wild at heart

FOR A UNIQUE EX­PE­RI­ENCE, VISIT WELLING­TON AND DUBBO IN CENTRAL NSW. WHERE ELSE CAN YOU EX­PLORE AUS­TRALIAN HIS­TORY AND EN­JOY A SA­FARI?

Country Style - - JOURNEY - WORDS ALEX SPEED

The Wirum Wirum peo­ple of the Wi­rad­juri Na­tion, the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of Welling­ton in the heart of central NSW, call this re­gion Bin­jang. Beau­ti­ful val­ley. It was a sen­ti­ment shared by that in­de­fati­ga­ble in­land ex­plorer and sur­veyor John Ox­ley, the fi­first Euro­pean to cross the Catombal Range in 1817 and view the Welling­ton val­ley ly­ing be­low. “Imagination can­not fancy any­thing more beau­ti­fully pic­turesque than the scene which burst upon us,” Ox­ley wrote flfloridly about the sight­ing. He named the val­ley in hon­our of Arthur Welles­ley, the fi­first Duke of Welling­ton, who had de­feated Napoleon at Water­loo two years ear­lier. Two hun­dred years later, spend­ing a few days on the road trav­el­ling this an­cient land of In­dige­nous song­lines and colo­nial pioneers, un­cov­ers my own in­ner ex­plorer. Ox­ley reached the area now known as Dubbo in 1818, a year af­ter nam­ing Welling­ton. It wasn’t un­til 10 years later that the fi­first permanent Euro­pean set­tler came to the area. Robert Dul­hunty, one of the wealth­i­est cit­i­zens in the colony at the time, oc­cu­pied a prop­erty he called Dubbo Station in 1828. With the pass­ing of the Squat­ting Act in 1836, he took out a li­cence on the prop­erty and made his­tory. To­day, Dubbo is one of NSW’S ma­jor regional cen­tres, and sits at the junc­tion of the Newell, Mitchell and Golden high­ways. It’s linked to Welling­ton by the Mitchell High­way, which tra­verses the Great Western Plains. The area is a vast food bas­ket. Veg­etable crops such as al­falfa are ir­ri­gated by the Mac­quarie River; they flflash by in patch­works of green, their leafy fo­liage bril­liant in an out­door col­lage of browns and yel­lows. A John Deere trac­tor, driven by a ge­nial farmer pulls over onto the hard shoul­der and waves me past. Road­side pad­docks are dot­ted with merino sheep and an­gus cat­tle graz­ing hap­pily. Last winter was one of the wettest on record and, while some farm­ers sufff­fered crop dam­age, dams are full. Prop­er­ties around here are of­ten in­ter­gen­er­a­tional. Some lo­cals like Welling­ton farmer Norm Smith from Glen­wood Meri­nos can trace his fam­ily tree back to the early 1800s, when Lieu­tenant Percy Simp­son be­gan an agri­cul­tural set­tle­ment near the con­flflflu­ence of the Mac­quarie and Bell rivers. Driv­ing down the po­plar-lined high­way into the small town of nearly 5000, I make a men­tal note to fifind out more about its rich his­tory; the lo­cal Historical So­ci­ety con­ducts walk­ing tours around the wide streets. But now, seek­ing respite from the hot sun, I head to nearby Welling­ton Caves, eight kilo­me­tres from town. With its un­der­ground cav­erns, in­clud­ing the huge Cathe­dral Cave, gi­ant pre­his­toric sta­lag­mites, and one of the largest de­posits of pre­his­toric fos­sils in Aus­tralia, it’s a unique des­ti­na­tion. Once above ground, I travel to an­other fa­mous at­trac­tion. Lake Bur­ren­dong is a mag­net for an­glers, and is well used by boat­ing and wa­ter sports en­thu­si­asts. It’s also where the lo­cals go to cool down. I take a stroll around the nearby Bur­ren­dong Botanic Gar­den and Ar­bore­tum with its 2000 flflow­er­ing plant species, be­fore head­ing back into town to a lo­cal favourite, also with a botan­i­cal theme. Sit­u­ated in a for­mer in­fants’ school, the Cac­tus Café and Gallery has a Spanish-style in­te­rior and cham­pi­ons lo­cal pro­duce. It also has an ex­cel­lent re­tail space show­cas­ing lo­cal artists and mak­ers, such as Norm Smith’s wife Pip, whose range of Love Merino scarves are made from their Glen­wood merino flfleece. “Not only does it sell gor­geous lo­cal prod­ucts, it makes the best cofff­fee in town,” Pip says. >

And with the art have come the food­ies, the mak­ers and the de­sign­ers.

