Wagga has a strong association with the Australian Defence Forces. Recruits to the army, whether regular or reserve, have undertaken their initial training at Kapooka, a few kilometres to the west of the town, for many years. To the east is the Air Force establishment at Forest Hill. Our ride into town includes a visit to Blamey Barracks, named after Australia’s only Field Marshall, Sir Thomas Blamey, who was born at nearby Lake Albert.
From the aboriginal word meaning ‘the place of many crows’, Wagga has grown to a large regional hub since being discovered by Charles Sturt in 1829. The home of a university named after the explorer and many schools, as well as the military bases, Wagga is a thriving, prosperous city of 65,000 people on the Murrumbidgee River.
It was from Wagga that the famous ‘Kangaroo Recruiting March’ – also known as the ‘cooee march’ – to Sydney began during the Great War.
The region has a rich sporting history, the home of the cricketers Mark Taylor, Michael Slater and Geoff Lawson, as well as many football players of both major codes, including the dual Rugby International, Arthur Summons, and the Brownlow Medallist, Paul Kelly. It was at Wagga that the famous Australian jockey, Scobie Breasley, winner of five Caulfield Cups, two Epsom Derbies and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, first scrambled onto a racehorse.
Our 142 kilometre ride takes us across the Riverina, through the old gold mining town of Adelong to Tumut. We stop at the RAAF Base on the way out of Wagga to meet some of the recruits in the airforce technical training school. After the tour, it is back on our bikes for a long day in the saddle.
It is the land of rolling hills and extensive farmland before the long climbs into and out of Adelong. A welcome lunch and Tour of the Visy Paper Mill precedes the final 46 kilometre leg to Talbingo. The paper mill produces 700,000 tonnes of paper each year, 75 % of which is exported. A semitrailer laden with logs arrives at the mill every 5 minutes. Here, 300 people are employed at the mill, and almost another 1,000 people indirectly in the area. This is a major Australian industry, a tribute to the vision and entrepreneurship of the Pratt family.
Talbingo is welcome respite for weary bodies after a long day on the road. The seven pupils at the local primary school have been waiting all day to meet us. We greet locals in the Miles Franklin Park before photos with the kids at the school.
Tomorrow is a tough ride, a steep climb over the Snowy Mountains to Cooma.