Sunday, April 29, 2012

29 April 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

The morning dawned clear and sunny, the best of autumn days yet we were still late in leaving the camping ground.  We headed for the National Gallery of Australia situated not far from the Old Parliament, on the lake edge. It was nearly lunch time so we decided to explore the sculpture garden in the meantime.

Sculptures in the garden of the Gallery
Here in the scrub on the lake side of the towering sides of the impressive block gallery are dozens of sculptures to be discovered at every turn. Works by Henry Moore and Rodin are included in the collection which was installed back in 1982, in the same year the new building was opened, and all are worth a look, critical or otherwise. Two works captured my attention; a group of four figures from Auguste Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais along with two nude studies for the same stand in a courtyard surrounded by concrete and eucalypts, and the second, a collection of bronze heads by an artist whose name I cannot recall, representing those slain in Cambodia. These heads are set out in a pond beside the restaurant in the garden; I imagine it feels quite unnerving to be seated in this rather classy restaurant sipping your champagne, picking at your plate of whatever, and gazing upon these heads watching you from the pond.      

We picnicked on the edge of the garden and at 12.30 pm, after the bells in the National Carillon rang the half hour, they broke in to a recital including Shirley Bassy’s Big Spender and other airs aimed not to offend. It was a joy to listen to this across the water,  but I was disappointed when Chris explained that there were not a dozen little bell ringers working their hearts out with little bell knockers, but that it would be all computer generated. Hence the lack of expression, passion or whatever else the real bell ringers may have been able to add. The gallery beckoned so we left the bells to the hundreds of locals running, cycling and walking along the lake edge path.

We spent the afternoon  on just one floor, viewing the extensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island collection which we did not enjoy as much as that in the Melbourne Art Gallery, and a large collection of modern work from a wide range of international artists. One of the exhibitions was a series of Sydney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings, but not the same we had seen in Benalla. Evidently Nolan was obsessed by this subject and turned out enough to populate galleries all over the country and still sell some to private collectors. With much of the works we saw today, the question came to mind over and over again, but is it art?

The gallery also has several works by Picasso including L’ecriture one of the few I like. Jackson Pollock’s 1952 work, Blue Poles was purchased by the gallery during Gough Whitlam’s reign, for a controversial $1.2 million. Chris remembers sitting in front of this forty years ago and being horrified that such excessive public monies were spent on such a monstrosity. Today he and I both loved the painting, its vibrancy and depth of colour, and marvelled that it is now worth about $250 million; not a bad investment after all.

We wandered through an exhibition of Indian and South East Asian Art, quite lovely and so much more captive than most of the abstract European art we saw.

I am looking forward to discovering the galleries collection of older works which hopefully will be more pleasing. And yet that is not to denigrate all that we saw today; there were some fine works among the collection that do deserve a look, however today we did fit in to the “streaker” category rather than the “studier”.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

28 April 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

I could blame the fog for the fact that we were late venturing forth this morning, but it would be a lie. We simply overslept, so despite the best plans for popping across the park to view the best of the Farmers Market wares this morning, we were treated to the dregs. And that too is not entirely true, at least not in all cases. Canberrian’s were still arriving in their masses as we walked the short distance from camp and there was still plenty of the certified organic produce available. The nursery plants, coffee, wine and jams were still there for the taking too, however we were more interested in the plain old chemically sprayed vegetables which sell at half the price. Obviously there had been plenty of likeminded buyers because that left was substandard and we decided that we would wait until we next hit one of the large supermarket chains. And even from here, I can hear the shouts of, “Traitor!” Alas we have found with most of the Farmers Markets we have visited both here in Australia and in New Zealand, the supermarkets do give the consumer a better deal, although I do accept that you do not actually get to chat with the grower and that must be worth something.

Tucked in a corner of the large corrugated shed, which serves as an excellent venue for the market, was a group of about thirty men of over sixty, one female conductor and another woman on an organ. These were the Canberra Blokes and their harmonies were wonderful. We stood there spellbound for several numbers until another woman came around with little slips of paper inviting men in the audience to join the “club”. This is obviously a ploy for women to keep their retired husbands out of mischief, just as the Men’s Shed movement does.

As we left we were met near the entrance by a chap with an alpaca all harnessed up with bit and bridle. The alpaca’s name is Honeycomb and he is quite famous here in Canberra, not just as a bizarre pet, but as a worker in Hospices and the like. Makes a change from the boring old canine companion I guess, however not so easy to get on the lap. We stroked his neck and made noises of appreciation and came away feeling good about the world, so we would have to confirm that Honeycomb is good for one’s soul.

We returned briefly to the caravan disappointingly with nothing in the two green bags we had taken with us, had a cup of tea and then set off back into the city, or more specifically back to the Old Parliament.

Yesterday we had explored the two houses; that of the Senate and that of the Representatives, and immersed ourselves in the history of Australian politics. Today was spent learning about the origins of democracy on a worldwide scale and the repercussions here in Australia. Not only are these educational, sophisticated and interesting for adults and senior school students, but there is a large section given over to the instruction of the same to those of far more junior years. Hats off to the powers that be that set this up; it should be compulsory viewing for all would be voters. And here in Australia enrolment is not only compulsory, but the act of voting also; something I do not support. I personally believe that while enrolment should be compulsory, voting should be left to those who are capable of making an informed and considered choice. I am sure there are many, who when they are bound by law to vote, simply toss a coin.

The museum boasts a great treasure of the evolution of democratic government in the western world, one of the few copies of the Magna Carta. It is certainly proudly framed there on the wall, but in the small print one learns the truth of the matter.

In 1215, copies of the Magna Carta were sent to every county in England. It is believed only four of these original documents survive today. Subsequent versions were distributed throughout England between 1215 and 1416, of which only 23 survive. Only two of these are held outside the United Kingdom; one from 1297 here in the collection of the Australian Parliament House, and the other in private hands but on permanent loan to the National Archives of America.

