While I would much prefer to be sharing travel blogs about walking across Spain or through the mountains of Nepal, if I can’t do that, the next best thing is to wax lyrical about some absolute gems we have here in Australia.
The Arthur Streeton exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW is one such gem and it is not to be missed!
Lunch is my favourite meal of the day. Well, to be perfectly honest, every meal is my favourite meal of the day.
However, if it is lunchtime, nothing is better than lunch with glorious water views. Even better if you have to travel to lunch by boat with your head full of sea breeze and salty air. An excellent way to stimulate the appetite, as if that ever needs stimulating!?
Here…grab a chair, sit down, tuck in your serviette and let’s have some lunch and a wine or two in the tiny seaside village of Patonga.
Growing up and going to school in Australia, the version of history we were fed was very English and very white. And that is just what we were expecting when we strolled into the Endeavour Exhibition – more of the same.
How wrong could we be?
It was about time that we received a more rounded version of our history and it was no less fascinating.
It is probably rare to read the words ‘giggle’ and ‘museum’ in the same sentence, but not if you visit the Behind the Lines cartoon exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra.
This Museum, housed in Old Parliament House, hosts an annual best of political cartoons exhibition. The theme this year is ‘The Greatest Hits Tour’ with a not-so-subtle nod towards our Federal election held early last year.
No one and nothing is safe from the acid wit flowing out of the cartoonist’s pen and I am so pleased about that…
On the 25th of April every year, Australia pauses to commemorate ANZAC Day. This day takes the form of memorial services at the Cenotaph in every small town and village across the country, with very large and well-supported parades in our major cities.
An important part of the annual ceremony is the playing of The Last Post. A haunting bugle solo that never fails to bring chills and goose bumps.
Unlike once-a-year ANZAC Day, The Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra is held every afternoon and, in my humble opinion, it is a must-do activity for every Aussie.
I had heard a little about the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and when planning a visit to Canberra, it was high on my list of things to do. Unfortunately, even though I was booking two weeks ahead, it was already booked out. Bugger!
Booking tickets prior to visiting is now required for all parts of the AWM. I even rang the AWM to see if I could beg a ticket, but no joy and they advised that we would just have try to our luck on the day. Oh well, not to worry. There would be plenty of other things to see and do.
After three hours of military history, death, destruction and a few small doses of humour we were just about overwhelmed with the whole AWM experience. As we headed across the empty grounds and towards the carpark, it was nearing the time of the Last Post Ceremony, and I suggested to The Husband that we should try our luck and check if they could squeeze us in.
We were rewarded with a warm welcome and ushered back through the doors of the main AWM building and into the Commemorative Area.
The Commemorative Area is often seen in promotional images for the AWM. It is a large open courtyard with a ‘pool of reflection’ running lengthways along the courtyard floor and overlooked by two long, arched verandas. These verandas are home to a seemingly endless Roll of Honour listing the names of 102 000 soldiers and service people who represented Australia and lost their lives in over 100 years of conflict. It was incredibly sobering to walk and read the names knowing that each bronze name represents a heartbeat and a life cut far too short.
Where the bronze alphabetical panels join each other there is small crack and friends and family are welcome to insert a small poppy next to the name of the person who is significant to them. The scarlet poppies add a brilliant flash of colour amongst the sadness.
As we slowly walked and read, letting the sheer volume of names sink in, I noticed a lady in tears as she tried to explain to her young son the seriousness and significance of all the poppies. I dug into the bottom of my handbag and gave her a packet of tissues. Probably not a 100% Covid19-safe action, but she appreciated it.
But, back to the Last Post Ceremony…
The Last Post Ceremony is the final activity held at the AWM before the close of each day and it is both solemn and powerful. I am getting goose bumps just writing about it many weeks later.
The light was fading and the air was taking on that early evening cool that gets into your bones as a respectful hush fell over the small (and well-spaced) crowd. The Master of Ceremonies stepped up to the podium, welcomed us all and acknowledged any returned service people in the audience.
Four wreaths were then laid at the end of the pool of reflection and a bagpiper accompanied the laying of the wreaths. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, bagpipes have a plaintiveness about them that makes everyone pause.
Colonel Frank Colley saluted and read out the story of Private William Charles Pinneger Brown. At each Last Post Ceremony a service person’s life is featured, bringing an immediate human touch to the event and ensures the audience focuses on the people of the war, rather than the guns, tanks and planes.
Private William Charles Pinneger Brown was born in 1885 in Adelaide, South Australia. Before enlisting in the 10th battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in May 1916, he was a carpenter, married to Ethel with a couple of young children. In December 1916 he joined the 27th battalion in the trenches of France, only to be killed a little over four months later by an artillery shell. He was only 31 years old. Although it was recorded that he died at Bullecourt, his grave has never been located due to the tumult of a moving battlefront and destruction caused by constant bombardment.
Private Brown was one 62 000 Australians who died during World War 1. That’s a pretty powerful number when you consider that Australia’s population in 1918 (by the end of the War) was only around 4.9million. A further 156 000 people were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner during the war.
The Ceremony then moved on the Ode. The Ode comes from For the Fallen, a poem by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
You could have heard a pin drop…except for a pair of larrikin white cockatoos who chose that moment to dive bomb the ceremony and generally create a raucous racket, screeching and squawking as they wheeled above our heads. I couldn’t help but smile at the Australianess of this and our endless desire to poke fun and not take ourselves too seriously. (I note that in the YouTube clip of this ceremony, the cockatoos have been completely edited out!)
A lone bugler stood to attention at the edge of the courtyard and played the forlorn Last Post. A moving and fitting end to the Ceremony. As the last echoes resounded around the verandas, the piper and dignitaries turned and walked into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the doors closed solemnly behind them.
What a powerful way to end a visit to the AWM.
Maybe war and military history is not your thing and I understand that completely. Can I recommend that you skip all the displays and body counts, touch screens and dioramas in the AWM itself, and just attend the Last Post Ceremony?
It is a must-do activity and a fitting way to remember those who have served our country – past AND present.
Lest we forget.
What: It is possible to have your own family member recognised at the Last Post Ceremony. Simply lodge a request on their website. Be prepared to wait though, as it may take up to three years for your soldier’s turn to come around. You can also lay a wreath during the Ceremony itself. When you arrive, see one of the ushers and they will tell you whether all the positions have been filled. You do not need to be a family member to participate and they provide the wreaths.
Where: Treloar Crescent, Campbell (a suburb of Canberra).
When: The Ceremony runs for around 20 minutes and starts at 455pm. Book your ticket here.
Why: To pay homage to those who made it possible for us to live in freedom and in peace.
How: We stayed at the Quest City Walk right in the heart of Canberra. The location was perfect with easy walking distance to lots of restaurants and shops. We booked via AirBnB and at $139, it was very good value. (As an Airbnb Associate, I earn a small commission when you book through this link and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.)
Who: All Australians – young and old.
Related Posts: For more information about what else to see at the AWM. Read on.
Related Blogs: If you can’t make it in person to Canberra, then watch the Last Post Ceremony broadcast live everyday on the AWM YouTube channel or Facebook page.
Read About It: For an interesting and heart-breaking read about a soldier in World War 1, grab a copy of Crack Hardy by Stephen Dando-Collins. The story relates to Dando-Collins’ great uncles who enlisted in WW1 and none were unchanged by the experience. Highly recommended. Go straight to Book Depository.
With the whole Covid19 kerfuffle severely clipping my international-travel wings, a good alternate travel fix is to explore my own backyard and sights and sites last visited 40 years ago.
What possibly could have changed in that time?
While trying to recover from the shock of 40 years passing in the blink of an eye, I plotted out a break-neck-speed itinerary to visit Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
For the uninitiated, Canberra is the political capital of Australia and the seat of our Federal Parliament. Every school student in Australia, often during high school, is encouraged to make the pilgrimage to this political and bureaucratic mecca. Thankfully there are many more interesting things to see than just watching our politicians grandstanding during Question Time and as I planned our itinerary, I was determined to revisit a couple of places from my own (ancient) school excursion.
First stop, the Australian War Memorial.
Walking past military sculptures and memorial plaques, and up to the imposing façade of the Australian War Memorial, I knew I was in for a war inundation. I enjoy history and I especially enjoy learning about the times, and lives, of people who made our country what it is today. For better or worse, war leaves no place and no one untouched, even when those wars are far from our shores.
In front of the large ‘Fully Booked’ signs, the ushers were turning away tonnes of people and I was a tiny bit pleased that I had booked our tickets well in advance. The Memorial was all over the new normal Covid19 regulations with plenty of hand sanitising stations, additional ushers encouraging social distancing and handing out free stylus’ so you didn’t have to touch the touch-screens to access information.
After a quick stroll along the balconies of the Commemorative Area, we wandered into the Museum proper and straight into World War 1. World War 1 is a significant focus of this complex as the concept of an Australian war memorial developed straight after the war’s end in 1918. Charles Bean, a war correspondent and historian during World War 1, lobbied hard when he returned to Australia for some sort of memorial to act as a shrine to the memory of the men and women who served.
World War 1 was also especially significant because it was the first war our country fought as a federated nation. Australians did actively participate in the Boer War and other wars, but the First World War was the earliest call of the Mother Country (Great Britain) to defend democracy.
As I strolled the various displays I realised a LOT has changed over the past 40 years and many of the stiff and clumsy diorama models (cutting edge in their day) had been replaced or complemented by sound/light shows, touch screens and tactile displays. Far more appealing and interesting for school students and general visitors of any age!
From World War 1 we stumbled into the more modern wars of Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor (more of a peace-keeping mission than a war) before finally moving into the large display of World War 2 machinery and memorabilia. Yes, the lack of chronological order will not please the Purists.
There is no way you could see everything and read every description in your allotted two hours. I was very interested, but admit to becoming quickly overwhelmed by all the different dates and battles. I love the history, but do not love the equipment of war and the endless guns and tanks and planes leave me cold. I guess I am more interested in the human stories of both those who went to war and those who were left at home.
Soon our time slot was up and we were invited to leave the Galleries in the main building. No one was forcing us out, but we had to leave to make space for others to come in. Last stop was the extensive souvenir shop. If you hadn’t had enough war in the past two hours, you could buy some to take home. A poppy and a postcard were enough for me.
But we weren’t done yet…
In my flurry of organisation, I had also booked us in to the Anzac Hall, found behind the main War Memorial building. This is a smaller space with a focus on audio-visual shows. They have three presentations:
G for George: About WW2 bombing raids over Germany
An aerial dogfight from WW1,and
Submarines sneaking into Sydney Harbour during WW2.
But I was done. I was all worn and warred out.
Standing on hard surfaces for three house straight was exhausting and my brain was full-to-overflowing with dates, battles, body counts and questionable leadership activities. Perhaps if you lived in Canberra you could make multiple short visits and ‘do’ one war at a time. That way you would have time to process the who, what, where and when. I wouldn’t bother trying to work out the ‘why’.
I walked away from the Australian War Memorial in the early evening dark impressed by what I had seen, but shaking my head at:
The devastation and senselessness of war.
The unnecessary cruelty and barbarity of some people during wartime when they put aside any sense of shared humanity.
