Cootamundra to Albury-Wodonga
Distance: 239 kilometres (Olympic Highway, Wagga-Holbrook Road, Hume Highway)
Time: 4 hours 17 minutes, including stops and sight-seeing
We departed Cootamundra at 9.30am with the temperature hovering just above 4-degrees. Thomson and Holmes, when they got there, had overnighted at Bethungra after encountering the ‘worst roads in the district’ just east of the village. Today the Olympic Highway between Cootamundra and Bethungra is in excellent condition and although a little hilly in parts, was an easy drive.
This small railway village dates to 1875 and bets are that Thomson and Holmes over-nighted at the Bethungra Hotel. A few kilometres to the north of the town lies the Bethungra Spiral, a rail spiral built on the Main South railway line to ease the gradients when the line was duplicated between 1941 and 1946. In 1885 a train derailed near the town at a washed away culvert, killing five people.
Illaboo still boasts a public school and it was at the schoolhouse in 1900 that Thomson and Holmes called into for water to replenish their water tank. The town has a pub, a recently-constructed wayside stop for travellers, and grain silos which are still in use.
Junee (renamed Junee Junction in 1881) resumed its original name in 1940. Although the railway still plays an important role, the town’s prosperity is based on agriculture, rail transport, light industry, government services (Junee Correctional Centre), and tourism. The town’s premier attractions are a huge railway roundhouse and museum, railway station precinct, the Loftus Hotel, the haunted Monte Cristo Historical Homestead, and the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory.
The Murrumbidgee River town was well established by the late 1800s and was declared a city in 1946. The city is an important agricultural, military and transport hub. The Sturt Highway from Adelaide passes through the city before joining the Hume Highway 45-kilometres east, making it an important heavy truck centre. The city's attractions include award-winning botanic gardens, National Art Glass Gallery, riverside beach, Lake Albert, RAAF Aviation Heritage Centre, museum and historic railway precinct. In Thomson and Holmes’s time the Olympic Highway did not exist, the way to Albury-Wodonga being a coach road to Holbrook via Cookardinia.
There is no mention of the village of Mangoplah in the original diary, but Holmes wrote that 20 miles from Wagga they camped overnight with drovers, near to where Mangoplah is today. Cookardinia, which sits at the junction of the Wagga-Holbrook-Henty-Morven Roads, had several houses, the Squatter’s Arms Inn, and a post office.
It took the pioneers two hours to drive the 25-kilometres to Germanton (now Holbrook), which we covered in just under 20-minutes. The town was originally called Ten Mile Creek, then Germanton. During World War 1 the town was renamed in honour of submariner Lieutenant Norman Holbrook VC. The 63-kilometre trip from Holbrook to Albury-Wodonga on the four-lane Hume Highway takes 45-minutes, but we had one more stop to make, the bypassed village of Woomargama.
Thomson and Holmes were not the first pioneers to lunch at the village as history shows that explorers Hume and Hovell stopped in the area on their overland expedition of 1824 – also for lunch. In its heyday the village had a school and service station and it has always had a hotel.
We arrived in Albury-Wodonga on May 1, 2020, Thomson and Holmes on May 5, 1900, even though both parties left Bathurst at the same time, on the same day and on the same date.
Albury in 1900 was a major inland town and boasted three newspapers, a grammar school, fine churches, schools, fine shops, a magnificent railway station, factories, a wool selling centre, and breweries.
At the time of Thomson and Holmes’s visit, Albury had a population of 5800 people, but 46 years later that had grown to 14,000 and Albury was proclaimed a city. Wodonga gained its city status in 1973.