Monday, September 30, 2013

30 September 2013 - Abel Tasman Caravan Park, Devonport, Tasmania

I woke this morning not to the raucous sound of birds or the sound of passing trains, but the farewell horn of the ferry as it headed out toward the sea. It seems that the rhythm of city is bound to the ferry comings and goings.  I slept again and woke more gently to the sound of tweety birds and the waves washing up against the shore. Our recovery was complete but we had paid for two nights here in Devonport so planned a more local tour rather than something further afield. Patches of clear sky encouraged us despite the forecasted rain. 

Devonport is Tasmania’s third largest city with a population of about 25,000, making it home to about 5% of the State’s population, which was in the 2011 census,  a grand 510,168. Apparently the tourist numbers per annum exceed the island’s population which is just as well, as tourism seems to be the most lucrative industry for the State. Even as I write this late in the afternoon, we have yet to wander up and down the CBD of this city and so have only our Sunday’s view of the city, but then is it a city?

The area about was first explored way back in 1826, although settlement did not occur until the 1850s when two separate townships, Formby and Torquay, either side of the Mersey were established. Then the more populous settlement of Latrobe offered the location for crossing the significant Mersey River and it was only after another forty years that the bridged port of Devonport was established.

This morning we headed east through the country, passing through small holdings growing berries, grapes and potatoes, patchworks of fertile soil and crops, green and brown, passing through Wesley Vale just a few kilometres east of Devonport where we spotted a rather strange industrial installation and were later able to establish that this was once a pulp and paper mill. It was closed in 2010 with a large loss of jobs and there were other issues over the years brought to light by the now Greens Party leader Senator Christine Milne. The Greens have much to answer for regarding the development and progress of the Tasmanian economy and we will not doubt hear much for and against this premise during our time here.

I have to say that with this all foremost in my mind, I tended to imagine Tasmanians all getting around in muslin and dreadlocks; we have yet to encounter any such person.

We soon arrived at Port Sorell on the western shore of the Rubicon River estuary and hunted out a store that might have a newspaper for sale. We were eventually directed to the caravan park store and Chris re-emerged with a publication far short of his expectations. Perhaps we should have driven back into the centre of Devonport before heading east this morning? Later when I suggested we try again in a more commercial centre, he said he would be satisfied with the lesser purchase. Just as well.

Port Sorell was one of the very earliest settlements in the North West of the state, although I would hardly agree it is north west, established in the early 1820s. Sadly evidence of that heritage has since been consumed in bushfires of the intervening years and today there seem only to be homes for retirees and those who come to fish and enjoy the beaches in the summertime.

We travelled south, upriver, then crossed east at the southern extent of the estuary and then north up the opposite bank, arriving at the Narawntapu National Park, our first opportunity to use our new National Park’s Pass. As we travelled toward the Park, we were amazed to see so many road killed possums, something very common in New Zealand but so very rare in Australia. Perhaps Tasmanian possums are less intelligent than those on the mainland, unable to develop road sense. Certainly the New Zealand ones have none at all.

The park was formerly known as the Asbestos Range National Park for the range that sits in the eastern part, but renamed in 2000 because of the negative connotations of the word “asbestos”. It covers an area of 43.49 square kilometres, stretching from the low coastal ranges to the long Bass Strait beaches, including inlets, small islands, headlands, wetlands, dunes and lagoons, first established back in 1976. The highest point in the park is 392 metres ASL. It is interesting to note that despite the name of the range of mountains, asbestos was never actually mined in the Asbestos Range, only in areas beyond, and then only in very small quantities.

Common Wombat
The Narawntapu National Park is sometimes referred to as the Serengeti of Tasmania because of the wealth of fauna not only to be found here but to be easily observed. Today as we walked about the park we came upon a Bennetts Wallaby or Tasmanian Pademelons and in excess of twenty Common Wombats. These latter creatures, totally elusive to us throughout our entire Australian touring so far, apart from road kill and zoo captivity, proved to be the highlight of our day. There they were grazing out on the pasture-like flats near our picnic stop, so very appealing. They are so very soft and cuddly looking; I just may have to transfer my allegiance, my unfounded passion for koalas, to wombats. While lunching, we encountered a park ranger who was busy checking park passes, clipboard and pen in hand and Forester kangaroo on her back, the little joey’s head peeking up out of a backpack. She was left orphaned just a month ago, now three months old and will remain in foster care for some time yet. It is the ranger’s sincere hope that once grown, she will be released back into the Park and not have been too spoiled by human contact. I am sure that our petting and crooning of this sweet little creature today did nothing to facilitate that process.

Springlawn Lagoon

We set off for a walk to the Springlawn Lagoon and out to the bird hide, from which, I am happy to report, we did actually see some water-birds. Although visibility had closed in, rain still seemed some time away so we decided to continue on to Archer’s Knob, but before long, after donning raincoats, we decided we had better change our plans; we headed north to Bakers Beach. A winding track took us up and down over scrub covered sand dunes and finally up over the beach where the waves rolled in from the Bass Strait. Instead of returning by the track we had come, we took the shorter gravel road back and soon were back amongst the grazing wombats.