We finally left the building at half past one, sat in the land cruiser out of the cool breeze and ate our belated lunch gazing across the lake and to the aboriginal tent embassy, watching more particularly a youthful dark man, ostensibly the ambassador or perhaps just the caretaker, raking circles around the fire pit on the governmental front lawn. By the time we wandered across to the parliament gardens, thick smoke was rising from the big logs he had loaded into the pit.

We had intended to continue on to the Art Gallery, however we decided it was too late in the day to make such a start. Instead we made our way into the city centre, eventually found a parking spot that could accommodate a landcruiser with a roof rack, and walked to Canberra Central, the city’s shopping centre. There we walked about the centre which stretches over several blocks but is still very small compared to those we visited in Melbourne. We poked through book stores with marvellous sales on, but with still a pile of unread books under the bed, came away with just the weekend newspaper.

Friday, April 27, 2012

27 April 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

Early fog was all about this morning just as it had been yesterday, so we deliberately delayed our day’s touring. I made use of the camp’s laundry and was delighted to discover the washing machine’s function on $2 rather than the usual $3 or greedier $4 ones. Washing hung out under the sun, we headed off into town, across the lake and parked by the Old Parliament buildings, also known as the Museum of Australian Democracy.

The Old Parliament
We arrived just minutes after a free tour had begun but soon caught up, to spend well over an hour being shown around this wonderful building. Right from day one, it was only ever considered as a Provisional Parliament, meant only for fifty years use. As the original 300 parliamentarians and staff grew to 3,000, extensions were made and the fifty years drew out to more than sixty. Fortunately for us, the tourists, the building was made a heritage building before demolition could take place, and excellent use has been made of the space since.

Apart from a brief exit to enjoy our lunch in the grounds opposite and  a stroll around the lake and the perimeter of the aboriginal tent “embassy”, we spent about five hours enjoying the museum and have yet to see everything. There are a mass of interactive displays, films and wordy information. Our parting words to the concierge were to ask what time they opened tomorrow. And his to us when we explained that we had been unable to do the place justice in the limited time; there are three kinds of visitors – streakers, strollers and studiers. We were evidently of the third category. In fact that is quite a good observation about travellers generally and our slow crawl about this country definitely puts us into the “studier” variety.
Protesters set up in the Parliament grounds

And on the tent embassy; what a disgrace! This was set up in 1972 and has remained at various levels ever since. It was of course the subject of the “Cinderella affair” when Julia Gillard was hustled away from the crowds of protesters who were baying for blood back on last Australia Day, and when the prime minister lost her shoe in the scuffle. The cause of the rabble rousing was a misunderstood comment about the existence and removal of the “embassy’. However I will say here and now, at the risk of offending but safe behind this computer, that the collection of tents and rubbish on the lawns in front of the Old Parliament is offensive to the eye and does nothing to enhance one’s view of how certain people choose to live. The one tent that might be the headquarters is branded with the word “Respect”. Yeah, right! How can such a request be taken seriously in such a context?

26 April 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

The temperature in Canberra this morning was a chilly 3 degrees centigrade, although a warmer 4 degrees inside our caravan. However when the sun is shining and the magpies noisy with song, it doesn’t take long to warm up and get into the swing of the day.

After making contact with the camp office and learning that we had set up camp in the area reserved for big rigs, we booked in for a week and moved across to another spot, an annoying task but we are now well settled ready to stay as long as needed.

We spent the morning exploring the satellite suburb of Gungahlin, north of the exhibition centre here, buying our daily newspaper, some fresh vegetables and new windscreen wiper blades, calling into our bank, and most importantly buying diesel. I do believe that this morning’s purchase of 101.07 litres is a record; however the price per litre was better than we have seen coming north from the Victorian border.

Gungahlin is amazing; it is exactly like a concept plan off a drawing board, with the wide streets, the neat trees drawn alongside and the little stick people going about their business in a super modern landscape. But this is real and so unlike the reality of every other town or suburb encountered in Australia so far.

Of course it reflects the whole design of Canberra; that a new city be imagined and brought to fruition from scratch. Canberra did not evolve as a river crossing, a port, a goldfield or a convict settlement, but as a whole new centre of government after Federation took place in 1901. It did take until 1909 to decide where to locate this centre, and then a few more years to select the winning design by Walter Burley Griffin and his talented architect wife, Marion Mahoney Griffin of Chicago, in 1912. The following year, the future capital was named “Canberra”, a variation on the aboriginal name meaning “meeting place”; quite apt in the circumstances. Griffin was immediately appointed Director of Design and given the go-ahead to make a start on his plan.

The general concept of The Plan was that a hierarchical urban structure be established with a descending order of towns, town centres and suburban neighbourhoods. A decentralised development model was adopted with four new towns: Woden-Weston Breek, Belconnen, Tungerabong and Gungahlin. The layout of the new towns, linked by arterial roads and open spaces, contrasted with the sprawling concentric pattern of most other Australian cities.

While the Provisional Parliament buildings were ready for business in 1927 (the Federal government had been carrying out its business in the meantime in Melbourne), progress on the capital city was sluggish and Griffin was given the heave-ho. Then came the depression and the Second World War, so there was not too much more progress until in 1948, post-war European immigrants arrived offering skills in construction. In the late 1950’s the National Capital Development Commission Act was passed and work started again in earnest. Soon public servants were being transferred in by the thousands and the population reached 37,000.

However it was not until 1962 that the first satellite town of Woden was begun and one year later, Lake Burley Griffin, was completed. The Molonglo River flows through these limestone plains, the damming of which has created an artificial decorative lake eleven kilometres long and just over a kilometre at its widest. The average depth is a mere four metres and its flow is regulated by the 18 metre high Scrivener Dam, named after the surveyor, Charles Scrivener. This was all part of the Griffin Plan, which is still on-going even today.

When the capital was started, the plains were more or less treeless, and it fell on the shoulders of one Charles Weston to deal with the landscaping. Between 1913 and 1924, he was responsible for the planting of two million trees and shrubs. By 1945, the number of trees planted in Canberra had risen to twenty million.

