Trip 3:Sunday, September 17

Up at 6:00 a.m. (yawn). We were all a bit subdued this morning. Judy and Geoff are actually sorry to see me leave!

We had toast (with Judy’s homemade gooseberry and cherry preserves) and coffee, then loaded my gear in the car and headed out. Down from the mountains and across town—a 1-1/2 hour drive—to the Melbourne airport. Judy and Geoff parked the car and came into the airport with me and, after I had checked in, we had coffee and donuts in the lounge. Then it was time to say farewell and get on the plane.

There was a nice young man in the seat next to me—Terry—and we chatted and exchanged business cards, in case he and his wife ever get to Chicago, and please look them up if I’m back in Australia, and he has relatives in New Zealand—and all that friendly, open, hospitable, Down Under stuff. Pleasant conversation made the flight go quickly.

The weather in Sydney is appropriate for departures—a bit dreary, gray, and a little drizzly. Actually, Sydney really needs the rain—it’s ending a nasty drought. So I’m pleased for Sydney. However, there is definitely a Shakespearean “weather reflects the mood” element for me, as well.

It is proving easier to go home from Melbourne. It would be much more difficult leaving from anywhere in the outback. I like Victoria tremendously, but not with the delirious passion with which I love the really “out there” places—the red rock, spinifex, ghost gums, and lizards places. So this has been a good, civilizing, “coming down” time, and I can leave relatively easily.

It’s a half hour till take off, but we’re all already boarded and settled in. There are a couple of boisterous youngsters in the row behind me, who keep kicking my seat—but at least they haven’t cancelled the flight! Actually, I’m quite pleased with my seat. It’s farther back than I like, but I’m not over the wing, so I have a great view and the possibility of taking photos if something looks great during the flight. The flight is full, but it’s still a bit nicer than the flight out, as I’m not in the middle of the center section.

The pilot just announced that it will only be 13 hours to LA! Prevailing winds are with us this time. That extra 1-1/2 hours may not seem like much, but every little bit helps.

On the ground in LA, customs was quick and friendly, as was security for the flight to Chicago. However, I’m amazed at how complicated they manage to make things. We landed at the domestic terminal, then had to take a bus across to the international terminal, for customs, then, after customs, duty, and rechecking our bags, we had to go outside and wait for another bus to take us back to domestic for the continuation of our flight (different plane for the shorter, cross-country flight, but still part of the same Sydney to Chicago ticket). Then the bus dropped us at the wrong door, we all went in, then all came out, and eventually found the outside escalator to the departure level. None of this was bad, or even really significant, but is simply symptomatic of the inability of anyone to make things easy these days.

Of course, it’s not just LA that has issues. At O’Hare in Chicago, we committed the grave sin of landing 15 minutes early, which means the plane had to sit on the tarmac for 25 minutes before they’d even think about giving us a gate assignment. There are times that it’s cool to live near the world’s busiest airport, but there are times it is merely wearying. (That said, sitting on the tarmac is still better than circling. I’ve done enough of that in my years of traveling)

The jet traffic may have been crazy, but there was no car traffic. My cab arrived in 5 minutes, and we were out of the airport with astonishing speed. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and there’s a cool breeze.

It may be hard to believe, but I’m glad to be home.

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September 16, Part 2

Judy and Geoff had picked a lovely spot near Gulf Station for us to enjoy the picnic lunch they’d packed. The weather was perfect. Food and conversation were excellent. But our next stop would really put the final touch on making the day perfect.

We drove a bit farther from the green mountains into an area of splendid, green vineyards, finally stopping at the Domaine Chandon winery. This winery is the Australian branch of France’s great Moët & Chandon. This winery, like its parent operation, specializes in sparkling wines. (Can’t call them champagne, of course, since we’re nowhere near Champagne.) One can buy bubbly by the glass, and it comes with a few elegant nibbles (we had a spinach and pine-nut dip with house-made crackers and a small cluster of lovely, chilled grapes). Our first sampling was of a Blanc de Blancs, which was lovely and light with tiny bubbles. Next up was a D.C. Cuvée Riche N.V., a rich, slightly sweet, elegant, golden delight that made a lovely dessert.

As good as the wine was, the view was better. Huge windows opened onto views across the sprawling vineyard and, in the not to far distance, the splendid greenness of the Dandenong Mountains. What a glorious day.

