Tuesday, January 31, 2012

31 January 2012 - Shady Acres Caravan Park, Ballarat, Victoria

This evening the wind is still blowing and the temperature is still low. Chris and I are dressed in multiple layers and have shut ourselves up in the caravan, windows and door tightly shut, and yet on checking the thermometer, it is only down to 18 degrees. We have truly become soft! Or as Chris puts it, we have truly become acclimatised to warmer weather.

This morning we walked the six kilometres around Lake Wendouree, on the smooth level walking Steve Moneghetti Track. The namesake of this track is a famous Australian runner, gaining Olympic medals during the years 1988 through to 2000. He ran this track in 16 minutes and 10 seconds back in 1992; we took about one and a quarter hours to walk it this morning in the cold driving wind.

We lunched in a sheltered corner of the Botanic Gardens, then drove into the city, worked out how to pay the meter, the screen quite obscure and confusing. Once sorted we made our way to the University Post Office Gallery, only to find it closed on Tuesdays. Today is Tuesday.

At the Information Centre, we were directed to the Gallery on Sturt – Accent Framing where we enjoyed the current exhibition of works by Pro Hart. This proved to be a delightful surprise; our knowledge of his art had been limited to his earlier work such as that which illustrates the work of Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson, copies of which we carry in the caravan. Later works, in this century before he died was very different but just as pleasing.

We called at Coles on the way home, stocked up ready for the next leg of our journey to be taken the day after tomorrow and came on home.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

30 January 2012 - Shady Acres Caravan Park, Ballarat, Victoria

The fact that we have just gone and paid for a further two nights is evidence that this city has much to offer and we have yet to leave. We spent another busy day enjoying its attractions and have arrived home late in the afternoon just in time to put the meat loaf in the oven.

It rained during the night and was still drizzling when I woke. I say “I”, because my other half had had a long hard night at the tennis at the Rod Laver Court in Melbourne, or more correctly sitting in front of our television watching the men’s tennis open finalists battle it out. I had gone to bed at the end of the first two sets and Chris, in his gentlemanly fashion, had put on his headphones so I was not disturbed by the grunts of the players. The result of all of this was that breakfast was late and we were later than usual getting out the door to start our touring.

We returned to the Art Gallery of Ballarat and took our own time wandering about the galleries guided around on Saturday. We also discovered just as many galleries beyond those already seen, full of more wonderful art. There is currently an exhibition of the works of Michael Shannon, an artist born in Kapunda, South Australia in 1927 who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the 1980’s but continued to practice his brilliant skills until his death in 1993. The work covers the whole of his career and includes cityscapes, portraits and landscapes; all absolutely wonderful. The additional galleries also include works titled “Next Gen 2012: VCE Art & Design”, an exhibition that makes me realise that I am getting old and stuffy after all.

It had been known to us on Saturday that the relatively new curator had a penchant for moving artworks around, which served to confuse the volunteer guides, and today we discovered for ourselves that he (or she) is a strong advocate for manmade climate change. So much of the commentary was twisted about to suggest the artist was drawing attention to the environmental calamities in transit and to be revealed to us in the early 21st century. Both Chris and I agreed that this was beyond their brief.

There were still the occasional showers when we emerged, and we did not dare leave our paid car park space, so ate our lunch in the land cruiser before venturing out into the streets again to enjoy the wonderful architecture of the city, particularly in Lydiard Street, most already complete by 1860 defining the enormous wealth generated by the rich gold discoveries. We explored the Mechanic’s Institute which still today operates as an alternative library, enjoyed by those who pay the required subscription. This Institute started in 1859, like all such places, was built to provide working men with a chance to improve their work skills and general education. Today it houses an impressive collection of old local newspapers, old and new books and other historic collections.

Apart from enjoying these old edifices, we also explored the central city shopping precincts, the Bridge Mall Shopping Centre and Central Square. As we emerged from this latter centre, the Ballarat Carillon struck three and went on to play the most delightful aire, The Blue Bells of Scotland. This amazing apparatus was initially installed way back in 1869 however never sounded right and it was not until 1982, over a hundred years later, they remedied the situation and the public have been treated to this wonder ever since.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

29 January 2012 - Shady Acres Caravan Park, Ballarat, Victoria

The morning was spent returning the caravan to a pristine state, almost as it looked one year ago except for a couple of tiny worn marks on the leather upholstery. Chris drew on his skills as a professional painter to undertake nearly all the cleaning; I drew on my experience as an appreciator of his efforts. I was worn out by lunch time, he not so. It would have been easy to have spent the rest of the day sitting about camp unmotivated to go out and explore.

We decided however to set off for the Eureka Stockade if nothing more, this one of the jewels in Ballarat’s historical tourist attractions. And so here is a quick run-down of the local history, again:

The first non-indigenous settlers in the Ballarat district were a co-operative party of squatters from Geelong, who arrived in 1837 seeking grazing land for sheep. Within the year, there were several pastoralists in the area who had taken up runs. By 1846, there were five million sheep in the Port Philip area, now known as Victoria.

As I have already written, gold was discovered here in 1851, and between that year and 1854, the population on the diggings rose from 6,000 to 25,000, and the area became a sea of tents and rough dwellings. Even in the beginning with the huge avalanche of arrivals, the need for law and order was paramount, and so the government settled on the idea of a licence fee which would in theory, cover the cost of administering the goldfields, and also as a deterrent to those considering leaving their jobs in other parts of the colony to join the mad rush. In October 1854, it was set at thirty shillings, more than a week’s wage and payable whether the digger found gold or not. The goldfields police were ruthless in enforcing this, thus creating much ill feeling.

Within a month, the miners had had enough, met and agreed to action; they met at Bakery Hill in Ballarat, burnt their licences and raised the Eureka Flag (the ragged remnants of which are now kept in a “shrine” in the Art Gallery, in much the same way the original documented Treaty of Waitangi is) in protest at the unfair conditions.

For protection, the miners barricaded themselves into a hastily erected stockade armed with a few guns and pikes. But 300 soldiers and troopers attacked the stockade on 3 December, killing twenty eight miners and wounding many more; a massacre. There was of course public outrage  and so this was the beginning of a more democratic legislative assembly in Victoria. The Eureka Rebellion was the birth of democracy in Australia.

By 1855, Ballarat’s alluvial gold was all mined out and efforts turned to digging for deep leads. Diggers worked in more co-operative groups or small companies were formed to undertake the purchase of mining machinery and operate on a more industrial level. However many of those same diggers remained working away, and among them were large groups of Chinese referred to in earlier blogs, who had trudged up from South Australia. They were treated abominably, expected to pay much more than their European colleagues and in 1858 had their own modest rebellion. With faith in the changes that the Eureka Rebellion had brought, they petitioned the government and were successful. This is well documented at the Sovereign Hill Mine we visited yesterday.

