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The road between Hay and Balranald
 

Balranald (including Kyalite, Tooleybuc, Koraleigh, Penarie, Hatfield and Oxley)
Attractive service town on the banks of Murrumbidgee River
Balranald is situated on a flat saltbush and mallee plain by the Murrumbidgee River, 859 km west of Sydney via the Great Western, Mid Western and Sturt Highways. It is 60 m above sea-level it has a population of 1327 people. Balranald is a service centre for the surrounding irrigation district which, in recent times, has expanded from conventional agriculture to viticulture, horticulture and tourism.

Considered the oldest settlement on the lower part of the Murrumbidgee the area was once occupied by, amongst others, the Wemba-Wemba Aborigines, who called the area 'Nap Nap'. European settlement decimated the local community who were eventually removed to a 142-acre reserve at the western end of the town.

In 1817 John Oxley, trying to follow the recently discovered Lachlan River, got to within 23 km of its intersection with the Murrumbidgee but was prevented by an impassable sea of 5-metre high reeds in the Great Cumbungi Swamp. He concluded that 'the interior of this vast continent is a marsh and uninhabitable'.

In January 1830 explorer Charles Sturt and his party rowed through the intersection of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers in a whaleboat which took them past the future townsite of Balranald. They camped nearby and then continued to the river's mouth at Lake Alexandria in South Australia.

Six years later Thomas Mitchell, also investigating the river system, camped at the site of the future township. Accompanying his party was an Aboriginal guide Yuranigh who preferred to be called John Piper. Two local streets (Yuranigh and Piper) have been named in his honour.

Mitchell's account of the lands he found excited interest among the squatters. The first runs were taken up along the river front in the early 1840s. The first on the land now associated with Balranald was taken up and occupied by George Hobler in 1845. The townsite was first used by Europeans as a river crossing. Peddlers, shepherds and itinerants stayed there, setting up some form of primitive and temporary shelter.

The first store appeared in 1848. A hotel, the Balranald Inn, quickly followed (also 1848). The site was visited that same year by the first commissioner for crown lands of the Lower Darling, George James MacDonald, who named it Balranald after his birthplace in the Outer Hebrides. The word means village of the Ranalds, a branch of the MacDonald clan.

MacDonald laid aside large reserves in the expectation that the future township would become an important river port. A post office opened and the first district constable was appointed in 1850. The site was laid out and gazetted in 1851.

In a contemporary Sydney Morning Herald article (1858) Balranald was described as: 'This obscure and miserable township situated on the Lower Murrumbidgee is here attracting a considerable share of attention as being one of those rowdy places for which the Australian bush in the interior has become so famous'.

The first punt was set up in 1859, the year the first Cobb & Co. coaches arrived. As a major river crossing Balranald prospered.

Burke and Wills crossed the Murrumbidgee via the Mayall St punt and camped on the riverbank in front of the Balranald Inn in September 1860.

The population of Balranald doubled between 1865, when the first National School was opened, and 1873, when it reached 350. A bridge across the Murrumbidgee was built in 1880 and the township was declared a municipality in 1882. The railway arrived in 1926.

 

The Old Bank now a private home
 

Today Balranald has little for the visitor to see. Virtually all the historic remains can be found at Heritage Park in Market St. There you will find the old gaol and school house, along with the visitor's centre and an historical museum which is open Wednesdays from 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm or other times by appointment, tel: (03) 5020 1599. On the corner of Court and Mayall Streets is the charming old bank building, now a private home.

The grave of Josiah Viles is located in the Church of England section of the Balranald Cemetery which is signposted from the main street. Viles was an eccentric and much loved town crier who used to carry a rifle which he fired when there was an important announcement. He died in 1925.

Greenham Park has a swimming pool, showers, toilets and a recreation/sports ground. There are picnic, barbecue and playground facilities at Lions Park in Market St.

Things to see:   [Top of page]

 

Irrigation equipment in the MIA between Hay and Balranald
 

Yanga Lake
8 km south-east on the Sturt Hwy, near the Waugorah Rd turnoff is a good location for fishing and aquatic activities. Yanga Homestead is said to be largest freehold property in the southern hemisphere. One of the first telephones in Australia connected the homestead with the men's quarters. It was installed by Alexander Graham Bell's nephew.