This video relates more about the Domaine Chandon vineyard, and offers enough of the beauty to help you understand how beautiful and perfect an ending to this sojourn this destination was.

Finally, back home for an evening of good food and good conversation. I learned that Judy, who raises a lot of heirloom plants, is hoping to trade some of her heirloom gooseberries for some of the quinces we saw today. We talked late into the night, despite the fact that I needed to pack. Oh, well. I can sleep on the plane.

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Trip 3:Saturday, September 16, Part 1

It’s the last full day of this trip! How, when I have waited so long for this, could it end so quickly? I realize that no one back home will sympathize in the least that I had “only” a month away, but it certainly seemed like “only” as I arose this morning. That said, I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to return. Australia has become such a large part of my life, I have to believe this won’t be the last trip—but if it is, it has been a remarkable one.

After breakfast, Geoff and I headed down to the far paddock so I could photograph the pair of maned geese and their eight “littlies,” as Geoff calls their offspring. Then it was back up to the house to prepare for another day of delightful exploring. Judy packed the picnic hamper into the Land Rover, and Geoff readied the “hardware” for the al fresco meal we would have later.

We wound along the lovely, tree-shaded mountain roads that now seem so familiar, out through Yarra Glen, and to the wonderful historic Gulf Station. I love history and really enjoy historic venues where one can “visit” another time. This station was built in the early 1800s, and we learned that it is one of the only historic stations in Australia where all the original out-buildings are intact.

To recreate what it would have been like at the time, not only are the buildings kept as they were, but the plants (fruits, vegetables, flowers) and animals are all appropriate to the time period. Judy pointed out the lovely, pale pink, rose-like flowers growing at the front gate and told me they were heirloom quince. That explained the flowers, as quince is in the Rose family. Really beautiful, and you get fruit, too. Among the heritage animals there were bronze-winged turkeys, Berkshire pigs, Ayreshire cows, and Clydesdale horses.

I found this short video that looks at this delightful historic venue. It’s very short, but it gives you a feel for how beautiful this historic place is – so definitely my cup of tea. 

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September 15, Part 2

It was not a long drive this time—we were still in the Dandenongs. Our destination was the splendid Tesselaar Tulip Festival. This event, I was told, was started in the 1950s by a family of immigrants from the Netherlands who grew, not too surprisingly, tulips. The show was, in fact, really stunning. There were fun add-ons for those who want more than just flowers, but Judy and Geoff were there for the flowers—more than 120 varieties of tulip, plus daffodils, and hyacinths (one of my favorite fragrances in the world) spread in dazzling swaths of color across a 55-acre farm. It was glorious.

Here’s a video I found about the festival. It focuses more on those “add-ons,” but still gives one a feeling for the show.

Leaving the show, after a good, long exploration, we drove up the Silvan Reservoir catchment area (more interesting than that description sounds—a splendid area of gum trees and acacias) to the R.J. Hamer Arboretum, a place known for excellent walking trails amid delightful scenery. Geoff drove us to an observation point that offered a view over the broad, green valley toward the gap in the mountains through which we passed yesterday on our way to Beechworth.

Then, as evening approached, it was time to head home, to get a rug on Rahmyl, dinner for Bullitt, and a glass of port for ourselves. The evening again held an excellent dinner (Judy is an excellent cook) and much delightful conversation.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 15, Part 1

It’s really quiet up here in the mountains, at least until the kookaburras wake up and start “laughing.” As a result, I slept soundly and awoke merrily. Hard not to chuckle along with the sound of the kookaburras. Enjoyed a rainwater shower (all the water here is collected rainwater), which was as soft on the skin as it is sweet to the taste.

It was a beautiful morning, with sunlight flooding in through the windows that face the back paddock. The chatty, bell-like song of the rosellas drew me to the window. Rahmyl (Judy’s horse) was tolling in the thick grass. A gentle breeze stirred the tops of the towering mountain ash. Sunlight and blue sky dominated the few white clouds overhead. I love this place.

More birds gathered outside, offering a great show: the brilliant red and blue crimson rosellas that I have always loved so much, the yellow and red Eastern rosellas, a little wattle bird, swallows, and a couple of maned geese with eight babies trailing along behind them. The resident black duck came up and settled into lunching on the seed that Judy and Geoff leave out for it.

