Dog of an idea to by­pass our great coun­try towns

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UP -

Like many strug­gling coun­try towns, Gunda­gai needs a new slo­gan. Some­thing like “Gunda­gai: Our burgers are bet­ter than Mac­cas”. Or “Gunda­gai: Worth turn­ing off the high­way for”. Or even “For­get the hound, come into town”? A lot has changed since the im­mor­tal dog guard­ing the tucker­box five miles from Gunda­gai was cast in bronze in 1932. The track wind­ing back to an old­fash­ioned shack is now a six-lane as­phalt high­way called the Hume.

And the dog that doesn’t even have a name is now a ma­jor tourist at­trac­tion, sur­rounded by fast food out­lets and trin­ket shops. But none of this is do­ing Gunda­gai, a town that was once cel­e­brated as one of Aus­tralia’s ear­li­est river set­tle­ments, much good.

The prob­lem is that most peo­ple stop to have a smooch with the pooch on the high­way, grab a fast food fix, and don’t drive the ex­tra 8km into town.

Thanks to multi-laned highways lined with in­ter­na­tional fast food out­lets, there’s sim­ply no rea­son to come into towns like Gunda­gai any more.

It’s the same story around the coun­try, with towns such as Mur­ray Bridge and Gawler in SA, along with Yass, Goul­burn and Hol­brook in NSW, strug­gling to at­tract lu­cra­tive mo­torist dol­lars.

Now Penola (pic­tured) in SA’s South-East is set to be by­passed in the same way thanks to what of­fi­cials call a “key short-term road in­fra­struc­ture ac­tion”.

Penola may be the home of Saint Mary MacKil­lop and the al­lur­ingly-named Fan­tasy Model Rail­way, but it’s go­ing to strug­gle with­out the pass­ing Lime­stone Coast traf­fic. Sadly, all this char­ac­ter and history doesn’t seem to mean any­thing to the av­er­age Aussie fam­ily want­ing to get from place to place as fast as they can be­fore the kids’ iPads run out of charge.

Af­ter driv­ing straight past in the past few years, this time I de­cided to do my bit for Gunda­gai and stay there overnight on the way to Syd­ney. I can’t tell you how glad I was that I did. I dis­cov­ered that Gunda­gai is an ab­so­lute rar­ity: a town that is al­most to­tally his­tor­i­cally in­tact along its wide, grand main street. It’s ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing.

There are his­toric bridges, a beau­ti­ful court­house with a stacked slate wall and a lovely Art Deco theatre. No doubt my kids think I am get­ting old or get­ting soft. In fact they did say all of this and more – not to men­tion can’t we just get back on the high­way pleeeease? In­stead, I made them fol­low me around the town, point­ing out land­marks and stop­ping to read ev­ery his­tor­i­cal sign we came to.

Oh, look kids! A beau­ti­fully re­stored tim­ber sta­tion – once the long­est in Aus­tralia and with the only slateroofe­d goods shed in NSW!

Look! Here’s the post of­fice, home of the last pony ex­press in Aus­tralia!

We also stopped to read all about the two his­toric bridges cross­ing the Mur­rumbidgee (Look kids! Wooden Trusses! Early en­gi­neer­ing! Tim­ber viaducts!)

The chil­dren perked up a bit when they re­alised the jail once housed bushranger Cap­tain Moon­light and be­came fully ex­cited when they en­tered the Gunda­gai Mu­seum.

They weren’t en­thused by see­ing Phar Lap’s sad­dle cloth, a model-T Ford or news­pa­pers go­ing back to the 1850s. No, it was the ear­li­est Ap­ple Mac­in­tosh com­puter, and it still works.

At times, it was a bit of a strug­gle but they had heaps of fun de­spite their de­ter­mi­na­tion not to.

(It re­minded me of the time I asked them what their wish was as they threw coins in the pond around the tucker­box dog. “To get back in the car,” one of them said.)

Sadly, though, we were just about the only ones who were feel­ing the love for Gunda­gai. Although it was school hol­i­days in at least three states, it didn’t seem all that busy.

Many of the shops in the grand build­ings on the main street were empty, for sale or clearly strug­gling.

There was a gen­eral air of ne­glect about the place, and road works im­prov­ing the street’s land­scap­ing didn’t help one bit. But you could tell this was a town with not only a great history, but a band of ded­i­cated lo­cals de­ter­mined to keep it go­ing as long as they can.

Sit­ting there in the gravel out­side the bak­ery (Look kids! The old­est bak­ery in Aus­tralia op­er­at­ing since 1864!), I felt re­laxed and happy.

Some­times it’s nice to leave the high­way and just go ex­plor­ing. You never know what you might find.

Too of­ten we take the fast road, and we’re rarely bet­ter off for it. Blog with Susie at susieobrie­, fol­low her on Twit­ter @susieob and Face­ NewswithSu­se

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