Christmas in Deniliquin "Where?" Did I hear?

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Pioneer Park

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Saturday, December 29, 2012



New South Wales, Deniliquin 22 December - 29th December 2012

28th December: Today is our last full day in Deniliquin, or Deny as it is referred to locally. I am not sure what we expected but we have enjoyed our stay. Unfortunately the only public wifi in town is at McDonalds where it is very slow and seems to throw users off after 10 minutes or so, (and they were closed Christmas Day). As a result, sadly, it was not possible to skype, or post this blog.

The campsite is very well managed with plenty of grassed areas which are regularly watered so the kangaroos come to graze every evening. The site also has some old steam engines that the owner rescued and are now semi-displayed. The ensuite has been a luxury - our private bathroom only a few feet from the van - even if it does look like a garden hut! It also creates a little extra shade which is welcome in the afternoon.

Deniliquin is a rural town of 8.000, with an economy based originally on droving (stock was brought up to 600 kilometres plus from as far as the Darling River to the north along what is called the Long Paddock drover track to cross the Murray at Echuca.) and now on agriculture, (with a huge rice processing plant amongst other things). Its real claim to fame is that it has "The Largest Ute Muster in the World"(?). In October annually there is a large gathering of utility vehicles and their owners, (I presume?). Utes are so big here that they have been turned into works of art. (See pics). They have a rodeo too on 29th December but we are moving on during the day and it doesn't start til the evening. We don't really want to battle the mosquitoes.

When I say it is rural that might be misleading if compared to the UK. The scenery is the same all through the Riverina region, flat, low lying with swamps, rivers and creeks amongst the otherwise never ending bush. Away from water the ground is hard and dry and when the wind blows it creates swirls of dust. Small settlements are spread widely with large distances between them and most have few inhabitants. Deny is a large town for the area and has all the services needed for the surrounding bush, ranches and town residents. Because there are no high rise buildings the town is soon lost from sight once you drive a short distance away.It is a pleasant place with some interesting older buildings in the centre, and an affluent spread of single storey homes in the town environs. Like all the Riverina there are lots of protected bush areas even within the town itself which provide good bird watching. Right in the centre is the Island Sanctuary where they try to keep pests (including dogs ) out to protect indigenous wildlife.

On our first day we walked on the Island and within minutes I spotted a pair of Frog Mouths in a tree. It was doubly exciting, firstly because they have such amazing camouflage they are difficult to spot so it feels like a big achievement, and secondly, once found they tend to stay still (and sleep) so they are perfect photographic subjects, despite being a little high in the tree. Well I suppose it would be preferable for them to open their eyes for the camera but that may be asking too much. We went to see them each day but on the fifth day only one was visible and today they were both missing. It is very sad. We are going back later just in case they have reappeared - not that we need any more photographs!

Needless to say, Christmas was quiet here. We managed a turkey dinner (a huge butterfly turkey breast panfried, fried peppers, boiled potatoes and broccoli), then Christmas pudding with cream laced with brandy. With only 2 gas rings we impressed ourselves. As is traditional we had turkey sandwiches for lunch the next day, and then turkey curry for supper which thankfully finished it off.

I thought this area of the Murray Valley would be softer somehow, more like the UK, but I was certainly wrong about that. It never seems to do anything in moderation here. Because the land is flat (the river only drops 100 metres from its upper reaches to the sea) it floods easily and many roads are impassable in the winter. Then it dries out in the summer until everything is parched. There is an underlying low level sense of menace emanating from the land itself. On the road are fire warning signs which indicate the level of risk. The top 2 levels require you to avoid bush areas but I am not sure where that might be because the bush is everywhere. Bush fires can out run vehicles and sparks can travel more than 5 kilometres to set light in new areas of bush. One day the temperature was in the high 80s, which I enjoy (especially with a pool as we have here), then suddenly a really powerful wind gusted across us and the heat was searing, it was so hot it seemed as if it must be coming straight out of a furnace. In fact it is coming from the centre. It was only then I started to understand how easily the bush fires can spread.

If that is not enough, the whole area is covered with river red gum trees. They are beautiful and tough, resistant to rotting and insect infestation, but, as the numerous signs warn, "Limbs Can Fall", and they do. When the temperature reaches 38 degrees and over, the red gum thickens, the tree does not get enough moisture and becomes stressed so decides to jettison a branch here or there! We had just crossed a bridge into the Island Sanctuary when we heard a crack and crash, and a huge branch had fallen behind us. Then this morning, out birdwatching a thankfully small set of twigs fell and hit Jim on the face, giving him a tiny scratch but worrying him more when he realised it could have been a bigger branch. The advice again is not to park or sit under them but it is impossible to avoid them and most of the camping pitches use them for shade. It has certainly made me respect the original landowners who knew how to manage the land, and the early settlers here who must have had a tough time carving out a living.

Then there are the mosquitoes!!! They are big enough to be recognisable from the cartoon drawings, especially the evil expression on their faces. But enough. Despite the hassles it is well worth visiting the area and experiencing its idiosyncracies. However, I am looking forward to moving towards the Snowy Mountains tomorrow and seeing what that brings.
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