Day 8 – Thursday 28th April
First departures at the Saltbush about 6 am but I am already awake. A pretty good night. Comfortable room. Quiet fridge. I catch up on my journal while mum potters about getting ready. We won’t hang about in Hay today, we have plenty of things to see between Narrandera and Cootamundra and I want to save those things in Hay that I haven’t yet done for another time, when I plan to rent a riverside cottage and spend a bit longer.
Before leaving Hay we decide to pop down to the river at Bushy Bend. I don’t remember seeing the three lovely stainless steel sculptures when we last visited.. but as we contemplate them I think to myself that at least the one with the river levels depicted I think I have seen before. They are great sculptures and are very effective with very good interpretive panels to help visitors understand the inspiration for each monument.
There are great birds around this morning, yellow rosellas, treecreepers and diamond firetails as well as a couple of peaceful doves. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic and a break from the highway or the motel. I am really sorry to be leaving Hay so soon, but there are routes to explore to the east and I want to be home for weekend.
We head back south to join the Sturt Highway to take us across to Narrandera. The scenery is quite different to the saltbush plains we would cross if we headed directly for West Wyalong. It is a fairly quiet, straightforward trip through to Narrandera with just the one stop at a rest stop situated nearby or among a signposted “significant roadside area”. These significant roadside areas are those where the vegetation remnants along the road provide good quality habitat for various creatures including birds. The rest stop in question is called “The Birdcage Rest Area”. We have wizzed past an inconspicuous sign saying “The River” with an arrow.
We pull into the forecast rest stop and find a fairly modest strip abutting a small watercourse which must feed into the Murrumbidgee. There are lots of fallen trees. In one spot there are some discarded truck tyres, but the area could be made very nice. Just a short stop and we move on as I am anxious to get to Narrandera before 10:30 so we can take the tour at the Inland Fisheries Centre. I don’t see any signage, so with just five minutes to spare I dash into the information centre and ask for directions. I am assisted with good cheer by a nice friendly man and I go on my way.
The Fisheries centre is along the Sturt Highway as if you were heading to Wagga Wagga. I drop mum near the entrance and go and park. We appear to be the only people here today. Sure enough this is the case. We’ve picked the right day and we have the guide all to ourselves. Cheap as chips. $7.70 per adult. The first part of the tour is in the aquarium section where there are banks of fish tanks of various sizes housing a range of fish and creatures that are found in inland waterways of NSW. First we learn about Golden Perch which is better known as Yellow Belly, and it’s close relative the Silver Perch. These are able to be caught in some places, but never out of a river. You can only keep perch that are at least 30 cms long. The perch are bred at the centre. When conditions are right they are tested and if the tests are satisfactory they are injected with a hormone to bring on spawning and put into a large tank male and female together and allowed to spawn. They lay eggs that are not sticky and that float around in the water. The perch can produce 500,000 eggs in a season. All the native fish can only spawn once each year. In the tank there is a catfish The catfish make their nest on the bottom on the river bed. Here’s where the evil European carp come in, they are bottom feeders and they muddy up the water and they can clean up a catfish nest in seconds. The European Carp can spawn twice in a year. One female can produce a million eggs every year. Contrary to popular belief, Carp is OK eating and in most other countries people are happy to eat it, even serving it as a treat at Christmas time. We are surprised to learn that way worse for the environment than the European carp is the red fin. It is also a feral exotic. All red fin are born carrying a virus which when times are bad they release the virus and it kills of all the other fish, and plenty of the red fin too, but the red fin survivors are the strong ones. Red fin are very popular with anglers they are considered good eating. Perhaps this is why they don't get such bad press as the carp. Due to the very damaging effect the red fin have it is now illegal to return a red fin to the water if you catch it regardless of the size of the particular fish. Anglers are encouraged not to return carp to the water but it is not illegal to do so. Carp are incredibly good at getting themselves back in the water so it is recommended that anglers kill and bury any carp they catch. The research station has a number of projects on the go, including ways to selectively extract the ferals from the river systems via mazes and clever things like that. Goldfish are also in the waterways and can get very large.
Another highly endangered fish we learn about is the trout cod. Very similar in appearance to a Murray Cod, except the trout cod has an overbite, so its top lip sticks out further than the bottom. It also has a black line back through it’s eye. The trout cod is a very aggressive fish and popular with anglers. It is in big trouble and is completely protected. The fisheries centre breed the trout cod also and numbers are improving.
The Murray Cod is very intelligent. They spawn sticky eggs and are also bred at the centre. They spawn inside a drum with removable wire mesh. In the wild the female leaves the male to guard the eggs. Fishing for murray cod is illegal in their breeding season. You are not allowed to keep any Murray Cod less than 60 cms long. They are only breeding size at 30 cms.
