Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Today is Leap Day and the sixteenth birthday of one of Chris’s oldest friends, he who Chris met when he first arrived in Australia over forty years ago, and subsequently first explored his adopted country with. Do the maths; 40 …16, such is the confusing aspect of Leap Years.  

We finally hit the Museum today after three weeks. A very slow commute in, held up by ridiculous safety barriers for little reason on the road, and just missing the train, all led to a rather late start. We also had to find an Office Works in the middle of the city and stand in a slow queue to have some printing done, before we could set out on trivial pursuits.

The museum is situated right next to the Royal Exhibition Centre within the formal Carlton Gardens. We spent some time wandering around these, enjoying the fountains, trees and wide pathways and taking in the wonderfully majestic building constructed just in time for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880-1881. This exhibition was in the style of the grand exhibition held in London in the Crystal Palace in the same era, and while this building is less wondrous than that which was subsequently destroyed by fire, it celebrated the 19th century prosperity and the limitless opportunities of life in gold-rich Victoria.

In fact it is the only major 19th century Palace of Industry exhibition building in the world to survive substantially intact. In 1888-89, the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition attracted two million visitors, and continues its role in modern times. Chris recalls that he attended his first caravan and camping show here. The idea of caravans and tents being displayed in such a fine building baffles me, especially when we peered in through the glass doors to admire the fabulous ceiling and the lovely timber floors. And after all that, I will add that we did not take opportunity of any tour through the building, deciding that our own observations were probably enough.

After lunch we entered the museum, a relatively new building, opened in 2000 in a very modern style and very different to that it stands next to. We spent nearly four hours there seeing little more than the section that explores the history of Melbourne itself. This is a brilliant exhibition and plainly captured our attention. We left with the knowledge that we will have to return yet again to see the rest. But will one more visit do it? Only time will tell.

We made an impetuous decision to alight from the tram when we reached the Parliament railway station, and were just in time to jump on the Sydenham train, all coinciding with half a million other commuters. We were squashed in like sardines; young and old, black and white, tourist and workers, but mostly young. Any possibility of getting to a seat had one been relinquished was thwarted by the crush of humanity.

The weather had remained dry all day although dark clouds remained all about, and tonight as I write this, the rain has started once again. There are severe rain warnings for most of NSW and the ACT, and a reminder to those in Victoria that they should not be too complacent. We consider ourselves fortunate measured against those who are in the thick of floods again.

28 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Today we ventured out in spite of the drizzle; sitting about for more than a day is not good for the soul, although I do accept there will come a time when we will have to reconcile ourselves to doing so.

We were buoyed by news received late last night via email that my parents had not only survived their days bobbing down the Clarence River in the South Island of New Zealand, but had one of the most amazing adventures of their life, gale force winds smashing their tent, sleeping out under the stars, paddling the wild water, all taken in their stride as only intrepid travellers in their eighties can do. This certainly puts our own adventures in perspective!

Our first stop in the city was the Information Centre where we replaced our excellent transport map which was disintegrating from overuse. The volunteer in the Centre was very helpful, friendly and most informative in response to several questions posed. We had narrowed our to-so list down to one page before deciding to book and pay for another week here at the Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park this morning, but now there are another half dozen attractions to be added to it. As I have said before, Melbourne is an amazing city, just full of tourist attractions and enough to keep one occupied for months!

With the weather as it was we next headed for the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (the other part of the National Art Gallery) housed in the buildings about Federation Square. We started with the ground floor where the Indigenous Galleries are. Here is the largest collection of Aboriginal art we have seen anywhere, hung on expansive walls in large spaces, so appropriate for this particular form of artwork. In my uneducated opinion, there is no great technical skill here, but it is the impression of colour and pattern that makes Aboriginal art stand out over and above any European abstract work. Note that I am referring here to the dot style painting not to that which emanates from the Hermansberg School.

We came upon the free afternoon tour soon after it had begun. Naturally we joined and tagged along, trailing along behind a charming Indian woman who was very interesting and gave us an excellent overview of the entire gallery.

After this energetic tour around three levels of the gallery, we retired for lunch in the shelter of the atrium of the square, before returning to explore the gallery for ourselves. This is of course just the over spill of the gallery in St Kilda Road, and it is here that most of the works attributed to Australian artists or those with Australian connections, are hung. There are wonderful works of art by many artists we have come upon elsewhere, colonial artists such as Eugene von Guerard and Louis Buvelot, those belonging to the Heidelberg School such as Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Rupert Bunny, then others like Hans Heysen, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, John Brack, and on and on. I continue to be astounded by the wealth of art that has been generated in this country. Some of the work by these artists is incorporated into the Joseph Brown Collection. He was yet another benefactor of the Art Gallery and gifted his substantial collection to the gallery on his death, some of his own work being amongst it.

There are currently a couple of special exhibitions on at this gallery; the first, Linda Jackson Bush Culture, which is a collection of wearable art designed and assembled from scratch by this woman over the decades from the 1970s through to the 1990s. She was a good friend of Jenny Kee whose knitting patterns of bold and bright colours I cherished back in those old days. The clothing on display is impractical and only suitable for the catwalk but very beautiful. The second was of photographs taken through the late 1870s and early 1880s titled Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes. Many of these photos were taken at the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station at the bidding of the Board of the Protection of Aborigines to document the life of those there.

It was late in the afternoon when we finally emerged to find no rain and crowds of people heading home as we were. But within sight of the railway station we remembered something the woman in the Information Centre had told us about that morning: "Go see Chloe in the Young & Jackson Pub on the corner." And so we did.

In 1875, a French artist by the name of Jules Lefebvre painted a nude, who has been immortalised as Chloe despite the model actually being Marie. The painting was purchased by a Melbourne citizen in 1883 and enjoyed fame and infamy for three whole weeks hung in the National Gallery of Victoria. Finally after an absolute uproar led by Presbyterian prudes, she was tucked away and forgotten until Messrs Young and Jackson purchased the painting in 1908 and gave her pride of place in their hotel. Given that women were not allowed into hotels, there was no matter of propriety to be considered. The drinkers could enjoy her state of undress as they swilled their beer with no fear of their wives or sisters complaining. The painting has, over the intervening years, become legendary. It is said that men about to head off to war would go into the bar to have a last drink with Chloe and then when and if they returned, catch up with her again. Today she hangs in an upstairs bar where one is obliged to buy a drink or order a meal in order to catch a glimpse of this lovely painting. We did neither, simply popped upstairs, checked her existence and left without real scrutiny of the true artistic merit of the painting. But we did go there.

We packed into the train, emerged at Sunshine and were swept along the station, through the tunnelled walkway and up to the street. The clouds were dark all about and the news suggests that there could well be flash flooding about but as night has fallen, no further rain has eventuated.

Monday, February 27, 2012

27 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Victoria

A storm passed through the night, quite concerning to us in the middle of the night once the distraction of television and each other’s companionable chatter ceased. Chris found himself outside at half past twelve installing the new awnings straps which did settle some of the wild noise.

