EPISODE 3 – PRIDE COMES BEFORE THE FALL
First the Bad news....
Even Oz can’t be expected to be a
cross between Utopia and the Elysian Fields for ever (after all, you have to
die to get to the latter!). So autumn brought three “Incidents” to shake our complacency.
Incident 1:- Holdens One: Kangaroos Nil.
Simon, Christine’s younger son, came
out for a three-week respite from the English Spring (less erstwhile girlfriend
Karen who couldn’t face 24 hours on an aeroplane with Simon’s feet!). He was
taken on the
usual Official Introduction to Australia Trips; one of which was The Trip up The
Great Ocean Road (see Episode
2). Up to this time we had remarked on the number of “Beware
Koala/Kangaroo/Wombat” signs and the total absence of sightings of such fauna,
other than as furry red pancakes at the edge of the road. However when
returning via the Otway
Forest in mid-afternoon a
suicidal ‘roo attempted to barge a 100 km/h Holden Commodore into the ditch
with conspicuous lack of success, thereby ensuring an instant passage to the
marsupial Elysian Bush. Thankfully it was only a smallish grey beast, so no
significant damage was done to the car, but it was a very sad and terminal
introduction to Oz wildlife. Out here the large pieces of metal piping bolted
to the front of cars are called Kangaroo Bars for reasons which were
effectively demonstrated to me. Apparently these guarantee major chassis
distortion when hitting a big red ‘roo, so a slightly crumpled front is often
the preferable alternative.
Incident 2:- Ian Ouch! : Dentist A$600
A simple filling with the local
mouth-quack turned nasty, producing a tooth abscess which was at its most
painful over the weekend. Fortunately Simon had bought me a wombat cuddly-toy
for my birthday, so I had something cuddly to press against the throbbing cheek
(Christine was too busy trying to sleep). Of course it was absolutely nothing
to do with the treatment, sir, it was just a coincidence which could have
happened anytime; please sign here for four long, uncomfortable sessions of
root canal treatment at specially discounted rates!
Incident 3:- Holden A$2000:
Nissan Pintara A$3000
Driving home one dark Friday night through one
of the complex multi-lane intersections which are a Melbourne speciality,
poor Wombat (the car) was smitten in the rear by a suicidal youngster who “just
tried to catch the lights, mate, and didn’t see you”. Only tin, plastic, pride
and the insurers pockets were hurt, Wombat has been to the tin-bashers and now
has a mended bum, so it could have been much worse. But it was upsetting to
spoil 26 years of virtually accident-free motoring. “Bingles” (as the local
vernacular calls an inadvertent vehicular conjunctions) are an inevitable
result of the high urban traffic flow rates; however the usually relatively low
speeds mean that fatalities are more rare than in UK “80mph car park”
conditions which prevail on the M25.
And now the Good.....
If bad things come in threes, that
was enough to be going on with. Just to make sure my office colleague came back
from the UK
with a near-terminal cold which I reluctantly took over and fought for a few
coughing and sneezing days. However a course of orally administered Tooheys Red
Bitter has produced a marked improvement and prognosis is now good. Good news
had also arrived with the news that the Gillis UK pied à terre had finally been
let, soon followed by the bad news that the new tenant’s cheques had a high
coefficient of restitution (i.e. they bounce)! After several months in
residence and threatened by notices to quit a small sum was extracted, which went
first to pay the agent, leaving a pitiful amount as poor compensation for the
on-going mortgage payments.
Bored Housewife achieves Total Fulfillment
Our resident Knitter of Australia
now scarcely has time to pick up her needles. Her social calendar is crammed
with hedonistic pursuits, ranging from Yoga, through Aqua Aerobics to Roller
Skating and including the continuing quest for the elusive Victorian Driving
Licence. In surrogate “meals on wheels” mode she helps in the school kitchens
and gives her services to the needs of an adult literacy programme which
enables (mainly immigrant) illiterates to play a fuller part in Australian life
and culture (patron Sir Les Patterson). Currently she is teaching “English” to
an unemployed El Salvadorian marine biologist, although I would have thought
that the opportunities in Australian marine biology for Latin Americans with
Sutton-Sloane accents were distinctly limited!
