Omeo, Omeo, Wherefore Art Thou, Omeo?

With Christmas over, we decided to head to the hills. Big ones, to the south. Our plan was loose which turned out not to be such a bad thing when illness struck and laid us up for a several days. The bright side was that we had some time to explore another of Australia’s regional ex-gold mining towns, Omeo. And the fact that it sits right in the centre of some magnificent motorbiking roads wasn’t bad either. Then nature had a little surprise for us on our way home, like a nice little consolidation prize for taking part.

Escaping a rainy Sydney was pleasing. Our first night was at Goulburn then we headed off for our second at an old favourite, Mitta Mitta. Enjoyed the great roads from Gundagai through Tumut, Tumbarumba, Walwa and Tallangatta.

Day 3 saw us enjoy the mountain views from the Omeo Highway before it snakes along the Mitta Mitta river into Omeo. Our plan for the day was to head for the coast at Bairnsdale so, after a brief stop at Omeo, we continued south.

The Omeo Highway
View across the mountain range

Night 3 was spent in Bairnsdale, not the most exciting town I’ve been to, but it had some interesting buildings and we had a lovely meal at one of the pubs there.

Bairnsdale Courthouse, designed by AJ MacDonald, a notable architect of the area.

The next day, we both awoke early to be greeted by an enemy of road trips. Gastroenteritis. We have no idea where it came from, particularly in these COVID times when we are constantly wearing face masks around other people but my suspicions are directed at made to order salad sandwiches we both had for lunch. That’ll teach us for trying to be healthy!

Notwithstanding this we had a problem. Our accomodation had only been booked for one night, the next night’s accomodation was over 3 1/2 hours’ ride away and the temperatures were expected to reach 37 degrees in Beechworth. Option B, to stay in Bairnsdale was proving tricky as, due to it being New Year’s Eve and it being slap bang in the middle of a popular holiday area, we couldn’t find any places to stay within 100km. Let’s just say it was less than ideal.

The following night, we had booked a place at Omeo so decided to try our luck there. Surely, we could make it 117km to Omeo? Luckily, we found somewhere, and also luckily, with the help of some good solid medication, we made it. Although we had to have a lie down halfway there because, well, we were both quite sick.

Our sanctuary halfway to Omeo

A request for early check in was also agreed to so, upon arrival, we were greeted by a quiet motel room with a big bed which was very welcome.

The next day and a half was a bit of a blur. We had to move accomodation again but not too far, and we arose after 2 days of feeling awful, feeling like a million dollars. Well $900,000 but that was good enough for us!

Check out this beautiful little place we stayed for the night, ‘Homeo’ in Omeo!

Pondering what next, we decided to stay another night in Omeo, with a small side trip to Mount Hotham to test our resilience.

Top of the Mount(ain) Hotham
We even found Australia’s biggest mountain, Mount Kosciusko . Ok, not super impressive but you wouldn’t be if you’d be subject to 50 million years (or something like that) of erosion!

Not wanting to overdo it, we headed back to Omeo, only 55km away and went for a wander. And discovered yet another town with gold mining history. Regular readers of this blog may be familiar with such former gold mining towns of Hill End and Canowindra, and now we have one more to add to the list.

Omeo’s name comes from the local Aboriginal population who described a ‘wide plain’ or ‘mountains’ (depending on my source) as ‘Omeo’. Sadly these people were killed by disease or guns, or driven away to lower land by the settlers. I therefore pay my respects to the Yaithmathang people as the original inhabitants of this land.

The clues for a gold mining past of this area are a seemingly simple settlement, with small cottages and wide streets but then you stumble into the ‘town’ centre and there it is, the evidence. This includes at least one former bank, labelled as such, built in brick and looking very solid, another is a two-storey pub, again built in brick and quite large for such a small settlement. There might be other brick buildings too, featuring the names of past owners, and all seeming slightly out of place for such a tiny settlement.

