Riddells Creek won’t be somewhere most people will have heard of, but for us it’s been one of our favourite weeks in Australia so far. It’s a dusty little town just north west of Melbourne without a huge amount going on, and it’s certainly not on the usual tourist route. So why did we go there?
A friend of my great uncle in America suggested we stop in to see their hunting buddy, Pete. My uncle and his friend hadn’t seen Pete for 20 years but they said he’d be thrilled to have us come and stay for a couple of days. We jumped at the chance to stay with an Aussie family as our best times in Australia so far have definitely been while hanging out with the locals.
We arrived late one afternoon and rattled our way down the dirt road drive, not sure what we’d find at the end of it. To our surprise, it was an absolutely beautiful house surrounded by rose bushes, with stables to the side housing all their horses, and a gorgeous lake to the back.
We were greeted by Pete and his wife, Rae. They made us feel completely at home and, after giving us the grand tour, got us settled in for a few days out of the van – home cooked meals, family time and seeing the local sites.
Staying with Pete & Rae was brillaint – I feel like this week we’ve learned so much about both the history of country life in Australia through the places we visited with them, and also it’s current reality by living it.
The first place on Pete’s list was Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum set to look like a town from 1851, when gold was first discovered there. All the staff were in costume and the store fronts looked like something out of the wild west.
The aim of the place is to provide a feel for what life would have been like for the people in a gold-rush town at the start of the boom. They have live demonstrations of everything from tinsmiths to blacksmiths, sweet shops where you can make your own boiled sweets and candlemakers to dip your own candles.
The mine tour was brilliant – they took us down to the old mine tunnels and showed how the gold-bearing quartz was found, then brought up to the surface and the gold extracted. You could even pan for gold in the stream running through town. It was a proper nerdy day but we loved it, and Pete was full of great stories about the place.
Another highlight of the week was a trip to Echuca with Pete and Rae. It’s another of those places we wouldn’t have even thought to go to, completely out of our way and off the usual backpacker route. In fact, the town seemed to just have Aussies there on their holidays, not a single tourist bus in sight.
The big draw of Echuca is the paddle steamers chugging along down the Murray River. The local tourism companies have restored a load of steamboats and take people up and down the river. It was a great way to learn a bit about the history of the inland regions, as for many towns in the late 1800s, the steamers coming through were the only source of supplies and contact with the outside world.
We had a lunchtime cruise on the PS Emmylou, where we were wined and dined with a beautiful three course meal. Blakey was feeling ill though so skipped the steak sandwich in favour of a salad… I’d have thought he was on death’s door except he still managed a beer. Heroic effort there.
Chill out time
As well as some good trips out, we spent a lot of this week chilling out with the family – their son did an amazing BBQ one night after he’d been out hunting, and Rae made us some proper home cooked food, which we haven’t had for months. We felt completely spoilt – relaxing in the hot tub, lazy mornings reading by the lake, or trundling around the farm with Pete. Their daughters especially made us feel really welcome and at home, going over maps with us to plan our trip, or just talking about their plans for the next few months. Their lives growing up seemed so different from us… learning to ride motorbikes on the farm, competing in shooting competitions, training horses, water skiing on the lake… is it too late to be adopted at 29?