In typical contrast my philanthropy is restricted to helping mend the
school lawnmower fleet (and other exercises in Virtual Reality).
Reluctant Abstainer Visits Pub
On my Birthday I thought it was high
time I went into a boozer; so I snook out to a temple of Bacchus
at the end of Winterton Road,
known by the inspired title of “The Monash Hotel Motel”. My indulgence only
lasted as long as 250ml of Foster’s Light and a plate of cold, greasy chips -
it was dreadful! The atmosphere reminded me of one of those between-the-wars Midland pubs which are always situated at roundabouts and
which are decorated in the Victorian Public Loo style. But instead of the tiles
on the wall being glossy brown, they were black, thereby plunging to a new
nadir in depressive effect. So as a compensation I treated myself to a fancy
petrol Whipper Snipper (=Strine for “strimmer”) to replace the Black &
Decker equivalent I had foolishly left in Wickham Bishops. On the subject of
birthdays the family had a rare evening out at a colleague’s celebration at
“The Last Ozzie Fish Caff” in urban Melbourne
which was all 60’s jive and juke boxes. Peter had a lovely time which was only
marred by embarrassment at his parents’ making fools of themselves!
Back to “The Weather”....
As hopefully predicted in the last
episode, late summer and autumn has been much preferable to summer. A stable
and more predictable weather pattern set in, with large anticyclones forming in
the Great Australian Bight (no, not a meat pie!) which trundle slowly across
the south of Oz, giving initially fresh, bright sunny weather, then, when to
the east of Tasmania, they start pulling down the hot, dry northerly winds from
the outback. Then, when the next anticyclone drives cool air under the hot,
there is a short, squally and sometimes thundery and wet period. Note that
anticyclones rotate anticlockwise down here (I really must try letting the
water out of the aircraft basin to see whether the rotation reverses when
crossing the equator, or if it’s all old wives’ tales and “chaos” theory!). As
I write June and the depths of winter are looming, the nights are drawing in,
I’ve given up shorts at weekends and there are stories of heat waves in
Blighty. Still the garden centres are full of plants for the winter, the roses,
geraniums, fuchsias and impatiens (busy lizzies) are still blooming and we’re
looking forward to snow falling on the alpine regions so we can get some skiing
in. Although daytime temperatures are still in the mid-sixties it can
occasionally get quite chilly at night, in which case a nice open fire with
some big red gum logs in the grate is a welcome sight. And the KoA has made me
a nice new sweater to pose in on the piste!
More on Victoria....
An initial impression which
continues to be reinforced is that of the variety of types of countryside
within a day’s return drive from Melbourne.
Alpine, rain forest, sclerophyll forest, arable, pasture, prairie, mallee scrub
and desert all make an appearance. Early in the year we went down the edge of Western Port
bay, past Philip Island to a little village called
Kilcunda which was holding its annual lobster festival. This had all the charm
of village fêtes worldwide; the return was via a cut across country to the South Gippsland Highway,
passing through scenery which with its hills, farms and cows was straight out
of the valleys of Switzerland.
The next weekend we went walking in the hills we admire from our back door, the
Dandenongs. These have a
wealth of eucalyptus rain forest with some impressive Tasmanian Blue Gums and a
delightful arboretum. Our walk went via the Olinda Falls,
a picturesque cascade under a canopy of trees. Then in early February we went
north to the Fraser
National Park, an
undulating, arid area pockmarked with gold prospectors’ diggings, surrounding
the blue waters of the Eildon Reservoir. A nature trail lumpy with ant nests
led through forest crisscrossed with ‘roo tracks. The route there was also
interesting, passing through some impressive scenery including the “Cathedral”
range of mountains.
More on Simon’s Trip...
