We drove the 296 kilometres from Halls Gap to Swan Hill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Hill) via roads perhaps a little less travelled than most; they weren’t back roads and by an large these roads were just as good as the local highways with perhaps one or two exceptions where the bitumen narrowed to a single lane for all traffic and it was necessary to move onto the road shoulder to allow vehicles to pass. We travelled via Stawell, St Arnaud, Wedderburn, Boort and Kerang to Swan Hill and had arrived at our destination a little after lunch time.
As we drove along the Murray Valley Highway from Kerang we were contacted on the CB Radio with a query as to whether or not we belonged to the Alphabet Caravan Club; we were happy to respond positively that we were indeed members of the Australian Touring Caravan, Motorhome and Camper Club (ATCMCC) (http://atcmcc.org.au/) and were indeed heading for the rally at Swan Hill. A short two way conversation introducing both couples to each other then ensued before we met in person as both caravans pulled off the highway into the Swan Hill Holiday Park (http://www.swanhillholidaypark.com.au/), where the participant members of the club were converging
On Saturday afternoon the number of member of the club present was relatively small but we all joined in the Happy Hour which would become a feature of the week-long event and introduced ourselves to others. This has been our first rally with the Club and consequently we, along with the other first timers were presented with small yellow ribbons at the official commencement of proceedings to signify our newness and to encourage other more seasoned members to show us the ropes.
On Sunday more members of the Club rolled up to attend the rally and on Monday even more arrived. The final count was 47 units, Caravans, Motorhomes and Campers, attending the rally with this equating to in excess of 80 persons in all. With the exception of Tasmania, there are representatives here from across Australia with many travelling long distances for the express purpose of being at the rally.
On the Monday, as there was no official activity until 5:00pm Margaret and I took the opportunity to visit the Pioneer Settlement in Swan Hill (http://www.pioneersettlement.com.au/). We were able to organize our tickets through the Caravan Park and were given a generous discount by virtue of our membership of the Family Parks Chain Tribal Rewards scheme.
There was quite a lot to see at the Pioneer Settlement and we visited many of the authentic displays within the village of Horseshoe Bend. Rides in a vintage motor car and a horse drawn wagonette were available on the day. Also available was a tour via the Paddle Steamer PYAP. The tour takes visitors along the Murray River to just past the historic Murray Downs homestead and lasts for about an hour. The PS PYAP was built in 1896 and served many purposes until being acquired by the Settlement for river cruising.
After returning from the morning cruise we visited the historic tea rooms and enjoyed a light lunch before completing our visit for the day. Tickets give one access for two days so if you can’t take it all in in a single day you can return the next or a subsequent day to complete your visit.
Official rally proceedings commenced on Monday with an official opening and Happy Hour combined. As is the usual process the President led proceedings and updated those present with information about what was happening during the week with some emphasis on what would occur the next day. It was also the opportunity for everyone to register for the various activities planned for the week and to pay any entry fees or meal charges necessary.
Tuesday morning dawned and we all enjoyed a pancake breakfast organised as part of the rally. A number of volunteers from the club worked hard to cook and serve delicious pancakes which could be garnished with an assortment of jams and maple syrup; whipped cream was also available for those inclined toward this delicacy – me I like my pancakes plain.
That afternoon a tour had been organised to the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum (http://www.flyingboat.org.au/). Lake Boga is just a few kilometres down the highway from Swan Hill and was the site of a maintenance depot for flying boats during the Second World War. The museum has been established as a result of the efforts of the members of the Lions Club of Lake Boga; these volunteers worked long and hard to achieve their goal and the result is very worthy of a visit if only to see the rebuilt aircraft A24-30, a Catalina typical of those serviced at the base in its heyday. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit and once again discovered a little more of Australia that we previously did not know existed.
Wednesday of the rally week was a free day where attendees could do their own thing; visit the local sites or whatever. Happy hour was staged at the usual time and this was followed by an evening of Country and Western music performed by a local artist – Murray. Murray sang song after song and performed for the better part of two hours to the delight of all present. A prize was on offer for the best dressed couple who attended in appropriate Country and Western attire; the competition was declared a tie with two couples sharing the spoils at the end of the evening. The next day, Thursday, a tag-along tour had been organised with the vehicles departing the caravan park at about 9:45am.
The first destination of the morning was Olsen’s Pheasant Farm (http://www.gamebirds.com.au/) some twenty-five kilometres from Swan Hill. The farm acts as a hatchery for other producers who take day-old chicks and grow these birds to sale readiness size then processing the birds for table consumption. In addition to Pheasant, the farm also produces Partridge and Guinea Fowl and has a number of geese and peacocks on the property. There are also large cages with examples of various pheasants and other birds on display at the property; visitors can order products including dressed birds, feathers and conserves produced from the organic garden n the property.
