Western Australia’s Wheat Belt

Thanks to the Piper being away and the Drummer being “an adult” we were able to scoot away, no plans, for a 2 night getaway exploring part of the wheat belt. We escaped the city after work on Friday, headed for the town of Beverley. The idea of the trip was to go to places, along roads, that we’ve never been before. The other plan was to basically roll into places for both accommodation and food. Given that it was the middle weekend of winter, I figured that the likelihood of being left without a bed was low.
So, Beverley for night one in the Hotel Beverley. The Newby was a country pub virgin so he looked and felt like a fish out of water. It didn’t help that the few patrons at the bar were dressed in flannelette shirts and farm worn jeans, clustered around the fire, watching the football. But we broke the ice quickly and everyone went back to minding their own business while we scored a room. The entire pub was stuck in a lovely time warp, somewhere between 1900 and 1970 depending on the room. The bar was adorned with Beatles and James Dean and Marilynn Munroe pictures, with a pinball machine in the corner and a pub size pool table. Upstairs our room was mid-way through renovation with exposed wall repairs. Perhaps the end reno will remove the 1970s ladies from the walls. I suspect they’ll keep the art deco dressing table though. The hall way upstairs was an eclectic mix of furnishings including a fireplace façade! Back downstairs to the private dining area and an outdoor area for the smokers. Overall, think Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but think hospitality, friendliness and a great experience.

Having settled into our cold accommodation (note to self to take a small heater on future trips) we headed downstairs for a huge pub dinner and a game of pool. We tried our hand at Fred Flintstones pinball and enjoyed the casual feel of the place. The other main aim for the weekend was caching. In the midst of Pokemon Go caching seems far easier to explain. At least we are looking for something. Which we found in Beverley at the second aircraft positioned along the road out of town. On our way there and back we were able to notice the way the town mirrors the hotel in the mixed building styles. The town halls art deco style looked stunning, lit up in the evening, while the CWA building looks as though it’s a town original. The main street was quiet in the night but Saturday morning was busy with locals. After checkout we headed for breakfast and coffee in the local café before sending my Aunty Beverley a postcard from Beverley.

Our first stop out of town was the cemetery. By way of explanation we were hunting a cache in the LKA series (last known address). By chance we came across the final resting place of Billy Noongale. He lies here after being honoured by Sir John Forrest. Mr Noongale was a member of an exploration team that trekked from Perth to Adelaide. I had heard and read about Mr Noongale previously so this was a nice coincidental find. With the cache in hand we headed along the way and rolled out of Beverley bound for Quairading and another LKA cache. It was while searching for this one that I realised I don’t like LKA caches and we decided to avoid cemeteries for the rest of our happy weekend away! As we drove out of town, the street sign “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” really helped to pick our mood back up and we headed for Wamenusking and the hugely informative road side stop about the number 2 rabbit proof fence. This particular spot explains how the fence works and has a section of fence set up that illustrates the concept. And it has a cache that we nabbed.
Because the weekend was all about adding more black lines to the map of WA, we headed for Shackleton along back roads and ended up at Australia’s smallest bank. The town was deserted and would have been quiet, but for the town mutt who took it upon himself to drive us out of town. So we went to see the 3rd largest monolith in Australia. The idea of “biggest” and “smallest” things is classically Australian. Think Big Banana, Big Pineapple, Big Prawn and so on. On our way we came across some great future camping and eventually we arrived at the monolith for a short walk. Unfortunately we had no food supplies and a growing hunger so this trip was just for a quick look. Next time we’ll explore and climb. In search of sustenance we moved on using long, dusty, back roads through fields of brilliantly green wheat and fluorescently yellow canola. Eventually we arrived to a deserted Bruce Rock.

For some reason I had this place in my head as the place to go. I have no idea why and it about as far from a tourist attraction as it is possible to be. The main street was empty with all but one shop closed. The store keeper was seated at the only eat in table enjoying his preheated and kept-warm-all-day sausage roll so his sweet wife served us. Her “just passing through?” query suggested she would love to hitch a ride with us and escape as well! Fortunately they had some sandwiches in the fridge but none of the promised delights of Picadilly Café were available! So much for my milkshake. Stocked up we found a table in the “park” across the road and in doing so realised why the place was like a ghost town. Everyone was at the footy! Bruce Rock v Corrigin. Had we known we would have joined them and probably would have had a great time and some nice hot food. Instead we had a wander around the machinery display, stashed three caches around town and left in a northerly direction, bound for Merredin.