The town grew and grew about the mining activity in the east, with a new well planned town planned in the west, this latter with wide streets and grand public buildings. Just as occurred later in Mount Isa, there was great rivalry between the settlement that had grown up haphazardly around the mine and the more formal administrative centre. Over the intervening years the two parts of Ballarat merged and embraced the fine architecture that was born out of this rivalry.

But getting back to our pilgrimage to the Eureka Stockade; there is little there now but an aged pile of concrete, the names of those who were massacred and four old graffitied cannons pointing to the four corners of the earth. Given the significance of the event, we were rather disappointed. Fortunately, we had read in a tourist publication that the construction going on down in the corner is the “Australian Centre for Democracy @ Eureka”, an $11 million “redevelopment” due to open in July 2012, so obviously there was something here more than this tired memorial, and again we are either too early or too late.

Now quite recovered from my morning’s efforts, we decided to drive to the Botanic Gardens at Lake Esmond, just around the road. Here we discovered an old deep clay pit filled with murky water, well-populated by water fowl, and the odd fisherman who was more intent on escaping the heat of home rather than honestly expecting to find anything on the end of his line. We walked about the lake, along the dusty scrub lined path, glad for the exercise but otherwise not greatly impressed, and decided that we would do better by driving across town to the city’s official Botanic Gardens beside Lake Wendouree.

Lake Wendouree is an artificial lake, the result of damming a natural wetlands in 1851, for recreational purposes. Today there was much activity by way of a rowing competition, reminiscent of that seen at Geelong just days ago. Right there, at the race start point is an Olympic Rings monument, a reminder that the Lake hosted the rowing, kayaking and canoeing events during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Obviously there was water in the lake that year, because there have been numerous occasions when the water has dried up, as it did in the more recent drought years from 2006 to 2011.  

Bordering the lake along the western shore are extensive parklands, forty acres in total, divided up into areas simply to provide shaded picnic and playgrounds, and a large area gazetted in 1857 as Botanical Gardens. There is an avenue of Mammoth Sequoias, thus called because their lower branches straggle scruffily ground wards like the great horns of mammoth, which of course we are all so familiar with, glasshouses full of fuchsias, geraniums and hydrangeas, an avenue of bronze busts of all Australian past prime ministers (with a gravel space ready for Julia’s when she falls off her perch) and a mass of other trees and plants one would expect in such a formal garden. We enjoyed wandering about in the shade before heading back through the quite Sunday streets, pausing to enjoy sundaes at our favourite restaurant, before coming home and touching base with my parents on Skype.

28 January 2012 - Shady Acres Caravan Park, Ballarat, Victoria

Here it is almost 8 pm and the sun is still shining and warm at about 28 degrees. Very nice! We have had an excellent day taking in one of Ballarat’s main attractions, Sovereign Hill.

Scenes at Sovereign Hill
This purpose built gold town has been re-constructed on the site of gold mining during the rush times of the 1850’s, details copied from drawings and paintings of the day, and today given life by the many staff and volunteers who move about the place either as guides or decoration to add authenticity. The tourist park covers twenty five hectares and we were warned to put aside five hours to take it all in.

We were there soon after opening time at 10 am and seemed to be on the go all day, exiting briefly for lunch, and managing to squeeze in a rushed visit to the Gold Museum on the hill across the road, all included in the ticket price, finally calling it a day soon after 4 pm. And speaking of ticket price, it is quite expensive (for us even with one discounted Senior entry, over $70, and Family tickets over $100) however it is absolutely worth it! Obviously everyone else thought the same, because it was packed with Australian and foreign tourists alike.

The diggings were busy with people panning for gold with their equipment (cost of gold added dirt additional to ticket price) and the Chinese tent town was just marvellous with much audio and film input, adding authenticity and keeping us for some time. It was here that Chris’s services were required to assist one of the staff shepherd a stray chook into its house, a spectacle I failed to document on film. We joined a tour that took us down into the Red Hill Mine where again we were caught up in the realism of the confinement, a water leak bursting through and the excitement of a huge gold nugget, The Welcome, found while we shared the fetid atmosphere and frustration of digging for elusive gold. Actually this particular experience was quite frightening, particularly for me who does not like dark enclosed spaces, especially when I believe I am about to be drowned as well!

We watched the smelter of $161,000 worth of gold from a crucible into an ingot and the making of musk flavoured toffee, both using methods that were in place 150 years ago. There were horse drawn cart rides, buskers, bakeries and pubs selling authentic food and drink, a draper selling all that drapers used to sell, saddlers and ironmongers making and selling their wares. We sat at a school desk and wrote lines with an old nib pen and ink, and were marked by the teacher; Chris with Good and mine, Very Good. We wandered through houses of the time, one occupied by an elderly couple dressed in their Sunday best, she knitting and him keen to discuss building techniques of the time. We watched soldiers march up the street, boasting their prowess and firing their guns to impress. It really was all quite wonderful; the above does not do it all justice.

I am however absolutely exhausted and so will put this aside to recuperate for the next instalment of Ballarat’s beautiful attractions. We have booked a further two days and may even extend further.

Friday, January 27, 2012

27 January 2012 - Shady Acres Caravan Park, Ballarat, Victoria

We were not sorry to leave Riverglen Holiday Park this morning, especially after it becoming so very congested yesterday afternoon. Happily the hi-di-hi caravan club group did quieten down relatively early and were all in top form to farewell us this morning. We would not recommend that camp to anyone, however in all fairness we have used far worse in our year of travels.

The road toward Melbourne took us away from Geelong, and then we turned north west toward Ballarat, once more confounding those who are waiting in Melbourne for us to call for a cuppa or more. I had set the Tomtom for Gheringhap, concerned correctly that we might well miss its existence if we were not alerted as we shot by. It was here not much more than ten kilometres past the modern city boundary of Geelong that my great great grandmother Emma Lake was born in 1859. 

Looking at this place today that has only the remnants of a railway station and a rural homestead, one does wonder where exactly her mother gave birth to her, and what they were doing there. Her parents had immigrated to Australia in 1862, and in 1856 her father was working as a carter out of North Geelong. Perhaps the family had gone along for a jaunt in the cart and Emma decided to arrive at an inconvenient time? There are so many unanswered questions in my genealogical research; however I do now know where Gheringhap is. I also had noted that there was a Perrett Road on the Bellarine Peninsula, and it seems that Charles and Louisa Lake had come out with the support, perhaps only moral, of Louisa’s family, the Perretts. So perhaps we have a road named after our family after all?

We arrived in Ballarat and were set up in our camp here on the eastern side of the city by lunch time. Shady Acres was chosen because it is a CMCA Friendly camp and with the member discount we are paying just $25.10 per night, a far cry from the rip off prices along the southern coast. You may well object to this comparison, given that we are now well inland, however peak prices are peak prices all over and anything much under $40 at the moment seems like a gift! Perhaps we shall have to spend next January in New Zealand?

The camp here is five kilometres from the city centre, has many gums for shade and dropping unwanted branches, has large sites, excellent television reception, is a little jaded but absolutely spotless. We are very happy with our choice and at this stage would thoroughly recommend it.