The fact that no one really wins. Everyone is hurt in some way or other. Even the victors pay a high price.
Do we really learn from places like the Australian War Memorial? Does it, even in the smallest way, stop us from doing it all over again?
Or do we simply say ‘how sad’ and step back into the comfort of our freedoms and democracy, and do it all again?
The Australian War Memorial is lobbying hard for a $498million redevelopment and expansion. I wonder, is that really necessary? Don’t we already have enough in place to honour the memory of the brave?
What do you think? Commemoration? Or Glorification?
What: The Australian War Memorial has three main areas to visit: The Galleries, Commemorative Area and Anzac Hall. It has extensive landscaped grounds with sculpture, memorials, military equipment and a coffee shop. Entry is free.
Where: Treloar Crescent, Campbell (a suburb of Canberra).
When: Open from 10am-5pm, every day except Christmas Day. We visited during Covid19 and it’s now a requirement to book your tickets to the different areas in advance. Book in here.
Why: For ordinary people like me, the ‘why’ is to understand more about Australia’s involvement in a whole range of wars, as well as commemorate the service and sacrifice of others. For the military buffs, the Australian War Memorial would be like having all your Christmases come at once.
How: We stayed at the Quest City Walk right in the heart of Canberra. The location was perfect with easy walking distance to lots of restaurants and shops. We booked via AirBnB. (As an Airbnb Associate, I earn a small commission when you book through this link and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.)
Who: The Galleries appeared to be highly accessible for everyone. There are stairs up to the Commemorative verandas, but perhaps there is a lift somewhere – which I didn’t see. Their website is not clear on physical access.
Related Posts: For a little more military history, but on foreign soil this time, read about our visit to the Pearl Harbour Memorial in Hawaii. An amazing site.
Related Blogs: For another person’s perspective on the Australian War Memorial, have a look at Why You Wander blog. She visited pre-Covid19 and mentioned the availability of guided tours. That would be an excellent activity.
Read About It: For an interesting and eye-opening read, grab a copy of Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard. He talks about his experience in the Vietnam War and massive personal repercussions afterwards. I never really knew much about the Vietnam War and how the soldiers were treated when they got back to Australia and this book, with some gentle humour in places, explains a lot. Highly recommended. Go straight to Book Depository.
Friday night free-to-air television viewing in Australia features the usual reality TV shows, football or cricket matches (depending on the season) and endless repeats of American sitcoms and B-grade movies. The only bright spot for the horticulturally-inclined is Gardening Australia on ABC TV.
I do admit to finding these and other home/lifestyle shows to be incredibly frustrating as everything is so effortless and perfect. I can assure you there is nothing perfect about my house and garden and it takes a fair bit of effort to even achieve an imperfect state.
Despite that, I do admire the conversation generated by Gardening Australia, especially around the importance of backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. Hence my desire to visit Pete’s Patch, also known as the Tasmanian Community Food Garden, at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.
I know boat trips and cruises aren’t everyone’s thing, but in my humble opinion, there is no better way to blow the cobwebs out than to scoot down the stunning Tasman coastline, with the sea air pummelling your senses under sparkling blue skies.
Come with me as I step aboard a Pennicott Wilderness Journeys boat for a truly remarkable day out.
A very good question and one I asked myself continually during our 17-hour visit.
White Cliffs, in Outback NSW, is located approximately 1 020km West of Sydney and 268km North East of Broken Hill. When we jumped in the car in Broken Hill to head towards our destination it was already 34°C and leapt to 38°C in three minutes and it was only 938am!
When you are heading down Hobart way, there are at least two must-see places:
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and
Salamanca is an area set slightly back from Hobart’s waterfront and wharf area. Its backdrop is a row of stunning old sandstone warehouses and on Saturday mornings, the foreground is chockful of market stalls.
Feel like a piece of chewy biltong? Want to buy some new socks?
Or how about a taste of the freshest and sweetest natural honey?
I am a bit partial to wanders through lush, green spaces and nothing fits the bill better than a visit to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens on the edge of the Hobart CBD.
The gardens are one of Australia’s oldest, established in the early years of the colony over 200 years ago. While it may not be the size and scale of more famous gardens, it has a variety and beauty that makes for a very enjoyable couple of hours or a longer day out.
Head West out of Sydney. West over the Blue Mountains. West through Dubbo and past Cobar until you nearly drive into Wilcannia. So far you are a mere 960km from the Sydney Opera House.
Turn left on a dusty, bumpy dirt road and head south-west from Wilcannia and after about 160 dry, sandy kilometres, with any luck you will hit the tar again and be enjoying the bright lights of the thriving metropolis of Menindee. Population 551 (on a good day).
Your next question, “Why on Earth would you want to visit Menindee?”
In the past I have shared a number of blog posts highlighting the growing trend of installing sculptures in every town, street, park or wherever you darn well please. I love that outdoor sculptures break down any barriers that may exist between art and the general public. Perhaps it is art by stealth? Who cares? It encourages anyone and everyone to interact with the pieces and instantly, everyone’s an expert!
There are few places in Australia that ‘do’ outside sculpture like the small rural New South Wales town of Walcha.
Broken Hill is located around 1 150km west of Sydney and 520km from Adelaide and is officially in the middle of Nowhere! Despite its remote location, the city does have a fascinating history (which I will share in a later post) and its other huge selling point is the depth and diversity of artistic talent.
It’s time to get off the beaten track a little with a visit to Wauchope. Not that Wauchope is remote or hidden away, but this town definitely lives in the shadow of its much larger coastal neighbour, Port Macquarie.
I have rabbited on in some recent blogs about how the drought in Australia is crippling farmers and their surrounding communities. Some regions have not had any useful rain (more than a couple of millimetres) in over two years. Needless to say, like the dams and paddocks, farming income has completely dried up.
Often the face of the drought is a devastated farmer standing brokenhearted in a completely barren landscape. What many people don’t consider is the flow-on impact on the rural towns and the many small businesses that make up the fabric of these communities. When farmers have no money to spend, the cash flow also dries up for rural supply businesses, hairdressers, supermarkets and gift stores etc.
In an effort to support rural business, a social media campaign has kicked off to buy from the bush (#buyfromthebush, @buyfromthebush), encouraging everyone to source their Christmas gifts from retailers and producers located in rural, regional and remote Australia.
On a recent visit to the small New South Wales (NSW) town of Walcha, I rolled up my sleeves and made a concerted effort to inject a little bit of cash into the local shops.
When I am on the road somewhere, it is easy to sit in the car and just drive. The concept of the ‘journey’ goes out the car window and the focus is on the destination at any cost.
For years I have been driving North from my home town, zipping through some scrubby, unattractive bush and straight past the turn off for the site of Hands on Rock. As the name indicates, there are hands and rock, but it is so much more than that. It is a stunning introduction to some classic Aboriginal art and culture right in my own backyard.
For us southern hemisphere dwellers Spring is here and Summer is threatening just around the corner. As soon as the weather warms my thoughts go to lazy BBQs and outdoor dining, and something cool and refreshing in my hand.
When I saw the promotion for a local ‘Gintelligence’ class, I thought that this was definitely something I needed to learn more about. Who knew that getting educated could be so much fun?
With a fellow gin-lover by my side, we rolled up our sleeves and poured ourselves into the history of gin.
Australia is blessed with an abundance of beaches. I guess that comes with the territory as Australia would be the World’s largest island if we weren’t classified as a continent!
Many visitors to Australia make a bee line to Bondi or Manly beaches on Sydney’s outskirts or head straight to Queensland’s Gold Coast or further North to Cairns and the Barrier Reef. Yes, these are all very picturesque destinations, but they represent only a very small selection of the endless beach beauty that can be found all around our coastline.
To me, beaches are more than long stretches of sparkling white sand. They become magnets to walk, swim, sail, fish and be dazzled by all sorts of bird and sea life.
Growing up on a farm, when things were good and the seasons were kind, we would escape to the beach for a dose of salty sea air and sand between our toes. Invariably the road would take us North to the North Coast of New South Wales (NSW) or even further north into the glitz and bling of Queensland’s Gold Coast.
It is only now that I start to discover the gems I missed out on tucked away on the South Coast of NSW.
If you are visiting Sydney and feel the need to escape the towering buildings and concrete jungle, then include this short stroll on your itinerary. It is sure to blast out the cobwebs with salty, sea air.
As the title says, this post describes the third section of the Bondi Beach to Manly route, this time from Rose Bay to Darling Point. As this stage was my third for the day, I actually cut it a bit short as after +25km, the ol’ legs were starting to protest.
Interested in more stunning views of Sydney and palatial homes?
As the title says, this post describes the second stage of the Bondi to Manly Coastal Path, this time from Watsons Bay to Rose Bay. Of the three stages I completed on a sparkling June day, this was my favourite.
For background on this 80km path and to start from the ‘beginning’ check out my post about Stage 1.
Trips to Sydney, colloquially referred to as The Big Smoke, are few and far between for me these days. When I do undertake the four-hour drive it is often a fleeting, overnight trip and I am more than ready to make my escape back to the bush.
This changed in early June when I had an opportunity to spend four days just playing tourist. What a luxury and novelty. One of the things on my bucket list was a visit to the Archibald Prize for Portrait Painting at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney.
I’m no artist, but I do enjoy opening my eyes and mind to new and creative things.
Those graceful white sails are instantly recognisable. They soar away from the city and out towards the harbour, floating above the home of quality Australian music and performance.
There was a happy buzz around Circular Quay as we strolled towards the Sydney Opera House. The young and groovy were just starting to come out to play and international visitors were surging to see the iconic scenery lit up at night.
Us? We were about to experience some world-class jazz.
I know I am terribly biased, but I love my home town of Mudgee. Yes, it is only small and, Yes, it is a solid three and a half or four hour drive from Sydney, but when you get here it is a feast for the senses, especially the tastebuds.
We have around 40 wineries, breweries and distilleries in the countryside surrounding the town, however in this post I am encouraging you to park the car, pocket the keys and explore Mudgee itself. Being small, everything is in easy walking distance.
When visiting a large city, it is easy to sometimes feel a bit removed from Nature and find yourself trapped in high rises and on hard surfaces.
Whilst that can be both interesting and entertaining, I find myself hankering for a break from the man-made uniformity of concrete and steel, even if it is just for a quick recharge before diving back into the hustle and bustle once more.
I posted a few weeks ago about a walking tour of Melbourne’s historic arcades. This time our walk takes us away from the streets and onto the leafy paths of the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens.
Tuncurry is a tiny jewel in the string of coastal gems that make up the mid-north coast region of New South Wales.
About four hours drive north of Sydney, Tuncurry and its sister town Forster, are slightly off the beaten track i.e. off the main north-south Pacific Highway. Rather than creating a sad feeling that the World has passed it by, the detour required to reach both these towns means that they retain their laid back ambience. A huge positive when you want a stress-free beach break.
So many visitors to Australia stick to the tried and true path, and miss out on the best bits! Their focus remains firmly fixed on the heavily promoted destinations of Sydney, the Gold Coast and Great Barrier Reef, and yet the hidden gems that represent the best of Australia, remain just that – hidden.
