The land northwest of Victoria, which the Aborigines know as Totyerguil and the Europeans named Swan Hill, I had the privilege to visit recently as a representative of Neos Kosmos, following the kind invitation of the Murray Regional Tourism Board and the Swan Hill Rural City Council.
The area was inhabited by the Aborigines some 13,000 years ago, where they lived as nomads in caves. The Wemba and the Wati people of the Matakupaat, must have been attracted to the area by its abundant food sources and the permanent water supply.
So, with a little bit of imagination, I saw some of them fishing in the river and others gathered on the banks, dreaming.
The current name was given to the town by the explorer Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, who set up camp by the river and had his sleep interrupted by the presence of the black swans. It was 21st of June 1836.
But the new chapter of the town begins around the 1850s, when the wharf was built. From then on it became one of the region’s major inland river trading ports.
The cleaning of the area and the use of the river for irrigation achieved a thriving agriculture with vast farms of fruit trees and vineyards, which still stand today.
Friendly to the visitors
Swan Hill became a town in 1965. It is built along the Valley Highway on the banks of Loddon River between the townships of Robinvale and Kerang, on the way to Mildura. A distance of 338 kilometres from Melbourne, it is a crossroad from Victoria to New South Wales. According to the last national Census, some 10,000 people live there.
The commercial centre is around Campbell, McCallum and McCray streets’.
Interesting landmarks around the town include the clock tower opposite the post office, the elegant town hall which was built in 1935, the War Memorial surrounded by a beautiful garden and the giant replica of a Murray Cod in front of the Swan Hill railway station, which highlights the popularity of fishing in the river.
Tertiary education is delivered by Sunraysia Institute of TAFE and students can attend courses by the Deakin University Program.
Swan Hill also has a horse racing club, football clubs and teams for all ages, golf and bowls clubs with all facilities, and an airport.
V/Line offers daily services to and from Melbourne and to other towns close by.
And of course the famous Moreton Bay fig tree, which was planted in 1860 in the yard of Dr. B. W. Gummow’s house on Curlewis Street, which marks the passing of the explorers Burke and Wills as they made their way through Swan Hill.
Although the Greek presence is limited, you may buy a souvlaki from the local fish and chip shop.
Pioneer settlement
The Pioneer Settlement is only 5 minutes walk from the city centre, which is the main tourist attraction of the town. Through the historic buildings with their antique machinery, instruments, clothing etc, the visitor can visualise the daily life of the first Europeans.
One can see the town hall, where all the public gatherings took place; the printing place with the old hand machinery; the library which was established in 1872; the inn where blacksmiths worked the iron to make horseshoes; the photo studio with period costumes; the fabricated vehicle; the general store; the music store, the little farm; the lolly shop; the coffee shop and the weatherboard building of the Commercial Bank of Australia where the farmers conducted their business transactions.
I must add that there are some old cars with very rare number plates that make them unique and collector’s items.
As a passenger on the paddle steamer PYAP with captain Peter at the helm, which was built in 1896 and underwent many repairs, one can enjoy for an hour the beauty of nature in Swan Hill. A beautiful sight surrounded by a huge variety of birds and the colourful, playful ducks along the Marraboor looking for their nests in the old trees. It is a peaceful and relaxing journey with million dollar views.
Lunch was arranged at Spoons Riverside situated on Monash Drive on the banks of the Murray. It is a modern, open restaurant offering a selection of beautiful food using fresh local produce.
PYAP paddle steamer
The Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery housed some famous pieces of art, some donated by the pioneers’ descendants. Visitors can admire the work of traditional artist Connelly Northey. Baskets made from rusty wires and other farming materials are also on display.
A trip to the nearby lake Boga is a must. With a diameter of three kilometres and only five kilometres from the city centre, it offers camping facilities as well as picnic amenities. There are some areas where swimming is permitted.
In the Flying Boat Museum the visitors can see the historic Catalina Flying Boat, and other material from WWII.
A must visit is Raymer’s Nursery, one of the biggest in Australia, with some 5,500 roses on display. At Swan Hill, we stayed at the Murray Downs Resort, which is situated only five kilometres from the city centre. The apartments overlooking the golf course have all facilities. For more information please call: (03) 5033 1966.
If you are looking for a for a relaxing destination with plenty to see and do, a pleasant climate, clean parks and people who are friendly towards the visitors, go to Swan Hill would be your first choice