Moving right along we consider the Macquarie perch which is a very finicky fish into which research continues. It was first bred in captivity at Narrandera only last December and they don’t know why the fish bred – but they are working on it. The breeding has occurred in a set up that the centre has made as close to their wild environment as possible and it worked. They just don’t know what about the conditions brought the breeding on. The Macquarie perch on display is black and this means that it is a happy camper. So much as somebody wandering near the other Macquarie perch in the centre's ponds and they can go all pale and sulky and refuse to bred. Research continues.
In the biggest tank is a Murray Cod that is about 17 years old. His name is agro. The Murray Cod are doing ok but not thriving. In other tanks along the wall are other native fish and creatures for us to see. One little fish is hiding under a rock shelf which his lunch, a water beetle swims around unmolested. This fish is nocturnal. Then there are yabbies, and shrimp, smelt and rainbow fish among others. The whole display is excellent and the information fascinating. When we have asked all the questions we like we move outside to see a pond where the breeding stock is kept and we are told how they go about getting the fish from the pond. Then it’s into a large shed with the big breeding tanks and paraphernalia around and we see some baby perch that will soon be released and have the process for that explained. How to count the fish, we look at some baby Murray Cod also. It’s all just fascinating. Surely up there with the very best tours you can do in both interest and value. Don’t miss it if you are in the area.
We depart having spent an hour 45 mins at the centre. Next is Narrandera for lunch. We have a quick squizz at the royal doulton fountain in the nice memorial park, but we don’t get out. We stop and look in a great photography studio and pick up a card for the photographer. He’s really good. Some beautiful photographs among those on display and I am seriously tempted. I’ve spent enough this trip though, so I’ll keep him in mind for the future. Perhaps we could hire him for some family shots if we have a family holiday in the area.
We toy with the idea of eating at the café next door but end up deciding to sample the bakery which we enjoyed. By now it is getting fairly late. We pull up by the road just out of town to eat our stuff. At least here we have some gum trees to look at.
There is a string of sweet little villages between Narrandera and Coolamon. Grong Grong, Matong, Ganmain was particularly nice with a pretty streetscape. All with pubs of pretty reasonable façade. There are heaps of things to do in Junee and a museum we understand in Coolamon, but we are both fairly tired and decide to press on to Cootamundra leaving the other sights for exploration another time. We don’t actually go into Junee township, so that will be a surprise for next time.
As we travel delightfully traffic free country roads we stop here and there to soak up a beautiful view.
Eventually we arrive in Cootamundra. It's a pleasant town and we have no difficulty finding Bradman's birthplace Museum. This is actually once a small local hospital and of course you can visit the room in which Sir Donald made his first appearance.
There is a good range of memorabilia and the place is spotless and beautifully maintained. Exhibits are not restricted purely to the Don of course and among my favourists is a collection of barbed wire!
The yard attached to the museum and its adjoining buildings is very nice and makes one long for a quiet rural life.. for a few moments at any rate! Bradman's birthplace is a lovely little attraction and we're glad to have visited.
We make our way to our accommodation. The Southern Comfort Motel, where we are greeted with a warm and sincere welcome from the host. Lucky we booked ahead there is a Jaguar motor club booking tonight. We make ourselves at home in the beautifully appointed room and rest for a while before dinner.
It is a long time since I've been in a motel room that was so immaculately maintained and such lovely furnishings. I would not hesitate to return.
For dinner we head down to the Globe Hotel where we have a very nice meal of steak. Cootamundra has been a lovely stopover and I look forward to returning for a longer visit sometime.
Day 9 - Cootamundra to Home Via Grenfell (of course)
We decide to take a curious route home. Seldom one to take the most direct route to anywhere, we are heading from Cootamundra to Grenfell, planning to arrive close to opening for Grenfell Quality Meats where we will stock up our two eskies full of delicious lamb and steak. The best souvenir. We take a fairly direct route through Young and stop at the bakery in Young to sample there for brekkie. We give Young an opportunity to redeem the performance of the cherry pie we had at the Young Maid shop a year or two ago. We saved that for home, but really, we think we make a better cherry pie ourselves.. which I guess is not so very surprising.
In Grenfell our first stop is the servo for some ice and then we say Gday to our favourite butcher. It's quite a trek home from Grenfell if we don't want to be too late and so it may seem strange that we decide to take a chance and go a rather strange route. Well, strange if you think you must always travel as close as possible to the route a crow might fly. Grenfell to Cowra.. nothing strange about that choice, but then we decide that rather than heading for a mountain crossing we will head south again towards Boorowa. This route looks an aweful lot like backtracking, but its a lovely scenic quiet route and its not long until we're expressing pleasure in our choice. From Boorowa we head across towards Crookwell and thence to Goulburn where we do the obligatory stop for some awesome sour dough bread at Trapper's bakery... and some pumpkin bread too actually. Goulburn is only a skip and a jump to home and we are thrilled to find that this apparently circuitous route has been quicker than the trip would have been going across the mountains. Success all round.
It has been a lovely little holiday and we have enjoyed the journeying as much as the destination. Only one more decision to be made. Where to next time?