STOCKINBINGAL - WEAR THE FOX HAT?
Before receiving the invitation to a surprise 60th birthday party for one of my MOTH's ex-RAAF mates, I had never heard of the township of Stockinbingal! The MOTH's response of, "it lies NNW of Cootamundra and East of Temora" did little to enlighten me so I researched on the Internet and learned that Stockinbingal is a small settlement that comprises one hotel, a takeaway cafe (in the old Bank building) a few shops, a post office, a bowling club and a small population of 250, situated on the Burley Griffin Way, 410 Kilometres South of Sydney. Visions of rodeos, guitar-strumming cowboys in a smoky bar-room full of line-dancin' country folks floated across my mind... Man, the place must really swing when the sun goes down.
Further reading revealed the following information: The origin of the word 'Stockinbingal' is uncertain. The Wiradjuri Aboriginals, who were the largest group in New South Wales, used the word 'Tockinbingie' as a name of the district in their dialect. 'Bingie' meant a marsh, 'Tocum' was 'Deep Water Hole', 'Bingara' was a creek and 'Bimbal' meant a 'white flowering Box Tree'. It is presumed that these were fused into a composite word 'Tockinbingie' meaning 'a Creek lined with Flowering Box Trees, with deep holes and marshes'. Perhaps clerks in the Lands Department simplified with a cognate name, part-English, part-Aboriginal, meaning 'Stock in the Water', resulting in the permanent name, "Stockinbingal". The Sibilant hissing sound of "S" does not occur in Aboriginal Dialects and it is presumed that the "S" was added to Stockinbingie by a surveyor or cantographer when the first maps were made of the district. Designed in 1881 in lieu of the village of Yeo Yeo (which was designed in 1860 but never built), Stockinbingal was proclaimed a village on March 20th, 1886. The area around Stockinbingal was first settled sometime before 1848 but the village of Stockinbingal was not proclaimed until 1885. By the turn of the century the village had grown to become a significant service centre for the surrounding pastoralists who concentrated their attentions on wheat and sheep. There was a bank, a pub, a blacksmith, a doctor and dentist, and numerous small businesses. There was even a local photographer.
The local hotel was built in 1892 to cater for the Cobb & Co coaches which used the village as a stopover on their journeys from Harden to Temora. The following year the branch line from Cootamundra to Temora was completed and the town became an important railhead. In the years that followed the town grew rapidly and so, in 1893, a local police station was established and the local school was opened in 1894. The first and only bank in Stockinbingal was the Bank of New South Wales which set up an agency in 1907 and eventually built on the corner of Hibernia and Martin Streets in 1921. The premises were closed in 1974 and recently converted as a takeaway cafe.
The present day settlement is primarily a farming community producing wheat, canola, oats, sheep, wool, fat lambs and cattle. There are also small orchards of olives, almonds and cherries. My MOTH's mate (Neil) and his wife Lynne own over 3000 acres of property at Gogobilly Hill and Wruwallin on the eastern side of the Bethungra Range, and mates from far and wide were invited to attend the birthday bash.
Ever eager for any excuse to go gallivanting instead of doing housework, I agreed to accompany the MOTH on what was supposed to be a short 4-day trip in Just Tripin'. Ever the optimist, I grabbed a pair of boots to take with me... Hey, you never know, it could very well turn out to be a hoedown affair where I could learn to square dance with my two left feet! With this happy thought and armed with four crab bread rolls, a generous serve of curry prawns and rice, a frozen serve each of beef rendang and braised lamb in soy sauce, half the contents of our fridge and our overnight bags, we happily set off on our road-trip last Friday morning. We stopped and walked along the Grass Tree track at a rest area near Strathbogie while scoffing down our brunch of the delicious crab rolls in between performing the Aussie salute (brushing away flies with the hand) to the thieving flies that tried to snatch our rolls away. After a refreshing cold drink back at Just Trip'n, we continued on our journey.
Driving through the small town of Holbrook, we saw a huge full-sized above-the-water section of a submarine on display in a park right by the main road! I couldn't believe my eyes - why would a town over 200km inland on the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney have its own submarine? I instantly thought it was just another touristy attention-grabbing BIG thing, like the Big Banana, the Big Lobster and so on, that we Aussies are renowned for. Nevertheless, we grabbed our cameras and leapt out of Just Trip'n to check out this unusual sight.
