right, although many folk would only see the journey as something to be over and done with as soon as possible. Each day was a long drive: about five hours not including a short stop for lunch.

Much of that part of New South Wales is unrelentingly flat. If you could make a 360 degree turn, the land would be almost completely flat in every direction. And yet there is so much to see!

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The road surface is good, which is surprising considering the number of trucks, called road trains, that use it on a daily basis.  They are huge and rumble along at a steady 110 km/ph -as fast as they're allowed to go.  In the distance ahead of us, they reminded me of  sailing ships becalmed in the doldrums, seeming to be suspended above the heat haze, until they approached  and passed, on three occasions flinging up gravel. The gravel, which had been laid recently, flew through the air in an alarming fashion, like small meteorites, peppering our windscreen with chips and cracks.

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On each side of the road, it's possible to see that farming goes on: wheat, mostly, except around Griffith and Mildura which are irrigated areas, where citrus fruits, rice and grapes are grown. Occasionally there’s a copse on the horizon. Now and then an emu can be spotted, or a bird of prey. Sometimes remnant scrub can be seen. Or a lone farmer ploughs a paddock big enough to contain a small town.

The very enormity and emptiness of it is, in itself, fascinating. I found myself wondering about the tenacity of the people who cleared this land and the terrible wholesale removal of trees to create arable land. Towns along the way are far apart, and small: usually a few houses, a servo and a pub, and in one case a wonderful mural painted on the side of an old silo.

In recent times, silos have been replaced with more modern methods of storing grain, but the old silos have found a new life.  Artists are painting murals on them, and in fact, there's a Silo Art Trail in western Victoria. Visitors to this area can see enormous murals honouring local people,  painted by well-known artists.

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Both Griffith and Mildura are on rivers: Griffith on the Murrumbidgee and Mildura on the Murray.  The effect of entering them after the journey on the open road is as I imagine entering an oasis to be. Suddenly there are trees and lawns. There's an air of busyness.  People are out shopping or sitting at footpath cafés in the  sun, the shadows of street trees casting patterns on the footpaths.

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We met some great people along the way, from the woman at the service station at Weethalle who said she prefers to shop in Griffith (round trip 200 km),  to the friendly man in Hay who helped us decide whether we should replace the windscreen or not -we didn't.

While it wasn't a trip I'd want to make on a daily basis, as truck drivers might do, I wouldn't mind making it again one day, perhaps in a good season when rain has fallen, when the countryside would look completely different.

Have you been on a long road trip or do you prefer to stop in one place for a longer stay?

28 thoughts on “Traversing the Flat Land

  1. I find that flat country fascinating too, Jane. In all directions, just flat. The sky looks so big. I flew into Mildura once for work, and is was absolutely mesmerising to see an aerial view of the Murray River twist and turn through the flat country side. I’ve never done that trip by car but I would really love to.

    It’s a shame you copped that gravel.

    • I’d love to see it from the air,Tracy. That would be fascinating too. The gravel came up with such force we both ducked when it happened!

  2. Well I like long road trips, sometimes. In Europe we have driven all around, it seems to take us longer to get anywhere because a) we are not in any hurry b) we have to remember what side of the road to drive on and all the ways to get around on the roads that seem to go in 20 directions all a once c) we get lost, but we have had many exciting adventures when we do! In places I have already been to and like, it is fun to hunker down and then explore from there, in short road trips. Driving in the US is another thing. We think nothing of driving long, long distances.

    • That’s funny about driving in Europe- we have the same problems! I thought they’d drive on the same side of the road as you, though. It’s also very nice to stay in one place and do short trips, as you say. That’s a more relaxing kind of holiday.

  3. The mural is fabulous. I love long road-trips, even through boring flat country, there is always something to surprise you. Shame about the gravel chips though. I had to replace my windscreen which got cracked by a thrown-up stone as it failed the MOT test. I always fancied going on the Murray river. Maybe one day I will.