At eight when we finally woke, the rain was still steady but no damage about. We had already resolved to sit the morning out in front of the television to watch the finale of the ALP leadership showdown. The political commentators certainly have made a meal out of this whole affair, floods and fires have palled in the shadow of this drama. We watched each blow, and listened to the commentators as the day unfolded.

The red head won hands down, and angrily stood in front of the media ready to mount her broom. Question time in parliament was a regurgitation of last week’s negativity; politics is a gladiatorial game and not for the faint hearted. Our dabbling around the edges in past lives seems very trivial when one watches the grand games of today. We can all now get on with business, and travel; the important matters of life.

And so the day has passed, inside, out of the rain; Chris venturing out to buy a newspaper and I only as far as the ablution block. It was the right sort of day to cook up a pot of bolognaise sauce and now as we settle for the evening, heavy rain has started again with thunder storms all about us.

We learned tonight on the news that four people were injured in accident with a tram at the very stop in Preston we were at yesterday. Perhaps we can be thankful for politics and the rain after all, keeping us out of the city today.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

26 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Thursday dawned fine yet again and we were soon on the road with a long list of parks and forests to ”do” but with little expectation of achieving much. We headed once more west, through Melton visited only days ago, but this time registering the importance of this town as the centre of harness racing. We had seen a rather strange sculpture at the Visitors Centre; a horse with what looked like an old fashioned film reel. The whole structure seemed to turn and we both thought that it might be some kind of weather vane. How wrong we were! It is a celebration of the harnessing industry, and there are numerous stables about the town along with a smart new trotting course; new in so far as it has been constructed since Chris was last here.

Just seventeen kilometres west of Melton is the town of Bacchus Marsh; the name has almost a Shakespearean ring. Last weekend we were accosted at the Sustainable Living Festival on the banks of the Yarra River by a couple of women handing out pamphlets asking that people petition the government to stop the planned coal mining in the area. According to them, Bacchus Marsh was the fruit and vegetable bowl of Melbourne and must not be sacrificed to mining. We were sympathetic and with limited knowledge of the whole business, took a pamphlet and promised to find out more.

On Thursday as we approached the town, driving down into an extensive valley carved out by the Lerderderg and Werribee Rivers, a veritable patchwork of orchards and market gardens, we remembered those women and I was, at that moment, right behind them.

Immediately off the motorway, and onto a long Avenue of Memory, an avenue of beautiful trees planted as a memorial to those who have lost their lives in the past wars, one could see the extensive area of tilled and planted lettuce gardens. Workers, well robed against the burning sun and wearing Chinese coolie hats, were wending their way along the rows of vegetables, red and green and every shade in between. Further research on Google and quizzing the locals in the Information Centre provided the following information:

Tripod Farms is a company started in 1990 by three third generation farmers by the name of Ruffo, with just fifteen acres in Bacchus Marsh employing just fifteen staff. Today they have the land here and that they have bought up next door, along with land in Boisdale (well to the east of Melbourne), a total of 850 acres, employ, in one manner or another, 250 people and are the largest lettuce growers in Australia. According to the gentleman in the Centre, the Chinese workers are brought in daily by the busload. When I asked whether there was ill-feeling by the locals about the importing of labour, he assured me there was not. He himself did not fancy getting up before sunrise and working every daylight hour at ground level.

The same informer told us that the coal mining story was certainly true. There had been coal mining at Bacchus Marsh in the past; the old mine was now used as a rubbish tip. The coal seam stretches from Bacchus Marsh right south to Geelong and now with new technology, the poorer quality coal can be transformed into a more lucrative product. Development is inevitable. I guess it depends whether the Ruffo brothers have any political clout.
Walking up the Lerderberg river bed

The Lerderderg State Park covers 20,180 hectares and the Gorge Road starts at the north eastern edge of Darley, now a suburb of Bacchus Marsh. The Lerderderg River has, over the millennium, cut a 300 metre deep gorge through sandstone and slate, something that is only evident by the shape of the land. This week the river was dry but for intermittent pools of water, still waiting for rain. We parked at the end of the road, at Mackenzie’s Flat Picnic Area and took the hour long walk up to Graham’s Dam and back. The track follows the river course through scrub and gums and seems so far from civilisation, that only the kookaburras and cockatoos can be heard. Unlike the muddy uninviting pool at MacKenzie’s Flat, Graham’s Dam is a deep clear pool that does invite the idea of a swim. Chris said it was not hot enough despite the over thirty degree temperature. I felt it was a little early in the day.

Actually I have lost my appetite for swimming, not that I was ever that keen to plunge into cold water for fun. Last year there was an outrageously un-politically correct television programme called “A Can of Worms”. One night the question came up about people urinating in public pools. Appallingly, more than half the people polled confessed that they had indeed done so and might well do so again. For me that was too much information, as it is no doubt for you right here, and it was the end of my desire to swim in public pools. However, in fairness, Graham’s Dam hardly qualifies as such.

We returned to Bacchus Marsh and lunched at a reserve near the aforementioned lettuce gardens. There is a walking and cycling path back to the centre of the town along the Lerderderg River from this spot which looked inviting, but there are only so many hours in one’s day.

From here I could see what appeared to be a lookout on the hill across the motorway, a place I wanted to be, and so we found our way to this point which turned out to be an adventure all on its own. This is not a “lookout”; it is the Ta Pinu Marian Centre with large gates suggesting a private property and one of great significance to the religious. Being faithless, but respectful, we hesitated before deciding to trespass anyway, and drove up around a collection of shrines to a tall large cross on the rocky outcrops overlooking Bacchus Marsh. The Stations of the Cross beautifully depicted in ornate plaster statues around the hill, a Shrine in honour of Our Lady – Ta Pinu, and a replica of the original chapel at Te Pinu Basilica on the island of Gozo, off Malta; all lay below us looking so out of place here in Australia. Construction was commenced in 2002 and by 2011, eight individual shrines had been built, by Catholics of Italian, Philippino, Slovenian, Portuguese, Spanish and Indian origin, to name a few. The place is covered in biblical texts and invitations to those of all faiths; we enjoyed the views, marvelled at the waste of money and left without offending anyone, apart from those who may be offended by this paragraph.

We drove about fifty kilometres south along the eastern side of the Brisbane Ranges, those we had seen from the west when we travelled from Geelong to Ballarat several weeks ago. We intended to do the Aniekie Gorge Walk, or at least part of this six kilometre return walk we had selected from the Park Notes.

The Brisbane Ranges National Park covers 7,718 hectares and had been beckoning us for some time. We put our walking boots back on, took a swig from our water bottle, and set off, only to find after a few hundred metres that the walk was closed due to recent storm damage. And so that was that.
Steiglitz's Courthouse

A further fifteen or so kilometres south and west across the lower section of the ranges brought us to Steiglitz, an almost ghost town, once bustling in the gold rush days of the 1850s and on. Apart from the few old dwellings about, still occupied, the beautifully restored courthouse is all that remains of the grander days. The town is set on a hillside amongst an open gum forest and is very pretty. Apparently even while the ground was being churned up for gold, it managed to retain a charm. We drove slowly about reading the interpretative signs and left, counting our visit to Steiglitz has having “done” the Brisbane Ranges.

