Tag Archives: Dandenongs

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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Saturday, September 14

Up bright and early. Headed off with Geoff on a walk around the perimeter of the property. We circled the paddocks, checked the dam, admired the large plot where Judy grows proteas (amazing looking flowers), examined the gooseberry bushes, and stopped frequently to admire the birdlife. Amazing number of birds here. I could only hear the whip birds and bellbirds, but I saw eastern rosellas, crimson rosells, swallows, kookaburras, mud larks, wattle birds, wrens, wood ducks (mostly around the dam), sulphur-crested cockatoos, butcher birds, and magpies. Wow.

The ranch may be only ten acres, but sitting as it does on the side of the mountain definitely makes walking around this little ranch serious exercise. No wonder Judy and Geoff are so fit! (Though Judy says she hardly notices the fairly steep grade after so many years of climbing it.)

Judy had riding lessons today (learning dressage; she normally does endurance riding), so Geoff was my guide today. We drove first up to the William Ricketts Sanctuary. Ricketts was a potter and sculptor, born in Richmond, Victoria, in 1898, but who settled here in the Dandenong in the 1930s. He bought a four-acre area of trees and ferns here in the mountains, and began to fill it with his remarkable work. He lived at the Sanctuary until his death in1993. The 92 sculptures feature Aboriginal people, stories, and myths, all snuggled amid stunning greenery. The thing that made it just a bit more remarkable for me is that I had just heard of Ricketts for the first time when I visited the Pitchi Ritchi Sanctuary at the edge of Alice Springs less than two weeks ago! (See the post for Tuesday, September 3.)

At the William Ricketts Sanctuary

At the William Ricketts Sanctuary

The sculpture here was just as handsome and evocative as that in the Centre. Geoff and I spent a fair bit of time admiring the work and reading the stories that went with each piece. Then we headed off again.

I was taken around the area, to meet the locals–all of whom had heard I was coming. I met David the grocer, Chris, the “local Yank,” an antique dealer, a bookseller, and a local author. We popped around to the petrol station that Geoff and Judy own (Geoff is a wonder at repairing and rebuilding cars), and while there, I met Rocky the Cocky, their pet sulphur-crested cockatoo (a very friendly chap, it seemed). We then stopped to pick up pastries at Mangle’s, the deadly, cream-filled bake shop, before heading home for lunch.

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Friday, September 13

It was a wonderfully nature- and wildlife-oriented day. I was up by 6:30 and headed off with Judy to do a few errands, but then we headed off toward Healesville Sanctuary. As we drove among the trees along the winding mountain roads, we were surrounded by the music of bellbirds and magpies–music that continued even once we reached the sanctuary, though blended with many other sounds.

We spent almost the whole day wandering amid the wonderful birds and animals at the lovely, forested sanctuary. Healesville is well known for its research into that most remarkable of animals, the duck-billed platypus, and I can now attest to the fact that the creature seems just as improbably in real life as it does when being described. Leathery bill (with electrical receptors, like the skin of a shark), soft fur, webbed claws, the males with a poisonous spur. Even without seeing them lay eggs, it was clear that these little mammals would be hard for early scientists to figure out when they were first discovered.

Echidnas, the only other egg-laying mammals (monotremes) were on hand as well, as were wallabies, lizards, possums, pademelons, koalas, dingoes, and a remarkable range of birds, from the towering emu to the tiny honeyeater, and of course many parrots.



Nankeen night heron

Nankeen night heron

Many of the animals were free to wander among visitors, and we enjoyed interacting with them. However, we did almost lose our picnic lunch to one persistent little wallaby. He could smell food through Judy’s canvas pack, and he latched onto it and did not want to let it go. Fortunately, we were able to distract the wallaby with a sanctuary-approved treat, and he finally let go of out pack. (We weren’t really worried that we couldn’t get it back, we just wanted to do it without upsetting the adorable little creature.)

After several hours and at least a hundred photos, it was time to head home for dinner. As Judy prepared the meal, any fat scraps trimmed from the meat were set aside. While things simmered and roasted, Judy, fat scraps in hand, led me outside to a spot where kookaburras and butcherbirds had begun gathering already, having seen Judy approaching. The kookaburras picked up their treats from the ground and carried them to a branch, but the butcherbirds only catch food on the fly, so Judy was tossing their scraps high overhead, and the butcherbirds were snatching them in mid-air. What a show.

Kookaburra with fat scrap from Judy

Kookaburra with fat scrap from Judy

Another lovely dinner and companionable evening with charming, interesting people who love so many of the things I do.

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September 12, part 2

We passed a lot of familiar landmarks (Exhibition Center, Princess Theatre, Treasury Building) on our way out of Melbourne, then crossed through miles of suburbs, and finally headed up into the mountains–the Dandenongs. Winding upward, through dark forest, we came at last to Sassafras, and not long after, to Judy and Geoff’s handsome, tree-swathed, 10-acre mountainside ranch. The house is built just below road level, but still high enough to have an amazing view of the paddocks, forest, and valley below. Picture windows and a large wooden deck make the splendid scenery always easily available for viewing. The house is surrounded by gardens, made possible by a series of stonewalled terraces and accessible by stone steps and paths. Judy and Geoff have certainly put an astonishing amount of work into this place. Judy explained that native plants are particularly abundant in the garden because they are more likely to attract native wildlife, from possums to parrots.

There are, in fact, a great number of birds here. I’ve already seen kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, cockatoos, Eastern rosellas, and others I can’t identify. Judy said I’d definitely see more before I left.