In the very early 1970’s when Chris passed through this way, and soon afterwhen my mother was here visiting her older sister who then lived here, the population had reached 130,000. By 1988 the new parliament buildings had been completed and Canberra’s population had reached 273,500. Today the population is over 350,000. The city is laid out in such way to manage the population growth, and it is this that impresses me; that someone one hundred years ago, designing a complete city, could grasp the fact that the population would reach such a size in that time, will continue to multiply over the next century and will all neatly fit within the concepts laid out all those years ago. Of course the mere fact that this surprises me is evidence that I was never trained in architecture or town planning, but undertook a career in the blinkered world of bookkeeping.

Our education today, the first full day here in Canberra was carefully planned. Our first stop was the top of Mount Ainslie where there is an excellent lookout from where one can look directly down along Anzac Parade, across the lake and on up Commonwealth Parade to the Parliament, both the old and the new. The views beyond and all around are also there for the taking but it is the geometric triangles that catch one’s imagination. In the distance, the mountains create the sides of the wide geographical basin. There are excellent interpretative panels all about and it is a good start to one’s exploration of this amazing city.

From here we descended to the National Capital Exhibition where one can learn all about the birth of Canberra, the national capital, through interactive displays, photos, films, photos and a host of stories. The centre is set above the lake, across from Parliament. Once upon a time, it was the site for the observation platform from where the progress of the lake could be observed. The friendly youthful staff  share their task with elderly volunteers, and this afternoon, Ian, well into his seventies, still working in his trade on other days of the week, supplemented the official information with a heap of other interesting titbits and tips. He was keen to offer endless advice; we were keen to head back to camp. We hit the streets at about 4 pm and were delighted to find the traffic was no worse than it had been at any other time of the day. Canberra is a dream to drive around in.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

25 April 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

Snow had fallen during the night on the hills beyond the lake, and the clouds above promised more of the same. As we packed up camp ready to move and briefly chatted with the couple next door who had ventured into the mountains yesterday despite the bitter weather, we almost regretted that we were not staying another day. But then I did not wish to just hang about camp in case we might decide to travel back toward Khancoben, so in the end, we carried on with Plan A and drove out of Jindabyne, checking back over our shoulder across the lake to see the sun shining, and sharing regret with one another. But then, you cannot do everything – travel, like life, is all about compromise.

As we neared Cooma, we checked out the lookout on Mount Connor, promising views back over the mountains and the Monaro plains. The views were indeed lovely, the road to the top a first gear job in three stages and the wind cold and decidedly unpleasant. A couple of quick photos and we were back into the cruiser and heading on our way again.
ANZAC Parade in Cooma
It was our intention to fill the diesel tanks here in Cooma at the Woolworths Caltex but the roads were all closed and the ANZAC parade was about to start. We parked near the creek, as we had the other day, and joined the crowds, all of Cooma it seemed, in the freezing temperatures and waited for the parade to begin. There were soldiers, the old diggers (some tucked up in cars – probably because they were cold rather than too lame), the band wearing light shirts with red vests and no doubt regretting they had not put on their woollen underwear, the CFA volunteers and hundreds of school children, some looked barely old enough to be out of kindy. In fact half of Cooma was in the parade and the other half cheering them on. Up the main street they went, around the round-a-bout and over to the cenotaph for the service. By this stage we were frozen to the core and instead headed to the one shop open, a bakery which was doing brisk service with others who had decided enough was enough.

The NSW Corrections Museum is situated in Cooma and visitors are guided through by inmates from the current jail across the road. This had been on the agenda for when we came back through, however like most tourist attractions, is closed on Christmas and ANZAC days. Similarly I had been keen to return to the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre to review the relief models in light of having now travelled the region, but alas, had to forfeit that too.

And so we came north, travelling again on the Monaro Highway, over beautiful farm land populated with sheep and cattle, through Bredbo where one there is a Pancake & Crepe Restaurant (closed on ANZAC Day) and no bakery, stopping briefly at a rest area just north of Colinton, just a mark on the map, and then on to Canberra.

I had always had the idea that Canberra was laid out in geometric lines on a dead flat plain, with little character. It is true that we have only driven from the south through to this camping ground at the more northern end, but this city of over 350,000 seems anything but featureless. We paused briefly at the Information Centre and collected an armful of pamphlets and will spend the evening planning the days ahead.

The camp here is very busy and even as we set up, more caravans and motorhomes were arriving. Obviously they, like us, seek out the camps that charge the least exorbitant price.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

24 April 2012 - Jindabyne Holiday Park, Snowy Mountains, New South Wales

Yesterday was an excellent day, a very full day and one all the more amazing because Chris was up half the night before watching the latest big European cycle race, the Liege – Bastogne – Liege. Amazingly, even with it being one of those mornings when the yoghurt making, making up the milk and the decanting of the milk powder all coincided, and slow rising, we were out the door soon after 9 am, under slightly improved skies.

We drove back toward Cooma as far as Berridale then north toward Lake Eucumbine. This lake is one of those constructed for the hydro scheme; the largest of the sixteen water reservoirs of one sort or another. Lake Eucumbine, pronounced you-come-been, was built between 1956 and 1958, flooding the town of Adaminaby in the process and holds nine times the volume of Sydney harbour.

We skirted around the south and eastern side of the lake, joining the Snowy Mountain Highway and soon arrived at the new town of Adaminaby. Approached from the south, it seemed a little like Cooma, a tidy little settlement nestled in the low hills and dressed in autumn gold. On closer inspection however, it proved to be only a fraction of the size. Adaminaby is now situated safely up on 1,017 metres ASL and known as “Home of the Big Trout”. We guessed it must be this large sculpture hidden under a great burka of tarpaulins at the entrance of the town. When the river was dammed, over one hundred buildings were relocated including three churches and two schools, by truck along the eight kilometres. It must have been quite a sight. Looking at the village today, you would never guess it hadn’t been there forever.

We drove on down to Old Adaminaby or what is left of the old town; a caravan park and a few houses perched up on the hill well above the lake level. The lake when full has a surface area of 14,500 hectares and a shoreline of 224 kilometres. The water level can vary up to forty eight metres depending upon inflows and the operating regime of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Today the level appeared quite low; the banks are bare and not at all attractive. But it seems I was alone with that opinion. There were nearly a dozen vehicles and trailers parked by the boat ramp; it is obviously a fisherman’s paradise.

