The Kidman Way is supposed to be designated the B87 and it stretches for 640km from Jerilderie to least Bourke. If you’re heading from Melbourne up to Darwin or FNQ, this is going to be the most direct route. It leads from the lush irrigated river country of the MIA through the dry flat plains of mid-western NSW to the harsh red plains of the outback. If you’re connected with the country, it’s never boring. And it’s got a fair sprinkling of good towns, pubs and places of interest.
And with Sir Sid Kidman’s birthday on May 9th, I figured this is a good time to share some tips of this none too busy highway.
If you’ve come up from the south from Shepparton Way and Finley, and you’re done in Jerilderie, head nor-east out of town on the Newell for 15km and you’ll see the left turn for Coleambally and Griffith and this is the start of the Kidman.
Jerilderie to Coleambally 69km
Some of the straightest stretches you’re going to find. This farmland has been laser levelled but it probably didn’t need much help. Irrigation means flat land and flat land means straight bitumen. Eventually a bend to the right sees you at the metal brolga welcoming you to Colly.
A bit down on the right you’ll see a tree filled park with a monster mine shovel and you turn around this and head into the town. To rejoin you’ll need to retrace your path.
Coleambally to Darlington Point 31km
Easy straight-ahead riding through irrigated farmland and keep your eyes out for farm plant on the road. Four kilometres south of Darlington Point you cross the Sturt Hwy in one of those bloody zig-zag highway intersections. Take it carefully and then it’s just a couple of sweeping curves into town.
Darlington Point to Griffith 35km
Look right as you cross the Murrumbidgee and you’ll see the beautiful town beach with its access road beside the van park entrance. Continue north for about 300 metres and then follow the highway left. This is the greenest part of this road with irrigated fields on both sides most of the time until an almost surreal Sikh temple signals you’re at the Burley Griffin designed town of Griffith (so you know there’s gonna be roundabouts!)
Griffith to Goolgowi 51km
Head west on Banna Ave, the main drag which is also the Kidman Way and you’ll get to the big roundabout at the western end of town. Exit around the Shell Servo (as if you’d gone straight ahead) then follow the Kidman as it weaves out of town. An immediate change to the scenery. Gone are the green irrigated crops and it’s now dryland farming and a bit of grazing. You really get the feel you’re leaving the easy country behind. Make sure you have a full tank of fuel when you leave Griffith as it becomes less reliable from here.
Goolgowi is on the junction of the Mid- Western Highway and to get to the town, hang a right at the roundabout onto the MWH then you’ll see the pub on your left. The general store is two streets north on Stipa.
Goolgowi to Merriwagga 22km
A quick squirt though increasingly hardening country to a memorable motorcycle pub which you get to by turning right before you get to the silos and then hanging a left onto Fingal.
This is a town living for all it’s worth on its connection with Ned Kelly who popped by with his mates in 1879. Kelly didn’t write his ‘Jerilderie Letter’ in the town and he sure didn’t wear his armour helmet here, but that doesn’t stop the town from using irrelevant images of Ned’s safety gear.
The police station at the east end of town even has almost a dozen motifs of this foreign helmet worked into its architecture. (When I was there photographing the downpipes a cop who’d been in town for 12 months came out and questioned me… he was totally unaware of the significance of their shape!)
In three days in Jerilderie, Ned and his mates relieved the Bank of £2000, chopped down the telegraph poles, locked the police in their own cells and booked up the cost of shoeing their horses to the police. They held more than 30 hostages while shouting the bar and burned the mortgages held in the bank’s safe.
There’s three service stations in town but all only sell 91 and 98 (plus diesel). There’s no 95 anywhere in the place and the nearest you’ll get 95 is at Coleambally, 68km up the Kidman.
For any issues with your bike, Jerilderie Motorcycles at 24 Southey St are the people to see.
There’s three pubs but all are on the very truck-busy main street so if you’re seeking a quiet night’s sleep you may want to think other places.
Colony Inn Hotel 26 Jerilderie St, T: 03 5886 1220
Jerilderie Hotel 60 Jerilderie St T: 03 5886 1370
Royal Mail Hotel 22
Jerilderie St T: 03 5886 1224
The very well stocked IGA is opposite the Jerilderie Hotel on the main drag and it’s got plenty of parking out front.
The Coleambally Irrigation website has the tagline: “Coleambally Irrigation - a clever company with clever farmers working in close collaboration with the community and the environment” and the town has that real community feel. It’s off the highway (just turn at the big old scoop in the well-kept park. They like brolgas here and the sole pub is the Brolga Hotel Motel (T: 02 6954 4009). The Roadhouse on Kingfi sher Ave sells 91 and 95 (and diesel). A couple of very nice parks in town (and at the turnoff) plus a top little public swimming pool at the back end of town. There’s also a bottle shop and a Friendly Grocer in the town centre.
