Tag Archives: Victoria

Trip 3:Monday, September 11

I slept incredibly well in the wonderful brass bed in the comfortable guest room. The fragrance of a bouquet of freesia and grape hyacinth that Judy had placed in the room was a delightful welcome to consciousness. Judy and Geoff are great gardeners, and there are flowers everywhere outside, but also cut flowers throughout the house.

The sky was overcast, but it was not raining, so we still had high hopes for the day. We had breakfast by the kitchen window, so we could watch the birds that gather here: crimson rosellas, magpies, gray currawongs, and a wattle bird. I love this place.

The sky began to clear, so we headed off to the Royal Melbourne Zoo. I had visited the Melbourne Zoo during my first trip to Australia, so I knew it was splendid, but it’s a fair drive from the ranch—almost all the way back to the airport. However, Judy and Geoff assured me that they were pleased to have a reason to visit, as they loved the zoo, too. So we were off.

The day remained a bit gray and quite cool, but that didn’t keep us from having a wonderful time. The zoo was even better than I had remembered, plus there were things I hadn’t seen previously. I was again dazzled by the astonishing walk-through aviary. Since the weather suits the birds there, it isn’t even really enclosed, just netted at tree-top level. As a result, there is almost no feeling of separation between the vegetation outside and that inside the aviary—and the large number of wild birds that gather nearby help bolster that feeling. Just astonishing, the variety and beauty of birds from all over Australia, swooping and perching and dining and preening their feathers and wading and showing off.

In the aviary

Big day for things with wings, as the butterfly house was next. I was ecstatic. There is something so ephemeral and ethereal about butterflies, it is a bit like touching a rainbow or a piece of sky. The numbers of butterflies made their beauty even more overwhelming. They were fluttering everywhere, some landing on me, many perching on the flowers that crowed around us, others dancing together. I was almost giddy with delight.

Judy and Geoff are keen on Aussie animals, so they were as happy as I was in the exhibits of local fauna. I have seen all these animals in the wild, but I never get tired of them. One behavior I hadn’t seen before (other than in videos) was kangaroos boxing. It’s likely the ones we saw were just practicing for the mating season, but these creatures can really fight when it comes time to divide up the ladies. Emus (birds, but not in the aviary as they are flightless) and a southern hairy-nosed wombat posed nicely for my photos.

Kangaroos boxing



We also fit in some African and South American fauna. It’s too big a zoo to see everything, but we did our best, staying until closing time.

Then back to the mountains. We missed most of the traffic, so we got back to the ranch in just over an hour. Geoff built up a fire in the fireplace, Judy made tea, and we relaxed for a while before Judy started dinner. We then spent an amiable evening, talking about Australia and books, Judy’s horses and endurance riding and her and Geoff’s road rallies. It was a lovely evening. But then it was time for bed, as we have an early start tomorrow.


Filed under Australia, Nature, Travel

Monday, September 16

This morning, Judy and I headed for Australflora and Gum Nut Village, a nursery that specialized in Australian plants, plus craft gallery and tearoom, all run by a charming, lucid man named Bill, who obviously knows Judy well. (Not too surprising, given how focused on indigenous plants Judy’s garden is.) We browsed for a few hours through the fabulous flowers, and I bought a few packets of seeds, to see if I can raise a few Aussie blooms in a pot back home. We chatted with Bill for a while, about local events, local folks, and how to care for a few plants Judy recently obtained. Then we headed for the giant “gum nut.” A gum nut is the hard, woody fruit of a eucalyptus tree—though in this case, it is a replica of said fruit the size of a small cabin. This gum nut houses the craft gallery as well as a lot of May Gibbs books and paintings.

May Gibbs was the artist/writer who, about 100 years ago, created a world of fairy folk that she dubbed gumnut babies. These delightful little creatures, who lived among and dressed in the flowers of gum trees (eucalypts), populated a series of children’s books, the most famous being Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which appeared in 1918. Gibbs’s creations became part of Australians’ childhood heritage. In fact, so iconic was Gibbs’s work that she was honored with a Google doodle on her 136th birthday.

And in case you haven’t seen a gum flower before, here is one of the many varieties—and one can see how easy it was to imagine it as the attire of tiny fairies.
Judy and I had lunch in the tearoom then we headed back to the house. Geoff was waiting for us. We chatted for a little while over tea, then I finished packing. At 3:00 pm, it was time to head for the airport. Judy and Geoff have been so gracious and generous, as well as a lot of fun, that I really hated saying good-bye. However, I’m sure part of that is also realizing that the trip is nearing its end—too soon, I’ll be saying good-bye again to Australia.

