The Border Track follows the Victoria/South Australia boundary and is a challenging drive for well-equipped 4WDers. Together with the acclaimed Silo Art Trail found on the way out there, this trip is the perfect blend of art, action and adventure.
We were bogged. Stuck in soft sand at the top of a large dune in the middle of Big Desert. We’d powered up in low range and at the very top, the track turned and converged into three or four directions. Hesitating for just a second in deciding which track to take was our mistake. We lost momentum on the soft sand and the wheels stopped. The Colorado was stuck.
We’re in the middle of wild wilderness country in the Big Desert National Park, one of the largest national parks in Victoria and we’d spent the day traversing the track that borders Victoria and South Australia. This is a veritable playground for four-wheel drive enthusiasts. We were part of a convoy of 13 vehicles, tagging along with a friend from a Melbourne based four-wheel drive club.
Just a few days prior we’d met at Green Hill Lake, on the Melbourne-side of Ararat, where some families had already camped overnight. From Green Hill Lake it’s another two and a half hours drive to Lake Lascelles on the edge of Hoptoun, our first nights camping. The best part of this road trip is the Silo Art Trail along the way.
Silo Art Trail
Travel through Mallee country Victoria and you’ll never look at wheat silos in the same light again. Scattered along 200kms, the Silo Art Trail is arguably Australia’s biggest outdoor gallery and creativity on a grand scale. The project began back in 2015 when Brisbane street artist Guido Van Helten created his famous ‘Farmer Quartet’ on the Brim silos, capturing the imagination of the town and inspiring the Silo Art Project.
Since then more silos have been painted, in both the Wimmera Mallee region and in North East Victoria. It’s a project that has breathed new life into these tiny farming communities. There’s a beautiful one at Rupanyup, a bare dot on the map, yet with the artwork in town it ensures that no one will pass through the town without stopping. Two fresh faced locals, Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidermann have been immortalised by world renowned Russian artist Julia Volchkova. Her art can also be seen at the Rup Pub as well as on the walls of the local fire station.
From Rupanyup the trail continues in Sheep Hills, Brim, Patchewollock, Lascelles and Rosebery with remarkable silos that bring together acclaimed street artists from around the world. Every silo tells a story of rural Australia, of its people culture, history and identity.
It’s quite astounding when you come across one of these silos. After travelling for miles and seeing nothing but fields suddenly, it looms in front of you, stunning street art which literally takes your breath away. At Sheep Hills the gorgeous colours and deep significance of the indigenous cultures makes the silo a standout feature in the town. The night sky in the art represents elements of local Dreaming and the overall image signifies the important exchange of wisdom, knowledge and customs from Elders to the next generation.
The silo at Rosebery of a jillaroo and her sheep reminded me uncannily of my daughter and her then pet Lamb. It was painted by Kaff-eine, once a lawyer and public servant and proof that no one is too old to find their craft and true passion in life. Her artwork of the strong young sheep farmer in her work shirt, jeans and cowboy boots depict the grit and determination of the farming locals.
It takes a couple of hours to comfortably visit all the silos. We’d seen five of them and it makes a stunning day or weekend trip, depending on your destination. If you’re staying in the Horsham or Mildura area you can easily do a day loop taking in the silos. And if you’re into Big icons there are a pair of Mallee fowl in the Patchewollock station yard. If planning a loop you can visit Minyip, the base of the 80s Flying Doctors television series, the Big Mallee bull at Birchip and if coming from the other way you have Big Lizzy at Red Cliffs and the Big Wheat Heads at Ouyen. For us however the day was getting longer, and we needed to set up camp for the night.
Lake Lascelles on the edge of Hoptoun was our camp that night, a popular picturesque spot, nestled on the water’s edge. This hidden gem has barbeques, toilets, a playground, boat ramp and a well-kept lawn area and free unpowered sites. That night we injected some funds into the community by heading across to the Hopetoun pub for a night off from cooking. When lockdown is over in Victoria and we can travel again these country towns and their pubs will need our patronage more than ever.
