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

Saturday, 5 January 2013

"Thar she blows"...

The wilderness paradise of Eden has sat on my ‘one day’ list for a very long time, ever since I heard the story of its unique inhabitants.  So unique, the antics of these inhabitants has never happen anywhere else in the world.  With one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and rich with krill, this is one of the few places where Humpback Whales stop to feed on their migratory route. Joined by many other species of whales such as the Southern Rights, the Blue Whale, Dwarf Minke, Brydes, Pilot, Sperm and the Beaked Whales, this Eden paradise was the perfect hunting ground for Whalers.  Over a hundred years from 1828, they turned the crystal waters of Twofold Bay blood red with their slaughter.

This of course, this isn’t what made Eden unique as whaling took place all over Australia’s coastline, including close to my home region at Byron Bay. One could suggest its uniqueness could have been attributed to a bizarre ‘cure’ for rheumatic fever performed here in the 1890’s. A large hole would be cut into a whales body and patients, nude, would sit inside with only their heads poking out.  They would snuggle down for a good hour or more with the temperature of the dead creature rising to 40°celsius.  It was noted however, the after effects of the treatment were that patients gave off a ‘horrible dead odour for a week or two’... but no it wasn’t this peculiar medical procedure that made Eden unique (or put it on the list for me), it was because of Old Tom and his mates. 

Old Tom was an Orca; a magnificent Killer Whale that gave true meaning to the adage “with friends like these, who needs enemies”.  For he and his pack had made a partnership with the Whalers.  When the Humpbacks or Southern Rights or the Blue or for that matter any of the other Baleen type whales came through, Old Tom’s pack would ‘round up’ a whale and ‘hold it’ whilst Old Tom notified the whalers to come. He would swim to bay, splash and leap until the whalers boat launched, then lead them to the ‘caught’ whale.  When the whalers harpooned the whale, Old Tom would get so excited sometimes he would grab the harpoon line in his mouth to slow the whale down, exhausting it more thus enabling the whalers to lance it to death. As reward for working with the whalers, Old Tom and his pack received the killed whale’s tongue and lips.  After their ‘payment’, Old Tom and his mates would then go in search for another suitable whale for their ‘partners’.  

It’s believe that this did not happen anywhere else in the world. This ‘partnership’ between the whaleman and Old Tom was so unique and unusual, that when Old Tom died in 1930, not a single Orca returned to Eden and the whaling industry of Eden came to an end.  The skeleton of Old Tom holds court in the Killer Whale Museum, and it was to see this ‘wolf of the sea’ that enticed me to Eden.
The surrounds of Eden are indeed a paradise; the most beautiful bays, spectacular wilderness and Lake Curalo is breathtaking.  Unfortunately, I was to find the actual township of Eden very lacking.  The township, first settled way back in 1820’s has gone under many changes and industries over the years, from whaling to timber to fish cannery to now tourism.  And along with the decline to industry so too did the aesthetics of the town change and decline. 

There are very few historical buildings left standing in the centre of the town, most of the shops are of those ugly 1970’s type, basic square brick with big windows. It obvious the local historical society is trying to regain some of the town’s heritage as many of the shops have plaques attached to them saying “The site of....”  but this a poor substitute for a beautiful building. There were some historical buildings, but they were far and few in-between and hunting them out took considerable effort.
Not so hunting out the delicious fare of the Disaster Bay Chillies. 

