Revelling in the Riverina: Prologue

Revelling in the Riverina

 

The vintage years

 

 

RIV-REV

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Almost everyone in Australia knows or has at least heard of the Riverina. It is a place we associate with wheat fields, sheep and cattle, rivers and plains, gum trees, silos and quiet country towns. But where is it exactly? Those less familiar would say “Aah, it’s out in the country somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne”, and they’d be right, to a point. But let’s be a lot more precise.

 

The Riverina occupies the south-western agricultural domain of New South Wales, north of the Murray and centered on the Murrumbidgee River, extending in parts as far north as the Lachlan River. It is the home of the Wiradjuri people – their “three rivers” country. Long known as Australia’s ‘food bowl’, the Riverina has also been a rich recruiting ground of VFL and AFL footballers. When the conversation turns to Riverina football, many think of the mighty combines, Mangoplah-Cookardinia United, The Rock-Yerong Creek, Ariah Park-Mirrool, Ganmain Grong Grong Matong and names such as Daniher, Longmire, Kelly, Hawkins, Breust, Koschitzke, Bunton, Carroll, Quade and Carey.

 

Placing a definite boundary around the geographical territory of the Riverina is not possible and is an academic exercise anyway. Its scope depends on your purpose. It could be based on landforms, agricultural land uses, government administrative regions for education or health, even tourism, among many other purposes. As this is essentially a football road trip, a rough football delimitation would suit best. But where do we find that?

 

Many years ago, the VFL divided the state of Victoria and southern NSW into administrative and zoning regions. Two of those regions were Riverina and Eastern Riverina, later collapsed into one region – RIVERINA. Their NSW counterparts, AFL NSW/ACT, also have a ‘Riverina’ region. How can we throw a rope around all of the leagues of the Riverina? Start with the core – the Riverina FNL (9 clubs), the Farrer FNL (9 clubs), the Northern Riverina FNL (5 clubs) and the Hume FNL (12 clubs). Now bring in the periphery, which includes the NSW participants in the Picola and District FNL (7 clubs), the Murray FNL (5 clubs), the Golden Rivers FNL (2 clubs), the Upper Murray FNL (1 club), the Central Murray FNL (2 clubs), the Ovens and Murray FNL (3 clubs) and the Tallangatta and District FL (1 club). There you have it! 

 

Adopting that group of footy leagues as the basis for our definition, puts us on an ellipse from Tumbarumba to Hillston, to west of Hay and back, keeping the Murray on our right as we return. It covers approximately 100 000 sq km and includes a total population of almost 200 000. 

 

So wayfarers, our motor journey starts on the south eastern periphery of the Riverina in Snowy Valleys country and moves north westwards out onto the plains. Our first waypoint is Tumbarumba located at the NSW end of Upper Murray Football Netball League. On our circuit of the Riverina we reach as far out as Hillston on the Lachlan River before turning and heading back through the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, then looping out to Hay and skimming through the Southern Riverina to finish within striking distance of Albury. Our snaking path follows no rhyme or reason other than to cover as much of the territory as possible and to take in a collection of some of my favourite Riverina football destinations.

 

 


Our route and the leagues of the Riverina

 

 

To avoid repetition with my two recent Footy Almanac series (Up the Mighty Murray! and A Season in the Country) we will bypass some Riverina settlements visited previously. For instance: on the western edge – Balranald, Wakool, Tooleybuc, Moulamein; in the south – Mathoura, Urana, Lockhart; in the east – Temora, Mangoplah, The Rock, Yerong Creek, Wagga Wagga, Culcairn, Albury). Let’s seek a fresh set of Riverina towns. We will opt wherever possible to experience the delights of the smaller country towns. Get set for visits to Ariah Park, Barellan, West Wyalong, Berrigan, Hillston, Ungarie, Hay, Ganmain, Jerilderie, Rennie and Jindera among other Riverina gems. Along the way be prepared for detours through some lesser known rural localities where we will discover a handful of ‘lost’ footy clubs and grounds. 

