The Murray River is, both historically and economically, the preeminent river in Australia. It would be comparable to the Mississippi River in the United States, as far as being both a key medium of transportation and an important part of the iconography of a region and era. As with the Mississippi, the paddle wheeler was the iconic mode of transportation, important in one age and charmingly preserved in the present.
Also like the Mississippi, the Murray both waters and drains a region far greater than that which is in close proximity to its shores. Combined with the tributary Darling River, it constitutes a river system of tremendous economic importance. The Murray-Darling Basin is home to nearly 70 percent of Australia’s irrigated land. The Murray is both shorter than the Mississippi and has a lesser volume of water, but its importance to its homeland is as great or greater.
I had departed Sydney and was following the Murray westward. It was outside of Mildura, Victoria, that I saw the paddle wheeler below. It was a lovely reminder of how both Australia and the United States did much of their growing up around the same time.
The comment on the previous post about how much nicer wallabies would be at picnics, versus ants, reminded me of another picnic I had in Australia, this one on my third trip Down Under.
Friends and I spent the day at Wilsons Promontory National Park, a splendidly gorgeous area perched on the southernmost tip of the Australian mainland. The park is in Victoria, just across Bass Strait from Tasmania. Mountains, beaches, wilderness, and wildlife (including a fair number of wombats) filled our day. When we stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the designated picnic sites, we learned that here, the sight of food draws things on wings. We were particularly besieged by crimson rosellas, the parrots that are clinging to my two friends in the image below. Holding back a bit, but still eager, were the sea gulls—and with these fellows around, you definitely wouldn’t want to leave the table unattended. The wattle bird, in the final photo, was happy for a handout of sugar.
So while not every picnic site in Australia offers this much built-in entertainment, there are certainly a fair number of places where you can expect company.
Crimson Rosellas and Picnickers
Aussie Sea Gulls
After the riding trip, I had only one more day in Victoria before I boarded a plane heading for Australia’s island state, Tasmania. I was leaving behind the free-settled gold-rush state for the convict-settled apple state. (Tasmania has traditionally been the location of most of Australia’s apple growing —an industry founded when the Bounty’s famous Captain Bligh planted the first apple trees on the green island in 1788.)
Before transitioning to Tasmania, however, I thought I’d step outside the flow of my adventures to comment on visitors to my blog. It’s always fun to connect and know one’s words are being read. This year, my book, Waltzing Australia, got added to the recommended reading list at a New England university, and I have loved hearing from students who enjoyed reading it. As is common on the Internet, I’ve had visitors from all over he world. However, it is clear that a solid (though not overwhelming) majority of visitors are actually from Australia. It is of course a real delight for me to connect with people in Oz who also love the many places I’ve traveled—a way for me to stay connected to Australia.
I do chuckle sometimes when there are suddenly 30 hits on “When were water buffalo introduced to Australia” or “history of Perth’s Old Mill.” “Sturt desert rose” and “termite mounds” have also witnessed sudden bursts of interest. I imagine some teacher somewhere in Australia handing out an assignment and a whole classroom of kids finding my site. Given the fact that a good chunk of my income is from educational writing, I find this not only amusing, but immensely gratifying. However, that’s still just a small percentage of the lovely visitors I’ve welcomed to this site. Thank you to you all. I’ve enjoyed your comments.
Bringing it back to Tasmania—
Anyone who has visited my other blog (The World’s Fare) knows I’m a foodie, as well as a traveler. I’ve written elsewhere on this site, and have spoken often about the joys of dining down under. I do want to remind folks that, especially for my first trip, I was living on a budget, but the abundance of lamb, seafood, and exotic fruits, as well as the abundance of ethnic cuisine, made it possible to dine splendidly even with little money. However, for those who go to Australia with stacks of cash and who want to unload it on food, there is ample opportunity. As a sampling of the delights awaiting the well-heeled diner, here’s a video from Gourmet magazine’s TV program Diary of a Foodie, about a few of the glories of Tasmania’s culinary scene.
Tasmania: The Next Culinary Frontier
Just one more reason I love Australia—and need to get back before too much longer.
