THE SWAN HILLIAN: Options aplenty

In her song, "Big Yellow Taxi", Joni Mitchell sang 

"Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know

What you've got

Till it's gone"

For my purposes, I'll quote it as, 'You don't know what you've got, Till you gone elsewhere.'

Once or twice a year, Graeme Clark, Barry Bishop and I go somewhere for a few days – King Island, Dubbo, Port Lincoln, wherever. The last trip was to Warrnambool, with a day off to Port Fairy and to Cobden.

As expected, the area was always threatening wet, tending to windy and aggressively green. There was also the interest of its maritime history, and an inevitable comparison of their Maritime Museum to our Pioneer Settlement. Both are good, i.e. interesting, informative and different from elsewhere.

What wasn't expected was the restaurant and coffee scene. This is in a city of about 34,000.

Good friends Graeme Clark, Barrie Bales and Barry Bishop enjoy a coffee in Swan Hill. Picture: GREGOR MACTAGGART

Good friends Graeme Clark, Barrie Bales and Barry Bishop enjoy a coffee in Swan Hill. Picture: GREGOR MACTAGGART

The first night we had a meal at a pub just around the corner from our apartment. Next night we went looking for a restaurant. Found a couple, but they were closed, eventually ended up at a café offering a Chinese menu, but from a bain-marie. OK, but . . . The next night, after getting advice from the Maritime Museum staff, we went to a good Thai restaurant. We may have passed a couple of restaurants, but they didn't register.

Same with getting a coffee. There were no coffee places spilling out into the street, as in Swan Hill, although that is reasonable considering the differences in climate. But there weren't many.

Before reading on, guess how many coffee and coffee/food (e.g. bakeries) places there are in Swan Hill.

Also, how many and what are the range of different cuisines offered?

There are only two pubs for a city of about 10,000 (i.e. 1:5,000) and three clubs, but consider the restaurants.

Competition is strong, with several restaurants not succeeding over the last few years. But that competition has served Swan Hillians very well.

The offering is Chinese, Indian, South East Asian, Korean/Japanese, Italian and various Australian adaptations of European and Asian styles, with at least one offering food heavily based on local produce. People have their favourite bakery, plus there are the franchises.

Some people/groups have their regular coffee fix at a set time and day at favoured place, others have a rotating schedule, probably many who spontaneously decide to have a coffee. The smell of coffee is insidiously attractive, and nostril twitching as you walk past. 

For whatever reasons, Swan Hill has a culture of going out for meals and for meeting over and enjoying coffee. Perhaps the climate. Perhaps we have got the habit of going out for a meal. The food offered is good, wide ranging and relatively cheap considering the quality, plus many being BYO. In fairness to Warrnambool, I know there were excellent restaurants and hotels (I once lived in relatively nearby Cobden), and the three of us didn't spend much time looking for restaurants, which could have been spread over the city in the several shopping centres.

That's one clear thing about Swan Hill, there is a concentration along the blocks along Campbell Street between and including McCallum, McCrae and Rutherford, as well as Beveridge Street. Does this obviousness add to its attractiveness? If you don't have to search for a restaurant/coffee place, as we did in Warrnambool, you're more likely to patronise them.

Whatever the reasons, Swan Hill has a lot. Port Fairy was similarly well served, plus a bakery that offered delicious scallop pies.

If you want to disagree with any of the above, we can discuss it over a cup of coffee. You can choose the place. There are at least 20 places (approximately 1:500 Swan Hillians, cf. pub ratio above) offering good coffee, including a mobile unit in which the coffee comes to you.

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