My recollection of Wangaratta was a quite large town, with suburbs and traffic lights and a major passenger train station. Admittedly it had been at least twenty years since I was there, but it had industry and employment and was the centre of its region’s health service. I fully expected to find it mentioned on road signs from a long way away.
Not so. Wangaratta is the town that the signwriters forgot.
Leaving Bendigo we had the sign in the above picture, but that was okay. We were still more than 200 km away and we knew Shepparton was on the road so we headed that way. The weather was quite cool for summer and we were a little tired from the poor night’s sleep, but fresh enough to enjoy the drive.
A large storm passed through Shepparton the day before we arrived. We saw it in front of us near Kaniva, but luckily we stopped for the night and avoided it. Debris was everywhere along the roadside, in the paddocks and in people’s yards as we neared the small city of Shepparton. Some quite large trees had come down, but we did not see any worse damage. It was furious but fast, as storms often are in Victoria.
Shepparton started out as a cattle station in the 1840s, and was named for it’s first legal owner, Sherbourne Sheppard. It has a long history. No doubt my ancestors from their early days in Australia have visited the place, but I know of none who lived there. I remember looking on the map before we left home and noticing that Shepparton was about 100km from Wangaratta, so I definitely expected good signage from here.
We did not enjoy Shepparton. The traffic was bad, the drivers were very aggressive and honked each other all the time. In just a few kilometres we saw a road rage incident, two cars run red lights and multiple drivers fail to acknowledge pedestrian crossings. For a small city, it was very unfriendly. I was told in the next few days that it has a reputation for it.
Having said that, in the end we found a Woolworths Petrol station which was quite busy but at that moment someone had parked over the exit lane and traffic had blocked up while more cars queued in the entry lane. One attendant was pointing out to the driver that he needed to move and while matters were at a momentary standstill I asked for directions. They were very helpful and very friendly and directed us towards the road to Benalla.
Finally, coming out of Benalla there it was. A sign to Wangaratta.
The last 41 km were relatively smooth with just one wrong turn taking us onto the old Hume Highway instead of the new, but that was no biggie. We drove into Wangaratta at about 4.30pm and by some miracle found the house we were heading for almost instantly.
Finally – after all that driving – the family history research could begin.