The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Monday, 31 December 2012

Great, Great, Great point nine recurring.....

May the travel fairy who gives us our wings of freedom forgive me and may the cupid that shoots his wander lust arrows into our adventure butts not hit me over the head with his bow, for what I have to confess is sacrilege.
We drove the Great Ocean Road in one day.  
The beauty about having no set plans is that one can be completely flexible.  However, that plan to not plan sometimes can go completely haywire and that is how our unplanned meander became a marathon.
We came unstuck when unable to find any accommodation at Port Campbell (our planned next stop after Port Fairy) we were to spend the night in Warrnambool and after searching high and low for a room we settled for a really low room.  There was another offer on the table, the honeymoon suite at another establishment for a few hundred dollars, and as much as it’d be nice to feel like we’re on our honeymoon, after all the biking, hiking and driving, we were way too exhausted to appreciate the costs.  

In hindsight, it would have been money well spent.  Instead, we were to share the neighbouring walls with a chap who thought yelling abuse for hours on the phone to his girlfriend to get him cigarettes would endear him further. When she (along with a friend) finally did turn up, he proceeded to assault her in the car park before taking it to the room where a screaming match over cigarettes led to threats of being stabbed with scissors.  We made numerous calls, begging, pleading and on my part crying to the managers of the motel to do something about this hideously traumatic  event, upon which the managers, too scared themselves to confront the ‘guest’ made numerous phone calls to the police begging and pleading for them to come.  Big M wanted to go and confront the man but I begged him to stay inside terrified he’d be stabbed or shot...who knows these day what weapons people are carrying.  Two and half hours later, at 1am the police finally arrived, took the woman (and her friend) away and left the man to his own devices in the to us, much to my absolute horror!  Not a wink of sleep eventuated, as I was too terrified he’d find someone or something else to vent his lack of cigarette anger on. 
After such a terrifying night, we couldn’t get away from Warrnambool quick enough and as such was on the Great Ocean Road nice and early.  So eager to get away in fact that Big M forgot to check how much fuel we had and it wasn’t until we were at our first “Oh my god, this is so amazing sight” that he looked down and noticed we were running on empty...with still about 20kms to go before we arrived a Port Campbell. But we weren’t worried, for the Great Ocean Road really is everything everyone has ever said and more!...
From the very first rock formation jutting majestically out the sea, we were enthralled.  Spectacular limestone cliffs, craggy and sculptured from millions of years of being moulded by the winds and waves line the coastline, starting at the Bay of Islands and continuing down to Otway. They were once known as the ‘Sow and Piglets’ but thought it more dignified to rename them ‘The Apostles’, which became the ‘Twelve Apostles’ – tho there was never twelve but nine rock formations in the group.   Every single one of these formations holds us spellbound, it takes us four hours to drive from Bay of Islands at Peterborough to Port Campbell, and we still hadn’t arrived at the Twelve Apostles.
At Port Campbell we enjoy our Christmas present we received from Bud and the Gorgeous Gal – a helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles.  Despite my fear of the tiny flimsy piece of aluminium held up by two chop-sticks....I’m a shocking flyer.... I lost myself in the beauty that unfolded below us and Big M and I couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces as we flew over the bluest of ocean with these magnificent cream and coral coloured structures.  All too soon the flight was over and I was wishing we were still up there, bouncing and buzzing above natures artwork.  After filling up at Port Campbell, we drove to the viewing site of the Twelve Apostles and jostled with the thousands of other enthralled tourists who were also held mesmerised.  Despite the crowds, seeing the 65metre  rock formations in real life is an awe-inspiring experience. 
It was 3.30pm by time we tore ourselves away from the cliff edges and we still had to get to Anglesea before nightfall.  You see, we had to change our ‘plans’ as we were going to spend new year’s eve with Bud and Gorgeous Gal, and we had also organised to stay with friends at Anglesea, tonight being the only available night, hence the reason why we were being so disrespectful to this spectacular road-trip route.   Despite the lateness, I was determined to see Cape Otway lighthouse and so we hightailed it along the road and made it to the lighthouse with fifteen minutes to spare to gain access.
Cape Otway is Australia’s most significant lighthouse, the first sight of land for those who came to the Antipodes via the Great Circle Route from 1849onwards.  My own ancestors viewed this lighthouse as they sailed into Port Phillip Bay, it would guide the ships through the ‘eye of the needle’  and many a settler would give a prayer of thanks upon sighting it.  It’s not a very big lighthouse but still quite spectacular.   A pure white tower with a bright red rail at its top.  I climbed to the top and viewed the beautiful coastline – seeing for kilometres either side.  Below in the grounds sat the beautiful lighthouse keepers cottages and associate buildings, all very white and very pretty.  Upon leaving the Cape, we were to find the road lined with trees full of koalas.  We’ve never seen so many koalas in one area, not even in a animal park!  Each tree had at least two, many had three or four koalas. People were just stopping their cars on the road, getting out running back and forward photographing the koalas. We joined them.
We whisked through the pretty little towns of  Apollo Bay, Lorne and past the Diggers memorial at Fairhaven, in honour of the 3000 returned soldiers from WWI who built the Great Ocean Road (my own great-grandfather being one of them....I am so hanging my head in shame for not stopping) and almost cried with despair as we drove straight through what is said to be the most spectacular part of the road - where the diggers had hand-chipped and dug the road out of sheer rock - the switchbacks and bridges of Eastern View.
And so  I ask, may the travel fairy forgive me and grant me again the chance to return to the Great Ocean Road.  It’s on my ‘one day I going back list...’