The Bunjil Geoglyph
It was still not three o’clock so we drove a further forty or so kilometres south east, this time to the You Yangs Regional Park, granite peaks rising dramatically from the surrounding volcanic plains not unlike Hanging Rock. We drove up into the mountains and walked the 3.2 kilometres by way of 450 steps to the top of Flinders Peak, 340 metres above sea level. To avoid sounding too intrepid, I must confess that the road takes one two thirds up to the start of the walk, however with the temperature still in the mid-30s, it was quite an effort, and it was I, not Chris, who drove the final push for the top. He kept asking me if I wanted to stop, and I stubbornly said no, until I did crawl to the top of the lookout and told him I was too pooped to pose for any mountaineering photos. The exhaustion was short-lived, we descended without event pausing to admire the Bunjil Geoglyph. This is in the form of a Wedge-tailed eagle, created by the laying out of stones in that shape and is best viewed from high up as we were, or even better, from the air. It was created by the artist, Andrew Rogers in 2006 to commemorate the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. The eagle signifies the traditional Creator Spirit of the Wathaurong Aboriginal people.

We returned across the plains, apparently the third largest basalt plain in the world, through the pale gold grasslands, detouring to the shopping centre at Melton South. Here we stocked up on basic provisions and noted that our fellow shoppers did not seem to be enjoying the prosperity of Melbourne and would probably describe themselves as ‘battlers”.

The fine weather continued into the next day. We had exhausted our list of day trips, having squashed so much into the previous day, so we purchased another couple of week-long Metlink tickets at the Sunshine railway station and rode into the city once more on the rail.
Cook's cottage

We walked along Flinders Street in the bright sunshine, into the Treasury Gardens and then through to the lovely Fitzroy Gardens where Cook’s Cottage can be found. This is the real authentic cottage in which the parents of Captain James Cook lived, relocated all the way from Yorkshire, England. It has been lovingly restored and surrounded in vegetable and flower gardens of the time, and is manned by two council staff; one at the gate to take your money and the other in the information and tourist shop, both wearing costumes of the time and both relatively new Chinese Australians. We were glad we made the effort because apart from delighting in this heritage treasure, we found ourselves engaged in an interesting conversation with a Chinese tourist and we purchased a copy of the most excellent DVD we had viewed about Cook up in that marvellous museum in Cooktown in the north of Queensland  late last August.
The tourist spoke very good English and just as well, because he told us he was an English teacher in his city in the north east of China. His tour had also taken him across to New Zealand, a beautiful country he told us. How long had he stayed there? “Just three days.” We spoke of many things, but one of his major concerns was the three Chinese people at the gate of the park exercising, advertising the fact they were members of Falun Gong. He was embarrassed about the overt exhibition of their faith or practice, that this caused a great loss of face for other “good” Chinese. We assured him that this was not so, that we understood that these people were simply practising and publicising their own personal faith and that we did not see them as indicative of all Chinese. We also knew that they and their practices were frowned upon by the authorities in China although we were not sure why because it seemed to simply be a faith issue rather than a politically motivated matter. He was pleased to learn that we understood it so, and left far happier than he had been after entering the park. Hopefully he would pass that on to other Chinese tourists and there would be no further loss of face. Since then, I have googled Falun Gong, and have had no cause to change my opinion. Other than having a need to fix their own personal moral living codes to an order, they seem to aspire to the very best virtues of mankind.

We walked on through the lovely gardens and across to the MCG aka the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, Holy of Holy’s. This had been on Chris’s must-do-no-matter-what list and I suspected it was one of those attractions that would prove to be pleasantly satisfying for me also.
Chris enjoying his tour of the MCG

The MCG is home to the Melbourne Cricket Club, is the tenth largest stadium in the world, the largest cricket stadium in the world, hosts Aussie Rules games apart from cricket, has hosted Billy Graham Evangelist rallies, papal visits, concerts by the likes of Madonna and the Three Tenors, and was the centre-piece for the 1956 Olympic Games and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, to name but a few of its famous attributes.

Our tour guide for the day was an elderly member of the Club who holds the MCG in reverence as much as anyone can, and took us from the stands to the pitch, from the changing rooms to the members stands, the bars and restaurants to the staff canteen, pointing out improvements and alterations, decorations, quirks, the history from 1838 to date and gave answers to the hundred questions put by yours truly, her husband, four Pommie tourists and two Americans. It turned out that one of the Americans, a tall athletic black, was in fact a West Indian who had learned cricket soon after learning to walk, and was therefore more qualified in the ins and outs of the cricket game than any of us, apart from our esteemed guide. I was disappointed when our hour and a quarter tour came to an end, however we had paid for a combination of tour and museum, so there was more to come.

The National Sport Museum, located in the bowels of the MCG, is home to Australia’s finest collection of sporting heritage. Sport and I are not natural companions, however even I was not able to absorb and enjoy as much of this museum in the couple of hours left to us. It really is excellent, covers every aspect of sport, obviously celebrating Australians, has interactive displays where one can try one’s hand at archery, goal shooting, or the like. There is a very large section covering the history of AFL (Australian Football) which is especially a favourite with Melbournians. There are films of great moments in many different sports, and stories of development such as that about the skeleton racing contribution to the Olympics by Australians, a holographic presentation by Shane Warne, and so much more. If you are even slightly interested in sport, this museum will not disappoint. Our only complaint to the staff was that the pass should cover two days of admission because there was simply too much to absorb in one visit.

We walked back over the rail yards and along the river, the temperatures still at 35 degrees and unrelenting, and caught a later train than usual, meaning that our drive from Sunshine back to Rockbank was slow in clogged rush hour traffic.

Yesterday we lingered over breakfast, watching the further unfolding of the political drama between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, astounded at the character assassination that continues unabated. A marriage cannot survive such vitriol; how can a political caucus?

Finally we tore ourselves away and caught the train from Sunshine to the city, then the tram up to Lygon Street, the Italian heart of the city. The cafes were full of patrons, the patisseries were full of colourful macaroons and every other delicacy one could imagine. Lygon Street is wide, lined with lovely trees and devoid of tram lines which adds a quiet charm to this part of the city where so much of the air space is tangled with tramlines. It reminded me of Paris and Nice. Late in the morning, it was a kind of torture to wander past these wonderful places, the smell of coffee wafting out, the menus promising gastronomical delights. We continued on down past Argyle Square now called the Piazza Italia, hoping to find some sort of weekend gathering to entertain us. There was none, however we found a shady quiet niche to eat our lunch, far earlier than we should.

We caught the tram that took us down through the centre of the city, down St Kilda Road, turning down Fitzroy Street past Chris and Olga’s old hotel, along the Esplanade and Carlisle Street, then up Chapel Street. We alighted when we came to the business part and walked up the street which became steadily more crowded, busy with people, now in the middle of Prahran. The grunge of the lower shops staffed by tattooed assistants, housed in buildings in disrepair gave way to the smart shopping area of Chris’ memory. The shoppers changed in line with the upmarket shops and by the time we reached Toorak Road, I was feeling somewhat grungy myself.