From the Pheasant Farm the convoy travelled north and crossed an historic bridge over the Murray River to enter the State of New South Wales and the pleasant small town of Tooleybuc (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tooleybuc). In Tooleybuc a lunch of barbecued grilled sausages had been prepared for the convoy in a very pleasant riverside park and those present enjoyed a relaxing 90 minutes over lunch in the shade of towering gums filled with small corellas busily chattering away and progressively stripping the trees of bark and seed.
A short drive back into Victoria saw us reach the cellar door and winery of Andrew Peace Wines (http://www.apwines.com/). At the cellar door many of us took the opportunity to top up our caffeine requirements by partaking of delicious coffee; then followed a tour of the winery itself where we were lucky to see the delivery of grapes and the crushing of these as the first stage of production of red wine products. After the tour we were treated to tastings of many of the wonderful products from the winery and many of the group took the opportunity to top up depleted caravan cellars.
That evening the caravan park management had arranged to conduct a sausage sizzle and wine tasting in support of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) (http://www.flyingdoctor.net/). Although we had partaken of sausages for lunch, it was a good cause and those at the rally again tucked in to well-cooked grilled sausages with the addition of barbecued onions. Regent Wines (http://chislettnavel.com.au/luxuries-treats/regent-wines.html) supplied a variety of wines for tastings and sales on the evening.
Additionally as part of the Caravan Rally a “Dutch” Auction was conducted from about 7:30pm. The auction items had all been donated by members, wrapped and identified as being suitable for either male or female and were then auctioned by an imaginative member of the club and purchased blind by those present on the night. The Auctioneer has a vivid imagination and was able to conjure up compelling images of what each wrapped package contained and exhorted higher bids from participants. Proceeds from the auction also benefitted the Flying Doctor so in having “a bit of fun” people also willingly donated to a good cause.
Friday was essentially a free day but games of golf and barefoot bowls had been arranged for those members interested in such activities. Margaret and I chose to participate in the bowls competition at the local Swan Hill Bowls Club. We were teamed with others of varying levels of skill including members of the Bowls Club and played two games of bowls on different rinks and against different teams. The winners on the day were rewarded with bottles of local wine; while all present were treated to morning tea courtesy of members of the Bowls Club and cheese and crackers at the conclusion of the bowls. A raffle was also staged by the Bowls Club with winners receiving wine and chocolates as prizes.
The Club Dinner was held at the Murray Downs Country Club (https://murraydownsresort.com.au) on Friday Evening. This club, just across the border from Swan Hill in New South Wales, provides accommodation packages and caters for golf and bowls as well as the usual club facilities common in many locales. A very sumptuous buffet meal was provided by the club and enjoyed by all – I know I had more than my fill.
Saturday morning saw the convening of general meeting of the Caravan Club to which all members were invited. Various reports were presented by the President, Vice President, Treasurer and a number of others for the information of the members. Following the meeting, members were free to pursue their own activities while delegates attended a special meeting in the afternoon to further discuss club related matters.
On Saturday evening club members were invited to participate in a “Trivia Night” organised by one of the members. We duly gathered with our table and chairs and were soon joined by others finally giving us a table of six heads to deal with the challenge of answering trivia questions. The night was governed by a self-acclaimed “Old Fart”, and he had the hat to prove it, who was ably assisted by “the Old Farts Wife” and another lady crowned as “the Princess” for the evening. As each group of questions was posed a time frame was set and answers presented for correction. It is quite surprising how difficult it is to come up with the correct answers to such questions in a short space of time and how simple the answers seem when finally revealed. This activity occupied the members of the club for a couple of hours and was a quite enjoyable interlude.
Sunday morning saw the staging of a bacon and egg breakfast cooked by the Club President and a band of willing helpers. This unscheduled breakfast was provided as a result of a budget surplus in funds gathered from the members by way of the rally levy.
That afternoon a disc bowls (https://sites.google.com/site/murraydarlings/diskbowls) tournament was staged. The event was organised on a round robin principle with teams of two people playing off against each other until only two teams remain and contest the final. Not having played the game before we were keen to try our hand and although eliminated early in the fray thoroughly enjoyed the event and look forward to the next opportunity. On Sunday evening the President acknowledged the assistance he had received in staging the National Rally of the Club and made small presentations to express his appreciation for this help.
The next National Rally of the ATCMCC will be held in Leeton NSW (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeton,_New_South_Wales) in October this year and the couple organizing this event were invited to formally close the Swan Hill event and did so inviting all present to join them at Leeton in October. With this formality completed the club flag was lowered for the last time for this rally and a communal dinner was held amid light showers.
Rallies of this kind can be proven to have a very positive effect on the economy of towns in which they are staged. Our spend during the week-long stay was just over $1,000.00; the progressive spend announced at the end of the rally (and this was not the final figure) was in excess of $33,000.00; it is expected this figure will grow significantly. When one factors in the economic multiplier effect it can be argued that such rallies have a very positive effect on local economies. As indicated earlier, this was not only the first National Rally Margaret and I had attended but the first club rally of any kind – we enjoyed the experience and will be attending more such rallies in our home state of Queensland and are considering how we might attend Leeton in October.