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Back to the beginning...

In 1834 a Ladybird floated into a beautiful bay and birthed a Colony that would become the richest state in early Australia – Victoria. This tiny town, Portland, became the first permanent settlement of Victoria and is to be our first port of call as we make our way along one of the greatest road trip routes of the world – the Great Ocean Road.  The former domain of sealers and whalers and the graveyard of many a ship, the rugged coastline is buffered by fierce winds that can blow in at any time from the Southern Ocean and the morning we wake, we experience firsthand the turn of the weather and coldness the great southern can bring. 
Despite the wet, windy, make that icy, weather (in December?!), we’re enthralled by our surrounds.  Living history encases us from the moment we open our eyes in our room in the  gorgeous Gordon Hotel - the oldest  continuous license in Victoria (1841). As we breakfast on the balcony, we don’t know where to look first – at the bay filled with small sail boats, over to shipping wharf where enormous cargo ships loom or  soak in the views of  blue stone  public buildings which are still in government use since built;, such as Customs House (1849), or the stunningly beautiful Mac’s Hotel (1856) and the majestic former post office (1883).  However, this time it’s not buildings I want to explore, it’s the natural wonders of the ‘Discovery Coast’ and we leave early to trek through the petrified forest.
Green pastureland with windswept trees leads to hills lined with wind turbines, then the green stops abruptly and a moon like landscape appears. Perfectly formed circles with jagged edges jut upwards. Cement hard, yet inside sits soft sand almost dust like, the limestone rings scatter across the land in front of us, their brownness smashes against the deep blue of the ocean and even with the grey skies, the colours are sharp and vibrant.  No one knows how this amazing scene has formed; some experts say it’s a forest of Moonah trees smothered by sand thousands of years ago. Other experts say it’s a natural erosion of stone by earths minerals. Either way, up close it looks to me like beautiful ancient organ pipes playing nature’s tune of the wind with the stand of majestic white windmills in the background mixing the ‘synthesized’ tones.
To the other side the ‘forest’ is the remains of a lava flow; rippling black rock ‘spills’ midair into the ocean  and creates a spectacular cliff face.  The ocean slams against its edge and sprays across the rock beds below.  Just off this point the watery grave of the Isabella. Around the ‘corner’ at Cape Bridgewater is the start of the ‘Shipwreck Coast’ where some fifty plus colonial vessels met their fate in the great southern ocean.
The lighthouse at Cape Bridgewater begins my ‘avenue of lighthouses’  fascination (although Big M makes it very clear that we’re not going to start at the very beginning – Cape Nelson – I see a new list starting).  The lighthouse is adorable, not as spectacular as ‘our’ Byron Bay beauty, but still very picturesque...despite our scaffolding tour of it.  I love it’s bright red cap.  I will find that red is the colour of lighthouses here....  We are also in for a bit of a treat when we notice the sky is full of yellow capped Gannets flying above us. Beautiful white birds with the most gorgeous blue rimmed eyes and black tipped wings.
Time was getting away so we made headway for Port Fairy, bypassing the seal colony and further exploration of Portland (but not before a quick stop at the cutest little lighthouse at Portland – red cap and red sweet) and decided to continue our nature theme of discovery, unpacking the bike and riding across the foot bridge to Griffiths Island.  The island is a protected reserve rookery for Muttonbirds and we were fascinated riding through the dunes to see the burrows covering the island. 
As the track became narrower and rockier I began to wonder (aloud)  if we were even allowed to be riding bicycles on the island, then became convinced that we were definitely not allowed and knowing our luck, get fined for bringing a ‘vehicle’ onto the island....much to the annoyance of Big M... when we found ourselves at a huge rock bed on the beach.  There was no way one could ride a bike here and for almost a kilometre, I pushed and carried my bike across the rocks and tussocks of the island. 
Finally, we arrived at the Lighthouse... another picture of prettiness with red cap and red door and this time, red window inlets... and to my intense relief the gateway was a sea of bikes.  The island was originally a whaling station established back in 1835, now it was popular for whale watchers who came to see the beautiful Southern Right Whales.  Back in the township we watched the fishing fleet coming up the Moyne River and ogled one boat unloads crate after crate of enormous orange-shell crayfish.   
The main streets had a festive ambiance with a band playing in the central park and we peddled along soaking up the history, gasping at the gorgeous buildings from yesteryear. This town has over 50 heritage listed buildings, some on a grand scale, others the quaintest cottages of timber and stone.  A restored coach; quite possibly a Cobb & Co coach, drawn by two horses clip-clopped down the street capping off the feeling of being in a colonial ‘fairy tale’.   Little do we know that our dream day is about to have a nightmare evening.