After lunch we drove back into the city centre, heading for the Information Centre when we saw the Art Gallery. We popped in to check out opening times, and found ourselves just in time to join a free guided tour. What a wonderful gallery it is! We drifted around the many galleries with the guide for about an hour and a quarter, stayed a little while afterwards and decided that we needed at least another half day to do it all justice. Across the street at the Information Centre, we found an eager young assistant offering answers to all our questions and complained that we would not be able to see everything within the two days we had set aside for Ballarat. Obviously we will have to book at least another two nights beyond the two already paid for.

The short distance walked up through the city to the gallery and Information Centre from the car park we found gave us a taste of the beautiful architecture of this lovely city. With a population of 96,000 or more, it is a significant centre. Gold was discovered here in 1851, and the Rush was on. In fact, when one thinks about the Australian Goldrush, Bendigo and Ballarat are the two places that leap to mind before any others. I read today that one in four Australians can trace their origins to the goldfields, and that I can well believe; I am sure all of my own ancestors who came through Australia were drawn by the wealth that was to be generated either directly or indirectly from the discovery of gold.

By 1860, just nine years after the discovery, Ballarat’s streets were lined with some of the finest buildings in the colony and they still stand proudly today. We are looking forward to learning more about Ballarat, its history and its natural attractions. I actually don’t think that four days will do it!  

This morning I thought about yesterday, Australia Day, a big celebration here in this country. Last year we had been in the country just a few days when this was celebrated and we were staying in the south of Brisbane. We drove down to the Gold Coast and then spent the next few days still in the Brisbane area. We were amazed at the frenzy of patriotism exhibited; flags on cars and houses, hats, shirts and other apparel designed with the flag as the centre piece and the absolute wild festivity. This year, here in Victoria, everything is much more subdued, a matter I have particularly noticed since warning the French tourists the other day to be prepared for this hysteria. It just has not happened the same. Chris and I have discussed this and now believe that last year’s exhibitionism was an escape valve for the Queenslanders after having gone through so much grief with the floods of the preceding six weeks. Or maybe Victorians are simply far more conservative and discreet, even if no less patriotic?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

26 January 2012 - Riverglen Holiday Park, Geelong, Victoria

I asked Chris last night whether it is the done thing to wish people “Happy Australia Day!”. It seems not, however everyone about has been enjoying the national holiday even without such greeting. In fact as I start this, there is a large group of happy Melbourne caravan campers grouped around rally style who sound like they might party on into the night despite their advanced years.

We headed out of the park at about 9.30 this morning, heading east on to the Bellarine (said “Bella-rhine”) Peninsula as did many others. Our first port of call was Clifton Springs, a seaside settlement on Corio Bay, which seems to be home to conservative older folk  and offering an excellent boat ramp.

Just up the road, inland is the rural settlement of Drysdale, which has apparently been the centre of a successful horse racing industry for many years. We saw no evidence of this but did note the many vineyards that had sprung up among the beef holdings. The land here and right across the peninsula is more or less flat, and obviously relatively fertile, thus is lending itself to any growing project that a landholder should care to undertake.

North east of Drysdale, Portarlington boasts the largest holiday resort in the Southern Hemisphere, bearing in mind the term “holiday resort” in this context means “camping ground”. I do think this is a big stretch, however will concede that there were a whole lot of caravans and tents along the waterfront camping ground. From the main street which is quite elevated from the beach front, there are lovely views across Port Philip Bay, but even if there had been no haze, I suspect that Melbourne is still too distant for even a glimpse.

Port Philip Bay is a very extensive mass of water, almost an inland sea, and it is quite a wonder that it sits almost hidden inside the small channel between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean, undiscovered until 1802.

After walking up and down the business part of the main street, and watching a flock of corellas wheel crazily from one group of trees to another, as they love to do, we resumed our trip and drove on to Indented Head.

What a strange name for this lovely seaside settlement along the beach, popular for fishermen and families alike. Indented Heads runs straight into St Leonards, and here we stopped and we walked along the shore, noting the wreck of an old paddle steamer which is one of two deliberately sunk to provide safe anchorage for smaller boats, just off shore and high enough to act as a temporary roost for resting seagulls. We wandered up the busy little street, enjoying the harmony of two Aboriginal buskers and bought decadent jam donuts to complement our cut lunch.

It was here Chris sailed his de Havilland Gypsy single masted single sail 11 foot dinghy, out into the Bay, around the large buoy still sitting there after all these years, but no longer home to the great big sea lion that roared at him all those years ago. In fact many of the places we visited today were past destinations for Chris and his little family thirty or so years ago, and many happy memories were to the fore today.

On we drove to Queenscliff, a much larger and older settlement, once The Place for Melbourne holiday makers to catch the steamer down to, to stay and take in the sea air. Here are many historic buildings, remnants of that grander life spanning the years from when the initial grazing lease expired in 1853 and the town was carved up until the economic downturn of the 1890s. There has been little new construction, except for much newer housing further from the centre, since the 1920s, so today it really was quite lovely, packed with half Geelong’s population all enjoying the festivities, no doubt reminiscent of the times when up to 2,000 a day would commute down from the State’s capital on the train or the boat.

We found a table on the banks high above the channel, and watched an absolutely huge cargo vessel piloted through “the Rip”. Our posse was just down the street from the Queenscliff Fort, a great big imposing construction, started in 1860 and particularly important in the 1880s when we Australasians were sure the Russians were coming. It remained in operation as a fortress, protecting the Bay from any possible invasion, until right up to 1946 when it became only a training station for naval cadets, a role it still plays today.

Queenscliff sits out at the end of a narrow spit of land, reaching across toward Point Nepean, and one can catch the ferry across to Sorrento on the hour. If you were travelling from west to east, this ferry trip would cut many hours or even days, if you travelled as slowly as us, from your trip. However we  stayed with the decision to make our way down to Sorrento and Portsea on the other side when we eventually make our way to the east of Melbourne.

We drove on south west to Point Lonsdale, where the other half of Geelong’s population was swimming in the small bay. We chose instead to walk along the cliff edge, view the lighthouse and again gaze across the channel just three and a half kilometres distant. Here we learned that we were just 415 kilometres from Launceston in Tasmania, and sixty odd the other direction to Melbourne, which confirmed that the ferry ride from Melbourne to Tasmania is somewhat longer than across the Cook Strait and probably justifies the reported fare. This is a matter for consideration some time away yet.

Nine kilometres further east we came to the suburban like sprawl of Ocean Grove. The shopping centre for this spread-out settlement is quite small although does include a Coles supermarket, and so is fairly self-sufficient. By that I mean that one does not need to move out of town for services and provisions.