Way back in the mid-1830s John Cosgrove and two York brothers claimed Adaminaby as a sheep and cattle run, although passing shepherds and casual settlers had been this way before. It remained a cattle station until gold was discovered up at Kiandra. From a convenient staging camp it grew to a small settlement complete with an inn. In 1860 the town of Seymour was laid out, but the name was confused with Seymour in Victoria, one we visited just north of Melbourne a couple of months ago, and so was renamed after the station. It remained a service township for the dairying industry about and a copper mine until that closed in 1913.

We drove further up the lake to Anglers Rest which was a spot that Katrin-of-Cooma had recommended as a camping destination to us. There are heaps of residences here, probably holiday baches for fisher folk. The caravan park seems well situated but there is no news agency anywhere close. We could have used it as a base to explore, however we were managing very well from Jindabyne.

Further on at the most northern point of the lake we called into Providence Portal, which again is the location of a quiet little caravan park but more interestingly for us, where the water from the Tantangara Reservoir is released into Lake Eucumbene. It pours out of a tunnel at great force and helps one understand the awesome power of the water that is harnessed in this great scheme.

Just a few kilometres up the road, we passed through the north east entrance to the National Park. Here there is no entry fee. We climbed up through the mountains passing over saddles of 1,250 metres ASL and 1,480 metres and out onto the Kiandra plains at 1,390 metres. Here gold was discovered in 1859 but the rush only lasted the year, making it one of the shortest gold rushes in Australian history. In March 1860 there were 3,000 people on the diggings, by April there were 10,000, today there are none.
Kiandra did however have a longer lasting contribution to history, being the birth place of skiing in Australia. It started in 1861 when Norwegian miners introduced skiing and ski-making to their fellow fortune hunters during Kiandra’s gold rush. Ski races, clubs, chalets and champion skiers all form part of Kiandra’s remarkable ski history which endured into the 1970s, when skiing in the north of Kosciuszko moved to Mount Selwyn.
Cold and windy Kiandra

Today only the the courthouse remains having had a multidude of uses, and there is a heritage walking trail around the area which would draw one’s attention to other relics remaining. Yesterday the cold wind blew across the treeless bleak plain and we paused here to have lunch, inside the landcruiser, unwilling to face the elements.

We soon moved on, turning off the Snowy Mountains Highway onto the road toward Cabramurra, passing yet another park entrance, this time a fee collection point but closed today advertising the fact that the road ahead from Cabramurra to Khancoban was closed.

However we were keen to visit Cabramurra, the highest town in Australia at 1,488 metres ASL. We pressed on past the Mount Selwyn skifields, continuing steeply up into forest until we arrived at this purpose built settlement, home to Snowy Hydro employees and their families. The dwellings are all very uniform with their roofs steeply lined up against the elements. The one service building we found was a multipupose café, post office, general store, information office and staffed by a very friendly woman who was happy to explain to us that the alternative route continuing our anti-clockwise circuit of the park did have an alternative.

We retraced our route about four kilometres then headed north and down steeply over the edge of the escarpment, down past the Talmut Underground Hydro Station one kilometre inside and 244 metres deep into the mountain. We followed the Talmut River down through one of the deepest, steepest and narrow gorges we had ever travelled. We started to climb out of the valley again where the Talbingo Reservoir starts. We continued to climb up through the forest, finally travelling south east and out of the National Park, but still the road was flanked by State Forests, with the odd pocket of farmland tucked away in clearings.

We stopped at the Snowy Cloud Memorial Rest Area from where we had lovely views of the Snowy Mountains. The weather had cleared considerably, the sun was shining and there was enough blue sky in evidence to provide contrast to the deep green wooded hills.

Not too far up into the mountains is the site where Australia’s first big civil airline disaster occurred in March 1931. The pilot, co-pilot and all six passengers were lost, and their remains were not discovered for another twenty seven years, when in 1958, a worker on the Snowy Hydro Scheme wandering about the ranges photographing the mountain scenery, happened upon some of the wreckage in the undergrowth. The rest area is tastefully set up with excellent information and in a lovely spot from where one has marvellous views up the Maragle Valley where returned servicemen were allotted land for farming, and have all done a fine job of carrying out their task.

Finally we came out into the Tooma Valley, which in turn runs into the Murray valley, and we were just a few kilometres from our old friend, the Murray River and the state border. Just for a lark, we left our route and travelled the short distance to where the road to Cooryong crosses the river. Both Chris and I were surprised how large and forceful the river was, even at this very early stage.

There was still over a hundred kilometres to camp. We re-entered the park at Khancoban, and working on the premise that we were just passing through, did not stop to purchase a pass but pressed on up and over the most amazing roads, finally coming down over a saddle at 1,580 metres ASL, and down to Thredbo, world famous for its ski faciltiies. We still pressed on, now following the Thredbo River down to Lake Jinabyne, passing tantilising beauty spots, but promising to call and explore further when we come this way again tomorrow, this time displaying a current park pass.

As we proceeded through the falling dusk, we watched carefully for roos and wombats but thankfully saw none, and it was quite dark when we finally arrived at camp. I insisted Chris put his feet up while I cooked dinner; a reversal of our usual roles. However he had been behind the wheel for nearly eight hours covering 395 kilometres. It had been a big day! 

Today was a very different kettle of fish. When I first peeked outside in the early hours of dawn, I was sure that we were in for good weather. However by the time we breakfasted, it was clearly going to be a bleak day. We had intended to return along the southern edge of the National Park, however it seemed pointless to venture out into the inclement weather, unlikely to see much through the clouds. We decided to pop up to the Woolworths Supermarket to stock up given that tomorrow is ANZAC Day, as Australasia closes for most of the day. We were back for lunch and supplemented our already cut lunch with yet another can of soup, all of which did nothing to change our minds about venturing out again.

