At first glance, there is not much to draw grey nomads to the tiny settlement of Antwerp in Victoria’s Wimmera district but – like many places in regional Australia – there’s a lot more here than initially meets the eye.
The settlement, which is located about 20 kilometres north of Dimboola and 350 kilometres north west of Melbourne, pretty much consists of a general store, a grain silo, and a handful of houses. But just a few kilometres down the road, visitors will find the fully restored Ebenezer Aboriginal Mission, which offers a fascinating insight into the area’s history.
The first Europeans to settle in the area were George Shaw and Horatio Ellerman who acquired 130,000 acres for sheep grazing in 1846. Ellerman named the area after his birthplace, the Belgian city of Antwerp.
In 1858 two Moravian missionaries from Saxony in Germany arrived and they quickly built a pine log church complete with a thatched roof. The site they chose for their Mission near the Wimmera River was also a traditional meeting place for the Wergaia people.
At its peak more than 100 people lived and worked in more than 20 buildings at the Mission, which operated to convert Aboriginal people to Christianity. A successful farm was developed around the Ebenezer mission – which apparently means rock of hope – and the area prospered. That original wooden church building was replaced in 1875 by the limestone structure that still stands today.
By the late 1880s Antwerp itself had a large eucalyptus oil distillery, a timber bridge was built over the Wimmera River around 1890, the post office opened in 1891, the railway came in 1894, and a school started welcoming students in 1897. A hall was built in 1904, along with a Methodist church.
The good times weren’t to last though.
The Mission closed in 1904, the local school finally closed in 1981, and the post office shut its doors in 1990. Behind the restored Ebenezer mission building, today’s visitors will find an old cemetery with a dozen or so headstones marking the final resting place of some of the German missionaries, their families, and the Aboriginal mission residents. Hundreds of unmarked burials reportedly also took place here.
Unsurprisingly, there are no places for grey nomads to stay in Antwerp itself. There is however an excellent caravan park at the town of Dimboola, less than 20 kilometres to the south. The Riverside Holiday Park sits alongside the Wimmera River within walking distance of the main street and its shops and eateries.
Just north of Dimboola, the circular, salty and very pink lake, also known as Lake Lochielm, is well worth a look. A little further south from Dimboola – and about 25 kilometres south of Antwerp – is the 130,000-hectare Little Desert National Park, which boasts great scenery, walking tracks, lookouts, and wildlife. There are also a number of campsites, with fees applicable at the larger camping areas at Ackle Bend and Horseshoe Bend.
Going the other way from Antwerp, about 26 kilometres north of the town, is the scenic Lake Hindmarsh Reserve which also boasts great camping options. Both Four-Mile Beach and Schulze’s Beach are suitable for caravan access.