Here we were only kilometres from the mouth of the Barwon River, that which we walked alongside just yesterday back in Geelong. At Barwon Heads, the river is wide and a veritable playground for small yachts, the normal noisy water toys, fishermen and every other activity that holiday makers indulge in. But here, as with all the other settlements visited today, there was no pretension, in fact everything was quite old fashioned although I am sure the dishes served in the cafes and restaurants are as fancy and modern as anything served in the big smoke. Barwon Heads does have, by all accounts, an excellent golf course, and we did catch sight of the rather impressive club rooms in the distance, which would suggest there are some fancy people about after all. We managed to squeeze into a car park near the lookout and walked up onto the cliffs above the Bass Strait, and then looked back up river to see the buzz of activity. The wind was brisk, and it was little warmer than it had been at any time all day. Despite all that, I have caught the sun and will have to be more careful over the next few days.

We tossed up about returning to Torquay, which we had passed through without stopping on our way to Geelong, but then decided that the crowds were probably no less today and although we were not towing today, we would probably still struggle to get a car park within cooey of the township.

As we pulled into the camp, shocked to find every spot in our corner of the park jammed packed with caravans, we were met by a fellow camper who is here with his wife and three wee daughters. He had bad news for us; the old chap next to us had hit our awning as he pulled into the site. He, our “friend” and another had taken the awning down to allow this rather antiquated fellow park, and hoped that no damage had been done. Chris and I at once checked it out; while there is no visual damage, the canvas is not rolling as tightly as it did before. As Tony Abbot so famously said to the diggers who had lost their mate in Afghanistan, “Shit happens!”

Later when Chris was struggling to pull the awning pegs out of the firm ground, our new immediate neighbour came to offer advice; a widget jammed on the end of a power tool, but did not once mention or apologise for his having hit our caravan. I suspect he had genuinely forgotten. He really should have stayed at home!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

25 January 2012 - Riverglen Holiday Park, Geelong, Victoria

It took until nearly midday before the cloud burned off, but even then the temperature never went anywhere near thirty degrees. But by then we had been out and were home again for lunch.

We visited the Ford Discovery Centre this morning and given that I had left Chris to enjoy the motor museum in Birdwood preferring to wait in the landcruiser with my book, you may well wonder why I bothered with this one here in Geelong. Forever the optimist and understanding that the Ford factory here has been an integral part of Geelong’s history and social development, I had a different expectation to Chris. While I have to agree that this museum is nirvana for car fanatics or more specifically, Ford fans, I did actually enjoy over an hour here.

In 1923, a bigwig from Ford Canada came to Australia and drove his Model T from Brisbane to Melbourne, visiting most of the areas that had Ford agents, also doing side trips to Tasmania and South Australia. He reported back to his peers in Canada describing the distributors, the countryside, roads and economic conditions, finally recommending that Ford commence manufacturing in Geelong and other places in Australia. And so it was, with this Hubert French becoming the first Managing Director of Ford Australia. The first Model T rolled off the Geelong assembly line on 1 July 1925.

Ford’s development sparked a whole raft of development; a new wharf and railway siding, water supply and sewerage systems were improved, and new supplier companies such as Repco, Pilkingtons and Hendersons came to the area. This led to further employment and Geelong became a thriving industrial centre.

During the Second World War, with most of the men absent at the front, the Geelong women donned overalls and stepped in to take what had been male jobs, but instead of Ford cars, defence vehicles rolled off the line. When the men returned, those who were of a mind too, took their jobs back and the women retired meekly to their kitchens.

Today it is the Falcon range that is produced here in Australia, and the factory still employs about 6,000 people. The production has adjusted with the times; today the Geelong factory is an engine manufacturing and stamping plant, while Falcons are assembled at Broadmeadows in northern Melbourne closer to the port and a larger pool of workers. In fact this has been the case since 1959 which I guess is a fair while ago.

I was intrigued by several facts about the whole Ford business:

While Henry Ford invented his first motorised vehicle back in 1896, and subsequently started the Detroit Automobile Company and the Henry Ford Company, both those businesses fell flat on their faces for lack of capital. It was not until he started motor racing and raised money through that means, thus raising enough capital to start the Ford Motor Company, that success became a reality.

In 1908, Henry Ford unveiled his Model T, or Tin Lizzie. It could run on any fuel, even having been known to run on whisky at a pinch. It was simple, reliable, easy to drive and always black in America. Between 1908 and 1927 more than fifteen million Model Ts were sold. By the mid 1920s, half the cars in the world were Model Ts. One would have to acknowledge therefore that the Ford Motor Company was enormously successful, even if you are a Holden fan.

I am neither a Holden nor a Ford fanatic, simply a person who was surprised to have my attention held in what is mainly a male domain.

I was also quite taken by the floor dedicated to design and testing of vehicles. Did you know that they made the prototypes from clay? Amazingly realistic too. So there you go; there is my promotion of Geelong’s not-for-profit Ford Discovery Centre. Check it out!

After lunch, we drove our Toyota to the Kmart Tyre & Service centre just a couple of kilometres up the road, and left it there to be re-shod, while we walked down to the Barwon River. We sat for about quarter of an hour watching young people rowing on the river, many of whom I believe to be staying here at this caravan park. There is obviously some sort of regatta or summer school going on, or maybe it is all a big build up for Australia Day tomorrow?

We walked for an hour downstream and back, through groves of casuarinas, past the local golf club, enjoying the peace of the reserve, then returned in time to collect the vehicle with its shiny new black shoes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

24 January 2012 - Riverglen Holiday Park, Geelong, Victoria

Another very warm afternoon in Geelong beside the Barwon River. The thermometer hanging beside me says the temperature is just 34 degrees although it is feeling warmer than that.

We have enjoyed our day, even if it has turned out somewhat different to that planned. We set off into the middle of the city, or rather the Esplanade along the foreshore where we secured a car park within walking distance of the centre. At the Information Centre we were engaged in conversation by a lovely volunteer, who spent some time offering superfluous advice. From there we walked to the city’s Art Gallery where there is currently an excellent exhibition of work by Nicholas Chevalier, a Swiss artist born in Russia in 1828 who came to Australia initially to join his brother in the goldfields in 1854. He was captured by the Australian landscape (who would not be?) and soon engaged as an illustrator for the Melbourne newspaper and a landscape artist for private commissions, and of course to satisfy his own artistic drive. He was a friend and sometimes travelling companion of Eugene von Guerard whose work we saw in Ararat, and the scenes painted were frequently the same however Chevalier’s take on those scenes is far more luminous and cheerful, rather than the more serious work by his colleague. Chevalier documented the royal tour made by Queen Victoria’s oldest son, Alfred, quite candidly depicting scenes that both amuse and delight. Alfred subsequently introduced him to his mother, and Chevalier was appointed the court artist until illness forced retirement and he died in London in 1902.

He and von Guerard were the first artists to depict Australian landscapes as opposed to English ones commissioned to cure homesickness for the “old country”, so in many senses they were important pioneers in the Australian art world. I would be quite happy to have any of his work hanging on the wall if I had a wall to hang it on.