If you’re reading my book, or if you’ve been reading this blog for long enough to have seen the post where I included a book excerpt about this, you’ll know that I had a pretty wild horseback adventure in the High Country, the rugged mountains of eastern Victoria. If you’ve seen the movie The Man from Snowy River, you’ll know both how glorious this area is and how seriously they take their horse riding.
This was definitely not the sort of place I could be carrying camera equipment. As a result, I have very few photos from this week-long adventure. However, I do have a few, as my camera was in the supply truck that met us regularly. Plus, Judy of the white crash helmet, introduced in the post linked to above, had a tiny pocket camera, and she supplied a number of great images, which I’ll share in my next post.
The images I have to offer are all from various camp sites. The first is just a shot of one of the camp sites, to show what accommodations were like: tight quarters, but what a view. The next is Guy’s Hut, one of the many historic cattlemen’s huts that dot the High Country. Non-perishable supplies are often left in these huts, to help travelers who might get trapped by a sudden, unexpected blizzard. The final shot was with riders mounted and ready to go one morning when the hardcore riders were offered an extra little adventure, just in case they weren’t being beat up enough with the regular riding.
High Country Riders
Each city in Australia has a very distinct personality. Someone once told me that, in Sydney, they want to know where you work, in Melbourne, they want to know where you went to school—and in Brisbane, they want to know if you’d like a beer. This humorous comment is a gross oversimplification (especially since anywhere in Australia, you’ll find folks with a fondness for the local brew), but it does reflect something of the atmosphere of these three cities: bustling, Old World, and laid back tropical.
In my May 25, 2009, post on Melbourne, I spoke of the city’s European feel—it’s the most European city in Oz— and elegant architecture. It is not just European in its appearance, but also in its mindset. People refer to the “Paris end” of Collins Street, where you find most of the cafés and boutiques. Replicas of clocks and statues from England adorn shopping arcades. And no raging British soccer crowd can top the folks in Melbourne for going wild at sporting events. (Though in Melbourne, you’d be watching Aussie Rules Football.)
As noted in that earlier post, the wealth of the gold rush led to a lot of fabulous buildings being constructed at a time when most of the folks in town had just arrived from Europe. I thought I’d share with you a couple of those buildings, just to show how impressive some of the older architecture is. Below are the Royal Exhibition Building, on the left, and the ANZ Bank Headquarters. (There are lots more wonderful old buildings, but a row of photos of buildings would be tedious.) And by the way, in Australia, the Z in ANZ is pronounced “zed”; the acronym stands for Australia-New Zealand.
Royal Exhibition Building
When arranging a rendezvous, it is common for a Melbournian to simply say “Meet me under the clocks.” For locals, this can mean only one thing—meet below the row of clocks that are perched over the main entrance of the Flinders Street Station, Melbourne’s imposing, Edwardian baroque railway station. This railway station is the oldest in Australia. It is also the busiest suburban railway station in the southern hemisphere, and that busyness is accommodated by the longest main platform in Australia (700 meters, or nearly 2,300 feet).
The row of clocks can be seen in the image below as a row of white dots above the door. These clocks show the times for trains, and when not serving as a landmark for a meet-up, they help keep Victoria’s commuters on schedule.
Flinders Street Station
On my first trip to Australia, I stopped only briefly in Maldon, but long enough to know I wanted to get back. Fortunately, I did get back a few years later, and had the opportunity to thoroughly explore this delightfully well-preserved historic town.
In the early 1800s, the area around Maldon had begun to attract those in search of land for raising sheep and cattle, but the town’s history is anchored in the discovery of gold in 1853. With stunning speed, the population exploded from a handful to 20,000. As was usual, a town sprang up to supply provisions and services for the miners.
There are, of course, lots of towns in Australia with gold-rush histories, but the thing that makes Maldon special is that it hasn’t changed much since those days. Sure, the shops that line the streets are now selling artisan chocolates and hand-crafted gifts, rather than hardtack and shovels, but the appearance of the town remains unchanged. In 2006 The National Trust award Maldon the title of “Most Intact Historic Streetscape.” However, Maldon had already been honored by The National Trust 40 years earlier, when it was declared Australia’s “First Notable Town: a town worthy of preservation.”
The photo below shows a bit of the main street of notable Maldon.
