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?
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.
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.