We walked up and down the main street of the city and up and down a couple of side ones, popped into the Scottish Restaurant for a coffee and were delighted to find that we were eligible for free coffee simply by flashing Chris’s Senior’s Card. To think of all the money we could have saved had we but known! Be sure we will remember to do so in future.

At the bottom of Moorabool Street, we walked about the waterfront, firstly visiting the replica 15th century Portuguese caravel, the Notorious, that is currently moored in prominent place for all to view from the wharf. This was built over nine years, by a Warrnambool cabinet maker who gathered used macrocarpa timber and spent only $20,000 on materials to put this vessel together. He and his sailing companions set off from Port Fairy the very morning we were there; we missed the departure by only a few hours. It is quite an accomplishment but I do wonder what toll it took on his family life. These things do by all accounts. His labour and lost income for all that time should also be considered.

From there we walked out to the end of the Cunningham Pier, which is in the style of the English piers, however the very end is totally occupied by a restaurant, then on eastwards along the foreshore returning to the landcruiser, within the parking time restrictions. At a pleasant little park further along where we chose to lunch, we met up with a couple of young French tourists who are travelling about in a combi-style campervan, on a shoestring. We swapped tour tales; offering more than they, as we are more qualified now to do so after a whole year. Finally we tore ourselves away, wishing each other safe travelling and great enjoyment, because that after all, is what it is all about.

Our appointment at Bob Janes Tyres was not until 4 pm and we still had a couple of hours up our sleeve, so we drove up to the Botanic Gardens, established way back in 1850, and walked about, which did not take very long; they are not very big. The gardens were alive with people rather than birds, or more specifically, alive with several busloads of Australian Greeks, mainly women and children, and some older men, all jabbering in that wonderful animated way that only Greeks (and probably Italians) can.

Chris turned his telephone on, having had it off to conserve his low battery, to find he had missed three calls, all from the same source. Bob Janes could not get the ordered tyres in until at least the middle of the week so could we reschedule? Well… no, actually, we were not intending to hang around Geelong.

What a dilemma! Staying at an overpriced caravan park, Australia Day falling in the middle of the week, needing new tyres…. We checked out Kmart Tyres, they who had quoted us a fair price, but whom we had dismissed for the more professional Bob Janes. They too could not get the Bridgestone tyres in this month, in fact probably not until March, but could offer others and could do the job tomorrow afternoon. So, problem solved; we will tour the Ballarine Pensinsula on Australia Day instead of tomorrow, and have booked a further two nights here.  

23 January 2012 - Riverglen Holiday Park, Geelong, Victoria

Exactly one year ago today, we flew from New Zealand to Australia to commence this amazing adventure. While it does not seem so long ago, I am also in awe of what we have done. We did not set off on the road until 1 February and so will leave it until then to record some of the statistics I consider so significant.

Today was set aside for practical matters and so when we finally rose and were ready for our day, with the eski packed with lunch and a list of to-dos drawn up, we firstly set out to call on half a dozen tyre dealers and hit them up for a complete re-shoe. Our decision was based on service attitudes rather than the lowest price as is so often the situation and we have all arranged for late tomorrow afternoon. This however did screw up the thought that we would deal with such practical matters today, explore the Ballarine Peninsula tomorrow and escape this overpriced caravan park the next day. We will have to humbly go cap in hand and book a further night, and worse still, given that the Family Parks discount only relates to the one upfront payment, pay the exorbitant peak time one night charge.

Today after calling in to half a dozen tyre dealers, we drove to the extent of the Eastern Beach foreshore and parked up at Limeburner’s Point, a rather desolate point obviously well patronised by those who launch their small fishing boats but otherwise by those who prefer to park up and drop their fast food litter. We found a rotunda no longer easily accessed by a pathway, full of a dusty pile of rubbish but with a wonderful view back over Corio Bay. A flock of seagulls lined up to fight over our measly scraps, and then left us in peace to contemplate the afternoon.

Geelong is a significant city of 172,000 people, the second largest city in Victoria and a modern seaport. The first Europeans set foot in Geelong in 1802; our well known Matthew Flinders and his cohorts. When in 1824 Hume and Howell arrived in Corio Bay on their overland expedition, the area was known by the local inhabitants as Jilong, hence the Europeanised name that stuck. European settlement started in the 1830s, grew through the 1850s gold rush days and subsequently expanded around the wool industry. More recently, since 1925, Ford has been an integral part of Geelong. Museums telling the stories of both wool and Ford are likely to be destinations tomorrow however the fitting of new tyres and the related safety issues around the land cruiser will take precedence.

We shopped at a nearby Coles, stocking up on provisions, visited the adjacent Liquorland to purchase wine to complement our rotisserie chicken, and have thus indulged. Of course anniversaries are wonderful excuses for indulgences, and we seem to be able to conjure up a number of them. The next is that relating to the day we actually set forth with this rig, into the relative unknown, on 1 February, and then in the months to come, that of when Chris and I were first an item, that we set up a house together, the date of our official and socially acceptable marriage, and so it goes on. I am sure if one thought hard enough, every day could be put down to some anniversary or another. But for us, every day is a celebration, a celebration of life and of our on-going compatibility. We would wish that upon every one of our family and friends, but then life is never quite so simple.

22 January 2012 - Riverglen Holiday Park, Geelong, Victoria

It was the rubbish truck that woke us this morning before 7 am which I thought totally out of order, however it did serve to get us going and on the road again soon after 9 am, heading eastwards along the coast. A grey sky painted the sea the same and the surf rolled in creating a rather wild seascape. The road continued on, winding its way around the steep sides above this rugged coast line, uninviting but spectacular, as we drove on past Wongarra, Kennett River where we might have otherwise stopped to walk the koala trail, Wye River, Separation Creek, Cumberland River, arriving finally at Lorne.

We pulled in to a parking spot down by the Information Centre and walked up through the town and back along the sea. Lorne may only have a population of about 1,000 but it surely must expand to 20,000 in peak holiday mode. They were either all on the street, in the cafes or on the beach today. You could not have swung a cat either on the beach or in the water. It reminded me of the beaches on the Gold Coast we visited almost a year ago; beach goers shoulder to shoulder; not our scene at all. And beyond all the swimmers and the lifeguards were dozens and dozens of wetsuit clad surfers doing their best to catch the waves. We stood on an elevated path and watched them for some time, before returning via the playground area below the main street.

Chris was here about thirty years ago and hardly recognised the place. We watched small children bounce on the trampolines set at ground level, while he recalled Larissa’s enthusiasm all those years ago; a small child delighting in every moment of the family holiday. However the trampolines seemed to be the only familiar sight.

It was still before midday so we drove on, the traffic now heavy, often pulling to one side to let others past. Few acknowledged our courtesy; another note to be made about Victorian drivers. Perhaps they view us with disdain; us with our Queensland plates and big caravan.