Later in the afternoon when the sun made a brief appearance, we set off on foot to retrace our walk of the afternoon of our arrival, just to get the circulation going. The second hand ski-suits and other gear set out on racks to tempt the tourist did seem more attractive today, however we will just have to make do with our regular clothes and leave all the snow stuff for the ski-bunnies who will surely start to descend on the resort soon.

We were glad to return to the caravan, even if it deperately does lack adaquate insulation. Thank goodness for electricity and our little fan heater. Perhaps we did ourselves a disservice by not returning to the park and exploring Khancoban and Thredbo further, and we must confess to having been beaten by Mount Kosciuszko. We did not get to the summit nor have we seen the summit except from the distance of the Alps in Victoria. Perhaps we will return in the summertime and do all we have neglected to do now?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

22 April 2012 - Jindabyne Holiday Park, Snowy Mountains, New South Wales

Today is notable for two events: our oldest grandchild, India, has turned eleven and we failed in our attempt to conquer Mount Kosciuszko. It seems only yesterday that I wrote in this blog about India turning ten; how the year has flown! And as for the second non-event; more of that later.

The morning dawned without rain and with the cacophonic chorus of birds heralding in the better weather. With such a positive start to the day, we were up, breakfasted, lunch made and off up into the National Park by 8 am. The road beyond Jinabyne goes on toward Thredbo through the National Park. However there is a side road which follows the lake edge for a while before turning westward where the Thredbo River flows into the lake. Most entries to the Natonal Park are carefully guarded by National Park employees, however $16 per vehicle will give you access for twenty four hours. Here it is obviously user pays despite any state or federal funding that may also fill the Park’s coffers.

We travelled on over Dainer’s Gap at 1,650 metres above sea level, through Perisher, an alpine village in waiting for the snow, past Spencer’s Creek at 1,730 metres finally arriving at Charlotte’s Pass at 1,835 metres, yet another alpine village but one that is cut off from vehicular traffic in the winter.  There we donned our jackets, scarves, tramping boots, hats and stepped outside the vehicle to see the gale force winds whipping the rain clouds across the entrance to the track to the summit of Australia’s highest mountain. We also saw a park ranger there so approached him and asked if it was a good idea for us to be setting off this morning. He looked at us and at our clothing and suggested that since we were not wearing waterproof pants, we could run into strife. Jeans just don’t cut the mustard for mountain climbing! He also said that the winds would be twice as fierce further on up the mountain. Even in the few moments spent speaking with him, it was evident that the conditions were against us, and so we agreed not to attempt the eighteen kilometre hike today.

Later I checked the forecast online and found that the winds were gusting up to over 60 kph, that the conditions would be similar tomorrow and then there would be two days of snow. It seems that we may have to abandon the whole plan, which is most disappointing. However the jury is not totally out yet.

Not to be totally beaten, we decided on the three kilometre return Rainbow Lake Walk, a walk that both the ranger and Katrin-of-Cooma recommended. We drove back down the road to Dainer’s Gap and set off through the snow grass and snow gums toward the lake. No sooner had we left sight of the landcruiser, than it began to rain. We crossed a couple of small streams and worked our way through boggy sections of the track, and the rain became heavier. I am sure this is an absolutely lovely walk, however with caps on in an attempt to protect our glasses from the rain and hoods pulled up over our heads, our peripheral vision was limited, and the walk became all about getting there and back rather than stopping to smell the roses, or in this instance, admire the Billy Buttons. We did startle a large grey kangaroo at one stage but apart from him and evidence of wombat excavation, there was little other wildlife silly enough to be out in the weather.

This small lake was created by a dam which was built to supply water to the Hotel Kosciuszko built in 1909. The hotel burnt down in 1951 but the staff quarters, a grand affair in their own right, remain and now operate as ski accommodation under the auspices of Sponar’s Chalet. We would not dismiss the walk out of hand but simply recommend that it be done on a more pleasant day.

Having paid the exorbitant entry fee, we were not willing to waste the opportunity of exploring the park further despite the weather, so continued further down the road, turning off north onto the Guthega Road. At Island Bend we came close to the upper Snowy River, and turned south east, following the valley up to the Guthega Power Station, which, needless to say, is part of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. We passed probably a dozen wallabies, some playing chicken which may be fun for them but not for the motorist. However everyone survived and on the return, they had gone off to play somewhere else.

From there we exited the park but stopped beside the Thredbo River and walked over a kilometre upriver along part of the Pallaibo Track. Here at this lower altitude, the weather had cleared and we continued until the track started to climb steeply, then turned back, enjoying the scene of the Thredbo, tumbling noisily over rocks and noted that the March rains had caused the river to flood considerably and throw a lot of debris up on the banks.

The second walk had dried our jeans a little although our shoes were still soaked, and so we headed back to camp, heated up a can of soup and marvelled at the much better weather here at Jindabyne than that up in the mountains. It was as if we were on a different planet!

It did seem a shame to sit inside for the rest of the day feeling beaten, so we set off along the lakeside in the opposite direction to yesterday, along the well-constructed path, which in places lies under water from those same March floods mentioned earlier. From the extreme end of the walkway we were able to look across to East Jindabyne and the Tyrolean Village visited yesterday, and as we returned, see our own camp through the beautiful golden poplars.

Lake Jindabyne covers an area of 30.35 square kilometres and has an average depth of fifteen metres, the maximum depth just forty metres. There are several buoys out in the lake that could only be marking obstacles in the shallow water, and out from the camp there are a couple of islands, also covered in lovely exotic trees, which look large enough to be inhabited.

Before settling in for the afternoon and checking out the weather on line, we paid for a further couple of days here at Jindabyne. There is a lot to see, some of which may have to be checked out in summer if we are back this way.