Before the First World War, Holbrook was known as Germanton but changed its name to Holbrook as a demonstration of patriotism. The inspiration for the new name, Lieutenant N.D. Holbrook, RN, was the Commander of the 43 metre B11 submarine which torpedoed and sank a Turkish battleship in December 1914. His exploits earned him the first naval Victoria Cross and the attention of the citizens of this small NSW town. When the HMAS Otway was decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy, the town was presented with the submarine's fin. If the town had the fin, why not the whole submarine, right? Thus a fund raising effort began (including the donation of $100,000 from Lt. Holbrook's widow) but unfortunately, the money raised was not enough to bid for the whole submarine. However, negotiation for the outer skin to the waterline was successful so it was then cut into several sections and transported by semi-trailer down the Hume Highway from Sydney to Holbrook and re-assembled by local unemployed trainees. We definitely rate the HMAS Otway as one of the more unusual and interesting landmarks on the Hume Highway!
Next stop: Gundagai - popularized by the song, Nine Miles From Gundagai (Aboriginal word meaning, 'upstream' or perhaps, 'place of birds'). Below is what many claim to be the original lyrics to the bush song:
I've teamed outback these forty years in blazin' droughts and rains
I've lived a heap of troubles through, without a bloomin' lie
But I can't forget what happened me nine miles from Gundagai
'Twas gettin' dark, the team got bogged, the axle snapped in two
I lost me matches and me pipe, now what was I to do?
The rains come down, 'twas bitter cold, and hungry too was I
And the dog shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai
Some blokes I know has all the luck no matter how they fall
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no flamin' luck at all
I couldn't make a pot of tea nor keep me trousers dry
And the dog shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai
I could forgive the blinkin' tea, I could forgive the rain
I could forgive the dark and cold, and go through it again
I could forgive me rotten luck, but hang me till I die
I won't forgive that bloody dog nine miles from Gundagai
There is an apocryphal story attached to the song. It could never be printed as it was sung, because of Australian prudes or "wowsers", so it was often printed that the dog "sat" in (or on) the tuckerbox. Because the song thus became nonsense, a legend sprang up to "explain" the song: a drover had been passing through Gundagai with his trusty dog and had been called away on an errand; so he left the dog in charge of his tuckerbox. He never came back, or was killed, but the dog stayed, faithful unto death, never letting anyone near the box, until its own death. This faithful dog has his own statue in Gundagai commemorating his deed!
In Australian Tradition Jan 1967 John Meredith wrote a piece entitled 'Along the Road to Gundagai - but how many miles?'. In it he explores the origins of this song and its relatives. He is of the opinion that it derives from 'Bullocky Bill' which was printed in the Gundagai Times in 1857. Meredith writes "Over thirty of our old bush songs and ballads are about Gundagai - the struggles of her people and the troubles and fun that the bullockies and the shearers had there in the second half of the last century". He dates 'Nine Miles from Gundagai' from the 1880's. As Meredith points out the song could hardly have lived so long if the dog had merely sat in the tucker box.
From Gundagai, we travelled on to the town of Cootamundra to spend the night at the caravan park there. After a refreshing shower, we pigged out on curry prawns and rice before settling in to watch a movie on dvd. My MOTH had been looking forward to catching up with ex-RAAF mates at the party and was already in reminiscing mode. Understandably so of course, as most of his, "Remember that time when...?" are wasted on me because I wasn't a part of his RAAF years.
