Travel Diaries: Road to Deni, Part 2: Deniliquin to Sydney

Just how right was and/or is Paterson 213 years later about the enchanting great open plains that conquer New South Wales? With the help of Destination NSW (visitnsw.com) and a Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, Lachlan Mitchell and his mate Eashan Vijayakumaran, close out their 5 day round trip across New South Wales to Deni Blues & Roots Festival in this final part of their travel diary!

The 776th Kilometre.
As two days of intimate blues and roots sights and sounds sailed away into the uninhabited natural forms that flank the Ute Muster site of Deniliquin, we hit the road early to Wagga Wagga in an effort to avoid the rush of leaving the campgrounds.


Pictured: The stage at sunrise

The 884th Kilometre.
Returning to the boundless blue skies of the open road for an hour, we stopped in Jerilderie – famous for being the only town in New South Wales to be visited (and have 2000 pounds robbed) by the Ned Kelly Gang. We parked in Powell Street alongside Australia’s longest creek, Billabong Creek, and got breakfast at a bakery opposite a slew of Ned Kelly landmarks including the original post office and blacksmith shop. With birds chirping in fresh early morning sun, we were a part of living that stereotypical/idealistic view of country towns for a brief moment.

Billabong Creek, Jerilderie by Lachlan Mitchell

The 1,098th Kilometre.
As we drove into Wagga Wagga one thing was for sure; from the neat and newly transformed Baylis St. to the hugely increased foot traffic, Wagga is a huge hub for country NSW. The bright, urban yet modern design and packaging of theCache restaurant and motel complemented this realization.

Black and white linen, carpets and furniture met us as we entered Room 6 and a large and newly renovated bathroom and shower were so inviting that they were used straight away.

From here we drove only a few minutes away to Wagga’s first hugely popular microbrewery, The Thirsty Crow. Here founding fore-father Craig met us for a private tasting and chat for what would be one of the highlights of the trip.

A TV with AFL played as we were handed a wooden beer tasting paddle with five glasses. Red Light Ale (2.9%), Sporting Ale (4.5%), 26Fifty Summer Ale (4.5%), [award winning] Vanilla Milk Stout (5.2%) and a Peanut Butter beer remained untouched for an alarmingly small amount of time. The Summer Ale and Vanilla Stout were personal highlights. Light and sweet, respectively, they were instantly refreshing and devoid of a bitter after taste. The Vanilla was so impressive we made sure to leave with two Growlers. With seasonal brews and an ever evolving lunch and dinner menu, The Thirsty Crow has grown into one of Wagga’s most popular spots. As Craig explained, “there’s nothing else like this here. We have a huge variety of beer, but it’s also now about the atmosphere and the food… It’s too loud in here from all the talking even to play music.”

After many requests for a pizza with pineapple to be added to the menu, Craig conceded but only after putting his own hell inspired twist on it. The Hawaiian Lava Pizza comes with this description (warning) on the menu: “Do not order this pizza, it’s far too hot for you. Do not come back and tell us it is too hot. Do not try and be a hero, do not eat this, you will not enjoy it” and from the small trial of the sauce we had on a cracker I refuse to have to recount that horror in text form. It might be one of those repressed memories a therapist will uncover in a few years…

After ninety minutes of beer heaven we met up with the Director of Commercial and Economic Development for Wagga Wagga, Dr. Peter Adams for an encompassing tour of the town. Right away Adams’ love for the town and passion for his job shone through. As he proudly boasted of the 650 million dollars of construction and development that is currently happening in the town, Peter’s happiness with the progression and advancement of his home town was a seamless selling point in the advantages for 1) a large company to move their operations to a town where 75% of Australia’s populating is within a 5 hour drive and 2) why families and students should consider a move out West with median property and rental prices being half of what they are in Sydney. A fitness fanatic at heart (constantly training for triathlons where even writing his normal workout would make me tired) it was gratifyingly infectious to see no act from a councilman, but instead a true love for his job, people and town.

The seasonal danger of flooding and the town’s efforts to prevent them was a stimulating conversation that took us along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. The local community have developed a strong resilience to the impact of flooding with the city protected by a levee bank originally constructed in the 1960’s after the 1956 flood (9.58m) entered the city. The levee system is continually upgraded and has protected Wagga during a record flood event in 1974 (10.74m). More recently in 2012 the river reached over 10m for only the second time in 40 years.

Quaint country properties merged into suburbs with two-storey mansions as Peter winded up the tour and took us out to dinner for the evening. He teased us through the blocks of shops, cafes and new restaurants that were mostly closed for the Easter long weekend. A good reason to return soon.

Along with Peter we were joined by local real-estate agent/actor/host/horror-movie intellectual Adam Drummond and his wife Melinda for a meal at Indian Tavern Tandoori Restaurant on Forsyth St. Our choice for the evening – the Maharaja Banquet started off with Lamb Cutlets, Chicken Tikka and Aloo Tikki brought distinctive colors and fragrances to our table that featured a conversation about Adams acting career. From a humorous cameo in Farscape, where the sci-fi lingo was too complicated, to his recent movie Backyard Ashes (which stars Andrew S. Gilbert, Felix Williamson, John Wood and Damian Callinan), to taking Tom Cruise his salad when he worked at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Sydney in the late 90s; conversation was just as rich and fulfilling as the sweet and doughy Coconut Naans with the Butter Chicken and Beef Vindaloo that were laid out before us.

We left dinner with the plans to meet up the following morning for breakfast and headed back to Charles Sturt University, just 1 of the 5 universities/colleges in the area, where Peter had taken us earlier. Situated atop a hill, the campus overlooked the town below us that was shining and quiet in the night.

After a comfortable and relaxed night in the Cache accommodation we met Adam and Peter at The Blessed Bean coffee house. Fresh muesli and milk paired smoothly with the silky cappuccino. Their goal is to meticulously and ethically source some of the best coffees from around the world and by the aroma, taste and long lines out the door for their coffee, they are most definitely a success.

With full stomachs Adam drove us to Don Tuckwell’s Audio – a record store and fixture of the Wagga landscape for 30-odd years. Seeing his staff decline from 6 to just his daughter and himself over those years has been tough on him. “Just enough to support a family” , he answered when asked how business is. The last music retailer in Wagga, and for many hours each side of the town, Don appreciates anyone who stops by. “Well the lady you boys saw when you came in, she was humming a song and had a line of lyrics and now we will search for it. We’ll get it to her.”

Impressed by my camera and our story of the trip, it was when the next customer came in that the true essence of the trip was realized. In the Paterson poem that lead Part 1 and 2, there is unfortunately no mention of the people to meet out in the country. Just as quickly as Don shone us a smile and complemented our work, he did the same to the next couple who came in to trade in records. With each vinyl lifted off the stack came a story, some history and a joke from Don.

From Lachie to Dance-Man to Peter to Adam to Don, the primary memories of the trip will not be the vast cloudless skies that met green pastures on the horizon, yet they’ll be the people who animated that scenery that is so distant from Sydney. They possessed the beauty of passion and took it to its extreme; running the risk of failure travelling abroad for Blues and Roots/building a town/selling a town/acting and showed there is no need to sacrifice anything when living “over the range.”

The 1,573rd Kilometre.
Engine Off.

A special thanks to Destination NSW, Hyundai Australia, Deni Blues & Roots Festival and all the people we met along the way! Keep your eyes out for a short film of the trip to debut soon!

Part 1: http://abroad.theaureview.com/features/travel-diaries-road-to-deni-part-1-sydney-to-deniliquin/
Festival Review: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/deni-blues-roots-festival-deniliquin-…