After breakfast, Judy and I went shopping, leaving Geoff behind to putter in his work shed and the garden. (We figured he deserved a day off, away from both us and the car, after driving us all over Victoria for the last couple of days. Among the shops at the mall, there was an excellent book store that stocks all the Australian classics. Judy bought me a copy of Sara Henderson’s bestselling autobiography, From Strength to Strength—because during my tour up north, I had passed Henderson’s remote and rugged property (near Victoria River).

We were back home before 2:00, and spent a little time enjoying coffee and conversation on the deck, enjoying the cool but sunny day, watching the birds flit about and Rahmyl graze nearby. But then it was time to head off again, though now Geoff joined us for the afternoon’s glorious adventure.

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September 14, Part 2

Leaving the park, we headed for the center of town. Beechworth, the one-time center of a booming gold rush, is really beautiful, and its historic places and feeling have been wonderfully preserved. Even here, birds were abundant, and I was delighted to see king parrots and rosellas in the trees.

Judy and Geoff recommended the tour of the old town, and so we set off with a very knowledgeable guide. The previously mentioned Ned Kelly was a big part of this town’s history, as the abundant gold made it a desirable target for a bank robber. Among the Kelly-related destinations here, we saw the jail cell in which he was eventually confined, located beneath the Shire Hall, and we also visited the Court House where Kelly was tried.

The guide shared that, while Kelly was charismatic and was often able to charm people in the towns he robbed, he was most definitely not the Robin Hood figure some held him to be. In fact, he robbed from both the rich and the poor, and then kept it. He was also a cold-blooded murderer. So, while he had some fans, he was no hero.

We walked through the historic district, viewing buildings that were important during the heyday of the local gold rush, which took off in 1852. We learned that the streams around Beechworth yielded four million ounces of gold in the first ten years. Impressive.

Then we parted company with our guide and did a bit of shopping—primarily for rocks. The rugged hills around Beechworth hold more than gold and the quartz that held it. Also found here are jasper, citrine, amethyst, rock crystal, agate, turquoise, chalcedony, tourmaline, cairngorms, garnets, and various conglomerates. The garnets take the form of marble-sized crystals that are held in the granite of the nearby hills. Just wonderful. I love rocks and minerals and was delighted by everything, but my only purchase was a handful of rough garnets. But I was very pleased with those.

Next stop was the Burke Museum, named for the famed but ill-fated explorer. This is an excellent regional museum that covers history from Aboriginal pre-history up through the gold rush, also covering, of course, Ned Kelly and his gang. The brochure said they had 30,000 items, which gives some idea of the level of detail on offer. Next, to the historic brewery, which now creates only soft drinks, including sarsaparilla and ginger beer. Then past the Power Magazine, en route to the award-winning Beechworth Bakery (said to have the best pies and bread in the state of Victoria), where we stopped for cake and coffee.

The surrounding countryside was inviting, but there was already too much to do, just seeing historic sites and shops. Geoff did a good job of selecting a scenic route that showed some of it, but by 6:00pm, the sun was low on the horizon, soon to set, so it was time to get on the road for the long drive back home. Being in the country, the stars were brilliantly visible for most of the drive, but then we were near Melbourne. And as we climbed back into the Dandenongs, clouds again obscured our view. But what a splendid day. Really feeling blessed to have such friends.

Just in case you decide to visit, here is the town’s tourism page, with info on hotels and restaurants, as well as, of course, the historic sites.https://www.explorebeechworth.com.au/

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Trip 3: Thursday, September 14, Part 1

We were up early to get down from the mountains and through the city before traffic started to build. We were headed for Beechworth, a historic town roughly 177 miles northeast of Melbourne. It was cloudy as we left, with a threat of light rain, but the forecast for our destination was more promising. As always, the birds were up early, as well, and walking to the car, we saw corellas, magpies, black ducks, and wattlebirds.

The light rain that began made the greenery of the Dandenong Mountains even more beautiful than they were already. Even Melbourne looked lush and green as we passed through and out through hills and valleys and into the surrounding countryside. The entire drive was splendid, with green fields, wild flowers (especially heaths and acacias), and paddocks with grazing horses, sheep with lambs, cows with calves. Surprising number of Sulphur-crested cockatoos—and I never get tired of seeing them. We passed through Yea and headed into more mountains. The eucalypts began to change (with so many hundreds of varieties, each area tends to have its own).

