Friday, October 15, 2010

Is the End in Sight?

15 October - Evans Head NSW

Almost a month has passed since our last blog. Even then it was fairly obvious that the ‘holiday mode’ switch had been flicked. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that for the last month or so, we have been treading over familiar ground and, indeed, will continue to do so for the next month.

We have a gripe with the NSW National Parks!!! In other states, a Parks Pass, reasonably priced and including car entry and camping fees has enabled to enjoy the beauties of these parks. In NSW, however, the Pass only covers car entry, is over-priced for the casual visitor and the camping fees are outrageous ($10-14 per person, per night, on top of car entry of $7). For the same price, or less!, we can go to a caravan park and enjoy the benefits of flush toilets, hot showers, fresh water and power. Go figure! End of gripe.

A couple of highlights of the last few weeks come to mind. In Canberra, we spent a few days with retiring, no that’s not at all correct, newly-retired friends, drinking too much wine and eating far too much food! Then on to Sydney for a surprise catch-up with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter who were visiting Paul’s brother, sister-in-law and their 5 year old. Playing tourist around the city with the kids was great fun.

As we’ve moved into far more populated areas along the New South Wales Coast, free camping has become almost impossible, so we have been spending a lot more time in caravan parks. Observing our fellow campers has become a favourite past-time.

Once school holiday crowds clear, the grey nomads reclaim their territory. This is a different ‘breed’ though. Far more Grey and far less Nomad. We feel quite young and so active as to be considered manic by our neighbours, who arise sometime before ‘sparrows’ and begin talking loudly and boiling up the first of endless cuppas. Little wonder they are up so early. Dinner is taken sometime between 4:00pm and 5:00pm. The timing is heavily dependant on what time they rouse themselves from their afternoon kip. By the time we sit down to our dinner, somewhere around 8:30pm, all is quiet in caravan park world, save for the snoring.

Days are generally spent going to the toilet and talking with neighbours… endless talking with neighbours. Sitting is another favourite past-time, as is watching new-comers park their vans or crazy people like us lumping boats about, going fishing or heading off on walks or drives.

Hopefully, these behaviours are a long way off for us. At the moment, such a sedentary lifestyle would drive us crazy. Give us the open road and the endless horizons of this enormous country, or any other country for that matter! Speaking of which, the strength of the Aussie dollar has tempted us overseas again. Malaysia a couple of days after we get home from this trip then South Africa, Swaziland, the UK, Ireland and Japan early next year….

More blogs to write!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Far South Coast NSW

19 September Tathra NSW

Any avid reader of this blog (if there are any?) might have noticed a decline in the frequency of postings. Such a lapse can only be explained by pressure of work! With the warmer weather and proximity to the coast, our work load has increased markedly. Its just one hard day at the office after the other.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

East Gippsland

15 September - Near Merimbula

Our search for the site of the old Delatite school bore some fruit. Eventually! Not much was left of the school from which Uncle Willy went to war, just two rows of large pine trees. We learnt that the school buildings were probably relocated to the Mansfield State School site sometime in the late 1970s.

Since the excitement of our discoveries at Mansfield, we have spent a few days enjoying some rare Victorian sunshine on the beaches of East Gippsland, firstly in a nice isolated spot on 90 mile beach just outside Sale and then at the mouth of the Snowy River at Marlo.

Spring is gradually taking hold and, as we crossed into New South Wales this morning, clear skies and warm sunshine greeted us. Here on the south coast of NSW, towns are close together and the ‘tree changers’ have taken a firm grip on the real estate market.

Australia is, of course, not highly populated. Twenty two million people are scattered over an area roughly equivalent to Western Europe or the USA, but this part of the country, the south east, is far more heavily populated than the enormous hinterland that lies to the north west. It has come on us gradually, but we are increasingly aware of the differences in services and facilities available to those of us who live in this more populous part of the continent. We consistently have internet and phone coverage and, frequently, HD digital TV, even in bush camps. We no longer need to carefully plan food, water and fuel usage. All these things are assumed by the bulk of Australians who live in the south east. The isolation and distance we have experienced in the more remote places along our path are not insurmountable problems, they just take a little more thought to manage and, in fact, this all adds to the travel experience.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Some Family History

9 September - Mansfield, Vic

On the 30 January 1900, at the Melbourne General Cemetery, Miriam Anne Armstrong (nee Fitnam) was interred in Section NN Grave No 232. Miriam was only 31 years old.

Fifty four years later to the day, Miriam’s great granddaughter Janita Kathryn, first child of Ormonde and Leonie (nee Armstrong) Gauld, was born in Brisbane.

In 1929 Miriam’s mother, Elizabeth Fitnam (nee McDonald) was buried in the same family plot, aged 92. Elizabeth was born in 1837, probably in Ireland.

Janita’s great-uncle, William John Armstrong, the son of Miriam and Donald Armstrong is memorialised on Miriam’s gravestone. William died at the battle of Mont St. Quentin in France on 31 August 1918.

The final burial in this plot was Miriam’s sister, Elizabeth, who died 5 June 1952, aged 83. On this very day Paul O’Neill was born in Brisbane.

On a sunny late winter’s day in 2009, at the Australian War Cemetery in Peronne, France, Paul & Janita stood before the grave of Janita’s great-uncle and Miriam’s second son, “Willy”. He fought in the Australian Second Division, 24 Battalion. They were the first family members in almost 100 years to visit William’s grave.

What does all his have to do with Mansfield, Victoria? It was here that the young William Armstrong enlisted. Our visit here has given us another link in our research into the life of Uncle Willy “who died in the war”. With the help of the local historical society, Janita found the only known photograph of her great- uncle.

