OK folks, here’s the last “catch up” post which will get us more or less up to date (and will hopefully rid me of blogger’s guilt).
A couple of months ago now, back in the fresh New Year, we started inching our way towards Victoria. It was strangely sad to be leaving South Australia behind. It had wiggled itself into our heart.
But we had things to do, places to see and people to meet.
For us it had been self-evident for some time, that catching up with people was going to be the focus of our stay in Victoria. It was just what the doctor ordered, as far as we were concerned. In the Melbourne area we were looking forward to connect with distant family and old friends, plus there was the delight of catching up with our first-born who was coming to Melbourne. After more than a year on the road – and well over three years since we’d left NZ – the anticipation of reconnecting with people with whom we have a shared history was a huge buzz. And while we’ve shared magnificent moments with interesting and wonderful people that we’d met on our travels, these encounters tend to be fleeting by definition.
With catch-ups in mind, we entered the meteorologically troubled state of Victoria.
Freezing fairies and a culture shock
Our Tiki-tour along the coast brought us increasingly inhospitable weather. We did our best to ignore it and took some time out in the pleasant, gentrified fishing village of Port Fairy – home of the more-or-less famous Port Fairy Folk Festival. The town is a cute holiday destination with a lickety-spit fishing port as a focal point. Although to be honest, we visited primarily because we were intrigued by the town’s quirky name (which locals clearly don’t find airy-fairy). My inner child was hopeful that we’d come across a Hairy MacLairy who lives in Port Fairy. Alas, no such luck.
There was a graver disappointment in store for us: we didn’t have enough warm clothing in the wardrobe (and didn’t fancy burrowing into the bowels of our storage compartments where “emergency” thermo stuff lived). Did I mention it was the height of summer? The weather sure could have fooled us, our teeth didn’t stop chattering and we were lucky we didn’t lose toes to frost-bite (how naïve to be wearing summery sandals!).Mind you, apart from us, nobody seemed to take note of the sub-antarctic temperatures. The jaw-droppingly long queues at the ice cream shop were beyond comprehension.
It was clearly time to harden up – in more ways than one.
As we absorbed the ambience of this attractive holiday town with all its trinket shops, eateries and sophisticated galleries, we couldn’t help notice that it’s rather more moneyed than any other place we’d been to, for what seemed a rather long time. We were overcome by loads of swanky European cars (and nearly over-run by their impatient drivers) and cafes full of people that looked like they sipped lattes for a living and mastered the art of avoiding pesky milk froth getting stuck on their upper lip. It all struck us as being a few economic miracles away from the earthy, community focused and organic feel of our favourite haunts in South Australia. As for the glorious Outback – that didn’t even seem like the same country.
So, there you have it.
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t really all that super duper swish – just a buzzing holiday town at its seasonal height and within striking distance of the metropolis of style and fabulousness that is Melbourne. And it showed. We also came to the rude realisation that over the past year we seem to have acquired country-pumpkin-sensibilities. Simultaneously, some form of cerebral network failure must have erased our memory of modern urban lifestyles. It’s mildly embarrassing, but we’ve developed dislikes for the fast paced life and all that it entails, even traffic lights. The bloke dryly noted that we must have caught a virulent strain of “Outback Disease”.
Future will tell if it’s a cause for concern or celebration.
In any case, the big city was beckoning, and we were in for some lively readjusting.
Fabulous: Melbourne, family and friends
“Hi, my name is Sylvia and I’ve been living under a rock. I’ve never been to Melbourne and haven’t as yet absorbed the city’s legendary awsomeness through osmosis.” This tape played in my head as I wondered if there are support groups (a la Alcoholics Anonymous) for people who’ve never been to Melbourne. There definitely should be programs for metropolitan failures.
It’s ironic that in the past we would have gladly visited at the drop of a hat. Now, on the other hand, we dreaded it and would have avoided it at all cost if it weren’t for the people we were so looking forward to meeting. And as a further incentive, there was also a gig – our Xmas present to each other; Our first-born had alerted us that Bonobo was in town and insisted that it was an unmissable event. We knew to trust his impeccable musical taste.
So we steeled ourselves for what lay ahead and spent one last quiet night on the shores of Lake Colac, where icy winds swept across the water. We were surrounded by a bunch of mad fishermen who sat on the shore looking like arctic explorers wrapped in heavily insulated jackets. One fella sat there, rod in hand, motionless for hours; just as I was about to check on him (to make sure he hadn’t died of hypothermia) he showed a sign of life. I had visions of the poor sod sitting there for days before somebody noticed. Not sure if the maximum temperatures actually made it into double digits on those days.