When we arrived at Aireys Inlet we pulled in below the Split Point Lighthouse, beside the sheltered inlet, a very pretty place to swim or walk had we been of a mind to. We left that to the many families who were doing so and ate our lunch watching the scene out the caravan window. By now the clouds had cleared and the sky and sea were both the correct shade of blue.

The traffic had built up even more by the time we pulled out, and the effort of finding a park for the rig at Anglesea or Torquay, was all too much, so we satisfied ourselves with a drive through, crawling behind the other masses on the road, some simply out Sunday driving and some heading home after holidaying along the Great Ocean Road.

We passed two ambulances and five police cars all heading in the opposite direction, evidently to the one situation. It was only much later checking out the local news that we ascertained the panic had related to one woman being drowned in an unpatrolled section of the coast at Urquarts Bay along with more than half a dozen who were pulled to safety. We did wonder how six police cars could justify the six to twelve policemen in a situation where so few required assistance. But then what would we know about the workings of lifeguard interaction with the police force?

It was still before 2.30 pm when we pulled up outside this caravan park, one we had selected because they are a Family Park and we are discount card carrying members and are fairly close to the city centre. We had checked their peak time charges on line, rather than rely on the books we have which are so often months out of date, and so we lined up at the counter to pay $37 per night less our 10% discount, still a rip off in our opinion. And so the sweet young thing behind the counter said, “That will be $39 a night, thank you”.

I do not need to relay the total conversation that followed, but the gist of it was, when we told her that we had the up-to-date price from the internet, and she said that the website was being updated and had been undergoing that transformation for a month, we left saying we would go think about it. Back in the caravan, we realised that this was probably as good as it was going to get, given it was still January, so we returned, told her that it was false advertising, recognised that she personally was not at fault and paid up.

The park is quite pleasant, and the temporary amenities are close and just lovely, but our site is rather narrow meaning that our awning is extending over the next empty site, which could be a problem. While I have excellent internet, Chris has lousy TV reception, mainly due to the many trees in the park, so we probably won’t be staying longer than the three days paid up front.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

21 January 2011 - Apollo Bay Cricket and Recreational Reserve, Victoria

The morning dawned overcast and cool but we guessed the cloud would burn off later on. We popped down to the town to buy the Weekend Australian, then turned and drove back west, covering road we had travelled yesterday as we arrived in Apollo Bay. Just ten kilometres or so back up the ridge above the bay, we turned northwards up Binns Road and travelled through steep country clad in tall stately gums, tree ferns seemingly identical to those that grown in New Zealand, and as we climbed higher, a greater density of beeches.
Posing in the Great Otway National Park

About thirty seven kilometres out of Apollo Bay, we came to the first of several Great Otway National Park must-dos, a stand of Californian Redwoods, Sequoia trees, planted back in 1939 along the banks of the Aire River. While there was no formal walking path here, the undergrowth was non-existent and so we wandered through the small forest, gazing skyward and marvelling at what magnificent trees they are.

Just up the road, we turned off to visit the Hopetoun Falls, on the same river. This involved a half hour walk to the foot of the falls which were indeed very pretty and worth the effort. They were originally known as the Aire River Falls, but in 1895, a gentleman named Hopetoun took a party for a picnic there, and everyone was so overcome by the spectacle and day out, they changed the name of the falls to recognise their hosts taste. There is still hope for us all yet!

The Beauchamp Falls are situated on a small creek that runs into the Aire River, and were our next destination. This hour long walk was advertised as being difficult, but was not. The path descended gently to the valley, through a softwood plantation  along a river lined with beautiful Mountain Ash, Myrtle Beech, Blackwoods and ferns. The land here was part of that offered for selection in 1884 to “people of small means”, but proved to be too challenging, and was abandoned, eventually to become part of this 103,000 hectares National Park. The falls were not hugely spectacular but the walk was again worth the time and effort of returning up the long track to the carpark.

Soon the road joined the more significant route that takes one through to Lavers Hill. We turned down past the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, a wonderful attraction for tourists who need to be entertained, and parked in the carpark ready to walk to the Triplets, a series of three waterfalls on Youngs Creek. We lunched, still huddled in our sweatshirts and caps, still hoping that the clouds close around us would lift, then set off for another hours exercise. This too was a delightful walk, much of it on metal “board-walks” and stairs, surrounded by the same wonderful vegetation. Toward the end of the loop walk, we passed the site of an old timber mill, the big boilers and some of the wagon stock still in evidence. These falls were the most spectacular; truly qualifying as a must-see.

We returned to the main road and travelled back east through Beech Forest, a small settlement pleasant but not enough to stop us, and continued onto Turtons Track, signs warning that there was ten kilometres of narrow winding road not suitable for caravans or trucks. Chris misread the sign; sure that it said “tortuous”, a rather apt mistake. It was such an incredibly beautiful piece of road although Chris was not able to enjoy the surrounding scenery to the same degree, extreme concentration required every inch of the way. It was interesting to note that there were gates either end of the road so there are obviously times when it is not deemed even safe for the likes of us to pass through.

The road north to Forrest was pleasant, passing through pine plantations and farm land, more rolling and arable than the abandoned southern slopes of the Otway Range. It had been suggested to us on Wednesday when we were out to dinner that a drive from Apollo Bay to Forrest was an essential part of the Otway / Great Ocean Road experience, and I must say that we had expected more of Forrest. There we found a well patronised brewery come restaurant, and a general store, manned by a reluctant proprietor keen to be rid of his business, from whom we purchased decadent chocolate ice-creams.

Lake Elizabeth lies to the east of Forrest, along a gravel loop we took. We parked and walked to the lake, a walk touted to be an hour one way. I think we did the return walk in that one hour, however only walked along the river bed, past a billabong, up over the landslide that dammed the river, and to the lake edge. There are apparently many platypus living in Lake Elizabeth, however we saw none. We looked also in the billalong for these little critters, but only saw hundreds of gum leaves falling like snow into the water, responsible for the brackish colour.

There is a rather amusing story about this lake; it is an accidental or case of geological evolution, which of course all landscapes are, but this within our lifetime rather than a millennium story. In late 1952, the heaviest rains for years caused a great slip to come down and blocked the East Barwon River. Remarkably the lake was not discovered until someone noticed the river had stopped flowing, and went to investigate.

The lake is very peaceful, tucked away and offers greater walks than we undertook, but the day was getting on and we were ready to head toward home. We drove on through more beautiful forest, along a loop back road, frightening hundreds of bright scarlet parrots out of the road side undergrowth and just missing a couple of black wallabys. We re-joined the main road we had taken to Forrest, but headed directly south, driving down the very steep ridges above Apollo Bay, arriving at the coast at Skenes Creek to the north east of our camp.

Back at camp we found that several tents had gone from our end of the camp, and that we now have an uninterrupted view of the river and the misty hills beyond. The clouds did finally lift in the ranges; at about two o’clock, and with that we enjoyed some warmer temperatures, but now just before dark falls, it is once again cooler and the weather for our onward journey tomorrow is anyone’s guess.

