Wherever we travel in “country” Australia we are overwhelmed by the phenomenal number and species of colourful birds and unique Australian wildlife which is always exciting to see especially if you have only seen them before in a zoo or magazine. We also never tire of seeing (and photographing) the many majestic Australian gum trees, some of which are centuries old.
Bairnsdale, East Gippsland
While in the East Gippsland area we stayed in the lovely “gem” of a town of Bairnsdale. It is a clean country town nestled between the “hills” and the ocean with a population of 7237 (2011 statistics). Although settled in the 1830's Bairnsdale was, and still is, a central town for businesses, the arts and tourists alike. Historically, this prosperous town was settled originally by sheep and cattle farmers and then came the gold boom of the 1850's and 60's.
Today there are still many stately homes and buildings in Bairnsdale and it is great they are still standing and being used. Evidently the fate of the historic Old Post Office building (est 1856) was, and still is, rather controversial as it seems it has been replaced by a rather ordinary looking “modern” building!
Bird Sanctuary & Wildlife Reserves
We spent one morning walking through McLeod's Morass, a wild bird sanctuary and wildlife reserve which is very close to the heart of Bairnsdale. The reserve was replanted with native trees about 15 years ago by environmental groups such as Friends of Gippsland Lakes and the local bird society and offers an insight into what the marsh area may have originally looked like. We enjoyed our walk through the shady paths with maturing native trees although we were surprised by a Copperhead snake beside one of the paths. We declined the offer of a closer look and moved on!
The reserve has an extensive wooden walkway over the marsh which in winter is usually covered by water. During our visit the marsh was “dry” but there were still many birds to view from the two “hides” (called “blinds” in Canada) such as water hens and fowl and large Australian pelicans flying overhead. There is also a large Ibis rookery in the reserve.
The Great Alpine Road
The next day we delayed our trip north on the Great Alpine Road until a fire at Mt. Hopeful was contained and when safe to drive headed off towards the small town of Bruthen and the Great Alpine Road. After leaving Bruthen the Great Alpine Road winds beside the Tambo River to Swifts Creek and on further to Omeo. Along the route we were fascinated by place names like Lucknow, Mossiface, Monkey Creek, Red Knob, Prices Downfall, Thousand Pound Bend, Barksheds, Pig and Whistle, Jews Pinch, Tambo Crossing, Lock-up Creek, Tuckerbox Creek, The Snakes Back, Dead Horse Flat, Wattle Circle Creek, just to name a few!
We were impressed by artwork displayed by local artists at the Swifts Creek Art Gallery – including Deidre Jack, artist and Alan Fox artist and photographer. The gallery is maintained by volunteers and is well worth a visit. Although small, Swifts Creek also has a super little bakery, a grocery store to buy a snack or two and the ever-present "corner pub" for lunch or dinner.
If travelling by motorcycle the Great Alpine Road is a great route – evidently second only (in Australia) to the Great Ocean Road. Further north we stopped by the Mt. Markey Winery at Cassilis for cider and wine tasting. As the sign says "Please toot"! Somehow after this we ran out of time and turned around for our homeward trip.
Bairnsdale is a great central town to stay (and live); and we especially enjoyed our daily walks along the Mitchell River with the massive amount of bird life including corellas, galahs, doves, miner birds and hundreds of cormorants feeding on fish in the river. Besides the places mentioned here, there were many other sites to see and places we did no have time to visit ~ lots to look forward to in the future. Safe and happy travels.
- Feature image is of an original photograph by Alan Fox, Swifts Creek artist
- We saw our second snake in two days – a large “brown” crossing the road on the Great Alpine Road near Ensay
- Hop growing dominated the Bairnsdale area between 1860's and early 1900's when “a red spider mite decimated the industry”
- Update April 2016: Special thanks to the present owner of Sans Souci who brought it to my attention that the earlier information for his historic home was incorrect. Now updated.
Links & References
- City of Bairnsdale
- Bairnsdale information
- Names of the Great Alpine Road between Bairnsdale and Omeo – P.D. Gardner, Ngarak Press
- McLeod Morass Parks Victoria
- Native Gum trees - eucalyptus
- The Coolabah mentioned in "Waltzing Matilda" is a box gum tree (Eucalyptus microtheca), "Australian Eucalypts" by D. Baglin & B. Mullins, Horwitz Publications, 1966
- Friends of Parks and Reserves of the Gippsland Lakes
- East Gippsland Historical Society
- Swifts Creek Artists including Deidre Jack
- We did not find ghosts in Cassilis only the Mt. Markey Winery ~ Wikipedia
- Mt Markey Winery
- Australian pelican
- Copperhead snake
- Black Snake
Sadly, it is not uncommon to see wombats and other animals killed along the road and we were interested to hear of a group called The Snug Wildlife Reserve who travel the local roads twice a week and take the baby wombats from their deceased mothers pouch and then hand raise them before releasing them back into the wild.