Category Archives: History

September 11, part 2

My destination in Warnambool was the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, a museum and recreated shipping village of the late 1800s, built on the site of gun emplacements that were originally set up to protect the coast and its fleet from Russian pirates.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village


If you saw the movie “Quigley Down Under” (a movie with a fun soundtrack but more flaws of geography and reality than I could comfortably withstand, despite my loving Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman), you will have seen this location, as it was used for the street scene when Quigley first arrives in Australia and disembarks his ship (and immediately gets into a fist fight). I love “living history” in any form, and while the village was relatively quiet, as it is currently off season, it as still a delight. I wandered through all the buildings, learning all I could of sailing fleets, shipping-related skills, the businesses that surrounded and supported shipping, and this area’s history.
Flagstaff's Shipping Village

Flagstaff’s Shipping Village


Next, I walked to the museum, which is home to the state’s largest accessible collection of shipwreck artifacts. Both fascinating and heart rending, items that had been salvaged from sunken ships or washed ashore along the “Shipwreck Coast” are reminders of the people and dreams that were lost, along with the ships. Along this 80-mile( 130-kilometer) stretch, more than 80 ships have gone down. A lot of the ships were cargo vessels, so there was not always a stunning loss of life, with the worst and most famous being the sinking of the S.S. Admella in 1959, when 89 people died. But still, each wreck represented loss on many levels.

The items that filled the museum were remarkable. One of my absolute favorites was the Loch Ard peacock. It is a gorgeous, life-sized, Minton porcelain peacock that was part of the cargo of a clipper ship called the Loch Ard. Despite a horrendous storm that battered and sank the ship, the peacock was so well packed that it survived the wreck completely intact. (Sadly, most of the crew and passengers, 52 of them, were not so lucky. One of the two survivors, Eva Carmichael, later related that, when the captain saw her on deck, just before she was swept away by a wave, he said to her, “If you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor.”)

There were thousands of artifacts, including tools, belt buckles, ships’ tackle, crockery (some broken, some in remarkably good condition), clothing, cutlery, bottles, furniture, shoes, silver goblets, cooking utensils, and vastly more. A really handsome, square-cut diamond ring caught my eye, beautiful despite being heavily encrusted. But everything was intriguing or evocative, and memorable for the tales it told of life in the days of wooden ships.

I still had a lot to see along the coast, so I finally tore myself away from the museum and, with a quick stop in the gift shop to buy a booklet about the place, I continued on, heading now for the Great Ocean Road.

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Wednesday, September 11

The wind was wild when I arose, but there was sun peeking through in places, sneaking a few beams of light in between bursts of rain. Not ideal, but it seemed more promising than yesterday’s steady rain.

After the breakfast included in my room charge, I started my day with a driving tour around Port Fairy. Charming little town, where the wide streets are lined with buildings from the 1800s–50 of them registered with the National Trust. Fishing is the main business in town, though proximity to the Great Ocean Road makes it popular for tourists, as well. Even in less than ideal weather, I enjoyed it, snatching photos between gusts of wind and bursts of rain. Then it was time to head back to Highway 1.

Port Fairy

Port Fairy


I turned off the highway at Tower Hill, a state park that is, contrary to images the name might suggest, a giant crater from a volcano (now inactive) that erupted an estimated 30,000 years ago. Lakes and islands fill the broad crater, which is known for its wildlife. As was the case yesterday, in the Grampians, due to the blustery weather, I was alone, as I headed along the narrow road that winds among the trees in the massive caldera.
Inside crater, Tower Hill

Inside crater, Tower Hill


It was raining pretty steadily by this time, so I couldn’t really get out and wander, which is a shame, as it is a beautiful area. I did get a few photos, but mostly I just enjoyed the greenery and the remarkable amount of birdlife. As I drove down into the crater, through the forests, and among the waterways, I enjoyed seeing swallows, Cape Barren Geese, black swans, and other birds.