Just between you and me, and ‘ssshhh, don’t tell anyone’, it’s time to discover Merimbula!
In this post I will share our home-based adventure as an AirBnB host. In reality it is a pretty tame adventure, but hopefully this post will be useful if you have ever considered signing up as an AirBnB host.
Over the years we have stayed in a few AirBnBs ourselves. As my work was very quiet at the beginning of 2017 and because the kids have now left home, The Brave Man* thought becoming a host on AirBnB would be a good thing for us to be part of. Needless to say, since we joined AirBnB my work has gone ballistic, but we are still managing to keep all the balls in the air.
How easy is it to be dazzled by the romance of an exotic destination, and your own backyard gets ignored? I know I am guilty of this sometimes, until I make myself stop and acknowledge the beauty right under my nose.
Being locked in a conference room for two days is not my idea of ‘fun’, especially when the conference is held in a new and tantalising city. I am also not good at sitting still at the best of times, and know I benefit from some early morning exercise before being locked away for the day.
I had a cunning plan though.
As I had been to Adelaide once before on a very short visit, I knew that the Torrens River was the perfect area to stretch my reluctant legs.
Port Arthur looms large in the Aussie psyche. Maybe it is our convict heritage that keeps the connection strong or maybe our white-Australia history is so new and fresh, that we grab every opportunity that screams ‘history’ with both hands.
Port Arthur is the site of one of Australia’s most notorious penal colonies. Located 101km (by road) south-east of Hobart, on the Tasman peninsula, it was established as a ‘home away from home’ for some of Australia’s most committed criminals. Perhaps that should be changed to England’s most committed criminals, as the majority of the penitentiary’s residents were fully imported from the Mother Country.
In the first ‘Walk Mudgee’ blog post, I encouraged you to explore Mudgee and its fringes on foot. Now, I want to encourage you to jump in your car, take a little drive through gorgeous countryside, and then do a little more exploring on foot.
If you imagine Mudgee as the hub in the centre of the wheel for a weekend, it is possible to drive in any direction on the ‘spokes’ and discover something special.
How good is it when something you have been dreaming about for a long time, actually comes off? That is exactly what happened to me recently when I fulfilled a long-held dream to sail across the skies in a hot air balloon.
My home town of Mudgee, Central West NSW, is already a popular weekend destination for Sydneysiders and others in need of a little down time and indulgence, but there is more to Mudgee than food and wine.
I am convinced that many people spend a sumptuous weekend in Mudgee without realising that there is a vast selection of natural wonders right on our door step. OK, ‘natural wonders’ may be a slight exaggeration, but we do have a delightful range of easy day walks and national parks that are within minutes, or less than an hour’s drive, of the Mudgee town clock.
What is it about sailing that blows out the cobwebs and opens both mind and spirit to Nature? I know sailing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for this country girl, it is my definition of pure freedom.
The Brave Man* often talks about buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset. While this is a lovely, romantic notion, the practicalities are far more substantial; lack of expert sailing knowledge for one, and the fact that we live four hours’ drive from the ocean is also a pretty major consideration. I have been told that owning a boat is like standing, fully-clothed under a cold shower while tearing up $100 notes. So, while I applaud my husband’s adventurousness, I have both of my land-lubber legs planted firmly in reality.
If you don’t own a boat, the next best thing is to have friends with a boat! It is a much more straight-forward option, cheaper, easier, and one that keeps The Brave Man’s* global sailing aspirations in check. How lucky for us that our boatie friends are residents of Hobart, Tasmania AND they invited us to go sailing with them for a couple of days? It took us about three seconds to accept their invitation, purchase our white-soled sneakers and dust off our ‘Sailing for Beginners’ book.
It was a crisp Autumn day as we unpacked the car at the Derwent Sailing Squadron, and lugged all our gear along the pier to where Content was moored. The month of March in my home town can still feature 35°C days but not in Hobart. Just to be on the safe side, we had packed every item of warm clothing we possessed, and were rugged up for wild weather.
To me, there is no more atmospheric sound than the ringing tinkle and slap of boat rigging while boats bob at their moorings. Since it was a weekday, the marina was virtually deserted, reinforcing my gleeful feeling that we were wagging school. (Wagging: a.k.a. jigging, bunking, skipping, skivvying). Our friends informed us that the marina recently surveyed the boat owners and, on average, each boat only unfurled the sheets and sailed one day per year. Now that is a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of joy, to have tied up, going nowhere.
Not Content though. She is a busy lady and her owners regularly toss off her bow lines and point her seaward.
After stacking and stowing, tying and untying, checking and fuelling, and with a shiver of excitement, we were away into a stiff breeze and heading down the Derwent River. It was a ‘pinch myself’ moment as I watched Hobart recede from view and our vista opened to a completely different perspective of Tasmania.
This was no pleasure cruise though as we all pitched in to help with ropes and sails. I do admit I was a bit nervous about taking the wheel. It had been over 20 years since I zipped around Sydney Harbour on an introductory sailing course. Where was the wind? Are the sails luffing? When should I jibe? In my imagination I was picturing ‘Sydney-to-Hobart-style’ tacking and racing, but my moves focused less on strategy and speed, and more on trying to stop the boom swinging and wiping out some poor, unsuspecting passenger. I doubt that I did that successfully.
All that bracing, salty air supercharged our appetites and our fellow shipmates had just the solution. After leaving the high ‘traffic’ sections of the Derwent River, a fishing line was casually tossed over the back of the boat to trail in our wake. Within minutes the line snapped taut and was hauled back in dangling a sizable squid. Into the bucket it went, and out went the fishing line again. In what seemed like only 30 minutes, we had enough squid for the freshest seafood lunch ever. A dusting of flour, salt and pepper, and cooked lightly in olive oil – I had to restrain myself from charging below deck, raiding the kitchen and devouring the lot! Seafood just doesn’t get any fresher or more delicious.
The sail-eat-sail pattern was repeated continuously over the next three days. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t all that suitable for sailing with light winds, or at times, no wind at all. So much for my visions of a wind and storm-lashed Tassie, with the salt spray stinging our faces as we heeled over in the gales. I know it does happen, just not to us on this trip.
We were not deterred though and still made the most of the experience. Down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel we glided and around the tip of Bruny Island. We moored in secluded bays and took short walks along remote bush trails and pebbly shores. It was heavenly to be gently rocked to sleep by the tidal rise and fall, and wake to the sun sparkling mirror-like on the sheltered bays.
Sailing is such a simple way to spend your time, being guided by the wind and, fed by the ocean. The abundant sea life was quite incredible, and that fishing line over the back of the boat brought in exquisite whiting, endless squid and a grand, old daddy crab. Due to our respect for his advanced age, he escaped the pot, was untangled from the line and returned to the ocean to live another day.
Our friends were not only sailors, but also divers and the larder was further supplemented with lobster and abalone – all legally harvested of course. In previous posts, I have mentioned my complete lack of gourmet tastebuds, but the lobster was to-die-for. While the abalone was nice, it did not compare to the lobster or any of the other fresh morsels, and I am not really sure why people make such a fuss over this mollusc.
Our sailing adventure in Tassie was the perfect blend of warm friendship, the freshest of fresh food, and the stunning outdoors. It was entertainment enough just to sit and watch the cloud formations change from fluffy white to moody grey, and see the wind change the water from mirror to white caps.
With limp sails, we returned to the civilisation of Hobart knowing that we had enjoyed something pretty remarkable. It was a true privilege to see this wild and pristine part of Australia.
I felt like all my troubles had been blown and washed out of me, and I was renewed and rinsed clean.
Perhaps a global sailing adventure is not out of the question after all…
Do you feel the same about sailing?
What: We sailed for three days/two nights on a four berth boat. Boats can be hired via AirBnB from $41 per night. I am not sure if that allows you to sail or just sleep!
Where: We sailed from Hobart, down the Derwent River, through the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, then around the tip of Bruny Island and back again, calling into gorgeous bays and inlets.
When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp but unfortunately not very windy.
Why: If you enjoy sailing then the route we took was beautiful, relatively protected and safe.
How: We flew to Hobart on Virgin and then our friends acted as both taxi and cruise director/Captain.
Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and two bestie boaties.
Related Posts: for more information about what to see and do in Tasmania, have a look at my posts about some of the interesting man-made attractions and some stunning short walks in the great Tassie outdoors.
Related Blogs: To really get a true sense of sailing in Tasmania, have a look at this blog by sailing enthusiasts, Jack and Jude: http://jackandjude.com/log/
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!
I have only lived here for 25 years, so I am not quite a local yet, but this town has embraced me from day one.
Mudgee, three-and-a-half hours’ drive north-west of Sydney, has always been a popular weekend escape. Over the past 15 years, the flow of Mudgee-bound traffic has steadily increased, and many people now decide that a weekend is simply not long enough, and they move here permanently.
Like many small towns in rural Australia, the lack of employment opportunities is a constant challenge. However, if you are innovative, have your own business that can tap into broader markets, or are financially self-sustainable, then Mudgee offers lifestyle benefits that are hard to beat. See? I told you I was biased!
This ‘tree-change’ trend is showcased each year at the annual Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival. As part of the three-week Mudgee Wine Festival, Flavours of Mudgee creates a huge street party, celebrating all the delicious food and wine produced in our region.
Importantly, it also celebrates the diversity of our population through the medium of food. Not only is there your traditional Aussie BBQ, but also Nepalese, Chinese, Texan BBQ, Thai, Spanish, Italian and Venezuelan delights. Added to that are olive oils and olives, chocolate, cordials, fudge, relishes, ice cream, saffron, cheese, pistachios, breads, jams, honey and even native plants and seeds. All made, or grown, by hand and with an eye on quality. Truly a feast for all the senses.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that this year was the first time I had experienced Flavours of Mudgee. It was not from a lack of interest that I hadn’t attended before, more that there was always something more pressing to do or I was away from town. Why is it that we often don’t prioritise the things in our own backyard?
The Mudgee CBD was jumping on the day. We had to park our car three blocks away (unheard of in a country town) as the street was so busy. As we strolled around the corner into Market Street, we could see why. Crowds of happy locals and visitors were toasting each other’s health and revelling in the party atmosphere. Estimates were put at around 9 000 people sipping, tasting and dancing along to the music. Not a bad number when you consider the resident population of Mudgee is only 8 500 people. Now that is some party.
It is quite a while since I attended an event that had such a warm and inclusive feel, and I don’t think that feeling had anything to do with the amount of alcohol on offer.
Small children with brightly-painted faces, dragging their colourful balloons behind them, dodged in and out of groups of people. Locals used the opportunity to stop, chat, and to catch up on all the latest news. Even in a country town, time gets away from you and sometimes you have to make a special effort to reconnect with friends.
Visitors dragged hay bales into a welcoming square formations, sat down, clinked glasses and raised them high to salute their health and the enjoyable weekend.
The Mudgee Wine Festival is held for three weeks each September. Many of the wineries host special music and food events to compliment the tasting and sales of wine. While these are, no doubt, pleasant entertainments, most of these activities take place out at the wineries themselves and outside of the town centre. It could be said that this gives the Wine Festival almost a remote/arms-length feeling, slightly removed from the rest of the community.