On route we passed through Totadgin Conservation Park which is doing a great job of conserving, on the basis of the wildlife we saw. There were at least three large lizards taking their lives in their hands crossing the road, as well as a gorgeous, large, healthy looking echidna and a beautiful, huge wedge tailed eagle that flew over us. On another trip to this area it would be worthwhile stopping here for a wander around the area in search of more wildlife. Our arrival in Merredin was short lived as we turned straight down the road that points south east in search of the 111 wind turbines. No typo here folks. Obviously that many turbines are hard to miss and we found the lookout and information explaining the Collgar Wind Farm project spread over 18000 hectares. What a cool spot. The wheat grows underneath the turbines, creating a sense of everything being natural and beautiful. Despite the cold wind (it’s a wind farm after all) we stayed long enough to stash a cache and count the turbines in sight. I could see 55 so there were another 56 beyond the hills in all directions, all together saving emissions equivalent to 160 000 cars each year and producing sufficient energy to power 120 000 homes. Maybe someday this will be commonplace, the norm rather than the extraordinary, but for now it’s simply fabulous.
With eyes wide open from the experience of triffid wind turbines quietly turning, we went in search of Baurracoppin, a town whose population is described as “small but loyal”. This place, as well as being on the route around to Merredin, has a section about number 1 rabbit proof fence. It’s not nearly as informative as the other stop at Wamenusking (can you tell I like the name of that place?) but there’s not much else in Burracoppin … no wonder they are a small but loyal population. With a tricky little cache added to our stash we two weary travellers headed back to Merredin in search of a bed, some dinner and some wine.

Merredin is a town on the highway and has the usual highway accommodation options. We chose the one furthest from the road (but only by a few meters) and the one closet to the railway line (again). While we were waiting to check in the man before us (lets call him Roger) explained that he had spent ages trying to find the motel (I don’t how!) and was in town because his wife was in hospital in Perth so he came to collect on a large debt from someone who owed him money. The stories you hear on the road should always be believed cautiously but we were happy to chat while we waited. The Newby was excited to spend his first night in an Australian motel and likened it to a movie scene, expecting a semi-automatic weapon in a case under the bed, waiting to be assembled, while I applied dye to my hair and he grew a beard, so we could outsmart the bad guys! I was just glad to see a comfy bed and hear there was a Chinese restaurant in town. Just the bakery, every town has a Chinese restaurant and this one did a good meal and a roaring trade. Oh, and we saw Roger who managed to find his way there despite having trouble with the directions from the check in lass. Back in our room with a bottle of wine we set about planning our Sunday before hitting the hay.
Sunday morning, after a last minute check for that missing semi automatic, and despite The Newby being unable to grow a beard overnight, we headed out the door on route for breaky. Now remember Roger? Let’s call him Dodgy Rog now. We saw him as we left our room, getting out of the car with a much younger woman, both of whom somewhat sheepishly entered his room. As fast as they were gone we collapsed, giggling and incredulous, into the car. I guess he had his “debt” repaid and he probably won’t share with his poorly wife. What happens on the road, stays on the road. Onwards to the bakery for coffee and a croissant before attacking a few caches in Merredin including one at the military museum and one at the pioneer cemetery. Now I know I said no more LKA caches but this one wasn’t in that series and gave us for an insight into the hardships of wheat belt pioneers. The sad tale of still births, suicide by strychnine, kicked by a horse and murder were all playing out in my imagination as we searched for the graves of 4 diggers to solve the coordinates and find this tricky little hidden cache. While it was cold and we were less than sleuth like, we eventually got there in the end.

Having spent too much time on that we headed down the road, along what’s known as the Pioneer’s Pathway. The guide book suggests taking 5 days, while I’m sure that the pioneers took many more days if not weeks to traverse the distance. We of course needed to do it in a day, see everything in sight and be home at a reasonable hour! Our first stop was Nungarin for fuel and coffee. However little Nungarin was fast asleep, with nothing open, so no chance of coffee! Instead we made our way to the Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum (looking for a cache) and ended up wandering the vast undercover area on a guided tour with one of the custodians. If you get a chance to go here it’s worth the trip or perhaps you can support their annual fund raiser in some way.

Back on the road our next stop was Kununoppin where we tried out the type of kids playground equipment I grew up with. I hope they’re not suggesting these are relics! Onwards we came to Trayning. With a population of just 120 you won’t be surprised to hear there is not much there. But there was an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Aussie who went into a bank … Perhaps they found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. All we found was another sleepy town so we kept on our way via Yelbeni (more machinery) to Wyalkatchem where we tried hard to find something open. Eventually we found the roadhouse, stocked up on toasty sandwiches and headed for a picnic spot in the golf course by an historic well.  For a town fast asleep on a cold Sunday afternoon we managed to spend an awful long time looking for a tiny cache in machinery (got it!) and another cache on the elevator (no luck). In between I discovered that Girls Brigade in Australia started in Wyalkatchem (I was a Brigader for many years in school) and we bought the Wyalkatchem news in the Weekly. Perhaps there is life in Wylie after all.

With almost all the hours in our day gone we had a couple more scheduled stops to make. The first was in Dowerin to say hi to Rusty before we moved on and moved quickly through Goomalling. We need to come back to these spots and have a better look at them. There is so much to do in the area that at least one more trip will be needed. Next time we might try to tick of a few off the many granite outcrops and historic wells, although we could plan a trip to check out historic homesteads or museums or to see the wildflowers. Perhaps the glossy brochure is correct and 5 days would be perfect for this leg of our two day trip.
But all good things must end, and in the pouring raining we headed through Toodyay headed for Perth. We managed to avoid rain in daylight hours despite Perth copping a drenching while we were away. In total we clocked 796kms, found 21 caches, visited 7 or 8 shires, ate too many lollies, saw more farm machinery than farmers, found a rainbow and had a great time. Thanks Wheat Belt. We will be back.

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