We walked a little way along Toorak Street, then caught the tram for some distance through the lovely streets, lined with trees and the smart houses of the affluent, until we finally reached Malvern, and remained on the tram as it returned on the same line, right through to Flinders Street station. On board we found ourselves engaged in conversation with several people including a fair middle aged Australian wearing white knickerbockers and a portly belly who told us two jokes without invitation before disembarking. With a population of four and a half million, there are bound to be some strange characters.

We checked out Federation Square for any activity, but there were only people on the deck chairs facing an empty stage, so we took the train back to Sunshine. There, as in the morning, there was a great line of busses for transporting passengers travelling beyond Sunshine toward Sydenham. The line is currently shut for electrical work; however this does not affect us.

On the way home, we detoured into Caroline Springs, the suburb that has sprung up between Deer Park and the countryside in Chris’s absence. In fact development of this well planned town only began in 1999 and it has all the hallmarks of a complete artificial modern town. We drove around and decided we really liked it, despite it being so new and shiny.

The weather report for today was for late showers which was hard to believe for most of the day light hours. It was only in the late afternoon long after we arrived back at camp that the clouds rolled over suggesting that the rain promised for tomorrow might actually eventuate. Soon after dark, the rain began and now as I write this, thunder rolls around and the wind and rain threatens to flatten the caravan.

It was because of the morning winds that we drove through to Braybrook, still on the road to Melbourne but closer in than Sunshine, in search of the nearest BCF Store. There we found what we were looking for; another set of flapper straps for the awning to supplement the four we already have attached. Alas, Chris did not get an opportunity to attach these latest ones before the storm set in.

There is a big new hardware chain here in Australia, Masters, American and part of the Woolworths group. We have noted its existence here and there, more often than not, close to Bunnings, their greatest competitor. We were keen to investigate for ourselves, and so this morning had that very opportunity.

There is a great similarity to Bunnings, with the staff in blue aprons instead of their competitors red and green, there at the door to greet and advise, and then act as security when you leave, and about in all the aisles ready to assist. The displays are slightly more upmarket than those in Bunnings, but still retaining a warehouse feel, which is where they differ from the Mitre 10s and the like. Chris, as a retired tradesman, declared that he preferred Bunnings over Masters, however in fairness, this decision was arrived at after a visit to only one of Masters’ stores.

We drove on to Footscray, a suburb revisited on our first arrival, but this time entering the business centre. We wondered whether we had arrived in Hanoi; the store names are nearly all Vietnamese. This was a surprise to both of us, but further research again tells us that since the 1980s Footscray has been the major resettlement place for Vietnamese refugees and migrants. (I did feel quite tall waiting at the railway station.) We left the vehicle here in the station car park and hoped that we would remember that it was here, not in Sunshine, as has been our habit.

After arriving in the city once more, we caught the tram up Swanston Street, walking through to Lygon Street, where we had been yesterday. The Piazza Italia was as quiet as yesterday despite our hopes that there may have been some community event going on. We lunched in the same place as yesterday and then wandered on up through this Italian restaurant precinct. Having eaten already, we were able to decline the many invitations by maitre d’s into their restaurants. A crowd up a side street caught our attention and soon we found ourselves enjoying part of the programme of Carnevale in Carlton at the Museo Italiano and La Mama forecourt. We sat and listened to Elaine of the Trio Bem Brasil for half an hour, enjoying their rendition of several sambas and songs from various parts of Brazil.

We walked across a couple of blocks to Nicholson Street, where we caught the tram through to the end of the route to Brunswick. Sunday in that part of Brunswick, if we were correct in our understanding of place, is deadly quiet, so after a quick glance about, we hopped back on the tram and came back down to the Museum precinct. There we dismissed the plan to visit the museum, it being too late in the day, and so walked across to Brunswick Street and Gertrude Street where we found The Labels in fashion such as Nom B. This whole area is riddled with graffiti but has wonderful little restaurants and boutiques tucked amongst all the less salubrious aspects of the suburb. This is Fitzroy, and was just buzzing with people, mainly young, vibrant, trendy and happy to spend money. Here the restaurants had a Greek or Turkish flavour interspersed with Chinese. A rather down at heel tramp looking guy handed us a leaflet for the Rose Street Market. Despite his appearance, he was an excellent advocate and so we soon found ourselves at this market. Here we found an array of wonderful crafts and art, much of it using recycled products which fascinated me. Amongst these were small pieces of imperial measure wooden rulers attached to key rings and diaries or notebooks with covers made from old Golden Books (remember them?)

We continued on through the heavily graffittied lane back to Nicholson Street, caught a tram down to the city, walked back through to the Flinders Street station, and back home, remembering to alight at the Footscray Station to collect the landcruiser.

Friday, February 24, 2012

22 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

I have mentioned ad nauseum that my husband is on a trip of nostalgia here in Melbourne, and that he is rather overwhelmed by the fact that his Melbourne is no more; that another city has taken its place. He also assures me that in the main, he is happy with this modern city, which is a relief, for me at least.

Yesterday was a prime example of this experiment in revisiting the past; when he lived in Deer Park around thirty years ago, he used to travel south to Williamstown twice a day to drop and collect his daughter to and from a private school there. We decided that it was time we checked this part of town out and so set off down the route he would have driven all those years ago, across expansive rural scenes now covered in industrial buildings. Fortunately I was following the map carefully or we may well have become lost; little seemed familiar.

Our first stop was Williamstown Beach, a place where he and his family had enjoyed the sun and salt, and he had sailed his small yacht. He was horrified to note that there were now parking meters all along the waterfront, not at all inviting and so we drove on to the Information Centre. This is in a part of the town he had never been familiar with, and so we discovered the Gem Pier together, admired the many boats in the marina and watched the little ferries plying the Yarra River with their tourist passengers. With metered parking at $3 per hour, we did not hang about too long, but moved further up into the shopping precinct, parking without charge in one of the lovely tree lined streets. We walked about, popping into one of the supermarkets to buy bread and a newspaper, and decided that Williamstown was very nice. While there is nothing pretentious about the town, it does still cater to all levels of consumer.

The township started its life back in the very early 1830s when a pioneering pastoralist shipped in his livestock and found his decision to be sound, thus encouraging others to do the same. Convicts, immigrants including those who came for the gold rush and all the paraphernalia those same folk required, came in through the port and grain went out. It was in effect Melbourne’s earliest settlement and it was not until the Yarra River was dredged and the port was moved upriver from the river mouth, that Williamstown became less important. These days Williamstown is still an important water gateway to Victoria but more importantly a tourist destination showing off its many grand houses, workers cottages, historic pubs and churches. And yesterday we found its café culture alive and well.

The day was looking much better than forecasted so we drove along the foreshore, or rather the river bank, pausing to wonder that Larissa’s old school, Williamstown Grammar, was still standing in its glory and still operating as a junior school, just as it had all those years ago.

