By Rachel Wagner
December 14, 2020 | 7 minute read
Sheep Hills silo
The field of sun-bleached yellow ripples as the wind whips across it. All this wheat is the reason I’m out here in the middle of the Mallee region in North-West Victoria, somewhere between Bendigo and Mildura - to see the behemoth old silos the farmers used to store their grains in.
These decommissioned silos that pepper the roadsides of little country towns were all but forgotten about until five years ago. Canberran artist Guido van Helten was the first to transform one of Victoria’s silos. On his giant canvas in the little town of Brim, Guido painted a lifelike portrait of four multi-generational farmers - three men and a woman - locals who to him represented the grit of rural life.
This mural coaxed travellers off the highway and into the small towns, sparking a movement. Mallee is now home to nine artworks which now make up Australia’s largest outdoor gallery, spanning 400 km. If you too want to follow the trail of art and experience the warmth of Victoria’s tiny rural towns, here’s where to start.
* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.
Melbourne to Halls Gap (263 km)
Before we go any further I will say this - please do not attempt this trip all in one day from Melbourne. It’s a huge journey and the roads are long. I recommend staying locally on both ends of your trip, it will make your adventure all the more enjoyable (and safe!)
Halls Gap is the perfect gateway to the Silo Art Trail. Less than an hour south of the first silo in Rupanyup, Halls Gap is a gorgeous little township literally plonked amongst the rocks of the Grampians.
In the morning, fuel up for your day on the road at Livefast Cafe. Top tip - it will taste even better if you get up early to watch the sunrise at Boroka Lookout! The cafe’s vegan and gluten free cauliflower fritters are *chef’s kiss* and it opens from 7am so you can get back on the road as early as possible.
Rupanyup to Lascelles (139 km)
This chain of silos is incredibly easy to navigate and most lie along the same stretch of road. I never had any trouble following my phone's GPS but you might want to pack a map just in case. Towns crop up with surprising frequency and you should take the time to stop in each one. You’ll find meeting the locals is the best bit of this whole trip.
The first silo you’ll come across is in Rupanyup, where Russian artist Julia Volchkova captured the portraits of a young netballer and Aussie Rules footballer. There are also some other street art paintings around town to spot, one on the old shire office building and another on a damaged house that has been given new life.
While in Rupanyup, drop into the Kindness Kitchen and be enveloped by the warmth of owner Tully. The only 100% plant based cafe between Adelaide and Melbourne, they sell vegan pies, bagels, cakes and coffee of course.
Continuing on, you’ll pass the crumbling facades of Minyip, the town where the new Eric Bana movie The Dry was filmed. If you’ve read the Jane Harper book, you’ll almost be able to see the characters peeling up off the pages and into the streets. If you have time, veer off your path to visit the heritage listed Murtoa Stick Shed with its roof supported by timber poles.
If not, it’s on to Sheep Hills. Probably the most photographed of all the silos, you’ll see why immediately. A wash of vivid purples and oranges, Adnate’s mural celebrates the area’s rich Indigenous history. The portrait is of Wergaia and Wotjobaluk elders alongside two children and is utterly mesmerising.
Stop for a wander in Warracknabeal, the birthplace of music legend Nick Cave. Duck into the second hand dealers and hunt for treasures. The shopkeeper in one store told me that even though Warracknabeal doesn’t have its own silo, the trail has worked its magic on local businesses.
“Since the first silo art went up in Brim five years ago, my little bed and breakfast has gone from 25% occupancy to 100%” he said.
Next is Brim, to see Victoria’s first silo art, then onto Rosebery where Melbourne artist Kaff-eine painted two farmers decked out in cowboy boots and an Akubra hat. If you need a sugar hit, stop off at Mallee Sunsets Gallery for an ice cream loaded iced coffee. Just don’t expect much on the gallery side of things!
Hungry yet? Both Bow Bakery and J&C Wellington Butchers and Cafe in Hopetoun come highly recommended but were closed when I rolled into town on a Sunday afternoon. The choices were limited to milk bars and the local pubs but you really can’t go wrong with a pub lunch, right? Otherwise you can hit the local IGA for some picnic supplies to enjoy a lunch on the grassy banks of Lake Lascelles.
Lascelles to Sea Lake (122 km)
In Lascelles, renowned Melbourne artist Rone painted a couple whose families have farmed the local lands for four generations. Right by the silo you can visit the Stockman's Hut Gallery, filled with quirky corrugated iron art.
If you’re going to do the Silo Art Trail, do the Silo Art Trail properly and see it all! I attempted to do the silos and drive home all in one day, which meant I had to cut out the northernmost silo at Patchewollock. If I did it again, I would definitely stay the night nearby so I could see the full trail, including the portrait of sheep and grain farmer “Noodle” painted by Fintan Magee.
Retrace your steps back to Sea Lake, and you'll find another rainbow bright silo. This one is by Drapl & The Zookeeper and it is one of the only silos that doesn't show a face. Instead we see a little girl swinging over Lake Tyrrell, with the lively night sky reflected in the water. The artists also painted several other colourful murals next to the playground on the main street.
If it's the right time of the year (usually in the winter time) Lake Tyrrell is a must visit. Victoria's largest salt lake, it forms a bubblegum pink salt crust when the water flows up. Back in town, check out the Skymirror Gallery which showcases some really stunning drone photography of Lake Tyrrell, the local area and beyond.
Sea Lake to St Arnaud (140 km)
The last leg is always the hardest. Make sure you grab a coffee in Sea Lake to stay alert on this long, straight stretch of road. From Sea Lake head down to Nullawil where there is a farmer with his trusted kelpie by his side, painted by Sam Bates, AKA Smug.
St Arnaud has the newest addition to the Silo Art Trail, so new that it hasn’t even made it onto the tourist map yet. Painted by sixth-generation St Arnaud local Kyle Torney, it shows three of the town’s pioneer residents. There are new projects in the works all across the area and right down to the Grampians but for now, this is our last stop.
If you’re feeling weary after your big day on the road, fortunately St Arnaud just so happens to be less than an hour from the beautiful Pyrenees wine region. Rest your eyes in a spectacularly converted church at Grayling’s Gift or one of many other gorgeous properties in the area. Bear in mind you may need to tack a couple of extra days onto your trip if you want to explore all the wineries between the Pyrenees and the Grampians.
We think you should know
The Weekender's travel guides are independently written by real travellers.
We do not receive any money from, or have a sponsorship arrangement with,
any of the entities listed in or referred to in this article.