Operation Destroy the Dam

Operation destroy the dam. In this, our second Travel Australia house sitting assignment, we had seen a lot of bumper stickers around Glenrowan about saving the lake, ‘SAVE MOKOAN’.
It was only to be a few days before we knew what they were on about.

The focus of much of our attention initially had to be in Wangaratta as this was ‘town’. Here we could find the supermarkets and other services one needs. I spent some time with the mechanic and a few trips to Bunnings for knickknacks to be used in upgrading the van and trailer.

It’s actually not a bad place with a population of 17,000 substantially larger than the nearby Benalla to the west.

If you can’t find what you need in Wangaratta another seventy kilometres to the north Albury Wodonga with a combined population of 100,000+ it has most offerings of larger cities.

We made the trip into town maybe twice a week and the mechanic loaned us his car while we worked on the van. Overall the van was much improved during our stay as we gradually found and eliminated small problems and rattles. We fitted extra sound proofing and re-cut carpet, filled door panels with insulation and lots of other little titivations.

The city has a few nice parks and is interesting where the two rivers, the King and the Ovens, meet right in town.

On our first Sunday we packed the thermos and headed for the town of Bright about an hour’s drive south east.

Sunday drive to the mountains

We were keen to see if it was as we remembered from a previous visit years ago and as half expected, it looked nothing like our memories. Still a nice place and being winter, the day was a bit chilly.

Bright township

We had a burger lunch in a café in the Bright Information Centre overlooking the Ovens River, the very same one we saw earlier, that passes through Wangaratta 90 kilometres away to the north.

A chat with one of Bright’s 2,000 locals (an octogenarian) and the gentle hum of conversation, the sun streaming through the big north-facing windows and the view made it a slow and sleepy lunch. We were not really all that much in a hurry to go back outside but we did manage a stroll along the river, near to where Morse’s Creek runs into it.

River in Bright

The sport of tourists in this part of the whole seems to revolve around paragliding and hang gliding as the terrain is particularly well suited. Of course that’s all Julie wanted to do. Not.

On the return journey we went through Mansfield which looked really good but as late afternoon fell, the best memory of the day was the spectacular open farmed countryside between Mansfield and Glenrowan. It is just so pleasant at that time of day cruising up and down green hills with the sun setting and the promise of a warm fire at home.

It was dark when we got back and the dogs were relieved. You could see it in their little furry faces.

area map 1a


A couple of days later on the 23rd of July 2015, we decided on a run closer to home, around the back and to the west of the Glenrowan hills upon which we were perched.
A ten minute drive put us on the eastern boundary of the Winton Wetlands, aka ex-Lake Mokoan.

A low wall was built in 1971 to create a lake of nearly 8,000 hectares by flooding 3,000 hectares of wetlands. The goal at the time was to provide extra water for the Goulburn-Murray irrigation area.

Aside from destroying the wetlands and killing a couple of thousand big trees, the main problem was that it was very shallow so it will come as no surprise that evaporation rates were very high and the water was often contaminated with algal blooms.

By 2008 the Victorian Government had decided to restore the wetlands, starting by emptying the lake, which got a few locals off side.

We drove down some of the tracks that now lead into the wetlands and while there is still plenty of water about, the bird life is abundant.

Winton wetlands

To us it seemed a place worth coming back to a few times to see the progress and far better than just another stretch of shallow water, but then we are not affected by land values, irrigation licenses and other matters that may not be to everyone’s liking.

On the western side of the Winton Wetlands as they are now known, lies the town of Benalla where we stopped for lunch in the park.

Cooking lunch in the park

Aside from doing a fair job on the town’s gardens, the civic fathers representing the 9,000 odd residents did a little bit of tinkering with the Broken River which runs through the town and created a small lake. This does wonders towards creating a very pleasant townscape, if that is a word, on what would otherwise be a fairly nondescript flood plain. You don’t get your exercise walking up and down hills in Benalla.

Benella gardens


On the 28th of July 2015 we took the by-now-familiar road into Wangaratta.
Our goal was to look at a village called Whitfield, maybe get some lunch and then head over to revisit the attractive town of Mansfield as we had run out of time the week before on the return from Bright. Getting down to Whitfield was easy, cruising south more or less in the same direction we had taken last week but on the ‘middle’ road that runs directly south.

Whitfield exists for a very good reason but not one that was apparent to us. One pub and a cafe at the crossroads seemed to be about it. Not even a general store or not one that was obvious and open on this normal work Monday. It was an easy decision to take the road up the mountain to Powers Lookout the site where local bushrangers used to camp to keep ahead of the police.

Whitfield Mansfield S 1

The drive is interesting especially if you are a passenger and Julie recommends holding your breath and closing your eyes for extended periods as the best way to resist jumping out at every walking-pace bend.

Whitfield Mansfield S 3

Julie is also fond of lookouts especially from a distance and no, despite what the photo suggests I merely had my hands in my jacket pockets.

Whitfield Mansfield S 2

This area received very favourable treatment in Bill Bryson’s book ‘Down Under’ and I can only agree.

From there it was all downhill and after an hour or so we hit the flat country again for the run to Mansfield, a delightful town about 200 kilometres north of Melbourne.

The information centre confirmed that the residents are a bit picky about the appearance of the town and fast food outlets in particular are frowned upon, banned actually. We understood that more than half the homes in Mansfield are owned by residents of Melbourne, so much so in fact, some rate payers meetings are held in the city/suburb of Whitehorse in Melbourne 190 kilometres away.

Whitfield Mansfield S 4

We left with the feeling that we are unlikely to ever ‘cut it’ in this rarefied atmosphere but once again we were struck by the delightful drive back to Glenrowan. This time our new furry bosses figured we were coming back and just barked like crazy animals, but that is normal for them.

For all that, we really did like them a lot, especially when the excitement of our return had died down. Mind you ‘return’ for them meant coming back from taking out the garbage and so this too required the obligatory 3 minutes of frenzied barking. It took me nearly 2 weeks to explain to them that this was not necessary.


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