Tom Groggin Station
High Country Victoria
© Simon Bayliss 2015
"There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around..." So starts the iconic Australian poem by Banjo Paterson about a man from the Snowy River who became a legend after he recaptured a prizewinning racehorse that fled his owner's property and joined up with a group of brumbies in the High Country; that man, reputedly, was Jack Riley So what of this man, the region and the Snowy River? Time to do a bit of High Country exploring.
There is a place in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains that is set beautifully alongside the Murray River, and it is a place that Jack Riley worked. That place is called Tom Groggin Station.
But who was Tom Groggin? Actually there was no person called Tom Groggin, as many believe, but the name is a transliteration of an old Aboriginal word, 'tomarogin', that referred to a water spider that lived in the upper reaches of the Murray River.
The area around Tom Groggin is synonymous with adventure as it is furthest point upstream of the Murray River one can drive to on a public (gazetted) road. It is also the point known to the more extreme off-roaders for crossing the river to access the 4x4 tracks of the Victorian High Country.
While very cold in winter, it is a bit of a mecca in summer with large family-friendly campgrounds right beside the Murray River.
As well as the campground on the NSW side, there is also a wonderful accommodation option across the river a few km's downstream at Tom Groggin Station, on the Victorian side of the Murray. (For the trivia buffs; the NSW/Victorian border is actually the Victorian side of the river, not down the middle as many believe).
Tom Groggin Station is an 810 hectare (2,000 acre) working cattle property which has operated continuously as a cattle station since the mid 1800's and was a place visited by Banjo Paterson as well as the place Jack Riley worked. In fact, Jack passed away in 1914 while riding a bush track from Tom Groggin to Corryong some 60km through the High Country bush. As legend has it, Jack became the inspiration for the Man from Snowy River after Banjo visited the Station on a few occasions. It is generally accepted also that the Man in the poem was also inspired by a few others from the region as well, including Owen Cummins and Charlie McKeahnie.
High Country Dreaming
So its off to the Snowy Mountains I go! Heading out of Albury, I could just drive from point A to point B, but I particularly like a bit of adventure along so I am taking the 'road less travelled' and have a great route in mind that will criss-cross the Towong Shire.
Heading east via Albury and across the Murray River back into Victoria. I say crossing the Murray, and while that is technically correct, the river is not immediately obvious as this is the section of the Murray River just upstream of the Hume Dam that forms the 20,000+ hectare Lake Hume.
Lake Hume and the Snowy Hydro Scheme
The dam, at what was the junction of the Murray and Mitta Mitta rivers, took seven years to build and when finished in 1936, was the largest dam in the southern hemisphere and one of the biggest in the world. To say it is a huge body of water is an understatement as water retained upstream through both the Murray and Mitta Mitta rivers stretches over 40 kilometres, and is a haven for water sports, fishing and camping.
When built, the Hume Dam was designed for a 1,500 Gigalitre capacity, but this was increased to 3,005 Gigalitres in the late 1950's to capitalise on the increased water flow of the Snowy Hydro Scheme that resulted from the fact that the Snowy River, which originally flowed to the east, was tunnelled back through the Great Divide to flow west and into the Murray- Darling basin. Simply amazing when one contemplates that, the engineering feat of the Snowy scheme, and all the migrant workers who built it. For many, their contribution to the project was the major foundation of multicultural Australia.
Driving along the wonderful winding Murray River Road, I reminisce about the many times I have driven this road and the Murray Valley Road that parallels to the south along the Mitta Mitta Valley, and how often I have asked myself as I pass a certain road, "I wonder what's along there" or, "that looks like a nice track, I wonder if it links back to the other main Upper Murray route". Well, enough questioning and time to find out.
My planned route will cover the Murray River Road as far as Talgarno and then south via Georges Creek Road past Mount Granya State Park and onto Tallangatta. The road up and over the ridge is a combination of bitumen and gravel and reveal some spectacular vistas of the area. The intermittent gravel roads are a nice warmup to the other tracks further along this route to Corryong.
Tallangatta, known as the town that moved, was relocated from its original position 7km east along the Mitta Mitta River, to its current location due to the rise in water levels of Lake Hume that resulted from its increased capacity when the Snowy Hydo scheme was being built in the 1950's.
When the lake is low, as it is now at around 22% capacity, the remnants of the old town are still visible near the roadside interpretive site.
Back on the road and heading east along the Murray Valley Highway to Koetong, where the adventure route continues north along Burrowye Rd, up through the pine plantations and up to the higher ground though thick native forests and wonderful trails with plenty of 'wow' moments.
The route then descends to Burrowye creek through beautiful farming valleys before returning to the bitumen and into Burrowye, then back onto the Murray River Road.
It is here that you can see the upper Murray River in all its natural glory as a free running river. While the Hume reservoir is an amazing achievement and there are arguments for and against damming rivers for whatever the purpose, there is no arguing that downstream from any dam, the natural balance of the river is affected.