He arrived grumpy, dishevelled and
jet-lagged after a long flight via Bangkok
with ample adolescent frame crammed into airline seat. He also arrived early,
the stop at Sydney
having been aborted due to thunderstorms, so had to wait for us to arrive.
Peter Gillis’s birthday was that weekend, who was overjoyed to have a big
brother along for the celebrations, even if marred by a kangaroo kill. After a
week to get over the jet lag we spent a weekend
at Echuca in north Victoria. This is
a fascinating place, having once been a thriving port at the nearest approach
of the mighty Murray River to Melbourne.
The Murray was once the only way of moving large
loads across Australia, and
since the 2,500 km Murray or its tributaries
(e.g. the Darling) effectively connected Brisbane, Sydney,
Melbourne and Adelaide, the port at Echuca was of major
importance in the development of Oz. Although modern irrigation methods have
rejuvenated the agriculture of the area, it now has the faded appeal of a
jilted lover or a seaside town out of season; however there is an attempt to
promote the tourist industry and a number of paddle boats ply for hire in an
attempt to inject revenue into the local economy. On the way back to Melbourne we stopped at Bendigo, another town which has some
very elegant buildings from its heyday as the centre of the local gold mining
operation. The opportunity was taken to descend to the first level of the Central
Deborah gold mine, where some recent mining using more modern geological survey
techniques had managed to find a gold-rich quartz reef at the saddle point between
syncline and anticline. The operation was partly funded by gawping tourists and
a realistic demo of old and new drilling methods was given, which illustrated
the dirt and squalor of the mining process, inviting comparison with the
sophistication of those able to wear the product.
For Simon’s last weekend we went to
fester on Sorrento
beach, putting the final touches to the brown bits he had acquired over his
English pallor. Everyone was sorry to load him reluctantly on to the UK-bound
Boeing 747-400, particularly those who had to resume picking up Peter Gillis
from school (and he who was picked up from school!).
Picnic at Hanging Rock (link)
Well, you have to do all the tourist
things, don’t you! (Even he who lived a large part of his life in Bill
Waggledagger country and never once went to see Ann Hathaway’s Cottage!). The
eponymous hanging rock turned out to be surprisingly pleasant, some interesting scrambles
up rock slopes and some strange vertical stones in which you could lose the
Luton Girls Choir let alone a few Victorian schoolgirls. The said film
production marked the turning point of the Australian film industry (some, such
as Simon, would have that it got progressively worse afterwards). We saw our first
wild, tree-bound koalas and, quite rare one gathers, a wild echidna (the other
egg-laying mammal). What made them wild is unknown. Probably red-faced poms
trampling about on their patch. On the way back we climbed Mount Macedon
and hurled insults at the Thomson-CSF SSR at the top (serves it right for
trying to interrogate us (radar joke)).
Return Trip to Valhalla
Valhalla was of a decidedly earthly variety, being an old
gold mining village in a cleft of the hills above the Latrobe
Valley to the east of Melbourne. A pleasant Sunday drive with
beautiful scenery and a ghost town from the days when several tons of gold were
extracted, whose houses are rapidly being exorcised by bijou
souvenir-of-Valhalla shopkeepers. It had a quaint Victorian era bandstand and a
goldmine with the hardly poetic name of “Long Tunnel Extended”.
Hobart Simpson, or Cross-legged in Tasmania
Good Friday coincided with the
Official Birthday of ‘er indoors; it was celebrated by flying to Tasmania for the weekend. We hired a little Nissan Pulsar and stayed at Launceston
(pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, not like the Cornish one),
which was shut for Easter, then drove to Hobart, which was also shut, in
particular all the public loos and the cafés which might have had loos were
shut. In fact the whole of “Tassy” was shut! After ethnic Melbourne which has loads of shops open for
24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it was a major culture shock. More by luck
than judgement we managed to find a restaurant which was open for the Official
Great Day Birthday Celebrations; it served a delicious hot/cold seafood buffet.