Friday, 28 December 2012

From Goldfields to fields of gold

I have discovered a gem of a town, a village so beautiful ‘she’ shines with intricate treasures.  And although it was never on the ‘one day’ list, it’s definitely going on the ‘when we come back’ list.  We had never heard of this town before and it was only when the night before Big M was reading about a vintage machinery museum in the gold boom town of Maldon that we decided to visit.  I had other plans but Big M had indulged me with the boxy station and the pink mounds so I was happy to let him have an old tractor or two.      

I wasn’t too interested in the goldmining history of the town, having had my fill the month before when I’d played ‘tour guide’ to friends around the Victorian northern gold field villages of Yackandandah and Chilten area, plus we were sitting in the most golden city of all, Bendigo.  The city described as “a major planet in its own solar system” is not only visually stunning but also vibrant and pulsating.

The glittering gold dust of the city hadn’t attracted us to its orbit,  I was in search of  the oldest dragon in the world, the 112 year old Loong.  This 60-metre imperial dragon has held court in Bendigo since 1892 and portrays the proud heritage of the Chinese miners who flocked goldfields in the 1800’s.  Although his beautiful silk and papier-mâché length has lost its glittering lustre, Loong is still an intricate sight to behold.  He now sits in the Golden Dragon Museum along with various other stunningly beautiful ceremonial dragons.  The museum is fabulous, filled with colourful pageantry banners, beautiful embroidered cloaks and gowns, ornately carved furniture and a full history of the contribution the Chinese community has given to the area and Australia.

Beside it sits the tranquil Yi Yuan Gardens (a welcome relief to the intense heat that was hitting Bendigo at that time of the afternoon) and the Kuan Yin Temple – a Chinese Buddhist temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy.  I was delighted to further find another Buddhist temple in Bendigo (or just on the outskirts of the city) which Big M and I proceeded to ‘hunt out’ the next morning on the way to Maldon.  Said to be the largest stupa outside of Asian,  The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion has been design to be identical to the Great Stupa of Gyantse in Tibet.  Having dragged Big M to every stupa and temple I could find during previous trips to Nepal, Thailand, Bali and Cambodia, there was no way I was going to miss seeing Australia’s great Stupa.