The next morning, we were up bright and early to see the last of the silo art sites at Lascelles. The two painted silos tell a story of a local farming couple Geoff and Merrilyn Horman. It’s painted in monochrome, almost moody, and it gives an impression of a wise and knowing couple, looking out for the future of this quiet farming community. Our art tour was complete, and the next part of our adventure was about to begin. The action was about to ramp up.
The thrills and spills begin
The area around Big Desert and the Wyperfield National Park is beautiful, remote and a place where it’s definitely best to travel in a convoy. Wild remote landscapes, tracks that barely see other vehicles and lonely campsites make for peaceful travelling, but if something was to go wrong, without reception you could find yourself stranded.
Our destination was in the Wyperfield National Park, one of Victoria’s largest national parks and our first stop was Snowdrift Day area, at the end of Snowdrift Track. It’s a popular spot for day-trippers, a great place to stop and have a picnic and there are decent eco-loos there, picnic tables and fireplaces at the nearby camping area for those who want to set up camp.
Snowdrift is home to one of the largest sand dunes in the area and beckoned some of the younger and older kids in the group to climb it. Those adventurous enough can grab an esky lid and attempt to slide down but, as tempting as it looked to climb, I decided I didn’t need sand in every crevice in my body which wouldn’t see a shower for three days.
From there we continued deeper into the park. Tyre pressures were promptly reduced to 20psi as the deep sand started immediately.
There are sand hills, some deceptively easy, some that are corrugated one minute and then soft the next. Milmed Road Track provided moments of exhilaration tinged with more sedate sections. It’s 80kms long, remote and not advisable to tackle alone. In the middle of summer there are few cars traveling the track and the sand can be very deep. If you break down on your own, you could be in for a long wait.
Of course, as we discovered, if you get stuck on a sandhill sometimes it’s just a matter of reversing down carefully and giving it another go on a different line, or with more momentum. Otherwise you can often take a bypass track, also known as the chicken tracks (though by my estimation some of “chicken” tracks were just as hairy). The unspoken motto of the weekend was “if at first you don’t succeed try and try again.”
We were in low range for much of that 80km and it was slow going but fun. Out here you feel a long way from anywhere and that sense of peace and isolation is palpable. It was the same at Wonga Campground, our stop for lunch. This is a vast and spacious campground with plenty of room however we pressed on as we still had hours of track to cover. Our camp that night was Round Swamp Campground, a spacious flat campground which gave us a chance to spread out with long drop toilets available as well.
All was going well until I opened the fridge in the back of the Colorado. All our bouncing around on the tracks had dislodged our food containers in the fridge and I was greeted with the full contents of raspberry jam that had mixed with sweet potato and caramelised onion dip. Combine it with a rogue bottle of barbeque sauce that had also seen better days and the whole concoction looked like something from an infant’s bottom. The bees thought it was their dinner and getting anything out of the car proved to be a challenge. Needless to say, we had to securely fasten our belongings for the next part of the trip.
The Border Track
As its name suggests, the Border Track follows more than 50km of the fence line marking the boundary between Victoria and South Australia. We began the track entering the South Australia’s Ngarkat Conservation Park. This is a challenging and unmaintained track and requires vehicles with high ground clearance. There are no vehicle rescue services in this area so it’s essential to drive in groups with the appropriate 4WD equipment. It can be a notorious drive, especially after rain, and a section of it from the south to the north is one-way only.
Then it was hours of driving until we got to Red Bluff for the night, just in time to see the cliffs surround us tinged with golden red sunlight, as though kissing the night goodbye.
Red Bluff is a large spacious campground. There are drop toilets, and barbeque pits and you need to take all your own supplies including firewood and water. There is no mobile reception in any of these campsites but somehow that adds to the remoteness and sense of peace. That night we enjoyed sitting round a huge fire with the group, a very welcome dinner and plenty of drinks before doing the Nutbush and falling exhausted but content into our swags.
So, the following morning there we were, on what we thought was our homeward stretch out of the national park when we got bogged. Fortunately, we had two cars following us closely and were able to be winched out, but it took a few attempts and a lot of maneuvering.
The Border Track more than lived up to expectations with its vast, remote, and challenging driving and peaceful campsites. It’s almost guaranteed to give passengers a few thrills whilst attempting the many sand dunes. When we can eventually get out and about again it’s a thrilling place to put on your four-wheel driving list.