This is getting ridiculous now, isn't it? I've been back at work for more than a month and I'm still writing my holiday blog posts. I'm going to push on...
Before Luke and I left Meningie, the owner of the motel asked where we were heading. We told her we were going east on the Mallee Highway to Ouyen and she said there wasn't much to see on the way. We knew we weren't taking a scenic route - or what most people would consider scenic - but I didn't bother to explain the allure of a harsh environment, rural decay, ghost signs and old stuff.
By that measure, there was plenty to see - a 330km stretch of sun-dried paddocks, bleached almost white in some areas, and tiny rundown towns that looked mostly uninhabited. I found only the second ghost sign of the trip in one of these apparent ghost towns not far out of Tailem Bend - I think in a place called Sherlock.
Two-in-one sign on derelict garage
There was a truck parked at a grain silo opposite this old garage, but that was the only sign of life. That little contraption to the right of the photo below is a dilapidated old petrol bowser with imperial currency on the measuring panel.
We stopped at the bakery in Ouyen for lunch (no, we didn't have an award winning vanilla slice. Cold custard. Gak.) and at the local council office for some advice on visiting the nearby Wyperfeld National Park, the third largest national park in Victoria. Unfortunately, a four-wheel drive is required to access most of areas of the park, so we were limited in where we could go. We definitely weren't going to throw caution to the wind here like we did on the beach in Robe. There was literally no one else around, it was stinking hot and we didn't have great mobile reception.
We saw a big lizard on the road on the way in (a dragon of some type) and a mother and baby kangaroo shading themselves under a pine tree as we drove around the park. We nearly got carried away by flies when we climbed to the top of a small hill to visit the grave of the infant son of the couple who, in the 1860s, owned land that later formed part of the Wyperfeld National Park. (The baby was supposedly delivered by a caesarian section performed by his father!)
It probably wasn't the best time of year to visit the park, but hey, we were passing by.
Cottage ruins in a paddock of post-harvest stubble
We decided to visit nearby Lake Albacutya, even though our map said it doesn't have water in it most of the time. The road we took to get there wasn't the main road and we probably shouldn't have been on it in our Micra (picture a dirt road, oddly a bit soft, higher on one side than the other and the middle almost high enough to maroon us), but we got there and, of course, the lake was completely dry.
On the way to Lake Albacutya
We were going to go to Lake Hindmarsh as well, but because our map said it's also "usually dry", we decided not to bother. Naturally Luke later overheard fisherman talking about water in the lake.
We continued south to Dimboola where we were going to stop for dinner, but there wasn't much on offer. It's a sizeable country town - population around 1,500 - but it looks like it's in a state of decline...or at least a state of no progress. A big old hotel on the main street was gutted by fire more than 10 years ago and remains boarded up.
Another derelict Dimboola building (with old signs)
Dimboola does have an awesome ghost sign though. I've never heard of Jellex jelly crystals before.
Although I'm attracted to the aesthetics of decay and dereliction, we saw so many small and not-so-small towns in such a state of decline between Tailem Bend in South Australia and Dimboola that I ended up feeling quite melancholy. A lot of their young people have likely moved to bigger towns or to the city after finishing school and I can't imagine many families moving in to these areas. These places don't have much that appeals to the wine-sipping, cheese-nibbling, pamper-me set from Melbourne, least of all proximity. Small towns within an hour or two of Melbourne have been going gangbusters in the last 10 or 15 years, but sadly their northern neighbours are suffering. Perhaps this is just the way of the world.
Anyway, enough melancholy. We continued on to Horsham where we stayed the night. The motel owner was leaving in the morning for Robe - "We just came from there!" - and then the Great Ocean Road - "We just came from there, too!".
Next (whenever that might be): The Grampians