We purchased our first caravan upon retirement in 2012 and although we were seasoned campers and trailer sailors we were new to the caravanning caper, which I might add, is a unique combination of both those activities minus the water. Green as grass, we had only been retired for a few weeks before we hit the road on a quick shakedown trip to Mallacoota. Realising that we were smitten with this new lifestyle it was only a matter of weeks before we went in search of the nearest red dirt we could find.
As we do our best to name each trip after a song this one is Red Dirt by The Cold Cold Hearts and Catherine Britt which goes something like “Driving till there’s red dirt underneath a western sky…”. Pretty well sums it up eh?
Saturday 20th October 2012 Home to Charlton
It’s a warm morning, but turning cool as we pack to leave. We’re all fuelled up, both the car (and us with nervous excitement) and on the road by 8:00am. We have a good run via the Eastlink tollway and the Monash freeway and soon find ourselves whizzing past the city and onto the Western Ring Road where we join the Calder Highway at 9:00am. A quick run across Melbourne like that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago, before the roads were upgraded. By the time we reach Woodend we feel that we are really on the road so we stop for a coffee at an odd little cafe called Bites. The coffee is good. The sun is shining and warming, but it is still cool in the shade. There are some ladies on the footpath selling cakes for the Red Cross, of course we succumb to these yummy coconut delights.
Moving on we decide to bypass Bendigo and turn off to Marong. We stop at Inglewood for a walk around the town and are pleasantly surprised. Most of the shops are selling antiques, our friend C would love this town. It is a gold rush town and most of the buildings have been hotels in their former lives. We drop into the Empire State Hotel for a cold beer and watch what must be eight different horse races on the many TV’s mounted above our heads.
On the way to Wedderburn the roadsides are ablaze with yellow and orange gazanias. We stop for lunch in Jacka Park, near the trotting track, under the shade of a large gum tree. We have cold egg & bacon pies that have been chilling in the fridge and we top them with Woody’s homemade chutney, mmm. This is a lovely dry climate wayside stop, very little grass but granite screenings instead and some hardy drought-tolerant plants. It’s quite warm so we read the Saturday papers and doze.
At 1:45 we pack up and take off on today’s last leg, a mere 30kms to Charlton.
We arrive in Charlton to find a ghost town, everything is closed, the locals have all gone off to the Charlton Show. We park in a wide area behind the shops which is signposted as Travellers Rest. We walk the deserted main street and then set off for the free camp at Teddy Waddy, 8kms north of town. Sadly it’s right on the main road, dusty and very exposed, it’s a bit disappointing, so we return to town and find that the Travellers Rest is more than we first thought. There is not only parking, toilets and a bus stop, but beyond that is an area of en-suite sites for $25 and further on a free camp, where three vans are already set up. It is a lovely spot beside the river and there is even a vegetable garden for caravanners to help themselves to lettuces and herbs. We setup camp, then snooze and read in the afternoon sun. We have done 323kms today. We meet our neighbour Don and he tells us that he has been free camping for 11 or 12 years and has never paid for a nights’ accommodation yet. Don explains that the town flooded twice in January 2011, the river peaked at 8.7 metres crippling the town as it was under a metre of water. This camp was rebuilt by grateful free campers as a thank you to the town. Our other neighbour is a lady from Swan Bay who travels with two poodles and is heading to Mildura as she is a finalist in a raffle for a car and must be in attendance for a chance at winning. They tell us where to find the showgrounds so we walk over in the early evening and watch the young local lads competing in the wheatsheaf tossing, that’s a first. Heading back to the van, we have smoked salmon and a nicoise salad for dinner, before falling into bed. It’s great to be on the road.
2021 Note: Charlton Traveller’s Rest was our very first freedom camp and frankly we were hesitant. Instead of being attacked like a scene from a horror movie the opposite happened. We met the kindly lady with the two poodles again and we’ve shared umpteen trips with VeeWee since. Oh, and our friend C whom we thought would like Inglewood now has a farm up in that area. She did like the place.