We prepared for our big city visit and had arranged to meet long lost members of my distant tribe in West Melbourne first (two cousins of some degree, along with their parents). Despite the best efforts of our extremely temperamental GPS, we found our way to their home – without getting lost or ending up on one of the city’s many toll roads (the toll mafia charges like wounded bulls for commercial sized trucks; besides it’s an exercise in anger management if you don’t have the electronic toll thingy in your vehicle). Anyway, once there, it was a delight to get to know my distant family. It helped us ease into the ‘big city experience’ and made it infinitely friendlier. Best of all, my cousins are cool cats (it clearly runs in the family) and we found we shared a great many interests. They showed us around and – thankfully – familiarised us with Melbourne’s recently introduced MyKi public transport ticketing system. Had we charged off on our own, we would have likely drawn on, ahem, ‘choice expressions’ to describe the fact that you can’t simply buy/pay for individual trips. Notwithstanding the personal induction, our visitor experience suggested that MyKi suffers from more than just teething problems. But then again, what do you get for $1.5B these days?
We gratefully accepted the offer of camping in our relatives’ back yard which we’d previously discussed at length – and width. The garden gate demanded a super precise reversing manoeuvre, affording a scant centimetre to spare at either side, between our panel work and the sharp corners of the fence post capping. And then there was the gutter-bump to make things even more exciting. No guessing who got the job. (I might be blonde, but I wasn’t slow in volunteering the bloke for what looked to be Mission Impossible. What’s more, I had more faith in his slick truck driving skills than our insurance coughing up for any ensuing panel damage.)
After a few minutes of to-ing and fro-ing, the bloke utterly redeemed himself. He probably could have walked on water. Watching him squeeze Truckie with breathtaking precision through this unforgiving sliver of a space was like witnessing a watermelon being passed through a nostril. For my more modest truck driving skills, it was the spatial equivalent of poetry in motion.
Having lived in Brisbane, Auckland, Wellington and, back in the day, London, we’ve had our fill of big cities. In saying that, we sort of enjoyed the Melbourne experience. It really is a special kind of city, if a touch capricious. It’s obviously home to beautiful people and I for one find them a delight to observe. People watching is the best kind of spectator sport, and this must be one of the best cities for it. Street fashion is a personal favourite, and the beautiful Melbournians (or Melbournites?) really do whacky and unconventional chic extremely well. The cynic in me almost spoiled the party though, by proclaiming it just another uniform, albeit one in disguise. The same might well be said for the extravagant inner city architecture. It made me think of a classroom full of kids with a high proportion of ADD sufferers, all of them jumping with hands raised high, vying for one’s attention. Most of it was very stimulating. Some of it was naff. But all of it together made me wish they had given Ritalin to city planners.
We visited our lovely friends, Jan and James, and invited ourselves to stay at theirs after the Bonobo gig. Luckily for us they happily obliged and hosted us at their swish city pad. Even luckier, they lived within stumbling distance of the gig, which made it unbelievably easy for us to amble back after a night of letting our hair down and enjoying fantastic live music (while also doing serious damage to the average age in the joint). Fun was had on all counts.
Eating and drinking ourselves around the Laneways was predictably another one of the high points but the tastiest high point was at a family dinner when Cousin David introduced us to the Negroni Cocktail, possibly the holy grail for lovers of bitters. And as if that wasn’t enough, after dinner his wife Toni served us the best Limoncello ever (made by her aunt, I believe). Unforgettable!
Travelling spirits: We met this Japanese juggler (above) in several places including Darwin and saw him again in Melbourne. Loved his dancy show, his beautifully laid out implements and the sweet sign.
Back into the country
After our intense gastro-boozy- voyeuristic and arty-farty Melbourne experience, we were ready to head for the hills. Or rather the valley – the Yarra Valley to be precise, where our old mate Charlie has a 50 or so acre lifestyle block in glorious serenity, sufficiently remote from the city.
We were good mates when he lived in Auckland in the 1990s – fellow migrants with shared European cultural and linguistic roots, and a great common fascination with plants and gardens. Needless to say we all looked forward to reconnecting after many years.
His intimate property is beautifully situated high up in the Yarra, adjacent to the ubiquitous vineyards that you’ll find everywhere in this region. Long ago he has established a productive orchard, a substantial berry plantation, and lately also a novel raised vegetable garden as well as an assortment of interesting plants. He has created a series of inter-connected dams and has designed his property with self-sufficiency in mind (a lifestyle that is very close to our hearts).