We found a spot not too far away and ate our lunch, watching hopeful fishermen on their deckchairs, escaping the clamour of home and work, and then decided to stay with our plan to spend the afternoon at the cinema, despite the fact the weather had improved.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was showing at the Highpoint Shopping Centre in Maribynong; which is not really too far away. We had seen the Swedish version of this on television about a month ago and now with the American version out and with Oscar nominations, we were keen to see this too. It is a wonderful thriller, even if we did know who-did-it. We loved this one as much as the first, and certainly recommend the film to those with a stomach for thrillers.

This morning dawned clear and promising; we were keen to set off on one of our planned self-drive excursions. It was lovely to be back on the country roads, driving up and over the bush clad hills to Gisbourne, north of us here in Rockbank. We walked about this lovely little town of about 6,500 people, around its wide streets and variety of shops offering all a small town could be expected to offer. Even this early in February, the first of the deciduous leaves were lying about, golden in the sun. Come autumn, this town will be just beautiful.

From here we drove further north, joining the Calder Highway we had travelled down from Bendigo nearly two weeks ago. We left the highway south of Woodend and drove along through forest, with homes tucked away discreetly off the road. Here, back in 1983, much of the land and property was seered by fire, so it surprised us to see that people had rebuilt exposing themselves to such a risk once more.

Woodend is also a delightful town about half the size of Gisbourne but just as charming. We delighted in its layout and shopping area, before once more pressing on, this time, a little east to the famed Hanging Rock.
Pausing on the path up Hanging Rock

Chris had visited this reserve at least a couple of times before, and was upset to see the changes that had been wrought. Now there is an electronic gateway opened only to those who pay the required $10 entry fee. There is a Discovery Centre, where one can learn all about the geological features of the place, along with the history and of course, the story and subsequent film titled Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Hanging Rock is a mamelon (there is a new word for us all) created millions of years ago by stiff magma pouring from a vent and congealing, in this case into pillars. To the layman, the “mountain” is like a plastic ball our grandson loves, a globe covered in spikes. The summit is 718 metres above sea level, but only 105 metres above the plain or park below.

The area has been a public recreational area since the early 1850s, the racecourse built and first used in 1880.  In the 1970s, it was a much more simple affair; now the pathways have safety wires, there is a café and as mentioned already, a Discovery Centre. The information offered in the centre is excellent, however the building itself is horrible; not unlike the bowels of a snail shell.

We walked around the base before lunch and then to the top once we were energy charged. There are apparently many wild animals in the park; however we saw none but butterflies and bush bees. The koala spotted earlier in the day by another walker had successfully hidden herself up a tree, so we gave up our hunt and enjoyed the lovely views from the top of the crags. After reluctantly paying the exit fee, we drove a few kilometres south up into the Macedon Regional Park.

The park covers an area of 2,427 hectares and supports a wealth of flora and fauna. In February 1983, on Ash Wednesday, fires swept through the northern slopes of the ranges, and it was those we first came to. Now nearly thirty years later, the vegetation has recovered, but the memories of those who were involved have not.

We walked to the top of the Camels Hump, the highest peak of the range at 1,011 metres, and looked north over the plains below, across to the high lands we had travelled about after heading north from Geelong. A woman of about my age was training for some athletic event, and ran up and down the steep path twice while we walked up and down just the once. When we passed by later, she was still at it. We looked out for all the fauna that was promised on the notice boards especially for the “common” wombat, but saw none, or any camels, for that matter.

A couple of kilometres south along the top of the range is a rather impressive war memorial, a simple but very large Memorial Cross of twenty one metres in height, originally erected in 1932 in honour of those who served in WWI. Lightning struck the memorial in 1975 and the great fire caused further damage in 1983. Vandals finished it off and then in 1995 a replacement was erected courtesy of a very generous Melbourne family. The memorial is approached through a path of hydrangeas and seems to stand right on the edge of the mountain, which drops steeply down toward the north western Melbourne plains. Melbourne itself was partly obscured by a haze or perhaps smog.

We drove on down Mt Macedon Road from where we caught glimpses of the gardens and grand homes well known for their lavish size and scale, some of which are open to the public. In years gone past, these were the summer residences of the Melbourne wealthy who sought the cooler temperatures of the hills during the summer months in the same way the wealth Adelaide people did in the Adelaide Hills.

The village of Macedon was quite allusive, and it was not until we keyed it into the Tomtom, that we found the post office. We had expected something more like the townships we had visited in the morning. Disappointed, we headed back for camp, a distance of nearly fifty kilometres. I suggested an alternative route to Chris; a route that had us caught in a traffic jam for about half an hour. Apparently part of the road was closed so that a jury could examine a “crime” scene; they were all gone by the time we motored on.

Tonight we have been caught up in the breaking news; the next move by the political players in their game of chess. Kevin Rudd has resigned as Foreign Minister. Your move, Julia? But then these comments only make sense to those in Australia.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

20 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

It has been a relief in some ways to not have the urgency of travel today, now that our rail ticket has expired. We have spent a quiet day, the morning catching up on administration which does mount up if left unattended.

After lunch we drove west to Melton, just ten kilometres or so away on the Western Highway. Melton is one of those places Chris spent late afternoons pounding the pavement and knocking on doors when he was selling insurance in a past life, but again, one of those places that has changed beyond recognition. It is still an unpretentious town, really an outer suburb of Melbourne even if it is surrounded by rural landscapes, and now has a population of over thirty five and a half thousand. I have to say that I was blown away with that statistic because with the business centre it has, one would think it had less than five thousand residents. We walked up and down the streets, searching for the newsagent, finally finding the one, but not our favourite newspaper, The Australian. Apparently they only order in two a day, and we were way too late for that. We wandered about the Aldis store, not having been in one for a while and came out with a Coles green-bag full of specials. We were reminded again that they do not provide bags, but do have a surcharge on all purchases by plastic card.

By the time we finished our brief exploration of the place, the rain had started and we returned home to fire off a few more emails and to read the Melbourne  Age. Interesting times politically here; the media are doing their darndest to push the government leadership over the edge. We are following it closely as no doubt everyone else is here.

19 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

The end of the weekend, dinner just over and the sun is still warm and bright over the camp. I am sure we are a couple of kilos heavier having done little but stuff our faces, mind you anything above the ordinary seems like that.

Yesterday Bob and Janet came over for lunch. We had made a mad dash to the nearest shopping centre about ten kilometres away and bought all the “home cooked” goodies we needed, together with the full range of refreshments possibly required, little of it consumed yesterday and hence we have added to the weight of the van with liquid stores, as well as to our personal frames. The day remained fine and the sun came out during the afternoon; we were glad that we had put up our side awning shades thus making for excellent alfresco dining. Bob had suggested we should put the Red Carpet out for them; instead Chris laid down blue and green tarpaulins to cover the primitive dirt floor.

We slept late this morning and only just caught the train at Sunshine for the city. Being Sunday, the frequency of the trains was much less, so we rushed rather than making our way with decorum, and risking a wait for the next scheduled service. We alighted at the Southern Cross Station, formerly Spencer Street. This railway station has been through several redevelopments since it was initially opened in 1859, more latterly early this century. Apart from being behind schedule and over budget, the station was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Lubetkin Prize for the most outstanding building outside the European Union. It is certainly smarter than the old Flinders Station that we have become familiar with over the past week, but we do question it’s eligibility to any such award. But what would we know?

