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 Peter's birthdayon 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

Wombat's poor bumDriving 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 Lake Eildonforest, 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 Steamboat on the Murrayweekend 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 Hanging Rockpleasant, 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

Long Tunnel Extended Gold mineThis 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 launcestonfor 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 together.

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 Gorge at Launcestontidal 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. Australia 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

Although 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!

 

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