21 April 2012 - Jindabyne Holiday Park, Snowy Mountains, New South Wales

Our front lawn

During the course of yesterday afternoon, the caravans kept coming in until the long strip of sites along the lake edge were all occupied. The sites are narrow; just enough for a caravan and awning but nowhere to park one’s vehicle. This has to go on the lawn out in front which in turn interferes with the view of the lake and mountains beyond. We wondered if there was a caravan club rally taking place here given it was Friday afternoon, however a bit of snooping suggested not. One of our immediate neighbours was an old caravan and a much more modern 4WD and two couples of our age, who had crossed the Bass Strait from Tasmania about nine days ago. They were heading toward the Murray River and planning an excellent trip, having survived the days so far. This I found quite incredible, because while the thought of travelling in the company of another couple, them in their own van, can be inviting (and here I remember the couple of days we spent with our friends Neil and Pauline at Macquarie Woods last year), the thought of being packed into the one caravan is not at all appealing. To top it off, one couple were smokers and that proved a problem for us when they sat outside their caravan puffing away on their cancer sticks. However we soon fixed that by shutting up one side of our caravan tightly as well as the roof hatches pointing that way. Passive smoking is not one of our fun activities.

As they were packing up this morning, we spent some time chatting with them and found out all the above, offering them some travel advice of our own. They were quite personable people and it just goes to prove that one should not prejudge people. Smokers can actually be nice people. And I say that with a poker face, having lived with some in past lives.

We were keen to check out the National Parks Information office as recommended by Katrin in Cooma and to buy our weekend paper, so set off around the lake shore in the sunshine. We admired the statue of Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki, the Polish born explorer and geologist, who made his mark here in Australia  from the year 1839 to 1843, and criticised the kitch art commissioned by the council to decorate this stretch of public land. Honeyeaters entertained us in the trees lining the walkway and we both agreed that Jindabyne was just wonderful.
Tightly packed

We then walked up into the village, found an excellently appointed Woolworths supermarket and the National Parks Visitor Centre which acts as a mini-museum. We were so absorbed by the film and interpretative information panels, that it was midday before we returned to the caravan park. Lunch was already sitting on the bench in the expectation of a picnic out somewhere, however that was not to be.

Instead we headed off after lunch eastwards to historic Dalgety, the one remaining township on the Snowy River in New South Wales; Jindabyne and Adaminaby both having been flooded  for the Scheme.

Dalgety is situated thirty five kilometres from Jindamyne, over lovely countryside still on the Monaro Plains. Here on these plains, a mixture of temperature and geography preclude the germination of trees and so they are mostly quite treeless, and thus very suitable for grazing of dry stock. At about the halfway point we came to the edge of a high escarpment, offering expansive views over the plain, and then we descended steeply down to the land immediately surrounding the Snowy River.
The approach to Dalgety from the western bank of the river is just delightful, especially at this time of the year. Here again was the golden foliage, some still tenuously on the trees and some as a great carpet on the ground. The bridge across to the township is the original one built in 1888 to replace the punt service.

The first settlement was originally known as Buckley’s Crossing after the farmer who first took his livestock across the river here for grazing in 1832. In 1848, it was renamed Barnes’ Crossing by which time it had become an important waypoint on the stock route between Gippsland in Victoria and the Snowy Mountains. In 1874, the town was formerly surveyed and named Dalgety after the maiden name of the surveyor’s wife.   She was the niece of the Dalgety of Dalgety & Co, the rural supply merchants and stock and station agents who I remember as being a significant part of New Zealand farming life in the mid-20th century.

Then the population was twenty three, in 2006 it was seventy five.  In 1902, it was yet another location gazetted for the national capital, however it lost out because it was finally thought to be too close to Victoria.

Today, it has little to offer but a pub, a school, a general store than doubles as a café, post office and garden nursery, and lovely reserve along the river by a simple camping ground.

I had picked up a Town and River Walk pamphlet this morning and it proved to be a useful guide as we walked about the “streets” viewing the rather derelict houses and remnants of public buildings, dating back to the 1840s and 1860s, some still used as residences today.
We also checked out the last of the market that had been underway this morning. The three stalls still up were ever hopeful of custom; alas we were not interested in their wares, however we did engage in conversation with a young woman who suggested we might prefer to pop into the pub another day for lunch. She could recommend it; she worked as a part-time barmaid.

Platypuses live here in the river, and the water above the weir did seem to provide ideal conditions apart from it being the wrong time of the day. Signs nailed to trees warned that snakes were about; however we saw neither snakes nor platypus, only some very large ants which attacked me rather viciously working their way up my jean-clad legs.

Back on the road, we drove on through to Berridale, almost due north, a small settlement again adorned with the gold of autumn, we had passed through yesterday on our way through to Jindabyne. Today we paused long enough to wander about however the place seemed less attractive than I had thought it yesterday, even in the rain. That probably comes of the fact that a place out of reach always seems less once it becomes familiar.
It was only a further thirty one kilometres to reach our camp, the same route travelled yesterday. Today, about ten kilometres out of Jindabyne, we pulled into Tyrolean Village, a settlement of modern homes but little else, directly across the inlet from Jindabyne. We walked out to the point, accompanied by a very friendly young dog and were soon joined by his owner who spends most of her day apprehending her very social pet. She was as friendly as her canine companion, and kept us captive for probably half an hour  discussing or rather telling us of the lives of her children who live in obscure exotic locations of the world. While she was a most attractive and personable woman, we were keen to head home and so eventually tore ourselves away.

Still even closer to home, we paused to check the dam over the Snowy River. This is a rather strange shape and yet obviously effective. Despite the fact that the lake level is over part of the lakeside path, it seems that the lake is not at optimum level; it is well below the spillway.

And while on the subject of lake levels and spillways, we have come across a lot of discussion and written comment about the demise of the Snowy River in the context of the Snowy River Hydro Scheme. It seems that when the project was complete, the river was reduced to less than 1% of its flow as it left Jindabyne. Needless to say this was a concern to anglers, Greenies and average citizens who are as concerned about the environment as any other reasonable citizen of the world. The result of this depleted flow was silting and a change in the flora on the riverside, thus affecting the fauna who inhabit the water and the land immediately about, without starting on the frustrations of mankind. Increased awareness or rather, acceptance that perhaps the vocal few had substance, there has been on-going rehabilitation of the river. Part of this process is the occasional or rather, staged  release of water from Lake Jindabyne by 15% to 21% starting in 2009. Improvements have begun over the intervening years however there is still room for more. Legend has the Snowy River as mighty and impressive; we have observed it just south of Orbost, Dalgety and as it discharges from the lake; these words do not immediately spring to mind.

