Words and Photos by Dorian Mode
additional photography Don McKie.
Tell me, where was the first short break you had your heart set on visiting, post lockdown? A place you dreamt about at 3 am when you couldn’t sleep? A place you could almost touch as you lay awake staring at the ceiling? I’ll share mine: Tumut – my favourite palindrome. And the place I stay in Tumut is Elm Cottage, perched above the Little River.
So as soon as the noose around travel restrictions is slackened, I make a beeline for Tumut. What my wife loves about Tumut is the region’s avenues of wind-tickled elms, a riot of colour in the late Australian fall of early winter. But for me it’s fly-fishing. And what’s special about Elm Cottage is you have your own private trout stream at your doorstep. Here Mrs Pictures can sip a glass of wine and read a book at the cottage’s eyrie-like balcony while I poke around my own burbling private river below. (However, she had to take her mum to the hospital so stayed behind for this sojourn.)
But I goofed. When I googled dates for the closure of the trout season I must have google-oogled the wrong year because, by the time I arrived south, trout fishing was – to quote Dr Goebbels – ‘verboten’. (Trout streams close during spawning.) But I’m an idiot like that. How I’ve spent the last 20-something years writing travel amazes me.
In a piscatorial panic I call, Matt, the Tumut fishing inspector, to ask which river I can fish. ‘None,’ is the flat reply.
Hearing my heart thwack onto the cottage floorboards, he adds, ‘You can drive to Bookham and fish the Bidgie but.’
Ignoring the conjunction on the end of his sentence, I reply, “the Budgie?”
“The Murrumbidgee. It’s quite high up at Bookham. Plentia trout in it. Browns and rainbows and even the occasional Murray Cod. Only an hour away from Tumut.”
My heart leaps from the floorboards and back into my arms like a new puppy.
When I arrive at Elm Cottage it’s exactly as I remember: neat as a pin, luxurious but cosy. And for less mobile seniors, guess what? There are no stairs. And all this luxury framed by that wonderful trout-filled river rumbling below. Moreover, being rated 4.5 stars there is nothing to bring except groceries (linen & towels are included) which can be easily purchased in Tumut as Coles-Worth is only a 10min elm-studded drive away. Psst! I never understand people scrimping to save a few shillings on a cheap motel when for a few shekels more you can cook in your luxury cottage and save on restaurants, which are mostly overpriced, noisy and disappointing. And for seniors, none too safe with COVID 19.
But alas I can’t fish this gorgeous river which I’m staring at from the cottage balcony. As aforementioned, it’s ‘verboten’. So the following day I find the “Bidgie”. I’m not disappointed. I am completely alone. And this glorious free-stone river is easy to wade in winter and, feeling the chill in my swonicles through my waders, is the perfect temperature for frisky trout. These are the same waders incidentally that I purchased from Freddie’s Fishing World Erina after quizzing (quite deadpan) an incredulous moustachioed salesman if they “made my bum look big.”
Anyway, not knowing this new river, I am unsuccessful but enjoy a blissful day poking upstream with my rod, like a fat Joseph Conrad in the Heart of Darkness. As I listen to the long vowel of a crow against the whistling rush of the wind through the valley, I’m reminded of Norman Maclean who in his novel A River Runs Through It, wrote: “fishing is eternity compressed into a moment”. I have no idea what this means.
The following day I visit Adelong Falls (a pretty 25min drive from Tumut). It’s here you’ll find an extraordinary historic gold mine. It’s an excellent example of Victorian ingenuity. For the dodgy hip gang, there is access to a splendid viewing platform. And if not glued to a walking frame, it’s relatively easy access to the site itself. But I notice some elderly tourists more than happy to view it from the platform in the teeth of the wind.
I then have an amble around the main street of town in Adelong Falls. With the lockdown, most shops are closed, including – to my chagrin – the regional museum. I spy disappointed seniors cupping hands to look through the windows of the darkened museum. I adore regional museums, don’t you? It’s here you learn so much about a town through the ephemera and correspondence of their pioneers.