In contrast, the Flavours of Mudgee event brought around 27 wine, beer and spirit producers out of their cellar doors and into the main street. No wonder there was a party atmosphere. Not only was this a one-stop-shopping opportunity for visitors, but it also highlighted for local people all the good things on offer in our own backyard that perhaps we don’t make the most of. A good education as well as a taste sensation.
I was also pleased to see some of the local retailers breaking out of their normal shop fronts and showcasing their wares al fresco. In the daily rush, sometimes it is easy to pass by a store, thinking that one day I will pop in when I have time. On the Flavours day/night, there was no excuse not to browse.
As the sun began to slip behind the Mudgee hills, the tone of the occasion started to change from family to fiesta. The stilt walkers retired with the dwindling sunlight, to be replaced by local bands playing tunes that just had to be danced to. The street lights came on and the party rocked into the night.
Even if you are not a wine drinker or don’t have the taste buds for fine and fancy food, the Flavours of Mudgee Festival is worth a visit. It is a free event that genuinely celebrates community on a whole range of levels.
It makes me proud to live in Mudgee.
Will I see you there in 2017?
What: Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival is a community street party celebrating good food, wine and people. Wine tasting tokens can be purchased for $10 which includes a glass and five x 30ml tastes. Wine is also sold by the glass or bottle. Food can be purchased from a large variety of stalls. Otherwise it is a free event.
Where: At the intersection of Market and Church Streets, Mudgee.
When: From 4p.m. on Saturday 23 September, 2017.
Why: Why not feel the love of a warm and welcoming community as well as escape to the country?
How: Simply turn up – no bookings required although do book your accommodation well in advance as Mudgee is a very popular weekend destination, especially in September.
Who: Myself, and 8 999 of my closest friends.
Related Posts: For information about another fabulous Mudgee event, have a look at my post about Sculptures in the Garden.
How good does it feel to finally tick something off your Bucket List?
For years I had been glued to the TV news coverage of the annual Canowindra International Balloon Challenge. Each time I saw that rainbow of balloons waft across the screen, I said to myself that ‘I must do that one year, I must do that one year, I must…’.
Finally, I decided I had to commit and, since this annual event was around the time of my father’s birthday, I rang my parents to check whether they would care to join me. It appears that they also had the same conversations every year they saw the event on television. So, it was agreed that a weekend in Canowindra amongst the balloons would be the perfect way to celebrate Dad’s 80th birthday in 2014.
Canowindra is a historic little town about 60 km west of Orange in Central West NSW. It is one of those places that has transformed itself from a sleepy agricultural service centre into a food and wine destination. Unlike many larger places though, it has retained its small town, heritage feel which equates to a low-stress and relaxing weekend.
Friday night in Canowindra and the town was jumping. I had booked our accommodation 12 months in advance, and confirmed it multiple times, and it was just as well.
Canowindra was overrun with balloonists, support crews, balloon lovers and thousands of other tourists just like ourselves. The footpaths were bustling and the cafes and pubs overflowing onto the streets. I can only imagine what a positive impact this event must have on the local economy, creating a sense of excitement and energy, if for only one weekend.
We also booked a table at one of the clubs for dinner and, even with a booking, it was a 60-minute wait for some very average food. But it was hot and filling and just what we needed after a big day of travel and sight-seeing.The two main features of the Balloon Challenge, from a visitor’s perspective, are the Balloon Glow on the Saturday night and the Key Grab on the Sunday morning. That leaves plenty of time for a lazy exploration of the Canowindra streets, the many boutiques, art and craft stores and gourmet food and wine outlets, and the Age of Fishes Museum. Of more interest to the men in our party were the many old Holden cars parked cheek-by-jowl (or bumper to bumper?) behind the dusty glass windows in an old service station on the main street. This collection was unique in Australia apparently due mainly to the pristine condition of many of the models. It was a shame that its opening hours were sporadic and unreliable. The men had to make do with pressing their noses up against the glass and looking longingly. (NB: sadly the collection has now been sold and dispersed).
As the day waned we gathered up our folding chairs, picnic baskets and every skerrick of warm clothing we possessed and, along with a thousand of our closest friends, converged on the local sports ground. This was the home of the Balloon Glow and a party atmosphere was definitely in the making with every known food stall and beverage bar onsite. We really didn’t need our picnic basket at all as we feasted on delicious pulled pork rolls and traditional Country Women’s Association delicacies.
With our fold-up chairs as close to the ‘front row’ as was polite, we were transfixed by a handful of balloonists as they manoeuvred their bubbles over the tallest eucalypt trees to land lightly and precisely on the grass. Now that is skill! Other balloons were trailered onto the field in a collapsed state and placed strategically around the ground.
Excitement built as the sun went down and the number of balloons increased. When it was fully dark, the lights went out, the music began, and the balloons worked their magic. Describing the sight as ‘spectacular’, does not do it justice. The balloons, and the flames inside, winked on and off in time with the music, blinking out vibrant colours and magically appearing out of the darkness. Such a simple activity but so striking and memorable. Sadly the music ended, the lights came on, and the crowds beat a hasty retreat in much need of a hot drink and a warm bed.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, as is the autumnal habit of this region, and we crunched across the frosty paddocks to watch the Key Grab. The idea is that balloons must accurately navigate their path to a central target and attempt to grab a key off the top of a tall pole and/or throw their marker into a small circle. The rewards for such precision are some handy cash prizes.
We could have looked a bit silly – a large crowd of people standing in the middle of an empty paddock at 630a.m. on an icy morning. But as we spotted the balloons pop up on the horizon and make a bee-line towards us, we knew it had been worthwhile. They started out looking like boring black dots but as they zoomed closer, the early sun lit them up like floating rainbows – a riot of colour and vibrancy.
The crowd cheered and ducked for cover as the balloons zeroed in on us and the target, but just as they neared, a gust of wind or a subtle breeze would foil their attempt and send them gently veering off into a neighbouring paddock. Some balloonists managed to throw their weighted markers but the ‘golden’ key remained firmly ensconced on the top of its pole. There is always next year.
As we made our way home, we wondered why it had taken us so long to visit Canowindra and the Balloon Challenge. There is so much we didn’t get to see and do there, including a ride in an actual balloon; hopefully it won’t take the same length of time to tick it off the Bucket List all over again.
What have you ticked off your Bucket List lately?
What: We stayed at the Old Vic Inn in a massive room with 15 foot ceilings. Room rates were $119 per room per night and included a light continental breakfast. The building itself is old and a wee bit tired but the location and atmosphere can’t be beaten. There was a small entrance fee to the Balloon Glow but the Key Drop activity was free.
Where: Canowindra, Central West NSW.
When: Canowindra International Balloon Challenge will be held on 18-25 April 2017.
Why: Do this if you are in need of a fun and interesting weekend away in gorgeous countryside or if you have a weakness for hot air balloons. Book your accommodation early.
How: We drove from Mudgee via Dubbo. Yes, the scenic route!
Who: A family affair, including a birthday boy.
Related Posts: Watch this space. I have my very own balloon ride scheduled for 4 March 2017. Excited!!
This post follows an earlier one about the ‘must-see’ built attractions we enjoyed in Tasmania. Now, I’d like to share our experiences of Tassie’s great outdoors.
If you are an Aussie, you would have to have spent your life under a rock not to have heard of the many famous Tasmanian walking destinations on offer, such as Cradle Mountain National Park. International readers, you are excused!
We didn’t have time to tick this park off the list, but we made the most of every other short walk opportunity we could find. These walks were the perfect way to break up the road trip, stretch our legs and let the bulk of the grey nomad traffic pass us by. Again, we were grateful to our Hobart friends, keen bushwalkers themselves, who gave us the heads-up about the best short walks in the areas we were visiting.
The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, borders both sides of the Lyell Highway as the road crosses east-to-west Tasmania. This park is a good mix of soaring peaks, rough bushland and picture-perfect rivers and streams. It has a number of walks ranging from a short one-hour stroll along boardwalks, to a whole day climbing rugged paths and hiking through dense forest. Even though we didn’t get close to the Franklin River itself, the crystal clear creeks and surrounding wild forests made it abundantly clear that this region was definitely worth fighting for.
As background, in 1982 there was a major push by the Tasmanian Government to dam the Franklin River, and sections of the Gordon River, as part of a hydro-electricity scheme. Naturally, this was strongly opposed by the environmental movement and resulted in the largest conservation battle ever conducted in Australian history. Luckily for us, the ‘greenies’ won the day.
Driving further west, but still in the same National Park, we stopped again to stroll up to the Nelson Falls. I realise I have been known for doing a spot of extreme walking at times, but the walks we completed that day were mostly short and over relatively accessible terrain. It is hard to believe that so many people just whizz by in their vehicles and miss the majesty of this wilderness. We would have been just as ignorant if we hadn’t been tipped off. Note to self: pick local brains for the best things to see and do, and don’t only rely on tourist brochures.
Arriving in Strahan, we took the opportunity to explore the Gordon River via water rather than on foot. Yes, it was a typical touristy thing to do but sometimes I just have to swallow my pride if I want to access far-flung places.
Our cruise took us around Macquarie Harbour and out to Hell’s Gate. As well as its timber and mining heritage, this region was home to one of Australia’s most harsh and bleak convict prisons. The worst and most dangerous convicts were sent to Sarah Island. On this island, convicts experienced severe deprivation and few lived to tell the tale. It is hard to picture such hardship when standing amongst exquisite surrounds on a peaceful Autumn day in the 21st century.
The cruise up the Gordon River was simply stunning. I kept shaking my head in wonder at the thought of the damage that could have been done to this unspoiled region, all in the name of progress. At every bend in the river there was another spectacular vista, clear, mirror-like water and impenetrable forest.
Back on land again, we fired up the little car and drove north-easterly, just skirting the edge of Cradle Mountain National Park. Without enough time or the appropriate walking gear, that would have to wait for our return visit one day.
Heading south, we swung into the Freycinet National Park. Unlike our other short walks, this park was heaving with day trippers and fellow walkers. Freycinet is an attractive blend of bush and beach. It also has well-developed camping, visitor centre and other facilities, so no wonder it was popular. Our objective was to take the track up to the lookout delivering the famous, postcard views of Wineglass Bay. After much puffing and panting, we arrived and immediately grabbed our cameras. The view was stunning and definitely worth the exertion. We were so tempted to keep walking and scramble down the other side of the mountain to the bay itself, but we had to turn away from the brilliant white beaches and yachts gently bobbing in the azure blue water. How does nature deliver such vibrant colours?
Edging ever closer to Hobart, the last park on our list to explore was a day on Maria Island. The island is a 45-minute ferry ride out from the small town of Triabunna, and the ferry is a handy way to rest your legs before, and after, a day of walking.
Maria Island was another penal settlement but not a very successful one. Even though it was an island, this did not deter convicts from making their escape. Escape attempts happened so frequently, and were so successful, that the penal colony was finally abandoned in favour of Port Arthur. Even if you are not into history, this island has enough natural beauty to keep anyone entertained. Armed with a map and interpretative guide, we started out on the coastal path and then back-tracked through the scrub. The walks were of varying lengths, and they moved us around the island, allowing us to take in the best views of bush, beach and convict ruins. The rocks and cliffs that edge the pebble beaches were particularly attractive with their layered colours and sculpture-like erosion.