We walked up William Street to the Vic Market, visited earlier in the week, but today busy with an entirely different clientele. Melbournians far outnumbered tourist customers and we also explored a part of the market we had missed and were alerted to by Janet yesterday; the area where meat, cheese, small goods, baked goods and all manner of other perishable foods in an air-conditioned area and just wonderful. It was close to midday by the time we got there and each butchery stall had their own salesman yelling out the wonders of their particular wares, in great competition to all others doing the same. The prices were excellent however we only considered taking advantage of the well priced meat and fish for a moment; the thought of carrying these around for the rest of the day, quickly heating up, in our backpack did not seem that sensible.

We listened to buskers in the market before heading down Elizabeth Street on foot, down to Federation Square to join throngs of locals enjoying the camaraderie and the street artists. There we pulled our lunch out, leftovers from yesterday and more than we would normally eat on such a day. Two days of over eating!

After lunch we crossed the Yarra River once again, to visit the National Art Gallery. The top floor still required our attention; the galleries containing photographs, Viennese furniture and artefacts from early last century, Pacific Art including a couple of works by our own Colin McCahon which we wouldn’t give you tuppence for, and quite a good collection of watercolours. We both agreed that if one had to omit one floor from a complete visit to the Art Gallery, it would be this one; however we were pleased we had bothered to return and find this out for ourselves.

Along from the Gallery in St Kilda’s Road, the Makers Market was underway, so we mozzied about to see what was on offer. There were some finely crafted goods on sale, as far as this kind of thing goes, including some lovely paintings by an artist with a very foreign name. We were sorry we had no walls to put any acquisition on, and might be even sorrier in the future if his work becomes very sought after, but such is life.

We walked on down to the river’s edge and made our way down river along South Bank, a lovely walkway area lined with thousands of classy restaurants and bars, all full of diners sitting late over their expensive lunches. But then we had sat seven hours over our lunch yesterday, and it did remain under the umbrella of lunch because our guests had turned down our invitation to stay on for dinner, so we were hardly in a position to be critical of others who chose to do the same.

There were masses of folk making their way along in the sunshine as we were, and we finally reached the Exhibition and Convention Centre where the rest of Melbourne was, at the Travel Expo. The Centre is just colossal, apparently over 32,000 square metres and still fairly new, the last of it opened in 2009. We were astounded by the number of people sitting with tour agents booking or seriously researching holidays. Obviously the economy is not as bad as the media makes out after all.  The number of people about should not surprise me because Melbourne has almost as many people here as New Zealand has in its entire country.

We crossed back across the river and walked back up along the bank until we reached the Flinders Station, and found that we did not have too long to wait for the next train. It had been another excellent day, the washing was dry and there were enough leftovers to make for any easy dinner. We learned my parents had reached the South Island safely and were ready to set off on their rafting expedition on the Clarence River, that Larissa and her husband had arrived safely back after a week in Sydney and caught up with Kit, learning that his little family were all well and on track for the new baby just weeks away.

Friday, February 17, 2012

17 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

If it rained through the night, we never heard it, but the day was still grey and wet when we put our heads out; enough drizzle about to warrant jackets for the day. We caught the same train as the previous day but alighted at Melbourne Central Railway Station, a relatively new station, compared to the Flinders Street Station, with an underground city of snack bars and convenience stores, and shiny elevators devoid of ingrained dirt. We headed for the Post Office in Bourke Street to see if our mail had turned up and were delighted to find that it had indeed; the registration sticker for the caravan and a packet of mail through from Pauline and Neil, still to be investigated.

Feeling rather buoyed by such bureaucratic success, we hunted down the AMP office where Chris wanted to research some ancient dealings. The office was on the 29th floor of a high rise in Collins Street, and of the kind where the machinery of business goes on behind locked doors with access only to those with encoded tags, without the interruption of customers. We were given a sheet of contact numbers and email addresses and advice as to the next step. We had experienced this faceless service from the Auckland City Council when we went to renew our Parks Pass, but been well served by a tele-operator who took us in hand as if we were two geriatrics who didn’t have a clue. Today was much the same.

We made our way down Spring Street, past the Fitzroy Gardens, arriving at the top end of Federation Square and the middle of the annual Sustainable Living Festival. There was a very good photographic exhibition titled “Manuwangku Under the Nuclear Cloud” by Jageth Dheerasekara. The photos depict the aboriginal people out in the bush, an environment threatened to become a nuclear waste dump site. The current environment is however a tip of a different kind, in my opinion, but then who am I to say how people should live. The quality of the photos is excellent.

We walked on down to the river side where the festival’s tents were in the process of being set up and opened for business, manned by greenies and manmade-climate-change believers.  There were stalls promoting organic vegetable growing, solar powered electric bicycles, solar panels, organic foods, vege-burgers (for $10), postcards of re-cycled paper, mobile phone re-cycling, and so on. I am sure you get the picture; I had to warn Chris against questioning the stallholders’ wanky beliefs; when in Iraq, wear a head scarf, when at a Sustainable Living Festival, smile and nod to all the 21st century hippies.

We wandered further along the banks of the Yarra, and found a dry spot in the Birrarung Marr, a new park space in the city with a culturally sensitive name, and then found our way back through the fair, now busier with the crowds and greeny lobbyists.

We did allow ourselves to be waylaid by a pretty young girl promoting Replas Recycled Plastic Products, and there learned that the heavy plastic tables and benches, boardwalks and edges, we had seen throughout the country in many of the national parks, had been made and supplied to the Government Department by this company. The plastic is from used plastic milk bottles and is very solid. They can be recycled again when they start falling apart, however are guaranteed a fairly long life in action. We were impressed with the product in use and by the stall, and promised to make mention in this blog. 

Finally clear of the crowds, we made our way across the Yarra River and up to the National Art Gallery to give it yet another go. We spent a further two and a bit hours exploring the European collections on the first and second floors, but chose to leave before seeing those on the final and third floor. That will have to wait for another day.

When we emerged from the gallery today, the sun was shining and summer looked like it might be back for a few days after all. We caught the train home, again battling the commuter crowds, however took another road route from the Sunshine station, successfully avoiding the long winded traffic jams. A call to Bob and Janet confirmed our rendez-vous for tomorrow and we have everything organised for the luncheon, or at least organised in our heads. That’s a good start.

16 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

We caught the same train as yesterday and emerged out into bright warm sunshine in central Melbourne. We set off across the Yarra River and walked upstream along a wide path shared with runners and cyclists. There were a few rowers on the river and a tour boat glided up past us with a few passengers. We walked as far as the eastern edge of the Botanic Gardens, crossed the road and entered the thirty eight hectares expanse of trees and parklands. Founded in 1846, they must rate as one of the oldest in the country; however they have undergone several changes over the years. It was William Guilfoyle whose name has popped up across the state in the botanic context, who came up with the idea of the “volcano”. The raised hump at the top of the garden, thus named, is in fact a disguised water reservoir, the banks of which are planted out in arid friendly plants. Cacti and the like are fascinating plants, however don’t usually excite me much; these really are quite lovely and worth the effort of the uphill slog in the heat. We wandered down through the gardens, enjoying the variety of trees (there are apparently 52,000 plants and 10,000 species in the gardens) and left the formal part of the park beside the National Herbarium which boasts a collection of over 1.2 million dried specimens of plants, fungi and algae. Personally I was still feeling satisfied with the collection viewed in Adelaide, hence was not drawn to suggest that we have a look around this one.