For the other days a pasta house and a Mexican restaurant kept body and soul
Urban Tassy, particularly
Launceston, reminded me of my home town of Kidderminster in the 50’s - lots of
small red-brick buildings, small scale industry, virtually nowhere to go or eat
but a few evil-looking boozers, but set in some very pleasant, undulating
inland English countryside. It had an attractive river port and a local gorge
spanned by an interesting cable railway.
Hobart was similar, but bigger, but with a
very impressive setting; a tidal mark of suburbs on the banks of a
picturesque estuary with a mountainous backdrop. Rural Tasmania, in fact, was delightful: very
varied and largely empty; lots of deciduous trees provided welcome autumn
colours after the perpetual green of the eucalypts of mainland Oz. The east
coast had lots of pleasant, sandy resorts, whereas the western half was empty
of people and full of lakes, mountains and cliffs. The weather was a couple of
degrees cooler than Melbourne but still fine, “shorts” weather until Easter
Monday when it rained quite heavily in the morning before we caught the
afternoon flight back home.
What’s on in Melbourne?
Quite a lot, and quite a few people
are doing it; we are fortunately positioned a short walk from the end of a
suburban railway line so CBAG can pop in for shoppies, etc. As a family we’ve
taken the short and painless drive up to town on several weekends, visiting
such places as the Royal Botanical Gardens (fascinating plants and attractive
scenery being enjoyed by happy people), the Swanston Street pedestrian walk and
the Victorian museum (Peter howled at being dragged away when it closed). The
new “Scienceworks” museum
is quaintly situated at the old steam-powered Victorian sewage pumping station
(no pong), nestling beneath the soaring arch of the bridge that carries the
Westgate freeway across the Yarra River (here there were lots of interesting
and interactive exhibits, so that both Peter and daddy howled when it
was time to leave!). The evenings are restricted by the absence of Peter
sitters, but we occasionally walk to the local Italian or Malaysian restaurant
for a nasi-goreng bolognaise, able to have a relaxing glass or four of wine and
be untroubled on our return by thoughts of lurking police booze-buses.
Having an API time
The Australian Post-Tel Institute is
a sort of Marconi Club for Telecom; it enables discounts on a number of useful
products and services and has a few sub-clubs. We joined the Bush-Walking club
and went on a scenic walk in the Mornington Peninsular which skirted Bushranger Bay and ended up on the beach where
Peter Gillis had a lovely time filling his new wellies with seawater. He now
keeps up well with the adult walkers, except that he doesn’t end up
hobbling about with creaking, stiff legs!
Prospecting for the Piste
With the official arrival of winter
(in Oz they don’t mess around with astronomical trivia like equinoxes and
solstices, winter starts on the first of June!) we went out into the mountains.
is very stable geologically and has been for some 3,000,000,000 years, none of
the recent upheavals which formed the European Alps. So all the mountains are
modest in size (nothing over 7,500 ft.) and as rounded and worn as a wombat’s
teeth. Nevertheless the scenery is impressive to those with not much experience
of anything higher than Snowdon and anything over 3,500 ft. or so in Victoria is likely to
catch some snow in winter. So we thought we would investigate the nearest
nursery slopes to Melbourne, at Mount Donna
Buang and at Lake
Mountain. The former had
impressive views but only a cursory toboggan run with no ski lift. It probably
wasn’t high enough at about 3,500 ft. to justify the investment. The latter was
higher at about 5,500 ft. and had some facilities; the locals were busy
building a toll-booth to catch the start of the season on the Queen’s Birthday
weekend, which, to Prime Minister Keating’s chagrin, is a bank holiday. But no
ski lift, the runs were restricted to langlauf trails. It looks as though the
longer drive to Mount
Buller or Falls Creek
will be needed to do any downhill runs.
Knitter of Australia
on Missionary Expedition
the old country hasn’t totally gone to the dogs, after all the correct
political party was re-elected, the KoA has decided to carry out her annual
audit and inspection of Pomland while the weather is apparently half decent,
leaving those who cannot afford the leave lying shivering under their quilts.
So I’d better finish this quickly so I can save on the postage! G’day!
Go To Next Page