William was teaching at the small, one-teacher school of Delatite, just outside Mansfield, when he enlisted in 1916. The school was opened in the 1860s and it closed in the mid 1970s.

Tomorrow the search continues to Delatite.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Melbourne and the Goldfields

4 September - Melbourne

Much of our journey from South Australia to Melbourne was along the Great Ocean Road. Billed as one of the greatest drives in the world, the coastal road meanders along some of the most spectacular coastal scenery we have seen anywhere. However, late winter is probably not the ideal time to do this trip. We had some sunshine but southern Australia can be a miserable part of the world when the wind and rain pelt in from the Southern Ocean.

Melbourne is the brunt of jokes about the weather and its supposed unpredictability. We challenge that notion. This time of the year it is highly predictable! Lousy!

The upside of visiting Melbourne in the winter/early spring is the European ‘feel’ that the city has. Bare, deciduous trees, blustery cold winds, people dressed in heavy black coats, the mix of languages that fill the air and almost constant grey skies give the city a real cosmopolitan feel - especially for us winter visitors to the Northern Hemisphere. Once, Melbourne’s international character was attributed to the large number of people of Greek origin who have made the city home since the Second World War. It still claims the largest Greek population outside Athens. While this may well still be true, the Greek population has become so much a part of the city that it is not as obvious as it once was. Greek can still be heard from time to time, but now it is Hindi and Chinese that predominate.

Melbourne’s claim to be Australia’s cultural capital is fairly secure. Perhaps the most striking example of the cultural status of the city is the National Gallery of Victoria. While the title is somewhat presumptuous, the collections of Australian and International Art are both world class. Truly iconic works like Brack’s ‘Collins Street 5PM’ and McCubbin’s ‘Pioneers’ make a visit to the Australian Collection in Federation Square a Melbourne must-do.

7 September - Outside Maldon, Vic

Rain, rain and more rain! Over the past few days, Victoria has been awash. Much of the North East of the state is experiencing the worst floods for almost two decades. So where might we be? Of course, heading north, towards Wangaratta, the epicentre of the flood zone. Despite all the doom and gloom broadcast by the media, we have seen very little water and confronted no road closures as we wander through the Goldfield towns around Ballarat.

Gold ‘made’ Victoria in the mid 19th century in much the same way as the minerals booms have ‘made’ Australia in the early 21st century. These were far more exciting times though. Miners thronged to what was then virgin bush, setting up camps and shanty towns that boasted populations in the tens of thousands. As the wealth started to flow from the mines, camps became substantial towns and cities. Ballarat is a prime example. Today, its grand 19th century buildings are a lasting testament to those heady days.

Sadly, many of the larger towns have lost much of their architecture, or it has been transformed beyond recognition. Some smaller towns like Maldon, 20 kms from Castlemaine have survived in a time warp attributable to the struggle for survival of towns in Australia’s rural areas. Lack of funds and population decline have meant that virtually the whole main street of Maldon is as it was at the turn of the last century. Some preservation and conservation has occurred but most buildings have not been altered or modernised in any way. Most importantly, the town fathers seem to have banned the use of street signs and hoardings that are out of character. Nothing is worse than seeing a magnificent old 1888 Bank building sporting a KFC sign and a roof painted in corporate red and white!

Castlemaine has made some effort to retain its goldfields character, but it all gets a bit lost behind modern shopfronts. On the positive side, Castlemaine

Monday, August 30, 2010

Great Ocean Road

31 August Great Ocean Road
What can we say!??...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Western Victoria

27 August - Dartmoor, Victoria

Bet you’ve never heard of Tantanoola? We hadn’t. Now we’ll never forget it.

Tantanoola is outstanding for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the enormous wind farm that lines the hills just outside the town (approx. 100 wind turbines). This is the biggest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the biggest single farms we have seen anywhere - and we have seen a few. We are big fans of wind farms. Not only do they make great environmental sense, but they can also be quite spectacular, particularly on the scale of Tantanoola.

Perhaps the least memorable fact about this small South Australian town, situated 40kms North West of Mt Gambier, is the famous (?) stuffed tiger in the town’s pub. We have to admit that the stuffed tiger warranted only a drive-by. It was far too early in the day for a beer.

Most memorable of Tantanoola’s attractions however, is the Kimberley-Clark factory, actually located at nearby Snuggery. (And, no, we didn’t make the name up). For those unfamiliar with the product line of Kimberley-Clark, they make household tissue products. Yep. That’s toilet paper and tissues. In fact the bulk of Australia’s ’tissue products’ roll out of the Tantanoola factory. We will never use a ‘tissue product’ again without remembering good old Tantanoola.

It was a memorable day all round! Earlier on, we were astounded by Larry the Lobster at Kingston SE (not sure what the SE means?). Move aside Big Prawn and Big Mullet, this is the king of big sea creatures.

Our free camping site tonight is courtesy of the good folks of the tiny Victorian village of Dartmoor, just a few kms from the South Australian Border. We pulled up under an avenue of aged Atlantic Cedar trees. We only know this because we took a wander up to the main street for a look about and were enthralled by the timber sculptures that were everywhere we looked in this very small settlement. Turns out that the Atlantic Cedars were planted as a memorial to the men and women from the district who served in the First World War. By the early 1990s, many of the trees, planted in 1918, were in poor condition. The decision was made to lop those that were most endangered and have a chainsaw artist carve memorial sculptures from the trunks. The result is an interesting avenue of sculptures depicting various military themes. We aren’t sure if the artist’s commission included the additional plethora of carvings that adorn various parts of the village or whether he just couldn’t turn his saw off, but there are carved nursery rhyme themes and native animals everywhere you look.