Friday, 27 November 2009

Journey's End: Tannachie to Glenbrook

November 25

We had a farewell coffee with Piers and Patricia in Orange, before going on our way. First stop was a car wash so that we could return the van to its owners in sparkling condition.
Thanks to a leak in the radiator hose, it was a slow journey from then on, as we had to stop every 50 km or so to replenish the water supply. Nevertheless, we were grateful that everything had held up so well until this, the last day of our travels. We limped into John and Susan's in Glenbrook, and the van seemed happy to be home after its 12,000 km journey with us at the wheel.

After a delightful evening with them, we got up the following morning, reclaimed our little Echo, stuffed it with our belongings and cruised down into the Sydney suburb of Turramurra to a great welcome from my sister and her family.

So ends one great adventure. Who knows what is next for us.

Cowra to Tannachie

November 23

Cowra has an ambitious rose garden in front of their visitors' centre. There is even a little brochure explaining its origins and listing the roses planted. They're not my kind of roses, but they were making a fine show.

On close inspection, I thought the flowers were either small for the varieties listed, or pale. This is 'Just Joey', which is usually a warm apricot colour in my recollection.

Cowra also has "the largest Japanese garden in the Southern Hemisphere". It is beautifully maintained, and there are great views from a convenient knoll, incorporating a waterfall.

It's a lovely contrast to see the formal green shapes in the foreground against such a traditional Australian country landscape behind.

I liked the fresh spears of Agapanthus backed by a large chunk of terracotta rock.

After leaving Cowra, we went directly to our friends who live on 640 acres of land outside the country town of Orange (which, incidentally, is famous for its apple orchards.)

November 24

Piers and Patricia have a lovely house with a great walled vegetable garden and a sandstone terrace with clipped parterres. From our room we could look down on the terrace,

or further afield over their rolling pastures.

We went for a walk over some of their property, combatting the flies as we went.
Patricia and I protected our heads with fly nets, and I felt rather like a lady of Edwardian times with a demure veil over my face.

Fortunately, the flies preferred our backs to our fronts, as you can see from Piers and Patricia

and me.

We had a lovely time there, very restful, and particularly enjoyed Patricia's cooking and the bottle of 1980 Grange Hermitage which Piers chose to accompany one meal.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Gundagai to Cowra

November 22

You get the impression that, since the highway bypass went in, few travellers stop in Gundagai. But everyone in Australia knows of the town because it features in a well-known ballad about a dog left to guard his master's tuckerbox (provisions). The master dies but the faithful, or possibly stupid, dog refuses to leave its post and also dies, still guarding the tuckerbox "five miles from Gundagai", as the song records.

There's a statue commemorating the dog at the appropriate distance from town, conveniently beside the highway. Around it is a clutter of signs, fast food outlets and other junk, including a plaque giving a different (and much more tacky) story about the dog. I prefer the one I was told. As you can see, it's hardly a great work of art.

Go to Gundagai for its lovely trestle bridges, and forget the dog!

We reached the large town of Cowra around midday. It has a leafy, grassy caravan park beside the river, where we settled in. In the amenities were signs so garbled with government-speak that it was hard to grasp what they were saying.

How exactly do they "improvise the health of their water resources"?

Late in the afternoon, a group of five young French speakers arrived and set up their tents so close to us that we actually moved our van a little further away. We were expecting to be kept awake by them, but they turned in early and were gone before we woke up. On the other hand, some grey nomads much further away partied loudly till the small hours.

Beechworth to Gundagai

November 21

Another grey sky, but not dustladen this time. Rain was falling and continued all morning.
It didn't take us long to reach Albury, just across the river in New South Wales. Albury is the hub for the area, with all the standard chain stores and banks represented. The only interesting thing about it is that it has the longest railway platform in Australia. Until the 1960's, trains from Melbourne and Sydney ran on rails of different gauges. Both terminated here at opposite ends of the platform, and passengers transferred to continue their journey in either direction. From a pedestrian overpass, you can see the grander NSW end fading away towards the modest Victoria end in the distance.

Otherwise, on a Saturday morning at least, Albury is an awful place, full of surly people elbowing their way through the parking lots and malls. Hunting for a parking space, we came across a couple arguing across the back seat of their car with both doors wide open. When we tried to get the guy to shut his door so that we could use the adjacent parking, he snarled at us. Inside the mall, overweight parents were hassling their children, then threatening them if they squawked. We grabbed our few groceries and beat a retreat.

We drove north on the Hume Highway, usually busy but quiet on this weekend, through rolling farmland dotted with Black Angus cattle, and came to the small town of Gundagai. Gundagai has some nice old houses and two abandoned trestle bridges, one for rail, one for cars. This is the rail bridge:

The town used to be on the flat land below the bridges, but after a couple of disastrous floods, one claiming 78 lives, it was moved up the hill on which it now stands.

The bridges were abandoned when the highway and a new rail line bypassed the town. A plaque describes their current status as "managed ruin". This is the car bridge:

We spent the night in Gundagai's quiet caravan park.

Rutherglen to Beechworth

November 20

Another day of dark, dust-laden skies and intense heat.

Before we left Rutherglen, I wanted to visit the grand All Saints Winery, which I remembered from a long-ago trip in my youth. We slightly lost our way, driving across the Murray into New South Wales, getting directions, and driving back over a different bridge into Victoria again.
The winery had an avenue of elms that must make European visitors sigh for the good old days before Dutch elm disease wiped out most of theirs.