We were intrigued to find that most of the labels or notices around the gardens related to water conservation and how wonderful they were doing here in recycling water. Given that there have been so many drought years here, it is no surprise that this should be of greater importance than lengthy descriptions about the plants and birds. Speaking of which, we were delighted to hear and see the Bell Minors, birds we have not heard since when we were in Queensland.

The green area on the south side of the Yarra River, bounded on one side by St Kilda’s Road and surrounding Government House, contains the Sidney Meyer Music Bowl, the Shrine of Remembrance and Alexandra Gardens, collectively the Kings Domain, and covers a total area of 36 hectares. One must assume therefore from this data gleaned from Google, that the total green area is actually seventy four hectares (including the Botanic Gardens).

Across from the Herbarium and down the street a bit is the grand construction honouring the war dead; the Shrine of Remembrance. The brochure says that this is contained within the Shrine Reserve of thirteen hectares, so whether this is additional to or included in the above area, I have no idea. Perhaps I should not have even started to ascertain the size of the parklands. This impressive memorial was built between 1928 and 1934 and was designed by a couple of returned servicemen, veterans of the First World War. Their design was inspired by one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus, and was chosen from eighty three competition entries.

We entered from the rear and immediately found ourselves in the Sanctuary, surrounded in marble, with huge high ceilings and a sense of emptiness. From here we descended into the Crypt to find the Father and Son sculpture which represents the two generations of Victorians who served in the two World Wars. Here too was an exhibition of wall hangings depicting simple poetry describing the anguish of battle, all very moving.

From here one passes through the Gallery of Medals where 4,000 service medals representing one hundred Victorians who have served in war and peacekeeping operations. Beyond this is the Visitor Centre where there is an excellent display explaining the invasions and battles of both World Wars. These were very good but again too much information for one to absorb in what was to be simply a visit to this imposing building.
One view of the Shrine of Remembrance

We found a shaded bench in the park as we had yesterday and ate our lunch before pressing on down through the park intending to have a good look at the Meyer Music Bowl. Chris had attended a couple of concerts there in the past and wanted to indulge in a little more nostalgia however it was all fenced off ready for another concert this evening.

And so we continued on down back to the river and back across to the National Art Gallery and disappeared into the depths of this huge mausoleum-like building leaving the sun still bright and hot outside. We set off separately, cellphones switched on (a rarity for me) and started to explore this gallery so tantalising yesterday.

There is an excellent collection gathered from Chinese tombs, similar to that seen in Sydney, but smaller, simpler and therefore worth absorbing as a reminder of the amazing history of that civilization.

The collection of Italian works of art, paintings and pottery, most dating back to the fourteenth century, but some earlier, is amazing; so very old and in such excellent condition. Many of the paintings have yet to be matched with their artists; it is surprising how confused even the great international art curators can be in such matters.

When we emerged about one and a half hours later, dramatic black skies greeted us. We headed for the Information Centre and spent some time chatting with a couple of the volunteers about this and that, then came up to street level to discover the skies had opened up, and the foyer was full of those sheltering from the deluge. We squeezed on to a squab with others and found ourselves in conversation with a delightful Indian gentleman, an immigrant of twenty years ago who told us proudly about his successful children and he and Chris discussed the wonders of India. Finally the rain eased or had appeared to do so; we made a dash across Flinders Street to the railway station and we joined the rain sodden commuters on the 4.12 pm train. Not only was the train packed, but the roads out of Sunshine were even more so. It took us over twenty minutes to reach the Ballarat Highway, just a kilometre or two from the station. Bad timing!

This evening we have heard that there has been flash flooding and hail damage here in Melbourne. Here at Rockbank there are only puddles and intermittent showers.

15 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Back in the city this morning, we caught the tram to St Kilda and alighted at the top of Fitzroy Street, rediscovering the hotel that Chris and his first wife had acted as concierges in their early months in Melbourne over thirty five years ago. It is little changed externally which was a surprise to Chris, but should not have been. St Kilda is as attractive as it was then, and I could only agree as we walked about exploring the waterfront, the Pier and the exterior of Luna Park. This latter attraction was closed and we peered through the gate at the garish fun railway, a duplicate of that in Sydney. In fact Melbourne’s Luna Park was the first in Australia, established in 1912, designed and set up by the crowd that set up that on Coney Island in New York in the first years of that same century. Sydney’s Park was not set up until the mid 1930’s. Personally I found this trivia far more interesting than taking any ride, had such been on offer.

The Pier has a large kiosk at the end, a building that has seen many changes over the years, more recently victim of arson in 2003. It was originally built in 1904, and the rebuild was completed in 2006. Beyond the kiosk, the breakwater stretches for some distance, protecting the marina area around the Royal Melbourne Yacht Club. Most of this seawall is fenced off to further protect the Little Penguins and Native Water Rats that have chosen to call this home.
St Kilda's Pier

Also along the sea shore, is a fine building housing the St Kilda Seabaths, offering boutique services to those who choose to go there rather than take a marathon walk in the sunshine and the grand (but in need of a paint) Palais Theatre. Flags and temporary stages mark the spot on the sandy beach where beach volley ball is held.

We found a shady bench back along the West Beach in the Catani Gardens to eat our lunch, and then headed off once more on foot up Beaconsfield Parade where there are many beautiful buildings, many undergoing renovation and an equal number for sale. I suspect the owners overstretched themselves; there is nothing new under the sun.

We reached the extent of the South Melbourne tramway in Victoria Avenue where the tram was parked, waiting for its timetabled departure and I was pleased to fall into the seat to wait as well. It wasn’t long before we were on our way up through Albert Park, joining lovely tree lined St Kilda Road and alighting at the Art Gallery opposite the Botanic Gardens.

Today the NGV International (National Gallery Victoria) was open for business and very busy. It was just before 2 pm and we were in time for a free guided tour. Naturally we took advantage of this and enjoyed an hour rushing about the extensive gallery with Fiona, who gave us a very general overview of the amazing collection of art held here. It seems that all Australian art is held in the new gallery in Federation Square, and the European art is here in St Kilda Road in this rather impressive building opened in 1968. The Art Gallery was established in 1861 but has been housed in various buildings across the centuries. With a collection numbering over 65,000 works of art, it is the country’s oldest and largest public gallery. Much of the collection has been largely financed by one benefactor, Alfred Felton, a successful business man, single and childless, who died back in 1904, whose will established a philanthropic trust, the income of which is distributed half to charities benefitting women and children and the other half to acquire and donate artworks to the Gallery. With such an advantage, it is no surprise that this gallery seems to surpass anything else we have visited to date.