The river around Mt Alfred and Walwa, and further up, is a pleasant reminder of nature at its best.
With a quick 25kms along the bitumen, the route heads south from Walwa and into more amazing forest tracks with even more side tracks on offer (noted for next time as time is limited).
"their contribution to the project was the major foundation of multicultural Australia"
There is the line in the Man from Snowy River poem, "There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup".
But what Cup did Pardon win?
Most assume it was the Melbourne Cup, but Pardon never won the Melbourne Cup.
It was in fact, the Menindee Cup.
Heading south along Cudgewa Bluff road, which is by far the best off-bitumen leg of the trip so far and is a must for anyone travelling through the area.
(AWD and 2WD perfect). A specular 25km road through the Burrowa Pine Mountain National Park before joining the Cudgewa- Tinltalda Rd (bitumen), not far from our next stop at Corryong. For the best vista of this town, with its backdrop against the High Country mountains, head down Briggs Gap Road. Truly spectacular! Corryong is the largest town in the shire (around 1,200 people) and is the gateway to the Snowy Mountains. A great stopover service town with all amenities and a great museum featuring the history of the area, especially its association with Jack Riley and Banjo Patterson.
Images of Tom Groggin Station:
Up to Scammells Spur
A perfect spot for a quick break and refuel before heading into the High Country and our destination at Tom Groggin 75km away. About 15km out of Corryong we cross the Murray River and into NSW - there are no roads along the Victorian side of the Murray to Tom Groggin Station, so it is via the Alpine Way in NSW.
As we get close and closer to the mountains proper, the landscape is remarkable as the small hills turn into larger ones, and the smaller we feel as the mountains looms larger and larger.
The last town before the ascent up to Scammells Spur is Khancoban, a small service town that was originally built as a base for the Snowy Hydo Scheme back in the 1950's.
The climb up to Murray 1 Power Stations soon reveals the majesty of the place and natural beauty of the High Country. Climbing further up Scammells Lookout at 1,100m, the cloud and mist and mist builds and visibility is soon down to about 10 metres. The drive over the top features beautiful winding roads through the pristine Eucalypt forests whose heady Eucalyptus scent soon fills the car, even in the colder months.
Visibility is soon restored as we descend below the cloud towards Geehi and then onto Tom Groggin Station, which we make just on last light. The best thing about arriving as the darkness envelopes the valley is that morning will reveal the mountain landscape and Tom Groggins setting.
With an open-fire and cuppa on offer, there are few things better than reflecting on the day's adventure. The overwhelming feeling for me is always towards those that opened up this country before any surveyed roads as well as those who came from post-war Europe to build the Snowy Scheme. Simply mind-boggling how they tolerated the conditions in more rudimentary structures and vehicles we enjoy today.
Weather wise, the next morning certainly did not disappoint as we woke to cloudy skies with the rain of yesterday gone. The majesty of the mountains were slowly being revealed.
Station Life Tom Groggin Station, while well known as a location and place of history, many don't realise that it also offers great accommodation in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. There are two accommodation options available, the first is purely for couples (or really good friends) in the fully self-contained 1 bedroom log cabin, while the other option is for larger groups in the 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with all the mod-cons. While this is fantastic as far as the accommodation is concerned, also on offer is use of the timber slab hut that includes a big open fireplace & bar facilities. This is an original and not a 'made-to-look-like' structure complete with old photos, paintings, equipment and memorabilia from a bygone era; an era when the likes of Jack Riley and Banjo Patterson were around. Wayne, the manager of the property, is a wealth of knowledge on the area and its history, and it is a wonderful experience to sit by the fire and as he regales the history of the station, the people, and even the history of the hut we are sitting in. If those walls could talk.
One of the best things about the remoteness of Tom Groggin Station is that there is no phone reception so it is truly a place to relax and enjoy. There is a station phone which is available contact with the 'outside world'. Alternatively, it is a short drive back onto the Alpine Way where mobile coverage is available for certain providers.
With only a couple of days here, it was time to explore. And on top of the list is a trip to Olsens Lookout which provides the visitor with a spectacular view of the Main Range and provides some perspective of how big the mountains really are.
Olsens Lookout is reached via Geehi Dam Road (also referred to as Olsens Road), about 20km north of Tom Groggin along the Alpine Way. Leaving the Alpine Way, it is an 11km trip to the lookout along an unsealed, but well maintained, track that basically parallels the Main Ridge and reveals a different perspective of the range at each turn. The lookout itself reveals the true majesty of the mountain range, and a worthwhile side-trip.
After a few hours exploring the area, it's time to head back to Tom Groggin, but not before checking out one of the best campgrounds in the area at Geehi Flats, just off the Alpine Way. The area, very popular in the warmer months, is complete with picnic facilities, toilets, good river access, and a huge population of kangaroos.
Back at Tom Groggin, we gather in the slab hut with the fire blazing and a clear view out the window of the fading light, chatting for hours about this journey, about SUVs, about places to go, about the next road trip....
This is what the an adventure is all about!
Tom Groggin Station