The main house is currently undergoing a major DIY renovation. Being a resourceful engineer, a fixer-upper and a lovable eccentric with magpie tendencies, he also has an amazing collection of stuff – various items of plant and machinery along with assorted bits and pieces – much of it having long ago spilled out of his immense shed. We felt very much at home and happily pitched in with work that needed doing.
Some like it (not so) hot
A radio station billboard advertisment stuck in my mind. It proclaimed this particular station and its presenters to be “As Melbourne as 41 degrees in the morning and 18 by lunchtime”. Initially I dismissed it as “advertising truth” best taken with a good pinch of salt. However, after 2 ½ months in the state, we knew different. No need to alert the Advertising Standards Authority. The billboard was indeed telling the godforsaken truth.
Subsequently, we also got to experience a couple of heatwaves with sustained temperatures in the mid 40s. And that really is getting a bit bloody hot, if you ask me.
With extreme temperatures, and in context of minimal rainfall, came severe fire danger of course. Being on a country block surrounded by tinder-dry forests, grass and bush, this became a daily topic of conversation. It wasn’t until Charlie showed us how to operate various pumps and hoses and put us through a fire drill that the severity of the situation actually sunk in. The drill, by the way, involved us sheltering in a nearby dam, holding a large piece of dense wet carpet-type felt above our heads (to protect us from any fire and – most important – to trap vital oxygen that would otherwise be consumed by flames)!
It all culminated in a fairly tense weekend of extreme temperatures and high winds (almost exactly 5 years, to the day, after the horrendous Black Saturday bushfires which took place here). This time, several out-of-control fires were raging in the wider neighbourhood, claiming 18 properties (but thankfully no lives). We had our ears glued to the emergency radio station where incessantly sounding sirens and endless evacuation notices kept us pretty much on edge.
It would be an understatement to say that we were relieved when this particular danger passed.
And being in Victoria meant that it wouldn’t be too long before temperatures would plummet and flames would be roaring elsewhere … in the fire-place, that is.
A Rainbow type of festival
Believe it or not, February was festival time again for us! The Rainbow Serpent Festival was being held a couple of towns away from Ballarat in a nice country setting and we had once again applied for volunteer positions which allow you to work for a ticket. It’s a fantastic way of keeping expenses low (those festivals are quite pricy) while getting a look behind-the-scenes and meeting interesting people. It’s a win:win.
Rainbow, as it’s affectionately known, still trades on its hippie roots and its links to indigenous culture but has grown to become a massive event, which I’m guessing is but a shadow of its former self. This year it sold out at 15,000 capacity. It was nice in many respects, but it came across as decidedly commercial with a thin veneer of sustainability consciousness and a ‘painted on’ hippie vibe. Basically it was overrun by loads of young trendy Melbourne peeps plus a large contingent of interstate and international visitors of the same ilk, all playing dress up and enjoying the 24-hour psychedelic playground, with all that it entails.
Before you dismiss me as a grumpy old woman, I’ll quickly add that, yes of course, we had heaps of fun, we enjoyed the festival on the whole and we laughed at being rugged up for the first part as it was so cold, and then sweltering in 40+ temperatures with gale force winds on the last few days (and while we were working). But, and it’s a big BUT, our enjoyment was tempered by the effects of crass consumerism and the mind-bogglingly huge mountains of rubbish that were left behind by festival goers at their campsites. I was actually too embarrassed about it to photograph the aftermath. Everything you never thought you’d find was biffed: domestic furniture, tents, inflatable things, bicycles, clothing, camping equipment, decoration, accessories … and pretty much anything you can imagine. We thought it was shameful for an event that talks about sustainability and proudly states “permaculture” in its workshop offerings.
Change of tack
As much as we love our reinvented selves as footloose and fancy-free travellers, we always knew that this type of journey wasn’t a destination in itself. What we didn’t know was that an open-ended and loosely defined adventure such as ours, also comes with a velvet lined trap: It’s jolly easy to get used to a life of travelling on the road. Further, with the option of casual work here and there, it would be no problem to continue this lifestyle without further dipping into savings. Unsurprisingly, there’s a temptation to delay the return to “real life” indefinitely. We’d met plenty of people who have done just that. Loads of them have been on the road for many years, and some even for several decades, typically resting in places for a while when they become travel weary.
We’ve been a bit travel weary lately and felt like a rest. Increasingly we found that neither of us could be bothered to prepare for the next stretch of travel. Partially this is also due to the fact that we’re back into more populated areas. We both feel that after all the amazing experiences in the back of beyond, this just doesn’t cut the mustard for us anymore. We both felt that we’d either have to return into the magnificent serenity and vastness of the Outback and explore WA, or pull the plug altogether.