Short stop in Seymour. Needed a break to stretch our legs and refresh our driver (Geoff). Then onward, now on the Hume Freeway. After Euroa, the land flattened out and the sky began to clear. We entered “Ned Kelly Country.” Kelly was a notorious but charismatic bushranger/outlaw in the late 1800s, and this was the center of his area of operation. We passed Glenrowan, where Kelly and his gang made their last stand. Kelly survived the shootout because of his homemade suit of armor. He lumbered out of the house where the gang was staying, with only a remarkable helmet visible, as a long coat covered the body armor. The police were surprised by bullets bouncing off the coat, but they quickly figured out that the armor didn’t cover his legs, so they just wounded him enough that he couldn’t run. He was arrested and thrown in jail in Beechworth before being taken to Melbourne to stand trial.

Mountains rose up off to our right, misty and blue, at the far side of the green plains. Weather was lovely by this point. Passed Wangaratta. I was delighted by the large number of corellas and magpies. Exited on the Ovens Highway and continued east, finally pulling in at a park just outside the city of Beechworth. After four hours of driving, we were delighted to walk around and stretch our legs. Judy had packed a lovely lunch, and we enjoyed a picnic at the park before continuing on into town. But I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

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Trip 3:Wednesday, September 13

Awoke to the sound of kookaburras’ laughter. Always a happy way to be awakened. Had a more relaxed morning, with a bit of a sleep in and then a tour of Judy and Geoff’s lovely, mountainside property. This is a pretty piece of land, surrounded by tall mountain ash (another type of eucalypt) and decorated with indigenous and imported flowers. We hiked among the trees and around the shrubs, down the steep paddock, and through the gardens. Geoff showed me the wombat holes and possum nests, and pointed out the grevilleas and banksias (local flowering shrubs, particularly healthy ones here). When a family of maned geese appeared, Geoff related that these birds, also known as wood ducks, mate for life.

We stopped to have a “chat” with Rocky the Cocky (pet Sulphur-crested cockatoo), and then gathered for lunch on the deck. It was a perfect day, warm and blue-skyed. Bird song offered a lovely “soundtrack.”

After a light lunch, we jumped in the blue Land Rover and headed off to the Karwarra Australian Plant Garden and Nursery. This intensely planted floral reserve, set amid forests of eucalpyps, is dedicated to indigenous Australian flowers and plants. Some of the flowers were ones I’d seen before, but here I was able to learn names. Plus there were some that were unfamiliar varieties of ones I knew. Pink and white star-like flowers growing in masses turned out to be waxflowers (eriostemon). I admired deep purple baeckea ramossima, wispy, pink hakea sericea, yellow phepalium squamulosum, white thyptome, plus by now familiar waratah, acacias, heaths, and everlasting. And the gum trees were in bloom: wonderful, shaggy, fragrant flowers. One interesting display showed the progression of banksia from flower to spire to starting fruit to mature fruit (I’d only ever seen the flowers before).

There were a lot of birds, as well. Many were familiar and often mentioned through this narrative, but I encountered a new one: a wonderful little creature with a curving beak, which I learned was an Eastern spinebill.

Here’s a link to Karwarra, should you wish to visit or learn more—or just see a few photos. https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/activity/karwarra-australian-plant-garden-and-nursery

In addition to exploring and pointing things out to me, Judy and Geoff were shopping for their own garden. So they were taking home some lovely blooms, while I was simply taking home photos.

We stopped at a bakery in the little town of Olinda, where we enjoyed cream cake and coffee and picked up bread and rolls for the week ahead. Then back home. First priority was taking care of Rahmyl (horse), Bullitt (dog), and Rocky (cockatoo). Then into the kitchen to fix dinner.

Those of you who have read my book will know that I met Judy on a riding trip (she is “Judy of the white crash helmet” in the book). Because of this connection with riding, Geoff put on the soundtrack from the movie “The Man from Snowy River.” And for those of you who don’t know the significance of that choice of music, below is a link to a post I did on “The Man from Snowy River.” Because if you want to know Australia, you need to know this poem, which is iconic, and was the inspiration for the movie that gave us the soundtrack. (It was also, to a certain degree, the inspiration for my taking the riding trip on which I met Judy.) Horses play a big part in Australian history, and a surprising number of the great riders also wrote poetry, so the two are intertwined.) Anyway, here’s the link to the poem, its background, and even an excerpt from the movie.
https://waltzingaustralia.wordpress.com/2009/08/23/the-man-from-snow-river/

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Trip 3:Tuesday, September 12

Up early and on the road, heading for Wilsons Promontory, aka The Prom, the southernmost tip of mainland Australia. It sprawls out into Bass Strait, pointing toward the final bit of Oz: Tasmania. But it is a destination in its own right, not just because it is “land’s end” for the big island.