Retuning to Tumut I decide to buy my wife a bespoke romantic gift. However, the Tumut Broom Factory is closed – denying all future transport options to my mother-in-law. So I call in on the Tumut Regional Museum. It’s also closed (groan).
I then park in the main street of Tumut to gas-bag with the local tackle shop blokes. One of my favourite pastimes. Our man in the local tackle shop says the best place to legally fish is Talbingo Dam.
“Where exactly should I start casting?” I ask.
“Directly opposite the golf course at the holding ponds at the sewage outlet.”
“Brown Trout presumably.”
‘No, mostly Rainbows.’
My joke dies like a breathless carp on a muddy bank.
When I return to my car, it breaks down. Alternator shot. Yep, it’s going to be one of those trips. But hey, I’m positive as I’m stranded in the main street and not up bush. I call the NRMA. Here I meet Don McKie. Having written for NRMA Open Road Magazine for over 20 years, we get chatting. Turns out Don is a wonderful fine-art photographer. He has an exhibition of historic sheds – most since burned down in the fires – at the local visitors centre. I follow him – frog-hopping my Rav4 – to Tumut Toyota – who are fabulous and can’t do enough for me – before wandering down to the old Butter Factory to view Don’s work and kill time. His exhibition is stunning. And many of these historic sheds have since been lost to bushfires (for more info read Fast Facts below). Back at Tumut Toyota, they lend me another Rav4 to keep the story alive while they source an alternator.
The final day I fish along the lip of the damn at Talbingo, a town which always sounds to me like a game for giants in a bowling club. Moreover, it’s the birthplace of literary giant, Miles Franklin. (I was hoping to read her letters again at the Tumut Museum.) You can visit her house in Talbingo. If you scuba dive, that is. Yes, her house – along with the entire original village – is under Talbingo Dam, which feeds the Snowy Hydro Scheme. As I drive into the village, it’s a sight to behold, since those infamous 2020 bushfires raged through the valley. With the emerging regrowth, the landscape looks like the belly of a hirsute man. I can only imagine standing there with a limp firehose as the entire earth is engulfed in flames around me. Rural firefighters are not lacking in courage.
With nary a fish in sight – dam fishing is hard – metaphorically and literally – I point the loan car towards Elm Cottage. It’s beer’ o’clock. Besides, would you eat a fish jagged at the local sewer?
As the evening settles and insects hover and dance over the trout stream below my accommodation at Elm Cottage, from the balcony, I watch trout rise and give me the finger and then lazily belly-flop onto the skin of the river. Each splash, a skewer into my soul. I shake my head and mumble. ‘I must return in the summer.’
Fast Facts – 1
Elm Cottage is the Snowy Mountain’s best-kept secret – set on a backdrop of unique Australian plant and wildlife, and of course, the sublime landscape that is the Snowy Mountains.
Rates vary but around $350 per night per cottage is about right.
Weekly Rate – Stay 7 nights and pay for 6 when booking directly by phone (excludes Christmas).
Elm Cottage is pet friendly, and having them holiday with you does not incur a surcharge. Even dog bowls, treats & poop bags are provided. Red Gum not only has the fully enclosed verandah for your pet but also a fully fenced backyard with a shaded area.
For more information, visit www.elmcottage.com.au
Fast Facts – 2
Don’s wonderful exhibition is on now at the Tumut Visitors Centre or visit his website. Link below.
Some of Don’s images are in infrared which uses reflected light – not visible light as we see. Don says that infrared light is false colour but is just another way of looking at the world. He adds that it gives you a lot of freedom when post-processing & to be more creative. The images convert well into black & white giving high contrast images. They were taken with an Olympus OMD EM5 mk2 converted to full spectrum specs which can see all light. Don adds that when you add filters to the front of the lens the camera sees different spectrums (visible light, Infrared, UV or full-spectrum depending on the filter used).
Many of these historic huts were sadly lost in the 2020 bushfires.