20 January 2011 - Apollo Bay Cricket and Recreational Reserve, Victoria

This council reserve has just set a new record for us; after travelling for one year less three days, it is the most expensive camping ground we have ever stayed in! At $40 per night for the two of us on an unpowered site, it takes the cake! Apparently it is the cheapest there is along this entire coast, so we are thankful we got away last night not paying anything and for now will not contemplate the future.

We discovered on departing the camp at Johanna Beach this morning that the camp was much more extensive than originally understood. In order to exit without everyone else having to strike camp before us, we drove further up the road and came upon several dozen camper trailers and tents, all well-established on flatter sites. It would seem however that there were no spare flat sites, so we had done the right thing staying where we did.

The road continued on through a mix of pine plantations, farmland and National Park for forty or so kilometres until we came down to Apollo Bay, a substantial seaside town nestled in the green foothills of the Otway Ranges. After confirming that this camp was the cheapest available, we back tracked just short of a kilometre from the town centre and checked in. We could have a powered site for one night, but we wanted to stay for two and so we booked this unpowered site. The camp is set on the banks of the gentle Barham River, and we are tucked at the back sheltered from wind and the morning sun.

After lunch we walked back down to the town, enjoying the views of the beach, the holidaying crowds and shopping for a newspaper and bread. It is a lovely place, confirmed by our fellow campers who come here year after year after year.

19 January 2011 - Johanna Beach, The Great Otway National Park, Victoria

Despite our late night and the over indulgence, we were up at a reasonable time, packed up and on the road to Warrnambool before the witching hour of 10 am. We had promised to call in and see Hilda once more on our way eastwards; she was keen to see our caravan for herself. Order was already restored from the revelries of the night before, and her son who normally sleeps the morning away, had roused himself to greet us as well. He and his mother oohed and aahed their way through the caravan which was rather nice for us, and then we had a last coffee before saying farewell. This was quite sad when one does not have a specific intention to come this way again. We said we hoped she would come and base herself at our place once we are settled back in New Zealand, but who is to say when that might be.

Once more we were off on the road, through the centre of the city and eastwards, marvelling at the extent of the place unseen until then. At Allandale where there is a very large dairy factory, we turned on to the Great Ocean Road and headed for the world famous rugged coastline of Victoria.

At Peterborough we stopped to buy a newspaper, and I pulled the computer out of the cupboard to pick up any emails, not sure how much internet coverage we would get over the next few days. This was not a good move, at least as far as setting the mood for the wonders ahead. While today was Chris’s and my wedding anniversary, something to be celebrated, there was not connubial bliss to be enjoyed by all those we keep in touch with. Our sadness and concern about the news received distracted us most of the day and will no doubt continue to for some time.

The coast road between Peterborough, a small settlement which could be missed in the blink of an eye, and Port Campbell which is not a whole lot bigger, is well marked with signs drawing tourists to the geological wonders along the way. There is the Bay of Islands, a sheltered bay of rocky outcrops which today were beautifully offset by the very blue sky and sea, followed by the Bay of Martyrs, The Grotto and London Bridge. Each site has good parking for buses, cars and long vehicles such as ourselves, with well-appointed paths and lookouts , and just as well because there were hundreds of people doing exactly as we were. The mass of fellow tourists, the pulling in and out of each spot and the photography brought to mind the Trafalgar tour we did through Europe, which of course has been again in my mind since meeting up with two travelling buddies from that trip.

The coast between Warrnambool and Lavers Hill is known as the Shipwreck Trail, and one of these occurred not too far beyond Port Campbell, when the Lock Ard ran aground in May 1878, just one day before they were due to anchor in Port Philip Bay after months at sea. There were only two survivors, washed ashore into the keyhole bay below the high red cliffs. Their story is told on interpretative boards and one can only marvel that there were any survivors at all.

The Twelve Apostles minus a few
Just a few kilometres east of here are the Twelve Apostles, world renowned and destination for even more tourists than those we were already travelling with. Chris was here twenty five years or more ago, however the facilities here are now very different. In 2001, a smart new Visitors Centre and an underpass under the Great Ocean Road, with lookouts and very safe barriers were constructed. Some of the rock pillars have crumbled as the sea continues to erode the coast away, however they are still spectacular and well deserving of the thousands of photos that surely must be taken daily.

It should be noted here that this Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest war memorial, having been hand built by returned World War I soldiers in honour of their fallen comrades. It was officially opened in 1932.
Views from Ocean Road

A little further east, the road turns inland and continues to climb all the way to Lavers Hill, another settlement that seems to be mainly made up of B&Bs. We turned south and drove down to Johanna Beach, which consists of a few holiday cottages dotted about scrubby hills and a National Park camping ground.  The extent of the camping ground is not immediately obvious, and because of that we parked in a corner, blocking precariously and commented on the very limited unlevel area earmarked by the powers that be for staying. A large rental motorhome parked across the track from us, equally sandwiched in between the many small tents perched on the slopes, and other campers later erected their tents immediately behind us, so close they must have cursed the sound of our water pump during the night.

We are parked in such a way to have views north through a farm fence frequented by superb blue wrens, across lands grazed by cattle, and a backdrop of forested hills. The camp is one of several on The Great Ocean Walk which I believe to be about ninety one kilometres long. We walked up to a lookout over the beach from where we could see many of our fellow campers down on the white sands or in the relatively gentle surf.

There is no detail as regards the charge for staying here and we have seen no ranger or evidence that one has been near the place for some days. It would seem therefore that this camp may well qualify as a free camp after all.

Tonight we are dining on canned meat and vegetable stew, potatoes, fresh vegetables all washed down with a bottle of Australian Chardonnay. And yet I am not particularly feeling like celebrating after all.

18 January 2011 - Koroit Tower Hill Caravan Park, Koroit, Victoria

Yesterday was a shocker for those who watch and wait for bush fires; the temperatures coupled with the very high winds were perfect ingredients for disaster. I am sure last night’s rain would have been very welcome. It started in the late evening, slow heavy drops steadily growing until there was no doubt; the rain had arrived as had the cooler temperatures with the winds from the south.

When we woke to the early alarm this morning, drizzle remained and the drab day was not at all welcoming. We drove into Warrnambool, arriving at the garage well before the scheduled time of 8.15 am. A driver took us into the city centre which was still deserted except for the keen cleriks tucked away in their offices and the cleaners still beavering away preparing for the shoppers. The library did not open until 9.30 am and the art gallery at 10 am, the latter being a pleasant surprise because the brochure I had picked up in the Information Centre suggested it would not open until tomorrow. Perhaps I had identified the wrong gallery?

So we walked back up the street and found the shiny new or renovated MacDonalds where we sat for more than an hour over a couple of cups of coffee, the local newspapers and calorie loaded muffins.

When we finally made our way back down to the Warrnambool Gallery, we were delighted to discover the treasures it held. It has several galleries and all were open, unlike the frequent experience of finding galleries in the throes of changing exhibitions.

