The Western Australian country town of Merredin looks fairly average at first glance, the sort of place most travellers might stop for food and fuel before moving on. But it's far from average, and boasts a town tour that is surprisingly worthwhile.
I stumbled on this little gem while driving around the wheatbelt, a large agricultural region inland from the west coast. Previously I'd only used Merredin, 285km east of Perth, as a brief refreshment stop. Being the largest town for hundreds of kilometres makes it very suitable for that. This time, however, I stayed overnight to explore some of the natural attractions in the area. That's when I found out about the Snapshot Tour, a town tour run by "Discover the Wheatbelt" late afternoon every day for most of the year.
Normally I avoid organised tours, but as the cost was modest and it would only take up 90 minutes, there wasn't too much to lose. Curiosity got the better of me.
It didn't take long to see why this was going to be a good tour. The guy running it, Martin Morris, is a long time Merredin resident who not only knows the place inside out, but is passionate about it. Being a tour guide isn't just a job - he already has a day job. He leads tours because he enjoys showing off his town, and this enthusiasm makes the tour very engaging. On the surface, a country town's airstrip and wheat bins may not sound like the subjects of gripping tales, but the stories behind them, as told by Martin, are worth hearing.
The tour uses a comfortable small coach or van, and takes in points of interest in and around the town. Merredin's history is talked about, as you might expect, but it's the focus on the town's present that left the greatest impression on me. In particular, the way water is harvested and recycled in an arid climate. Examples of waste-water recycling were pointed out, which would otherwise be easy to not notice. The gathering of rainwater from granite outcrops, and the present fight against salinity, are other cases of Merredin's people adapting to their challenges.
In contrast to most inland Australian towns, which are slowly shrinking, Merredin is actually growing. The tour helps explain what is different about Merredin, and why the growth is not surprising. Martin's other role as a town councillor allows him to give insights into many of the town's innovations, and provides a source of many interesting stories about the town and its people.
I felt that the relatively small investment of time and money in doing this tour was well rewarded. Never again will I think of Merredin as just a toilet stop!
Discover The Wheatbelt tour