EPISODE 5 – SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS

 

Bereavement

With Christmas 93 in sight Christine’s mother passed away in a sad but timely manner; she had become progressively more and more confused. With not inconsiderable heart searching Christine decided that her proper place was with those who needed her and that the long journey home to the funeral would serve little practical purpose other than the calming of the conscience.

 

A Decade of Bliss

On honeymoon in November 1983 the serendipity that has characterised our marriage caused us to happen on a restaurant in Montmartre, Paris called Le Saintongeais. It was posh, with marvellous food and wine, we were scruffy and very much in love, but we were served with the affection the French reserve for lovers. I promised Daintree National Parkmy new bride that we would return in ten years for another magic meal. But in Australia with the warmth of Summer approaching, it seemed wrong to cross the globe to the cold of late autumn. Clearly some negotiation was required. A compromise was reached and we decided that Cairns and the Tropical North could provide a suitable alternative and with the aid of some Qantas Frequent Flier points managed to fund the airfare. We had a marvellous time; although Cairns itself has a muddy beach reminiscent of Weston-Super-Mare it is surrounded by interesting distractions; the Great Barrier Reef and its coral islets, nearby Port Douglas and the Daintree River, the Kuranda railway and the Atherton Tablelands, all served up with friendly no-nonsense Aussie service at low Aussie prices. We had five days packed with contrasting trips; from estuarine crocodiles to quaint old railway stations. Although Treasure Island in Fiji remains my favourite snorkelling spot, the Great Barrier Reef was as good if not better than anything in Tahiti. One leisurely day was spent on a large sailing catamaran with gold plated taps in the loo and a superb buffet lunch. The last day proved that ill-fitting trunks should not be worn during prolonged snorkelling sessions when the bum is optimally orientated towards the sky; the third degree burns on the inadvertently exposed pink bits were a lasting reminder of the power of the tropical sun!

 

The Third Christmas -1993

By now we were getting used to having a combination of hot weather and the plastic Christmas tree, so the weather decided to shake our complacency. We set off from Melbourne bent on a circular trip encompassing Adelaide, slightly concerned that Adelaide might prove too hot. Rig en routeLittle did we know! The first stop was promising, a charming Victorian village called Wedderburn with a working bushland goldmine run by an old digger and his wife. It was hot and we were concerned that the next stop at Mildura would be even hotter.

So it was, but that night the good weather broke and the rain bucketed down. Mildura is a town on the River Murray, artificially created to harvest the crops produced by an immense irrigation project using the river water. It is well known for being hot and sunny, even in Winter. The town was laid out by the American engineer who masterminded the project, and it showed: the town was flat and boring without a recognisable focus, just like Los Angeles. The eponymous Chaffey house which the engineer had built for himself was a well-preserved monument to the days of servants and gracious living, but on the whole we were glad to head off along the Murray towards Adelaide.

We passed through more boring river towns such as Renmark. On entry into South Australia we were stopped by the Fruit Fly Prevention Gestapo, where Christine's bag of bananas was cruelly wrested from her grasp and I had to burrow into a closed trailer to retrieve a solitary tomato foolishly left in the fridge and quaveringly declared by a wife fearing incarceration or worse for vegetable smuggling.

The Clare Valley was next; pretty, rolling countryside - England with vineyards (whoops, they’re “wineries” out here). Christmas morning was spent getting totally lost in un-signposted countryside with a map more suited to transcontinental touring than local forays. Concerned about the increasing depletion of the golden motion lotion and the lack of anything to drink, I stopped a local digger in his ageing Volvo who directed us back to the blacktop and civilisation. Christmas afternoon was spent slaking the thirst with the local produce!

Boxing day was the coolest on record in the area, falling to a chilly 17°C.

And so to Adelaide, passing first through the Barossa valley (nice wine, shame about the flat, boring topography - although it was interesting to cross the Jacob’s Creek!). Hahndorf shopOur camp was in a pleasant gully, 15 minutes from the centre of Adelaide but without a house in sight. We liked Adelaide; it was small enough to “do” in a morning, the weather cheered up for us and we spent the afternoon on the excellent beach at Glenelg. A pleasant trip took in the views of Adelaide from the Mt. Lofty range and carried on to Hahndorf, a village founded by a German religious sect, now with carefully restored cottages and a main street lined with magnificent old elms and chestnuts. The shops were infested with bratwurst and apfelstrudel and pubs full of brimming steins.

Meningie in the Coorong was our next port of call; the Coorong is a lonely, wild area, all sand dunes, salt flats and seabirds. This was also near where the “mighty Murray” sidles quietly and undramatically out to sea. The camp site was clean and cared-for and the sun shone long enough to justify the erection of the U-V Protecting “Enviroshade”.

Blue Lake Mount GambierThe last camp in South Australia before returning to Victoria was at Mount Gambier, a town iced on the side of a pair of old volcanic craters, one of which contains a lake which mysteriously turns blue every Spring. “Iced” is an appropriate term, we finally capitulated to the weather and after scouring the town for a shop with heaters in stock in mid-summer, bought a little fan-heater to warm the toes in the evening. This proved invaluable on our final stop in Ballarat, where we wanted to see the evening Son et Lumière thingy at Sovereign Hill but couldn’t get in.