Big M was in his element when we found these gourmet condiments and a phone call to Stuart at the ‘processing’ plant resulted in an invite to visit – they were cooking and we were welcome to come and try.  It’s not a very big production, but it certainly packed a punch! The smell was divine and Big M had much fun ‘taste-testing’. With arms bearing jars of delicious condiments and Chilli Wine, made from nine different chillies and not a single drop of grape in sight... we headed off for the next gourmet stop – Bega,  home of cheese.
Where Eden lacked street appeal, Bega surpassed and delighted.  Bega’s township is abundant with historical and country style buildings and houses all set in a beautiful valley with rolling hills.  In fact it’s said that the ‘most smug-looking cows live there’ and judging by the beauty and tranquillity of their farming area, I can see why.  We dropped into the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre for something to eat and perhaps taste-test and although I’m sure during non-high-season times, this place would be a delight, the crowds, the grottiness of the cafĂ© sitting area and the lack-lustre service put a dampener on our visit to this charming little town.  With so many ‘little fingers’ grubbing about in the testing cheese display, we weren’t game to go anywhere near the samples.
We  did not entirely miss out on our feast of cheese, for just sixty kilometres up the road was the Tilba Cheese factory and the boutique South Coast Cheese company both located in the divine village that time forgot – Central Tilba.  Set in picturesque hill soundings, every building is beautifully restored, their fronts brimming with flowering gardens that entice colourful parrots and small birds right into the main street. 
The quirkiest signage adorns to the walls of the shops, such as the local pub offering “Husband Day Care”, or the shop that advertises it’s opening hours as “Most days about 9 or 10, occasionally as early as 7, but some days as late as 12 or 1. Closed: about 5 or 6, but sometimes as late as 11 or 1 and somedays we arn’t here at all....” and I just loved the colourful prayer wheel inviting one to turn it and mumble the Aussie mantra of “She’ll be right” instead of om mani padme hum.

As we arrived at Norwa we debated our last place to visit.  We were close to the Southern Highlands where we first started our ‘one day’ road trip and time had come to an end.  Work was calling it was time to get back.  Looking at the map, Big M thought it’d be a good thing to head straight up the highway to Sydney but I was adamant that the trip wasn’t about to end that abruptly, no there was another place I wanted to see, to finish off with, but Big M wasn’t too keen. 
Just prior to reaching Eden the day before, I’d insisted a detour after Mallacoota to visit Genoa and see its “historical” bridge.   When we arrived, the bridge -classed as one of five trussed bridges left in Victoria and with the maximum number of trusses – was at best, ho-hum and very debatable on the photogenic scale... in Big M’s opinion – NO!  So, when we came to end of our trip, my suggestion to detour from the highway and head to another bridge did not go down too well. However, Big M is a big softie at heart and knows that a happy wife means a happy life and so indulged me and off we went to our last stop, Kangaroo Valley.

Climbing the curves of the Highland mountains took us back into beautiful pockets of rainforest and we were blessed with two sightings of lyre birds – one with tail in full plumage. The village of Kangaroo Valley is another picture perfect darling and one that induces a plethora of oohs and arhs.  Once again, quaint colonial buildings surrounded by  a stunning forest landscape. 
Gardens filled with flowers and abundant birdlife contour the main street. A street filled with art galleries, home-made fudge emporiums, sumptuous cafes and adorable cottage-style B&B’s.  The pride of Kangaroo Valley is the magnificent Hampden Bridge.  A sandstone suspension bridge with four battlement turrets that would look more at home in a castle than in a tiny 300population village, yet it looks fabulous sitting astride the beautiful stone lined river surrounded by rugged forest.  Medieval in character, it wasn’t hard to imagine the clip of hooves that crossed in year gone by.

It was the perfect ending to our fabulous trip of tiny Aussie towns, towns diverted from the main highways and hidden from the everyday.  Gorgeous towns fighting for remembrance and to stay alive.  Although I’ve ticked off some of the ‘one day’ list, another has formed - the ‘I’m going to return to....’ list, and its getting quite long.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Facets of the Sapphire

We pick up the Princes Highway at Bairnsdale and head north to the Sapphire Coast and it’s not long before we stumble upon her gems.   Although we left Bairnsdale early, I did insist on checking out the towns historical buildings and was delighted to find a lovely old railway station (and it wasn’t orange!), a magnificent old court house that looked more like a castle, a beautiful grand dame of a hotel and the cutest little rotunda.....being on stilts had me pondering the great flood concept though.... along with the 'interesting' hobby shop.