About 9.30 the next morning (Saturday), after running through our usual checklist, we got into the cabin to drive to our destination and that was when our trouble began. Just Trip'n flatly refused to budge, not even an inch! Despite checking all the fuses, various cables and all things mechanical associated with automotive engines, Just Trip'n firmly stood her ground - she ain't goin' nowhere! After almost exhausting his repertoire of choice words, the MOTH composed himself long enough to give his mobile phone a jolly good work-out. First he rang the RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria) who then advised him to contact the Cootamundra branch of the NRMA (National Roads and Motorists Association) who in turn told him to again get in touch with the RACV. After a long wait, a motor mechanic from the NRMA was subsequently dispatched to assist us but unfortunately, after much tinkering around and getting grease and dirt on his clothes, he couldn't get the gear unstuck. He diagnosed it as being an electronic problem and tried to contact the Mercedes Benz centre for advice. What a bummer! It was by then almost noon, and all the mechanics had knocked-off for the long weekend off work so no-one was there to take his call. It looked like nothing could be done until Tuesday morning... We thanked our stars that we had RACV Total Care insurance cover as another phone call soon got us a free Hertz rental car - an automatic Ford Falcon XT MKII Sedan. It was small consolation but at least we got wheels to see us through the long weekend.
After a lunch of fish and chips washed down with iced coffee, we hit the road to get to Stockinbingal. My MOTH knows that I do not like driving at night - as a matter of fact, I do not like driving at all - so he declined my offer of driving us back that night. Instead, he purchased some light beer to see him through the night with his mates at the party. Knowing how much he loves his grog, I felt truly sorry for him but was greatly relieved by his unselfish decision all the same. It proved to me that he loves me more than alcohol.
We got to the Stockinbingal sign and saw that the population showed as "244" so I figured a few residents must have fallen off the perch since the last update on the website I had accessed. Following the directions given by Lynne and helped by the conspicuous balloons tied to various strategic posts along the road and dirt track and the opening and closing of several farm gates by yours truly, we were greeted about two thirds of the way by two of their three sons on their trail bikes. Following their directions we arrived at one of their two farmhouses in the by then brown, generously dust-coated, red Falcon to see the surprised face of Neil! He tried to find out who else would be coming but as we were also completely in the dark, the attendance list remained a surprise until that evening. Neil then led the way to the main farmhouse and as the MOTH drove cautiously over the rather rugged windy track, we were glad that we weren't driving Just Trip'n. I have always believed that everything in life happens for a reason... just imagine our precious fridge and heaven forbid, our TV, too, being jolted right off their screws and hinges as we were bumping along what felt like a rough ride in a rollercoaster with its wheels and tracks in dire need of greasing!
After exchanging pleasantries, the Vey families (or 'Team' as they call themselves) got to work. The wives began multi-tasking - carrying on at least three different conversations while chasing their littlies, in between supervising the team of husbands who were setting up their family-sized tents around selected sections of the farm, (with a beer in one hand, of course)! The various hives of activities were randomly given surprise checks by several foremen in the shapes of a small flock of sheep, Lynne's horse, Midnight, and five dogs. Before the dust had time to settle, a quick glance at the sundial got the Team hopping - it was time to clean up their respective kids and themselves to get ready for the trip to the Stockinbingal Bowling Club, the venue for the party.
We travelled in convoy with the first party opening the gates and the last, closing after them. Upon arrival at the Bowling Club, Neil was gob-smacked to see a sea of smiling faces ready to greet him with hugs and hearty handshakes. As we entered the Bowling Club, my eagle eye didn't spy a single cowboy, let alone a guitar-strumming one. Hmmm... I figured then that it was going to be a typical Aussie get-together after all, with the blokes intent on practising their glass-to-mouth maneuvering techniques around the bar while the sheilas sat around in little groups stifling their yawns or sipping a drink or two. I felt rather lost as I saw only one familiar female face, that belonging to one of the wives whom I had met briefly at a get-together a couple of years before. My MOTH started mingling straightaway and as I did not wish to be caught yawning nor intrude on any on-going conversation, I headed for the gaming room. There I spent some time and money hand-feeding the five poker machines in turn until the dinner call. We sat at a table with folks that we didn't know so conversations were down to a minimum. Dinner was buffet style with a selection of salads, fresh fruit, sliced cheese, ham and corned beef. The hot food consisted of curried prawns and fish mornay with boiled rice. I opted for a small serve of curried prawns and boiled rice which left plenty of room for the fruit on offer: tinned (as well as fresh) pineapple, rockmelon, honeydew melon and strawberries. This was followed by dessert of pavlova, apple cake and jelly with tea or coffee to finish off the meal. The birthday cake was then brought out and after some emotionally-charged speeches by the parties involved, the "Men-to-Boyz" (my personal terminology for the blokes), trooped out of the dining room to re-congregate at the bar, eager to resume drinking and telling lies. Bummer! Definitely no "Heel - toe, heel - toe, swing your partner, doe - see - doe..." that's for sure! Upon seeing the ladies also with drinks in their hands and being a very light drinker myself, I decided against joining them. Besides, I purposely refrained from having any alcoholic beverage just in case the MOTH weakened and I had to drive back to Cootamundra after the party. Instead, I made my way back to the gaming room to resume feeding the hungry machines.