We drove up and down country roads and dirt tracks and came to the tranquil bush setting of the Atisha Centre.  Passing the gates of the Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery we drove up to the Exhibition Centre and  viewed the Stupa.  I felt a tiny pang of disappointment when I saw that the Stupa is still being built – “the scaffolding tour” as Big M would call it – but at the same time I was impressed and awed at the size it would be.  When finished, this will be a stunning Stupa and in its surrounds, will be a very special peaceful place for contemplation.

We left the Great Stupa and followed the narrow country roads to Maldon and stoped at the first beautiful historical building we came to.  The Maldon Railway Station.  Well it wasn’t so much beautiful as pretty - a quaint building with ornate ironwork and arched windows.  There didn’t appear to be much around it other than a couple of small miners cottages with the cutest picket fences and iron-laced verandas. Then I spied the shot tower in the distance.  A tall round brick chimney sitting in the middle of diggings mound. “We must go there,” I declare. We leave the car and hike through the old mining diggings to ogle at the enormous 30metre stack, all that is left of the Beehive Gold Mine (est. 1862).   It once stood at 32meters but lost 2 meters in a lightning strike in 1923.  Just below the Beehive is the vintage machinery museum Big M wants to visit. It’s closed.  There doesn’t appear to much else to see in Maldon and we are about to retrack to the car and leave when Big M suggest we go to wander back to the car a different route. 
Turning the corner, we stumble upon the township of Maldon and I just about wet myself with absolute excitement.  Maldon is every description of gorgeous!  Wherever we look, we see living history right down to the vintage and veteran cars that drive through the streets.   Many hours later we drag ourselves reluctantly away from this picturesque town and head for Castlemaine.  This town is on our ‘one day’ list for one thing – petrol bowsers.
And Big M is in total heaven.  We spend hours wandering around one of the best antique/junk shops we’ve ever been in, actually we spend hours in one section of the shop, looking at every bowser, oil can and garage memorabilia conceivable – thousands of items.  For anyone who collects anything to do with cars and garages....this is their nirvana.   
It’s late by time we reach Daylesford, only  75kms from where we started this morning and we’ve still  319 kms to where we plan to be tonight – Portland.  On the banks of Lake Daylesford, we grab a quick lunch in the company of a beautiful black swan who has a craving for fish&chips on the banks of Lake Daylesford then head into the setting sun, bypassing Ballarat (on the new list) and watch the countryside go from goldfields and ironbark to endless fields  of golden wheat and rolled bales.
At Streatham we discover a town that has risen from the ashes of a 1977 fire that practically wiped it out and in Dunkeld we see the cutest little school with a teacher  you wouldn’t have wanted to cross (if you’d been a student back yonder).  According to the sign near the front gate, this teacher would hang a sign declaring your naughtiness around your neck and parade you around the town.  As the day draws to an end the days dawning in the goldfields ends with a spectacular sunset over the bay of Portland in Victorias golden south west.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Dreaming of Gaudi....

The town of Benalla sits on my ‘one day’ list solely for its railway station.  Really, I don’t have a thing for railway stations, despite the numerous references I make to them. No more an interest than I do for churches or town halls, although, I’m very partial to churches. This station is of interest because my great, great, great grandfather, Thomas Julian was the builder of the Benalla Railway Station in 1873 and I had read it was of such grandeur, in its heyday it rivalled the beautiful station at Albury.   Ok, yes I admit I have visited and ogled at the Albury Railway Station... a number of times. OK, ok, every time I visit Albury, which is regularly, and yes, I have been known to tell and encourage others to visit the Albury station – Well it’s a beautiful building! Anyway......