We hadn’t had our first cup of coffee for the day and so ambled into the small waterfront village of Metung. Nestled on the banks of Lake King, this tiny village is an absolute diamond – vibrant in every way yet so kick-arse chilled out lazy!  It has gone to the top of my ‘must return’ list, highlighted in bright red with gold stars – We love it.... 

So divinely quaint and charming with its wrap around boardwalk over the bay and river, grey and white timber boat-house style abodes and  black swans paddling around boats – big and small bobbing gently in the lake.  We wander around the park like streets of the village and take in the nautical sculptures hidden amongst the public gardens then sit on the piers and watch the lines being cast in (and pulled out with catch) and fantasise about coming here for a week of doing absolutely nothing except drink great coffee (which we find at the Galley Cafe) and perhaps lazing  on a yacht on glistening turquoise waters.
This village’s status of precious jewel was confirmed as far back as 1885 when it was called the “gem of Lakeland” – at that time there were only 41 inhabitants in the village.  I think many an aussie bloke would think the locals of Metung have their priorities in the right place, especially in 1945 when the local pub was burning down.  The fire-brigade captain – brave man according to Big M – was declared a hero when he rescued the beer from the burning building and carried it to the village green, where the keg was tapped under the Morton Bay Fig and business resumed as usual. His bust (carved in timber) takes pride of place on the bar of the re-built pub.
As in the past where I fixate on a certain architectural structure....railway station, lighthouse etc, I suddenly developed a fascination for bridges. Bizarre I know but for some reason on the Princes Highway part of our trip it’s became bridges, and so upon leaving Metung  I insisted we find the Swan Reach Bridge which according to the brochures was very ‘photogenic’.  Up and down the small township of Swan Reach we drove, under the highway bridge (not at all photogenic!) and back towards Bairnsdale....much to Big M’s disapproval... but to no avail, no camera-friendly bridge appeared.  

The deep blue of Lakes Entrance was the next enticing gem of the Princes and a huge favourite with boaties of all types.   The bar was like a highway with the amount of traffic coming and going – the wakes making spectacular white patterns across the blue. From our vantage point at Jemmies Lookout we could just see the oil well platforms out in the bass strait, including the flame of the “Kingfisher” platform, some 34 nautical miles out to sea.  Then it was a stroll of the moorings to drool over the magnificent yachts, ogle at rugged fishing fleets and ponder the enormous aluminium catamaran that looked like a deep sea mapping vessel. Along the foreshore sat fabulous chain-saw carved sculptures of WWI heroes; the war nurse, the stretcher-bearer and the ultimate hero of mateship, Simpson with his donkey.  Sculptured by John Brady in 1990 into the butts of the Cyprus trees (originally planted in 1924) that grew along the foreshore, they are a magnificent example of ‘bush’ artistry.
At  Nowa Nowa it wasn’t the galleries of wood sculpture that took my fancy but the Stony Creek trestle bridge built in 1914 which became my next ‘must see’.  Set in bushland along a dusty track, this enormous bridge (a former railway bridge) is now part of the walk/biking track of the East Gippsland Rail Trail and at 19meters high and 276meters long, is the largest wooden trestle bridge in the southern hemisphere. 

Further along the Princes crown, we turned off and wound our way past dairy farms and countless grey nomads setting camp on cosy corners of a riverbank to the gorgeous little town of Marlo and to where the mighty Snowy River meets the Bass Strait.  The town is a delight for families and as we sat on the sandy banks at the Snowy’s mouth, eating some of the best fish and chips ever!!!!, we watch children build sandcastles,  net for crabs and other small marine life, and yell with delight as they were towed on rubber tubes behind boats. 