Below the garden, broad paddocks slope down to the gooseberry and chestnut orchards, all bounded by dense stands of mountain ash and tree ferns.

I was shown to the charming guest room, where I dropped my bags. Then, after a brief tour of the rest of the house, we headed back outside–because there is always work to be done on a ranch. I helped Judy carry feed out to their two horses, Hoss and Rahmyl. Hoss is the “old man” of the farm, pretty much in retirement, but Rahmyl is an exuberant 5-year-old dapple-gray gelding. Both were waiting at the fence when we approached.

Next I was introduced to the dogs. Bullett McQueen is a sturdy-looking Australian blue heeler and Scamp is an ancient, blind silky terrier.

Chores done, we headed back into the house. This is a wonderful place, full of books and evidence of the Judy and Geoff’s interest in horses, horticulture, and Australian history. And my hosts are charming, gracious, generous people. We have corresponded since my first trip, but letters and a week on a riding trip with Judy were my only connection with them, and yet they have made me feel incredibly welcome.

Hiking up and down the sloping paddocks builds up the appetite, so I wasn’t disappointed when Judy said it was time to fix dinner. The kitchen is large, open, and well equipped, and Judy is an excellent cook. She prepared a lovely meal of beef shashlik and veggies, with a steamed pudding for dessert. Then we chatted over coffee and port, catching up on the years since we were last together, discussing what we’d do while I’m hear. Finally, it was time to say good night, and I headed off to the very comfortable bed in the delightful guest room. A long day made it a welcome destination.

Evening in the Dandenongs

Evening in the Dandenongs

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Thursday, September 12

The drive from Apollo Bay to Lorne was only 45 kilometers, but it took me an hour and a half, partly because of the winding roads, but also because I stopped every 10 minutes for photographs. Lovely bit of coastline–gentler than the one I left behind, but still impressive, with long beaches, sparkling water, and dark, green mountains.

I stopped for lunch in Lorne. I was here on my first trip to Australia, though coming from the opposite direction. It was on that first drive to Lorne that I decided that I’d have to return to this coast someday and explore it further. So glad I succeeded in doing that.

I had chicken and chips from a take-away shop, as I did on that first trip, eating on a beach that was sunnier but only slightly warmer than it had been on my previous visit. Lorne has grown since I saw it last, and it is prettier than I remember. I walked around a bit, looking for things I remembered, especially the golden cypress trees. Then it was time to get back on the road, continuing the drive, shoot photos, drive, shoot photos, drive routine of the morning. This was still a wildly picturesque bit of coastline, with the mountains (Otway Ranges) rising out of the sea, the road a narrow ribbon clinging to the land’s edge, forests giving way to beaches and small communities, occasional dramatic cliffs, lighthouses –all truly wonderful.

From rugged coast...

From rugged coast…

...to verdant grazing land.

…to verdant grazing land.

Through Aireys Inlet and Anglesea, and around Torquay. Leaving the coastline, I found myself amid surroundings that alternated between increasingly grand cities and handsome farms with broad, green paddocks. Up through the center of Geelong, and on into Melbourne. Driving in Melbourne is a special treat. Ha. Because of the trolleys, you can’t stay in the middle to make a turn, you have to go to the far curb and wait for the light to change, and then turn across all traffic lanes. Glad I only had to do it a couple of times. I dropped the car at the Thrifty office in Elizabeth Street at 3 o’clock. It would be almost an hour before Judy (of the white crash helmet, if you remember her from my book) was due to pick me up, but the folks at Thrifty kindly said I could leave my gear in the office if I’d like to go for a bit of a stroll through town. So off I went, to see how well I remembered Melbourne. There were, of course, changes, but there was also a lot that was familiar.

I was not far from the Melbourne Central Shopping Center, which has the unusual distinction of having a historic shot tower rising up through the center of the complex, and I headed there first. I was not interested in shopping, but I enjoyed exploring the shot tower. I then continued up Elizabeth Street as far as Bourke Street and the ornate, old Post Office. I picked a side street and then swung back in the direction of Thrifty. I was surprised (and pleased) to find Judy waiting for me. She said she’d known the gear in the corner was mine because she recognized my Akubra (the handsome gray Snowy River hat I bought on my previous trip). We grabbed my bag and set off down the two blocks to where Geoff, Judy’s husband, awaited us in the Land Cruiser.

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Tree Ferns

After a few days in the city, I had the pleasure of heading into the nearby mountains—the Dandenongs. I was delighted to find myself surrounded by greenery. It is a lovely feature of Australia’s largest city’s that there are mountains and wilder, or at least more rural, areas quite close at hand, where one can escape to cool beauty.

The Dandenongs are home to the Australian mountain ash, an impressive eucalypt that can attain heights of 300 feet. Beneath the tall trees, the ground is blanketed in ferns—although I guess one can’t actually say the tree ferns were blanketing the ground. These odd, ancient ferns actually tower over those ferns that do stay at ground level.

If the tree fern below reminds you of pictures you’ve seen of the age of dinosaurs, there’s a good reason. The fossil record shows that the types of tree ferns found in Australia were quite common during the Jurassic Period—and earlier.

Of the three genera of tree ferns, one clings to the hot, humid forests that follow the equator, from Southeast Asia to Mexico. But the other two have a far wider range, with several species that are quite comfortable in cooler climates or in mature forests at higher altitudes. Here, amid the towering eucalypts, the tree ferns (which can get to an impressively tree-like height of 80 feet) tower above the shorter ferns, adding a middle level to the general greenery, making the forest seem even greener.

Tree Fern

Tree Fern


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