I don’t believe you have to be a ‘hardened’ walker to enjoy the many incredible parks and trails in Tasmania, and I encourage everyone to get ‘off the beaten track’ if you can.
Short walks or long, Tasmania has too much natural beauty to ignore.
Tell me, what walks must we add to the ‘to do’ list when we head to Tassie again?
What: A valid park entry permit is required for entry to Tasmania’s national parks. A range of national park passes are available depending on the time you spend there. Visitors to the state have a number of different pass options available to them, the most cost-effective being the Holiday Pass range. This pass covers entry into all of Tasmania’s national parks for up to two months, and also provides free use of the Cradle Mountain shuttle bus – $60.
Where: Have a look at the Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania website for a map locating – and giving background information about – all parks throughout the state.
When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.
Why: If you love the great outdoors, choose Tasmania.
How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to access the parks.
Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and tonnes of other happy campers.
Related Posts: When we weren’t walking, we were driving and here is a link to the fantastic man-made attractions we visited.
Related Blogs: I think you would wait a long time before you found a more passionate Tasmanian hiker than Denis. For really detailed and comprehensive information about a whole range of hiking opportunities in south east Tasmania, have a look at his blog at: http://hikinginsetasmania.blogspot.com.au/
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!
It is not often that charity, community and culture collide in an event that turns into a genuine win, win, win. The annual Sculptures in the Garden event at Rosby Wines in Mudgee is one of those true winners.
Mudgee, in Central West NSW, is well-known as a weekend escape to enjoy rolling hills, fresh foods and a diverse range of delicious wines to accompany both the view and the victuals. Adding another string to the tourism bow is the ongoing growth of cultural activities such as sculpture.
Kay Norton-Knight of Rosby Wines has been a long-time supporter of the local arts scene and is an accomplished artist herself. Six years ago, Kay rallied her friends and family, identified a worthy charity, and Sculptures in the Garden was born.
As with many community events, SiG (as Sculptures in the Garden is fondly referred to) started out small with just over 100 works, and has experienced exponential growth each year. In 2016 the exhibition featured 234 works ranging from 20cm high to 6m high, and with price tags from $100 to $18 000.
Even if you are not in the market for a piece of sculpture for your house or garden, this event is simply a charming day out. All the sculptures are cleverly placed in the gardens and surrounds of the rustic Rosby homestead, providing a picture-perfect backdrop to the many works. The local Guide Dogs committee provide sumptuous catering and Rosby wines are available by the glass, or bottle if you feel so inclined.
This year’s event was blessed with stunning Spring weather – ideal for wandering through lush gardens and striking artworks, with a glass of wine in hand. Over 3 000 people did just that over the weekend.
But SiG is not just about standing back and looking at art. There was also an opportunity to learn. On both days of the exhibition, there were sculpture walks led by local artists as well as garden walks. A new event this year featured a panel discussion that delved into the importance of public art and its place in the Mudgee region. Edmund Capon AM OBE, the nominated VIP at this year’s event, had plenty of insight to add to the conversation.
The ‘cute’ factor was nailed during a puppy training session, delivered by Karen Hayter from Guide Dogs NSW. The audience melted and drooled over the latest litter of golden pups.
Children were not forgotten in this event. Other than the fact that they could run and play to their hearts’ content through the gardens and paddocks of Rosby, kids also had an opportunity to design and submit their own sculptures. The children were enthusiastic and excited to be able to show off their creativity, and their display demonstrated that there is some serious budding talent out there. A sign of things to come.
SiG has a more lasting impact than just an annual weekend. As well as generating significant funds for the Guide Dogs and tourism traffic throughout the region, it also provides an opportunity for the Mudgee community to connect with a number of signature pieces on a longer-term basis.
The SiG exhibition has four separate acquisitive prizes. Mid-Western Regional Council, Sculptures in the Garden, Moolarben Coal, and Friends of Sculptures in the Garden all provide funds to purchase pieces that become part of a permanent exhibition in the Mudgee CBD.
Mid-Western Regional Council is progressively developing a sculpture walk along the banks of the Cudgegong River. The river meanders through Lawson Park and the sculptures add additional interest to the riverside walk. Currently there are ten separate sculptures, and these will be added to from this year’s SiG. A true statement piece, the 4.4m high ‘Taking the Plunge’ by Stephen Irwin, was one of the three sculptures purchased this year. It will definitely catch the eye of passers-by AND generate a great deal of discussion.
One of the things I really love about SiG is how it makes sculpture totally accessible to Joe Public. I don’t have to be an art-buff to be able to enjoy and recognise the skill of other people. I think this has something to do with the fact that the art is all outdoors in a natural setting – no stuffy galleries or pretentious crowds.
Unlike the gigantic works on show at Bondi’s Sculptures by the Sea, most of these works are also financially accessible. For sure, not everyone would be in the position to snap up an $18 000 masterpiece for their backyard, but as the smaller pieces are quickly red-dotted it is nice to know that in their new homes they will create interest and add colour to the landscape.
The volunteer team that organises SiG are to be congratulated for all their hard work. They have created a significant and valuable inclusion in the regional tourism calendar, appealing to a different set of interests, as well as having developed an event that raises valuable charity dollars, and exposes plebs like me to the ‘yarts’.
Mudgee may be rich in food and wine but visitors and community alike can also enjoy a new kind of richness – a richness of the soul. Hard to measure but no less important.
Now, are you motivated to fire up the welder?
What: Sculptures in the Garden is a two-day arts event. The entrance fee is $5.00 per person. Food and wine is available each day. Stay for an hour or all day. Accommodation is available on site at the winery in the Rosby Guesthouse from $150.00 per night.
Where: Rosby is located at 122 Strikes Lane, Eurunderee, NSW, 2850 – an easy 15 minute drive north-west of Mudgee.
When: Annually – the second weekend in October.
Why: Add some culture to your wine escape in Mudgee and drive home with a permanent memory of Mudgee in the form of a work of art.
How: You will need a car to get out to Rosby. No public transport is available to the site but taxis are available from Mudgee.
Who: Rosby is home to Kay and Gerald Norton-Knight. The event is created and operated by volunteers.
I don’t know why a lot of people pick on Tasmania and give its residents a hard time about having 11 fingers and two heads!
Yes, it is only a small island dangling off the bottom of Australia, and perhaps it is off the ‘main drag’ of tourist destinations, but it punches well above its weight on a whole lot of levels.
Until 2011, I had never spent much time in Tasmania. Sure, I had seen plenty about it on TV, and had once been locked in a conference room in Hobart for a week, but I had never had the opportunity to really explore. Many people had told me it was green and lush, like a mini-England, but it was time to go and find out for myself.
Luckily for The Brave Man* and I, we have some good friends in Hobart who invited us to go sailing with them around Bruny Island for a couple of days. I will talk about that in a separate post at a later date, as it was such a special experience – a true feast for all the senses.
There is nothing like exploring a place with the locals to get all the inside information on their patch. The thing I particularly enjoy is that you get to explore a place at a much deeper level – the economy, the politics and what makes a community tick. A true warts-and-all picture.
I can safely say that Tasmania won our hearts. Tasmania is the complete package when it comes to the variety of things to see and do. It’s a terrible cliché, but ‘there is something for everyone’ in this postage stamp-like state.
Hobart is well-known for its convict and pioneering heritage. Settled in 1804, many of its handsome sandstone buildings remain intact, giving the city a feel of grandeur and grace. Other than a stroll around the distinctive wharf area – the final port for the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race – a journey to Hobart would not be complete without a visit to MONA.
MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, just has to be seen to be believed. Even if you are not an art lover, go there for a complete reorientation of your senses. I do not have an artistic bone in my body but even I could appreciate the diversity and depth of most of the art works.
The MONA experience started with a relaxing ferry ride from the Hobart wharf, up the Derwent River, to the foot of a sandstone cliff that encases the Museum. Where things started to challenge normality was when I had to walk four storeys underground to disappear into a world of wackiness and confrontation.
I spent most of the next four hours laughing outrageously, laughing nervously or being completely gobsmacked! I have no idea whether those were appropriate responses, and perhaps I was showing my complete lack of culture and civilisation. There was the Fat Car, a plump and pumped up Porsche, as a commentary on our flabby and obese lifestyles. There was a tribute to Madonna which included a wall of 40 televisions, each featuring a person singing ‘Like A Virgin’ off-key. There were Egyptian sarcophagi and a truck in a hall. Yes, a full-size semi-trailer four storeys underground, wedged in a hallway. Go figure!
By the end of the visit, I was physically exhausted and almost sore from the sensory overload. Such an assault on the senses, both positive and negative, has left a deep and lasting impression. Call me crazy, but I think it is worth a trip to Hobart just to experience MONA. It has not converted me to become a modern art fan, but it has certainly put Hobart on the cultural map!
Reeling from all that ‘culcha’, we borrowed a car and headed west out of Hobart to see as much of Tassie as we could in the short time remaining. In another post, I will talk about the excellent range of day walks we enjoyed, but here I will focus on the ‘built’ tourist attractions.
If you have the opportunity, another ‘must see’ is The Wall in the Wilderness. Located at Derwent Bridge, midway between Hobart and Strahan, a sculptor is creating a breathtaking work of art in wood. The Wall is made up of three metre high panels of wood, all joined together to form a solid visual expanse. These panels are being progressively carved to highlight the history of the central Tasmanian highlands, starting with the Indigenous people and including the timber industry, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. The skill involved is simply outstanding – a wagon has every spoke, chain and rope carved individually and separately to stand out in relief. When we visited in 2011, the wall was around 40 metres long, with the final length to be 100 metres. I agree that sometimes wood turning and wood carving can be a little twee, but this is art in a wooden form. Don’t miss it.
Back in the car, we joined the stream of grey nomads heading west towards Strahan. It gave me pause to wonder whether we had automatically and involuntarily joined the Grey Nomad scene, and although I wasn’t overly happy about it, we were travelling out of school holiday time, and we simply had to roll with it. Literally! Get stuck behind a grey nomad in a caravan or camper, and even though Tasmania is small, it takes a long time to roll anywhere!
The West Coast Wilderness Railway was a highlight for the train nut in our travelling party. The steam train puffed its way from Queenstown to Strahan, through some of the most remote and picturesque landscape you could ever come across.
Queenstown is a bit of an anomaly in the normally leafy Tasmanian countryside. It is a moonscape, battered and barren as a result of over 100 years of copper mining. It is a tired community with little going for it other than being the starting point for the tourist railway. I am sure the loyal locals would beg to differ, but the down-at-heel feel and multiple empty shops indicated to me that its time has passed.
The negative impacts of the copper mining history can still be seen today with both the Queen and King rivers classified as toxic. A perfect example of paying for the mistakes of generations past.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is unique because it includes an ABT Rack and Pinion system on part of its track to manage the steep inclines. It strains and groans as it rattles and ratchets its way up the mountain. I wondered if we were going to make it, while the train buff was almost hanging out the carriage window, counting every rack and every pinion. Constructed in 1897, the rail line’s main purpose was to transport massive loads of copper to the port at Strahan, but now it specialises in massive loads of tourists…or loads of massive tourists. Other than being a very pleasant way to spend a day, we were educated about the pioneering history of the region as we rattled along the route, with a number of stops where we could pan for gold, explore ruins and stretch our legs.