For me it felt very strange to be sitting on the banks of the Snowy looking at the ocean, for this rivers very name conjures images of mountains; like the Man from Snowy River riding down a massive slope, or the enormous turbines built in the 50’s to harness the Snowy’s waters into electricity, even  of trout fishers casting and drawing back their flys in clear rippling ankle/knee deep waters.   And although I know perfectly well that rivers head to the sea, I never imagined or thought of the Snowy making its way to coast.  As in the many times I had visited the Snowy in the mountains and found it exquisitely beautiful, here too I also found its final flush so very picturesque.

My next bridge obsession came near Orbost where an old railway bridge over river flats extended for a good length.  Although not as intricate or large as Stoney Creek, this bridge still fascinated me in that for the length and narrowness of it, it had withstood the pressures and weights of the many trains that passed over it.

Although it was late afternoon and we still had ninety kilometres to go till we arrived at our next stop for the night, Eden, we decided to turn off the highway and visit Mallacoota, the last (or first) official township of eastern Victoria. What a darling town!  Hidden behind forests of palms, ferns and eucalypt trees, with the cutest shops, ice-cream parlours and cafes, and with quaint seaside bungalow homes,  it was as if the whole town had become a caravan park with tents perched on footpath verges, in parks and along walkways;  vans and countless boat trailers taking up every available spot around the main street and foreshore and endless rows of campers.
We made our way down to the foreshore and were amazed by the numerous birds settling in for the night on the small islands in the inlet – pelicans, gulls, shearwaters and many more of which I have no idea what their species is.  I would have loved to have gone to Gabo Island just off Mallacoota to see the pink lighthouse (built in 1862) but had to go with a more time viable option (plus  keep Big M happy) with the WWII bunkers.  Another dusty dirt road through forest and next door to the shooting range, brought us the bunkers with a sign stating opening hours were “Tuesday morning – 9am to 11.30am”...hmmm gotta be quick! 
One of the interesting sights of Mallacoota was the many signs outside homes and along the road demanding the saving of Bastion Point.  This pricked my interest to no end (being an activist from way back) and a little research had me learning that the East Gippsland Shire Council proposal to ‘improve’ the small villages  current boat ramp (that’s in disrepair)  comes with a massive breakwater (110metres long) to be built over the reef and into the surf break (the surfers are well and truly up in arms about it – they’ve put it on their Endangered Wave list!) and includes a road (to be built on the beach), carpark along the cliff top and the removal of 3500cu of rocky reef....not to mention the ongoing dredging of sand.  This is all for a town that has less than 900 permanent residents and is classed as one of the most isolated towns in Victoria.  Plus the area of Bastion Point sits in Croajingolong National Park. I shake my head at the ‘powers that be’ and wish the residents the very best of luck in stoping this monstrosity.
This southern part of the Sapphire Coast is indeed breathtakingly beautiful; from the azure waters, gold sandy beaches to the heathlands and pockets of rainforests filled abundant birdlife – on the way into Mallacoota the bell birds and pilot bird calls were almost deafening – yet it was very sad to see the destruction done to the forests along the side of the highway.  Large tracks of eucalypt stands had been razored, many of the ‘smaller’ trees just left trashed on the ground; precious natural resources wasted.  Although I understand this is plantation forest and some felling should be left to become habitat for wildlife, this amount of waste is actually a fire hazard, not to mention an absolute eyesore. 
As we pulled into Eden, I dismount from my high horse and look down at Twofold Bay.  Another gem awaits to be discovered.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On a wing and a prayer

The smell of eucalyptus assaults the senses, it’s almost overpowering and the air crackles with heat.  Dust covers everything, rising into the air drifting into the bush, joining the haze that sears across the mountains.  Inside the car I’m hyperventilating, failing to control a massive panic attack that has descended upon me, whilst we are winding our way ever so slowly up a steep dirt section of the Omeo Highway in the Victorian High country. 