 

We start in what was traditionally a rugby league town, and generally-speaking, the further north we travel the greater the competition from the rival code. While the Barassi Line marks the relative sway of the rival football codes, we venture out and experience the frontier of the shifting football fence, before swinging southwards into the Riverina heartland of Australian footy. We will even visit a town whose footy club now plays in a league well outside the Riverina.

 

Let’s make it a conversation as we embark on a festival of some of the best the Riverina has to offer. Come onboard and share your experiences of road trips in the Riverina. Fast-paced and unashamedly parochial in places, it should be a ride full of celebrations. Singing, dancing and drinking can be accommodated. For fun, I will throw in a few excerpts from my 1977 journal (‘The Thin School Exercise Book’) – a record of my early journeys across the Riverina. 

 

On the football front, we seek the vintage years of some 18 current clubs and a dozen or so former clubs, revelling in their achievements. Every football club has something to celebrate. Some lucky clubs have seemingly boundless bragging rights, established in their dynasties, while at the other extreme there are clubs that reflect on more modest, fleeting moments of great pride and joy. On that note, we will learn of Kamarah’s seven straight flags in the 1920s (episode 7), and on the flip-side, the Deniliquin Rovers’ 47 year unfulfilled pursuit of a premiership (episode 12).

 

As we meander through the Riverina we will follow the progress of our featured clubs throughout the 2024 football season. Can the Hillston ‘Swans’ and the Hay ‘Lions’ go back-to-back? Will a fresh challenger rise to break Osborne’s and Brock-Burrum’s domination of the Hume League? Can the Northern Jets (Ariah Park-Mirrool-Ardlethan) go one better in the Farrer League this year? Is it time for the Griffith Swans? Will a Riverina club – Jerilderie, Blighty or Rennie perhaps – spoil the party and break Waaia’s stranglehold on the Picola League silverware? Can Tumbarumba and West Wyalong-Girral recapture their 2022 form and climb back to the top? How will Corowa-Rutherglen’s comeback unfold? These and many more questions will be answered.

 

As the series progresses stand prepared to be guided by local knowledge, informed and stimulated by a diverse array of football historians who will help us to revel in the Riverina. 

 

While motoring along the Riverina roads I will offer you the chance to tune into several podcasts to learn about the halcyon football days of towns located along the route. And of course, there will be plenty of opportunities to sing along with some locally inspired music played on your choice of the car radio, 4 track cartridge (remember them?), cassette or CD player.

 

What vehicle would give us a ride to remember? Why not a nineteen seventies supercar: a Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III.  I am advised, motoring in one of those Bathurst-touring-car brutes we will be following in the tyre tracks of some very select company. 

 

Climb into our muscle car, RIV-REV, and buckle-up every Wednesday on the Footy Almanac throughout the 2024 footy season for some REVELLING in the Riverina!

 

 

Episode 1 (next Wednesday): Stage 1 – to Tumbarumba

 

 

 

Read all episodes of ‘Up The Mighty Murray’ and Peter Clark’s previous series Here.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I just know this’ll be good Peter. (Have to admit that I thought Tumbarumba was a surf beach)

  2. Peter Clark says

    Swish, that would be Tamarama Beach in Sydney.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’ll have to take that up with Johnny Devlin then Peter

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=snrLcwqTLrU

  4. John Harms says

    Brilliant opener Peter. This will be quite the tour.

  5. Given the quality of your previous series, I just know that this will be essential reading.
    I am greatly looking forward to it, Peter.

  6. Peter Clark says

    Right on cue Swish … there will be a whole lotta shakin goin on.

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Fascinating prospect, Peter

  8. Looking forward to it Peter.

    Living in the big smoke, and not many of the family left in the area, I thought Corowa was coming back to the Ovens and Murray league on their own. Rutherglen was going to the Ovens and King.

    Have I missed something?

    Glen!

  9. Peter Clark says

    Good to have you along for the ride Smokie, Glen, Swish, JTH and Peter.

    Glen, the Corowa-Rutherglen bond remains strong.

    Three big losses so far in 2024, but their return will be measured in several ways. Let’s wait and watch.

  10. Michael Rogers says

    The ‘Riverina’ is defined here.
    http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/riverina

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