    • The mural was a sudden bolt of colour in that landscape, Jude. I’d love to see the others, but that’s another long trip. We still haven’t had the windscreen replaced!

  4. Thanks for sharing your trip. It is hard for us Europeans to register the distances involved. When we were in Amsterdam we talked to a couple who had flown in the day before from Australia; they explained that they’d flown (yes FLOWN) for 8 hours before they even left Australia

    • Your distances are much more manageable, Christina. We’ve enjoyed the novelty of flying in Europe and being over a different country after half an hour in the plane!

  5. I’m not one for long car rides, but with a book on CD, the time passes. Australia is so big and with many climates, just like the States. The Great Plains in the middle are similarly flat and endless. I’ve flown coast to coast, but never driven across, which takes about 5 days. I’ve often thought I’d make the trip some day, but the possibility diminishes with the passing years, maybe by rail where one can get up and move around!

    • I have also flown across the US from LA to New York and found it fascinating to watch the landscape change from brown to green. I’d love to drive across too.

  6. Even though we know the countryside is like this it always seems new and exciting each time we do a road trip. We love this sort of journey and you’re so right – there is so much to see along the way.

  7. A work friend and I drove from Melbourne to Bribie Island in Qld once. We drove up the interior and back down via the coast. All I can say is that it was hot 🙂

    I also came home from London in 1979 via my brother’s (then) home in Fremantle. I didn’t have much money left so came via bus from Perth to Melbourne (instead of air). I remember travelling many hours through flat land with very sparse vegetation for many hours on end – don’t think I’d do that trip again – too much sitting and the Loo stops were hard to manage.

    • Melbourne to Bribie Island is a HUGE drive. I hope you had a relaxing time when you got to Bribie! And bus from Perth to Melbourne would be challenging indeed.

  8. I’m glad you found a lot to grab your attention! I’m facing a long (8+ hour) drive later this summer along a route not known for its scenic delights and I’m frankly rather dreading it but perhaps I’ll be as lucky as you were. I’m not sure our roads are in as good a condition as yours, though.

    • Eight hours is a lot! I think it’s important on a trip like that not to get one’s hopes up about scenery and try to find interest in less dramatic things.

  9. I always feel like catching breath when I see an utter flat land and you made me that Jane, how amazing views they are!
    Also I am urged to tour around Silo Art Trails! I had seen one before but I didn’t know there are many! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    • I think the Silo Art Trail would be a very good trip to make Makiko, and you’d be seeing some flat land as well!

  10. What a great trip Jane. Just about every where in Australia means a long trip. But, like you, I find the country fascinating. We were lucky to have no time frame when we travelled for a year round the country and having our house on our back like a tortoise, so to speak, we could stop whenever and where ever we wanted, and we did… love the art on the silos that trail would be a good one to do. Who looked after your garden while you where away.

    • Hello Pauline, how lucky you were to be able to travel around Australia for a year! You must have covered a bit of territory in that time.
      We have a watering system that’s efficient enough to keep the garden alive, and a good friend watered the pot plants.

  11. Going up the centre from Adelaide to the Alice is another great trip. But one thing that you must do is stop the car, get out and listen to the silence especially at night.

    • Hi Paol, yes that would be a wonderful trip to do. I looked into going on the Ghan, but it’s booked out for at least a couple of years! We don’t drive much at night because we’re worried about hitting kangaroos, so listening at night has to happen at home.

  12. I’d love to do this. Whenever we travel the first thing we do is pick up a hire car and Australia was no exception. It’s the only way to see the country. The longest trips we did were from Port Douglas down to Airlie Beach, about 8 hours I think. Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges. And then Alice Springs to Uluru.. where we learned all about the Road Trains! I’d love to do Alice Springs to Darwin and definitely the Nullabor. I’ll just have to come back 🙂

    • Wow, I think you might have seen more of the country than me, Jessica. I have a lot more to visit. Yes, you should come back and do some more- sounds as though you had a wonderful time.

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