It’s almost one hundred kilometres of this type of road and we are unable to drive a speed of more than forty kmh.  I feel trapped and very, very afraid. It’s so dry and sweltering hot outside, I’m terrified the surrounding forest will catch fire and there’s no way out.  Only two days ago, on the 31st as we were driving back to Wodonga I’d made a suggestion we stop off at Violet Town  only to hear on the radio just ten minutes later that it and the Boho area were facing a large grass fire. Then on New Year’s Day, there was a bushfire on the outskirts of Albury.  It was fire season in Victoria.  It was also heat wave conditions in Victoria.  All day on the radio, the warning to ‘know your bushfire response’ is playing, and here we are driving in one of the most heavily wooded areas of the state.  I was in hysterics.
We had decided to skip the lower south-east coastal route and instead pick up the coast road in East Gippsland, starting at Bairnsdale.  After a quick look at the maps, Big M thought the quickest route to Bairnsdale would be via Mitta Mitta instead of the Mount Beauty wrong were we! 
Big M does his best to drive and try and keep me calm.  He points out beautiful bright red parrots as they fly past and comments on the wildflowers along the verge but to no avail. All I can think is “this is the stupidest idea and we’re going to die!’ The drive is excruciatingly slow and it’s not until we’ve finally reached the peak of the mountain we’ve been climbing and start going down again that I stop feeling faint.  

All along I keep praying for God to take me out of here and I find it a little bizarre to see sign posts telling us we’re driving across the “Devils Backbone” and crossing creeks called Haunted Creek and St Patrick’s Creek...perhaps a touch of the above..... 

At Glen Willis we come across an eerie scene of a cemetery filled with white unmarked crosses. A sign at the far end of the cemetery tells us it’s the last resting place of some ninety-seven people who died between the years of 1894 and 1920 – forty of the graves are infants.  These were people who lived and made up the community of Glen Willis and Sunnyside – Miners, wives and their children.  I look around, there is nothing here. These people working this area were isolated; their lives would have been hard, for the wives and children, almost suppressive.  It’s heartbreaking to read the names of so many babies and children. Despite it’s sadness, it feels like a peaceful place.
Omeo is a breath of fresh air and I suck it in hungrily.   I’m so relieved to arrive, some six hours after we first left Wodonga, and I take myself off on a walking tour of the village enjoying the heritage and prettiness of it all until I reach the top of the street and read how the town was practically wiped from the map by the 1939 Black Friday bushfires.   As I look down the street at the buildings, especially the Golden Age Motel which  over it’s time has burnt down some six times, I can’t help but admire the resilience and strength of our past pioneers.
Our next stop was the quaint town of Bruthen, which owes its claim to fame to being the town where Flt Lt Ralph Oborn in 1958 became the first pilot in Australia to eject safely from an aeroplane – just as his RAAF Avon-Sabre jet crashed into the outskirts of the town – just avoiding the built up area. It was also the first time Oborn had ever used a parachute. Now that’s definitely having a guardian angel on your side.  I do wonder however, if the local publican of the Bruthen Hotel is trying to get his own claim to fame – if his sign is anything to go by.

Bairnsdale was the end of our wing and prayer drive and what better way to end it then taking time to give thanks for a safe trip at the spectacular catholic church of St Mary’s.  Although quite an imposing structure on the outside,  it’s the interior that holds your attention.  Beautiful murals and ceiling paintings adorn the entire dome and walls. Stunning  in colour and vibrancy.  The tourist brochures claim they are reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel and although I myself wouldn’t go that far as to say that, I must say they are incredible and quite mesmerising.  Painted by an Italian artist Francesco Floreani in the 1930 during the Great Depression, they would have lifted the spirits of the community.  They certainly lifted mine.


post script – 2 days after writing this Victoria reaches heatwave temperatures of over 40degrees and grass and bush fires spring up; including near  the small town of Ensay which we passed through (near Omeo)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

From ‘The White Lady’ to a black demon...