Omeo is a classic example, at the last count its population was 406 people. It has this:

The former Commercial Bank of Australia and a rather lovely ‘Doctors Residence’
The Golden Age, used to be 3 stories before it was badly burned in bushfires and was rebuilt in 1939
The Courthouse, also built by AJ MacDonald, described as ‘a pleasing and restrained example of his work’, presumably compared to the ‘exotic’ style of the Bairnsdale example shown above
‘Holston Buildings 1931’

At its peak, Omeo had a population of 9,400 people! Thankfully this history is not lost to the past due to the local historical society. Around town are many signs like this one, helping the visitor imagine times gone by.

The former post office, also designed by AJ MacDonald.

And here are pics of some other buildings, not quite so grand but interesting, nonetheless:

One of Omeo’s oldest buildings, originally a coffee house, then a boarding house and, at some point, a restaurant.
The Service Station
Once a butchers, now closed.

The next couple of days involved us making the 800km trip home (that’s 500 miles in old money).

The obvious choice was back through the Snowy Mountains, staying in Cooma, then the final leg home. Unfortunately, an EXTREME WEATHER WARNING ⚠️ for the mountains suggested this might not be the best choice.

Instead, we crept out of a foggy Omeo (oh yes, the weather had also arrived there), down the mountain, back to the coast, along a bit to Cann River then headed to Bombala. Our plan was loose, we had checked out available accommodation (all good) and headed back towards the mountains.

Reaching Bombala by 2pm, we checked the weather, a bit of a storm forming near Cooma but we reckoned we could get there without getting wet. As we raced towards Cooma we could see two massive storm cells drenching the countryside in the distance. It felt like a race, us versus the weather.

Arriving in Cooma, we were relieved, not a drop of rain had hit us, but what next? It was still early.

With such a non-eventful New Year’s Eve, wouldn’t it be lovely to find somewhere to stay in Canberra (the nation’s capital!) and have a nice meal. But the storm cells? It’ll be ok, surely? We could see the cells on the radar but decided it was worth the risk.

About 20 mins before Bredbo, we decided it was time to don our wet weather gear. Pulling up at the side of the road, we diligently pulled on our over-trousers, rain-jackets and over-gloves.

Within moments of setting off, the heavens opened. It was at this point I realised that I had undiligently not zipped up my jacket and water started to pour down my neck. Luckily, we arrived in the tiny town of Bredbo, found a spot to pull over, quickly deserted the bikes and ran for cover. Just in time. Stair rods, my mother calls it. Stair rods followed by hail, in fact. Other bikes started pulling over, cars did too, everyone recognising that it wasn’t the best idea to operate a motor vehicle on this weather.

This car park was empty when we arrived!

The next hour was spent hiding from the rain, carefully watching the radar from the Bureau of Meteorology, trying to work out when it was safe to continue. When the storm cell had passed, we hopped back on the bikes and continued on our way looking forward to our nice dinner in Canberra.

And then we got to Canberra. Checked into our hotel and started searching for somewhere to eat. Closed, closed, closed. Turns out everything closes over Christmas in Canberra, and what was open was fully booked. So ‘fast food’ Mexican it was then, oh, but they’d run out of beer! 😂

The next day, we expected a relatively uneventful ride home but nature had a surprise for us. For as we rounded a bend in the road, we were met with the incredible sight of Lake George being full. Yes, full.

If you are unfamiliar with Lake George it is a bit of an oddity. Full details can be found in this Wikipedia article but essentially it’s rarely full. It usually looks like this:

Lake George, empty in 2017

In fact, in 18 years of being in Australia and having passed it, maybe 20 times over the years, I’ve never seen it full but today:


Ruby admiring a full Lake George

Given the week we’d had, it was great to experience something positively extraordinary. That said, it had all still been quite the adventure, we’d managed to spend some proper time in Omeo and learned that muscle memory plays a big part getting us to safety when we needed it. We’ll be back, Omeo we know where you art!

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