By midnight, the party crowd had thinned out to a mere handful of the diehard "Men-to-Boyz" who were either swaying or draped over the bar counter slurringly repeating their stories for the tenth time, getting louder with each recount. About an hour later, my MOTH came to me and suggested that we call it a night. My MOTH kept his resolve and did not weaken with regard to alcohol intake so was able to drive us back to Cootamundra.
The next morning, we returned to Gogobilly for brunch and a tour of the property. Luckily we did not arrive with empty stomachs waiting to be filled as the brunch consisted of bacon, (heaps of bacon), sausages and hash browns all merrily sizzling away on the one big hotplate. Instead, we settled for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of the birthday cake. Not everyone turned up for the brunch which was just as well, as there would have been a transportation dilemma. The few that did show up were looking rather worse for wear but eager to join the tour just the same. The MOTH and I got a ride with Neil in his old Subaru station wagon while others took their pick from an assortment of "things on wheels" ranging from a tractor to trail bikes to get to the top of Gogobilly Hill.
The view at the top was simply magnificent, overlooking Stockinbingal on one side and the farm on the other. This of course set off a lot of cameras and after we had all taken our fill of photos, the guys quenched their thirst with icy cold beer that had been brought up by the Vey boys. While we were up there, Neil spotted a monitor (large tropical carnivorous lizard) and guided the MOTH and I down the rocky slopes to get a few photos of it. Shortly after, we piled back into our various modes of transportation and headed back downhill to the farm. The guys gasbagged some more, this time about the viability of creating a landing-strip for their Cessnas, and it was lunch time before the MOTH finally noticed my hungry expression. We declined the lunch invitation so we bade everyone farewell and left with another group of friends who were heading for the Bowling Club for more drinkies before flying their Cessnas back to Queensland the next morning. We drove back to Cootamundra for a tasty late lunch of steakburgers and chips, after which we watched TV through our eyelids. After our siesta and a refreshing shower, we had our dinner of beef rendang and rice and dessert of Honey Murcott mandarins before watching the Brisbane Broncos beat the Melbourne Storm in the Rugby League Grand Final match on TV.
On Monday, we decided that instead of twiddling our thumbs worrying about Just Trip'n, we would go sight-seeing so off we went to Temora to check out the Aviation Museum. We spent the best part of the morning there just looking at the exhibits of old aeroplanes, reading and viewing the screening of the aviation history which proved to be most interesting indeed. By lunch-time the worms were wriggling around in our bellies and growling fiercely, too, so we each threw a hamburger and some chips down our throats to shut them up. Back we drove to Cootamundra and located Sir Don Bradman's birthplace. [Sir Donald George Bradman, August 27, 1908 ó February 25, 2001, often called The Don, was an Australian cricketer who is universally regarded as the greatest batsman of all time, and is one of Australia's most popular sporting heroes.] The MOTH just waited in the car while I got out to take a couple of photos as we were feeling the heat and weren't in the mood to go poking around in the cottages. We returned to Just Trip'n for a short siesta before a shower and a T-bone steak dinner at the RSL situated just around the corner from the caravan park where we were staying. After losing $15, we walked back to Just Trip'n to watch TV before surrendering to sleep.