Big M and I made the station our first stop and I admit I was excited to see this building.  Not only did Thomas Julian build it, but he also owned the pug mill that built the bricks for it so I was feeling a tad proud of what my ancestor had done.  As we drove up to it, I was a bit shocked to find it little more than an unimpressive single storey, red brick building with a touch of white trim. No ornate iron lace, no fancy tessellated foyer or decorative rose ceilings with chain chandelier lights, no pretty fretwork awnings. Compared with the stations we had recently seen, I would say this was quite an ugly duckling.  It wasn’t even a pretty orange colour.
Despite the disappointment I was feeling, we decided to call into the Information Centre and see what we could find on the station.  My sunken bottom lip didn’t last for long as I was taken into the museum part of the centre and shown two beautiful paintings of the station.  It turns out the station originally had been a stunning piece of architecture; double storeyed with grand dining rooms and waiting rooms, enormous fire places and all the trimmings, then in the 1980's the top storey was removed and all the grandeur stripped. “One of the sillier development decisions ever made” the woman told me sadly.  I perked up, please to know that my ancestor hadn’t been the one to leave an eyesore to Benalla.
And there is very little that is eyesore in Benalla.  This is an amazingly beautiful town with a proud heritage and stunning natural scenery.  The main street filled with colonial style buildings is lined with leafy trees and vintage style wrought iron lamps. The pretty ‘Monash Bridge’  crosses over the Benalla Lake and leads to the beautiful Botanical Gardens featuring memorials to two of Benalla’s most famous sons – Sir Edward  ‘Weary’ Dunlop and Captain Hector Waller (Australia’s most decorated Navel Officer) – both were born and grew up in Benalla.  Another of Benalla’s famous, or maybe that should be infamous,  residents was Ned Kelly, but compared to the bravery of Sir ‘Weary’, NK held absolute no candle or interest for me.  The bronze stature of Sir ‘Weary’ was indeed quite moving and faced the most beautiful rose garden.  Apparently every rose breed/type is planted in this garden and we had an enjoyable time smelling and reading the names of the hundreds of roses that grow there  – Edwards rose (after Sir ‘Weary’) was exquisite in both colour and smell, and the rose named after Olive Baden-Powell (founder of girl guides/brownies) was also stunningly beautiful. 
Crossing back over the bridge, we found the glorious Benalla Ceramic Mural.  Of first impression, it was like find a touch of Gaudi in rural Victoria.  A free flowing form of artistic community spirit, it is the largest community artwork in Australia and draws on the elements of nature.  Hidden in the curves and hollows were images of indigenous peoples, comic scenes, motherhood, music and love, the elements of nature – earth, wind, fire and water – beauty in light and dark, for the sighted and those who see with their hands.  A beautiful dream that began back in 1883 and came into reality; this project is still evolving and is so stunning. 
Euroa was a flash past on the way to Heathcote, reluctantly we drove thru quickly but still took in the sights of this very pretty historical town with its enormous buildings, lace balconied hotels and  flour mills now turned into beautiful homes.   I had read that there was a ‘colourful phenomenon’ called Pink Cliffs at Heathcote and declared, “We must visit them!”

Heathcote was another gorgeous little village of lace and fretwork but there was no time to discover its charm; natural wonders called and so we drove down country lanes looking for this gorge of wonderment in the largest remaining Box-Ironbark forest in Victoria.  The signage to Pink Cliffs Reserve was well marked and so we followed the road...and arrived at the local refuge tip.  Our trip was fast becoming the “Tip-Rat Tour” according to Big M and we turn around trying to find the right route.
Back in the village we consult the Tourist Information Centre, find that we were on the correct road, but to look for a small carpark with a picnic table.  It turns out to be a very short distance from the village and we gear up ready for a bit of hike.  It doesn’t take long to get to the first viewing site – the gorge is miniscule and the colour of cream clay.   We sight a bit of ‘pink’ in the distance and decide to hike up to the ‘top viewing platform’.  This takes up 5minutes to walk to and we look down on lots of tiny mounds.  The gouge created back in the mining days is the left over environmental destruction from the sluice mining that took place.  Big M is most unimpressed,  “way to go to make an attraction out of erosion’  he mumbles as we wander back to the car.  I agree wholeheartily with him and dream back to the pink curves of Benalla’s ‘Gaudi’.

Monday, 24 December 2012

In search of a brilliant career.....

The night rumbles with an electrical storm that only granite tableland country can give – bolt strike after bolt strike shoots and explodes across the sky in spectacular fashion, the thunder vibrates through our room located in the 1880’s terraces of the Alpine Heritage Motel at Goulburn.  We chose this place on the basis of price, the signage outside says ‘from $65pn’.  What I don’t realise until well after we’ve left the next day is that this building once belong to my 3xGreat Uncle, Charles Rogers, who had the terraces built as an ‘add-on’ to his Great Arcade.  The Great Arcade is long gone, now little more than a car park with high colourbond fencing but the terraces still stand gracefully with their lace balconies, arched windows and chain hung chandeliers.   