Before leaving the Park, we drove out to Bakers Point and looked across the estuary to Port Sorell, checked out the camping areas then headed back up river and across the rolling farmlands  south of Devonport, soon finding ourselves in Latrobe, once Tasmania’s third largest settlements with three newspapers. We stopped there in search of a replacement to our trusty thermometer which fell to its death this morning after breakfast, smashing to a dozen pieces. We were unsuccessful but will continue our search as we travel about the State. I shall have to rely instead on official online temperature records.

We drove south yet again, this time travelling up the Mersey Valley, soon reaching Railton which was known as Redwater Creek until a tramway line went through the town in the 1860s. In 1885 the tramline was superseded by the present railway line.

A cottage in Railton complete with topiary
The longest continually working limeworks in Australia still operates here, first established in 1860, and under various banners, today part of Cement Australia. But this town of a little over 1,200 people is better known by tourists as the Town of Topiary. Today we saw a variety of shapes and sizes of topiary, most works in progress or between growing seasons; returned servicemen, elephants, wombats, cattle, sheep, and so on. However spring is really only just arriving here in Tasmania and today we enjoyed the show of daffodils, cherry blossoms, magnolia trees and so much more.

We drove on through steeper country, up past large areas of pine forest currently being milled and over to Sheffield which has a slightly bigger population of just over 1,500 folk. Sheffield is only twenty three kilometres inland from Devonport and sits 280 metres ASL in the shadow of Mount Roland, which in turn stands 1234 metres ASL. Alas, today this mountain, apparently quite magnificent, was completely shrouded in cloud.

The town was settled in 1859, first named Kentishbury, then renamed Sheffield in 1882, and has served as a centre to the surrounding rural land, well known for its high quality butterfat production. However growth has been stalled at various times of its history, and boosted several times as follows:

In the 1880s, gold was discovered in the area, more particularly near Moina which lies to the south west. Mining was carried out there intermittently until about 1957.
Parts of the Sheffield murals
In 1963 commencement of the Mersey-Forth Power Development Scheme ushered in ten years of great construction activity, with seven dams and seven power stations. But soon after the population went into decline.

Determined to save the town, a group of locals revitalised the town with the concept of murals. The first mural was unveiled in 1986 and since then over sixty murals depicting the area’s history and natural scenery have been painted on walls scattered throughout the town and buildings alongside the roadside. Since 2003, every April the town has held the International Mural Fest art competition. This draws great crowds to the town and of course tourists all year, such as ourselves who wandered around admiring the work. Some is really excellent, all is pleasing.

We drove on back down through the undulating farmland and Chris voiced his dismay at the nature of the geography in the context of towing a two and a half tonne caravan. We agreed it might be a case of basing ourselves in fewer locations and doing more day trips in the vehicle alone. 

Back in Devonport we shopped at the Woolworths supermarket, and came on back to camp, just before the rain began. The forecasted rain and thunderstorms have arrived; hopefully the worst will have passed by the time we leave in the morning to head off on our way, caravan once again in tow.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

29 September 2013 - Abel Tasman Caravan Park, Devonport, Tasmania

Taking a late checkout turned out to be a good decision. The wind blew all morning at 45 kph, gusting at least 70 kph; I wrestled the washing on the line and ended up exhausted from the experience. Chris washed both the landcruiser and the caravan, a task I thought impossible in the rain, however he won his fight with the wind, but when it came to taking the carpet out of the caravan and doing the floors, another task on my list of to-dos, the thought of further battle was all too much. So we spent the greater part of the day reading the weekend newspaper and watching the first half of the AFL Grand Final.

Our WA neighbours had returned at about 1.30 in the morning and true to their word, had remained quiet. It was not until late in the morning that the first of the party emerged looking rather seedy to say the least. On live television we could see tens of thousands already queuing at the gates of the MCG while those next door were far from ready. We wondered where they would park their huge transport in order to see the game; the problem was duly solved when a couple of taxis turned up to take them away just before midday. And so they disappeared from our lives, clad in every style of purple garment one might find in an emporium.

When the television was eventually switched off for our own departure, the Freemantle Dockers were down by 23 points.  I thought of all the sad purple people there would be in Melbourne, however we were later to learn that the visitors came back strongly scoring a valiant 62 to the Hawkes 77; not such a wipe-out after all. The bus crowd would still be able to proudly fly their banners all the way back across the Nullarbor.

We finally left our camp at Rockbank at 4.20 pm, later than planned, but all for the best. By then the fierce winds had abated and the high section across the Westgate Bridge was not a problem at all. We arrived minutes after 5 pm and joined the queues of caravans, motorhomes and ordinary cars for loading on the ferry.

There are two identical ferries that ply the transport route across the Bass Strait, one the Spirit of Tasmania I and the other the Spirit of Tasmania II, and it was this latter moored up against the wharf appearing to all intents and purposes, ready to take us immediately.

