Wrestling with the enigma that is Goschen

"The oftener one sees,

the better one knows;

the better one knows,

the more one loves."

Charles Kingsley

We’ve been up to the family acres for the annual family pilgrimage. Somehow or other the January time frame suits this sojourn and regardless of the weather we journey up.
Swan Hill is the destination and of late we’ve been staying across the river (That would be the Murray River for the geographically embarrassed), at the Murray Downs Golf Resort.

When I was but a mere broth of a lad, the area was mostly salt bush and mud flat, but good old ingenuity, and the application of many hundreds of thousands of dollars has transformed the area to a fine golfclub resort.  And the side benefit for the average birder is that the many water features and trees has provided a suitable haven for many of the birds of area. But, more of that on another blog methinks.

A few kilometres down the road from Swan Hill is a small isolated patch of scrub, that is now incorporated into the “Goschen Roadside Reserve”.

And is wont of those in the Parks department it is now suitably fenced off to keep undesirables on the outside and protect that which is on the inside. Not that there is much to protect anymore.

And so begins the enigma. Goschen was to be a little township that happened after the first world war. (Yes, it should be in caps, but really does it deserve such honour?) Many such small communities were established.  But, the one thing about Goschen is— Lack of Water (in caps because, well, it’s the singularly most important part of the enigma)

Drive just 5 more minutes down the road and you’ll come over a sandy rise and all is green before you.  The result of irrigation. Water. And the rich farming area of grapes, stone fruit and citrus.  Just 5 minutes.  Had the water extended out to Goschen, then all would have been different and hopes and dreams would have turned to riches, instead of just being blown away like the dust.

To their credit, the early settlers and the government officials of the time, did try.  A school, community hall, cricket field and tennis courts were all part of the scheme and were built.  Now all that remains is a plaque for the school—and some of the old concrete flooring in the toilets—the community hall rapidly deteriorating as the fencing off has protected it somewhat from vandalism, and also meant it is ignored by the fence erectors. A search among the long grass to the east will also find the remains of the concrete cricket pitch.

The years past and the area, as often happened began to revert to its ordinary existence. And the area became a little haven for birds both local and migrants.

And another challenge. An area that can be an honeypot on occasions and frustratingly quiet on others. It’s not just a seasonal thing, nor a food thing. It’s Goschen.


With predicted days into the 40s C, our only real option was a very early morning trip. So as the ‘lucky old sun, with nothing to do…” rolled over the horizon at first light we were already on the Lalbert-Quambatook Road.

In times past, it was easy, drive into the Community Hall area and park.  Now, its a ten minute walk up from the roadway.

In our last summer visit the area was filled with the raucous call of Rufous Skylark.  The continual call of “Whitchi which which whichhy whit” of the male as he settles out his territory does become a bit irritating after the first 10,000 calls.  But, and this again part of the enigma.  Today. Not a call. Rufous had gone somewhere else this year.

Male Hooded Robins were in abundance and the lack of females only indicated, I expect, that they were in the middle of a nesting cycle. Families of White-browed Babblers where in the low bush, but did not want to be photographed it seems.   Also plenty of Brown Treecreepers.

We began the day’s visit with plenty of action, and it stayed that way. Eastern Bluebonnet are another featured bird of the area, but as it turned out, apart from White-plumed, Singing  and a few Spiny-cheeked, there was little honeyeater activity.
One species that used to be very well represented in the area is Black Honeyeater.  As a lad, they were often in the trees along the Woorineen-Goschen Road, but I’d never spotted them at Goschen over the last few years.
Then, like one of those great moments, and let’s face it, bird photography has them just when you least expect it.  A female, or juvenile appeared in the tree in front of me.  EE was way down the track with some Hooded Robins.  And its hard not to yell too loud, and scare off the Honeyeater, and yet gain someone’s attention who is glued to a viewfinder and filling up a memory card on the D500. Finally in a break—GotHerAttention. And now the job was to relocate the target bird.

Goschen is not just a challenge for birders and photographers, but also I suspect for the birds. One this morning we came away happy with the time spent, and the good numbers of birds we’d seen.



9 thoughts on “Wrestling with the enigma that is Goschen

  1. What a beautiful collection of birds you found David, they look so good on a clear blue sky. What a treat to have a find like this, and yes early morning is best, especially when its going to be 40°C


    1. Hi AB, thanks for calling by. Certainly couldn’t fault the blue sky. Horizon to horizon. But how quickly the temperature got up and stayed up. And here we are three weeks later and its 43C out there today.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Eleanor, there is a beaut crispness about the air up in the Mallee in that first hour or so after sunup. And of course the best raking side light. We stopped for morning tea in the ‘shade’ of the old Community Hall, but sad to say the building is slowly being vandalised and its ignored by the Parks people.
      A piece of history that will eventually have no intrinsic value. Still, this area and the adjacent, “Daisy Patch”, are great examples of how the bush can cope with intrusion and has the patience to return at its own speed.


  2. Beautifully written story, David. It flows so nicely and draws into the enigmas of Goschen that the end came to soon to my liking. But then your beautiful photos made up for the dismay. Thank you!


    1. G,day Adam, hmmm glad you liked the ‘shortened version’ and were hoping for more. Reality is I had a much longer, (boring) version, but in the end, edited it down to just the few essentials.
      It is such a small area yet can have so much potential. Its a pity its a 5 hour trip from home.
      My brother-in-law moved the old school out to a property about 100km away, some years ago. Not sure what its been used for now.
      Its a pity that some money is not used to at least rehabilitate the old hall, if not restore it.


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