At the end of the tour, we agreed that a day or more would be required to explore the gallery properly and so decided to call it a day, brave the commuters and head home. Today I have caught the sun yet again, so am quite glad that the forecast for tomorrow suggests showers in the afternoon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

14 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Happy Valentines Day! I remembered when I was standing on the railway station at Sunshine this morning, and wished my husband the same.

We had already been up to the Taylor Lakes Shopping Centre at Sydenham, to Big 4 Vision to have them repair Chris’s glasses. This turned out to be a far more simple exercise than we had expected; we were sure that one of the lens had been scratched when it fell on to the concrete floor. Cleaning and polish with fancy products and it was as good as new, and we were pleased the repair had not become a long drawn out business of having the lens remade.

On arriving in the city we headed at once for the free tourist bus which wends its way across to the sports precinct which includes the Rod Laver Arena and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, then up past Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Centre. There was an excellent recorded commentary that drew out attention to many of the interesting and / or beautiful attractions out the windows, and the bus driver interjected frequently, exhibiting his own sense of humour.

As we passed by China Town, we were informed that there was an excellent museum here, well worth visiting. It houses the largest parade dragon in the world! Well, really? I thought Bendigo had laid claim to that? I do believe that we will have to take all these claims for the largest, the oldest, the best…. all with a grain of salt.

Chris and I left the bus outside the Queen Victoria Market and walked around this wonderful landmark attraction which covers seven hectares making it the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been operating since the 1850s; however the wholesale activity was moved to Footscray after unrest which ended up with a few old fashioned murders in the 1960’s. In the 1990s piracy of brands was a real problem and that has apparently been cleaned up as well. Unlike the Paddy’s Market in Sydney, this is spacious and pleasurable to wander through even if one tends to be a little claustrophobic. We purchased a couple of shirts for Chris and one parsnip but nothing more because our cash had run out and EFTPOS machines were not immediately obvious.

We wandered down William Street and found a shady wall in Flagstaff Gardens, from where one could once upon a time enjoy great views over the harbour. That was long before the buildings obscured any such possibility, however it was a pleasant place to pause and rest from the heat of the day.

From here we walked on down to Docklands which is entirely different from when Chris was last here. In fact the development of this harbourside area is all quite recent. In 1996 construction of the Dockland’s Stadium was started, and completed four years later. Today it is known as the Etihad Stadium, after its current sponsors, and holds over 50,000 people. It is mainly used for Aussie Rules games but has hosted cricket, soccer and a variety of other sports.

Development of the surrounding areas now includes great apartment and office blocks, restaurants and the Harbour Town Shopping Centre. There were many other tourists such as ourselves, wandering about the precinct, admiring the artworks along the waterfront and evidence of so much commercial enterprise.
The Yarra River

We walked for some distance in the hot sun, and then caught another of the free tourist buses further along the set route. The bus took us south over the Yarra River and along through the art precinct of Southbank, before winding around the Botanic Gardens. We left the bus again outside the Art Gallery hoping to catch the current exhibition, however today is Tuesday, and Tuesday is the one day along with Christmas Day, the gallery is closed. We will return another day. It wasn’t too far from there back across the Yarra River to the Flinders Street Railway Station.
Before heading home we popped into McDonalds and enjoyed a cold ice-cream cone, enjoyed the Valentines activity in the street; a rather strange looking woman selling single red roses and couples taking romantic horse drawn carriage rides. We decided to visit the Information Centre and came away with another armful of brochures. Amongst these were some informative tracts about Federation Square. I was aware that my description of the architecture of the Square had been less than brilliant yesterday and thought I could remedy it here, with some help from the literature. From the waffle I did glean that the cladding is sandstone, zinc (perforated and solid) and glass. Apart from that the descriptions are so new-age and airy-fairy, I could not bear to repeat it here. We did decide today that on second viewing, the buildings about the Square are quite attractive after all.

We also did something more to express our confidence and appreciation of this beautiful city; we have booked and paid for a further two weeks here in this caravan park out here at Rockbank.

Monday, February 13, 2012

13 February 2012 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Today we hit Melbourne by train and on foot, and have arrived home looking forward to more days doing the same. We caught the train at Sunshine, one of the less salubrious suburbs of Melbourne, a melting pot of people; Asians, Africans, Middle Eastern folk and fair skinned Europeans such as us. We travelled through rail corridors of graffiti and litter until we reached the city centre where the rail disappears underground.
The old and the new: above Flinders Street Station in the background

We stepped off the train at the Flinders Street Station and found Federation Square immediately across the busy street. This did not exist when Chris lived here and he was keen to explore it all. The buildings about are clad in the strangest of exteriors, and there are great expanses of paving and steps and seats for the populace to enjoy the space in a relaxed fashion. We came across the Federation Story told along a balcony in one of these odd buildings; a series of interpretative panels. We had of course had our first lesson in Australia’s history of Federation at Tenterfield, in New South Wales early last year, where Henry Parkes gave his famous speech in 1889. We have learned as we have travelled about that the states of this country were all separate colonies until Federation occurred in 1901, but what I did not know was that New Zealand was, until 1840, part of the colony of New South Wales. How ignorant, you may well say, and rightly so. I had been only too aware that New Zealand was the one colony that chose not to become part of Australia. Today there were many school children in Federation Square; probably having their own history lesson.
Federation Square in contrast to grand old architecture

We happened upon an exhibition in another of these strange buildings, Screen Worlds; The Story of Film, Television and Digital Culture. What a fascinating exhibition this is, but with far too much information to absorb in one visit. Our appetite drew us away from the fascinating exhibits; we found a couple of canvas deck chairs in the sunshine and cool wind, not too far from the stage in the Square, and listened to a musician singing Stairway to Heaven and other like melodies, while we consumed our sandwiches and nectarines.
The State Library
Conveniently placed deckchairs

After lunch we decided that Screen World would have to wait for another time, we could go back and take in more another day. We walked up along Swanston Street, into Bourke Street, popping into the Post Office to ask unsuccessfully after mail that is yet to arrive, back to Swanston Street to the State Library. There we sought out the reading room where Chris had spent many weeks over forty years ago when he was temporarily disabled by an accident, and chose to utilise the opportunity to further his education in the great reading rooms of this wonderful library. There are two galleries on the second floor, one containing early paintings of Melbourne and the other, portraits of public figures of the city. The building itself is a fine example of the old architecture of the city, this opened in 1856. However the great old buildings of the city are dwarfed by the modern skyscrapers and so there is no particular style of architecture through the centre at all. Or at least that was the impression I had today, however we only explored the streets mentioned above, Elizabeth Street, Chinatown, and the lanes in-between, and I am probably a little premature to make such an observation.

I was delighted by the streets, wider than those in Sydney, full of trams and people; fellow tourists, students, office workers, buskers. It was truly alive and there was so much to see. We walked about, enjoying the city until we thought we should head toward home. We caught the train back to Sunshine, with hundreds of other commuters, the trip twenty five minutes long, then a further twenty minutes by car. We look forward to finding our way back in tomorrow to see more of this wonderful Victorian capital.