Making tractor tracks to Dalgety
Slow stampede ... The annual pilgrimage crosses McKillops Bridge over the Snowy River. Photo: Supplied
All history conscious Canberrans will feel the need to make a pilgrimage to Dalgety during this city's centenary year (we will remind you in a moment why that pilgrimage is compulsory) and if you make your pilgrimage to Dalgety and district this weekend, you'll see, as a bonus, something of the Great Snowy River Tractor Stampede.
The stampede (''stampede'' sounds rather a grand word to describe a convoy that will chug along at only about 20km/h) is an annual event organised by the evocatively named Bega and District Historical Machinery Club.
The organiser, Garry Stephenson, told us all about it from his bushy home (''we're out in the bush, just out of Pambula'') and was sometimes hard to hear on the phone above his neighbourhood's clinking, clanking bellbirds.
The tractors stop for some cool refreshments in Dalgety. Almost the national capital, once. Photo: Supplied
They lacked the manners to be quiet for 10 minutes while Stephenson explained that the stampede is an occasion for vintage tractor enthusiasts to mingle, engage in tractor natter and to chug along together for several days through some very scenic places.
The route they'll be taking (if I heard him correctly through the chiming of the birds, and it may be best for you to Google ''Great Snowy River Tractor Stampede'' to be sure) starts at the Candelo sports ground, where they will gather on Tuesday before heading off on Wednesday morning. A few days and nights and stops later (stops at far away places with strange sounding names like Deddick Springs and Pinch River) they descend on Dalgety, via Jindabyne, arriving at the fabled Dalgety, so nearly the nation's chosen site for the federal capital city, on Saturday afternoon.
There, Stephenson explains, the tractors will be attractively and photogenically parked and the tractor zealots will have a presentation night in Dalgety hall. The hall is a stone's throw (if you have a very good arm) from the tamed but still really rather impressive Snowy River where it flows under little Dalgety's startlingly big and modern-looking (though it dates from the 1880s) bridge. The last day is a mostly downhill saunter of 120km from Dalgety to the rendezvous at Candelo.
Stephenson is one of those lovely people who knows that his or her consuming passion (in his case restoring and riding on vintage tractors) must mean he or she is a little, harmlessly, crazy. The stampede, of 21 venerable tractors covering about 400 kilometres, is quite crazy because of course it's not a bit like whooshing along in air-conditioned comfort. Riding a tractor one is perched on it, just as one is while riding a camel.
''Yes, it can seem ridiculous. We hit all the elements. It can be a very hot day and then you've got the tractor's open engine blowing hot stuff stuff all over you. And you've got your legs legs wrapped around it. You straddle it really. It might rain. We've got our Driza-Bones handy. Last year, just after we left Buchan, [Victoria] the heavens broke open and there was one hell of a downpour.''
On that occasion (Stephenson's chat about the stampede is full of place names not dreamt of in city folks' imaginations) they had to pull in at Gelantipy to dry out.
''But we all seem to enjoy it. Mainly it's the mateship. Camping out. For most of us I think it all stems back to our teen years when we all seemed to have something to do with tractors.''
The tractors and their riders in this stampede are roughly, he thinks, of the same vintage as one another.
The men and tractors stampeding this time date mostly from the 1940s, although (''I've just turned 70'') he is considerably senior to his pride and joy and stampede chariot this year, a 1959 Ferguson 35. The tractors rejoice in evocative farm-familiar names. There will be Massey Fergusons and at least one splendidly restored 1946 Massey-Harris, from Deniliquin, driven by a grandson of the man who first bought it, brand new, to be a farm workhorse and not a thing to show off on stampedes.
The tractors will look good in and around Dalgety but even if you can't get to Dalgety to see them you will, won't you Canberrans, wend your way to Dalgety at least once this year?
You ought to do it because to better understand the exciting way in which the Canberra site was chosen for the federal capital city you ought to go and see the spot, Dalgety, that was the site that raced the Canberra site nose-to-nose to the finishing line of the exciting, exhaustive ballots in federal parliament in 1908.
It is poignant and exciting to go to today's Dalgety. This columnist goes there often and always has to suppress the disloyal thought that the federal capital city would have been terrific there.
Today Dalgety is a teeny-weeny hamlet in the boulder-strewn immensity of the bleakly beautiful southern Monaro, and nothing of significance has changed there since its great bridge was opened in 1888.
When you go there (a leisurely two- and-a-bit hours from Canberra, via Cooma), go up the knoll behind the hamlet, the top of it furnished with the Our Lady Star of the Sea church (1878).
Look out at the vast emptiness beneath you and imagine a city of 370,000 souls that could so easily have been there by now but for a few votes and a few nuances of fortune. Had that happened Canberra might today, as it was in 1908, be a teeny-weeny place with a trickle of a stream (the Molonglo) running through it and with vastly more sheep than people.