 

Kyalite
36 km south is the tiny village of Kyalite, situated on the banks of the Wakool River. It was founded by Henry Talbett who established a punt service across the river in 1848 which was used by Burke and Wills in 1860. Talbett soon added an inn and a general store. Today there are only about thirty people although it contains Australia's largest commercial pistachio nut farm. The Kyalite Hotel was established in 1858 and has been faithfully restored, complete with pressed iron walls. A caravan park is attached to the pub while the general store cum BYO restaurant sells local souvenirs and Aboriginal craftwork. It is a very popular area with campers, fishers and shooters. Kyalite State Forest begins 10 km east along the Moulamein Road. It covers 577 ha and envelopes the Wakool River and a plenitude of wildlife.

 

Tooleybuc
18 km south-west of Kyalite is Tooleybuc, a tiny and tranquil settlement with a village atmosphere and a large sporting club which serves drinks and meals. It is located right on the state border by the banks of the Murray River. Tooleybuc is a pleasant spot for picnicking and riverside walks. Fishing is especially popular and there is a boat ramp.

In the warmer months you can take an informal ride on a barge along the Murray River. There is no set fee although a donation will be greatly appreciated as it will go to the Red Cross. You can cook up a barbecue on board, fish or just relax and enjoy the scenery, tel: (03 ) 5030 5025.

 

Ring Tree
If you follow the Koraleigh Rd which heads south out of town then, about halfway to Koraleigh, a roadside sign warns you that you are about to come to the Ring Tree. A remnant of pre-colonial days, it is a very rare surviving example of an old Aboriginal boundary marker. Notice that the branches have been tied together so they grow in the shape of a ring. Situated on the right-hand side of the road it is a large tree which stands alone about 10 metres off the road. There are plans to erect a cairn with an explanatory plaque.

 

Koraleigh Country Collection
If you continue along the Koraleigh Rd you will come to Eagles Lane, a side-road on the left with a signpost alerting you that this is the turnoff to Koraleigh Country Collection which is to be found about 2 km along the road. It consists of a heritage display in a rural parkland setting, featuring horse-drawn machinery and other artefacts and memorabilia of the pre-tractor dried-fruit era (1910-40). There is a nursery, a cactus garden, a craft shop and plenty of birds wandering about.

The principal opening hours are Sundays from 1.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. and on Monday and Tuesday from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., although other times can be organised by appointment, tel: (03) 5030 2141. During the Victorian school holidays, the business is also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. The business is well set up for coach tours.

If you return to the Koraleigh Rd and follow it south for another 2 km you will reach a T-intersection. Turn right and it is just 2 km to Nyah on the Murray Valley Highway.

Attractions just over the border are Tyntynder homestead, Buller's Winery and The Pheasant Farm (see entry on Swan Hill).

 

Low Level Weir
6 km west of Balranald on the Sturt Highway is Low Level Weir, another pleasant spot for picnics, barbecues or fishing.

 

Penarie
32 km north of Balranald on the Ivanhoe Road is Penarie which has little other than the Homebush Hotel (c.1870) and a camping ground, although there is other accommodation. When Burke and Wills passed the site in 1860 there were already some signs of settlement. Michael Dowdican applied for land in 1877 and opened the hotel the following year.

 

Hatfield
70 km along the Ivanhoe Road, amidst flat saltbush plains and red sandy ridges is Hatfield. It was here in 1879 that a band of four horse thieves began a very short-lived spree of bushranging when they robbed the hotelier. They were caught after a shootout two days later and subsequently executed.

A branch road which departs westwards from the Ivanhoe Road 58 km north of Balranald will take you on, via Bidura, to Australia's most famous anthropological site, Lake Mungo, where there is Aboriginal material dating back 40 000 years.

At Penarie another road branches north-east towards Oxley. Along this road is Redbank Weir, 58 km from Balranald with barbecues, picnic facilities and toilets. The intersection of the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan by the Great Cumbungi Swamp and the swamp itself are excellent fishing spots.

 

Balranald Island
Balranald Island, a few kilometres east of town, is an island in the Murrumbidgee. Measuring approximately 5 km it is considered a significant site by the Madi Madi people as it was the burial place of Jimmy Morris, their last Nguloongurra man (clever man). It is said his great knowledge of the local land and fauna gave him great power. There is no public access.

 

Hells Gate
50 km east of Balranald is the property knows as Hell's Gate. It is on a dead flat stretch of the Riverina. This was the 'Hell', or so the rumour goes, which 'Banjo' Paterson referred to when he wrote of 'Hay, Hell and Booligal'.

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Balranald