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Griffith, Regional New South Wales

Griffith, New South Wales

An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983


By Marco Stojanovik

Griffith is a major regional city in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA)  located 568 km (353 mi) south-west of Sydney and 512 km (318 mi) from Melbourne in the north-western part of the Riverina region of New South Wales, known commonly as the Australian food bowl. Griffith’s development is rooted in the early 20th century as part of the MIA scheme to control and divert the flow of local river and creek systems for the purpose of food production – and the city’s region has since been an abundant source of fruits, vegetables, and wine for the country. As such a strong food and wine culture persists today highly influenced by its large Italian population. Indeed, visitors to Griffith City can experience Australia’s own little piece of Italy.

Odyssey Traveller conducts a small group tour of Griffith City as part of our small group tour of Western New South Wales for mature and senior travellers. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, we move in small groups limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers. We journey around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura before travelling back East via Griffith. This article explore the history and culture of Griffith to assist your tour.

Griffith’s History and Culture

Griffith emerged out of the New South Wales State Government’s Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) scheme, a project to supply irrigation from the Murrumbidgee river in western New South Wales for farming.

Main irrigation channel at Griffith, NSW. 1989 / Willem Van Aken, CSIRO / CC BY 3.0

The town plan  is based on the 1914 design of the American architect Walter Burley Griffin. Griffin, a young and gifted architect from Chicago, had previously won the international design competition for the national capital at Canberra. When local architects brought Griffin to Australia to promote his concepts in 1913, he was also asked to undertake urban design of the towns of Leeton and Griffin.

Griffin had worked with the famous American architect Frank Llyod Wright from 1901-1905, taking influence from him. They both shared an interest in in ‘Spirt of Nature’, and the philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau. Patterns of nature inspired the built form, abstracted into geometric elements.

Griffin’s wife, Marion Griffon, was also working for Wright at the time Griffin won the Canberra competition, and had contributed to his design. Meanwhile, Wright himself was influenced in part by William Morris’ Arts and Crafts Movement (which features heavily in Adelaide’s architecture) emphasising the preservation of the natural qualities of materials.

Grffin’s design for Griffith consists of an unusual geometric pattern in the centre surrounded by a set of circular streets, with broad avenues radiating out in an octagonal arrangement. The streets were surveyed mostly to that plan and Griffin was officially declared a town on August 16, named after Arthur Hill Griffith, Minister for Public Works. Its central feature today remains a broad, attractive main street with a wide median strip and an impressive park.

Due to the irrigation channels and the regular supply of water through the hot summer months, an abundance of citrus fruits, stone fruits, vegetables, rice, wheat, cotton, and conola is grown in the surrounding area. Vineyards were also established early with wineries following suit, beginning with McWilliam’s Wines at Hanwood and Yenda, two villages just outside the city.

McWilliams Wines vineyards at Hanwood (near Griffith) NSW / Willem van Aken CSIRO / CC BY 3.0

The original farm grantees came from an extraordinary diversity of backgrounds and nationalities as  the MIA scheme was advertised extensively worldwide. Many Italians particularly migrated to Australia bringing backgrounds of small acreage farming, agricultural skills and a willingness to work hard.

Most found success in the area and by 1954 nearly half of all farms were Italian owned. A second wave of immigrant Italian workers came to Griffith in the late 1950s and early 1960s and today approximately 60% of Griffith’s population have Italian ancestors.

The Italian influence has helped to build a distinctive food and wine culture in Griffith, expanding the range of fruit and vegetables farmed and increasing the number of wineries to develop the area into the successful wine making region it is today. Wineries established by Italian migrants such as De Bortolli and Rosetto, amongst others, are now well known around Australia – and recently one of Australia’s best-known wine labels, Yellow Tail produced by Casella Family Brands, has also emerged out of the region. Be sure to visit one of the many wineries for exquisite wine tasting backdropped by breath-taking views of the region’s scenery.

Italian culture is also celebrated in the city with excellent cafes and restaurants that provide coffee and pasta that rival the best that Italy itself has to offer. In recent times Griffith’s multi-ethnic population has been further enriched by substantial populations of Tongans, Somoans, Afghanis, Indians, and Aborigines.

View over Griffith, NSW / Tim Keegan / CC BY-SA 2.0

Tour of Griffith

You can visit Bourke as part of our small group tour of Western New South Wales for mature and senior traveller. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, we move in small groups of limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers. We travel for 14 days from Dubbo around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura, before heading back East towards Dubbo via Griffith.

Gain an understanding and appreciation of the complexity and features of the Murray Darling Basin through some spectacular scenery. The program skirts around the edges of the “Aussie Outback”, but is not an outback adventure for the traveller. Whilst the Murray-Darling begins in Queensland, by the time the river system reaches New South Wales it represents one the most complex river systems in Australia against which modern agriculture has placed substantial stress. We see the historic and contemporary evidence of this in the lakes around Menindee. and the many landscape changes including the Mallee, observing and learning about the river woodland galleries, arid lands, saltbush plains, agriculture practices; as well as the mining and railway history of Southern Australia.

Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals.  For more information, click here.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Griffith and Western NSW: