Mitchell Shire, VIC
Author: Peter Quilty
A number of the townships within the Mitchell Shire are innocently, if not ignorantly, deemed as places deserving of nothing more than a brief ‘pitstop’ while en route to Sydney. But the recent experience of a short sojourn to Seymour (just over 100km north of Melbourne) and its surrounds tells me unequivocally that anyone who adopts a ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ mentality on this region is forgoing an exciting and fascinating travel treat.
There’s a great divide between perception and reality, and that was borne out as I descended upon the Mitchell Shire in a KEA Nomad 2+1 (three-berth) motorhome supplied by RV Sales Centre in Braybrook, located on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Any preconceived notions I had about this area were ill-informed and literally flew out the Nomad’s windows as I encountered an exhilarating and, at times, emotional exposure to its proud military history along with a staunch railway heritage. Quite simply, it was a two-day touring reality check.
I stayed at the pristine BIG4 Seymour Holiday Park overlooking the picturesque Goulburn River, which is Victoria’s largest inland river, and I must say it was such a hospitable environment courtesy of the park’s managers, Judy and Robert. Further, this scenic countryside at the base of the Tallarook Ranges was a sight to behold.
With any ‘hit-and-run mission’ time is of the essence, so the first port of call in Seymour was the Old Courthouse (circa 1864) – which houses the Visitor Information Centre and features an art gallery – to get my bearings and brush up on some local knowledge. I marvelled at the nearby Old Post Office (circa 1873), which is now an art gallery and restaurant, but just a hop, skip and jump away is the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk that really tugged at the heart strings. I was emotionally immersed among the native trees and grasses that imitate the rubber trees and rice paddies of the Vietnamese topography.
Strolling down the walk – symbolising and paying homage to more than 60,000 heroic Australian servicemen and women, whose names are inscribed on to display panels – was a poignant moment for reflection, and humbling experience. There is also a real Centurion tank, Huey Helicopter and artillery pieces of a M1A1 APC.
There’s also a WWI Memorial at Seymour Hospital, and only 10km up the road is the Australian Army Tank Museum in Puckapunyal, which has more than 70 armoured fighting vehicles on display in Hopkins Barracks, the home of Australian Armour at Puckapunyal, VIC.
Covering an area of more than 4000sqm, it is one of the largest armour museums in the southern hemisphere – with artefacts and exhibits like the Australian Light Horse collection, the Australian armour during WWII, and Vietnam weapons against armour lethality display; plus small arms and anti-tank weapons, and a showcase of over 87 armoured fighting vehicles and anti-armoured weapons.
The following day revealed further evidence of the region’s military past when, motoring along a section of the Seymour Heritage Drive, I came across the Australian Light Horse Memorial Park. Subsequently I climbed ANZAC Hill to gain mind-blowing 360° vistas of the Tallarook Ranges, the National Trust-listed Trawool Valley and Mt Puckapunyal.
I also took a short walk at the start of the Great Victorian Rail Trail at Tallarook, just 12km from Seymour. Australia’s longest continuous rail trail, its stunning views includes the spur from Cathkin to Alexandra and stretches 134km from Tallarook to the foothills of Victoria’s High Country at Mansfield.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Meanwhile, railway buffs would certainly be enthralled by the Old Black Train Steam Engine and the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre Depot. Obviously the impeccably-preserved diesel locomotives would further whet the appetites of railway enthusiasts, along with the heritage-listed Seymour Railway Station (circa 1872).
I’m also a self-confessed epicurean, so it was a tad annoying (due to time constraints) not to experience more of the finest local food, wine and beer the heart of Victoria has to offer.
The Mitchell Shire’s wineries complement two neighbouring wine regions (Upper Goulburn River and Heathcote) and also dishes up some amazing paddock-to-plate experiences.
Seymour and its surrounding towns of Tallarook and Tooborac offer unique foodie experiences for lovers of great regional produce and fare. These towns offer boutique food and wine options that are sure to delight any connoisseur’s palate – from sparkling shiraz and refreshing rieslings to sampling goat meat.
I have it on good authority that the following (to name a few breweries, cafes, hotels, purveyors, restaurants and wineries and so on) are certain to tempt the tastebuds – The Brewer’s Table, The Winery Kitchen, Prince of Wales Hotel, Tallarook Hotel, Tooborac General Store, Tooborac Hotel and Brewery, the newly opened Wine by Sam, Brave Goose Vineyard, Rowanston on the Track Winery, McIvor Estate, Merindoc Cafe and Cellar Door, Seven Hills Farmstay, McIvor Farm Foods, and Blue Tongue Berries.
Videographer Anna and I visited another recommended eatery and had a hearty country-style shiraz beef pie for lunch at Gaffney’s Pie Kitchen, while later photographer Stu and I followed up with a sumptuous dinner at the historic Royal Hotel (circa 1848). The truth be known, I had also prepared some lamb chops from the KEA Nomad’s external slide-out barbecue, along with a thrown-together salad, but my culinary pride was hurt when Stu suggested we dine out at the pub. (Mind you, I wasn’t complaining about my mouth-watering calamari dish while Stu devoured his chicken parma.)
Consequently, the grateful recipients of my rudimentary camp meal were the holiday park’s managers, and I was advised the following day that it was a tasty morsel. (MKR, here I come?)
While heading home I descended upon Kilmore – one of Victoria’s oldest inland settlements – virtually on nightfall. Located in central Victoria and approximately one hour north from Melbourne, Kilmore offers unique experiences for those looking to explore the history of early settlement.
Unfortunately, I could only manage a sneak peek at the well-lit Old Kilmore Post Office (circa 1863), which now trades as Elizabeth’s Restaurant. So the opportunity to experience its collection of historic buildings such as the Old Kilmore Jail (dating back to 1859), Courthouse (circa 1864), former police barracks (circa 1892) and Town Hall (circa 1894) including its decorative facade and Corinthian pillars – plus Monument Hill Reserve (a fauna and flora reserve that includes a monument to explorers Hume and Hovell in the form of a bluestone lookout tower) and the Tramway Heritage Centre (just south of Kilmore at Bylands) – went begging.
But there’ll be a next time, I’m sure of that, and a visit to these iconic places will be compulsory!
For those into Australian folklore, consider stopping off at Ned Kelly’s childhood home in Beveridge, which recently received a significant grant for a much needed facelift.
Occasionally you receive an unexpected and welcome surprise in your adventures, and I’m certainly adding the Mitchell Shire to the list.
Much of this region is a step back in time – from rustic timber cottages, old country pubs and century-old bluestone buildings, as well as the historic farms, homesteads, machinery and shedding that dot the countryside.
It’s an Aladdin’s cave... and Seymour and its surrounds are the hidden gem!