At one point, I found the road blocked by a tree that had been downed by the wild wind. This might not seem like a major problem, but the single-lane, one-way road is very narrow and the trees are close on either side. I had to drive in reverse for about a quarter mile–which made my being alone on the road very welcome. Can’t imagine having to back up a whole line of cars. Fortunately, after that quarter mile, there was a parking area that offered not only a bit more space to maneuver, but also an alternative exit, so I could get around the tree, and didn’t have to back up the several miles to the entrance. That would have been distressing.

Climbing out of the crater once again, I circled its rim, passing through Koroit, a small, old town considered to be one of the country’s best examples of an early Irish settlement. Then it was back on Highway 1 again, headed for Warnambool.

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Sunday, September 8

Up early, breakfasted, and on the road. We traded the seashore for broad wheat fields and sheep properties dotted with charming, small, rural towns of vintages similar to those we’d already seen. We drove through Crystal Brook and then Gulnare. The terrain and the crops changed as we got to Clare. Settled in the 1840s and named for County Clare in Ireland, the Clare Valley is one of South Australia’s excellent wine regions. Sheep and wheat gave way to vineyards. As the term “valley” suggests, there are hills surrounding Clare, the old town at the center of Clare Valley. This town is larger than the rural towns through which we’d passed, but it was just as charming. Richard headed for a hilltop that would give us a good view of the town before we headed in and through.

Clare

Clare

Nikki and Richard share a love of fine wine, so a stop at the Wolf Blass Eaglehawk winery was deemed a necessity. The winery was handsome and the surrounding vineyards were lush and well trimmed. It’s spring, so no grapes are in evidence, but the vines were handsome in their neat rows.

Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Vineyard

Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Vineyard

Continuing down the Clare Valley, still surrounded by thriving vineyards, we came next to Watervale and then to Auburn, on the southern edge of the valley.

Continuing southward, we came to the town of Tarlee, which blends old and new, with historic buildings and services to accommodate surrounding farms. Stone quarries here supplied the stone for many of Adelaide’s most notable buildings, and that same stone was much in evidence even in the more modest buildings of Tarlee. Tarlee is a crossroads, and it was the road that drew us onward. Richard and Nikki have to work tomorrow, so we needed to get home at a reasonable time.

But not without eating. We picked up food in Tralee, and then we stopped a bit farther down the road for a picnic lunch. Richard chose a handsome spot on the banks of the River Light. This river was named for Colonel William Light, who designed the city of Adelaide and named the Barossa Valley. The grassy spot was shaded by huge gum trees, and we could hear no sounds other than the river and the many birds as we dined.

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September 7, part 4

If you look at a map of South Australia, you’ll notice that the sea, in the form of Spencer Gulf, cuts inland a fair distance, and as a result, the Flinders Ranges actually touch seawater at this point. (Which is why the ranges got named for a navigator.) Hence, while the mountains were still visible, we headed toward salt water.

While still in mountainous terrain, we drove through Port Germein Gorge, along a narrow, winding road that cuts through the southern Flinders Ranges. Steep, stony walls, magnificent gum trees, wildflowers and wildlife made the drive a delight. (Be advised that, since our visit, fire and flood have seriously damaged parts of this road, so it may not be open if you visit now, and some of the magnificent gums trees have been lost–though its importance to local communities has triggered efforts to reconstruct the damaged stretches.)

We stopped in Port Germein, a small town (population around 200) that was originally settled as a shipping port. With easy access to gentle beaches (good for both swimming and exploring tidal pools) as well as the mountains, it’s easy to see why this is a popular eco-resort area. We stopped to admire the wooden jetty, built in 1881 and still the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, at just over a mile in length. Originally constructed for shipping wheat, the jetty is now the place where locals go for a bit of quiet fishing.

Following the coast, we came next to Port Pirie. Facing the waters of Spencer Gulf, Port Pirie is still within the boundary of the Flinders Ranges. The town’s history is tied to the railroad, and Port Pirie was once one of Australia’s busiest rail centers. Reflecting this past, the city’s National Trust Museum is housed in a former railway station.