We woke up Tuesday morning not really knowing what would be in store for us regarding Just Trip'n. Just in case the problem couldn't be fixed on site, we packed our overnight bags for a stay at a motel. 9am on the dot and the mechanic from the local Mercedes Benz dealership appeared as if by magic. After spending a good half hour going over all the possible causes, he too, failed to fix the stuck gear problem. We were told that there was nothing more he could do and he advised us to arrange for the motorhome to be towed to the nearest Mercedes Benz Light Commercial Truck Service Centre in Wagga Wagga some 100km away. Once again, the MOTH contacted the RACV in Melbourne for assistance and the officer in charge by the name of Prim (sp?) immediately and efficiently arranged not only for a commercial tow-truck to come to our rescue but also free accommodation at the Astor Motor Inn which is conveniently located in the corner of Baylis and Edward Streets for the duration of our wait and yes, there's more - another free Avis rental car - a brand-new Toyota Camry Altise at our disposal! God Bless the RACV, I say! Within the hour, the tow-truck arrived and after disconnecting the tailshaft, Just Trip'n was all set to be towed to Wagga Wagga. My MOTH had returned the Hertz rental car just before noon so we got a ride in the tow-truck with me sitting in the cabin like Lady Muck herself, enjoying an excellent view during the ride. My disgruntled MOTH consoled himself by saying that at least the fuel economy on this trip would be pretty good as the towing would bring us 100km closer to home without using a drop of fuel.
We were driven to Astor Motor Inn by the Mercedes mob and from there it was a mere stroll to the Avis Rental centre to pick up the Camry. We didn't have to wait too long before the MOTH received a phone call to let us know that they had located the problem - the gear recognition switch had packed it in. A new switch would have to be ordered first thing Wednesday morning and it would be air-freighted from Melbourne to be fitted and programmed to recognize gear positions early Thursday morning. With little else to do, we strolled down Baylis Street for a spot of window-shopping and to buy some soft drinks. On the way back to the Astor, we saw a noodle bar called 'Noodle King' and that helped decide our choice of dinner that evening. After a shower, we drove to Noodle King to get some Seafood Noodles before returning to our room for a leisurely meal and a night of TV-viewing.
Pronounced 'Wogga Wogga', Wagga Wagga with a population of over 57,000 people is known to locals as Wagga. The Wiradjuri people were the first to settle the area and Wagga Wagga, their word for 'the place of many crows', gave the city its name. In 1829 Charles Sturt, who explored the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems passed through the area and soon other Europeans followed him settling along the fertile banks of the rivers. As an important commercial centre, Wagga enjoyed the advantages of road, rail and, in the 19th century, river transport to convey local produce to distant markets and to bring goods into the city. Wagga quickly became the largest inland city in New South Wales.
I got the address of the Visitor Information Centre from the complimentary booklet 'Discover Wagga Wagga' in the hotel room, so with a whole day to kill during this unscheduled stopover, we drove to the Visitor Information Centre in Tarcutta Street for some sightseeing suggestions. Armed with a few pamphlets we set off for a leisurely stroll to Wagga Wagga Beach. "Wagga Wagga has a beach?" I exclaimed incredulously. The MOTH explained to me that there is a stretch of sandy bank on the Murrimbidgee River that he remembered coming to when he was a young recruit with the RAAF in the year dot. We followed the walking track to the 'beach' but much to the MOTH's disappointment, it was nothing like he remembered it to be. Museums don't exactly turn either of us on so it was off to the Botanical Gardens from there.
The first thing we saw upon arrival at the car park of the Gardens was a "Closed" sign near the entry but soon realized the sign referred to the Model Railway System and not the Botanical Gardens. Whew! What a relief it was. Being the NSW school holidays, there were many, many flustered mothers at the Botanic Gardens with their kids in tow while the daddies got off easy by going to work. We did a round of the gardens and admired the beautiful azaleas and camellias in the Chinese Garden section, gave the cactus garden and water-wise garden a cursory glance each as we strolled past, stuck our heads in to peek into the Tree Chapel but didn't enter as some repair work was in progress. From there we sauntered over to the Zoo and Aviary section of the Gardens. What a brilliant idea putting a zoo within the Gardens compound! We were there for an hour and a half with half the time spent chasing the peacocks to get a few photos, 20 photos between us, to be exact. A bite of lunch at the kiosk seemed like a good idea until we saw that there was only one girl behind the counter serving the long queue of customers, so wisely decided to give it a miss.