Returning to Strahan, we spent the rest of our visit wandering around the streets and docks. Strahan is a charming port town, perfectly set up for tourists with a range of intriguing art and craft stores, and plenty of top quality food and beverages. Wood carving, wooden artefacts and timberyards are prominent, and The Brave Man* bought a few Huon pine offcuts as a memento of his visit. Not the most exciting souvenir in my opinion, but each to his own!
Unfortunately, time beat us and we had to point the little car back towards Hobart. I have only covered a few of the highlights we experienced. There is just so much history and beauty crammed into this gem of an island. One day when we sign on as full-time grey nomads, we will return.
Tell me, what do you recommend we see the next time around?
What: MONA is open every day except Tuesdays. Entrance fees are $20 for adults or free if you are under 18 or from Tasmania. The Wall is open seven days and entrance fees apply. West Coast Wilderness Railway is $100 per person including a shuttle bus from Strahan to Queenstown.
Where: MONA is located 11 kilometres north of Hobart – approximately 25 minutes by water, or 20 minutes by road. The return ferry ride costs $20.
When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.
Why: Choose Tasmania if you would like a short break with lots to do in a small space.
How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to move about.
Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and multiple senior citizens.
Related Posts: Watch this space…
Related Blogs: I am not the only one to wax lyrical about a road trip in Tasmania. For a younger and groovier perspective have a look at http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/life-time-tasmanian-road-trip/
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!
We Australians are spoiled for choice when seeking a bolt-hole to escape the worst of Winter. From any point on our continent, just keep heading north, and each inch on the map will equate to a couple of degrees further up the thermometer.
The Brave Man* (BM) is convinced that he needs a short dose of warmth mid-Winter to delude himself that the worst of the season is almost over. Last year it was Hawaii; this year we set off for Palm Cove in far north Queensland to defrost, and see what all the fuss was about.
Palm Cove is one of a series of small beachside communities that populate the region 28km north of Cairns.
If you plan to do much tripping around in this part of the country, I would recommend a hire car. By the time you calculate the cost of taxis and additional shuttle transport, the cost of a hire car and the ultimate flexibility it provides, makes it a financially viable option. In contrast, I would not recommend the Atlas Car Rental company at all. Yes, they were one of the cheapest options available but the staff were exceptionally rude, totally disinterested and refused to supply the size of car originally booked online. The BM* is six foot four inches tall, and he couldn’t even fit behind the steering wheel of our mobile matchbox. Their version of customer service was to hand us the keys and walk away. Buyer beware!
Winding up the rubber band of our little car, we did a quick raid on the supermarket in Cairns before making our way to Palm Cove. For some reason we thought this necessary, not thinking that the towns and villages further north would be of the size to contain decent supermarkets. Wrong.
As we drove north, the Captain Cook Highway took us slightly inland but the abundant tropical vegetation and soft sea breezes indicated that the ocean was never far away. It was obvious to us that this road was an important part of the ‘commuter’ belt with a new, dual lane road much of the way to Palm Cove. It made it so easy to move around.
When planning the trip, the BM* had been told about how noisy it was to stay right on the esplanade in Palm Cove, so he selected the Mango Lagoon Resort & Wellness Spa. It was a leisurely three-block stroll back from the main drag – super-quiet and leafy. Our self-contained apartment was just the right size, with all the mod cons including a washing machine and dryer, and shuttered French doors that opened onto swaying palms and one of the resort’s many pools. Yes, the true definition of a tropical paradise.
The Weather Gods continued to frown on us and, even though it was lovely to pull on the shorts and t-shirts, it either misted, drizzled or rained properly the entire time we were there. We couldn’t complain as we were on holiday, but the locals did not hold back on how unseasonably cold and wet it was as they clomped around in their woollen ugg boots. At 25°C, we thought ugg boots was slight overkill but each to their own.
Knowing that we would not melt under a little rain, and with only four full days to cram everything in, we set out to discover why so many rave about Palm Cove. A stroll along the esplanade with ice creams dripping down our hands, we found it a relaxed and laid back ‘town’ – town being a generous description – and the fastest things were the shuttle buses tootling backwards and forwards to the vast array of accommodation choices. The esplanade is edged with swaying palms, a United Nations of eating houses and ice cream stands, while a long and winding path bordered the beach. I was surprised and disappointed to see signs warning of crocodiles and stingers in the ocean, but a few brave souls frolicked in the green water regardless. The hire car gave us the scope to tour the neighbouring villages of Clifton Beach, Kewarra Beach, Trinity Beach – more swaying palms and ice cream shops – and then explore further afield.
We tried to plan our days around the weather forecast, which turned out to be a really good intention but completely pointless on implementation.
First on the list was a visit to the Kuranda Rail and Skyrail. It was frustrating to watch the rain spatter against the train windows as we weaved and rattled our way up the mountains to Kuranda. The atmospheric train ride and history attached to the railway was fascinating, however Kuranda itself was a bit of a tourist trap – all souvenir shops and over-priced eating establishments. A quick walk up the main street was enough for us.
The Skyrail floated over the tree tops of the Barron Gorge National Park as we descended the mountains and back down to the coast. To make the most of the forest below, there are a couple of ‘stations’ where you can hop off the cable car and explore the greenery on foot. We particularly enjoyed a short, guided walking tour from the Barron Falls station. A fascinating insight into how a rainforest ‘works’ and the various layered flora and fauna.
If we weren’t already wet enough, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous with a day’s snorkelling on the Upolo Reef, an outer section of the Great Barrier Reef. We booked on a smaller ‘sailing’ boat with Reef Daytripper, as neither the BM* or I like crowds. Thank goodness there were only 11 of us (plus crew) on board, as we huddled under protection from the rain the majority of the trip. We refused to let the weather dampen our adventure and snorkelled to our hearts’ content amongst the giant clams, sea turtles, neon-striped fish, gropers, sting rays and
‘Nemo’ clown fish. It was a weird feeling to snorkel and, at the same time, feel the rain pounding on my back. The cloud cover did not allow the coral colours to really dazzle but I just pretended I was hovering above brilliant reds, blues and greens. There is so much bad news in the media about the reef dying, that I didn’t want to miss a moment.
Another gorgeous day trip was up to Mossman Gorge and then onto Daintree. It was on this specific day that we realised why it is called ‘rainforest’. On a fine day, it must be spectacular but after a couple of hours of being drenched to the skin, we were totally ‘over’ both rain and forest!
We sought sanctuary and dryness in the Matchbox car and drove a little further north to the Daintree River. The BM* was desperate to get up close to a crocodile and we got this in spades at the Daintree Cruise Centre.
For around an hour we cruised the Daintree River, taking in the mangroves and wildlife large and small. The weather was still grey and forbidding but not half as forbidding as the huge crocodiles lounging on the river bank waiting for a tourist to dangle a lazy arm over the side of the boat. We ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over the adult crocs and did our best to spot the babies camouflaged in the mud. There
were vibrant Azure Kingfishers flitting through the mangroves, rainbow-coloured butterflies and a riot of other birdlife skimming the surface of the river. How lucky are we to have the diversity of wildlife – both beautiful and murderous – in Australia?
Palm Cove ticked all the boxes for our Winter escape. It is the perfect destination for a short break with plenty to see and do within an easy drive.
No doubt you could also enjoy the ‘fly and flop’ type-holiday, but watch out for the bities on the beach!
What: A five day break with self-contained accommodation. Eating out in Palm Cove is very expensive so it was nice to have the option to self-cater.
Where: Palm Cove, Far North Queensland.
When: Do your research. Apparently there are certain times of year when it is safer to swim in the water.
Why: To escape Winter and feel the sun and warmth on our skin – with sunscreen of course.
How: We flew from the Queensland Gold Coast to Cairns with Jetstar and then hired a car.
One day my mother announced that ‘this year we will do something different for our annual holidays’. ‘Yeah, Yeah’, the family scoffed. We didn’t believe it would be possible to break the family tradition of an annual pilgrimage to the Florida Car-O-Tel on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Imagine the shock and awe around the Formica dinner table when Mum announced she had booked us on a bus trip to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs via Coober Pedy in South Australia, calling into Mt Isa in the middle of Queensland on the way home. A round trip of around 6070km and not a beach in sight. Now that’s different!
As one we were all excited about our first big bus adventure and the fact that we were going to camp EVERY night. Little did we know that our excitement was seriously misplaced.
The departure day arrived and we were packed, organised and waiting impatiently on the forecourt of a large service station in Dubbo to be collected by the Trans Tours coach. We waited, and waited, and waited. An inauspicious start, which must have been a nightmare for my parents with two children just about jumping out their skin with excitement and yet we were going nowhere, fast!
Five hours later, the ‘coach’ chugged into the service station, revealing itself to be a BUS that had seen better days. ‘Engine trouble’ was the excuse and even then in the fog of excitement, we should have seen the writing on the wall.
As the tour was now way behind schedule, it was decided that Dubbo would be the overnight stop. Still running on adrenalin, we convinced our parents that we should camp for the night too rather than return home to the farm. Yes, it was the coldest night in living memory and I was dreaming of my very own warm bed waiting for me at home. Oh well, the price you pay for adventure.
The next day dawned bright and clear and we were soon on the road west, getting to know our fellow travellers. Poor Dad was one of only two men on board amongst a gaggle of divorced women, blue rinse set ladies and noisy children. He was kept busy though, as it seemed that every time the bus reached its destination, it would refuse to start again. The bus driver and Dad would gather up the tools and bury themselves in the engine. Dad must have been wondering whether he had even left the farm and what sort of ‘holiday’ this was going to be.
By this stage of the trip, the concept of the ‘swear jar’ had been introduced. If you called the bus a ‘bus’ and not a ‘coach’, it was considered swearing and it was compulsory to put 20c in the swear jar. This bus was so far removed from a coach it wasn’t funny. Bench seats with aluminium hand rails (á la school bus), no air conditioning except for old sliding windows, and a hand-wound sign on the front of the bus that said ‘Dominican Convent, Moss Vale’. Angels we were not, but as it was all new and exciting, you can overlook such details as a child.
We bounced our way out of NSW, trundled through South Australia and finally made it to the highlight of the trip – the centre of the Northern Territory. Ayers Rock, now called Uluru, did not disappoint and we were silenced by its majesty, by the sheer scale of it. Similarly, the Olgas were stunning and remain fixed in my memory – even after all these years.
The night before our departure from the campground, the bus (coach?) driver asked the group – ‘who would like to go to the Camel Cup in Alice Springs tomorrow?’ It was a resounding ‘YES’ from the group even after we learned that it would mean a 2.00 am departure to get there on time.
Of course, it rained overnight but that didn’t stop us dismantling our wet tents – well, our wet everything – and bundling onto the bus. At least the damn thing started this time. We all promptly went back to sleep and awoke to a brilliant blue sky day about 300 km south of Alice Springs.
