Garden growing

June 28, 2017

Cactus Country owner John Hall takes in the view.

The site of where the new amphitheatre will be.

John Hall has fond memories of growing up in a giant cactus garden, but now the Strathmerton man has some big ideas that stray beyond hosting tour groups or hiding in orange trees.

Cactus Country at Strathmerton has thousands of species on display, making it the largest collection of cacti in Australia.

Mr Hall spent much of his childhood roaming the seemingly endless cacti terrain, a project of his parents Jim and Julie, whose fascination with the plants expanded from inheriting a family cacti collection to creating a full-blown garden.

As a child, John would sometimes hide from his father in the property’s orange trees on days he wanted to avoid working on the garden, but now he’s not afraid of the hard yakka involved.

Weaving along the dirt track lined with rows and rows of towering cacti and desert-themed overhang, he says his family has started expanding the garden.

The family has already started digging out an area planned for an amphitheatre, which John hopes will seat a good amount of people and serve as a host for bands and food.

The place has already hosted a number of weddings and the Halls hope to develop a purpose-built function centre to hold about 200 to 300 people.

John and his parents have already bought an estimated 10000 plants to be based around the amphitheatre.

He hopes it will be an area where people go to watch the world go by.

‘‘This business started when the pokies were only in NSW, so we’d get quite a lot of people travel through here on their way up,’’ he said.

‘‘When Victoria got its own, a lot of the traffic stopped and there was a big dip in our numbers, so we had to focus more on farming.’’

Thanks to the internet and the magic of social media, John said the business had increased the traffic of people coming to the town, all in a bid to get a glimpse of the biggest cacti garden in Australia.

Cactus Country now has more than 24000 followers on Instagram, which John attributed to the support of websites such as The Urban List and Southern Country on the Murray, which had driven traffic to the page and, ultimately, to the town.

‘‘I think social media has played a big part in where we are at now, and without that who knows?’’ John said.

‘‘We average around 60 to 70 people a day and the majority of those have been day trippers from Melbourne who have seen all of these great pictures of our garden online and decided to come out.’’

According to official Murray Regional Tourism figures, the average spend of a domestic day trip to the region is $120 per person.

On the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, Cactus Country had more than 200 visitors, and 60 per cent of those were people from Melbourne as a result of social media.

Mr Hall said tourists were looking for something different to the norm and Cactus Country and the surrounding areas had huge potential to tap into the tourism market.

‘‘I really think what we have here is unique — not just Cactus Country, but the Barmah Forest, the paddlesteamer, farm stay experiences, the Murray with beautiful camping and views,’’ Mr Hall said.

‘‘I wish more tourism would come to the region because the more diversity we have, the more people will visit.’’

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