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OLD 31 - THE HUME HIGHWAY - Most of the old highway passes through North East Victoria and the Southern Riverina

Old 31. A trip along memory 'lane'

Old Hume Highway photo

M31, or that part of the Hume Freeway/Hume Highway which passes through North-East Victoria and the Southern Riverina region of New South Wales, is not an interesting drive - boring, in fact.

 

It is a freeway after all and not a tourist drive as its main purpose is to provide the quickest inland corridor connecting Sydney and Melbourne.

 

And it is busy.

 

Real busy in fact, as it is a vital link for road freight transporting goods to and from those two state capitals, as well as serving the major cities of Albury-Wodonga, Benalla, Wangaratta, and Goulburn, and all the towns and villages along its entire length.

 

But it need not be a busy drive for the tourist, thanks to much of the old Hume Highway (NSW Roads and Maritime Services photo above), or Route 31, especially that part still in use between Albury-Wodonga and Melbourne.

 

It is a viable alternative and still follows the same route driven by motoring pioneers Thomson and Holmes in 1900.

 

‘Old 31’ is still intact and easily accessible.

 

It offers an excuse for getting off the freeway and exploring the little towns, villages and now cities which were, once upon a time, the lifeblood of those travelling the Old Hume Highway.

 

The old highway has been replaced by the Hume Freeway (M31) which, for the 340 kilometre stretch in this region between the township of Euroa to the south west, and the township of Gundagai to the north east, M31 only ‘passes’ through the border twin cities of Albury-Wodonga, and even that is via an internal ‘boulevard’ which splits Albury in half.

 

It runs just to the north of Wodonga.

 

This section of the freeway was completed in 2007, while the bypass of Woomargama was completed in 2011, and Holbrook in 2013, meaning the freeway/highway is now uninterrupted for its entire length between Sydney and Melbourne.

 

And why is it both a freeway and a highway?

 

The New South Wales roads people still refer to it as a highway, while their Victorian counterparts prefer to call it a freeway.

 

In its heyday the section of the old highway we are referring to passed through Gundagai, Tarcutta, Kyeamba, Little Billabong, Holbrook, Woomargama, Mullengandra, and Bowna, before zigzagging its way through the streets of Albury.

 

It crossed the Murray River a few metres upstream of today’s Union Bridge, crossed the floodplain with its dozens of wooden bridges crossing creeks and streams, and passed down the main street of Wodonga.

 

It wended its way through the Victorian towns of Barnawartha, Chiltern, Springhurst, and Bowser, crossing the main Melbourne-Sydney railway line backward and forth on its journey.

 

The main street of Wangaratta also bore the brunt of highway traffic.

 

The Kelly Gang siege town of Glenrowan was always a popular stop-over for travellers owing to the history of the area, while Winton was another whistle-stop village on the highway before it entered Benalla, another town, like Wangaratta, which is now a city that has reinvented itself.

 

Baddaginnie and Violet Town have also been bypassed, as has Euroa, which sits on the south-western edge of North-East Victoria.

 

It was a popular stopping place owing to it being half way between Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga.

 

The freeway has not only bypassed these towns in our region, but also historic towns such as Seymour, Tallarook, Broadford, Kilmore, Wallan and Beveridge in Victoria, and Jugiong, Bookham, Bowning, Yass, Goulburn, Marulan, Berrima, Mittagong, and Picton in New South Wales.

 

Making a stop at an Old Hume Highway town is being promoted as a way of combating driver fatigue and for those that do pull in for a cuppa and something to eat, they will not be disappointed, no matter how small the town.

 

Each has its own story and, in most cases, bypassing them has helped their economy rather than see them die completely.

 

And the route is littered with history.

 

Benalla and Wangaratta are bustling rural cities, Holbrook is just as busy as it was thanks mainly to its large service centre and unusual submarine displays, while Tarcutta is home to the Australian Truck Drivers’ Memorial which stands in memory of those truckies who have died in road accidents.

 

Gundagai is famous for its Dog on the Tuckerbox, while Chiltern, the home of former Australian Prime Minister, Sir John McEwen, retains its gold rush era charm thanks to carefully preserved streetscapes with historic brick buildings.