We had arrived mid evening in Goulburn with a drizzle of rain and a chill to the air.  After settling into our cheap and cheerful little room with its slight lean, we wandered off to the historical Hibernian Hotel for a good old fashion, country pub meal. We’re greeted with an interesting menu which offers a  dish that needs a waiver – the “Hibo Hero Hot Burger” –  its beef patti infused with three types of chilli - birdseye,  habanera and the Ghost Chilli (the world hottest!) - is served with gloves and milk.  The menu states you must sign a waiver upon ordering it and it’s not suitable for people with heart and digestive conditions. I decide the lamb roast and 3 veg looks pretty good.

Goulburn is our first town on the map for today’s touring and is probably more famous for it’s Big Sheep than its literary pursuits.  Before anything is decided (or even eaten) I’m in the information centre sourcing out the walking tours and am make that ecstatic to find a self-guided walking tour of Miles Franklin. That right, the Miles Franklin!!!! For any writer (Australian writer that is) the most prestigious Australian award of all is that named after the young writer Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin who at the age of just 18 wrote and published the Aussie classics – My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung.  These books set in Goulburn mention many of the town’s buildings, streets, churches and sights.  I am in heaven....

Dragging Big M around the streets, I hunt down all the Franklin haunts and add to them  those also mentioned in the Heritage Walking Tour of Goulburn – pointing out the building where Dr Waugh in 1848 first invented baking powder (in  Market St),  the grand Victorian Italianate style courthouse where a servant of the Franklins was tried for stealing (he’d made his getaway on a stolen horse, stopped at Marulan for refreshments and was caught – probably couldn’t find his way out of the place according to Big M) and  the fabulous Goulburn Railway Station... it’s orange. 

After wandering around the parks looking at cute rotundas, fountains made of sandstone and art deco buildings with egyptenate embellishments (the Elmslea Chambers), Big M puts a stop to it when I suggest we go in search of the Trinity Catholic College Toilet Block.  Yes that’s right, I wanted to go look at a toilet block.  It’s nothing grand at all, but is a part of our political history... the toilet block located in the play ground of the former St Brigids was where the School Strike of 1962 started and  the fight over public funding to private schools began.   
We leave Goulburn and slip into the first small village off the Hume,  Breadalbane, a blink or you’ll miss it community with a couple of pretty sandstone cottages then followed the old highway past rolling caramel coloured fields dotted with granite boulders and stop at the marker stone of the Hume Hovell Expedition which began on 17 October 1824. 

Big M and I look around; there is absolutely nothing around it except endless fields and wide blue skies.  Why this exact position to start an expedition we ask each other.  Who and how was it decided that this spot was the start point?  

We drive on, slightly bemused about the marker in the middle of no-where and drive into Gunning, another gorgeous village filled with quaint stone buildings, gorgeous shop facades  with vintage signage, leadlight windows and quirky display; like the sheepdog taking a bubble bath on top of a shops awning, and the Gunnings Holden Wall of Fame that sits alongside the wall of the local garage. 

We stop to get a better look and Big M gets chatting with the owner/mechanic who tells us he is the third generation to own business  since 1924, his grandfather originally owned  both it and the garage at Dalton. He proudly shows us thru the big old ‘junk filled’ workshop and Big M is in heaven as he drools over the garage paraphernalia that spills out everywhere and original Holden dealership signs and memorabilia. 

Although Big M is a Ford man through and through, he certainly appreciates the ‘art’ of this bygone era.  As well as the history lesson on Gunning, our new friend tells us about the fight the community is having with the mining company that is trying to sink gas wells in the area, in particular around the community of Dalton and he tells us how crazy it would be considering Dalton is the “earthquake capital of Australia”.
This puts Dalton on our “one day is today” list.  It’s a little off the track we’re following, but we make a way to it and find another delightful village of a handful of cottages, quaint post office and the Royal Hotel (c.1865) with a great art installation out the front of it; a hitching post with two amazing steel horses – Australian Stock Horses – saddled up and ready to ride off into the sunset. 