I’m hoping to redeem myself a little from ‘sight ticker’ to an ‘in the moment being’ after the marathon race through the Great Ocean Road.  Arriving to the gorgeous seaside town of Anglesea as twilight folded we were eager to start early in the morning to explore it. Unfortunately the drive had exhausted us and along with enjoying an evening with friends, our early morning became a little later than hoped, however our friends were wonderful tour guides and treated us to the 'real' Anglesea and Aireys Inlet.   What a divine pair of villages.

Anglesea is a small close-knit community with an enormous encompassing spirit and nowhere is this more evident than in a community garden that would WOW the beard off Costa from Gardening Australia! 

The Anglesea Community Garden was abundant with succulent produce – plots of organically grown vegetables and fruit trees companioned planted with beautiful flowering plants to encourage the bees and distract to pest. A pizza oven sat in the middle of garden, bringing the community together for social gatherings as they enjoyed the fruits of their labour.  The garden was set in the public community precinct and  is surrounded by native garden beds planted by the local AngAir landcare group with beautiful mosaic artwork carried out by local artists adorning the pathways and public buildings.
Our next ‘garden’ to visit was to the beautiful heritage listed heathlands of Anglesea.  The area of Anglesea and its surroundings hold one quarter of Victoria’s plant species with over a hundred varieties of orchids alone growing in the surrounding environment.  We’re told we must come back in the spring, as the area is a sea of colour when the wildflowers bloom and flourish.  Although it isn’t spring now, we are still surrounded by spectacular colour.   
As we head further into the heath lands, Big M and I are shocked to see straight across from the ‘protected lands’ is a massive ugly open cut coal mine.  A huge dirty black hole scaring the magnificent bushlands that surround it.  The coal from this mine feeds a power station for an aluminium smelter.  And it sits less than eight hundred metres as the crow flies from the town!  I’m flabbergasted!... 

I know the smelter is important to the area, supplies jobs and industry but to have the mine so close to such a pristine wilderness as the National Heritage Heathlands, not to mention, next door to a beautiful seaside village. Surely there is a better way to fuel it’s power station?  A more environmentally alternative power source.
Although we were getting the ‘locals inside tour’ we couldn’t not visit the beautiful beaches and headlands of Anglesea. Spectacular!  We were amazed to see the evidence of an enormous landslip at the southern end of the village and amused to learn how it ‘disrupted’ one chaps plans. 
In 1903 this chap rowed out to the shipwrecked vessel, the ‘Inverlochy’ and ‘borrowed’ a case of whisky and buried it for later. The very next morning at 4am the landslip happen and ‘buried’ it further.  
Just around the corner from Anglesea is Aireys Inlet and upon visiting it I felt as if popular culture was blending with reality.  Our first stop was to the newly open 60’s Roadhouse, where Big M was in his element.  The fabulous American style ‘milkbar’ is filled with garage/automobile memorabilia with a showroom any racing enthusiast would drool over. 


About eight vintage racecars from various eras sit behind glass with a front row seat in the bar.  Not only was it that they were vintage cars that excited Big M, but also the fact that he had seen a number of them at various time in actual racing action.  From the milkbar, I feel like I've stepped into 'art imitating life' when I'm introduced to the owner of the local Bookshop and after hearing how she had started the local writers festival (now in its third year) I could have sworn it was the plot and quite possibly the inspiration for the June Loves novel – The Shelly Beach Writers Group..... I wonder.....
The final must see was the magnificent “White Lady”, the Split Point Lighthouse.  A stunning white tower with red cap and the star of the ABC TV show – Round the Twist.  She stands so majestically surrounded by a mass of green shrubbery that must look so amazingly colourful in the spring.  Below,  waves crash against the cliffs and jutting from the ocean sits one loan limestone formation, perhaps an apostle cast out of the group – Judas? 

As we leave (and inadvertently add another rubbish tip to our ‘tip-rat tour’) we vow to return and plunge ourselves once more into this wild south-west coast line of Victoria that is indeed a breathtaking icon.