We’ve been talking about “life after the trip”, which is likely to entail house and land, and ideally a high degree of self-sufficiency, and realise that this won’t happen while we’re swanning about Australia. Besides, it may well take some years to establish. More to the point, since neither of us is getting younger fast (though I’m obviously a bit better at it than the bloke), we’ve decided that we will end our most awesome adventure when we get to Brisbane.
Good bye Victoria
We had spent a fair bit of time at our mate Charlie’s place, looked after his property while he was away and helped with a few projects and some gardening which was enormously grounding. In between, we had a few trips, most notably along the Great Ocean Road which we was recommended as a “must do”. We admit that it’s certainly a beautiful drive along the rugged coastline with the famous limestone stacks jutting out of the sea – but it’s also a highly frequented tourist drive, dubbed the Great Asian Road for obvious reasons. Admittedly, it was holiday season, but nevertheless we were flabbergasted by the sheer numbers we encountered on the walkway to viewing spots for the famous “Apostles”.
Incidentally, the Apostles were originally known under the decidedly agricultural sounding moniker “Sow and piglets”. But- who could have guessed – it strangely didn’t prove popular with punters. Then somebody figured out that a more glorious sounding name would surely help tourism numbers along. So, rather than praying for visitors, they put their faith in religion to drum up business. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our favourite along the Great Ocean Road was the area around Cape Otway where we found a lovely camping spot tucked away at the end of a long dirt road. It was relatively quiet and had the huge bonus of being home to a considerable population of koalas. They were practically everywhere and in such numbers, that we could actually study how different they all looked. It was fun to compare the rugged looks of grand-daddy with the mum and the cute young koala.
Their over-population was taking a toll on the vegetation though and a number of trees sported thick plastic collars on their trunks to deter koalas from climbing them. Mind you, the presence of a pair of koalas cheekily sitting just above such a collar, suggested that the rangers have a long way to go before they can outwit those cute marsupials.
Our final exit tour, through Gippsland and into NSW, was as meteorologically memorable as our entry into Victoria. We made the acquaintance of an impressively large low pressure system that would be with us for a very long time, much to the delight of farmers who’d been praying (possibly a bit too devotedly) for rain. As a result, we didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore the area due to torrential rains on most days. (On remaining days we had ordinary showers or thunderstorms. ) However, on one day it was even mostly dry.
That day, we were lucky enough to come across a regional Polocrosse tournament near the oddly named town of Sale. (One can’t help but ponder how local search terms would screw with search engine algorithms. Looking for Sale real estate, or just about anything in this place would be an interesting experience).
Anyway, we absorbed this amazing sport and hung out with the players for the day. It’s a fascinating sport that demands outstanding skill and must appeal to daredevil riders. We saw gobsmackingly amazing displays of horsemanship, often by riders who hadn’t even made it into their teens (!) but gave the adult participants a run for their money. A couple of young hot shots (who looked barely old enough for a newspaper round) told us proudly that they had qualified for the national champs – held in Darwin of all places. Having travelled the distance over many months ourselves, we were aghast at the effort and expense involved in driving there, and back again, with a bunch of horses in mega-sized rigs. Not sure that it makes horse sense, but it’s one hell of a commitment that’s for sure!
Photo finish – animal parade
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RIP Noel Harper (1926 – 2014)
This blog post is dedicated to our dear old friend Noel, who sadly passed away on 10 February while we were in the Yarra Valley. Noel had become our quasi family when we lived in Brisbane. The friendship started on a particularly bumpy Air NZ flight when the bloke got to sit next to Noel. The bloke doesn’t like flying at the best of times and has a deep aversion to white-knuckle rides like this one. Noel, on the other hand, seemed nonplussed by the turbulence and thought it was a good time to recount various fond (and hair-raising) memories of his air related experiences from his service in WWII. Then out of the blue, Noel started singing hymns much to the concern of the already speechless bloke who, by now, figured that death was imminent. Needless to say, this story became a favourite talking point.
It only transpired much later, that Noel adored all the old traditional hymns and would sing or whistle them at any time, for no reason at all. He was a great whistler!
It was a delight to have Noel in our close circle and it was a great honour that he called us his best friends. I can honestly say that it was his eager participation and genuine interest in our adventures that motivated me to put time and effort into this blog which he so enjoyed reading.
Missed but never forgotten.