Pioneering fun in Swan Hill


The drive from Morgan to Swan Hill was fairly long and included some interesting town names along the way. Markaranka made me think of Mataranka though I’m certain taking a dip here would’ve been a tad icy compared to the tropical delights of Bitter Springs! Chinkapook I think was Miss7’s favourite name though.

After a couple of long driving days I was keen not to have to cook and as we’d run out of meat, was looking forward to a non-vegetarian meal for the night. Once we’d set up camp at the Big4 along the river in Swan Hill (almost required taking out a second mortgage to stay here! Note to self: get full quote over the phone before booking, not just the minimum price), we did some grocery shopping to stock us up for dinner tomorrow and another couple of breakfasts then it was off to the pub for tea.


The next morning we got ourselves a pass to the nearby Pioneer Precinct, paddle steamer and sound and light show. We spent the entire day wondering around the Pioneer Settlement and the kids had a great time learning how to make rope, taking a buggy ride with the gorgeous Clydesdale Gemma (Miss7 was a little disappointed she couldn’t pat the horse I think). We got our own personal guided tour of the paddlesteamer Gem – the original piece marking the start of the Pioneer Precinct, before playing ‘schools’ in the local Pioneer school, touring replica shops and homesteads.

The kids got to help make butter churning it the old fashioned way before enjoying it on some fresh and hot damper for a delicious morning tea. Miss7 made herself a peg doll with wooden peg and scraps of material before we watched the wood turner transform a square block of pine into a patterned ball for Miss7 to keep for herself. It was fairly quiet at the precinct despite it being the school holidays so we were spoilt by attention and one-on-one displays.


We decided to visit the blacksmith next, a quirky young man who’d learnt the trade from his grandfather as a twenty year old and been smithing at the Pioneer precinct for the past five years. He was a great story teller and kept us entertained as he made a small horseshoe in front of us. Miss7 was very excited when he told her that he could stamp her name onto it for her if she would like – the horseshoe is now among the treasured momentoes from the trip.

We headed back to camp late in the afternoon to get dinner started so that we could eat and return to the Pioneer Precinct at 7pm for the evening sound and light show. It was pretty cold by evening so we rugged up before heading back and we’re pretty happy when staff greeted us with some blankets to keep us warm during the show too.


The show used lights, water and fire to tell the story of the Murray River and Mallee region over time. Projections onto the sprays of water, along with bubbles and snow brought the prehistoric, indigenous and Pioneer settlement stories to life. It was a spectacular show and incredibly creative use of water and light to tell a story. The kids loved it and so did we.

Our pass entitled us to two days at the precinct so after we’d packed up camp the next morning, we headed back for some last minute activities before the drive home to Melbourne.

The precinct had a 100year + old Dodge Brothers car on site and I think mum was as excited as the kids to be given a ride around the precinct. We went and checked out the indigenous display and I think Miss7 was a little baffled at how Aboriginal people could use the bark of a giant red gum to build a canoe – she was most impressed. 

We made our way to the drapery shop where the day before we’d had a great showcase of the pianola and other ‘old fashioned’ musical contraptions including an old record player that the kid’s great grandmother would’ve listened and danced to. We headed out the back to try on some ‘olden days’ outfits for some family portraits in the studio before making our way outside for some more pics. Miss7 is now excited at the idea of getting her own ‘olden days’ clothes from the op shop to add to her dress ups box!


Back in the car for the final drive home. Though we’ve only been gone two weeks, it feels like we’ve been away much longer yet not long enough! Lots of new places to add to our growing list of places to either visit or revisit for more. 

Arriving back in Melbourne it was thankfully not raining and the sun was even promising to make an appearance before we need to acclimatise to the icy cold of Melbourne’s winter.

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