With its desert parks and tough farming country, the north-western corner of Victoria is the closest the state comes to being outback.

Story By Don Fuchs

Richard and Deirdre Baum are standing at the top of their olive farm Laharum Grove. Behind them, the cliffs of the northern Grampians rise dramatically. In front of them, neat rows of about 11,000 mature olive trees, planted in the early 1940s, lead down a gentle slope. The widely travelled couple – in search of a lifestyle change – lucked upon this property in 2005 when they got lost, scouting the area. “We wanted to come to a beautiful place and bring up the kids in the country,” Deirdre, a New Zealand-born physiotherapist, says. For husband Richard, a Melbourne boy through and through, the farm is more than just a thriving olive grove. “There is something quite spiritual about this area,” he says. The Baums grow 22 kinds of olives on a 120-hectare property and produce high-quality olive oil and pickled olives.
“It’s quite a juxtaposition when you think about it,” Richard muses, looking over the cultivated landscape of their olive farm. “The orderly nature of an olive grove with its north-south rows, then the less structured national park.” It is a juxtaposition that will repeat itself continuously along the journey north, from this olive farm near the country town of Horsham, Vic, all the way to Mildura on the Murray River.
There is no direct route that presents itself, no big-name highway or famous stock route. It is a matter of connecting the dots, virtually hopping from national park to national park. These reserves spread like stepping stones through the north-west corner of Victoria and form fixtures on a journey from the known into the lesser known and back to the known. It seems the tourism world ends with the last rampart of the northern Grampians. What follows is a raw world, where intensely cultivated agricultural land and virtual wilderness coexist without buffers. It is also a journey into marginal country, where an almost unbroken 10-year drought creates heartache and pain for wheat, lentil and chickpea farmers. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential when undertaking this journey of discovery and surprises on deep sandy tracks through several national parks.
From their vantage point at the top end of their olive grove, the Baums can look north towards the plains of the Wimmera. This flat expanse of land is only interrupted by a broad hill in the hazy distance whose shape is vaguely reminiscent of Uluru in Central Australia. It is Mt Arapiles-Tooan State Park, and it attracts mainly two types of people: rock climbers and artists.

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2010