The bus gave an almighty bump, swerved a little and we looked out the window to see a set of bus dual wheels bouncing high and disappearing into the Northern Territory scrub. There was a delayed reaction – ‘there goes a set of bus wheels…..pause…….they’re OUR bus wheels!’ And the bus wobbled, lurched to the left and came to a stop on its axle.
We kids thought this was all part of the excitement of touring by bus in the 1970s and tumbled off the bus to chase the wheels through the scrub. No doubt the adults could more rightly see that this was no laughing matter. This was 1977. No mobile phones and in the middle of nowhere.
We waited and waited and waved down the first car to appear on the horizon. The car had no choice but to stop, as we kids had made an immovable picket line across the road, including half of us laying down to form human speed humps. A message was duly relayed and we were collected about five hours later and transported to Alice Springs. Yes, we had well and truly missed the Camel Cup.
The rest of the so-called holiday was spent trying to make contact with Trans Tours, them promising a replacement bus and no vehicle materialising. Alice Springs is a nice place but not after 10 days straight.
The bus ‘adventure’ finally came to an end, with us bus-less but possessing an intimate knowledge of Alice Springs. We did get our first ever trip on an aeroplane back to Dubbo…and Trans Tours declared bankruptcy not long after!
From that time on, whenever Mum suggested we ‘do something different for our next holiday’, a knowing look from us all made her quickly change the subject and start work on her beach holiday packing list.
So long ago – 1977?? and apologies for the quality of the 1977 photography!
Would younger generations even know what this was and the role it played in the social fabric of the 1960s and 70s?
For the uninitiated, The Sunday Drive occurs when your father wakes up on a Sunday morning and says to the pyjama-clad family Let’s go for a drive. This statement is greeted by either sighs and slumped shoulders or general excitement.
More often than not in my family, it was not a universally popular way to spend a precious weekend. My brother and I had been at school all week, and had had more than our fair share of travelling – spending two hours on a bus every day. The opportunity to stay home for two whole days to play down the creek, ride the horse or motorbike, or simply potter about was always the preferred option. In contrast, my parents had been working hard on the farm all week with no social interaction other than each other, and reliant on the pathetic amount of news my brother and I would bring home after school. They simply HAD to get out.
A couple of phone calls later we would be bundled into the family sedan and trundled along the back roads of western NSW to towns and farms as remote as their occupants’ place on the furthest branches of our family tree.
Nine times out of ten, it was your typical stinking hot day. The vinyl on the back seat of the car would absorb every ultraviolet ray, making the surface go soft and pucker. Just perfect for peeling the top two layers of skin off the back of your legs and delivering third degree burns. But parents are oblivious of these things when they are having a day out!
This is the time before air conditioning and other such luxuries. Do you wind the window down and be burnt to a crisp by the hot, dry wind? Or leave the window up and suffocate quietly? Such an array of appealing options in those days. It was also before the time of portable DVD players or cassette machines. The sole choice was the local ABC radio, which grew ever more scratchy and faint as the kilometres (miles back then) clocked over.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
We would eventually arrive at my Mum’s third cousin’s husband’s home and the grown-ups would settle in at the kitchen table with bottomless cups of tea. We kids were banished to the backyard to play, explore or simply be quiet and stay out of the road.
Sometimes there was a bonus if other kids lived in the house but, more often than not, it was my brother and I kicking our feet in the dirt and looking for a cool spot under the tank stand. Exploring rambling gardens and immaculate vege patches can only hold a child’s interest for so long, and it was up to us to find something to do other than continually bang in and out of the gauze door, nag our parents and wish we were at our own home.
The upside was that, no matter the Sunday Drive destination, we were always well fed. There would be homemade sponge cakes with fresh cream, lamingtons, SAO biscuits with tomato and cheese and usually a roast lunch with five different vegetables all cooked to within an inch of their life. It’s hard to believe that we would willingly front up to a piping hot Sunday lunch on a mid-Summer day but that is tradition for you.
We would not go home empty-handed either. Before departing, the vege patch and orchard would be raided and we would be presented with tomatoes, pumpkins, oranges, lemons and more cucumbers and chokos than is decent. This was fair payback for the huge zucchinis we would have arrived with. (When the zucchinis were in season, my mother and I would resort to driving around the district under the cover of darkness, leaving gargantuan zucchinis in the roadside mail boxes of our unsuspecting neighbours. If not careful the zucchinis, triffid-like, would grow overnight into objects the size of watermelons – so a daily check of the vege patch was compulsory.)
As the heat of the day started to wane, my parents would finally give in to our nagging and the long goodbyes would start. This usually involved a very stop-start-stop process of the adults clearing the table, washing up, the collection of sundry fruit and vegetables and then a long, drawn-out stand around the car as the final goodbyes were said. In the meantime, my brother and I were already belted into the car with heads reclining on the seat and eyes fixed longingly on the road.
Within minutes of the engine starting and the car pointing homeward, my brother and I would be asleep and my parents would quietly review the day all the way home.
Is there the time and inclination for Sunday drives today? I doubt it.
Generally speaking, we are not as remote from our community these days and perhaps feel more connected through email, mobile phones, social media and the 24 hour news cycle. Unfortunately, these connections are not of the depth and quality enjoyed on those long Summer days – even if through our young eyes and minds, we would have preferred to be anywhere else but there.
I have mixed feelings about Grey Nomads – those adventurous folk of 50+ age bracket who spend every minute of their retirement years exploring every inch of Australia in their trusty caravans and motorhomes.
I have to tread carefully on this issue as my parents are your typical Grey Nomads – escaping the Winter chills to the Queensland Gold Coast each year. However there is nothing worse than getting stuck behind a string of caravans in convoy – all sitting on or under the speed limit and travelling so closely together they are impossible to pass safely and squeeze in between.
I also need to tread carefully as ‘in the olden days’, I was a super-excited, restless child bouncing up and down in the back seat of a 1970s sedan towing our very own family caravan. It is the old case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’, but in this case, it was dull silver with a canvas awning and contrasting stripes down the side.
Our first caravan was a 1950s Carapark Zestline – a hulking silver beast that originally belonged to my Uncle Arthur. Uncle Arthur was my great uncle, a kind and gentle man who had loose and clicking false teeth that would dance around his mouth as he ate. That used to freak me out no end, but the purchase of his caravan made him so much more acceptable.
The caravan was tired and dated but it must have been the right price, and Mum set to freshening it up with a repaint of the cupboard doors, new brown and orange floral curtains and new brown chenille bedspreads. Yes, the last word in mobile style.
The Zestline had your typical caravan floor plan – twin beds up the back and a table that collapsed into a double bed. I doubt much has changed in floor plan design to this day but perhaps the vans are now made from lighter materials and have a stronger focus on aerodynamics. Uncle Arthur’s van was built to survive a nuclear holocaust unscathed and towed like a brick dunny. It was solid, square and indestructible. But as children, we loved it and were so excited to be off on our first caravan adventure.
The caravan was duly packed, hooked up to the Valiant, and we were on the road north. We made good time and our first night ever sleeping in a caravan – I can still remember the thrill – was spent at a tiny village called Bendemeer on the Northern Tablelands of NSW. Bendemeer has a pub, a school and a convenient caravan park just off the highway and on the side of a hill.
At first glance the hill wasn’t an issue, and it wasn’t an issue for anyone else in the family except me. You see, the way the beds were configured and the way that Dad parked the van meant that I spent the entire night trying to stop myself from rolling out of bed. My brother was fine as he simply rolled into the wall (and had the ability to sleep through WWIII anyway) and my Mum simply made up the bed for her and Dad so their heads were higher than their feet. Just like a rock climber, I spent the night tensed up, jamming my hands and feet into any available crevice or gap between mattress and wall and hanging on for dear life.
Added to that, it was the coldest night in living memory of Bendemeer residents. My parents had each other to provide warmth, my brother slept on oblivious, and I was rock climbing in the Himalayas for the entire night. Or so it felt.
The journey continued on to Coffs Harbour on the north coast of NSW. It was significantly warmer and flatter there, and the holiday soon stretched out into carefree days of roaming the beach and caravan park with packs of other holidaying children – all of us decked out in midriff tops, flared shorts and surf thongs. Ah, what’s not to love about 1970s fashion?
Coffs Harbour had endless beaches, a marine park and the Big Banana. A holiday just can’t get better than when it’s in an Australian town with something BIG in it. On a damp, grey day we abandoned the beach to tour the Big Banana. Picture it: banana train, banana trees, banana souvenirs and banana food. As a child I was permanently hungry and scoffed the full menu of banana food including a chocolate-coated frozen banana. This was finished off with a large bucket of hot, buttered popcorn. Yes, my appetite knew no bounds!
Unfortunately even my cast iron stomach could not handle this blend of cuisine and I spent the next 24 hours throwing up. I was past caring but I can only imagine how unpleasant this was for the rest of the family in the cramped confines of the caravan. To this day I cannot stand the smell of hot popcorn. One of the few things I don’t like to eat!
Mum very quickly tired of making up their bed on the table each night and we spent the entire two weeks eating off our laps – either inside when the weather was wet or outside under the red/orange/green striped canvas awning. Being an uncoordinated kid, I spent a good part of each meal trying to catch my sausage as it rolled off my plate or retrieving various food stuffs from the floor or grass. No doubt this was a great boost to my immune system, enabling the development of some resistance – alternatively it could have been the cause of the popcorn fiasco.
As always when you are a child, the holidays are too quickly over, and all too soon we were towing the silver sinker on the long road trip home. As we rolled into my home town of Dubbo, Dad suggested one last splurge of a Chinese meal before we covered the final 30km to the farm. We ordered up and as one, we dropped our elbows onto the table and heaved a combined sigh of relief. For once Mum let our manners go west as we luxuriated at a real table, just perfect for resting elbows.
Ah, childhood holiday memories – so simple and powerful – but don’t ask me ever again to sit in the backseat of a car for 10 hours towing a caravan. I am more than happy to leave these sunny memories in the distant past and intend to ignore any grey nomadic tendencies well into the future.
As a kid, I remember a few trips to Newcastle – a grimy, dark and often raining place that seemed to be trapped in an industrial fug. The city economy, once famous for its ship building and steel works, has since been rationalised into non-existence. I know I am a late bloomer but it was a joy to discover Newcastle on brilliant, sunny Autumn weekend.
Newcastle didn’t automatically pop into my mind as an ideal ‘getaway’ but I have had to revise my estimation. A family commitment meant that we were destined for this coastal city and The Brave Man* decided to make a weekend of it – catching up with friends and generally enjoying what the city had to offer. We were not disappointed.
He did some bargain hunting via Wotif and found the Newcastle Beach Hotel for a discounted $129 per night. Yes, the hotel was a little dated but the rooms were large and comfortable and ours had a great view over the rooftops of the city and harbour area. I suspect the other side of the building had sea views. It was a little off-putting that everything was automated, with push-button entry cards and not a human in sight, but I guess that made for ultimate independence and flexibility. The best part was the location – right at the very top of the CBD on Hunter Street and the shortest sea-breeze walk to the beach and salt-water pools.