Maldon's main street
The Shrine of Remembrance is among the most widely recognized of Melbourne’s landmarks. Built to honor citizens of Victoria who served and died in World War I, it is the largest and most visited war memorial in the state. The inscription on the side refers to “the Great War,” because when it was constructed, no one could imagine that there would be another war on such a scale.
Australians entered WWI when Britain did, in 1914. (The U.S. didn’t enter the war until 1917.) Australians were almost always at the forefront of the worst fighting in the war, from Gallipoli to Beersheba to France, and they sustained tremendous casualties. Despite being in the middle of a major economic depression after the war, the people of Victoria felt it was so important to honor those who served that the money needed to build the monument was raised in six months.
The design of the memorial was partly based on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. (Interesting choice, really, because Halicarnassus, while the site of one of history’s most famous monuments, was in Turkey, and so many Australians died in Turkey during WWI.)
The monument has been modified over the years, with the addition of a forecourt to honor those who served in World War II, and a Remembrance Garden for wars since 1945. The Shrine of Remembrance is where Victorians hold their annual observances for ANZAC Day (April 25—the date that the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli in 1915) and Remembrance Day (November 11, like Memorial Day in the U.S.).
When my dad was fighting in North Africa during World War II, he met a lot of Australians, and it was in fact some of the friends he’d made, and the stories of them he told, that were the early foundation of my interest in Australia. The connection with my father made me feel acutely my debt to those honored by the memorial, though in all truth, I am moved by the sacrifices of any who fought, and fight, to keep the world free.
Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance
Bendigo was important during the Gold Rush, but Ballarat was to become positively iconic. Ballarat was not just a booming gold town, it became the site of the Eureka Stockade, a place and event that stands in Australian history in a position similar to that of the Alamo in Texas. While not everyone at the Eureka Stockade was killed, it was, like the Alamo, a murderously one-sided battle that became a rallying point for national sentiment.
However, there were lots of things drawing me to Ballarat besides just the site of the iconic skirmish. Among those things was Sovereign Hill, a recreation of Ballarat during the days of the Gold Rush, a bustling frontier town populated with re-enactors who take you back to a rough but vivid era. I love history and re-enactments—have gone so far as to have spent a year as re-enactor myself (American Revolution)—so I was overjoyed with Sovereign Hill. I wandered happily through hotels and miner’s camps, school rooms and stores, the newspaper office and theater, and the wagonwright’s and blacksmith’s shops. The “townsfolk” were delightful and eager to share what they knew about the area’s history and the life of the people they portrayed. Splendid place. If you fancy a bit of Aussie history, I recommend a visit.
The discovery of gold in Australia had, in many ways, a similar effect to the discovery of gold in the United States—a stampede of hopeful fortune seekers. Victoria is not the only place where gold was discovered, but it most closely parallels the explosive growth and ostentatious wealth of California’s great Gold Rush. In fact, many of those who did not strike it rich in California headed for Australia after Aussie gold turned up in 1851.
However, the experience of the gold fields in Australia is more deeply ingrained in the national identity of Australians than California’s is in Americans. That is probably because the United States had a fair bit of history and national identity in place when gold was first struck, while Australia was still quite new. So it was life in the gold fields—the adventure, the “mateship,” the irreverence—that grew into both the legend and the reality of how Australians view themselves. It was, in a way, the experience of the gold fields that gave birth to Australia’s national identity.
This excerpt from the poem The Roaring Days, by iconic Australian poet Henry Lawson, sums up the sentiment.
The night too quickly passes
And we are growing old,
So let us fill our glasses
And toast the Days of Gold;
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days.
Ah, then their hearts were bolder,
And if Dame Fortune frowned
Their swags they’d lightly shoulder
And tramp to other ground.
Oh, they were lion-hearted
Who gave our country birth!
Stout sons, of stoutest fathers born,
From all the lands on earth!
Bendigo was one of the centers of the Victorian gold rush. Mines there went deep, and many survived into the 20th century. I visited the Central Deborah Gold Mine, which was started in 1851 and continued in operation until 1954. The life at this city mine might seem rugged, but was luxurious compared to life in the tented campgrounds of the rural gold fields. There’s a lot more info about the Central Deborah Gold Mine in the book, if you’re interested, but the photo of it is below.