The Riverina town of Corowa proudly reflects its Federation roots as it looks forward to a future based on tourism and wine.
Story By Joanne Diver
Nestled within a protective cover of river-red gums lining the Murray River, the meandering border between New South Wales and Victoria, is the historic town of Corowa – so named by the Bangerang people as “the rocky crossing place”. Unique among border towns of its size, Corowa now boasts two border crossings – the relatively new Federation bridge opened in 2005, and the historic John Foord bridge built in 1892, one of only four bridges over the river at that time.
Part of the Riverina, 56 kilometres west of Albury and 286km north-east of Melbourne, Corowa is dissected by Sanger Street, named after a prominent pastoralist and flanked by historic buildings proudly bearing plaques dating from the late 1800s.
History radiates off the vibrant red bricks of the Federation Museum, as local historian Val Swasbrick reflects on the town’s past. “My great grandfather was a local farmer in 1893 when Corowa held the Federation League Rally attended by Dr Quick, who proposed that the Australian people should themselves vote for Federation,” Val says. The sentiment quickly gained support, earning Corowa the title of Birthplace of Federation.
Patrols and customs duties were an everyday occurrence when crossing the border prior to Federation. “Now the biggest problem with crossing the border is daylight saving,” Val says. “When we built our house I needed two watches, one for each state, so that I could deal with the different builders’ merchants.”
Today, Corowa proudly reflects its roots as it co-operates with cross-border towns and communities to attract people to the area. Wahgunyah is a stone’s throw away across the Murray and, while it sports a Victorian postcode, it works with Corowa on attracting tourism, most recently becoming a vital link in the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail. “Tourism is a driving force within the town now,” Val says. “Generations of families visit year after year, fulfilling the idyll of the great Australian camping holiday. It is particularly busy at Easter when the town is buzzing with the Australian Billycart Championships.”
Also supported by local manufacturing and agricultural industries, the town boasts a population of 5600 and is steadily growing. Two newer residents are Stephen and Elaine Gray who moved from south-west Victoria in 2006. With the arrival of a new baby, their family expanded to six shortly after they arrived. Keen sportspeople, they celebrated the end-of-season AFL game with a crowd of 2000 – the Corowa Rutherglen Roos beat the Wodonga Raiders, with the match marking the final game for home-grown hero, Darrell “Dasher” Spencer. “It’s a great afternoon out,” Stephen says. “The kids love to get out on the field and kick the ball around at half time and enjoy their weekly treat of a can of fizz.”
Elaine, from Belfast in Northern Ireland, has lived in Australia for 19 years and sings the praises of her family’s new home in a lilting brogue.
“I love the open spaces, blue skies and the stars,” she says. “When I walk over the bridge and look down at the Murray, I know all’s well with the world.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #57
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008