The Spirit of Tasmania I, and its identical twin, each have a gross tonnage of 29,338 tonnes, an overall length of 194.33 metres, travel at an average speed of 27 knots and complete an average of 800 crossings per annum. The distance covered from Melbourne to Devonport in 232 nautical miles or 429 kilometres, hence the fact the trip takes all night.

How wrong we were to think that the boarding process would be speedy and efficient! First there is the security check where they poke around in the caravan looking for refugees under the bed and ask about hazardous items. Our little gas bottle was confiscated as was our hatchet, tagged and carried off for separate collection on arrival. Now we can understand concern about gas bottles, although how they are any safer in a separate hold with a whole lot of the same, I have yet to understand. But the hatchet which rides under so much other “stuff” in the back of the landcruiser! Bearing in mind that the vehicle holds are locked during the journey, how could this be a danger, unless we were carrying it in our hand luggage? Signs everywhere warned of the strict quarantine restrictions so there was no excuse for non-compliance. We had made sure we adhered to this, cooking up the last of the potatoes and onions; Chris has become quite adept at making up batches of stompot for later eating.

Finally after an hour of much stuffing around, we were on board, the vehicle ready for chaining down by those in the know and us ascending the many stairs to the passenger service levels. Both Chris and I were very pleasantly surprised by the standard of the ship, but then I guess our measuring stick is not a very classy one. We have travelled across New Zealand’s Cook Strait several times with our motorhome and each time elected to use Bluebridge; (1) because it is a privately owned company with rather tenuous roots to my home province and (2) because it is so much cheaper. But then you invariably get what you pay for and believe me, there is nothing classy about the Bluebridge service! Had we travelled on the Inter-islander, we may have been able to compare apples with apples; perhaps the Spirit of Tasmania is just normal for such vehicular ferry services?

Queuing for the ferry
I have mentioned before that Victorian school children are currently on holiday, and many of them were crossing with us, however we managed to avoid them over dinner, finding a space on a long table with mature diners like ourselves. It had been suggested to us by an earlier traveller at the Rockbank Caravan Park that one could economise with dinner on board by taking two plates at The Captain’s Table, one under the other, then fill just one, pay for one and then share it once seated. Standing in the queue, we took note of the very diminished plate size, both large and small, and decided we would both go for the larger. It is standard smorgasbord fare, tasty enough but not special. I was happy enough with my hotch potch of culinary delights but Chris not so; he suggested that we make other arrangements for the return trip. I suspect they will cost more than $25 a plate, but I will be happy to oblige.

We spent some time in the excellent little Information Centre on board and left there armed with dozens of pamphlets about Tasmania, a wonderful large map and a National Park’s Pass to cover us for our time in Tasmania. The woman in front of us had purchased a Pass and while we agreed in theory that we should do the same, we were shocked that it cost her $60 and was valid only for the next eight weeks. However on learned that each entry to any Tasmanian National Park costs $24, we soon realised that it was indeed the most economic option by far.

The meds I had taken to ease my passage had kicked in some hours before; I was as happy as a sand boy and not at all perturbed by the rocking, albeit gentle, of the ship as we headed out across Port Philip Bay. When we finally went upstairs to find our “recliners” we found a large dark room well populated and no indication of where our allocated seats were. With some help and direction from some holidaying adolescents, we finally tracked down our own recliners, complete with hygienically packed blanket and disposable pillow, behind those who had well settled in and reclined fully. This did not make for easy access.

The night passed surprisingly well; I slept far better than I had expected although the same cannot be said for my poor husband. We were woken with brightening lights at about 5.45 am this morning as we neared the northern Tasmanian shore. After eleven hours of sailing across the treacherous Bass Strait, we arrived safely and docked without event up the Mersey River at Devonport. I will certainly dose myself up with Phenergan on our return; what a difference it makes!

The unloading was much quicker than the loading, despite the thorough quarantine inspection through our fridge and freezer. Even the reclaiming of our rarely used hatchet and gas bottle went smoothly and we were off into town to find a flat space to park up, turn the gas fridge on and wait for the shops to open.

Did I mention it was raining? In fact, as we had emerged from our sleeping chamber and out onto the cold windy deck, we had seen very little; everywhere was shrouded in heavy rain mist. It was not the best day to be arriving in Tasmania. Parked up on the waterfront, we looked out toward the Strait, the weather conditions little changed and watched too as the locals carried out their Sunday morning constitutionals in raincoats and under umbrellas.