20 April 2012 - Jindabyne Holiday Park, Snowy Mountains, New South Wales

After having wasted so many words about the overpriced camp at Nimmitabel, the caretaker never did turn up last night, nor this morning. Unable to locate any donation box, we hung about until 9 am, but could wait no longer, and so this will join the list of free camps after all. Another rig that had come in later in the evening snuck off before we were up, apparently making no attempt to make any payment at all. But then you see that quite often. Its people like that who paint us all as cheapskates. (Did I say that?)

As we headed up and away from Nimmitabel, the sun was shining and the poplars along the creek beds were the most vivid yellow gold either of us had ever seen. We travelled on over the thirty seven kilometres across the plains, grazed by sheep and cattle, but mainly the former. We noted the well maintained woolsheds and shearers quarters, and the modest homesteads. Mist or low hanging clouds lay in the hollows, sometimes rising like bush fire smoke. The road, now that the Snowy Mountains Highway from Bega had joined this north – south route, was of a far better standard, and we were able to keep up a good steady speed most of the way through to Cooma.

Cooma appeared quite suddenly, nestled in low hills, the houses scattered among the loveliest gold of autumn. The sign at the entrance told us that the population was 8,000 and that we were at 800 metres above sea level. Autumn is indeed a lovely time of the year to travel. We passed through the centre of this tantalising town without stopping, heading directly to the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre at the northern end.

This wonderful information centre is funded by Snowy Hydro as a public relations exercise and is a must see for any tourist passing this way. But then I would say that because the Snowy Hydro Scheme is the primary reason we had abandoned our original plan to follow the A1 Highway on around the coast toward Sydney, and instead came north from Cann River.

Here we learned the history of the scheme, the geography of the Kosciuszko National Park and of the wild creatures which inhabit this area (aside from the Australians and foreign tourists). We spent nearly two hours there, and were very impressed, finding the wealth of information almost too much to absorb in one sitting. And as I write this, I am thinking that we should perhaps return there after we have ourselves explored the scheme and surrounds. 

Some of the facts and snippets we learned:
  • Construction of the scheme commenced in 1949 and was completed by 1974.
  • The scheme is the largest renewable energy generator in mainland Australia and plays an important role in the operation of the national electricity market, generating approximately 67% of all renewable energy in the mainland National Electricity Market.
  • The scheme includes: 
  •         7 major power stations (2 underground)
  •       16 major dams
  •       80 kilometres of aquaducts
  •       145 kilometres of tunnels
  • Water is diverted from the scheme for farmers on the Murray and Murrumbigee River systems.
  • 75% of water for irrigation in Australia comes from this scheme.
  • The chief engineer and commissioner for the scheme was New Zealand born Sir William Hudson.
  •  It is the largest engineering scheme ever undertaken in Australia.
  • 70% of the 100,000 workers on the project were migrants from thirty different countries, mainly European.
  • The official death toll of workers on the scheme was 121.
  • Some of the towns constructed for the scheme are now permanent: Cabramurra, Khancoban, Cooma.
  • Townships of Adaminaby, Jindabyne and Talbingo were inundated by the construction of dams.
  • 1600 kilometres of new roads were constructed and original ones improved, thus opening up the area to tourists who now come to enjoy the natural features of the park, notably the ski-resorts of Thredbo and Guthega.
  • The lakes formed by damming, hold thirteen times the amount of water in the Sydney Harbour.
  • “Cloud seeding” is used to encourage the formation and growth of ice crystals or raindrops, which in turn, enhance precipitation (i.e. rain). This is done by:
  • A minute amount of silver iodide is sprayed across a propane flame.
  • The silver iodide particles rise into the clouds.
  • The silver iodide causes cloud moisture to freeze and create ice crystals.
  • Ice crystals grow big enough to fall as snow.
  • And of course the snow in turn melts in the spring filling the lakes and rivers which are then made use of to produce electricity.
  • The Hydro Company works hand in hand with the National Parks department with special attention to the conservation of the tiny mountain pigmy possum and the corroboree frog.

And that was just the beginning, but enough to whet our appetite for more, hence our evolving decision during the following few hours to stay more than several days in the area.

We filled the diesel tanks here in Cooma where the price was marginally lower than the last few places we had passed through, then found the local Coles supermarket where we restocked perishable items and then called into the Visitors Centre in the hope someone might be able to suggest the best way of touring the alpine area without moving here permanently. Katrin in the Centre was just marvellous, a true saleswoman for the attractions of Cooma and surrounds. We had entered wondering whether we should stay at Cooma rather than Jindabyne as decided earlier in the day, and left realising that we would have to stay in both places plus a few more as well.

So for now we decided to stay with Plan A and set off for Jindabyne, about seventy kilometres south west, passing over a saddle near the Snowy Mountain airfield at 980 metres above sea level. Misty rain had started soon after we left Cooma, but it did not detract from the lovely landscape along the way, although it did shroud the distant mountains so for now, views of Australia’s highest mountain from this angle must wait for another day.

We were delightfully surprised by the size of Lake Jindabyne and even more delighted to find ourselves right on the lakeside. The township is situated at 930 metres above sea level. It was relocated here and while I did not know how the original town looked, I suspect it was not a patch on this new one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

19 April 2011 - Nimmitabel Campground, Monaro Highway, New South Wales

Well here we are, back in New South Wales, after almost eleven months. Irrationally I find the concept of crossing borders quite exciting, which is something a New Zealander would not understand until they have lived or travelled in different states in Australia. It is quite amazing to discover how each state has its own government, rules and regulations, and really is like a different country.

So we left our lovely little roadside camp beside the Snowy River in the state of Victoria before 8 am, having woken early and watched the dawn arrive through the uncurtained riverside window. The kookaburras were in full swing and the commuters from Marlo were on the road soon after. We headed back toward the Princes Highway, driving through the town of Orbost, stunningly pretty in autumn colours but otherwise very quiet at this early hour.