Just down the road from the pub is another find – a rock featuring 40million year old fossilised leaves in minute detail.  Although we don’t feel the earth move (turns out Dalton sits on a fault on the earth’s crusts and receives persistent tremors – minor of course) we are quite moved by the prettiness and charm of the village.   From Dalton we follow the road, then a dirt track to Browning where we find another grand double storied  multi-chimneyed with enormous arched windows railway station....painted bright orange.
Rambling through these villages has made time slip away too quickly and we receive a phone call from Bud asking us when we’ll’s Christmas eve afterall. The sky is also starting to get cloud build up, another major storm is brewing so we decide to put Yass on the next time list and make a lightning bolt stop at Jugiong for coffee but it’s to no avail, the place is too gorgeous to just dash in and out and I take a wander thru the park, drool over the beautiful old 3D iron sign announcing Jugiong a Murrumbidgee River Village and fall in love with the white church that sits above the village.
Big M finally gets me back into the car and as we head straight down the highway towards Gundagai, rain starts to fall and the sky gets blacker. As we get closer Big M suggests we also bypass Gundagai – “it deserves at least a whole day” he says, and he’s right,  I read that Gundagai has more than just a dog and track, but has Captain Moonlight and Ben Hall, not to mention some amazing railway bridges, fascinating architecture and historical galleries.   
Our last stop is Tarcutta the halfway point for truckies and it’s obvious by the enormous parking bays and lots that this village belongs to the movers of our great land. Across from the Halfway Cafe, where Les Murray wrote his poem ‘The Burning Truck’, sits the Truck Drivers Memorial dedicated to the truckies who have died whilst doing their job.  It’s a beautiful memorial and we’re both moved and very sadden to see so many, many names listed. There is a paragraph that reminds us of the personal cost to truck drivers especially at this very time of the year, the eve before Christmas  

“This vocation demands many a high price, in the loneliness of the long haul, missed family events and in some case the ultimate sacrifice of life...”

A full storm hits, a whiteness envelops us and and the rain falls so hard we’re forced to slow to a snail’s pace.  Thankfully, it passes quickly but unfortunately not without damage, evident as we drive through Holbrook.  The village has copped the full force of the storms winds and there are trees and fences blown down, across the road and a late model car crushed under a tree in a driveway.  Locals are wandering around inspecting the damage and out of respect we decide to not stop and instead add Holbrook to the new growing ‘next time’ list.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Highland Fling

As we leave the bustle of Sydney behind, we search for the turnoff to Mittagong the first of the Southern Highland towns we want to visit. It feels as if the Hume is going on forever, the signs announcing Mitty not appearing, yet every time we’ve driven this route it’s always popping up, teasing us. Suddenly Big M takes an off ramp to a place called Picton. It’s the first time I’ve ever noticed this sign before...the only other Picton I know is a gorgeous port town on the South Island of New Zealand. This Picton is a small village of quaintness with the greeting of three older teenager boys riding bikes dressed in a way Mrs Clause might dress when she greets good ol Santa after a hard night of globe drifting....cute red minis trimmed in white faux fur and fishnets – interesting choice of attire guys!  
We glimpse Picton’s trim of historical buildings; a favourite of the film & television industry, wind our way into country Tahmoor and before we know it we’ve arrived at Mittagong. And quickly fall in love with what we see. Sandstone buildings dripping in ivy, double story colonial hotels with ornate stain glass entry’s and lace balconies, and beautiful old brick shops filled with antiques. 
Unfortunately it’s well after five in the evening when we arrive and everything is closed. All we can do is window shop and drool. Deciding to spend the night in neighbouring Bowral, fantasying about staying in a beautiful old pub soaking up some colonial charm, our cooing oohs and ahrs become horrified shrieks when we’re shown a room so hideous I wouldn’t let my dog...should I have one... sleep there. Instead a basic, clean, motel room becomes our abode for the night. Our deflated Highland vision is soon uplifted when we stumble upon The Colosseum and its amazing gourmet folded pizza – the Calzone Euro. Mouth watering in every way. 
Morning on the Highlands dawns crisply cool and we quickly head back to explore Mittagong’s treasures. The Aladdin’s cave of Hunters and Collectors has us enthralled, not so much for the macabre displays of stuffed exotic animals that holds us both spellbound and disgusted at the same time but for the garage memorabilia we like to collect. Big M doesn’t know it yet but his chrissy pressie is discovered here.


