A Rural Rendezvous – Horsham and the Wimmera

(C) Julie Boyd

Horsham, in Victoria, is probably not a place that immediately springs to mind as a holiday destination. Located halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, it tends to be more of a stop-off point for petrol and snacks on the way between Adelaide’s Pandas and Melbourne’s restaurants. However, look more closely and you find a large country town with all the benefits of a city – large shopping centres, movie theatre, and a well established cafe society; and a city with all the benefits of a country town, such as friendly people, excellent service, and good food.

Driving into Horsham under a full moon at certain times of the year you would be forgiven for believing you were in an alien zone. Massive searchlights light up paddocks like football fields for a night game. Huge red traffic lights complete the illusion that alien landing strips surround the town.

But take a breath there and you find that Horsham shows all the values we used to appreciate in Australia in years past, that our overcrowded cities and kids hot-housed in high-rise battery living seem to have lost. It may be a city, but you are offered free coffee if you spend $20 on petrol at the servo on the road to Adelaide, and the young attendant smiles through a hearty ‘g’day’ as he fills the car.

Nothing was too much trouble for the jovial butcher in the large shopping centre who couldn’t supply the requisite lamb hearts for my dog – but called his mate to see if he had some for us. Major retailers such as Kmart, Bunnings and Harvey Norman happily share space with smaller shops and fascinating little eateries. Shopping is so good that my travelling companion, who managed to find an entire new wardrobe for an upcoming trip to Sumatra for less than $100, proclaimed it better than her local shopping area which just happens to be Brunswick, Melbourne’s home of factory outlets. The main street features not one, but too Waack’s bakery cafes, proudly displaying banners proclaiming their new status as the best vanilla slice makers in Australia.

The Victoria pub was like a movie set for a sequel to David Willamson’s play, ‘Dimboola’, which incidentally is the village only just up the road and these days, a popular home for many young couples and families, but the food at the pub was hot, very filling and very quick. A seafood basket might not be the most sensible choice in most inland towns but my companion ate every scrap.

Travelling with a pet is still difficult in Australia although there are increasing numbers of accommodation establishments declaring themselves pet friendly. Smerdon Lodge, on the main drag into town, goes one better, proudly proclaiming ‘we welcome pets and bikers’ and the clientele did not disappoint. Our extremely clean and comfortable apartment was located next door to some hunters who were cleaning their guns beside utes full of the antlers of feral deer, which they are trying to clear from the nearby Grampians. A personal welcoming visit from the four-legged PR Manager saw us leaving schmackos the next morning, as a tip, to recognise their outstanding, friendly service.

A plethora of options for day trips are available including Wyperfield National Park, and the wineries of Great Western to look forward to for our next visit. If driving doesn’t appeal, then you can take a stroll along the brilliantly reclaimed wetlands around the Wimmera River, the result of a council which requires developers to contribute to their upkeep. The benefits are clear, not just in the beauty of the newly abundant flora and fauna, but also in the fact that it was these wetlands that saved the city from massive bushfires last year.

The parents of a beautiful baby girl I visited at the Horsham hospital could not speak highly enough of the staff and treatment they had received there. ‘Better than we would have expected at a private hospital anywhere in the world’ was high praise indeed. Clearly Horsham is a great place to get sick, or shot!

Driving out of town I was amazed to see traffic travelling quite slowly. As I passed a sign I saw why. ‘My Dad works here – please drive carefully’ was displayed as workmen prepared for their day’s work.

A small detour into the Grampians found us ensconced in front of a massive open fire, at the Wander Inn, scoffing scones, jam and cream, foccacias and other goodies while those around us enjoyed a glass of wine.

A quick constitutional around the extensive gardens and a chat with the resident cockie and we were ready to keep driving towards Great Western and on to Melbourne, a magnificent Grampians sunset gleaming in the rear view mirror.