The rolling plains of southwestern New South Wales, spreading west from the Great Dividing Range, are bounded by two great rivers: the Murrumbidgee to the north and the Murray to the south, the latter forming the border with the state of Victoria. This area is now known as the Riverina. The land the explorer John Oxley described as “uninhabitable and useless to civilized man” began its transformation to fertile fruit-bowl when the ambitious Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme was launched in 1907. The area around Griffith normally produces ninety percent of Australia’s rice, most of its citrus fruits and twenty percent of its wine grapes, so if you’re looking for work on the land, you’ve a reasonable chance of finding it here.
The eastern limit of the region is defined by the Hume Highway, the rather tedious route between Sydney and Melbourne. It is often choked with trucks, particularly at night, and still occasionally narrows to one lane either way, so you’ll want to keep your wits about you. Better still, stop off at towns along the way, many of them truly and typically Australian – rich in food, wine, flora and fauna, and friendly locals. Tick off the big sheep at Goulburn, but don’t miss the town’s old brewery. Yass has associations with Hamilton Hume – after whom the highway is named – while Gundagai is more famous for a fictional dog’s behaviour. You’ll have to detour 50km off route to visit likeable Wagga Wagga, the capital of the central Riverina and the largest inland town in New South Wales, while the last stop in the state is Albury, twinned with Wodonga on the Victorian shore of the Murray River.
Heading west, Narrandera really only justifies a meal stop, while Griffith is good for wine tasting and fruit picking. There are several interesting festivals in the region, including the Wagga Wagga Jazz Festival in September (w waggajazz.org.au) and Griffith’s La Festa (w lafesta.org.au), an orgy of Aussie wine, food and culture held on Easter Saturday.