So, we had a pleasant break from the daily grind and extended our acquaintance with Oz a little more in a westerly direction, but what a pity the weather wasn’t better!

 

Crook Missus

Once again we were reminded of how important is good health; poor Christine had become pale, wan and easily tired - it turned out to be chronic anaemia; the symptoms were treated with a number of iron injections, the cause was treated by a quick D&C and hysteroscopy. The latter indicated a need for further treatment, which was postponed until after ....

 

Absent Friends Arrive after Trans-World Trek

Nick and Lesley Pinnock came over for three weeks, thereby becoming the first Poms to pay their own fare since the £10 assisted passage finished. They landed at Sydney and drove down the coast to Melbourne, eschewing the luxury Gillicabs meet’n’greet’n’guide service. Lesley Pinnock in Jaws of DeathAfter staying for a few days with us (which included my birthday), we took them over to the Grampians where we stayed in our camper and they had an on-site “unit”. They returned via the (bloody) Great Ocean Road so we didn’t have to traverse it yet again! We had missed them and they had missed us; I do miss not having any friends out here but what can I expect when I’m such a miserable boring old sod?

My birthday was pleasant; we went to “PJs”, the little Malaysian restaurant in Glen Waverley, which plays the incongruous but pleasant modern jazz musak that I like; Christine had organised Jim & Ulla Waddell in addition to the Pinnocks, so it made a little party for my 55th. Which sounds much older than I feel - I kept thinking that my mother died at 55 and how she must have felt having her life abbreviated so peremptorily.

Nick & Lesley left sharing some of my opinions of Oz - the space, the friendliness of the natives - and there were a number of moist eyes and lumps in throats when they left to get in their 747/400 aluminium tube. The weather during their stay was typically Quixotic; while here there was a definite touch of autumn in the air, but a promising touch of warm sun on the day of their departure blossomed into almost a fortnight of continuously hot Indian Summer brought about by the north wind.

 

Stepson finds Other Half

The news of the century arrived; John announced that he had found himself a soul mate and that they are to wed this October. Plans were thus laid for a rapid visit; seeing the boy properly married off and stopping off in Singapoops on the way back to add some pleasure to the 48 hours in an aluminium tube.

 

Endometrial Ablation

.... was the name of Christine’s second decoke Op; she bounced quickly back from it in what has become a typical fashion and profited from a continuing course of iron injections, the only lingering problems being a bruised botty and a new fascination with magnets and the Steelworkers Gazette

 

Water Creswick

For Easter Jamie the Jayco headed for Creswick, a forgotten gold town which enjoyed a boom period until its alluvial gold ran out. A population of over 60,000 had dwindled to just over 2,000. It had the faded appeal of a seaside town out of season and was handy for the nearby towns of Ballarat, Daylesford and Hepburn Springs.

 

Gates glum, Jobs jubilant!

The more computer literate of readers may have noticed subtle clues to the change of platform on which this deathless prose has been factored. Yes, you were right, this was produced on my very own computer! Pink Panther at work at the MacintoshWith the prime excuse being the indoctrination of Peter in the true course of computing as decreed in the Gospel according to Steve Jobs, I was tempted by an Apple Macintosh and StyleWriter, complete with yer actual built-in CD-ROM. A WordPerfect/Lotus/Filemaker Pro software bundle was included in a trivial “run-out” price matching that of a Sinclair ZX81, due to discounting for the introduction of the LC575 68040-based model and the Power-PC family. So I have definitely eschewed the exciting prospect of the C:\ winking at me, or else clogging up my RAM with megabytes of Windows which only manage to produce a poor copy of the GUI that Apple had way back in the days of the Lisa. With my 500Mb of Grolier’s MultiMedia Encyclopaedia, whoops Encyclopedia (it’s American!) I can watch Quicktime movie clips of Moon landings and other glorious American achievements and look up more mundane things such as the difference between all spice, five spice and mixed spice (Spice girls weren’t invented then! – Ed).

Stevie NicksThe commonality with the office machines means that typing out excuses for missed milestones can now be done in the comfort of my lounge. I can also listen to Stevie Nicks on an audio CD with cans connected to the stereo output, thereby drowning out the sound of imported Pommy programmes such as Farty Towels (Flowery Tarts?) being watched by She Who Must Be Obeyed while I’m writing fatuous chronicles of Oz.

I’m gratified that Peter has become instantly computer-literate, while CBAG is still scared of mice and hasn’t yet dared to approach it. A trip to the software shop to get a proper, educational program (Maths Blaster Plus) also produced (in compensation) a fascinating multi-dimensional game called “Myst”. This kept daddy quiet for weeks!

 

 

 

 

What’s Brown and comes Steaming out of Cowes?