A wet arrival in Devonport
We breakfasted and then soon after 9 am, headed up to the local Coles supermarket and restocked with fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and dairy products. I had read in a brochure that the tourist will be "delighted by the fruit and vegetables, so reasonably priced and so very fresh, just picked five minutes ago and there in the shop for your consumption". There was special mention of carrots in this promotional spiel. I was therefore expecting some produce to be far cheaper than in Melbourne. Oh silly me! Everything was no less than the big smoke and mostly more expensive. On the mainland, Coles will have one line of apples at a reasonable price, the rest all within cooee of each other. Not so here; all at the higher price. And local? My foot! The carrots which are supposed to be locally grown if the tourist brochure is correct, were the same as you get on the mainland and more expensive! And to add insult to injury, diesel is at least 10 cents a litre dearer here too. I do hope our experience here will not continue to be one of moaning about cost; we had enough of that in Western Australia. I will try to be more positive, I promise.

It was after 10 am by the time we arrived at the gates of this caravan park, booked a couple of days ago on-line, not my normal style, I must say. We were greeted in a very friendly manner and I got the impression that they would not have minded if we had turned up immediately after disembarkation, even though the arrival time on the confirmation email stated midday. The park is less than a kilometre from the ferry terminal on the eastern side of the river. This may seem a plus, but as we wanted to replenish our supplies and not arrive too early, we had to travel with the caravan in tow up to the bridge and around to the CBD which is more or less directly across from the park on the western river bank. However that was our choice and it all worked well.

After lunch, we laid the large map of Tasmania out on the table and plotted our journey, then decided we would call in to the local Information Centre and seek their opinion. The girl behind the counter (not really a girl at forty, I guess) was most helpful, however said that at this time of the year, it was really a matter of tossing a coin as far as deciding the direction one should take from Devonport. We had decided to travel anti-clockwise to begin with, heading to the north west and on down the west coast. She checked the long range weather forecast and gave us reason to flip our plans on their heads which is what we have done since returning to camp.

We headed for the Regional Art Gallery to see what they had on offer and were duly rewarded.  The gallery is situated in the old Baptist Church, originally constructed in 1904, but first converted for use as the town’s library in 1969, and since 1983, the art gallery. It has more recently, in 2004, undergone further refurbishment and is now an excellent building to host exhibitions; the current one is the RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize, having opened just two days ago. We were delighted with the entries adorning the gallery walls although we would have selected other winners than those having been given the appropriate honours. But then, as I so often say, what would we know about art?

Back home we re-plotted our journey and I planned tomorrow’s tour out of here, weather permitting. We still have another day to change our minds about the direction we will take, however I am feeling very comfortable with our decision and look forward to filling the next six weeks with Tasmanian travel adventures.

Friday, September 27, 2013

27 September 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

This morning we headed into the city in the sunshine; driving to Sunshine and then riding the rail through to Flagstaff where we disembarked and walked up the hill to the Victoria Markets. Again this was a return but in our absence there have been upgrades with more seating for tired customers and more container shed cafes installed for those seeking refreshment. We walked up and down the numerous aisles of wares, pausing at those stocking knitwear, shoes, wallets and belts, then avoided the temptation of purchase. We are supposed to be downsizing our possessions, not adding to them. After lunch we did buy one onion, three apples and a small head of broccoli, such meagre mean purchase I would not normally confess to, however it is of travel interest. We can take no fruit or vegetables as we cross State borders tomorrow so we are consuming everything we can. Alas, the one lettuce remaining in the bottom of our fridge  is destined for the bin; the rest we have carefully rationed to finish before we depart Victoria.

We wandered through the corridors of meat, poultry, dairy and delicatessen, marvelling at the amazing array of produce available. Chris succumbed to a punnet of hot chips, not something you would normally consider a gourmet purchase, however he, a chip connoisseur, said they were indeed excellent.

We wandered down Elizabeth Street past several shops selling motorbikes and scooters; Chris drooled covetously over many. He has visions of a scooter sitting on a bracketed bench on the rear of our motorhome in New Zealand, and I have a terror of riding on two wheels on the roads. I do nothing to encourage his dreaming, which to date has worked well.

As we descended toward the Yarra and the streets in between, the crowds swelled, so many dressed in purple, and those not, dressed in the yellow and brown of the Hawthorne Hawks. We had missed the midday Grand Finale parade in honour of the AFL Finals although I was surprised the cheers and general noise had not drifted up the hill to the Markets. Perhaps that was why the crowds were less in the markets than we had expected?

Down along Bourke Street the fans were enjoying the buskers as we did. We were particularly taken with the exuberance, the energy and talent of the Pierce twin brothers. Later googling them, I found they have their own website and are quite successful, albeit buskers. We thought they were great.

We threaded our way through numerous back alleys and lanes, past boutiques and restaurants, through halls of graffiti and past purple clad people doing the same, emerging onto Flinders Street. There we crossed over to Federation Square which was absolutely packed with fans, many still seeking their chance of winning an AFL ball, tickets to the Grand Final or a 50% discount voucher off a well-known eyewear outlet. Rowdy booze fuelled Dockers fans made their presence known from the upper window of pubs, the terraces of cafes and anywhere else they could find a welcome. Tens of thousands of fans were packing the public area, most Dockers fans, but then most of the Hawkes fans would have still been hard at work. There were some hopeful souls bearing notices on their backs or held high above their heads: “Wanted: AFL Final tickets”. Scalping is illegal but surely there will be someone who will give up their tickets to such dedicated fans. Surely a small profit could be forgiven for such sacrifice?

