Griffith – A surprise in the Riverina

Who would have thought we’d find one of Australia’s most successful multicultural communities in south west New South Wales? That’s exactly what happened when we visited Griffith.

The Riverina is an area we’ve only driven through on the way to somewhere else. I got the impression that’s what a lot of people do when we checked into the Tourist Caravan Park. “Got friends or relatives here, have you?” asked the lady at reception. When I replied that we were there as tourists she gave me a quizzical glance before getting on with the paperwork.

To be honest we’d hedged our bets and were prepared to make it a stopover if things didn’t pan out. Many of the park’s visitors were “grey nomads” resting for the night before continuing their travels along Kidman Way but, as we were to discover, there are plenty of reasons for an extended stay.

Griffith is the regional centre of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. The dry grazing and cropping land south of the Murrumbidgee gives way to rice fields, vineyards and orchards on crossing the river. Irrigation has made a world of difference to the landscape here.

Catania Fruit Salad Farm provides entertaining tours of a working orchard and gives visitors an understanding of the irrigation system. It also has a small gift shop selling local produce and handicrafts. A slightly different perspective is provided at the SunRice Centre in nearby Leeton. There are plenty of wineries and cellar doors in the area to chose from (although the lady at the tourist information centre took one look at our tribe put the winery brochures back on the shelf).

Towns, farms and the environment all along our rivers are feeling the pinch of greatly reduced flows. We got an idea of just how much when a huge duststorm hit. We’d sat enjoying lunch at Il Corso Cafe as the horizon became redder and darker. Soon gale force winds and sun blocking dust shrouded the area. A local told us a few days later it was the worst in 40 years. Most of the dust ended up in Canberra and on the Australian Alps – nearly 400 kilometres away!

What I found fascinating about Griffith is its multiculturalism. Walking past the locals in the main street, Banna Ave, we could just as easily be in Melbourne. The area is very rich in Italian heritage, but there were many other nationalities too. The surprising thing is this is a town of just over 15,000 people in _truly_ rural New South Wales – 450 kilometres from Melbourne and 570 kilometres from Sydney. With irrigation bringing the parched countryside to life in the late 1800’s, the first farms were settled in 1912. Many came to the area hoping to have better luck with agriculture than they did with mining. A lot of Italians especially felt a familiarity with their homelands and made significant contributions to the development of the area.

An original settlers' cottage at the Pioneer Museum

Their efforts are recognised in the Griffith Italian Museum, which is located in the grounds of Pioneer Park Museum. Both museums are well worth a visit, with interesting and well maintained displays of life in early Griffith and Bagtown, where the settlement originally began. The Pioneer Museum is set on 11 hectares and is practically a little village in itself. We were able to talk to some volunteers in period costume, who helped build an impression of life in early Griffith. We learnt that the settlement of Bagtown (5 kilometres south of the present day Griffith) was so named because the bags that contained cement for irrigation channel construction were used in the buildings there. And that between the world wars a hermit lived in caves on the hillside overlooking the city. He was on to something though – he had best views in the area.

Griffith was planned by Walter Burley Griffin who is more widely known as the designer of Canberra. His trademark circular drive with wide, radial streets is home to the civic centre. Nearby Lake Wyangan, a large man-made lake, is popular for water sports, although at the time we visited it too was suffering from the drought. There’s a small camping area there with basic amenities, along with many picnic spots. The shores of the lake are home to a menagerie that provides great entertainment for young kids.

A small animal park near Lake Wyangan, just out of Griffith

Five days on and there was still plenty more of Griffith to see. As we discovered, it’s worth much more than a stopover on the way to somewhere else.

Where: On Kidman Way (Highway 87) 440 kilometres north of Melbourne, 570 kilometres west of Sydney

Events: La Festa celebrates Griffith’s multiculturism every Easter UnWined food and wine festival over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend

More Info: www.visitnsw.com

Happy travels,

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Comments

5 Responses to “Griffith – A surprise in the Riverina”
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  2. In fact, the technique known as drip irrigation package is a mixture of a number of shipping and delivery systems on the lower-volume and lower-force groups. The specialized term is micro-irrigation. The program sprung from the growing need to have to conserve drinking water.

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