Port Pirie Museum

Port Pirie Museum

Final stop of the day was in Port Broughton, where we pulled up at the Port Broughton Hotel. Surrounded with Norfolk pines and with a view over the sea, the location of the hotel was splendid. The hotel was another wonderful, old, outback-town hotel, with a broad veranda, second-floor balconies, and an exterior lavishly decorated with iron lace. Inside the hotel, I delighted in the high, elaborately decorated ceilings, abundant leaded glass, and many antiques, even in the bedrooms. Delightful.

Port Broughton Hotel

Port Broughton Hotel

After briefly pointing out highlights of our surroundings, Richard got us all settled in. I really like Nikki’s husband, Richard. He’s funny, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and very dedicatedly Australian. He has been a charming bush guide, and I imagine that he is the kind of man who’d make a really good, true friend. And Nikki is as open, honest, intelligent, and delightful as I had remembered. I am truly having a wonderful time with the two of them.

The three of us enjoyed a lovely dinner–fresh fish, as we were so close to the water. We talked over an after-dinner cider, but then it was time for bed. It has been a very long day, and we have another long day tomorrow.

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September 7, part 3

We headed back southward, but after Hawker, Richard turned down a different road than the one we’d arrived on, taking us before long to the Kanyaka Station ruins. These ruins are the remains of a huge property that was first claimed in 1851 and settled in 1852. Only six months after establishing the station, the first owner/settler, Hugh Proby, drowned in a flash flood during a thunderstorm–a fact that made me realize how fortunate we were that Richard knew to get us clear of the potential flash flood while we were in the ranges. With new owners, the station grew to be one of the largest in the state (365 square miles, or 240,000 acres, at its largest, by 1856) that was once home to as many as 70 workers and their families.

But then the drought hit–a three-year drought that killed 20,000 sheep on the station. Surprisingly, the owners hung on for another 20 years, and even recovered, when the drought ended. However, by 1888, the station was abandoned.
The station had grown to be almost an entire village, since it had to be self-sufficient, this far from a city of any size. The main house, workers cottages, shearing shed, and out buildings were all made of local stone, and as a result, many of those buildings have survived, at least partially.

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Ruins-2-lighter

After a good wander around the ruins, we were off again. Next stop was Quorn. This is another of the historic railway towns that dot this region, with its importance established in the early 1900s as the junction for both the east to west and north to south railways. During World War II, thousands of troops passed through the town, most of them fed by the local Country Women’s Association. In addition to being historic, Quorn is charming, and it has been a popular place for making movies. Films shot here include “The Sundowners,” “Gallipoli,” “The Shiralee,” “Sunday Too Far Away,” and “Robbery Under Arms.” (Of these, “Robbery Under Arms” is the only one I haven’t seen–but it was fun recognizing settings from the other films.) The train station and the town’s Austral Hotel have starred in the most films.

Quorn's train station

Quorn’s train station

Continuing on, we passed through Wilmington, another historic town settled in the mid-1800s, and another lovely access point to the Flinders Ranges. Next up was Melrose, which I’d actually driven through on my previous trip to Australia, though that time, we were headed up and over Horrock’s Pass and on to Port Augusta. The town is much changed, but the massive, gnarly river red gums lining the creek were still there, and still amazed me just as much as they had previously.

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September 7, part 2

With Hawker being the hub of Flinders Ranges tourism, it is probably not too surprising that our next destination was, in fact, the ranges. Suddenly, the colors changed again from red to green.

The mountains, and the national park they inhabit, were named for English navigator Matthew Flinders, who first sighted the ranges in 1802. Abundant mineral deposits initially attracted miners, who at various times mined (successfully) gold, silver, copper, lead, barite, and coal. But now, the big draw is natural beauty and it’s hikers and campers who are drawn to the park.

Like other mountain ranges in Australia, the Flinders Ranges one sees today have been worn shaped by erosion over long ages, with the tallest peak today reaching only 3,825 feet. But they are wonderfully handsome, in their wildly sculpted ruggedness, with their geologic history written large across their faces. The ranges are also famed for their spring wildflowers–and it is spring.