The first was an exhibition by a Geelong based artist, Deborah Fisher, whose works exhibited drew inspiration from the shipwrecks along the local rugged coastline. There were explanatory notes telling stories about the various wrecks which I have to admit caught my fancy more than the artworks themselves. It was not so much that the talent was lacking; I simply was more intrigued by the history. Several of the paintings depicted King John I, a race horse who quite miraculously survived the wreck of The Champion, and went on to do what he did best, win races. Others depicted The Captain’s Dog, who survived the wreck of The Newfield, after his master had drowned and he had been marooned for weeks on board the remnants of the vessel. Most of the rest of the paintings were of objects cast adrift from the wrecked ships, as were of course, the dog and the horse. It was all the more poignant given the wreck of the Italian cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, in the Mediterranean just days ago.

The second exhibition that caught our fancy was one which grew in our appreciation the longer we spent studying it; the making Mary and Max, an animated film about a pen pal relationship between Australian Mary and a severely obese New Yorker with Asbergers, chronicling Mary’s journey from childhood to adulthood and Max’s from middle age to old age. The work here includes hundreds of props, the drawings, the plasticine characters, clips of the final movie and clips of the making of the film. Our first reaction was: some people have too much time on their hands, however as we continued our own journey through the development of the film, our next and final thought was: we have to get our hands on a copy of this!

A further exhibition of scenes of the Gellibrand Estuary by Judy Spafford did not hold our attention for long, however we both agreed her use of colour was wonderful. We drifted quickly on to see the other galleries filled with collections of both abstract and more classical works.

Three Trafalgar travellers: myself, Hilda & Gabrielle
It was well after 11 am when we emerged to find the day marginally improved and made our way back up the main street, mozzying about a few interesting shops and waiting for a call from the Toyota service people. Finally this came and they advised they would pick us up just after 12.45 so we returned to MacDonalds and topped up with even more yummy calories. The restaurant was packed out with school holiday tourists, as you would expect, and so we did not linger longer than necessary, not keen to stay and listen to children’s tantrums and ineffective parenting. Instead we hung about the street corner until our ride arrived.

The early afternoon was spent back watching tennis until it was time to ready ourselves for our dinner date at Hilda’s.

The evening was a great success, or at least from our point of view. It was lovely to see Gabrielle again and to meet her husband, Rob, who kept us entertained with stories from his long and varied life. The food was delicious, the wine went down rather well, the company was excellent and we could not fault our wonderful hostess. We returned to our camp before midnight but long after my normal bedtime.

Monday, January 16, 2012

17 January 2011 - Koroit Tower Hill Caravan Park, Koroit, Victoria

Great gusty northerlies have been buffeting us and everything about all day, however the temperatures have been over 36 degrees. The same winds and temperature are affecting performance on the tennis courts across at Melbourne; however there is apparently a change expected later today. This I am sure will be welcome to all.

We spent the earlier part of the morning washing the rig and the solar panel, doing laundry and our everyday chores, rescuing fellow camper’s towels and awnings from flying skyward, and it was not until nearly 11 am that we left the park for our day’s expedition, this time westwards to Port Fairy. This little seaside town is a stopover destination for most travellers such as ourselves, as they travel across the border in to Victoria and head for the Great Ocean Road. We had detoured north to take in the Grampians and the towns to the north east, and so would have missed this charming spot had we not made the effort to do a side trip today.

This historic village is set on the Moyne River as it enters Port Fairy Bay, within sight of Warrnambool and Tower Hill. The first European visitors were the Bass Strait sealers on hunting expeditions from Tasmania, who were not particularly good at keeping written records. It is known however that Captain Wishart in his cutter, the Fairy, became caught in a storm and found shelter here. He named the bay in honour of his ship.

News of this safe anchorage and fresh water source soon spread and a whaling station was established here. In 1835 one John Griffiths purchased the whaling station and the island at the river mouth now bears his name. Those that followed soon found the rich volcanic soil and brought sheep and cattle across from Tasmania, and thus began the agricultural industry of the region. The town itself was first named Belfast, after the birth place of one of those first settlers; however in 1887 the name was changed to Port Fairy.

It is interesting to consider this as a safe harbour; the southerly Antarctic winds blow straight into the bay and long seawalls have had to be constructed far out from the mouth to give a safe run in for sea craft. We witnessed some today, fighting the surf and winds and were glad we were not on board. But then, a little to the west, the shore directly facing the Southern Ocean is far more exposed and unfriendly as a launching place.

When we arrived in Port Fairy, we called into the Visitor Centre to establish where the public dump was, having brought our waste cassette with us (as one does!), dealt with that, and then returned to the centre of the village busy with holiday crowds. The streets were congested with tourists, families of four or five, with pushchairs and dogs, and it was quite an effort to make one’s way through. As well as this, the little cafes had outdoor tables and chairs jammed on the outer edge of the pavement; there was an atmosphere of holiday bedlam, and yet it also gave a wonderful vibrancy to the place. There are quite a few very lovely old buildings in the town (the old ANZ bank built in 1853 comes to mind) but the rest are a bit run down and shabby, and yet today with the milling colourful happy people, it did not matter.

Like Warrnambool, Port Fairy is a wonderful holiday destination and is a down to earth place, without pretentious glitz and glamour. It is not as smart as its neighbour; however it does not claim to be a rural and regional centre. What it does have to its credit however, is a very proactive business community set on making the most of the summer crowds. There is an endless (or rather month long) festival in town to keep the tourists entertained, happy and willing to dispense with their pennies. We spent half an hour or so watching a show put on by a couple of girls under the banner of Wild Action. When I later googled this I found it to be the brain child of Chris Humphry whose animal antics have been the subject of a series of television documentaries. The girl who did the presentation was just marvellous, an absolute natural with the kids, to whom the show was directed. While we watched she introduced to the spellbound children and us, a tawny frog-mouth, a very strange lumpy stubby tailed lizard, a crocodile of about 1.2 metres and a black headed python which reached her knees on both sides when she wrapped it scarf-like around her neck. This was all part for the free entertainment for the tourists; the children (and adults) enjoyed it greatly.

We drove to a park the sea side of the river and sat in shade still in the wind; even the thermos was at risk standing on the table. After lunch we walked across a footbridge and down the river, past the launching ramps and the wharf, across on to Griffiths Island and along the seawall to the mouth of the river. There were times I thought I would take off in the wind, or at least be lifted and dumped into the scrubby reserve. Apart from modesty factors, a skirt is not the most practical garment to wear in such windy conditions! Returning to the landcruiser, we then drove along the exposed southern coastline, past smart modern holiday homes, exposed to the elements and with views of a bare horizon. Below the low cliffs, lagoons sheltered by rocky reefs were full of families enjoying the sun and cooler water.

From here we drove back to camp, to watch more of the tennis and to catch up with emails. We will not bother with the awning again today, having put it away this morning. I am glad we did not head back on the road today as our immediate neighbour did. The wind would have made the towing quite hideous.