No, not the Isle of Wight Ferry, but Jamie the Jayco after a weekend on Phillip Island at a small, friendly campsite on the beach at Cowes. One of the few sites we’ve visited more than once, this one is separated from any houses and a good sandy beach by a strip of luxuriant coastal banksia. Peter likes playing in the pleasantly hot swimming pool and the place has a relaxed and benign rural atmosphere while still within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

 

She loves you, Yea, Yea, Yea.

A mid-May camping weekend with the Jayco Owners’ Club was held at Yea which is a small town about 1.5 hours north of Melbourne. We had an “interesting” dinner on Saturday night; that night the temperature plunged to single figures and we were very glad of the little fan heater we had bought in desperation on our Christmas holiday. Resolved that the camper won’t come out again until it warms up next spring!

 

Caught in the Internet

I treated the new computer to a V.32 bis modem, enabling me to “surf the global information superhighway” (blurt!) at 14.4 Kbps. More importantly, as well as being to communicate with other four-eyed antisocial computer nerds, I can send faxes directly from the computer; this enables me to discuss the latest depradations caused by the incumbent tenant of Holt Drive without having to wait for the next morning at work.

 

Bali Hi!

The mid-winter escape this year was to Bali; a very pleasant break, marred only by a delayed start due to one of the service vehicles attempting to modify the shape of our scheduled aircraft’s engine cowling while it was parked on the apron.Sheraton Nusa Dua A bit of impromptu panel beating failed to work and we were eventually shipped to Sydney to pick up another aircraft, arriving in Bali at 4am, which made a mess of my planned pleasant afternoon flight! We stayed at two diametrically opposite hotels, the Sheraton at Nusa Dua (on the beach) and the Puri Indah at Ubud (up-country). The former was luxurious, safe, secure and plastic; the latter was quaint and colonial in an area full of character with an olfactory spectrum ranging from frangipane to open drains. Needless to say I liked Ubud the most; I came back congratulating myself on escaping the notorious “Bali Belly”, then spent Ubudthree days within sprinting distance of the nearest bog. But I swear it was the warmed-up Qantas pork!

On our return Melbourne managed to contrast well with tropical Bali by dropping to freezing point for a couple of mornings, so I had the old UK chore of scraping the windscreen before going to work! However such mornings also mean clear skies, sunshine and mid-sixties at lunchtime, so our return was not unpleasant. Although still mid-winter all the daffodils were out, the wattles a riot of yellow and the roses spreading to greet the Spring. One weekend made 22°C as a promise of the summer to come.

 

 

 

Sueboots becomes a Gillis again

A letter from “Susanne Gillis” in Colchester awaited our return, revealing that she was no longer in Belgium and no longer a Van Camp, as hubby had taken up with someone else. She had delayed writing and the letter bore some signs of recovery and anticipation of “new beginnings”, clearly she would be better able to cope in her native land. But on our Saturday shopping day I thought how happy I felt to be with my Christine and how sad I felt that she no longer had someone. It reminded me of the time that I wrote to my father from South Africa describing the start of the break-up of my first marriage; it also reminded me of how helpless he must have felt, as did I also.

 

The Maldon Millennium

The thousandth anniversary of the Battle of Maldon didn’t go unnoticed in Maldon, Victoria - the nice lady at the Visitor Centre proudly showed us the crystal bowl they had received from Maldon, England. This time we stayed for a weekend as house guests in the charming, Victorian Calder House, unspoiled to the point of inconvenience, with gas brackets, high ceilings and roaring log fires. The latter were welcome, our arrival coincided with that of a cold front from the Antarctic and it was snowing at the top of one of the local lookouts. We wandered round and “did” those things we hadn’t seen before, including one of the local gold mines, glittering with gold-bearing quartz, kept open only for the tourists but with an eye on the gold price, just in case it might once more become economic to extract the few flakes of gold in every ton of mother lode.

 

Up the (Falls) Creek again

Our annual trip to the snow started with a little unpleasant rain, but the weather soon cleared to give us five lovely days of warm spring sunshine with the main climatic hazard being sunburn. Christine at Falls CreekThis time there was ample snow, including enough to ski back to the village at day’s end. We stayed in the Pretty Valley Hotel, our room overlooked a pretty valley where the snow-capped Mount Bogong and the High Plains wore pink blusher at sunrise and sunset. The three square meals a day were gratefully consumed, we ate like pigs and lost weight. A new experience was the heated open-air swimming pool and jacuzzis, lovely at the end of the day when every muscle ached - as long as all the bare bits were in the water and not in the freezing air! Like all well bred English ladies Christine fell in love with her ski instructor as usual, but fortunately I managed to drag her back to Schloss Waverley while it was still only a platonic schoolgirl crush!

 

Three Years Without Remission

The third anniversary of our arrival in Oz passed unnoticed while we were in the Alps; is it still good for us? Well, I’ve just re-read the conclusions from the first year and have no reason to change the dominant impression of how friendly the people are ...and yet we have few Ozzie friends, but perhaps that’s our fault? And the space, oh the space - Australia is so big - in one country you could fit the whole of Europe - and if you don’t like the weather elsewhere it varies from cool temperate to tropical - take your pick - and everywhere you’ll find the same Aussie openness!

 

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