The last time I visited, most Australians were still drinking sweet sherry and a sparkling wine called Porphyry Pearl. You can imagine! How different it is today. The imposing building is now immaculately landscaped,

and there are reception rooms lined with oak casks for weddings and other functions, a deli selling cheese, jams and olive oils, and of course a large and attractive tasting room. They are experimenting with European varietals so we bought a bottle of their latest combo: Tempranillo Grenache, a light fruity red.

After that we made for Beechworth, a town we'd been to before and remembered as an appealing stopover.

It still is attractive, and very much more upscale, with many shops selling fancy soaps, French linens, crafts and home decor items.

Almost unchanged, however, is its wonderful old cemetery with faded headstones and rusting ironwork. Wildflowers (a lavender form of Ixia, I think) were growing on many of the grave sites.

There was a sad little memorial to eight children of the Gammon family, all of whom died between the ages of 2 and 9. Another two children survived.

And, Beechworth being once the source of a gold strike, there was a marvellous and moving Chinese section with traditional burning towers and at least a hundred simple headstones arranged randomly around them.

Around 4:30 just after we returned to the caravan park, the weather broke with gusting wind whipping dust, leaves and seed pods through everyone's little homes on wheels. Several owners struggled to haul down their flapping awnings, and we all retreated inside. Our barometer swung wildly over, the air cooled, kookaburras laughed as they so often do when rain is coming, sporadic raindrops splattered mud on windows, and a couple of little girls ran out and jumped in the rapidly forming puddles. For the first time since we began this trip we hunkered down inside the van for the rest of the evening.

Echuca to Rutherglen

November 19

We woke at 7:00 to a sky the colour of dirty dishwater. The temperature was already climbing through the 30's. By 8:30 the caravan park was already emptying. People were anxious to get their travelling done early, before the predicted 40ºC.
All the radio stations were broadcasting the same news: record high temperatures across the southeast of the continent, extreme fire ban, stay indoors if possible, otherwise seek out malls and other air-conditioned public places to escape the heat.
We set off eastwards along the Murray River, driving slowly and drinking copious amounts of water. The air became denser and the sky a peculiar pewter - very bright, but sucking all the colour out of the landscape. All my photos from this day have a bleached-out look to them.
We passed through parched fields,

with a few deserted old buildings by the roadside from time to time.

At Lake Mulwala with its flooded trees, we felt like characters in a science fiction movie, awaiting the apocalypse.

It was too hot for our usual picnic lunch so we ate in a diner in the dead-end town of Katamatite, served by a plump, impassive girl who might well have been an alien in disguise.

It was a relief to reach Rutherglen, a charming little historic town

in the heart of a wine-growing area that is particularly famous for its fortified wines:

We found a shady spot in their caravan park and felt slightly better after a cold shower, even though the heat stayed intense for the rest of the day. When I re-filled our water bottle at the tap, I was approached by a couple of magpies gasping in the heat. I put a little water in a plastic cup for them.

Later in the afternoon, we braved the heat to stroll through the town. It had a great Echium growing through a fence,

and a great secondhand bookstore.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Bendigo to Echuca

November 18

The birthday of our favourite daughter - Happy Birthday, Sarah Jane!

On our way out of town we stopped at Bendigo Pottery, probably the most famous pottery in Australia. They make lovely earthenware crocks, jugs and dishes in an old-fashioned country-kitchen style. We bought a butter dish, not an easy object to find in the modern kitchen decor shop.
There was also a small metalworks gallery in the complex with lovely sculptures outside. We would have liked to buy one, but it wouldn't fit in the van.

It was just a short drive through golden hayfields to Echuca on the Murray River.

Echuca is famous for its collection of paddlewheelers and, despite the river being at an all-time low, several were still plying the waters.

A river red gum on the bank showed how high the waters had come in some of the years before the current drought.

With the temperature in the high thirties, everyone in the caravan park was seeking even the most minimal shade.

We didn't feel like cooking, and treated ourselves to a surprisingly good dinner in the Star Hotel's bistro.

Afterwards, we walked back along the river

passing a spot where numerous cockatoos were gathering on the bank. You can see from the exposed roots of the river gums how low the water level has fallen in this once mighty river, Australia's largest.

Judging by the increasing volume of squawking throughout the evening, this was a popular roosting place for the cockies.

We slept amazingly well, considering that the temperature did not fall below 30ºC all night.


Leaving Daylesford, I admired their fountain, which looked as if it had been sponsored by a hairdressing salon.

One of the first things I did thereafter was get a haircut. Auto-suggestion, perhaps?

It wasn't very far to Bendigo, a large prosperous town that we'd liked on an earlier visit about 10 years ago. Bendigo was the centre of some of the richest goldfields in Victoria at the turn of last century, and consequently has broad avenues and grand public buildings.

as well as some fine private houses.

It also has the original Myer department store, which developed into a successful chain in cities across Australia. Mr. Myer was a Bendigo citizen who began his empire hawking goods from a barrow wheeled through the streets.
We spent some time wandering in the downtown, or I did: Michael stayed sketching at a convenient sidewalk cafe.

The next day we went into town on the bus (the nearest caravan park to the city is 2.5 km away), and visited the very good art gallery. While I dawdled in the gallery shop, Michael took advantage of a stone bench outside,

and was shortly joined by another patient male.

Behind them was this installation: a gazebo covered in astroturf:

Later in the day we strolled through Bendigo's botanic garden, yet another garden that was more of a park than a properly labelled collection of plants. But it was cool and tropical among the philodendrons and tree ferns:

November 16-17

The caravan park we stayed in was next door to a large primary school. A few minutes before 9:00 a.m. each morning, they broadcast music, obviously to let the kids know it was time to head for the classrooms. I was amused that the tune was a version of "Send in the Clowns", and wondered whether it was the choice of the principal, the teachers or the students.