A ferry was built across the Murrumbidgee in 1881 but the Punt Hotel wasn’t built until 1925.
Outside the pub you’ll likely see signs advertising for customers, “No experience necessary”. Well, I’ve tried to get a drink in this place twice and both times the attendant figured I should wait ‘til she’d finished chatting to her mate, or that I should hang on ‘til she’d finished with a phone call that rang after I was at the bar. Pity, because it’s a pretty little pub.
A much better bet is the Darlington Points Sports Club at the south end of town: Really friendly service, good Chinese restaurant and a schooner of Gold is $4.30. It’s open from ten each day but there’s no food on Mondays.
The Caravan Park is just north of the river bridge and the public river beach is here also, just keep to the right after you turn for the CP. This is a great river beach for a swim, but there’s no free camping here. If you’re after a free spot, (there’s a top selection and they are beautiful) do what I did and drop into the mini-mart just opposite the pub and stock up on some provisions. Ask Ernie how to get to the free camping areas. He’s a top bloke who can do with the business and he’ll direct you to the riverside where you can stay for 48 hours.
The Coolibah Café back on the main drag opposite the Punt Hotel is a decent place for caffeine and a bite.
If you can look past the more shameful periods of its past, this can be an enjoyable town. Plenty of places to kick back and sample (legal) local produce. The old Clock Restaurant has gone and been replaced by Zucco but for mine the best place is Il Corso on Banna, though a couple of mates prefer La Scala. If you’re hanging for ice-cream, Bertoldo’s Bakery at 324 Banna has great gelato but kinda ordinary service.
The pubs though are pretty ordinary for accommodation… nothing unique or magnetic but there’s a bunch of clubs to choose from. I reckon the best is the Exies on Jondaryan Ave where the prices are good and the food’s always been excellent. (Don’t attempt the lamb shank unless you’ve not eaten for a month!)
Griffith Motorcycle Centre in Burrell Place is your best bet if your ride is playing up; www.griffithmotorcyclecentre.com.au T: 02 6962 4677
The memorial to Donald McKay is on the centre strip of Banna at the corner of Jondaryan and is worth a check out.
The servos here are all on the Banna and serve all grades of fuel and the IGA is off Yambil which is parallel and one south of Banna.
On the intersection with the B64 or Mid Western Hwy, if you’ve never enjoyed a drink whilst in a barber’s chair, this would be a decent place to stop. The Royal Mail has pub style accommodation for $45 a single or $55 for a twin room and serves lunch and dinner 7 days. If you’re fronting up with a larger group, it’d be best to ring ahead. (T: 02 6965 1406)
There’s also a motel on the west end of town on the B64. Some fuel at the general store around on Stipa St but possibly best not to rely on it being open.
Thankfully the parking meter out front of the Black Stump Hotel still has 20 minutes on it, so pull up, relax and head inside to the tallest bar in Australia.
Lynn Ro has had the lease for the last 2 years and she’s just visible behind the 4ft 4in high bar. (I’ll give you a hoy when metrics reach out here!)
The myth is that it’s that high because the stockman used to ride in on their horses and drink still saddled but, well, it’s a good story. The way Lynn Ro’s partner, Jeremy explains it, another theory is that the pub was built at the same time as the railway line was being put down. The fettlers were a pretty wild bunch so the publican built the bar(rier) tall to stop ‘em jumping it!
And it’s called, the “Black Stump” because they claim the original black stump was some 20 miles to the west of here on the north-south TSR. Back in the late 1800’s, so the story goes, Barbara Blaine, a stockman’s wife was preparing the evening meal while her husband was out checking the bullocks had quietened for the night.
When he returned, the wind had blown the fire onto his wife’s dress and killed her. Blaine described his wife’s ashen body as resembling nothing more than a ‘black stump’.
There’s a memorial to Barbara Blaine out on the stock route but again I’m not giving directions! If you’re interested and have a vehicle that can handle a bit of sand, get into the pub, slide some cash over the high bar for a refreshment and ask Jeremy for a mud map of how to get out there.
There’s half a dozen other black stumps in the country, most notably at Winton but this is the only one that doesn’t involve a cut down tree.
There’s three rooms in the pub each with a queen and a single bed and more beds out back in the shearers’ quarters. A bed’ll set you back a paltry 35 bucks but if you’ve arrived on two wheels, as you’ll get your first drink free when you check in!
That’s what I call motorcyclist friendly!
If you want to throw a swag you can do so in the beer garden and pay just five bucks for use of the showers. Just maybe the best pub on the entire Kidman Hwy.