We sought refuge in the beautiful historic St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral diagonally across from the dens of drink, dance and celebration. Chris said we had visited this on our last visit, however I could not remember doing so; perhaps we had only poked our heads around the front door last time? This time we wandered right through the church, up and around the altar area and beneath the towering beautifully decorated organ pipes.

Construction of St Paul’s Cathedral was commenced in 1880 and completed in 1891, although erection of the spires did not commence until 1926. Restoration was undertaken in the 1960s and again in 2009, and of the organ in 1989. The Cathedral is unusual among Melbourne’s more notable 19th century public buildings in that it is not made from bluestone, the city’s dominant building material. Instead it is made from sandstone from the Barrabool Hills and limestone embellishments of Waurn Ponds limestone, both from near Geelong. It really is quite a wonderful building and offered a huge contrast from what was going on outside.

We headed across the road to the Flinders Station, and as we were waiting on the platform were suddenly met by the warm embrace of our friend Janette of Sunbury. She was returning from her first scheduled grandmother-babysitting day from south east Melbourne, in the middle of changing trains and just happened to see us walk past. In a city of more than four million people, how remarkable to happen upon our friend in the commuter crowds! 

True Docker's fans
Our return to camp heralded yet another surprise. Parked up against the back fence beside our caravan was a massive old bus, converted to a football fan carrier, painted with purple banners, bearing large photo portraits of every team member of the Freemantle Dockers and two large flags off the back. On greeting, the occupants assured us they had promised to behave, but let’s be realistic here! These eleven guys have taken time off from work and have come all the way across the Nullarbor, across three states to see their beloved team win or lose tomorrow. Would they do that quietly? I don’t think so.

Since our return, they have departed, no doubt going on into town to join their fellow fans and pump up the hospitality industry here in Melbourne. I suspect we will be woken on their return. Just as well we will not be here tomorrow night! We have paid for a late checkout so will no doubt see the results of their over indulgence in the morning as they emerge from their bus.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

26 September 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Yesterday passed in the most mundane fashion, dealing with maintenance matters and then after lunch, we pulled our heads out of our respective books and headed along the freeway to Melton, for a change and to pick up some bits and bobs.

The day had started in a rather sombre mood when we learned that Team New Zealand has lost yet another two races against America’s Oracle, evening the score cards to 8 all, which meant the next race was the definite decider. Having come from 8:0 to New Zealand just a few days ago, this was indeed disturbing and my Facebook Friends, namely our family in New Zealand, were all crying into their teacups.

It was interesting to note also that the last few days since the Oracle crew had been inching themselves toward a possible comeback victory, that the Australia ABC Channel had suddenly taken an interest, mainly because they had suddenly discovered that the Skipper and a couple of crew on board were in fact Aussies. Trans-Tasman rivalry meant therefore that the Aussies would be rooting for the Americans; strange times indeed!

We spent the latter part of the afternoon hanging about for the wine to chill and to schedule our arrival at Sunbury after five; some people have to work. Needless to say we passed a fabulous evening with our friends, Janette having outdone herself with a delicious three course meal. We sat late over our coffee until the clock struck 10 pm and we ventured out into the rain, driving the twenty something kilometres back across the country on unfamiliar roads, peering through the rain and into the dark for roos and other creatures who prefer the cover of darkness. Our return journey was uneventful and we were soon home, thanks to our TomTom, which, in the main, is a wondrous device, despite our frustrations at its occasional delinquency.

Most welcomed by Bob and Janette
This morning we rose to learn that the worst had happened; Team New Zealand had been beaten by Team USA, although listening to the news, you would swear it was the Australians who had won. Had they lost, it would have been the Americans. I thought of my older son currently at the annual Monaco Boat Show, there to network and promote his marine design business, and hoped this would not have negative repercussions on that Mediterranean shore.

Rather deflated, we set off for Sunshine to catch the train, which was late; horribly late, three quarters of an hour late! That is three trains worth of passengers. At one stage the station manager suggested that since he had no firm time when the train might arrive, people might like to catch the bus through to Footscray, where they had more options as it is where several rail routes converge. This cleared the Sunshine station somewhat, although we were all pressed into the tiny ticket office because the weather outside was atrocious. At 11 am the 50 kph winds were gusting up to 69 kph, an hour later they had risen to 59 kph, gusting to 93 kph. It did occur to me as we were waiting that the train might have been blown over on the track, however we later learned it was all about some signalling problems emanating out of the Flinders Station.

A train did eventually arrive and we all crowded on, no seats within cooee. Chris reckoned there were over thirty commuters standing pressed near the carriage entrance and at least 200 in the carriage and that was just one of the many; it was absolutely crazy. Every time the train stopped at the stations on the way into town, more squeezed in and while the doors stood open for the loading, youthful black athletic bodies, hung out as they do in pictures of railway rides in India and the like. Finally we arrived at Flinders and the doors slid open and the crowds burst out; it was not until we stood in a corner of the station foyer, we looked at each other and agreed that was the worst train ride we had ever had. It had been an experience for sure!