Richard drove us along the Moralana Scenic Drive, which is scenic indeed. We stopped frequently, to admire dramatic vistas, lush carpets of yellow, red, and purple wildflowers, and abundant birdlife (galahs, corellas, finches, wrens). Kangaroos appeared regularly, which, as always, delighted me. I was in heaven.

Richard guided us to a lookout that let us view the dramatic, ragged edge of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheater in the heart of the mountain ranges. We alternated short drives with long hikes, breathing in the fresh air and the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees.

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

About half an hour down a path through a steep-sided valley, Richard decided we needed to turn back. Clouds had been gathering, and Richard could see that, in the distance, it was raining. I would have guessed we had plenty of time before the rain would reach us, but Richard explained that, even though the rain seemed fairly distant, a flash flood could come rolling through within a short time after the rain came down, and the stone walls offered us nowhere to go if the roaring water caught up with us while we were still there. So we hiked back out to a safe spot, were we enjoyed the flora and fauna in an area that was not a potential riverbed.

But eventually, it was time to leave this glorious place and continue on our way.

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Saturday, September 7

Started the day cheerfully. We were invited into the kitchen, to have our breakfast with the owner and his wife. (Nikki and Richard have been here before.) Good breakfast in good company, but then we were off.

Rolling down narrow roads, we passed through some charming, small towns as we crossed into the foothills of the Flinders Ranges. Richard kept up a remarkable flow of information as we drove and whenever we stopped. First stop (more of a pause really) was the tiny town or Orroroo, which has the odd distinction of sitting on the Goyder Line.

The Goyder Line is a line that was drawn in 1865 by then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Woodroffe Goyderis a line drawn in 1865 by then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Woodroffe Goyder. Goyder was a remarkable gentleman, who explored widely and understood Australia’s environment long before others did, but despite his many accomplishments, drawing this line is the thing for which he is remembered–and with good reason. This is the line that marks the boundary between land where there is enough rain to attempt agriculture and the land where it is not safe to raise crops, as rain is unreliable and sometimes completely absent. Those who ignored the line discovered that Goyder got it right. However, between having land on the good side of the line, along with a nearby creek that was dammed early on, Orroroo has survived as a farming community.

The scenery changed fairly dramatically as we continued north from Orroroo to Carrieton, transforming from green rural to red outback. After Carrieton, we reached Cradock, a town started in 1878 with high hopes by those who thought Goyder must be wrong and that the old saying “rain follows the plow” would prove true. It didn’t. The town burst into existence and after a few years of drought was largely abandoned. There is still a hotel with a bar (built in the 1880s) and a few other buildings, some closed, but not a lot else.

Then on to Hawker. This rugged little town is doing much better than Cradock, largely because it’s a wonderful place for people who plan to explore the nearby Flinders Ranges. Though the town dates back to the late 1800s, and I enjoyed seeing the older buildings at the town’s center, our stop also considered a bit of more recent history. Richard guided us to Hawker Motors and the Fred Teague Museum.

First, Richard pointed out the display of photos from the filming of the 1987 movie “The Lighthorsemen.” The film of the astonishing World War I story was shot in this area, using many locals as extras, and the actors, extras, and action were captured by the folks in town. The rest of the museum offers a delightfully quirky collection of everything from mementos of early settlers to a splendid collection of local minerals, all carefully collected by Fred Teague over the decades he lived here in Hawker. The museum is at Hawker Motors because Teague founded that, as well. However, before he ran the garage, he did stints as a gold prospector, drover (Australian cowboy), and, most impressively, spent 18 months driving the Marree-Birdsville Mail, the mail route along the stunningly difficult, 322-mile Birdsville Track, which even today tests (and often wrecks) modern 4WD vehicles.

Richard suggested that, if I can get back to Australia again, we could take on the Birdsville Track–which would make up for my having missed my chance on my last trip, when I got stuck in that flood. Something to keep in mind.

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