 

Villages such as Barnawartha, Mullengandra and Woomargama are also riding on the back of the freeway bypass, especially with those folk looking to escape to the country yet still be within easy reach of major centres – courtesy of … the freeway!

 

And then there are those major centres – Benalla, Wangaratta and arguably Australia’s greatest inland city – Albury-Wodonga.

 

These centres are great tourist destinations as they offer the tourist a starting and finishing point to the many attractions the region has to offer.

 

Albury-Wodonga is the hub of the region, with major roads and highways branching out in all directions yet allowing you to return by another route.

 

By driving the Holbrook to Euroa section, you will be following in the footsteps of Herbert Thomson and Edward Holmes who, in 1900, passed through the region on their way from Bathurst to Melbourne in what was the first long distance motor car trip in Australia.

 

Most remarkable was that the ‘car’ the duo drove was a steam-driven phaeton built by inventor Thomson in his Melbourne workshop in the suburb of Malvern.

 

After completing trials in and around the southern city, he and his cousin Holmes shipped the vehicle to Sydney for the Royal Easter Show.

 

So popular was the ‘new-fangled’ motor car, that they were persuaded to drive it to Bathurst for its agricultural show.

 

Instead of returning to Melbourne by ship, the duo opted to drive.

 

From Bathurst they followed coach tracks to Blayney, Cowra, Cootamundra, Junee, and Wagga, before turning south towards Holbrook.

 

Their story, which was diarised by Holmes, is available to read on this website by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage and clicking onto one of, or all three, free to read books.

 

The towns and villages they passed through (Locksley was previously known as Burnt Creek) remain to this day.

 

Villages aside, all towns have at least one food outlet, the larger ones, multiple outlets, plus a bakery (or two), hotels, fuel, shopping, and accommodation.

 

The cities of Albury-Wodonga, Wangaratta, and Benalla boast all services.

 

Fast facts

 

Old Hume Highway (Gundagai to Euroa): Route number 31/M31

 

Distance: Gundagai to Euroa – 339.6-kilometres

 

Road surface: Fully sealed, two-lanes, narrow, hilly to mainly flat

 

Cities/towns/villages: Gundagai, Tumblong, Tarcutta, Holbrook, Woomargama, Mullengandra, Table Top, Albury-Wodonga, Barnawartha, Chiltern, Springhurst, Wangaratta, Glenrowan, Winton, Benalla, Baddaginnie, Violet Town, Euroa

 

Points of interest:

 

Gundagai – Dog on the Tuckerbox

 

Tarcutta – Australian Truck Drivers’ Memorial Wall

 

Holbrook – Submarine displays, miniature railway

 

Woomargama – historic hotel

 

Table Top – Table Top Mountain, Ettamogah Pub

 

Albury/Wodonga – Award-winning gardens, Lake Hume (Hume Dam), historic railway precincts, war memorials, historic buildings, Murray River foreshore, street food

 

Chiltern – Historic main street, Dow’s Pharmacy, Henry Handel Richardson house, Federal Standard Building, Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park, Rutherglen Wine Region is close by

 

Springhurst – Historic Carrier Arms Hotel, old Springhurst Butter Factory

 

Wangaratta – Memorial gardens, historic buildings, Ovens River boardwalk, Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Wangaratta Roman Catholic Church, King Valley Wine Region and Milawa Gourmet Region are close by

 

Glenrowan – Site of the capture of the Kelly Gang. Kelly statue, siege site, museum, Glenrowan Wine Region

 

Winton – Winton Motor Raceway

 

Benalla – Benalla Art Gallery, museum, state gliding centre, Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop statue, memorial gardens

 

Violet Town - site of the Southern Aurora train crash in 1969, famous for its community market held on the second Saturday of the month

 

Euroa – Kelly Gang robbed National Bank in 1878, historic buildings, Seven Creeks Park, Victoria Cross Memorial Park (Euroa is the only area in the Commonwealth to have been the home of three Victoria Cross recipients -  Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Maygar, Corporal Alex Burton, Lieutenant (later Major) Fred Tubb

- Darryl Starr

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