It was dark by the time I landed in Sydney at 6:15. I caught the bus to the city then hiked the rest of the way. Fortunately, I have a suitcase that can convert to a backpack, and when the walk turned out to be longer than I’d anticipated, I made that switch. Still, even with the suitcase worn as a backpack, I was fairly weary as I climbed the stairs to reception at Sydney’s Traveller’s Rest Hotel. However, I was pleased to find that, though a bargain accommodation, Traveller’s Rest was clean and cheerful and quite comfortable.

After settling in, I walked toward nearby Chinatown, stopping at a place that offered an all-you-can-eat Cambodian buffet. Glass noodles with tree ears, curried eggplant and pumpkin, meat with chilies, tofu with veggies, and several other dishes made for an interesting and tasty meal. Then it was back to the hotel and early to bed. Tomorrow, I get to find out how Sydney has changed.

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Filed under Australia, History, Literature, Travel, Video

Sunday, September 15

Beautiful day. Weather was cool but brilliant. We walked to the Pony Club for a horse show and barbecue lunch. Here, I met all the people Judy has talked about all week: Joe, Anthony, Brendon, Agnes, and many others. Anthony is a horse trainer who has been working with Judy’s Rahmyl, so I’ve heard the most about him. All were delightful people, warm and welcoming. Easy to see why Judy likes them all so well.

Ferns at the ranch's edge.

Ferns at the ranch’s edge.

We got back to the house by about 3:00 o’clock. The weather had warmed up, so we made tea and sat on the deck, watching the horses and the hundreds of birds that live and/or feed here. Geoff did a few chores while Judy and I relaxed, then Judy fed the horses. I took photos and watched birds.
Judy feeding Rahmyl

Judy feeding Rahmyl

Judy made a splendid roast lamb dinner for our last evening together. Then we spent the evening watching a video of the Shazada, the world’s longest endurance race, which is held in New South Wales. As an endurance rider herself, Judy was very knowledgeable about the event, horses, and riders, so I learned even more than the video offered.

We chatted about world events, life, horses, and Australia, in no hurry to end the lovely day and evening. But we did finally trundle off to bed at eleven.

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September 14, part 2

Judy was free to join us for the afternoon, so after lunch, the three of us headed off again, along the winding roads and amid the towering trees and abundant ferns of the Dandenong Ranges. This time, our drive took us to Emerald Lake, where Judy and I would be able to catch the famous Puffing Billy, a beautiful, century-old, narrow-gauge steam railway. The train and its original 15 miles of track are considered to be among the finest preserved steam railways in the world. Famed for the beauty of its setting as much as for its handsome antiquity, the Puffing Billy is now run for tourists and train enthusiasts.

Puffing Billy Station

Puffing Billy Station

Puffing Billy arrives.

Puffing Billy arrives.

The train ride, through forest and mountain, past handsome farms and green valleys, was a delight. The whistle would toot as we neared a town, farm, or station, and everyone would turn and wave at the passengers. At the old trestle bridge—considered the best place from which to photograph the train—we saw dozens of cars and a fair crowd of people waiting to watch the train pass, all waving to us as we went by. Finally, after about an hour ride, the train dropped us in Belgrave, where Geoff was waiting to pick us up.

Another scenic drive returned us to the ranch, where we had afternoon tea. Then Geoff drove me to the top of Mount Dandenong, so I could see the sunset from the mountaintop. Wonderful.
At 7:30, Robert, a friend of the family, arrived. Robert was quite a character: big, burly, blond, open, effusive, clearly delighted with life. He has worked oil rigs all over the world, but has now returned to Melbourne to run the family business. Great fun listening to his tales.

Judy, Geoff, Robert, and I were all dressed for an evening out, and we headed to restaurant in Sherbrooke that Judy and Geoff save for special occasions. Had a beautiful evening of champagne, great food, and delightful conversation. For dinner, I had tortellini al pesto to start, pork and seafood Wellington for my main, and a ginger-crisp basked filled with sliced strawberries for dessert. Very nice.

We finally returned home by midnight, over full, slightly giddy from the excellent company, and definitely happy.

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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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Filed under Australia, Geography, Nature, Science, Travel

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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