How to spend a weekend in Meeniyan

Travelling Well | Words and photos: Richard Cornish | Posted on 22 June 2019

From wineries to woodfired pizza, 48 hours will fly by in this South Gippsland stunner.

The Tarwin River winds its way around the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges that seem to fold into each other like a series of overlapping domes. By the banks of the river is a little town of weatherboard homes and mid-century shops straddling the main road. A median strip, planted out in petunias, kale and silverbeet, speaks volumes about the transformation of this traditional rural service town in the heart of Victoria’s dairy country into a tourist destination and arts hub. 

At its centre is the Meeniyan Town Hall. This unassuming 1930s cement-sheet shed, complete with sprung hardwood floor and naturally excellent acoustics, has hosted some of the biggest names in music over the past 20 years.

Martha Wainwright, Billy Bragg, Paul Kelly, Vince Jones, The Waifs, have all played here, says Ian Bevington, president of the Lyrebird Arts Council, a team of music-loving locals who have been bringing world-class talent to South Gippsland since 1999. 

The sun breaks through the clouds over the Strzelecki Ranges in Victorian town of Meeniyan

Take in the natural beauty of the Strzelecki Ranges after an afternoon enjoying the local food and wine.


“If you want to know the secret to our success,” reveals Ian, “we make people feel really welcome. We hire the best equipment and put on a show that is really world class, comparable to what’s being put on in Europe or New York.” Upcoming acts include The Go Betweens’ Robert Forster in July. 

It’s not just musicians who are making the pilgrimage to Meeniyan. Renowned wildflower artist Celia Rosser lives nearby, joining the growing ranks of South Gippsland artists. Many of them banded together in 2000 to buy a historic corner building to house the Meeniyan Art Gallery, a volunteer-run space that showcases works by local painters, print makers, ceramicists and other artists. 

“The region attracts a lot of creative types,” says local fibre artist Meg Viney, who explores the stringybark forests around her home, collecting leaves and grasses to make into paper she moulds around frameworks of fine branches. 

The local garlic festival held each February attracts more than 10,000 people.

“You can’t blame us,” she says. “The district is serenely beautiful. The hills, their curves and undulations, the gentleness of the country. The greenery.” 

That greenery has supported a thriving farming community since the towering bluegum forests were cleared for pasture at the end of the 19th century. 

“There used to be a cattle and pig market here on a Monday,” says cattle farmer David Meikle, who owns Tarwin Poll Hereford Stud and whose family has been in the area for generations; there’s even a Meikle Street in town. 

“In the 1950s, dairy farmers would sell their cream to the butter factory and then fatten the pigs with the leftover skim milk,” he says, as we wander the steep slopes of his 200-hectare farm. 

A paddock og cows grazing, with rolling green hills in the background in Victorian town of Meeniyan

South Gippsland’s green paddocks have supported a thriving farming community since the end of the 19th century.


David and his wife Ann have seen a lot of change over the years. The market has gone, the last train ran down the tracks almost 30 years ago and, of all the banks and pubs, just one of each remains. Beef and dairy farms are now joined by intensive horticulture such as native flowers, market gardens, small egg farms and garlic producers. 

There are now half a dozen garlic growers in the region, making Meeniyan the state’s garlic capital. The local garlic festival held each February attracts more than 10,000 people. 

Felicity Jones who runs The Meeniyan Store says locals are becoming more and more interested in what they eat. When she opened five years ago, she found it hard to stock her shelves with local products. Now the cafe and grocery store is laden with seasonal fruit and vegetables, honey, eggs, dairy, preserves, gin, beer and cosmetics that have all been grown and made in and around town. 

“The demand for locally made, ethical product keeps growing,” she says. “This spurs on a lot of young growers and makers to produce and sell their goods.” Many of them also frequent the Meeniyan Farmers Market held on the second Sunday of each month in the town square. 

From across the street comes the aroma of wood smoke and baking pizza. Trulli Pizzeria, run by Puglian native Francesco Laera, attracts up to 600 diners a day in summer, who flock here from the nearby beach enclaves of Venus Bay and Anderson’s Inlet for crisp pizzas and Puglian classics such as deep-fried salt cod and ricotta gnocchi. 

“These are the dishes I remember growing up with,” says Francesco. 

A young girl rides her bike along  a leafy path in Meeniyan

Grab your bike and head to the Great Southern Rail Trail.


Artefacts at the Brambuk national park laid out on a wooden table

Felicity Jones sells local products at the Meeniyan Store.


A close up of numerous bulbs of purple garlic

Meeniyan is Victoria’s garlic capital.


Meeniyan’s fine food pioneer was Marty Thomas from Moo’s at Meeniyan, who introduced city-style cafe food and service to the town nine years ago. Rather than competing for customers, Francesco and Marty have joined forces to open Meeniyan Pantry & Cellar, an upmarket deli selling great cheese and smallgoods, local and imported wines – to take away or enjoy at a table. 

The commercial kitchen makes ready-to-eat meals for the weekenders, such as pre-cooked porchetta and fresh pasta. 

“We’re lucky we’ve got such excellent produce to start with,” says Marty. “It is such fertile country!”

While you’re there

Wine time

Waratah Hills at nearby Fish Creek is a great example of a small, family-run winery producing quality cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir. Perched on a slope looking out to the Hoddle Ranges, the cellar door is the place to try wines including the blanc de noir sparkling. Small plates of food are available too. 

Rail trail

The Great Southern Rail Trail meanders some 72 kilometres through green rolling countryside from Leongatha to Port Welshpool. Leongatha to Meeniyan is just 16 kilometres, a pleasant short ride. Many riders make the most of the excellent food and accommodation offered along the route, turning the return trip into a very slow week-long holiday. 

Farm gate

From small stands offering a dozen eggs for a few dollars to sheds selling everything you need to feed the family, the roads around Meeniyan are dotted with farm gates. Some are seasonal but you’ll get some of the best, pure and unadulterated honey around at Blue Tree Honey Farm (120 Sweeneys Road, Dumbalk).

A woodfired pizza with tomato, cheese and prosciutto on a wooden board , with side dishes in the background

Treat yourself to a woodfired pizza from Trulli Pizzeria.


The facts

Don’t miss

The Meeniyan Garlic Festival is held each February. Come for garlic ice-cream, garlic beer, great food and wine plus cooking and gardening demonstrations.  


Where is it? 

140 kilometres southeast of Melbourne via the South Gippsland Highway or 70 kilometres south of Moe via the winding roads of the Strzelecki Ranges. 

 

Trivia

The town’s logo is a moon rising seen through the branches of a tree, and according to Bunce’s Language of the Aborigines of the Colony of Victoria, the word ‘meniyan’ means moon. 

 

Best time to visit?

Any time, but come in spring for the green hills and late summer for the bounty of fresh produce in the region.

 

Take home

Visit French bakehouse Pandesal Bakery to pick up a light-as-air French vanilla slices.