Sweeping Plains: Silos, Shearers, and Shiraz

Scott Heiman — 9 March 2022
Heading west is a surefire way to learn about times past when pioneers, bushrangers, and swagmen freely roamed the land

How do you plan your next adventure? Do you point the rig and simply let sheer instinct guide you? Perhaps you go back to the same location every year and hang the billy on the same nook as your grandad before you, or maybe you’ve got a bucket list of destinations like Cape York or The Kimberley.

Many of us pick a theme to guide our travel itinerary such as ‘the Big Things’ or following an explorers’ footsteps.  If you take this approach, there’s a lot on offer when you theme a trip around our pioneering past.  Do so and you’ll uncover a tale of hard sweat and toil involving both Indigenous and European practices. Choose a theme like ‘silo art’, ‘rural museums’ or ‘food and wine’, and you’re travel experience will be richly rewarded while you simultaneously inject some much-needed support into the rural communities that feed our families - and our national identity.

As a species, harvesting and agriculture is in our blood. We live in the land of the world’s oldest living culture.  Grindstones found in places like the Sandstone Caves of the Pilliga National Park, show that flour was being ground here around the time that modern agricultural practices were developing in the Persian Gulf’s Fertile Crescent.  Meanwhile, Indigenous eel farms in Victoria are older than the Egyptian Pyramids by some 3,000 years. 

Opening our great country to commercial agriculture wouldn’t have been possible without the knowledge and bravery of the Aboriginal guides who accompanied many of our early European explorers, including Blaxland, Eyre, Burke and Wills, Sturt, Stuart and many more. Men such as Yuranigh assisted Sir Thomas Mitchell, and their partnership is remembered in Wellington NSW which is the only known place in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist.  Not surprisingly, the site is now surrounded by fields of wheat and sheep.

The early explorers were looking for waterways, arable land and geological features that might indicate gold and other precious materials. From their efforts came the inevitable expansion of European settlement. Our pioneers struggled hard. Away from mighty rivers such as the Lachlan, Macquarie, Darling, Murray, Swan, water was a priority.  Visit the Woolshed at Lake Mungo, and you’ll find a restored underground water tank designed to harvest even the dew off the shed’s roof each morning.

Further development was triggered after World Wars I and II as returning servicemen were offered tracts of land to farm under soldier settlement schemes. Places like Kangaroo Island would not be the gastronomic centres they are now without the extensive land clearing undertaken by war veterans which created the dairy farms and fields that still support production of mouth-watering honey, cheese, ice cream, handmade chocolates and other regional delicacies.

In the West, pastoralists’ efforts have been celebrated for over a century.  A West Australian newspaper article of 1913 proudly declared that ‘the wheat belt’ “is one of the most extensive in the world … a total area of 60,500 square miles of agricultural land in a wheat growing climate”. Today, this area boasts its own unique rural culture with museums and monuments to farming excellence.  Fancy making damper from windmill-powered wholemeal stone-ground spelt flour?  Then add Australia’s only working 16th century replica of a Dutch windmill at Amelup to your travel itinerary.

If the West’s wheatbelt is too far away, there are magical pockets of Australian rural goodness all over the country – once you take the time to stop and enjoy them. Consider, for example, a small agricultural centre like Kimba in South Australia.  It’s on the Eyre Highway and stakes the claim to being halfway across Australia.  While you could simply roll in, fuel up and drive on, you could also take your foot off the accelerator, explore the town’s magnificent silo art and well-furnished local history museum, and stay at the Kimba Recreation Reserve, which is arguably the best council-run free camp in the country.  Chances are you’ll be glad you did. 

By planning a travel route that takes in rural Australia, you can enjoy our country’s gastronomic delights straight from the source, while getting a sense of where our forebears came from, and what it still takes to make a living from this Great Brown Land.

So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch with your pioneering past and enjoy this country’s rural heart.


When scouring the internet for a travel itinerary, your searches can be tainted by search algorithms that direct you to places that everyone else goes. Meanwhile, your GPS is probably only interested in finding you the quickest route between set destinations.  It takes research to uncover hidden treasures, but its time well spent.  To whet your appetite, here are just a few of the lesser known national, state and local treasures that are waiting to entice you off the highway.

  • Eugowra Historical Museum & Bushranger Centre, Eugowra, NSW
  • Kimba and Gawler Ranges Historical Museum, Kimba, SA
  • Banjo Paterson Museum, Yeoval, NSW
  • The Lily Windmill, Amelup, WA
  • Cobb & Co Changing Station & Museum, Surat, QLD
  • Forbes Historical Museum, Forbes, NSW
  • Penong Windmill Museum, Penong, SA
  • Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill, Vic
  • Gulgong Pioneer Museum, Gulgong, NSW
  • Sandstone Caves Walking Track, Pilliga, NSW

  • Today there are 63.7 million sheep in our paddocks.  In the 1970s, there were 180 million.
  • Australia produces just 3% of the world’s wheat (about 25 million tonnes per annum) but accounts for 10-15% ($4 billion worth) of the world’s 100 million tonne annual global wheat trade.
  • About 60% of Australia's wine production (a total of around 2 million wine bottles) is exported every day from Australia to 111 international markets.
  • Australia exports around 70% of the total value of our agricultural, fisheries and forestry production.


  • There were 29 fat-tailed sheep listed on the First Fleet's manifest in 1788.
  • The first wheat in Australia was sown in Sydney in 1788 not long after the First Fleet’s arrival. Different varieties of grain were brought and a small nine-acre farm was established at Farm Cove on the site of the current Royal Botanic Garden to raise and experiment with various crops.
  • Australia’s first grape vines were planted in 1788 at Sydney’s Farm Cove. These vines were brought by Captain Philip as a private stash.


While you’re driving around rural Australia, consider the enduring importance of our National Parks and State Reserves. Deforestation went hand-in-hand with economic development. According to the Australian Productivity Commission, about 90% of native vegetation in the eastern temperate and south-western temperate zones has been removed for agriculture, industry, transport and human habitation. This has led to Australia having the worst mammal extinction rate of any country in the world.  You can help redress the balance by visiting centres like the Charleville Bilby Experience, paying your National Park fees, donating to non-government organisations like Bush Heritage Australia, and leaving no trace when you camp.


History destinations Australian west Heading west Pioneering history Australian history