We drove out to the RAAF Base on the Sturt Highway on the "Sydney side of Wagga Wagga" to check out the RAAF Museum but to our great disappointment, the Museum was closed for refurbishment. After a couple of photos from the outside, we got back in the car and drove back towards the town centre to check out Lake Albert but the view there didn't even merit a photo. Ever practical MOTH decided it was time to return the rental car as we would not be needing it anymore. After topping up the fuel, we returned the car and walked down Baylis Street again, this time we walked to the end of the street, to the War Memorial, where the street name changed to Fitzmaurice Street. We kept walking while the MOTH indulged in a bit of nostalgia as he recounted the good old days spent at Romano's Hotel with his fellow RAAF recruits. Romano's is an iconic regional hotel established in 1865. Naturally, out came the cameras as we took photos of the Romano's Hotel, the old Court House and the old Post Office which is now the National Bank.
We strolled back down Baylis Street and stopped at Woolworths Liquor where I bought the MOTH a nice bottle of red. Dinner that night was the in-house guest special of Surf n Turf (a succulent char-grilled sirloin steak, topped with garlic king prawns and a creamy chardonny sauce) at the hotel restaurant, Thomasina's Mallee Grill. We fed the poker machines in the Gaming Room a handful of dollar coins until the MOTH got tired of the routine and went upstairs to enjoy his wine. I carried on with the feeding in the hope that the machine would regurgitate a whole bunch of coins. Occasionally a machine would spit out a few bucks but certainly not the full-on 'chunder' (vomit) that I was hoping for. Eventually after losing $30 I decided to call it a night and returned to our room.
We checked out of the Astor the next morning and waited in the foyer until the Mercedes Benz mob sent one of their employees to pick us up. As soon as we pulled up in the carpark of the service centre, I could see that Just Trip'n was all set and ready to rock and roll. We left Wagga Wagga via The Rock, an impressive landmark, towering 250 metres over the surrounding countryside. Known as Kengal to the local Wiradjuri people, it is thought to have been a place where initiation ceremonies had been carried out. We continued southbound on the Hume Highway and about 16km north of Albury at Table Top, we turned off the highway to visit the 'original' Ettamogah Pub. The Ettamogah Pub was inspired by the cartoons of Ken Maynard, an Australian cartoonist who was born in Albury, New South Wales, in 1928. Originally a police officer, he got his break as a cartoonist in 1958 contributing his Ettamogah Pub cartoons to the Australasian Post. They became a main feature of the magazine and his cartoons were run until its last edition. These cartoons were the inspiration for a chain of Ettamogah Pubs throughout Australia. There are Ettamogah Pubs in Sydney, Albury, Sunshine Coast and Cunderdin in Western Australia. The Ettamogah Pub also inspired Ray Kernaghan to sing a catchy song about it. Ken Maynard died on 29 September 1998 on the Gold Coast, Queensland, after losing the battle with liver cancer.
Where the Murray River flows
Stuck out like a country dunny
Is a pub that we all know
Itís not a flash hotel
Or exclusive country club
Itís a place that all Australia knows
Itís the Ettamogah Pub
Just about ten miles from Albury
Out along the Hume
Thereís a truck parked on the rooftop
And a beer in every room
Ken Maynardís humour greets you
As you drink from your beer mug
And youíre glad you finally made it
To the Ettamogah Pub
Thereís cockatoos and rabbit traps
And free beer tomorrow, mate
And cook says that heíll stand by it
So donít be running late
Youíll be glad you finally made it, mate
To the Ettamogah Pub.
After this enjoyable break, we continued on our way home, with a quick lunch stop at Glenrowan, the Ned Kelly town, for lunch and a few photos of the Big Ned Kelly statue outside the post office. [Edward "Ned" Kelly (c. 1855 Ė 11 November 1880) is Australia's most famous bushranger, and, to many, a folk hero, for his defiance of the colonial authorities.] We arrived home late Thursday afternoon and life has almost returned to normal... until our next road-trip in the not too distant future.
Please click on each thumbnail for a larger view and if you wish to view more photos from this trip, please go to My Photos and click on the appropriate gallery.