Another plus was the ready access to places to eat. I am the first to admit that I am no gourmand. I hate cooking, and all those TV foodie shows drive me to despair. If you are reading this blog hoping for gastronomic insight, then put down your computer/tablet/phone and step away now. I am a food pleb!
Due to the late hour we grabbed a quick Thai meal at Sticky Rice, just around the corner. ‘Quick’ was the operative word as the food seemed to materialise at our table within minutes – steaming hot and tasty. The serving sizes were ambitious but we did not admit defeat.
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and we met up with friends for a brisk walk along the coast. I know I am strange but this is my definition of ‘a rage and a good time’. Our walk followed the coastline from Newcastle Beach right up to Merewether Beach – around 5km. This walk has a number of different names but incorporates The Bathers Way (from Nobbys Beach to Merewether Beach) and the Newcastle Memorial Walk (from Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach).
In my book, the walk along the edge of the sea is a ‘must do’ activity – especially if you can manage it at sunrise. To start the day with surfers bobbing in the waves and both seabirds and hang gliders making the most of the thermals – nothing could go wrong. A refreshing sea breeze cooled us as we huffed up the stairs and puffed down the paths. It is a lovely walk but be prepared for an elevated heart rate along the way.
The reward for being so healthy and virtuous was a reviving coffee and muffin at the Merewether Surf Life Saving Club Kiosk. We joined the jumble of dogs, leads and strollers and queued for our coffee, happy to watch the local sun-worshippers and enjoying a laidback Saturday morning vibe. The truly virtuous would have walked the return trip – but not us.
In amongst some family commitments we did manage to wander through the Newcastle CBD. It is pleasing to see so many parts of the city being rejuvenated, with old buildings being repurposed as funky bars and interesting shops. The monthly art and design markets and the Newcastle Writers Festival added to the buzz on the streets.
Dinner at the Green Roof Hotel in Hamilton and their Meatball restaurant was a new experience. You can order anything you like as long as it’s a meatball! El Mexico featured pork meatballs over corn chips and guacamole – interesting but missing something essential somewhere. Am I starting to sound like a foodie yet?
Sunday rolled around, our watches were adjusted to reflect the end of Daylight Saving time, and we tossed our clothes back into the bag. To offset some of the damage done to our waistlines in the previous 24 hours, The Brave Man* donned his neck-to-knees and headed for the sea baths and I stepped out onto the coastal walk again. The water report was ‘fresh and crystal clear’ and there was plenty of local sea life sharing the pool to distract swimmers from completing their laps.
We had a last dose of sociability and caffeine at Estabar as we caught up with more friends. Maybe it was the salt air but everyone was friendly and cruisy. We almost felt like locals too. Estabar, overlooking Newcastle Beach, offered an up close and personal view of the half-marathoners sprinting by as part of the NewRun event. We were suitably impressed but not inspired enough to put down our knife and fork and join in. The 10-kers looked more our style, especially those at the tail-end carrying cans of Coke and enjoying a chat. I am not sure if that is the true intent of the event but it has to be better than sitting on the lounge in front of the TV.
All too soon we were back on the road home to Mudgee. The Hunter Expressway has made a noticeable difference to travel times and we went from the centre of Newcastle – with a stop and an eagle-eye on the speed-limit – in 3.25hrs. Too easy.
Thank you Newcastle for the right mix of activity and interest. We will be back.
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!
Travelling out to Silverton is a commitment, not only in time but also in dollars. But rather than just a commitment, it is also an investment in my Bucket List.
Silverton is 26km northwest of Broken Hill. Flights leave Dubbo twice daily and that is where the financial-commitment part kicks in. A return flight Dubbo-Broken Hill is at least $715, and that is the cheapie, inflexible fare. Perhaps that buys you a share of the ‘x’ in Rex Airlines. The alternatives, though cheaper, are much longer road trips via car or bus, or by hijacking a grey nomad. For the time poor, the plane is the best alternative.
It was mesmerising to watch the colours and terrain change we as we flew ever westward. The patchwork paddocks changed from dusty brown on the edge of Dubbo to vivid ochres closer to Broken Hill. The ‘patches’ became significantly larger and long, straight dirt roads disappeared into the haze of the horizon. The sparseness and bareness of the flat terrain may not appeal to everyone but to me there is beauty in its simplicity. The sense of openness and just plain space is a beautiful thing and, in my eye, ‘is’ Australia.
Silverton is an easy 20 minute drive out of Broken Hill, which provides an opportunity to get even closer to the Outback colours. The dusty blue/green/grey of the low, scrubby bushes contrasts neatly with the red earth and the tawny brown of the emus. It is not as flat as it appears when airborne. A myriad of gullies and small, rocky outcrops add interest and depth to the landscape.
Silverton is a scattering of dusty streets only hinting at the town’s former glory. In its heyday in the late 1800s, it was a thriving community, with 2000 people in the town itself and a further 2000 in the surrounding district. Its career was short-lived though, and its boom-to-bust period lasted only eight years. These days, Silverton is home to around 35 dedicated residents.
The reason for my (literally) flying trip to Silverton was a work project related to the Silverton Hotel. How lucky am I?
Patsy and Peter Price took over the Silverton Hotel in 2010. A plumbing career may not be the usual background for pub owners, but they have taken to their new lifestyle with gusto, improving both the physical facilities of the pub and also reawakening the business. The latest addition to the complex features seven accommodation units sympathetically designed in the style of typical shearers’ quarters but far more comfortable than anything you would normally find adjacent to a shearing shed.
The Hotel appears to be the heart and soul of the community and a natural meeting and rest place for visitors. A constant stream of grey nomads and school-holiday families came through the door from early morning until late evening, all receiving a hearty welcome. Also coming to the pub, but not quite making it through the doors, was a family of donkeys. You can imagine the interest and amusement their arrival created amongst the tourists. Is this where I say something like, “only in Outback Australia…”
The Silverton Hotel has featured in so many movies it is tricky to know where the pub finishes and the movies start. Throughout its long and colourful life the pub, has been featured in Wake in Fright, A Town Like Alice, Dirty Deeds and of course, Mad Max II, plus many more.
Believe it or not, as I drove away from the pub the next morning the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret was setting up for a photo shoot using the Hotel as a backdrop. No, they did not ask me to help out by modelling a few pieces of strategically-placed lace. Disappointing really….
Silverton falls within the Unincorporated Far West Region of NSW and is managed by a Village Committee. These passionate individuals have worked hard to keep the village interesting and relevant, producing a range of tourism information and coordinating a heritage walk. This 2-hour walk takes in many of the village’s historical highlights and truly gives you the ‘lay of the land’. Make sure you wear a hat, sunscreen and take some water with you.
The remaining buildings in Silverton have stood the test of time and climate. Most of the stone buildings like the Courthouse, Municipal Chambers, and Gaol appear almost grounded in their surroundings – solid and immovable. I can only imagine their glory days and the string of colourful characters that would have passed through their doors.
Some of the buildings are now artists’ homes and galleries, adding a nice creative and cultural aspect to the community. For culture of a completely different sort there is the Mad Max Museum featuring props and memorabilia from the movies shot in the region – or you could get underground and deep down amongst the history of the region by visiting the Day Dream Mine.
One must-see, I am told, is sunset at the Mundi Mundi lookout. I missed it this time, since the crystal clear sky guaranteed an unspectacular evening, but I will keep it in mind for future visits.
I think the bucket list just got that little bit longer again.
Life on the farm was driven by the constant demands of weather, work and weariness, but once a year the family would be loaded into the 1960s sedan and driven full tilt to the Florida Car-O-Tel at Miami Beach on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
The sense of anticipation was such that the whole family was fired by an unusual sense of excitement and energy. Even my normally calm and reserved father would have a spring in his step as he headed towards the shearing shed.
Preparations would start weeks in advance with packing and sorting clothes, but how much do you really need when you wear swimmers and go barefoot for three weeks? My mother had standards and they had to be adhered to.
Food was planned and the old tartan-patterned, metal esky would be dragged out of the laundry cupboard and dusted off. Our fringed towels would take pride of place in the packing pile on the back verandah and the tube of white zinc, thick and smeary, retrieved from the back of the bathroom cupboard.
It was hard to sleep the night before the big trip because it was THE trip of the year and you knew the night would be short anyway. Why bother to sleep?
Around 2 a.m. my father would gather up our groggy bodies and lay us in the back of the car. Me, being the youngest, had a bed made of pillows on either side of the large, immovable hump on the floor of the car. My brother was given the whole back seat. Seat belts? Who needs them?
Off we would shoot into the Dubbo darkness – us kids oblivious to the exhaustion our parents must have been feeling.
At some stage after the sun rose we would stop for mutton and peach chutney sandwiches – white bread of course – and my parents revived themselves with a thermos of tea.
The drive continued, seemingly without end and the passing scenery simply did not rate against the anticipated destination.
We fought. He punched me, I pinched him. “If you keep this up you can get out and walk.” “If you keep this up, we will just turn around and go home.” These threatening statements bought a short reprieve for my parents from the endless backseat antagonism.
We slid across the vinyl bench seats as we whirled around mountain corners. We marvelled at the coastal eucalypts – so tall and straight – and made comments like “Gee Dad, you could build some good cattle yards out of those trees”. Yes, out of the mouths of bush babes.
We built barricades between ourselves to head off further pinching and punching. We had Marella Jube eating contests where we jammed as many hard jubes into our mouths as we
could fit and slowly tried to chew. At least it would have been quiet – temporarily – for Mum and Dad.
At last the Gold Coast loomed. We wound down the windows and heard the bellbirds ring true and clean as we descended the mountains and the competition began as to who would be first to see the sea. Any trick in the book to distract two tired and restless kids locked in the car for the past 12 hours.
I’m unsure who was the most relieved to see the glowing neon of the Florida Car-O-Tel – us kids tasting freedom at last, or our parents, who knew they wouldn’t see us again for three weeks!
Each year we were greeted by the latest version of the resort owner’s Labrador dog. We aged with those dogs and any momentary sadness at an old dog’s passing was soon offset by the excitement of a new, younger model to play with. Similar, the parade of seasonal visitors or almost permanent residents. We met up with Mr and Mrs Janz each year and I doubt whether they actually ever went home to Melbourne. True sun worshippers, they had deep brown, leathery skin – slick with coconut oil – which made it difficult to tell their true age, although I suspect they were younger than they looked.
Three pools to choose from, trampolines to injure yourself on and the beach on the other side of the trees. For the inevitable wet day there was a games room with indoor croquet, ping pong and carpet bowls but usually also with one or two pieces of vital equipment missing. A raggedy pin-board held the rare, but longed-for, letters from your best friends at home and some lean-to bookshelves held the world’s largest collection of dog-eared Readers Digest magazines. Of course, none of these indoor delights rated in comparison to sand and sunshine.
Friday was treat day. A small shop to buy Clinker lollies and mango or rockmelon Weiss bars. A tiny fish and chip shop to lash out on hamburgers (real ones with the lot) or potato scallops that burnt the roof of your mouth.
Collapsed onto the divan bed at the end of each day with remnant white zinc on my nose (if Mum had caught me to put it on in the first place) and my skin still warm from the day’s rays, I drifted off to sleep believing that there was nowhere more heavenly than this.