The streets were busy too, with an influx of purple clad Freemantle Docker fans who have made their way across the country from the west. Such commitment to AFL cannot come cheaply; I hope their team does them proud this Saturday.

We returned to the Ian Potter Centre; NGV Australia to complete our own tour of the Aboriginal art section, then found a couple of seats in the Atrium where we had lunch while watching a small group of mainly Asian women doing a gentle brand of line dancing to Chinese music. It was quite entertaining and became more so when that session ended and a voluptuous but modestly clad belly dancer arrived to take her “class”.

When we emerged back out into Federation Square where there were still lines of children with a token parent queuing to win an AFL football, it was raining and blowing a gale. We made our way across the Yarra Bridge and into the main art gallery in St Kilda Road, thankful to be out of the elements. There we resumed our tour of the upper levels of the gallery until we were satisfied we had “redone” that gallery as well.

By the time we ventured back out into the street, the wind had dropped significantly and the sun was shining. We refuelled at McDonalds with the all too frequent ice-creams, then went seeking some avomine, a miracle drug for seasickness according to last night’s hosts.  Although unable to source this magic potion, we settled for some Phenergan which the sweet girl behind the counter promoted in its stead. I recalled dosing my infant son when he was not sleeping for various reasons; hopefully it should knock me out similarly on Saturday night and prevent nausea and worse.

I am pleased to report that while our train was a few minutes late to depart the city, our return trip was otherwise on schedule and without event. The forecast tonight suggests a quietening down of the weather; hopefully the seas will also be calmer by Saturday. However I have my seasick pills so I guess it doesn’t really matter, providing we make sure we pack everything securely in the caravan before we set sail.

We also heard on the news that there were about five hundred calls to the emergency services last night here in Melbourne and here in the west we had nearly 20 mm of rain. That would account for the extent of the puddles about the camp this morning.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

24 September 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Travelling into Melbourne on the train from the west is an adventure all of its own. The Sunshine railway station is undergoing major renovations and the whole area is a complex building site. We managed to find our way through to the car parking area we used last time we frequented the rail from here, and although we found only a corner to be available for use, it seems that the construction has frightened off most of the old regulars so we have had our pick of parking spots.

The trains come through every twenty minutes, the same time it takes to travel through to Flinders once you are on board. Great crowds of Sunshine’s population press toward the carriages when the doors open; mainly new Australians, black and brown, intelligent slanty eyes, tall ebony beauties, shrouded Muslims, smartly dressed little Asian girls, and nearly all clutching their electronic communication devices. We stand out like sore toes; pasty white, casually dressed and devoid of iGadgets. The carriages fill at each subsequent stop, and then start to empty out once the train reaches Melbourne Central, Parliament and finally Flinders. And then we all pour out, heading up the elevators, across the station foyer, pouring into the Ladies, queues out the door, a busy little Indian cleaner working so hard to keep on top of the demand. The Myki ticket system is still fairly new and the electronic readers are not as sensitive as those in other cities; sometimes it takes a moment or three to check that we have tagged off.

We were a little later travelling in today and did have seats. I had also remembered to bring some reading matter so we looked more the part of city commuters than yesterday. On arrival in the city we crossed to the adjacent Federation Square which was full of people, mainly families, or rather mothers and holidaying children. The AFL Final is to be held here in Melbourne at the end of this week, the same day we sail for Tasmania, and today, and probably every day this week, there are AFL related activities to fuel the Footy Fever. Dozens of stalls were set up for kids to kick a ball through a hole and score an AFL ball for themselves. We joined a crowd standing about a comic street entertainer, who had roped in several bystanders to assist. He was good but we moved off before he wound up with his pleas for money.

A perplexed visitor to Ian Potter Centre
We walked down to the Yarra River and wandered along the River Terrace where there were even more footy themed fun activities for kids. It was soon midday, so we returned to a corner of Federation Square from where we could see the stage. Before long a compare came on, introduced us to three AFL players who seemed to be well known, and then told us how  the big game would be compared simultaneously online in ten foreign languages, and three of those commentators were brought onto stage, offering their take on a film clip we were shown. The Punjabi speaker gave a wonderful show, the Frenchman not quite so screamingly funny but the Cantonese speaker 
finished her spiel in a way that only a hysterically excited young woman can. It would be worth logging on and watching the game on Saturday just for the joy of hearing the first quarter commentated in Punjabi, the second in Cantonese, the third in perhaps Greek and the last perhaps in Spanish? What a comedy that would be!