It was a glorious day and the drive east and then south was delightful. We passed a few places I knew from my first visit to Australia—through Tooradin, past the Koo-we-rup Swamp, and along the South Gippsland Highway—but then southward, farther than I had been before. Signs of civilization began to diminish. Emus began to appear as we continued on.

In three hours, we were entering Wilsons Promontory National Park and marveling at the beauty of the wild, rugged location. The granite mountains rise up out of the sea, and waves of vegetation overhang the roads. Plants surrounded us: banksia, melaleuca, eucalyptus, wildflowers in stunning abundance. Birds were everywhere: silver gulls and Pacific gulls, wattle birds, superb blue wrens, larks and magpies, crimson rosellas, striped thrushes, and more, some in great flocks. I was delighted beyond speech.

Judy and Geoff took me to all their favorite spots. We started with a long stroll on the long, curving beach at Norman Bay. There were even more birds here: sooty oyster catchers, crested terns, and more gulls. The terns in particular were amusing, scurrying about, staying just ahead of the waves that gently lapped the sand. On the far side of the beach, a trail led us up into the forested hills for even better views of the area’s beauty.

After a couple of hours of wandering, it was time for lunch. Judy had packed a lovely picnic, and Geoff drove us to a perfect spot for our meal. The thing that made dining something of a challenge was the abundance of birds. They were all very interested in our food, especially the crimson rosellas—though the gulls were pretty bold, too. Gulls walked across the picnic tables, but the rosellas perched on our arms and shoulders, to see if they could snatch a bite. A lovely little wattle bird simply looked at us wistfully until Geoff offered it a bit of sugar, which it happily lapped up. It did make dining difficult, but it was also very entertaining.

After lunch, we spent hours exploring. At Tidal River, in addition to admiring the beauty, I collected a couple of seashells and a casuarina nut. Squeaky Beach was remarkable for its huge boulders, but even more so for the fact that the white quartz sand actually squeaks underfoot as you walk across it. Oberon Bay, Picnic Bay, stunning beauty on all hands, as well as increasing amounts of wildlife, as the daylight began to fade. Wombats and kangaroos were grazing everywhere there was level ground and grass.

The sunset was spectacular, gold and pink and lavender over the water. But that meant it was time to leave. We drove out of the park as dusk began to fade into darkness. I could see the Southern Cross for much of our drive home. It is a sight that always pleases me.

We arrived back home by 8:30. Judy had prepared a lovely soup in advance, so all she had to do was heat it up, rather than cook a meal. Then a glass of port and some conversation before heading off to bed.

For those who might want more information, as well as a few great photos, here’s the link to the Wilsons Promontory National Park website: https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/places-to-see/parks/wilsons-promontory-national-park

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Restart

When Waltzing Australia was published in 2007, I felt certain that there would be a sequel—a book that covered the astonishing adventures I’ve had during return trips, each of which took me even farther afield.

But life intervened. I had to earn a living, so I began writing textbooks and magazine articles. Then I became increasingly drawn into food history, and a couple of books came out of that (Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland and Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest). As the years went by, it seemed increasingly unlikely that I’d ever get around to that sequel.

And so, I’ve decided that this blog will stand in for that second Australia book. The adventures are now a few more years in the past, but that’s the nice thing about falling in love with a really ancient land—if you’re considering a rock that is 35 million years old, it doesn’t really matter if a few years have passed since you last saw it. So I’ll be getting back to blogging here, though not perhaps so regularly, and probably with fewer photos, because I was still using film on those last trips, and scanning slides takes a lot of time. But we’ll see. Books without wizards or werewolves don’t make one rich, so I still have to earn a living “on the side,” so there is never as much free time as one would like. But I still want to finish recording the trips back, as there were so many wonderful adventures.

Wish me luck. And hope to see you as I continue the journey.

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