This year marks the bi­cen­te­nary of Ox­ley’s ar­rival and Welling­ton is gear­ing up for a busy pro­gram of events. The high­light is the ever-pop­u­lar Welling­ton Boot Racing Car­ni­val, which in­cludes the Miss Welling­ton Boot Com­pe­ti­tion and the Magic Mil­lions Year­ling Raf­flf­fle. The win­ner takes a horse home. I bid farewell to Welling­ton and head back out along the Mitchell High­way to­wards Dubbo, 50 kilo­me­tres north. Some Welling­ton lo­cals tell me the re­gion is chang­ing quickly and the road from Welling­ton to Dubbo is now too busy. It’s all rel­a­tive and there is lit­tle traf­fiffic when I pass through the vil­lage of Geurie, be­lieved to be home to Aus­tralia’s largest Eu­ca­lyp­tus con­ica, or ‘Fuzzy Box’ tree. Geurie is also on the map for its pop­u­lar rodeo and large cam­p­draft events. With the sun prick­ling on my arm as I drive, I push on through the coun­try­side to the in­dus­trial out­skirts of Dubbo and, be­fore I know it, I’m in the cen­tre of this thriv­ing city. Dubbo is also an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant cul­tural des­ti­na­tion. The Western Plains Cul­tural Cen­tre (WPCC) is home to two unique collections: the Dubbo Regional Gallery Art Col­lec­tion, es­tab­lished in 1989; and the Dubbo Regional Mu­seum Her­itage Col­lec­tion, which was started in 1954 by lo­cal Andy Gra­ham, who be­gan col­lect­ing ob­jects per­ti­nent to Dubbo’s his­tory and her­itage in his back­yard shed. And with the art have come the food­ies, the mak­ers and the de­sign­ers. Lo­cal hotspot Press café was started by Alis­ter Dyson-hol­land and his part­ner Cristina Gomez, who say they are de­ter­mined to “up the level in Dubbo”. Located in the for­mer of­fif­fice of The Land news­pa­per, Press puts em­pha­sis on sourc­ing lo­cal pro­duce and turn­ing out ex­cel­lent food. Nearby, hus­band-and-wife team Bede and Jemima Aldridge run their successful sad­dlery busi­ness, called Sad­dler and Co, while lo­cal-girl­made-good Irissa Knight cre­ates beau­ti­ful ar­range­ments from her in-de­mand flflorist, The Meadow. Of course, Taronga Western Plains Zoo is the area’s biggest draw­card. Cel­e­brat­ing its 40th birth­day in 2017, the open-range zoo helped at­tract the 500,000-plus visitors who stayed overnight in Dubbo last year. Sit­u­ated on 300 hectares of a for­mer army camp, the zoo offf­fers a range of op­por­tu­ni­ties where guests can get up close to its rare and en­dan­gered res­i­dents, such as gi­raffffes, rhi­nos, ele­phants and lions. If you want to wake up with the an­i­mals, the zoo offf­fers three tiers of ac­com­mo­da­tion. The bud­get op­tion is Bil­l­abong Camp, where you sleep in permanent tents. Three kilo­me­tres away on land ad­ja­cent to the zoo are the Sa­van­nah Cab­ins, each offf­fer­ing self-con­tained ac­com­mo­da­tion for up to six peo­ple. At the top end is Zoo­fari Lodge, where guests stay in sa­fari-style huts — some with views of an an­i­mal en­clo­sure — and have ac­cess to a swim­ming pool, restau­rant and lounge. All pack­ages include en­try to the zoo, and most tick­ets are valid for two con­sec­u­tive days. Al­ter­na­tively, you can do a day trip to the zoo — ex­plore the walk­ing trails, hire a bike or elec­tric cart, or drive your car around the six-kilo­me­tre cir­cuit to see the an­i­mals at home. Now more than ever, this des­ti­na­tion is worth the jour­ney.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MARK ROPER

At Taronga Western Plains Zoo, some of the African-style Zoo­fari Lodges over­look an en­clo­sure where gi­raffffes, ze­bras and an­te­lope roam. FAC­ING PAGE Feed­ing time.

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