Entertained and fed, we headed off into the nearby Ian Potter Centre; NGV Australia, the art gallery exclusively dedicated to Australian art. We were just in time to join another free tour, tigers for punishment that we are, this one a focus tour on Aboriginal art. Today’s guide was interesting and while we have attempted to understand this art all around the country, she offered more again, and when one brings all the threads together, I do think I have grasped it all now, or at least as much as an inartistic Kiwi can.

We spent a further hour or so wandering around the rest of the gallery, seeing much for the second time, and new ones either forgotten from the last time or recently brought up out of storage.

It was soon time to join the commuting crowds again and head home. The steps of Flinders Station in the afternoon is always littered with white students; tattooed, pierced and often in fancy dress. Today was not too different except there seemed a surplus of those wearing panda suits or perhaps a new style of sleep suit, the kind I have seen on our grandchildren when they were tots. A strange lot; I think I prefer the dusky lot of the morning train.

It has been another day of art and culture, the sun has shone and we have spent another awesome day in lovely Melbourne.

Busy Flinders Station

Monday, September 23, 2013

23 September 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Melbourne is just wonderful, and in our opinion, the most beautiful city in Australia. Today we caught the train into the city, emerged at the Flinders Station out into the sunshine and the hustle and bustle of this very cosmopolitan centre. We walked across the bridge spanning the Yarra River, pausing to admire the skyline and the upside down river, as we have before. We fought the crowds gathering for a show or happening in the art centre, hundreds of well-dressed cauliflower heads, and walked on up past the art gallery and on up St Kilda Road past Kings Park, until we reached the Shrine of Remembrance, gleaming in the sunshine on the hill.

We had already ascertained that Victoria’s school children had started their school holidays this week, and so the normal tourists to this popular attraction were swollen with junior members of the state. The war memorial complex is quite lovely and of course the views from the top of the city are just marvellous, although nothing like those from the top of the Eureka Tower. But today we were not there for the views; we had come to see the exhibition titled “The Enemy Within” all about the prisoners of war and civilian internees kept behind barbed wire during the Second World War here in Australia. Between 1939 and 1947 rural Victoria hosted eight internment and prisoner of war camps of the network of about double that number across the entire country. By 1947, almost 26,000 prisoners of war and 15,000 internees had experienced the camp system, all known as the “enemy” or “enemy aliens”.

Of course we have had a glimpse into this side of Australia’s history on our travels about the country, however today I learned more about the repatriation of those internees at the end of the war, how some of Japanese heritage, for instance, were forcibly, repatriated to Japan, a country they had never known, how some who had taken Australian nationality were sent back to the country they had originally come from, their Australian citizenship stripped from them.

Shrine of Remembrance
The exhibition is a collection of stories, photos, a video and objects collected from the times; well worth visiting, especially if it is a side of history of which you are ignorant. We spent about three quarters of an hour before finding a space in the park where we sat eating our sandwiches and watched the hundreds of folk walking or running to improve their health and shape; young mothers pushing prams, groups of men and women obviously on their lunch time from the office, individuals of the same ilk, to name but a few. We were simply satisfied with our amble back down St Kilda Road, especially since we could have instead caught the tram. 

We stopped by the National Gallery of Victoria, the one with the front entrance a wall of cascading water set in from pools and fountains. After checking in our bags, we could not help but note the wonderful “artworks” in Federation Court, around which a couple of dozen visitors sat entranced.

The work is titled “Clinamen 2013” and is a great collection of four different sized white porcelain flat bottom bowls floating upon an intensely blue pool. A concealed pump arrangement causes the bowls to gently circulate the pool, making their own course, gently bumping into each other, gently clinking like wind chimes before they “bounce” away to make their way around again. The effect is mesmerizing, for old and young, and indeed for us. The artist responsible for this rather unusual installation is French artiste Celeste Boursier-Mougenot who apparently specialises in large scale work that combines the visual with the aural.

We were drawn away by an announcement over the PR system offering a free tour  in five minutes. We love free tours and have enjoyed many through the nation’s art galleries, so of course we lined up with the four others. This was not to be a tour of the collection as we have enjoyed before, but a focus tour, and today, focused on the Chinese collection, something we had not really focused on ourselves. Now we were to be educated! And so we traipsed around the Asian floor stopping in front of beautiful pieces and being lectured by a well-meaning woman who umm’d and ahh’d, and used “sort of” and “somewhat” far too often and alas, was unable to convey her own passion and knowledge to us, the uneducated. We became more aware of our aching backs than absorbing the dynastic history of China, and were glad to be set free after three quarters of an hour, rather than slink away part way through the session as one woman did.

We spent some time on an upper floor revisiting beautiful paintings high on the gallery walls until we decided a soft-serve ice-cream from the Scottish Restaurant at the bottom on Swanson Street seemed more attractive.

Our train journey back to Sunshine was more enjoyable that this morning’s commute when we had to stand all the way; Melbournian youth are oblivious to the fact that more senior people prefer to sit than clutch vertical poles in railway carriages to remain upright.