Back on the main highway, and with the rain drizzling down, we headed on eastward, on through to Cann River, up and over many hills, most covered in forest. It was a beautiful drive, even with the ten kilometres of controlled burn being undertaken beside the road. Sometimes we drove through rain dampened smoke and sometimes just misty rain; both instances requiring headlights.

Arriving at Cann River, we found the council dump point which we used and then topped up with diesel. There was a bakery there too and so our good intentions of avoiding such places were abandoned. After all, breakfast had been very very early.

Here we turned north and followed the Cann River valley for some distance, up through pockets of farmland, but soon the road became steeper and the forest once more closed around us. The road was graded B but seemed more like a C road. There was little traffic and still we climbed up on to the Great Dividing Range. We crossed the border on the Razorback Range and pulled off the road for morning coffee and to record the mileage.

We had been one hundred and three days in Victoria and travelled 8,328 kilometres since crossing from South Australia at Nelson on the south coast. We could have stayed so much longer and done so much more, but we only have the rest of our lives. There are great expanses of this country untouched, and then all the spaces in-between. We actually would like to return to Victoria, but next time with bicycles and do some of the amazing rail trails that are on offer. I shall bring my Sarah Ulmer bike pants back with me when I next go to New Zealand.

Once in New South Wales, the road immediately became wider and better maintained, so very different to the Victorian roads we have travelled. On reaching the Monaro Plains, the road became more gently undulatingand degenerated into the same old roads we had travelled last year; full of potholes and with soft edges. Sometimes we had to drive slalom; it was that bad. After passing over the border, the sun had made an appearance and gave hope that the weather was lifting.
The Platypus Reserve

We turned on to the road toward Delegate just south of Bombola, following the Platypus Reserve signs. Just a kilometre or so on, we turned again on to a slippery dirt road, up toward the local racecourse. At the top, with the Bombala River still well below, I suggested we park and walk the rest of the distance, which we did. The flock of sheep in the paddock, well camouflaged by their dirty woollen coats, fled as we descended the track which was even steeper and muddier than the one we had driven up. The river was swollen, the flooding evidence of recent rain and the water seemed too murky and fast flowing to host platypus. It was also the wrong time of day; however Chris was happy to humour me. Perhaps there were some about because Bombola Country is Platypus Country. Perhaps the females were curled up in their burrows in the river bank (above the flood level), lying on their backs, incubating their eggs between their stomach and their tail. Or perhaps they were spending the afternoon just laxing out while their little puggles snuggled up feeding. Or perhaps they had all been swept away to sea in the flood! Reluctantly I gave up my search and we returned to the rig. Chris took great care driving back out the access route and re-joined the highway and proceeded to Bombola.

This town is surprisingly big; it had a population of 1,206 in the 2006 census. Interestingly it was proposed as the parliamentary capital in 1903 because it is halfway between the two cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Obviously this did not happen; Canberra was chosen as the site and the rest is history.

Today it is a rural service centre with a couple of small supermarkets, banks or banking agencies, a post office, cafes, and most of shops and services required. These are mostly located in old tired buildings, and yet the town does have a vibrancy despite its rather jaded appearance. Today the town relies on the grazing and timber industries, sheep being the most obvious of these. To celebrate the sheep farming in the area, a sculpture of a shearer in action stands beside the bridge over the Bombola River, in the style of that of the famed shearer, Fagen, in New Zealand’s Te Kuiti.

Bombola also holds the annual Bike Show where prizes are handed out for every category one could think of. The shop windows are decorated with photos of the prize winning motorbike from the last two years shows, and in the window of the soft furnishing shop sits a restored Triumph, up for raffle to be drawn at the next show this coming November. It is good to see a town promote itself with a popular annual exhibition or the like. A shame we will miss the excitement.

We set off after lunch for a walk about the town, but scurried back before too long, when the rain became heavier. We continued on our way across the plateau, through continuous farm land, much covered in tussock grass but as green as could be when the under growth was exposed to view. Had the day been clear, I believe we would have seen Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain, directly to the west. Coming upon the Bombola River yet again, but up river, there was still evidence of flooding and we hoped that the camp we were heading for would not be water logged.

Nimmitabel is a tiny town, with just 237 in 2006 and sits at an elevation of 1,075 metres above sea level. I have yet to get my tongue around the name, which means “the place where many waters start or divide” in the local Aboriginal language. This is because at the southern end, the water shed flows into the Snowy River system, and at the northern, runs into the Murrumbidgee River system. As we walked about the town, we noted it written, or coined, in a number of different ways including Nimmitybelle and just Nimmity. This latter is probably the colloquial use; it is so much easier to gets one’s tongue around.

A stone tower stands sentinel over the town and so had to be visited. In 1865 German born John Geldmacher commenced stockpiling building materials and over the next seven years, almost single-handedly built a stone tower windmill here in the town. Due to a lack of communication, he learned after his efforts that he had built his mill too close to the road and he was told that he could not complete it with windmill wings because they would cast their shadow onto the road, frightening horses. He used horses to work the mill instead of the wind, however it was never as successful as planned. By 1885 it was out of action and it was not until 1961 that the local council restored the tower as a tourist attraction. Perhaps as a belated apology?
Standing sentinel in Nimmity

The camp here at the northern end of town is a very simple affair. There are toilets as well as showers and a laundry which may be accessed with a key made available by the caretaker. He (or she) is supposed to come to collect the $20 fee, however has yet to show, and night is now well upon us. We spoke with another couple who arrived earlier than us who have used this camp from time to time over several years. About three years ago, the tariff was just $12 for a powered site, a very fair cost and one that would have warranted its entry in Camps 5, however over the intervening years, while there have been no improvements at all, the tariff has climbed to $15, and now $20. It is still far cheaper than the regular caravan parks however the facilities are very basic. Television reception is poor; we have just one channel, and internet is worse. My attempt to speak with my parents tonight on Skype was abysmal. But we do have power and water and a council blessed place to plant our wheels. That is worth something.