Antique hunting gives way to scaling ‘The Gib’ - Gibraltar Mountain.... more like a rock really... and we hunt out the view captured by Sir Arthur Streeton way back in 1891 or thereabouts. The vistas over Mittagong, Bowral and towards the Blue Mountains are spectacular. A salute to the Don is next on our tick off list. The pitch shimmers brilliant green against the white picket fence and the member stand and clubhouse are a picture of gentle bygone elegance - a stark contrast from the modern glass and steel facade of the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame that sits on the other side of the building.

Lunch beckons and we head to a once possible contender for the Federal Capital of Australia - Moss Vale - for a picnic in the beautiful Leighton Gardens located in the towns centre. I fall in love with Moss Vale, its main street, lined with trees that frame gorgeous heritage brick buildings is filled with hidden gems – quaint cafes, antique shops, designer wear and art galleries. We wander across to the bygone era railway station and delight in its radiant orange and gold surrounds, old-fashioned timber announcement boards and graceful wrought iron awning curves. We are to discover orange is the popular choice of colour for these older stations as we meander through other historical country towns. 
A storm threatens, lightning streaks across the sky in a spectacular fireworks display and the almost black clouds give the surrounding flora a luminescent glow.  As we head towards the tiny communities of Sutton Forest and Exeter we notice the many “No POSCO” signs dotting driveways and farm fence lines.  As is happening back in our area on the North Coast, this area too is facing the threat of the mining companies wanting to establish Coal Seam Gas fields and facilities.  Down here it is Hume Coal trying to bully its way into the community.
We arrive in the absolute gorgeous village of Bundanoon in the late afternoon and vow to re-visit on our return trip. This village is divine! Sculptured stone carvings of echidnas, possums and birds dot the main road leading into the centre of town, scenic frescos and old advertising signs dating back to the 1930’s adorn the sides and tops of shops and  picturesque guesthouses nestle amongst native and rose filled gardens. Once upon a time, back when, Bundanoon had over 68 guesthouses and was once called the Honeymoon Capital of Australia. The adorable timber railway station that sits in the centre of town is picture perfect and amongst it’s signage announces the restriction of bringing horses onto the platform.
Bundanoon is to be our last village stop for this Highland fling and we quickly make our way back towards the highway to spend the night at Goulburn.  Following the winding road, we pass paddocks filled with grazing kangaroos, thousands of kangaroos, this is supposed to be sheep country, but I swear looking at these fields, the farms here are breeding roos!

Upon reaching the highway, we decided we preferred to stay on the country roads and try to make our way to Goulburn via Carrick.  This meant crossing over the highway and driving thru the town of Marulan, a village bypassed by time. We wander along the ‘main’ street taking in the sights of historical buildings and signage and make our way to where we think the road will take us to Carrick – there are no signs pointing to Carrick but other than the turn off back onto the highway, this intersection seems to be the only way out of town.  
We end up at an enormous refuge tip.  Turning the car around we drive back into town, down a side street, around a corner and we're back on the road to the tip.  Turn the car back around, drive to the other end of town to the big service station that entices travellers for a pit stop off the highway and go in to ask for directions.  No-one can help us as they know nothing about the western side of the town. So we drive behind the station and follow a dirt road for a kilometre or two and find ourselves back on a road leading to the tip.  Marulan is the only town in the world that sits on the 150° meridian, which is used as the basis for Australian Eastern Standard Time, this means that during the equinox (twice a year) the sun rises precisely at 6 and sets at 6.  Its a time warp....literally... and we were stuck in it!  So, after another attempt of driving to the other end of the town in search of a road out of it,  and after asking for more directions upon which the chap we question gives us a funny look and says, “why in world do you want to go to Carrick?” we decide we’ve spent enough time in pretty Marulan and it’s time to put Carrick on the “one day we must..... “ list.