Today we have seen places visited before, back in February and March 2012, so I shall not repeat my experiences here. They are buried here in this blog for you to seek out, should you so desire, and buried in my memory to be pulled up at random.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

22 September 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

It was nigh on 9 am before we were up this morning which is very slothful for us. It was probably because we had over indulged yesterday on food, friendship and a little wine. Yesterday’s lunch stretched from 10.30ish to 4 pm, and could have stretched out even longer had we not made our excuses to head back to camp.

Janet and Bob are friends from one of Chris’s previous lives, and I am but “the next wife” although I feel embraced by their welcoming ways as if I had been the first or second. And real old friends are those you can pick up with after years of absence almost as if you have never been away although it would be unrealistic to say the wrinkles have not deepened and the step not quite so quick, even since our last reunion early last year. We sat hours over coffee and great chunks of delicious home baked cake, wandered along the banks of Jackson Creek in Sunbury, our chatter drowning out that of the birds, looked through a couple of show homes and took delight in praise and criticism of the architectural features, and then sat long over a delightful lunch of steak and salad, followed by decadent sticky date pudding and ice-cream, all washed down by a bottle of New Zealand wine. And if that were not enough, we are returning for more on Wednesday night; a month’s calories in two sittings.

We had called into SuperCheap Auto in Sunbury and purchased the last few bits required to fix The-Tree-Hole, and this morning Chris made a start on that, and then again this afternoon when we returned, continued with the slow process of the repair. The rear of the caravan will soon be restored to a perfect state and we will all be happy again.

Weir across the Maribyrnong River
We packed a picnic lunch and headed over to Brimbank Park, a State Park administered by Parks Victoria, just over twenty kilometres from Rockbank and situated in the suburb of Keilor, just off the Western Ring Road, part of the Maribyrnong Valley Park. The river has hollowed out the valley some fifty five metres below the Keilor Plain and so the park encompasses steep banks and sloping terraces.

We easily found a picnic table and from there, as we digested our lunch, watched families arrive with their children, tricycles and bicycles, rugby balls, soccer balls and packs of sausages to barbeque on the gas appliances about the park. Soon it became too busy for our taste and we set off down to the river and along the pathways, under the River Red Gums noisy with a host of birds; fairy wrens, lorikeets, parrots, cockatoos, magpies, crows, willy wagtails and more. The paths down to the fords across the river were closed due to high water; the rushing waters over the weirs was far too dangerous to cross and upstream the river waters were brown and brooding, again not at all tempting to enter had we felt like a swim. Swimming is a sometimes occupation here, I think, because there were ropes hanging down from big trees, obviously for intrepid boys who come in the summertime to push boundaries.

Melbourne's Organ Pipes
Chris could not remember the park in existence when he lived here, not really so far away in Deer Park all those years ago, and yet it had been here, open to the public; the Park was opened in 1976. The whole park is 326.8 hectares, really too big to miss.

We were back at the land cruiser within the hour so decided to head further up the Calder Highway to the Organ Pipes National Park. Chris was aware of this 121 hectare park from when he lived nearby however had never seen it for himself, so we were seeing two new Melbourne attractions, new to both of us.

This Park in situated a deep gorge in the grassy, basalt Keilor Plains, cut out by the Jackson Creek, that we walked beside yesterday in Sunbury. Here are three geological features which draw the tourist; the Organ Pipes themselves, the Tessellated Pavement and Rosette Rock. We have seen “organ pipe” rock formations in several places around the country, the most recent being those in the Gawler Ranges National Park to the immediate north of the Eyre Peninsula, and I remarked then that those in New South Wales near Narribri were superior, and I would say that again today after seeing these in Melbourne, however these were not without their charm. Today’s version reminded me of dreadlocks rather than organ pipes, but still impressed for the mere fact of being unusual. About half a kilometre upstream we came upon Rosette Rock, and having no idea what to expect, were amazed to find this rock formation looking just like, of course, a rosette. This is actually a radial array of basalt columns, attributed to the cooling of a pocket of lava, probably formed from an earlier lava flow if you need to know the scientific version. 

The Tessellated Pavement
This park is Victoria’s smallest national park, and in its previous life, had lost all of its original flora and fauna. Thanks to the valiant efforts by Friends of the Organ Pipes, one could almost believe that today, it is in its original state. In 1972, The Park covered a mere sixty five hectares, but has since grown to an area of 134 hectares, still small by Australian standards.

The Rosette Rock
A little further upstream is the tessellated pavement, an assortment of basalt columns eroded by the creek and while not as impressive as the other two features, well worth the trek down the steep path and the rather exhausting uphill return. However again, we were back to the vehicle inside an hour, but this time headed home. 

We sat drinking our coffee watching a convoy of caravans and campervans leave the camp out through the back gate adjacent to our camp spot. They were all heading for the ferry terminal and had all made the choice to delay their exit from the camp. This resulted in another lot of rigs waiting at the front entrance waiting for sites to be free; not really the best arrangement. I am leaving organisation for next Saturday to Chris; he is still adamant we will find ample parking along the waterfront. I should make a bet with him.